Day 1: Thursday, 13th September
At 12.30pm, we gather at the Bloomsbury Hotel in central London (see below, under Day 8) for an included welcome buffet lunch and drinks, served in the Chapel and Library.
After lunch, our coach takes us down into Kent, to Hever Castle, where we will check into the luxurious Astor Wing – the ‘Tudor Village’ built by William Waldorf Astor in the early 20th century, which adjoins the castle and enjoys a stunning setting in the private grounds. There are 21 individually styled guest rooms, and we have exclusive use of the whole wing during our stay. Guests are welcome to relax in the Music Room and the Billiards/Pool Room, or enjoy the open-air swimming pool and croquet lawn.
Elizabeth I was Anne Boleyn’s greatest legacy, so where better to start our tour than at Anne’s famous family home? Thirteenth-century Hever Castle is romantic and double-moated with a rich and varied history stretching back over seven centuries. The castle is best known as the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, and it was her family who built the comfortable Tudor manor house within these earlier walls between c.1462 and c.1500. Henry VIII is said to have courted Anne at Hever Castle and there are various exhibitions in the castle featuring Henry and Anne Boleyn. Henry later gave Hever Castle to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. The American millionaire, William Waldorf Astor, acquired Hever Castle in 1903 and spent a great deal of time, money and imagination restoring it. The interior walls are covered with magnificent carving and panelling. The rooms are filled with wonderful antiques and works of art, including a fine collection of Tudor portraits, including two important ones of Elizabeth I. Astor further enhanced the castle's romantic setting by creating glorious gardens. These include the unique Italian garden, the maze, the 35-acre lake and the rose garden, all of which are now fully mature and spectacular throughout the seasons. The unique Italian garden contains statuary and sculpture dating from Roman to Renaissance times, collected in Italy and brought to Hever, where it forms a magnificent sight among the glorious display of shrubs and climbing and herbaceous plants. A Tudor herb garden close to the castle was opened in 1994. Visitors can also enjoy the Guthrie Collection of miniature model historic houses.
At 6.30pm, Alison Weir will guide our group around Hever Castle. The tour will be followed by a drinks reception in the Inner Hall or Castle Courtyard (depending on the weather) and a sumptuous welcome dinner in the Castle Dining Hall. Tudor costume is optional!
We stay overnight at Hever Castle
Gloriana: The Virgin Queen (overview) (Alison Weir)
Introduction to Hever Castle and the Boleyns (Alison Weir)
Fanfare for Elizabeth: Parentage and Heritage (Alison Weir)
Day 2: Friday, 14th September
In the morning, we visit Penshurst Place.
Penshurst Place is one of England's finest historic houses, set in the Weald of Kent's peaceful rural landscape. The medieval house with its magnificent Baron's Hall dates from 1341 and is one of the finest examples of 14th century architecture. Later additions have seen Penshurst Place grow into an imposing fortified manor house, and later an Elizabethan courtier house containing state-rooms filled with a remarkable collection of tapestries, paintings, furniture, porcelain and armour. Penshurst has been the ancestral home of the Sidney family since 1552 and successive generations have shaped its development. Penshurst's most famous son, Sir Philip Sidney, the chivalrous soldier poet, was a symbol of loyalty and bravery in the Elizabethan era. We will enjoy a private guided tour of the house, and there will be time to visit the lovely gardens and toy museum.
After an independent lunch at Penshurst, we return to Hever Castle.
In the afternoon, there will be free time in which to enjoy the beautiful gardens, the miniature houses museum, the gift shops and the water maze, and perhaps another visit to the castle itself.
At 4pm, our eminent guest historian, Linda Porter, author of the acclaimed biographies Mary Tudor and Katherine the Queen, will give a talk in the Astor Wing: ‘Most beloved sister’? The uneasy relationship of Mary and Elizabeth Tudor. Linda will be happy to take questions afterwards, and we will have the pleasure of her company at dinner in the evening.
At 6pm, our coach departs for the historic Sussex village of Mayfield, where we will enjoy an included dinner at the Middle House, a fine Elizabethan building dating back to 1575.
The Middle House, which dominates the High Street, is Grade 1 listed and is described as ‘one of the finest examples of a timber framed building in Sussex'. It is a wonderful example of Elizabethan architecture. Once owned by Sir Thomas Gresham, a keeper of the Privy Purse to Elizabeth I, it is now an elegant old-world inn incorporating a small but luxurious hotel. A private residence until the 1920s, it retains a fireplace by master carver Grinling Gibbons, wattle-and-daub infill, and a splendid oak-panelled restaurant, incorporating a private chapel.
Mayfield is a beautiful village with. buildings of nearly every period. The e High street alone contains 40 buildings officially listed as being of special historical or architectural importance. Mayfield finds it easy to mix folklore and history and The Middle House has numerous tales of its own - from secret priest holes and prison cells to murders and suicides. The Middle House is also well known for its exceptionally good food and ambience.
We stay overnight at Hever Castle
Introduction to Penshurst Place (SC)
Day 3: Saturday, 15th September
In the morning, our coach takes us to Hampton Court Palace, where we will spend the day.
Hampton Court is one of the finest palaces in the world. Over 500 years of history can be explored through this magnificent complex of state apartments, whose previous owners include Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII and of course Elizabeth I. It was here, in 1562, that Elizabeth nearly died of smallpox. One of the most impressive sights is the Great Hall, England`s last and greatest medieval royal hall, decorated with priceless tapestries. Henry VIII’s Chapel Royal boasts a superb blue and gold ceiling. Hampton Court Palace also contains many important paintings and portraits from the Royal Collection. The palace is surrounded by sixty acres of glorious formal gardens. Here you will find the world`s most famous maze, where whispers of the past haunt every step, and William III`s Privy garden, now restored to its 1702 glory.
In the morning, Alison Weir will guide our group around the Tudor kitchens, then Siobhan Clarke will lead a tour of the beautiful gardens, the Great Vine and the Royal Tennis Court.
There will be free time for an independent lunch, for which there are many options locally - and you may wish to treat yourself to a horse-drawn carriage ride around the palace gardens.
In the afternoon, Siobhan Clarke will guide our group around the Tudor state apartments, where Queen Elizabeth once held court. This will be followed by more free time to enable guests to explore other parts of the palace.
After our visit, the coach will take us back to Hever Castle. In the evening, there will be an included dinner at the Henry VIII Inn at Hever, a traditional English pub that was much enjoyed by guests on the Tudor Treasures Tour.
Situated in the tiny, attractive village of Hever in the county of Kent, the King Henry VIII Inn promises a warm and friendly welcome to all. The King Henry VIII is a beautiful olde English pub with a spacious interior that is full of traditional character. Under various names there has been a pub on the site of the King Henry VIII Inn since 1597. The present structure dates back to 1647.
We stay overnight at Hever Castle
Introduction to Hampton Court (Alison Weir)
Elizabeth I and her Court (Alison Weir)
Day 4: Sunday, 16th September
After breakfast, we leave Hever to travel northwards into East Anglia, where we enter the county of Norfolk, the ancestral heartland of the Boleyns. We stop for a short visit to Salle church, once reputed to be the last resting place of Anne Boleyn.
Legend has it that, after her execution in the Tower of London, Anne's body was secretly brought here and buried in a nameless grave under the cover of darkness. Reputed to be the largest and loveliest parish church in Norfolk, it is somewhat of a paradox that it is located in one of the county's smallest villages. Inside are brasses from the same period, dedicated to the churches' patrons, including the early Boleyns, who lived and farmed in the village as early as 1318, only coming to prominence in the fifteenth century.
From Salle, we drive to Blickling Hall, the probable birthplace of Anne Boleyn.
Here, there will be time for an independent lunch, either at the Courtyard Café in the grounds of the Hall, or at the nearby Buckinghamshire Arms, an old inn serving good food.
After lunch, we visit Blickling Hall
Blickling Hall is one of England's greatest Jacobean show-piece mansions. It is a beautiful place, surrounded by woods, farms, sweeping parkland, and gardens that were old in the fifteenth century, and which once surrounded the fifteenth-century moated manor house of the Boleyn family, the predecessor of the present building. That house is long gone, but it was in its day the cradle of a remarkable dynasty; and here, in those ancient gardens, and within the mellow, red-brick gabled house, in the dawning years of the sixteenth century, Anne Boleyn was born and spent her early childhood. Her great-grandfather, Sir Geoffrey Boleyn, had purchased a medieval house on the site in 1452. He rebuilt it, and his house in turn was incorporated into the present Jacobean mansion. One of England’s great stately homes, Blickling is famed for its spectacular long gallery, superb plasterwork ceilings and fine collections of furniture, pictures and tapestries. The gardens are full of colour throughout the year and the extensive parkland features a lake and a series of beautiful walks.
At Blickling, we will be joined by Dr Elizabeth Griffiths of Exeter University, an expert on the early Boleyns of Blickling, who will give us an introductory talk and guide us around the house.
After visiting Blickling, we depart for Sprowston Manor Hotel (4*), just outside the historic city of Norwich. Here, we will enjoy a drinks reception and in included group dinner in the Somerleyton Room.
Dating back to 1559, the first year of Elizabeth’s reign, the history of Sprowston Manor is apparent at first sight. The grand driveway, framed by lofty oak trees, leads to a graceful estate with magnificent trees. Recently renovated, at a cost of £5.8 million, this lovely hotel has become one of Norfolk’s most delightful. Ambience and atmosphere are very high on the agenda at this attractive resort. The hotel lies 3.5 miles from Norwich; it has elegant bedrooms, a 2 AA Rosette restaurant, a golf course and a spa with pool. As well as Manor Restaurant, the hotel has the Zest Cafe Bar & Grill that overlooks the 18th green. La Fontana spa has a gym and indoor tropical pool and treatments.
The Early Boleyns in Norfolk (with introductions to Salle and Blickling) (Alison Weir)
Elizabeth I on Progress (and her visit to Norwich in 1578) (Alison Weir)
Ghost Legends of Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I (Alison Weir)
Day 5: Monday, 17th September
In the morning, the coach will take us into Norwich to enjoy free time for sightseeing.
The historic city of Norwich is dominated by its magnificent Norman cathedral, boasting the largest cloisters in England, the second tallest spire in the country and an amazing 1,200 carved stone roof bosses – one of the greatest art treasures of medieval Europe. Norwich is proud of its past and present status. Its ancient buildings and city wall remains make it the most complete medieval city in Britain. In medieval times Norwich was one of the greatest cities in England, and today, as East Anglia’s capital city, it still is – offering a rare blend of historic interest and modern sophistication, with many beautiful old churches and winding medieval streets.
Guests are welcome to accompany Alison Weir on an optional walking tour around the cathedral and historic Elm Hill (above, centre).
During the morning, Tudor historian Sarah Gristwood, the author of Elizabeth and Leicester, will join the tour, staying with us until Friday.
Later in the morning, we travel by coach to visit the beautiful town of Lavenham in Suffolk
This afternoon, we will see what a Tudor town looked like when we visit Lavenham, which has been called ‘the most complete medieval town in Britain’, a tribute to its fine collection of medieval and Tudor architecture. Here, mansions of wealthy merchants mingle with simple cottages. The older buildings are centred around the market place, with its 16th-century Guildhall and earlier market cross. The market cross was the scene of bear-baiting contests during the late medieval and Tudor periods. During the Middle Ages Lavenham was a thriving centre of the English wool trade, and its prosperous wool merchants were responsible for most of Lavenham's memorable buildings, including the church of St Peter and St Paul, perhaps the finest ‘wool church’ in the land. The glory of the church is the rich carving, both interior and exterior, which includes a Renaissance parclose screen, completed in 1525. Lavenham's many small independently-owned shops are a special feature of this lovely village. For lunch, why not visit the stunning 15th-century Swan Hotel (above, right) in the heart of this beautiful village. The hotel is steeped in centuries of history, and you can enjoy meals or bar snacks in its luxurious surroundings, which feature oak beamed interiors and cosy nooks. Our American guests may be interested to know that, during the Second World War, the Lavenham Airfield was home to the U.S. Army Air Force 487th Bombardment Group, who flew 185 missions between March 1944 and August 1945. The Airmen's Bar in the Swan is brim-full of Second World War memorabilia of the airmen stationed here, making it an evocative and inspiring setting.
Here, there will be free time for an independent lunch and looking around the town.
After lunch, we will visit Little Hall, which is opening specially for us.
Little Hall, a 14th-century hall house on the main square, mirrors the history of Lavenham over the centuries. First built in the 1390s as a family house and workplace, it was enlarged, improved and modernised in Tudor times by the addition of a fireplace and upper floor in the hall. Wander through the seven rooms and discover the treasures of Little Hall including the spectacular upstairs chamber with its striking crown-post. Walk round the beautiful garden, which combines a knot-garden planted along Tudor lines with a traditional English walled garden. Enter a museum that has the atmosphere of a home - the only example of domestic medieval architecture open to the public in the village. Little Hall is an essential part of any visit to Lavenham.
Later in the afternoon, we will visit Lavenham Guildhall
Lavenham was once one of the wealthiest places in the country – wealthier even than Norwich. Its famous blue cloth was exported across Europe and beyond. The village today is famed for its wealth of surviving timber-framed buildings. One of the finest of these buildings is our Guildhall of Corpus Christi. Inside, you can follow the changing fortunes of Lavenham’s history as well as its farming heritage and agricultural roots. Before exploring the streets of this unique village, which have changed little in five centuries, browse in the gift shop and perhaps enjoy a homemade cake in the newly refurbished tea-room.
After our visit, we return to Sprowston Manor Hotel. Dinner is independent tonight; the hotel is 3.5 miles from Norwich, which is easily accessible by taxi.
We stay overnight at Sprowston Manor Hotel
Two Queens in One Isle: Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots (Alison Weir)
Introduction to Oxburgh Hall and the Queen of Scots’ Embroideries (Sarah Gristwood)
Rivals for Gloriana’s Crown: Lady Katherine Grey (Alison Weir), Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox (Siobhan Clarke), Arbella Stuart (with reference to Bess of Hardwick) (Sarah Gristwood)
Day 6: Tuesday, 18th September
In the morning, we travel west into Lincolnshire, where we stop at Stamford
for free time and an independent lunch.
The historic town of Stamford is situated 100 miles north of London, just off the A1, the old Great North Road leading to York and Edinburgh. Captured in time by its conservation status, this once major wool town has retained much of its old world charm and prosperity. Many of the buildings are constructed from old Lincolnshire limestone, hence the town's distinguished appearance and popularity with tourists and movie directors alike. Despite a modest population, Stamford boasts 30 pubs and 20 restaurants, most within convenient walking distance of the town centre.
In the afternoon, we visit Burghley House
Regarded by many as the finest Elizabethan House in England, Burghley House was built in the 16th Century by William Cecil, the first Lord Burghley, chief minister to Queen Elizabeth I. This palatial Lincolnshire residence became the foundation for a dynasty, and his descendants continue to live at Burghley House to this day. A typical Elizabethan mansion, vast and beautifully decorative, Burghley House represents yet another facet of William Cecil's ability and determination. As his own architect, Cecil must have put in an extraordinary amount of work over the thirty-two years it took to complete, whilst continuing to perform the important duties of his ministerial office, and be at the constant beck and call of his Queen. Through the centuries, Burghley House has been extended, remodelled and altered internally to meet the needs of succeeding generations, but there remains plenty of evidence of Cecil's original work. In 2007 Burghley House opened 'The Historical Garden of Surprises'. Cecil had a great love of gardens, and this garden has been inspired by the Elizabethan concept of surprises, and hidden delights, with water squirting everywhere.
After our visit, we drive further west into Warwickshire, and historic Coombe Abbey (4*), our hotel for the next two nights.
Originally a twelfth-century Cistercian Abbey nestling in England's historic heartland in Warwickshire, Coombe Abbey has also been a moated Tudor prodigy house and a Gothick fantasy. It has now been restored to its former glory, and is set in glorious gardens within 500 acres of breathtaking parkland.
At Coombe Abbey, guests will be accommodated in individually styled feature rooms. In the evening, there will be a drinks reception and an included group dinner in the Walnut Room. This will be followed by a talk by guest historian Chris Skidmore M.P.: So Pitifully Slain? Elizabeth, Dudley and the Mysterious Death of Amy Robsart. We will have the pleasure of Chris's company over dinner.
We stay overnight at Coombe Abbey
The Lady Elizabeth’s Perilous Path to the Throne (Alison Weir)
Elizabeth and the Cecils (Sarah Gristwood)
Introduction to Burghley House (and Elizabethan Gardens) (Sarah Gristwood)
Elizabeth and Leicester (Sarah Gristwood)
Day 7: Wednesday, 19th September
In the morning, we visit Kenilworth Castle
The vast medieval fortress of Kenilworth Castle is one of the largest historic visitor attractions in the West Midlands and one of the most spectacular castle ruins in England. Set in vast grounds, the ruins are best known as the home of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the great love of Queen Elizabeth I. Dudley created an ornate palace here to impress his beloved Queen when she came for the renowned ‘Princely Pleasures’ in 1575. The newly recreated Elizabethan Garden, lost for 400 years, is now open to visitors once more. Wander through this sumptuous landscape as Queen Elizabeth I would have done herself.
There are various options for an independent lunch in Kenilworth, including the Stables Tea Room in the castle and traditional pubs opposite the gates.
In the afternoon, we visit Harvington Hall
Harvington Hall, which so charmed guests on the Tudor Treasures Tour, is a charming moated Elizabethan manor-house with medieval origins. Many of the rooms still have their original late sixteenth-century wall-paintings and the Hall contains the finest series of priest-holes anywhere in the country. Here, guided by local experts, you will learn about the religious conflicts of Elizabeth’s reign and the dangers of being a Catholic in the time of an excommunicated Protestant queen.
At the end of the afternoon we return to Coombe Abbey, where dinner is independent tonight.
We stay overnight at Coombe Abbey
The Princely Pleasures of Kenilworth (Alison Weir and Sarah Gristwood)
The Elizabethan Recusants (Siobhan Clarke)
Introduction to Harvington Hall (Siobhan Clarke)
Day 8: Thursday, 20th September
In the morning, we drive south into Hertfordshire, where we visit Hatfield House.
Hatfield is famous as the nursery palace where Elizabeth I spent her youth. Her household was first established here in 1533, when she was three months old. We will see the remaining wing of the old royal palace, set in the West garden, which includes a scented garden, herb garden and knot garden.
Hatfield House itself is a fine Jacobean mansion in a spectacular countryside setting. Built between 1607 and 1611 by Lord Burghley’s son, Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury. Robert Cecil was chief minister to Queen Elizabeth towards the end of her reign, and them to her successor, King James I. The house boasts a marvellous collection of pictures, furnishings and historic armour. The estate has been owned by the Cecils, one of England’s foremost political families, for 400 years. In the park, an oak tree (not the fabled original) marks the place where the young Elizabeth first heard of her accession to the throne in 1558. The garden at Hatfield House dates from the early 17th century when Robert Cecil employed John Tradescant the Elder to collect plants for his new home.
After our guided tour, there will be free time to visit the church, the gardens and courtyard shops, and to have an independent lunch in the Coach House Restaurant.
When we leave Hatfield after lunch, our coach will take us to our new Mystery Destination! This is a late addition to the itinerary, and we are keeping it a secret, but we can tell you that it is an award-winning historical site with connections with Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard and Elizabeth I. And our visit includes an added treat!
After our visit, we return to London and for the Bloomsbury Hotel (4*), where we will stay for the next two nights.
One of the finest hotels in London, the Bloomsbury is situated near Covent Garden, and not far from the West End, and occupies a magnificent neo-Georgian listed building designed by the renowned British architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens. Lavishly refurbished, and recently restored to its original glory and grandeur, it blends the high end of contemporary design with traditional elegance. This is a classic location from which to explore the myriad of treasures of Bloomsbury, whether it's the British Museum which is literally around the corner, the shopping haven of Oxford Street, the West End theatres and night life, the bustle of Covent Garden or the magnificent Georgian terraces and tree-lined squares which makes The Bloomsbury Hotel the perfect London hotel.
Dinner is independent this evening, and there are numerous eating options available in central London. Guests might also like to take in a show, as the West End theatres are within easy reach of the hotel.
We stay overnight in the Bloomsbury Hotel
Elizabeth and Essex (Sarah Gristwood)
Introduction to Hatfield House (Sarah Gristwood)
Life in Elizabethan England (Siobhan Clarke)
Day 9: Friday, 21st September
In the morning, we depart for the Tower of London, where we will spend the day.
Her Majesty`s Palace and Fortress of The Tower of London is Britain`s leading historic visitor attraction. This ancient fortress was founded by William the Conqueror and almost a thousand years of British history have been played out within its walls. Standing guard by the River Thames, The Tower is an impressive London landmark. Its stones are steeped in history, and its walls house many secrets, as well as the world-famous Crown Jewels. Several people lost their heads in the Tower, which held many famous prisoners. Among them were Anne Boleyn and, later, her daughter, the future Elizabeth I. Alison Weir will escort guests on two walking tours: one to illustrate Anne Boleyn’s imprisonment and execution, the other Elizabeth’s imprisonment. There is much else to see at the Tower including the White Tower, where you can see Henry VIII’s armour, the Bloody Tower, where Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned, the various other towers with their displays of historic artefacts and inscriptions carved by prisoners, the wall walk, Yeomen of the Guard (or `Beefeaters`), the Ravens, instruments of torture and the Traitors` Gate.
There are various options in or near the Tower for an independent lunch.
After leaving the Tower, we will return to the Bloomsbury Hotel to prepare for our farewell evening. At 7.30pm, we embark at Embankment Pier, Westminster, for an included farewell drinks reception and dinner cruise on the River Thames – a great way to see the historic sights of London, illuminated by night.
Offering the freshest food, breathtaking river views, live entertainment and professional service, a Thames dinner cruise with Bateaux London provides the perfect indulgence. Specialising in modern British cuisine, guests on board dinner cruises experience the energy and enthusiasm of the Bateaux London team reflected in all aspects, from the quality and presentation of the food to the professional and friendly service. A platter of musical delights is performed during the dinner cruise by the resident band, which comprises of some of London's finest musicians. The highlight of our dinner cruises is the after-dinner dancing with music spanning five decades. Cruising past some of London's famous attractions whilst dining on board either the Symphony or Naticia, a Bateaux London dinner cruise is a memorable experience not to be missed when visiting London. (Please note that smart formal dress is essential, with jackets and ties for gentlemen.)
We stay overnight at the Bloomsbury Hotel
Introduction to the Tower of London (Alison Weir)
Day 10: Saturday, 22nd September
Our tour ends after breakfast at the Bloomsbury Hotel
(Please note that this itinerary may be subject to minor changes.)
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