Sovereign 2023: Sovereign and the King’s Manor

Kate Giles (author details)

In July 2023, the King’s Manor provided the stage for a community performance of Sovereign, by York Theatre Royal. Set against the backdrop of Henry VIII’s visit to York in the Autumn of 1541, it is a Tudor detective story which explores themes of Royal power, religious rebellion and divided loyalties - both political and personal.

The novel’s hero, the lawyer Shardlake is on a private commission from Archbishop Cranmer, which will introduce him to a city and a region still recovering from the disastrous religious rebellion of the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536. Its civic leaders will be humiliated by a king who ignores their careful preparations for Royal arrival to force them to kneel in the mud at Fulford Cross, and whose mood deteriorates as a proposed meeting with King James of Scotland comes to nothing, and his new teenage bride seeks company and consolation elsewhere!

The performance itself took place in the courtyard of King’s Manor, surrounded on three sides by the brick-built late 15th century ranges of the Abbot’s Lodging of St. Mary’s Abbey, the great Benedictine monastery, surrendered two years earlier in 1539 as part of the dissolution of the monasteries. But whilst Henry and Catherine would undoubtedly have spent time in this building, a Survey of 1545, studied by Christopher Norton, reveals that they lodged in the west range of the abbey, in suites of apartments arranged opposite each other: Henry in the former prior’s house, using the Refectory as his hall and Catherine opposite, in the former dorter, or dormitory range. Although these buildings are long gone, they were excavated by Charles Wellbeloved in 1829, and are being digitally reconstructed as part of this Henry on Tour project.

Although the public are usually welcome to visit the courtyard of King’s Manor, access to interior spaces is usually restricted. Nevertheless, via the Explore King’s Manor website you can virtually experience many of the rooms inside the building, including some which Henry himself would have visited in 1541.

Three other pieces relating to Sovereign 2023 have been created - explore them at:

About the author(s)

Portrait photograph of Kate Giles

Kate Giles

Theme lead: legacy
University of York

Kate is a building historian and archaeologist with a particular interest in the study of late medieval and early modern communal and public buildings. She specialises in the study of guildhalls and has led major projects on examples in York, Boston and Stratford upon Avon. She has a particular passion for churches and has recently published a major study of the wall paintings of Pickering Church (North Yorkshire).

As Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of Christianity & Culture, Kate works with national, regional and local organisations to find creative ways of sustaining and sharing their heritage with others.