Join Alison Weir and Sarah Gristwood for AWT's most ambitious and luxurious tour yet, an 11-night royal progress visiting some of Britain's greatest historic houses and castles as we trace the footsteps of England's queens from the Norman Conquest of 1066 to our present sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II. Their life stories are fascinating, vivid and stirring, packed with tragedy, human interest, high drama and even comedy. Love and hate, betrayal, murder, war, ambition, adultery and mystery - they are all part of the saga that will unfold during the tour. In the course of a comprehensive enrichment programme of site tours and talks, Alison and her team of historians will strip away centuries of romantic mythology and legends that obscure the truth about these queens, and delve beyond the prejudice and credulity in contemporary sources to achieve a more balanced and authentic view of these royal women.
Day 1 (Saturday, 6th June)
At noon, we gather at the 4* Kingsway Hall Hotel in London's Covent Garden for an included welcome buffet lunch and drinks, served in the Shelley and Dryden Room. This will be followed by an introductory talk by Alison Weir.
Kingsway Hall Hotel is a four-star deluxe hotel situated in the heart of London’s vibrant Covent Garden, only a stone’s throw away from Theatreland, the Royal Opera House and the British Museum, and the convenient location offers easy access to the City of London too.
Our guest speaker after lunch will be Tracy Borman, Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces, whose talk will be about the first woman to be crowned Queen of England: Queen to the Conqueror: Matilda of Flanders,
In the afternoon we will then drive south to the luxurious South Lodge Hotel at Horsham West Sussex, our hotel for the first three nights of the tour.
This magnificent country house hotel is set amongst 93 acres of woodland and parkland in an elevated position overlooking the South Downs. Already one of the finest luxury hotels in England, South Lodge Hotel has enjoyed a stylish investment programme, lifting it to new heights in five-star country house hotel luxury. It has sumptuous bedrooms with lovely views, and every room is individually styled with gorgeous furnishings.
The Michelin-starred Pass Restaurant (below left) boasts 4 AA rosettes, and The Camellia Restaurant (above, where breakfast will be served) has been awarded 2 AA rosettes. There is also The Cellar (below right), where guests can enjoy an exceptional wine-tasting experience.
After time to relax and perhaps enjoy an English cream tea and the hotel’s beautiful gardens, we depart for 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 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. The garden is one of the oldest in private ownership. The earliest records are dated 1346, and much of the garden remains as it was in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, who visited Penshurst on many occasions. The room where she gave audiences is called the Queen Elizabeth Room in her honour.
At Penshurst Place we will be taken on a private guided tour of the state rooms, beginning in the Baron’s Hall and lasting approximately 45 minutes. That will be followed by a drinks reception in the minstrels’ gallery above the Baron’s Hall, followed by a gala welcome dinner in the Sunderland Room (above), the original medieval solar.
After dinner there will be a special presentation by a very special guest. No, we're not giving away anything!
Overnight South Lodge Hotel
Day 2 (Sunday, 7th June)
In the morning we drive into the beautiful Weald of Kent to visit charming Ightham Mote. Nestled at the bottom of a path, it is a picture-perfect, 14th-century timber-framed manor house, on its own little island surrounded by water.
Built nearly 700 years ago, this house has seen many changes and been owned by medieval knights, courtiers to Henry VIII and high-society Victorians. The house has connections with Elizabeth Wydeville, queen of Edward IV, and with Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII; in 2013 the BBC drama The White Queen was filmed here. The house also has a sinister legend of a body walled in in the great hall, which features in Anya Seton’s historical novel Green Darkness. Here we have arranged a private tour.
The gardens at Ightham Mote are as equally diverse as the house - a formal lawn, flower borders, secret glades and a sweetly scented cuttings garden; there are walks and views taking in lakes, an orchard, ancient bluebell woodland and Kentish farmland. Guests may wish to join an optional gardens tour.
We drive to Hever for an independent lunch at either the King Henry VIII Inn (below right), the Moat Restaurant (below left) or the Guthrie Pavilion Restaurant (below top), and time to see St Peter’s Church (where Anne Boleyn’s father and brother are buried) and the gardens at Hever.
In the afternoon we visit Hever Castle, once the home of Anne Boleyn, second queen of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth I, and later owned by Henry's fourth Queen, Anne of Cleves.
Romantic Hever Castle has a rich history stretching back over seven centuries. The Boleyns built the comfortable Tudor manor house within the earlier castle walls between c.1462 and c.1506. Henry VIII is said to have courted Anne Boleyn at Hever Castle and there are various artefacts in the castle connected with them both. In 1540 Henry gave Hever Castle to his fourth Queen, Anne of Cleves, as part of their divorce settlement, and she sometimes stayed here before her death in 1557. 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 royal portraits, including several of Anne Boleyn and most of Henry VIII’s other wives. 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 Italian garden contains statuary and sculpture dating from Roman to Renaissance times, where it forms a magnificent sight among the glorious display of shrubs, flowers and 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.
We then return to South Lodge Hotel.
Dinner is independent tonight. At South Lodge Hotel, guests may opt for the Pass Restaurant (4 AA rosettes - advance booking essential) or the Camellia Restaurant (2 AA rosettes), or there is a gastro-pub, the Crabtree Inn, just opposite the hotel.
Overnight South Lodge Hotel
Day 3 (Monday, 8th June)
In the morning we visit Ham House for a private guided tour.
One of a series of grand houses alongside the River Thames, Ham House is an unusually complete survivor of the seventeenth century. Rich in history and atmosphere, Ham was largely the vision of Elizabeth Murray, Duchess of Lauderdale, who played an important role in the English Civil War and later the restoration of the monarchy.
The house's fine interiors and wonderful historic gardens make Ham a fascinating place to visit. Directly off the Long Gallery lies a suite of rooms (above left) originally decorated in honour of Queen Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese wife of Charles II. The house contains an outstanding collection of furniture, textiles and paintings surviving from Elizabeth Murray's day.
In the afternoon we visit Kew Palace, set in the famous Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Here we will enjoy an independent lunch; there are five places to eat in Kew Gardens: the Orangery, Victoria Plaza Café, White Peaks Café and the Pavilion Restaurant.
We have arranged private guided tours of Kew Palace.
Historically significant for its association with the royal family, Kew Palace (formerly known as the Dutch House) is the earliest surviving building in the Gardens. It was built around 1631 and is noted for its distinctive decorative carved brickwork and rounded gables. It was used intermittently as a royal residence between 1728 and 1898. Initially, while her husband George II was extending Richmond Gardens, Queen Caroline of Ansbach (above) leased several parcels of land and buildings in the hamlet of Kew which included Kew Palace. Their son, Frederick, Prince of Wales (seen below at Kew with his sisters), married Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, and after Frederick's untimely death in 1751, it was Augusta who effectively established the botanic gardens of today.
Her son, George III, bought Kew Palace in 1781 to accommodate his wife, Queen Charlotte, and their fifteen children (some of whom are shown above right). Here they enjoyed a relatively simple domestic family life. In later years the atmosphere darkened as Kew became a retreat for the ailing King. After Queen Charlotte died in 1818, Kew Palace was closed. In 1896 Queen Victoria agreed to Kew's acquisition of the Palace, providing there was no alteration to the room in which Queen Charlotte died. In 1898, the palace opened to the public. Kew Palace is now in the trust of Historic Royal Palaces, which also looks after Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, Kensington Palace and the Banqueting House, Whitehall. Kew Palace has recently undergone a highly acclaimed ten- year restoration, and is now open to the public once more. The ground and first floor rooms have been lovingly restored in a riot of colour to their opulent Georgian splendour, in contrast to the eerie upper floor, left untouched for centuries. The Royal Kitchens newly restored in 2012, are a fascinating insight into Georgian culinary life.
After touring Kew Palace we will enjoy a guided walk to Queen Charlotte's Cottage, to which we have arranged special access.
Guest historian Elizabeth Norton will join the tour at Kew Palace, and afterwards will give a talk: 'How Many Wives Will the King Have: Henry VIII’s Quest for the Perfect Queen'
In the evening there will be a drinks reception (on the terrace or in the gardens if fine) followed by an included private 3-course dinner at South Lodge Hotel.
After dinner Historic Royal Palaces Guide Lecturer Siobhan Clarke will give a presentation on 'Royal Babies'
Overnight South Lodge Hotel
Day 4 (Tuesday, 9th June)
After checking out of South Lodge Hotel, we drive south-west to Arundel, West Sussex, In the morning we visit Arundel Castle, where we have arranged a private guided tour that will take place before the castle opens to the public. On the way Elizabeth Norton will speak about The Queens of Henry I and the War of the Two Matildas.
Built at the end of the 11th Century, Arundel Castle has been the family home of the dukes of Norfolk and their ancestors, the earls of Arundel, for nearly 1000 years. Today it is a gem of Victorian gothic revival architecture set among Norman and medieval fortifications. According to tradition the Duke of Norfolk holds the office of Earl Marshal, officiating at State funerals, investitures and coronations.
The Empress Matilda (above left) – whom some account the first Queen Regnant of England, although she was never crowned – sought refuge at Arundel Castle with her stepmother, Adeliza of Louvain (above right) , queen of Henry I, during her civil war with King Stephen in the twelfth century. The Howard dukes of Norfolk were caught up in the political turmoil of Tudor times, where their staunch Catholic faith placed them in jeopardy. Some met an untimely death on the scaffold or in battle. Two of the third Duke’s nieces, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, became queens of England, and both were beheaded. On the site of the lower bailey, the quadrangle greets you with turrets and chimney stacks. Inside, every room is a showcase of Victorian craftsmanship, enhanced by a rich and eclectic collection of furniture, paintings, tapestries and priceless artefacts. The armoury displays battle and ceremonial weapons, while the chapel boasts Purbeck marble columns and stained glass reminiscent of Canterbury Cathedral. There are also galleries hung with family portraits and a staircase topped with heraldic beasts leading to lavish bedrooms and Victorian en-suites. Look out for Canaletto landscapes in the small drawing room, the fine portraits and heraldic fireplace in the main drawing room and the white and gold furniture in the Victoria Rooms (below), commissioned for Queen Victoria’s visit in 1846.
Other highlights of Arundel Castle include the 133-foot long Barons’ Hall that commemorates the Magna Carta, the stunning Regency library. Set in the former medieval chapel, this room has fine furniture, notably Queen Victoria’s coronation homage chair and a glass case containing, among other items, the rosary beads carried to the scaffold by Mary Queen of Scots. The south passage retains some early features, complementing those in the grounds, namely the Norman motte and its restored oval keep, the curtain wall and part of the inner gatehouse, and several towers. Walk around the 40-acre grounds to see the ancient cork and ginkgo trees, the themed gardens and Victorian greenhouse. Here too is the late and an unusual Catholic enclave within an Anglican parish church.
There is much else to see at Arundel Castle, including the 14th-century Fitzalan Chapel, burial place of the dukes of Norfolk, 40 acres of gardens and grounds, and a gift shop.
After a private guided tour of the castle there will be time for an independent lunch. The castle offers a restaurant and coffee shop, and there are many eating places in the quaint market town of Arundel, which combines one thousand years of history with independent shops, contemporary art galleries and antique emporiums. Arundel Cathedral dominate its impressive skyline. You can eat lunch overlooking the River Arun in a pretty waterside pub, café or restaurant.
At 3pm we leave Arundel Castle for Bailiffscourt Hotel and Spa on the Sussex coast. We will stay here for two nights.
At Bailiffscourt you step back in time, as narrow passageways with flagstone floors lead you through a series of intimate lounges and sitting rooms, decorated with antiques, tapestries and beautiful fresh flowers. Gaze out through the Gothic mullioned windows at the delightful gardens and the rose-clad courtyard and sink into a comfortable sofa or armchair, while experiencing the very best of service and hospitality. It looks medieval, but in fact most of it dates from the late 1920s, although original medieval windows and masonry were incorporated into its fabric. There is an original Norman chapel.
Bailiffscourt is one of the finest luxury spa hotels in the UK, situated just yards from Climping Beach. Set in 30 acres of private parkland, it boasts indoor and outdoor pools, a modern spa and fitness centre, and tennis courts. The beach is a short walk away. We are arriving in time for you to enjoy these facilities. The courtyard provides an informal setting for light lunches and traditional afternoon teas.
Medieval architecture, mullioned windows and tapestry-hung walls feature in the elegant Tapestry Restaurant at Bailiffscourt Hotel, which serves modern English cuisine. A private bathroom, satellite TV and views of the grounds are included in all rooms, which have medieval or contemporary décor.
Late in the afternoon the eminent historian Professor Michael Hicks will speak at Bailiffscourt about Queen Anne Neville.
Early in the evening we drive to the historic town of Midhurst for an included drinks reception and private dinner in the splendid Jacobean Hall of the famous Spread Eagle Hotel.
Set in the heart of the historic Sussex market town of Midhurst, the Spread Eagle Hotel is one of the oldest Coaching Inns still in existence in the UK, dating back to 1430. Today it is the quintessentially English historic hotel, retaining its heritage, yet providing every contemporary comfort.
Stepping into the hotel is like taking a journey back in time. Relax in the comfortable leather chairs of the 15th-century lounge with its ancient oak beams and leaded-light windows, warmed by huge open fire in the cooler months. Just above the lounge is the Queen's Suite, said to have accommodated Elizabeth I when she came this way in 1591. The sentried hallway leads to the Restaurant with its inglenook fireplace and stained glass windows, where guests enjoy fine dining in traditional surroundings. The Spread Eagle famously featured in Anya Seyton's atmospheric novel, Green Darkness.
The magnificent Jacobean Hall with its natural stone walls and heraldic banners features a minstrel's gallery, a private bar and a garden.
Our guest speaker in the evening will be the acclaimed historian Helen Rappaport, whose subject will be Queen Victoria.
Overnight: Bailiffscourt Hotel
Day 5 (Wednesday, 10th June)
In the morning we drive to Southampton to take the Isle of Wight Ferry across the Solent to the Isle of Wight. The trip takes an hour. We then drive to Osborne House, which was built in the Italian style as a private residence for Queen Victoria. On the way Helen Rappaport will speak about Victoria, Albert, and the Death that Changed the Monarchy.
Osborne is a former royal residence in East Cowes on the Isle of Wight. Built in 1845-51 for Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, it was a summer home and rural retreat, often said to be the Queen’s favourite home. "It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot," she enthused after her first visit to Osborne. She died, and lay in state, here in 1901. Now you can take an intimate glimpse into Queen Victoria’s family life as you tour the private rooms and nursery of Victoria and Albert, marvel at the magnificence of the Royal Apartments and admire the stunning view from the terraces across the Solent – said to remind Prince Albert of the bay of Naples.
When we arrive there will then be free time to explore and for an independent lunch. There are four refreshment venues at Osborne House. Waiter-service gourmet food is served at the elegant Terrace Restaurant, which has wonderful views overlooking the gardens towards the Solent. The self-service café sells light snacks including tea, coffee, soup, cakes and cold drinks. The refresher stand at the Swiss Cottage also serves a small selection of snacks and cold drinks. The Beach Café offers a delicious menu of light refreshments and hot and cold drinks. The café is perfectly situated next to Osborne’s beach, converted from a pavilion built for convalescing officers in the 1940s.
You can explore Queen Victoria's private beach, recently opened to the public for the first time. "We have quite a charming beach to ourselves," Victoria wrote in 1845 and it was here that the Queen regularly bathed and where her children learned to swim. The beach is a pleasant 20 minute stroll from the house down the Valley Path. Enjoy views across the Solent from Queen Victoria's alcove, and spot seabirds from the shore. New exhibition panels explain how important the beach was to Victoria and her family, and how important it is today as a wildlife habitat.
Osborne House is famous for its gardens. Visit the formal walled gardens, admire the view the Solent from the Palm Terrace or visit the charming gardens that surround the miniature Swiss Cottage and children's fort. The Swiss Cottage with its museum and gardens was a special place for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's children to play and learn. Here they cooked, played at being soldiers, tended their own gardens and collected a wealth of natural curiosities.
In the afternoon we have arranged an exclusive guided tour, ‘At Home at Osborne House’, which takes us into Queen Victoria's beloved home. Expert staff give groups insights into the private family life of Britain's longest reigning monarch, illuminating her with anecdotes, personal details and the richness of the State Apartments, which include the Durbar Room with its lavish Indian décor. Afterwards we drive to the Ferry Terminal for the return journey to Portsmouth and our hotel.
In the evening there will be an included drinks reception in the Rose Garden followed by dinner in the Tapestry Restaurant at Bailiffscourt Hotel.
Over coffee our guest historian Sarah Gristwood will give a talk: Consorts and Favourites.
Overnight: Bailiffscourt Hotel
Day 6 (Thursday, 11th June)
After checking out of Bailiffscourt Hotel we drive to north to Oxfordshire and Blenheim Palace, which stands near the site of medieval Woodstock Palace, a favourite hunting lodge of medieval royalty. As a princess, Elizabeth I was held prisoner here in 1554-5.
Blenheim Palace (below) is home to the 11th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. A true masterpiece of 18th Century Baroque architecture, the sheer splendour of Blenheim Palace delivers an awe-inspiring experience for visitors. Discover the beauty of this World Heritage Site amongst over 2000 acres of ‘Capability’ Brown parkland and Formal Gardens. Stunning portraits, tapestries and an exquisite collection of furniture grace the Palace interior, set against a magnificent backdrop of ornate ceilings and striking stone work.
The palace, one of England's largest houses, was built between 1705 and circa 1722. Blenheim Palace was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. It was originally intended to be a gift to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, from a grateful nation in return for military triumph against the French and Bavarians at the Battle of Blenheim. Marlborough’s Duchess, Sarah Churchill, was a great favourite of Queen Anne, and today you will hear about that doomed friendship. The house soon became the subject of political infighting, which led to Marlborough's exile, the fall from power of Sarah Churchill, and irreparable damage to the reputation of the architect Sir John Vanbrugh.
Blenheim Palace has been the home of the Churchill family for over 300 years. At the end of the 19th century, the palace was saved from ruin by funds gained from the 9th Duke of Marlborough's marriage to American railroad heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt.
We have arranged two private guided tours: a tour of the Palace State Rooms, with a theme focusing on Sarah Churchill, the First Duchesss of Marlborough and her daughters, and referencing Queen Anne; and a tour of the Formal Gardens, which will take us around the gardens, concentrating on the ways in which the park and gardens have changed over time, and affording insights into the colourful characters who shaped the Palace landscape.
We have also allowed time to visit the Winston Churchill exhibition (The Untold Story), ride on the miniature train to the Pleasure Gardens, take a buggy ride (on fine days only) and have lunch. There are several good eating options: the Water Terrace Café, the Champagne Bar, the Oxfordshire Pantry, or the Pleasure Gardens Deli, which offers BBQ food in the summer.
Afterwards our coach takes us to Stratford-upon-Avon, where we check into the White Swan Hotel, where we will stay for two nights.
Set in a Grade II listed building dating from 1450, the historic White Swan has just undergone a £3 million restoration project, yet still retains its original features, open fires and wonderful antiques. The White Swan is in Stratford-upon-Avon centre, just a 10-minute walk from the RSC Theatre. Shakespeare’s Birthplace is 300 metres away.
The elegant, stylish bedrooms each have a private bathroom with free toiletries and a hairdryer. All rooms have a flat-screen TV, and some have exposed beams and picturesque views of the town. The restaurant serves classic British cuisine and seasonal specials, featuring locally sourced produce. The bar offers speciality coffees, hearty cooked breakfasts and a range of cask conditioned ales.
In the evening there will be an included drinks reception and dinner in the Oak Room at the White Swan Hotel. This Elizabethan panelled room boasts a wall painting dating from c.1560.
Our after-dinner speaker will be the historical novelist Anne O'Brien, speaking on 'The Sister Queens: Queen Isabella de Valois and Queen Katherine de Valois'.
Overnight: The White Swan Hotel
Day 7 (Friday, 12th June)
After breakfast Alison Weir will give a presentation: Queens, Art and Image
In the morning Alison Weir and Sarah Gristwood will lead an optional orientation walk to Holy Trinity Church, Stratford, where Shakespeare is buried. There will then be free time to explore the Shakespeare properties in Stratford: the famous Birthplace, Hall's Croft and - new for 2015 - Harvard House (below, left), the home of John Harvard's mother. (Please note that Nash's House and New Place will be closed for redevelopment.) Guests will be provided with visitor passes for all these sites.
After an independent lunch in Stratford, we drive to Herefordshire, which borders Wales, to visit Hellens Manor. On the way award-winning guest historian Dr Anna Whitelock will talk about Queen Mary I.
This beautiful historic house is a living monument to much of England’s history. Dating from 1292, it remains a home and not a museum although it contains a wealth of period furnishings, paintings and decorations. The manor was granted to the de Balun family in 1096, and thereafter by marriage, deed or gift it passed through the powerful Mortimer family to the Lords Audley, who were created Earls of Gloucester in 1337. Edward II’s Queen, Isabella of France, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, made their headquarters at Hellens in 1326 when they rebelled against Edward. Accompanying them was Isabella's son, soon to be Edward III. The house is full of paintings, period furniture and decorations, including items belonging to Mary I, Anne Boleyn, Charles I and the Earl of Essex. Among Hellens’ attractions are the haunted rooms prepared for Mary Tudor and her tutor, Richard Fetherstone, the Stone Hall and its great fireplace bearing the Black Prince’s crest and the Minstrel Gallery. The Music Room has a fine frieze and panelling. The gardens are being redeveloped along Tudor and Jacobean lines, reflecting the House’s history. They incorporate a rare 17th century octagonal dovecote, a walled knot garden, a yew labyrinth and a short woodland and pond walk.
The house is opening specially for us, and we will have a private guided tour.
At 5.30pm we return to the White Swan at Stratford.
At 6.15pm tour historian Nicola Tallis will give a presentation: All the Queen's Jewels
Dinner is independent tonight. There is a great range of restaurants in Stratford, most within walking distance of the hotel, and guests may wish to take the opportunity of seeing a play at one of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s theatres (early online booking advised).
Overnight: The White Swan Hotel
Day 8 (Saturday, 13th June)
After checking out of the White Swan Hotel, we visit Broughton Castle.
Broughton Castle is a moated and fortified manor house near Banbury in North Oxfordshire. Set in parkland and built of the rich local Hornton ironstone, it was selected by Simon Jenkins as one of only twenty to be awarded five stars in his book England’s Thousand Best Houses.
Broughton Castle is essentially a family home lived in by Lord and Lady Saye and Sele and their family. The original medieval manor house, of which much remains today, was built in about 1300 by Sir John de Broughton. It stands on an island site surrounded by a three acre moat. The castle was greatly enlarged between 1550 and 1600, at which time it was embellished with magnificent plaster ceilings, splendid panelling and fine fireplaces.
Queen Anne’s Room is named after Anne of Denmark, queen of James I and mother of Charles I; she stayed here with her eldest son, Henry, Prince of Wales, in 1608. Her portrait hangs above the fireplace. From this room a squint allows a view down into the Chapel.
After a private guided tour, led by Martin Fiennes, the heir to Lord Saye and Sele, and an included light lunch in The Saye and Sele Arms, 5 minutes from Broughton Castle. The pub is part of the historic Broughton Castle estate, the ancestral home of Lord and Lady Saye & Sele. The pub was built around 1300 and first licenced in 1782; photographs in the hallway show that the premises were once thatched.
A delightful day out awaits visitors at Sulgrave Manor in the afternoon. Legend has it that the future Elizabeth I was once imprisoned here, but this small Tudor and Georgian manor house set in a historical garden and blessed with stunning views of the Northamptonshire countryside, was also the home of George Washington’s ancestors. The house is shown by lively and informative guides who lead visitors through three centuries of history, introducing them to what many consider to be a ‘hidden gem’ amongst historic houses and attractions. Discover how Civil War, financial ruin and a shipwreck led to the Washington family seeking a new life in a new land, where their descendant would become the first President of the United States of America.
We will have a guided tour of Sulgrave Manor followed by tea or coffee served with cakes.
Joining us at Sulgrave Manor will be historian Lauren Mackay.
Late in the afternoon we drive eastwards to the ancient George Inn at Stamford, Lincolnshire, where we will stay for two nights. On the bus guest historian Lauren Mackay will speak about The Six Queens of Henry VIII.
The George Hotel of Stamford offers luxury accommodation and fine dining of the highest order. It stands on the site of a medieval inn, dating back 1000 years. The magnificent building features original gateways, passageways and the remains of an old chapel.
The boutique-style bedrooms are individually designed with modern art and rich fabrics. Many rooms have original features, and all have a luxurious bathroom, and a work desk. Guests can enjoy traditional cream teas in the elegant lounge or courtyard garden. The oak-panelled restaurant serves a creative modern menu, and York Bar offers real ales and light lunches. Guests can enjoy high-quality, traditional and imaginative English cuisine, an outstanding wine list, and 4-star bedrooms with free Wi-Fi. Opposite the hotel is the church where William Cecil, Lord Burghley is buried, and the almshouses he founded.
In the evening there will be an included drinks reception in the Walter Scott Lounge (below left), followed by an included dinner in the hotel's Oak-Panelled Restaurant, which has been reserved for our exclusive use.
Our after-dinner speaker will be historian David Baldwin, whose subject will be Queen Elizabeth Woodville.
Overnight: The George Inn, Stamford
Day 9 (Sunday 14th June)
In the morning we visit Sandringham House, Norfolk, the private residence of Her Majesty the Queen.
Sandringham is the much-loved country retreat of Her Majesty the Queen, and has been the private home of four generations of British monarchs since 1862. The house, set in 24 hectares of stunning gardens, is perhaps the most famous stately home in Norfolk and is at the heart of the 8,000-hectare Sandringham Estate. Built in 1870 by the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra (below, right), Sandringham was once described as 'the most comfortable house in England'.
The main ground floor rooms, regularly used by the Royal Family, are open to the public and the decor and contents remain very much as they were in Edwardian times. Both Queen Alexandra (who died here in 1925) and later Queen Mary were great collectors of objets d'art.
Members of the Russian and European Royal Families were frequent guests at Sandringham and brought gifts of enamel, silver and silver-gilt: Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany gave a fine Dresden porcelain chandelier and mirror frame. The walls are hung with family portraits by the leading contemporary court painters.
The parish church of St Mary Magdalene, Sandringham, is a country church of exceptional historic interest, used regularly as a place of worship by the Royal Family. It contains memorials to many members and relations of the Royal Family from Queen Victoria onwards. Prince John (1905–19), the youngest son of King George V and Queen Mary, is buried here. King George VI lay in state in the church after his death in February 1952 (above, centre). Sandringham Church is considered to be one of the finest carrstone buildings in existence, and dates back in its present form to the 16th century. The sumptuously decorated chancel with its carved angels frames the silver altar and reredos presented to Queen Alexandra by the American Rodman Wanamaker as a tribute to King Edward VII. He also presented her with the silver pulpit and a silver 17th-century Spanish processional cross.
On arrival we will be escorted by a senior member of the Estate staff through the glorious grounds that surround Sandringham House. Guests will then have the splendour of Sandringham House to themselves with plenty of time to view each room during a private guided tour. The tour normally lasts around an hour. There will then be free time for visiting the Museum, the gardens and Sandringham Church, and for an independent lunch. There are several options in the Visitor Centre: the main Restaurant, the Terrace Coffee Shop and the Ice Cream Kiosk.
After lunch we drive to Castle Rising.
Castle Rising is one of the most famous 12th-century castles in England. The stone keep, built in around 1140 is amongst the finest surviving examples of its kind anywhere in the country and, together with the massive surrounding earthworks, ensures that Rising is a castle of national importance. In its time Rising has served as a hunting lodge and royal residence. The most famous period in its history was from 1332-58, when Queen Isabella of France, widow of Edward II and mother of Edward III, was often in residence. Widely – and probably falsely – reputed to have been involved in the so-called murder of Edward II, she is the subject of many legends attached to the castle. Castle Rising castle passed to the Howard family in 1544 and it remains in their hands today, the current owner being a descendant of William D'Albini, the Norman baron who built it. The castle is a ruin; there are no guided tours, but audio guides are available.
Later in the afternoon we return to the George Inn, and you will have some time to explore Stamford, which has been called the finest stone town in England and 'the Bath of the North'. Captured in time by its conservation status, this once major wool town has retained much of its old world charm and prosperity, hence the town's popularity with tourists and movie directors alike. It boasts 11 churches, 30 pubs, 20 restaurants and an array of individual shops. Most amenities are within convenient walking of the George Inn. St Martin's Church, where William Cecil, Lord Burghley, is buried, is near the hotel, and opposite the George are the almshouses (below, right) founded by Burghley.
At 6pm one of AWT's favourite guest historians, Marilyn Roberts, will give a presentation: Queen Mary.
Dinner is independent tonight. There are many options in Stamford, as well as the excellent fare on offer at the George Inn.
Overnight: The George Inn, Stamford
Day 10 (Monday, 15th June)
After checking out of the George Inn, we visit Burghley House near Stamford, where we will have a guided tour.
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. Of particular note are the Heaven Room and the Hell Staircase.
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 an included lunch at Burghley House, we drive south to see the Eleanor Cross at Geddington, where there will be a photo stop.
In 1290 Eleanor of Castile, the beloved wife of Edward I and mother of his 14 children, died at Harby in Nottinghamshire. The places where her body rested during the journey south to its tomb in Westminster Abbey were marked by stone crosses. The stately triangular Geddington cross, with its canopied statues surmounted by a slender hexagonal pinnacle, is the best-preserved of only three intact survivors. Other crosses stand at Hardingstone near Northampton, and Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire.
On the coach guest historian Sara Cockerill will speak about the wives of King Edward I: Queen Eleanor of Castile, the subject of Sara's first book, and Queen Margaret of France.
We then drive to Chilston Park Hotel in Kent, where we will stay for the last two nights of the tour.
Set in a grand Grade I listed property once home to politicians and lords, Chilston Park Country House Hotel, which dates from the sixteenth century, has 22 acres of rural parkland and a beautiful lake. Filled with antiques dating from as far back as the 17th century, this charming country house hotel also has a 2 AA Rosette restaurant located in the original dining room.
Each individually designed, opulent room has a satellite TV with a DVD player, a selection of toiletries and a private bathroom with both a bath and a shower. Some rooms and suites also have a 4-poster bed and original features.
At 7pm, in the Orangery bar and sitting room, Sarah Gristwood will give a talk: She-Devils: Queens of Notoriet
Afterwards there will be a drinks reception in the gardens or (if wet) our private bar and sitting room, followed by a private included 4-course dinner in the Orangery.
Our guest speaker tonight will be the eminent historian Dr Linda Porter, whose subject will be Queen Katherine Parr.
Overnight: Chilston Park Hotel
Day 11 (Tuesday, 16th June)
In the morning we depart for Dover Castle.
Scenic Dover Castle, spectacularly situated high on the famous White Cliffs and known as 'The Key to England', boasts over 2000 Years of History, have evolved from an Iron Age fort, Roman lighthouse and Saxon church to the extensive castle that survives today with the massive Great Tower built by Henry II. It is one of the greatest and most famous of European fortresses, and its position as a frontier defence has secured it an important place in British history. Strategically sited, it guards the nearest landing point to mainland Europe, and was thus an emphatic statement of medieval royal power, highly visible across the Straits of Dover. Its unbroken active service as a castle and fortress stretches over more than nine centuries, from the invasion of William the Conqueror to the age of the nuclear missile.
We spend the morning at Dover Castle, where the mighty keep – the Great Tower – has been splendidly refurbished to look as it did in the time of Henry II (reigned 1154-89) and his Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. No formal group tours are available, but the Great Tower offers free-flow self-guided tours. Costumed live interpreters recreate life at the court of Henry and Eleanor and welcome guests at the Great Tower on selected days, and life-like hologram characters appear at all other times. There will be time to visit the other attractions at Dover Castle, including the darkly atmospheric Secret Wartime Tunnels with their vivid recreation of the Dunkirk evacuation, complete with dramatic projections of swooping Spitfires and real film footage.
We continue to the historic city of Canterbury in time for an independent lunch and sightseeing.
On the bus guest historian Dr Ellie Woodacre will give a talk: Joan of Navarre: Infanta, Duchess, Queen and Witch?
Canterbury's skyline is dominated by its stunning Cathedral, the oldest in England. But the cathedral is only part of the story; the ancient ruins of St Augustine's Abbey and St Martin's Church form Canterbury's UNESCO World Heritage Site while other ancient ruins such as the castle are reminders of the city's history, heritage and culture. Although Canterbury is a place steeped in tradition it is also a modern and vibrant city. Luxury hotels, fine restaurants and welcoming pubs combine to give a complete experience. Canterbury's array of shop windows beckon with a kaleidoscope of colours; many of the high street names are here as well as a delightful range of independent retailers. The King's Mile has an atmosphere all of its own while the city's St Dunstan's, West Gate Towers and Northgate areas have a range of specialist and individual outlets.
Travelling on foot is always a good way to explore the city. Walking trails or guided walks will help you make the most of your time here and to enjoy the winding lanes and streets, all with their own unique identity. Alternatively you may wish to relax and absorb the wonder of the city with a boat trip along the River Stour. You will be able to appreciate Canterbury's finest historical architecture set against outstanding, scenic views.
In the afternoon we visit Canterbury Cathedral to see the tomb of Henry IV and his Queen, Joan of Navarre, the site of the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket, and the tomb of the Black Prince.
In the evening we visit Leeds Castle, Kent, the dower palace of the medieval queens of England. Set in a lake amid 500 acres of beautiful parkland, it has been called ‘the most beautiful castle in the world’.
A former royal palace begun in the 12th century, Leeds has been owned by a succession of monarchs, and no fewer than six queens of England. Over nine hundred years the castle has withheld sieges, hosted the medieval and early Tudor royal courts, been a prison for witches, kings and prisoners of war, a munitions store and a hospital; and it has welcomed some of the key figures in English history, from Henry VIII to Winston Churchill.
From 1278 the castle belonged to the crown. In that year Edward I began building the barbican and the unusual fortified mill. Edward gave Leeds Castle as a dower gift to both his wives, Eleanor of Castile and Margaret of France, thus starting a tradition that led to the castle being owned by subsequent queens of England, among them Isabella of France, Joan of Navarre, Anne of Bohemia, and Katherine of Valois. In 1321, despite the castle being under royal control, Isabella, queen of Edward II, was refused entry by the constable. The King had to besiege the castle to wrest it from the constable's power. He also wrested the constable's head from his shoulders! From that point Leeds seems to have gained a reputation as being a "ladies castle".
The castle has always been a palace to entertain and impress, with every generation leaving its mark. Today’s beautiful interiors are the result of the massive refurbishment by top European designers throughout the 1920s and 30s for its last private owner, Lady Baillie.
We have exclusive use of the castle for the evening. We will be welcomed with drinks in the Library, then have a private guided tour of Leeds Castle, during which we will be afforded privileged access to three state bedrooms not normally open to the public. After the tour we will enjoy a gala farewell dinner in the magnificent Henry VIII Banqueting Hall, followed by coffee, chocolates, and drinks on request, in the Thorpe Hall and Yellow Drawing Room (both below)
Our very special guest speaker tonight will be Charles Spencer, who will speak about The Art of Queenship.
Charles (9th Earl) Spencer will look at the role of some of England's queens - those who remain household names, and others who are largely forgotten. Starting with Boudicca – who led her tribe against Roman invaders, 2,000 years ago – and ending in the mid–twentieth century, before the coronation of the current Queen Elizabeth, bestselling historian Charles Spencer presents his individual and lively take on some of the most fascinating women to have sat on the British throne. This will be an entertaining and informative look at the personalities, expectations, successes and disappointments of some of the most prominent women in history.
Overnight Chilston Park Hotel
Day 12 (Wednesday, 17th June)
After checking out of Chilston Park Hotel we drive into central London to visit Kensington Palace.
Today we will be joined by two guest historians and royal experts: Christopher Warwick and Dr Kate Williams, who will accompany us as we tour Kensington Palace and Marlborough House. Christopher Warwick will speak about Queen Alexandra of Denmark, and Kate Williams will tell the story of Queen Caroline of Brunswick.
Kensington Palace is a working Royal residence. Of great historical importance, it was the favourite residence of successive sovereigns until 1760. It was also the birthplace and childhood home of Queen Victoria. Today Kensington Palace accommodates the offices and private apartments of a number of members of the Royal Family. Although managed by Historic Royal Palaces, the Palace is furnished with items from the Royal Collection. Its history has been shaped by generations of royal women from Mary II to Diana, Princess of Wales. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have an apartment here.
Experience life as a 17th or 18th century courtier while making your way through the magnificent King’s and Queen’s State Apartments, which are adorned with magnificent paintings from the Royal Collection. An exhibition, Victoria Revealed, set within the rooms where she lived as a child, explores her life and reign as wife, mother, Queen and Empress.
After our visit there will be free time for an independent lunch in the Orangery, the Palace Cafe or the many eating places in nearby Kensington.
In the afternoon Christopher Warwick will guide us on a private tour of Marlborough House.
(Please note that Marlborough House is the home of the Commonwealth Secretariat, and that our tour will go ahead subject to the Fine Rooms not being required for an official function.
Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to build Marlborough House for the first Duke of Marlborough, but it is to Duchess Sarah that the building owes its existence. It was she who secured a lease of the site from Queen Anne and chose Wren as her architect in preference to Sir John Vanbrugh, who was then building Blenheim Palace for the Duke. The Duchess herself laid the foundation stone in 1709 and the house was finished in 1711. The Dukes of Marlborough occupied the house until 1817.
Following the marriage of Princess Charlotte, only daughter of the future George IV and heir presumptive to the throne, to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1816, Marlborough House was given to them as their London home. After the Princess's death in 1817, Prince Leopold continued to use Marlborough House until he became King of the Belgians in 1831. That year William IV provided that his consort, Queen Adelaide, should have Marlborough House for life in the event of her widowhood. After he died, she spent much time at Marlborough House and it was here that she gave a wedding banquet after the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Shortly after the death of Queen Adelaide in 1849, the house was settled on Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), and became his official residence. He and his wife, Alexandra of Denmark (above), made Marlborough House the fashionable social centre of London, on, and lived there until Queen Victoria died in 1901. The memorial to Queen Alexandra was unveiled by the Queen in 1966.
After Edward VII’s accession Marlborough House was assigned to his second son, the Duke of York (later George V). On the death of Edward VII, his widow, Queen Alexandra, returned to Marlborough House. George V’s widow, Queen Mary (above centre), in turn, moved to Marlborough House on his death in 1936. She died here in 1953. Today Marlborough House houses the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Foundation.
When our visit ends our coach will be waiting to take us to the Kingsway Hall Hotel, where the tour ends with a very English treat: afternoon tea (sandwiches, scones, jam and cream, cakes and tea or coffee) in the Harlequin Room. Your luggage will be unloaded from the coach ready for your onward journey.
Please note that, in the interests of providing the best experience for guests, or due to changing circumstances beyond our control, the above itinerary may be subject to change.