The ancient city of Winchester has a long and rich tradition of playing host to significant royal events.
In the early Middle Ages, as the effective capital of the realm, it was the obvious place to hold important royal rituals such as coronations, burials, baptisms, weddings and the signing of peace accords. Even after the centre of administrative power shifted to London, Winchester remained an important place for royal events and visits, imbued with lasting significance due to its history of being a hub of royal power.
The twin pillars of focus for royal events in Winchester were the royal residences and the Cathedral itself, both the Old and New Minster.
The royal residence in the city changed considerably over time. The earliest residences were cited in the centre of the city, near the Cathedral; the Saxon palace was believed to be situated on what is now the Cathedral Green; and William the Conqueror built his own palace nearby with one of its fronts running along what is now the High Street, in the area now known as the Pentice near the Buttercross.
Later lavish royal apartments were built at the Castle but these were destroyed by fire in 1302 and were never fully restored. After this point the Bishop of Winchester often hosted royal visitors to the city at Wolvesey Palace. The Castle suffered considerable damage in the Civil War, only the Great Hall has survived intact which you can still visit today.
Charles II started construction on his ‘King’s House’ in Winchester on the site of what is now Peninsula Barracks. Although the king and his architect, Sir Christopher Wren, pursued the building project with enthusiasm, the residence was incomplete at Charles II’s death in 1685 and the lack of interest by his successors meant that it never became the important royal residence that Charles II had intended it to be.
The Cathedral has been a site of royal events from the Seventh Century onwards - many of the Saxon kings were crowned, married and buried at Winchester. The Norman kings continued this tradition, particularly regarding coronations - William the Conqueror, Henry II and his sons ‘Young Henry’ and Richard II all had either their first or second crowning at the Cathedral.
Weddings were also a continuing tradition - in an upcoming podcast I will be comparing the royal weddings of Henry IV and Joan of Navarre in 1403 with Mary Tudor’s marriage to Philip of Spain in 1554.
To experience more of the royal history of Winchester, there is a new trail leaflet which guides you through the events which took place in the city as you walk around the sites.
Today, Winchester continues to be a hub of royal history - particularly at the University. Several members of the History and Archaeology departments are specialists in this area including Dr Elena (Ellie) Woodacre, who runs the Royal Studies Network, the Royal Studies Journal and started the Kings and Queens conference series. Dr James Ross has just won a substantial grant from the Leverhulme Trust for a project on the Chamber Books of Henry VII and VIII. Dr Ryan Lavelle is known for his work on the Saxon and Anglo-Norman kings and military kingship. Dr Katherine Weikert, Dr Simon Roffey and Dr Katie Tucker have all published on research related to medieval rulers, much of it connected to Winchester. Many of these members of staff will be speaking as part of the Royal Blood seminar series in June and November/December in connection with the Hampshire Cultural Trust.
Dr Woodacre and colleague Dr Carey Fleiner, Programme Leader for Classical Studies at the University, have just co-edited a two-volume collection on royal mothers with Palgrave Macmillan. Royal Mothers and their Ruling Children was published in autumn 2015 and Virtuous or Villainess? The Image of the Royal Mother from the Early Medieval to the Early Modern Era is to be published in August 2016. Both volumes showcase case studies of royal mothers from Agrippina, the mother of the Emperor Nero to Henrietta Maria, mother of Charles II who was restored to the throne in 1660 after his father Charles I was beheaded by the Parliamentarians. The collection re-evaluates both royal mothers who have been portrayed negatively such as Bona Sforza, Queen of Poland and Louise of Savoy, mother of Francis I of France and those who have been viewed through historiographic ‘rose tinted glasses’ such as Philippa of Lancaster, Queen of Portugal and Matilda of Flanders.
To find out more about the events taking place in Winchester and Hampshire in association with Royal Blood, particularly the seminar series organised with the University of Winchester, visit http://royalbloodhants.co.uk
If you are interested in trying the ‘Royal Blood’ history trail in Winchester, you can pick up a leaflet from the Winchester Tourism Office on the Broadway in the city centre or download it here: www.visitwinchester.co.uk/royal-blood-trail
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About the Author
Dr Elena Woodacre is a Senior Lecturer in Early Modern European History at the University of Winchester