Henry VIII comes to Christchurch Priory

Anthony Musson (author details)
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A hand-written 'Letters Patent' document with dark script on a light-coloured parchment, dating from 1510.
The National Archives, C 82/353
Letters Patent issued by King Henry VIII under the privy seal on 13 August 1510 ‘at our Monastery of Christchurch’.

On 13 August 1510, King Henry VIII, Queen Katherine and an entourage of courtiers and household servants arrived at Christchurch Priory on the first substantial royal progress of his reign. As guests of the Priory, they stayed for five days, during the course of which was celebrated one of the major feasts of the pre-Reformation church calendar, the Assumption into Heaven of Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary. The experience must have been a good one as the king returned on progress six years later in time for the very same liturgical festival.

Now, over 500 years later, Christchurch Priory will be hosting an enactment of the pre-Reformation liturgy and music of the Lady Mass and service of Compline as might have been heard by Henry VIII on one of his visits to the Priory as part of an innovative project entitled Henry VIII on Tour: Landscapes, Communities and Performance. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and led by Professor Anthony Musson, Head of Research at Historic Royal Palaces (in association with the Universities of York and Newcastle), this exciting venture is focusing on establishing Henry’s itinerary and exploring the logistics and legacy of progresses around his kingdom by visiting specific extant locations.

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An aerial photograph showing Christchurch Priory surrounded by trees and a town in the background.
Christchurch Priory
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A manuscript illustration showing three angels singing from a book containing musical notation.
British Library Royal MS 2 A 16 fol.118
Angels sing from an illuminated book containing musical notation

Tudor progresses demanded a high degree of ceremony and performance, including liturgical celebrations, civic processions, gift-giving, ancient healing practices, knighting ceremonies and theatrical entertainments. In order to assess the spiritual and liturgical significance of his royal progresses, the Henry on Tour research team will be in residence at Christchurch during the first week of May 2024. Leading this case-study of liturgical performance will be Professor Magnus Williamson (Professor of Early Music at Newcastle) and project partners, Ensemble Pro Victoria, who will be taking on the role of Henry VIII’s ‘riding chapel’ (a slimmed down version of the king’s Gentlemen and Choristers of the Chapel Royal). Archival research shows that the ‘riding chapel’ was often augmented by locally-employed musicians and so Ensemble Pro Victoria will be working closely with the Vicar, Canon Charles Stewart, Priory Director of Music, Simon Earl, and the children and adults in the choirs of Christchurch Priory.

Timetable of residency events at the Priory Church (May 2024):

  • Thursday 2nd May, 12.30-1.15pm: Recital (Organs and Voice in the Reign of Henry VIII) (tbc)
  • Friday 3rd May, 7.30pm: Concert of ‘Music from the Time of Henry VIII’ by Ensemble Pro Victoria
  • Saturday 4th May, 4pm: Celebration of Lady Mass (including movements from the Western Wynde Mass by John Taverner) sung by Christchurch Priory Choir and Ensemble Pro Victoria (Nave)
  • Sunday 5th May, 7.45pm: Service of Compline and Anthem with voices of Christchurch Priory and Christchurch Chamber Choirs and Ensemble Pro Victoria (Quire and Lady Chapel)

The Project Team will not only be investigating where Henry VIII and his court were billeted and what they may have eaten, but will also considering the practicalities of performing music of that era (unfamiliar to many people today) and reflecting on the value of performances re-staged in a specific historical environment in dialogue with archival research.

About the author(s)

Portrait photograph of Anthony Musson

Anthony Musson

Project lead / Theme lead: logistics
Historic Royal Palaces

Professor Anthony Musson joined Historic Royal Palaces in 2018 to lead and foster a distinctive vision for the charity’s research into historic palaces, diverse communities, landscapes and collections. He read history and music at King’s College, Cambridge, where he was a choral scholar, having formerly been a chorister at Westminster Abbey.

He has published extensively on legal, political and visual culture and led funded projects on ‘Law and Image: Representations of Justice, 1200-1500’ (British Academy), ‘Lawyers in Society, 1258-1558’ (ESCR) and ‘The Medieval Court of Chivalry’ (Leverhulme). He is editor with JPD Cooper of Royal Journeys in Early Modern Europe (Routledge, 2022).