On the 30th June 1541, Henry VIII and his fifth wife, Queen Catherine Howard, set off from London on their royal progress to the North, aiming to return to Hampton Court Palace by “All Hallowtide”.
It was the norm for Henry VIII to go on royal progress in the summer months. London could be unbearable between May and October, with the heat causing the open sewers to smell even more, and it could also be dangerous, with outbreaks of plague and sweating sickness. A royal progress was also an opportunity for the king to show himself, and his wife, off to their subjects, to display his kingship. While Henry VIII owned many properties, he tended to stay with courtiers who could bankrupt themselves trying to impress him.
The furthest north Henry VIII had previously travelled was Boston in Lincolnshire, but the 1541 progress took him all the way to York. As well as getting the king out of smelly London, this progress had two other main purposes:
- The meeting of Henry and his nephew, James V of Scotland, which was due to take place in September in York.
- According to historian Tim Thornton, “to emphasise the extent of his defeat of the Pilgrims [from the Pilgrimage of Grace] and the Percy interest, and to humiliate utterly all but the most clearly loyal elements”.
Historian J J Scarisbrick saw the royal progress as an army of occupation and an opportunity for Henry to build pressure on the Scots and rally support in the North, and Lacey Baldwin-Smith saw it as a theatrical invasion, intimidation and the display of a spectacular image of Henry. A G Dickens writes of the domestic context of the progress, its implication for possible threats of rebellion and their ruthless suppression. Whereas Hoyle and Ramsdale see it as part of Henry’s diplomacy towards Scotland and France. Whatever its aim, it did nothing regarding diplomacy as James V never turned up to the meeting in York, but it did show Henry VIII’s authority to the north and was an opportunity for him to humiliate his subjects, with displays of submission from them.
The royal court travelled on progress from 30th June to the end of October, and it was a huge undertaking. Marillac, the French ambassador, wrote of how the “company” was made up of “4,000 or 5,000 horse, whereas ordinarily he takes only 1,000” and that 200 tents were being carried. The itinerary included Enfield, St Albans, Dunstable, Ampthill, Northampton, Grimsthorpe Lincoln, Gainsborough, Pontefract, Hull and York, and many other places. Of course, it was on this progress that Henry VIII’s wife of one year had secret assignations with Thomas Culpeper, a gentleman of the King’s privy chamber, meeting him at Lincoln, Hatfield, Pontefract and York.
The royal party reached York on 16th September and although Henry VIII stayed in York until 27th September, James V did not turn up. They then progressed home, reaching Windsor on 26th October and Hampton Court Palace by 30th October. It was on 2nd November 1541 that Henry VIII was informed of his wife’s past sexual relationships – oh dear!
Sources and Further Reading
This article is based on a video talk I did for the Tudor Society which members can view at https://www.tudorsociety.com/henry-viiis-1541-royal-progress-video/. Natalie Grueninger also did a talk on Tudor progresses for the Society – click here.
- Thornton, Tim (2009) “Henry VIII’s Progress Through Yorkshire in 1541 and its Implications for Northern Identities”, Northern History, Volume 46, Number 2, September 2009.
- Baldwin Smith, Lacey (2009) Catherine Howard, Amberley Publishing.
- Lewycky, Nadine, “The City of York in the time of Henry VIII”, read at http://www.york.ac.uk/ipup/projects/york/bigcityread/city.html
- Hall, Edward. Hall’s Chronicle, p842.
- Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 16, August, September and October for Privy Council meetings and letters from Marillac and Chapuys.
- Account of King Henry the Eighth’s Entry Into Lincoln, in 1541 by Frederick Madden, available at Google Books.
- An account of King Henry the Eighth’s Progress in Lincolnshire by Joseph Hunter.