Visit Kent estate King Henry VIII wined and dined in 500 years ago
- Credit: Oliver Dixon
For Penshurst Place near Tunbridge Wells, Monday May 17, 2021 won't just be a key date because the historic house is finally opening its doors once more (it hasn't been forced to close since the second world war). It will also be 500 years to the day from the date when King Henry VIII took possession of the Penshurst estate following the execution of the Duke of Buckingham. Visitors will be heading back into the very rooms where Henry VIII himself once dined and entertained.
Henry VIII visited Penshurst in 1519 as the guest of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, who lavished the equivalent of over £1million in today’s money on entertaining Henry and his entourage. With a strong claim to the throne himself, Stafford gave Henry a party fit for a king –but Henry soon grew suspicious of the duke and had him tried for treason. Found guilty, he was beheaded at Tower Hill on May 17, 1521, with Penshurst Place coming into the possession of the Crown.
Henry VIII used Penshurst Place as a hunting lodge and may well have stayed there while secretly courting Anne Boleyn prior to their marriage when she lived at nearby Hever Castle. Listen very carefully and, if the wind is in the right direction, you might even hear the notes of his lute floating on the early summer breeze... Don't expect to hear Greensleeves, though: despite rumours to the contrary, it's not thought that Henry composed this Tudor hit, nor is it believed to be about Anne Boleyn!
In addition to the treasures of the house, Penshurst's historic formal gardens offer plenty of outdoor treasures, and records say they date back to 1346. The walled 11-acres are believed to have remained remarkably true to their early design, with a whopping one mile of yew hedging separating spaces into a series of self-contained ‘rooms’. Each has something to offer, but Penshurst's sweet-scented rose garden is a particular delight in summer. Children who aren't so keen on just smelling the flowers will love the adventure playground and woodland trail here just beyond the gardens - there really is something to keep all ages happy.
King Henry VIII and his six queens are still seen regularly wandering around the gardens, as the Tudor Legacies historical re-enactment group visit the venue in period costume once a month throughout the summer to chat to visitors and share tales of times gone by. And it's not just performers of the re-enactment variety who've come to life at Penshurst: Anne of a Thousand Days starring Elizabeth Taylor, The Other Boleyn Girl starring Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson and Mary Queen of Scots featuring Saoirse Ronan were all filmed here. Royalty, movie stars, and the likes of us: the appeal of Penshurst Place is certainly both timeless and universal.
For more stately homes with beautiful gardens to visit in Kent see here
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