Henry VIII did not go on summer holidays, as we know them today. So in order for the ordinary English people to see their ruler, he would go out into the Kingdom on an annual summer progress and be openly seen by his subjects.
Aswell as the need to be seen there were many other reasons that made it expedient for Henry, Anne and the court to get out of London in the summer. Summer could be incredibly hot and uncomfortable, with the smell from open sewers unbearable. Also the combination of heat and sewage increased the risk of killer outbreaks of plague and other diseases.
Often half the court would remove to either large monasteries or country manor houses owned by the gentry. This could prove very expensive for the host, but it was a price they were more than willing to pay. For example at Acton Court, the owner Nicholas Pointz took 9 months to build a whole new wing, exclusively for the King’s use. His reward? Rumour has it that Henry VIII knighted him during his August 1535 visit.
However in 1535 there were other reasons why it was important for Henry and in particularly Anne to be seen by the general populace.
Anne had been married to Henry for over 2 years, but she was not popular or well thought of by the general population. Many people in the country still, despite the Act of Succession saying otherwise believed that Katherine of Aragon was the rightful Queen of England.
There were also a significant number who considered the King’s eldest daughter Lady Mary as his rightful heir.
So they embarked on what we would probably see as a giant, 14-week public relations exercise around the abbeys and manor houses of the Thames Valley.
Plans for this progress were made with meticulous detail with the couple and court travelling between 9 or 14 miles a day to members of the nobility and gentry who supported the new marriage and religious reformation. In the 16th century the gentry were highly influentially in encouraging the people in their charge to be loyal to their master and in turn the Crown.
So on the face of it, it may just seem like a lovely summer break, but for Henry and Anne these visits were crucial in cementing the new matrimonial and religious regime.
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