Henry VIII’s lost palace was once one of Europe’s most impressive retreats


KING HENRY VIII’s iconic palace once rivalled Hampton Court, and was one of Europe’s finest retreats, but fell into disrepair after his death.

Henry VIII is best known for his six wives, with school children up and down the UK learning the infamous rhyme to remember the fate of each wife: ‘Divorced, Beheaded, Died: Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.” His driving desire for a male heir resulted in him divorcing two wives and having two others beheaded. The second son of Henry VII, Henry was just 17 years old when he became king in 1509, and the decisions made during his reign continue to shape Britain today.

Henry lived in palaces rightly fit for a king, these included Hampton Court, the Tower of London and Windsor Castle.

In a small village in west Kent lies the ruins of a largely unknown jewel of Henry’s reign, which witnessed some of the most remarkable events of the Tudor period.

Otford Palace was once considered the most magnificent house in England, and sits just outside Sevenoaks.

From 776AD until 1537, the palace was one of the chain houses belonging to the archbishops of Canterbury.

Otford Palace in Kent.

Otford Palace in Kent. (Image: GETTY)

Otford Palace in Kent.

Etched by John Bayly, a drawing of the ruins of Otford Palace. (Image: GETTY)

Rebuilt around 1515 by Archbishop Warham to rival Hampton Court, home of his bitter rival Thomas Wolsey, Henry forced Archbishop Thomas Cranmer to surrender the palace in 1537.

First mentioned in the Domesday survey in 1086, when it was valued at £60, Otford Palace grew into a lavish retreat.

It is believed that the reconstruction of Otford Palace cost more than £33,000, or £36million in today’s money.

The new palace spanned more than 15,000 square feet and, at an area of over 163m by 98m, it covered an estate greater than the moated area of Eltham Palace.

Otford Palace in Kent.

Otford rivalled Hampton Court in its heyday. (Image: GETTY)

Both Otford and Hampton Court shared a number of common features — both were built over existing manor houses and also shared common architectural features.

The main courtyards were flanked by long galleries and accommodation buildings, with Otford boasting a slightly bigger main gatehouse.

Henry first stayed at Otford in 1519 with his court, and hunted in the deer park attached to the palace’s grounds.

He is believed to have been taken aback by the palace, and stayed there again the next year with Catherine of Aragon on his way to France to meet Francis, King of France.

Otford Palace in Kent

The remains of the palace today. (Image: GETTY)

Princess Mary, the future Queen of England, stayed there between 1532 and 1533 as an escape from the political and religious turmoil that had engulfed England after the end of Henry’s marriage to her mother.

The palace formally fell into royal hands in 1537, soon after Jane Seymour’s death.

The king spent hefty sums of money between 1541 and 1546 repairing the buildings and maintaining the fishponds, parks and gardens.

The last truly great event at Otford during Henry’s reign is thought to have been in early October 1544, when Henry was reunited with sixth wife Catherine Parr upon his return from a military campaign in France.

Otford Palace in Kent

Visitors can still see the site on footpaths surrounding it today. (Image: GETTY)

Henry had captured Boulougne in a military triumph which would ultimately prove to be his last.

Henry died on January 28, 1947 in the Palace of Whitehall, and Otford fell into ruin soon after.

The sole surviving remains are the North-West Tower, the lower gallery — now converted to cottages, and a part of the Great Gatehouse.

There are further remains on private land, and the entire site is designated as an ancient monument.

Sevenoaks District Council granted a 99-year lease to the Archbishop’s Palace Conservation Trust in 2019, so the Trust can start work to conserve the palace.

The trust hopes to make the site “self sustaining” by using two floors of the ancient palace as an exhibition and meeting space, and also housing an education centre there.

Nick Rushby, the Trust’s secretary, previously told KentLive: “It’s an iconic building.

“In its day — about 500 years ago — it was slightly bigger than Hampton Court.

“It’s a site of recognised historic interest. And it’s one of the things that people associate with Otford.”


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