Walk in the Footsteps of the Tudors in Reading, Berkshire

You might think of the town of Reading in Berkshire as a shopping destination - maybe somewhere to grab a bite to eat or see a film. But don't write this town off as a historic day out just yet. If you're a Tudor royal history fan like I am, there are still ways you can literally walk in their footsteps. 

St Laurence's Churchyard, Reading Hospitium - image: Jo Romero

St Laurence's Church
If you're looking for Tudor vibes, you need to start here. St Laurence's Church was where Elizabeth I used to come and pray while she was in Reading. She even had her own royal pew, and the church was strewn with flowers before her arrival. She came here shortly before her death in 1603 - so you can imagine her older, bewigged and with her pale make up, solemnly worshipping inside the church. At the front of the church was the site of a presumably fuming Catherine of Aragon, when the bells of St Laurence did not ring for her in 1529. It probably added insult to injury because her husband was openly seeing Anne Boleyn at that time, too. 

Head on round to the back and into the churchyard. You're standing on land that Mary Tudor (Mary I) gave to St Laurence's as a graveyard. Before the Abbey was demolished parishioners of St Laurence's would have been buried there.  And finally, turn and look at the Abbey's Hospitium. Here is where Henry VII, founder of the Tudor dynasty, was having a stroll with the town's mayor when he gave permission for them to turn the building into a grammar school, in 1486. 

The Abbey Quarter
If there's one place that is full of history, it's the Abbey grounds. Once a beautiful, tall series of buildings that held parliaments and housed illustrious Medieval kings, one even being buried here. Henry VIII of course dissolved it, and that led directly to its ruin. The Civil War in the town and its plumdering for building materials finished it off. But there are still Tudor links here. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn came here in 1535, while they were on progress. Take a moment and you might imagine them strolling through the grounds together, now just dusty gravel tracks. Henry VIII visited here also in 1521 and 1532. It would be dissolved - and the Abbot executed outside its walls - in 1539. Don't forget too, that the Forbury Gardens were part of the abbey grounds back then - it was only made into a pleasure gardens by the Victorians. 

Silver Street
Stand on Silver Street, and this is the road where Mary I and her new husband Philip II of Spain approached Reading in 1554. They had been married at Winchester a few days earlier - and the then mayor of the town, Robert Bowyer, met them, presented them with the town's ceremonial mace and led them towards the abbey. While the abbey was officially dissolved after Henry VIII, some buildings were still used for accommodation. It was used this way up to the time of the Stuarts. 

Castle Street
Reading didn't have town walls in Tudor times, but its boundary was marked by crosses. And in 1552, Edward VI arrived at Reading for the first time, and was greeted at Coley Cross, which is on today's Castle Street. Edward was met by the mayor, Robert Bowyer, where he 'staid his horse' and received the mace, just as his sister would two years later. Edward, then fourteen years old, was led by the mayor to the abbey grounds. 

Love the Tudors? Try making Tudor Marchpane, Anne Boleyn's Apple Pie or Trifle

Reading witnessed a number of events during the Wars of the Roses conflict in the mid-fifteenth century. I explore the stories of some of the women affected by  the wars in my book Forgotten Women of the Wars of the Roses, published by Pen and Sword. Order your copy here. 

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