Tudor Progresses

Tudor Progresses

It is August, so back in the Tudor times the royal court would be on a progress!  

During progresses the court moved around the country, with much pomp and ceremony, staying at royal residences, houses of nobles and monasteries along a decided route. Progresses were an important part of Tudor governance as they allowed the monarch to be seen across the country and to reinforce their presence and authority. Progresses were especially important for Henry VII because he had seized the crown after the infamous Battle of Bosworth, while the country was still in a turbulent state. There were still different factions vying for the crown and not everyone was happy with their new king. To help stop rebellion, Henry VII took long progresses around his new kingdom during his reign. He would visit towns and cities to listen to their grievances and attempt to appease them. Progresses were also a form of propaganda as Henry VII declared himself the true king and demonstrated that his dynasty were there to stay.

The tradition of progresses continued with Henry VIII. He travelled the country for the same peace-keeping and political purposes as his father. However, with a more stable reign than Henry VII, progresses to reinforce his authority were not as crucial. Henry VIII spent much of his progresses hunting; while fun this was also a way that courtiers and dignitaries could get the ear of the king.

Tudor progresses also happened because London was often unbearable with the heat of summer and the stench of the open sewers. Summer also brought a greater danger of the plague and sweating sickness, so it was safer for the monarchs to be travelling around the country.

Progresses were scheduled during the ‘grass season’, when the hay was being cut, other work was minimal and it was perfect conditions for hunting– which was usually between August and October. A reduced court (which could still be a few hundred people!) would accompany the king and queen to residences on a carefully selected route, which would be planned well in advance. The residences on this route would be recorded on the eagerly-awaited ‘giest’. The ‘giest’ held the details of where the monarchs would stay and for how long, as well as the number of miles they would travel between each stop. Despite owning a number of royal residences, the Tudor monarchs enjoyed staying with noblemen and courtiers, as well as in monastic houses, while on progresses.

Hosting the monarch and their court was a great honour and certainly a sign of royal favour, but it was also a huge expense! As well as housing the monarchs and their entourage, you would have to put on grand festivities and large banquets to honour the king and queen. Often, a lot of money was spent preparing for the royal visit as well. Nicholas Poyntz did not just redecorate the royal apartments, ahead of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s stay in 1535, he built an entirely new wing of his house! The length of stay depended on many factors, including the size, suitability and luxury of the residence, and its proximity to good hunting ground. Visits could be anything from an overnight stay to a month!

Towns that were visited by the monarch on their progress would also be expected to put on lavish festivities. The mayor and other local dignitaries would receive the royal party outside the town walls and they would ride in procession to the cathedral or main church. The reception put on might also include pageants and gifts would be exchanged.  

Moving the court from place to place was a huge undertaking. Not only were there hundreds of people to move, but the monarchs also brought with them a lot of things! They brought plates, beds, tapestries and huge chests of clothes with them on a progress. Special servants were in charge of packing, transporting and furnishing the royal lodgings at each destination. Royal officers would also ride ahead to make sure there was accommodation for the whole court before they arrived. The Clerk of the Market rode out before the king ‘to warn the peple to bake, to brewe, and to make redy othyr vytayle and stuff in to theire logginges.’ Whenever the court went celebrations and festivities would occur.