Dating back nearly 2,000 years to the Roman period, London has existed through many chapters of history – and as England has long been a dominant force in geopolitics, many of these chapters are well-known around the globe from history books to pop culture.
One of the most popular – and wildly over-romanticized – chapters of London history is the Tudor period. The Tudor period occurred from 1485 to 1603 in England and Wales; some of history’s most notable English characters like King Henry VIII (famous for his many wives) and long-reigning Elizabeth I and the stability she stewarded.
While the characters of the Tudor period might be well known, many London visitors wonder if there is still evidence of their reigns. Just as you can find still find evidence of Roman London (such as the London Wall), there are still Tudor sites in London that you can visit during your itinerary.
Below you’ll find a list of the most easily accessible and interesting Tudor sites in London, from ones you have likely seen on TV to some you may never have heard of before. If you’re a history buff, be sure to plan a trip to one or more of these to better understand a fascinating chapter of London – and England – history.
Westminster Abbey has had strong ties with the monarchy since its inception. The abbey as we know it today was built by Edward the Confessor. It has been the coronation site of English and British monarchs since 1066 and served as the venue for other royal occasions, including weddings and funerals.
But what makes Westminster Abbey one of the most famous Tudor sites in London? The Lady Chapel. Back in the 13th Century, Henry VII, the first monarch of the House of Tudor, decided to add a chapel to honor the Virgin Mary and to house its own tomb. Historians estimate that he spent £20,000 for the chapel’s construction, an extraordinary sum back then – and even more astounding considering Henry VII was a prudent monarch with his finances.
Works to build the chapel started in 1503. Unfortunately, Henry VII died in 1509, unable to see it finished. Nonetheless, his wishes were fulfilled and The Lady Chapel is the resting place of Henry VII and his wife (Elizabeth of York), Mary I. Plus, it is one of the finest examples of fan vaulting architecture in the UK!
Tower of London
Few Tudor buildings in London have been as dreaded and feared as the Tower of London. Built by William the Conqueror, the Tower of London has played various roles throughout history. It’s been a fortress, a royal menagerie, a house of jewels, and a royal residence. But, without a doubt, it fulfilled its darkest purpose during the reign of Henry VIII.
Henry VIII, better known for having had six wives, transformed the Tower into an infamous prison which ended up as a symbol of the Tudor regime’s brutality. During his reign, the tyrannical monarch would imprison people who had committed crimes against the Crown. He made them enter the prison through the Traitor’s Gate and those who did seldom returned.
Many famous names have been inside the Tower’s walls, including two of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, Sir Thomas More, and Elizabeth I.
Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace is one of the most beautiful Tudor places to visit in London. This stunning Grade I royal palace was built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, one of the most important figures in the early reign of Henry VIII.
The Cardinal spared no expense to build the palace, spending 200,000 Crowns to erect the walls of his lavish home. Unfortunately, Wolsey would enjoy his palace for a few years. Despite his great work as the king’s advisor, the Cardinal lost Henry VIII’s confidence after being unable to achieve the king’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Knowing that his enemies and the King were planning his downfall, Wolsey gifted the Hampton Court Palace to Henry VIII.
The palace turned into one of the king’s favorite residences and would witness some of his reign’s biggest events: the birth of his heir Edward VI, his divorce from Anne of Cleves, Jane Seymour’s death, and the break with Rome.
Remember how Henry VIII had six wives? Katherine of Aragon was the first wife and victim of what would become a recurrent behavior in Henry VIII’s life: getting divorced.
Back in 1529, Henry VIII was infatuated with Anne Boleyn and, despite the Catholic Church’s absolute authority over the royals’ marriages, he was determined to divorce Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn.
Both were summoned to a hearing at a Dominican friary in Blackfriars to examine the validity of their marriage. It was the first and last hearing Katherine of Aragon would attend. She pronounced a moving speech not to the court member (who always favored the king) but to his husband, imploring him to reconsider his decision.
As with many other Tudor sites in London, the Dominican friary no longer exists and it’s been replaced with a gorgeous Art Nouveau pub, The Blackfriar Pub. Still, Blackfriars remains a historically relevant neighborhood from Tudor London. Also, the pub is a good spot to raise a glass to toast London history.
St. James’s Palace
St. James’s Palace is one of the many Tudor houses in London. Henry VIII commissioned the building of St. James’s Palace in 1531. It was intended to be a smaller residence where the king could escape formal court life. However, the palace evolved to become the principal royal residence in London for over 300.
It took five years to build the palace and it is a perfect example of Tudor architecture, with its combination of Gothic and Renaissance styles. To honor his love, the king also added the initials H.A. (for Henry and his second wife, Anne Boleyn) as decoration throughout the building. St. James’s Palace also witnessed unfortunate events in Henry VIII’s life: two children, Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset, and Mary I, died at the palace.
The palace remained the principal royal residence in London until the 17th Century when a fire destroyed part of St James’s and the royal family began spending more time at Buckingham Palace. Despite not being the official royal residence, St. James’s Palace is still a working palace used to host official receptions. Unlike other royal buildings, St. James’s Palace is closed to the public.
The historic London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Palace is related to the Tudors through Sir Thomas More.
A Renaissance humanist and lawyer, Sir Thomas More was Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor and trusted friend. He helped the King run the country and made laws that would serve his needs. A devout Catholic, Sir Thomas More was known for persecuting and burning heretics. Little did he know that his faith would lead him to a similar ending.
After the Pope denied his first divorce, Henry VIII spent years trying to find ways to dissolve his marriage. After countless debates, the King decided that England would break with Rome. From then on, the King and his subjects would become English Catholics (Anglicans), and the King would become the head of this new Church. Naturally, not everyone welcomed this change, among which was Sir Thomas More.
He refused to agree with the changes to the Church. This, of course, wasn’t going to be ignored by Henry VIII, who was one to come down hard on those who disagreed with him. The King sent Thomas Cranmer (then Archbishop of Canterbury) to interrogate Thomas More at Lambeth Palace before imprisoning him and executing him in the Tower.
The oldest of the four Inns of Court in London, Lincoln’s Inn is one of the world’s most prestigious professional bodies of judges and lawyers.
Once again, Sir Thomas More is the connection between this building and the Tudors. On 12 February 1496, Sir Thomas More was admitted as a law student to Lincoln’s Inn, where his father was already a Bencher. He studied here for five years, until 1502, when he was called to the Bar.
Many of the Inn’s buildings boast Tudor architecture, especially the Old Hall and Fields Gatehouse. However, they are actually Victorian constructed in Tudor style. Visitors can tour the inside buildings on guided tours.
Today, over 35 bridges cross over the Thames River. But this wasn’t always the case. Grab any Tudor London map and you’ll notice that there were nearly no dry crossings over the Thames to central London. Except for one stone bridge, the London Bridge.
The London Bridge saw its first version with the Romans, who built it using wood to provide access to Londinium from the south. It was replaced with a stone bridge built by Peter de Colechurch in the 12th Century. The new bridge spanned 1000 feet over the river and took 33 years to complete.
London Bridge remained a key crossing point during the Tudor period. However, its connection to this dynasty is actually more sinister. As you may have noticed, the Tudor monarchs were quite brutal and employed gruesome execution methods. Beheading and quartering were popular methods and it seems that the London Bridge was the perfect display window to show the severed heads (and limbs) of traitors after their execution.
A little bit of trivia: Sir Thomas More’s head was impaled on a pike and exhibited for a month over London Bridge until his daughter Margaret rescued it.
No tour of Tudor London sites would be complete without the Royal Parks. Way before they became green lungs in the city, most Royal Parks were royal hunting grounds; today they are often public parks in London.
The most notorious Tudor monarch, Henry VIII, has connections to almost all of London’s Royal Parks:
- Hyde Park used to be part of Westminster Abbey until King Henry VIII, confiscated a portion of the land of the Abbey to create his own hunting grounds.
- Greenwich Park was also the hunting grounds for the royal palace at Greenwich, and home to the palace where Henry VIII was born.
- Henry VIII’s passion for sports led him to purchase more lands. That’s how St. James’s Park and Green Park were born, both serving as sites where Henry VIII held jousting tournaments.
Unlike most Tudor sites in London, most Royal Parks are open to the public and free to visit now.
Eltham Palace isn’t exactly in London. However, its connection to the monarchy makes it a must-visit on any Tudor London tour.
Once a medieval palace, Eltham was home to Prince Henry (the future Henry VIII) and his sisters, Margaret and Mary. During the early years of Henry VIII’s reign, the palace became one of the king’s five ‘Great Houses’, with the king commissioning new works at the palace. However, Henry and subsequent Tudor monarchs preferred other residencies over Eltham Palace and the building was left to decay. Luckily, in the 1930s, Virginia and Stephen Courtauld moved to the palace and saved it from complete destruction.
Located in southeast London, you can still reach Eltham by public transit; use a handy London app like Citymapper to plan your route.
Bonus: National Portrait Gallery
Last but not least, there’s the National Portrait Gallery. While it is not one of the Tudor sites in London per se, the National Portrait Gallery houses one of the finest collections of Tudor portraiture in the country.
This museum has an entire section devoted to the members of the House of Tudors. Located on the third floor, Tudor Gallery features the official portrait of Henry VII, the portrait of Anne Boleyn, the cartoon drawing of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein, and the coronation portrait of Elizabeth I, among others.
The truth is that there aren’t many Tudor museums in London, so a stop by the National Portrait Gallery is a must for all the Tudor fans out there, especially if they want to put a face to the names they’ve kept reading on history books.
Note the National Portrait Gallery is closed until late June 2023 for renovation.
Have any other questions about visiting Tudor Sites in London? Let me know in the comments!