June 30 – Henry VIII and Catherine Howard set off on their progress to the North

On this day in Tudor history, 30th June 1541, King Henry VIII and his fifth wife, Queen Catherine Howard, set off on their progress to the north of England.

Little did the king know that he’d be stood up by his nephew, King James V of Scotland, and that his seemingly happy marriage would fall apart on his return.

In this video (transcript below), I explain the motives behind this huge undertaking, what happened on the progress, and why Henry’s life changed so dramatically when he got back.


On this day in Tudor history, 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”.

Let me tell you a bit more about this progress. This video is based on a talk I did for the Tudor Society a few years ago.

It was usual for Henry VIII to go on royal progress in the summer months. The city of London could be unbearable between the months of May and October, with the heat causing the open sewers to smell even more than usual, and it could also be dangerous, with outbreaks of plague and sweating sickness. A royal progress was also an opportunity royal palaces to be cleaned, and for the monarch and consort to show themselves off to their people, to display their king- and queen-ship. 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:
1. The meeting of Henry and his nephew, James V of Scotland, which was due to take place in September in York.
2. 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 R W Hoyle and J B Ramsdale saw it as part of Henry’s diplomacy towards Scotland and France. Whatever the progress’s aim, it did nothing regarding diplomacy because James V never turned up to the meeting in York. However, 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.

In this royal progress, the whole royal court travelled from 30th June to the end of October – a huge undertaking! Charles de 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 (or Pomfret as it was known), Hull and York, and many other places.

The royal court made slow progress due to the roads being badly affected by rain, and also due to Catherine being taken ill at Lyddington at the end of July. They didn’t reach Lincoln until 9th August, moving on to Pontefract on 23rd August, then Caywood (the palace of the Archbishop of York), Wressle, Leconfield, Hull and finally York on 16th September.

Of course, this royal progress is also known for being part of the fall of Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, for it was on this progress that Catherine 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, waiting for James V to show up. When it became clear he wasn’t coming, the royal party progressed home, reaching Windsor on 26th October and Hampton Court Palace by 30th October. Just a few days later, on 2nd November 1541, Henry VIII’s happiness was shattered when he was informed of his wife’s past sexual relationships.

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