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Tudor Power in South & West - Forts, ships, mansions and abbeys

Tudor England studied through a variety of architecture, artefacts and artworks.

Great country houses – most of which arose on the site of suppressed monasteries.

Defence and warfare, coastal fortifications and the Mary Rose, the finest assembly of 16th-century goods to be found anywhere.

Led by a leading historian and art historian of the period, joined by the former chief executive for the Mary Rose Trust.

  • Longleat, engraving from Historic Houses of the United Kingdom 1892.
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Whether in a complete or fragmentary state, the buildings of Tudor England reflect the changing political, social and religious environment of the time. Travelling westwards from London brings home the increasing power of the capital, where the court resided, and the need for government to control and monitor parts of the country that took days to reach. At various points the itinerary intersects with the loyalty-building progress that Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn made in 1535 during the crisis of the break with Rome.

Anxiety about foreign invasion led to the building of fortifications along the south coast, and to the construction of great warships. One of these has been retrieved from the seabed and gradually conserved and displayed: the Mary Rose and its amazing contents constitute the greatest single hoard of sixteenth-century quotidian artefacts anywhere in the world.

Yet this was not entirely a time of exclusion from foreign influences on the arts and sciences; craftsmen, objects and prints (as sources of design and ornament) arrived, and we will see the impact of these in both religious and secular buildings. The revolutionary design of those coastal fortresses is a prime example.

While the Reformation brought about destruction of the religious infrastructure of the past, there are continuities before and after the dramatic events of the 1530s, in the completion of great churches and the transformation of former monasteries with their dependent buildings into country houses, smaller dwellings and public buildings such as town halls, almshouses and schools.

Great funeral monuments, however, do reflect profound shifts in religious observance, in the change of emphasis towards celebrating the individual’s worldly achievements with the grandest and most fashionable means possible through heraldry and colour.

We end at Lacock, which through abbey-house and village shows the lasting legacy of this period and its re-shaping and preservation by subsequent generations.

Day 1

The Vyne. The coach leaves central London at 11.30am. A great Tudor courtier house, partially preserved with fascinating evidence in 16th-century brickwork and original internal fittings. Changes from the 17th to 19th centuries always respected the past. First of two nights in Portsmouth.

Day 2

Portsmouth, Southsea. Portsmouth was a hive of activity during Henry VIII’s wars with France, and innovative fortifications were erected here and nearby. Through the miraculous survival not only of part of its hull but also of its myriad contents, the Mary Rose constitutes the richest material evidence we have of early Tudor times. These items are spectacularly displayed in a museum opened in 2013, where we are joined by Rear Admiral John Lippiett, former Chief Executive for the Mary Rose Trust. Overnight Portsmouth.

Day 3

Titchfield, Longleat. Titchfield is the spectacular ruin of a monastery taken over and transformed into a dwelling by Sir Thomas Wriothesley, a leading courtier of Henry VIII. His formidable tomb is in the local church. Likewise a former monastery, Longleat displays a completely new and fashionable Renaissance-style façade, its rebuilding dating to Elizabeth I’s reign. The house has its original great hall and a series of grand 19th-century state rooms with extraordinary collections. First of three nights in Bath.

Day 4

Bath, Bradford-on-Avon. Bath Abbey is one of the handful of great late-mediaeval religious buildings completed in the first thirty years of the 16th century. There will be time also to explore aspects of 18th-century Bath, but with indications, as we walk around, of the footprint of the earlier city it replaced. Bradford-on-Avon has significant mediaeval buildings and a famous bridge and chapel. It also contains a few key 16th- and 17th-century buildings that tell us of the growth of communities in the early modern period.

Day 5

Montacute, Barrington, Sherborne. Montacute House is one of the country’s most significant late-Tudor houses, built with the finest local stone for a man with ‘new’ money. As a branch of the National Portrait Gallery, it displays Tudor pictures. Barrington Court is an early Elizabethan house with an impressive long gallery in the attic storey. Built by Sir Walter Raleigh, Sherborne Castle serves to introduce us to the ‘romance’ of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods in looking back to the past, thinking about history.

Day 6

Lacock. Lacock Abbey was a nunnery until 1539, then became a private home, and the juxtaposition of preserved old buildings and new structures is especially interesting here. Both the house, in the 18th-century changes to the interior, and the extraordinary village tell us much about the later layers of building history at sites like this. Return to central London by 4.30pm.

Price, per person

Two sharing: £1,740. Single occupancy: £1,980.



Hotel accommodation; private coach throughout; breakfasts and four dinners with wine; all admissions; all tips; the services of the lecturer and tour manager. Accommodation. The Langstone Hotel, Portsmouth: on Hayling Island, overlooking the water, this 4-star hotel is modern and comfortable. Francis Hotel, Bath: a 4-star boutique hotel set across several converted Georgian terraces on sought-after Queen’s Square. Single rooms are doubles for sole use throughout.


How strenuous?

Unavoidably, there is quite a lot of walking on this tour and it would not be suitable for anyone who has difficulties with everyday walking and stair-climbing.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?


Average distance by coach per day

c. 78 miles.


Group size

Between 10 and 22 participants.


Combining with Walking Hadrian's Wall, 14–20 May 2018

13 May: Travel with the Tudor group, arriving in London by 4.30pm. Stay overnight in London.

14 May: Take the train from London Kings Cross to Newcastle (c. 3 hours) to meet the Hadrian’s Wall group at Newcastle station at 2.15pm. You would need to book your own accommodation. We suggest St Ermin’s Hotel close to where the Tudor coach will drop you. You can book trains online with National Rail.

Map for Tudor Power in South & West.