Henry VIII,the Reign
The Royal Progress of 1535
Windsor to Reading Abbey
Friday 9 July 1535
‘I pray you, I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, see me safe up and for my coming down, I can shift for myself,’ so said Thomas More as he prepared to climb the scaffold. He had been found guilty of treason, the penalty for which was execution.
Bishop John Fisher had suffered the same fate two weeks earlier.
On the same day, up river at Windsor Castle, Anne Boleyn prepared to leave on the royal progress – the royal tour – west to Bristol, she, king and court and the entourage of a thousand or more would be away until the end of October.
The Fisher and More executions had ripped the heart out of the Catholic resistance to Henry VIII’s supremacy over the English clergy. The break from Rome had facilitated her marriage to the king, but that formal union, from the outset, was a very unhappy one.
Her efforts to arrange a marriage for her baby daughter Elizabeth into the French royal family had failed -Thomas Cromwell had seen to that. Anne had wanted reform in the church in a way that her mentor Marguerite of Angoulême advocated in France, which included retaining monastic buildings for her brand of religious learning.
The political landscape however had changed since the break from Rome. Anne’s sponsors were the French royal family, she had been introduced by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to hold sway over the fickle King of England, but now Parliament, since Wolsey’s fall, had gained the upper hand over Henry and she and her brother George were becoming marginalised.
The mainstay of the new power group was the M.P. for Taunton, Thomas Cromwell, and within his party he could boast of some wealthy, influential land owners, many of who were based in the west of England, and they wanted rid of the wholly French queen and her Francophile ideas for reform in the church.
By design, at the end of this day, Thomas More lay dead, decapitated at the Tower. He was the most ardent critic of the events surrounding Anne’s marriage to Henry and now he was another of her adversaries eliminated with an axe.
But now Anne faced an even more rigorous test, a battle for her reputation and a desperate fight for her life, she was heading into the heart land, the inner sanctum, of her new enemies, not least of who were the Seymours of Wolf Hall.
The first leg of the royal progress was from Windsor to Reading Abbey, a distance of a little under eighteen miles. At a steady walking pace the route could have been covered in about six hours, the royal train, allowing for stops and a slower pace, would have probably taken eight to nine hours. At this time of year of course, in England, the daylight prevails well beyond nine in the evening.
Hundreds of carriages and carts laden with everything from clothes to tents, hunting gear to jewellery, chests full of coins, the kings bed and probably a kitchen sink or two rumbled out of Windsor. The length and size of the royal train no doubt varied as it progressed around the west of England for the following four months. Perhaps a mile to a mile and a half in length may be envisaged.
Perchance a seven o’clock start for the vanguard, the advanced armed guard left sometime before that, and it would be two hours or more before the tail enders passed through the gates of Windsor Castle.
Westward to Oakley Green and on to Touchen End where the road forks They followed the road to the right and out into open country, ‘riding under the louring skies and heavy foliage of an unusually wet summer’  Those on foot trudged through the puddles to cover the next six miles in the rain to Twyford. Those on horseback were deployed to assist the flagging mud strapped wagons.
Beyond Twyford the train then joined Bath Road which followed a straight line into Reading and the abbey. The royal party arrived at – shall we say in the late afternoon and just as the rain stopped and the cloud began to break. A rare sunny evening lay ahead. Tents pitched all around the abbey, a patchwork of colours and a concoction of sizes, the furious sound of hammers and mallets clouting tent pegs echoed about the place. Fires were kindled, food was cooked and some of the early arrivals had already cracked open the beer casks – many were set on a course for a thick head in the morning.
The abbey was founded as a Cluniac establishment by Henry I in 1120, he donated to religious reform minded groups, and in1120 gave generous support to Reading Abbey. The building began in 1121 and Henry endowed it with rich lands and extensive privileges. Henry I was the father of Queen Matilda, mother of the Angevin dynasty, and father of Robert of Gloucester, he is buried here in Reading.
Anne would soon encounter the legacy of Queen Matilda and Robert of Gloucester.
This royal progress was the death knell for the abbey, within three years the hammers and the mallets would be smashing down the walls of the building its self.
Inside the abbey Anne was shown to her apartment. Henry and Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, his best mate, continued to drink as they had on route. Cromwell was not there. Anne had been told she would not suffer his presence until they reached Winchcombe. Reading was safe for her, but it was a short stay, the progress would soon move further west to Ewelme Manor, and that visit would shape the face of things to come
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