Friday, 5 June 2009

Mary and the royal manor of Beaulieu

A few months back, Channel 4 aired a fantastic documentary on Henry VIII’s palaces, which involved the guys from Time Team. They attempted to recover evidence of Henry VIII’s lost palaces and examined the area where the Palace of Beaulieu once stood [1]. Prior to Henry’s building work, the site contained an impressive manor which was granted to Thomas Boteler (or ‘Butler’), Earl of Ormonde by Henry VII in 1491. In 1515 Thomas died and the property was granted to his daughter and coheir, Margaret who had married Sir William Boleyn [2]. William sold the property to Henry VIII sometime in 1515 and by January 1516 the king had already started to rebuild the manor.

When Beaulieu is mentioned in connection to Mary it often concerns her time there as an adolescent or later in life. It was at this royal manor that Mary composed a letter to her father detailing her astonishment that she had lost the title princess owing to his decision to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn in 1533. It was also where the duke of Norfolk was sent to tell Mary that Henry desired her ‘to go to the Court and service of [Elizabeth], whom he named Princess’. In short, this was where Mary was informed that her new half-sister was now considered the king’s legitimate daughter and that she was now the illegitimate ‘Lady Mary’.

In her father’s will Mary was granted Beaulieu along with numerous other properties [3]. And in 1553, just after Mary had been pronounced as queen across the country, Beaulieu was where she was presented with a purse made of crimson velvet and filled with coins from the City of London, as a token of their respect for their new queen.

So Beaulieu became a well favoured residence for Mary. It was also where she declared before the sacrament that she would marry Philip of Spain with the Imperial ambassador and her lady-in-waiting Susan Clarencius being the only ones present. However it is not Mary’s connections as an adolescent or as queen to the royal manor that was examined in the Time Team programme. A much earlier connection was uncovered.

Whilst examining the ruins of the old royal manor in search of Henry VIII’s own apartments, the archaeologists came across another area where the original drainage system was existent and there were signs of previous massive bay windows that characterised the grand rooms of that period. Jonathon Foyle, an architectural historian who was present at the dig, proposed the theory that the rooms found were the royal nursery built for the infant Mary. He argued that the presence of either kitchens or a laundry belonging to rooms above indicated that the chambers belonged to an important individual, like a royal child.

Layout of Beaulieu. The red area to the bottom left marks the spot of the royal nursery.

The dates make sense. Henry purchases the manor in 1515 and work starts in January of 1516. By that point Katherine of Aragon was heavily pregnant and Mary was born in February of that year. Perhaps Henry, anticipating the birth of a male heir, purchased the manor for the child. The home was outside London and situated in the countryside and therefore away from dangers like plague making it a perfect location for the baby. Around £17,000 was spent on the manor between 1516 and 1522, indicating that the improvements were for someone notable [4].

There is also another and more striking indication that the manor has a connection to the infant Mary. Beaulieu is now lost to us but the arms of Henry VIII that formerly belonged to the outer gatehouse of the manor still survives. In the top right a pomegranate is included (the badge of Katherine of Aragon) and instead of being depicted with a slit with seeds poking through to symbolise fertility, a Tudor rose is emerging. It was argued that this represented the birth of a new Tudor, which in 1516 was of course Mary.

The investigation into the manor house provides us with valuable insight into one of Mary’s early residences. The episode can be watched here:
Part 1 -
Part 2 -


[1] Beaulieu is also known as Newhall, Essex.
[2] Sir William Boleyn (c.1451–1505) was Anne Boleyn’s paternal grandfather
[3] For a list of the properties Mary inherited from her father’s will (Beaulieu is given as ‘Newhall):
[4] Figures given in David Loades, Mary Tudor: A Life, p. 138.


Simon Thurley, The Royal Palaces of Tudor England: Architecture and Court Life, 1460-1547 (New Haven and London, 1993), pp. 44-5.

Anna Whitelock, Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen (London, 2009), pp. 56-7, 179.

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