New research reveals West Horsley Place as the haunt of Tudor pleasure-seekers and plotters

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This summer West Horsley Place will transport you back to Tudor times. Hosting Henry VIII, a festival of authentic Tudor merry-making, will recall the moment 500 years ago when this sleepy country house entertained the legendary king and his court. The Stone Hall will be set for a royal banquet and the dishes can be tasted while enjoying period music and dancing. Like King Henry and his honoured guests, visitors will enjoy a host of outdoor recreations including hunting archery, falconry and a joust.



This year West Horsley Place Trust, a small charity established only in 2015, joined forces with researchers at Exeter University and Historic Royal Palaces to uncover the early history of the house.

West Horsley Place was an out-of-town palace for the Tudor royal family. Henry VIII gifted it to his longest-lasting court favourite, Henry Courtenay, marquess of Exeter. The pair had been close since boyhood: Courtenay himself was of royal blood, the grandson of King Edward IV, and Henry VIII called him ‘cousin’. The king not only gave the Marquess West Horsley and its hunting park he also match-made his marriage to noblewoman, Gertrude Blount. At the peak of Henry’s own ambitions as king, when he divorced Katharine of Aragon, married Anne Boleyn, and began his smash-and-grab raid on the Church, the Courtenays were the golden couple of the Tudor court; and Horsley was their playground.

But the sunlight surrounding them suddenly turned dark. The power-hungry Henry VIII would not be challenged and any who did so paid with their life. Increasingly paranoid, Henry turned on those closest to him, even his own cousin. In 1538, the Courtenays fell under suspicion of hatching a plot at Horsley to overthrow the king. They were arrested, Marquess Henry was executed and Gertrude and her son were imprisoned in the Tower of London. The drama of their downfall features in the final novel of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, now a major BBC TV adaptation.

The researchers have recovered vivid snapshots of West Horsley’s colourful Tudor history, including Lady Gertrude’s frantic letters attempting to explain away the suspicions of plots whispered in the house and garden, and the interviews given by household servants who told of the great and the good they saw come and go.

Best of all is an account of happier times for the Courtenays, Henry VIII’s visit in July 1533 which includes full details of the rich banquet they put on. This was a moment of the greatest triumph for the king. His marriage to Anne Boleyn had just been made public and she had been crowned queen at Westminster Abbey. Also, she was now very visibly pregnant with his heir.

The menu for the banquet still survives, listing gannet, heron, partridge, stork, stuffed rabbit, sturgeon and venison pasties among the meat dishes and blancmange, clotted cream and pistachios for pudding. The table was set with gold and silver goblets, jugs and serving plates. There was music played on the virginals and regals – portable organs – and the nine viols which the Courtenays kept for players in their Great Hall. The feast would restore the guests after their exertions hunting in West Horsley’s park. The Courtenays shared King Henry’s love of the chase and they commissioned matching suits of green velvet hunting clothes for themselves and their little six year-old son. Lady Gertrude kept her own collection of hunting bows and arrows, and the ‘Little Lord’ had his too.

This summer’s festival will capture the sights, sounds and tastes of this remarkable Tudor country house-party. Visitors will be able to reach-out-and-touch living history with specialists on site to conjure up Tudor food, clothing, jewellery and weaponry. There will be entertainments including music, jousting, dancing and hawking as well as fun for children such as shield making and face painting.

Hosting Henry VIII will be a Tudor festival like no other, full of history and fun for the whole family. Join them on Saturday, July 27 and Sunday, July 28. Adults are £25 and children (ages 3 – 16 years) only £10. All proceeds from ticket sales support the mission to repair and conserve West Horsley Place, which is currently on Historic England’s Heritage At Risk register.

Purchase your tickets now and join them to travel back in time, head to


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West Horsely Place in Surrey

West Horsley Place

Epsom Road, Surrey, KT24 6AN

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