The Castles and Palaces of Henry VIII

Henry VIII was never afraid of spending money on construction.

As both a profligate spender and long-time monarch, Henry VIII made the most of his time in power – erecting castles, commissioning armour and holding tournaments.

Although he gained a significant amount of weight in his later years (recorded measurements of his waist were as big as 54 inches), he was mostly an active, healthy individual who made sure to find time for his hobbies, which included jousting and hunting. Due to his love for the great outdoors, Henry often travelled around the country, staying in different residences and enjoying himself as much as he could, whilst still holding one hand on the reigns of the country.

During his reign, Henry made alterations to existing palaces, erected new castles and even developed an entire series of artillery fortifications, known as Device Forts or Henrican castles. Henry VIII inherited the equivalent of over a million pounds in today’s money from his Father and he had no qualms in spending it.

Presented here are a few of the notable buildings that Henry VIII occupied, some of which he also constructed himself:

Nonsuch Palace

One of the more tragic palaces that Henry commissioned the building of, there is no trace today of Nonsuch Palace. Notable for being one of Henry VIII’s most ambitious projects, he never lived to see it completed , despite ploughing at least £24,000 (over £100 million in today’s money) into the building. Designed to be a celebration of the Tudor dynasty, it was built near one of the monarch’s favourite hunting grounds.

St James’s Palace

One of only two surviving palaces built by Henry VIII, St. James’s remains today a quintessential example of Tudor architecture, evincing the crenellated octagonal towers and fine detailing that that period is famous for. The palace is much smaller than Henry’s other residences, intended to provide an escape for the monarch from the hectic nature of court life.

Hampton Court Palace

This surviving palace was originally constructed for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, a favourite of Henry’s at the time of construction. It was completed in 1525, a lavish construction that rivalled the King’s own properties – Henry stayed as an honoured guest immediately. By 1529 the Cardinal had fallen out of favour with the King (a not too common occurrence) and the monarch decided to take the Palace for himself. His first alteration to the castle was to build kitchens that could feed his 1,000 strong court.

Thornbury Castle

Recently put on sale for the grand sum of £8.5 million, Thornbury is only really a castle in name. This extravagant country house and Grade I listed building was originally constructed for Edward Stafford, the 3rd Duke of Buckingham, however he was beheaded by Henry VIII before he got to see it completed. Henry took a liking to Thornbury Castle and spent ten days there with Anne Boleyn in 1535 after their marriage.

Hurst Castle

Lastly, Hurst Castle is one of Henry’s grandest Device Forts and would be enough to give any topographical land surveyor a headache. After a break with the Roman Empire over the annulment of his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon, England was at serious risk of invasion. This led Henry to order the construction of several coastal forts in the South of the England. Hurst is the largest of these Device Forts, although it saw no action in Henry’s lifetime, the Castle was used an artillery defence right up to World War II.