The Tudor Roses

The Tudor Roses

The Rose Blog

Layer Marney Tower and a Tudor May Bank Holiday Weekend

Layer Marney Tower


It has been a little while since I (Katherine here!) last wrote a blog entry and we Roses are already well into our season of historical events and living history days. Due to having prior engagements and a holiday to New York (It was a fantastic trip by the way!), I had to miss out on our April events - so it was with great excitement that I journeyed to Layer Marney Tower, just outside of Colchester in Essex for my first event of the year. I was ‘going it alone’ as a Rose this weekend due to us having another event booked at Hedingham the same bank holiday weekend. Emma and our newest Rose, Debbie (More on that soon!) were participating in Hedingham’s Medieval Siege weekend and I was attending Layer Marneys Tudor May Day weekend. I was not entirely on my own though as I had the energetic company of a trusty Prince, Jonny for one day and Matty for the other, accompanied by their dad and our superb photographer and gentleman of all trades, Darren.

Katherine Parr & Henry Fitzroy
Katherine Parr & Prince Edward
Layer Marney is hidden away in deepest rural Essex about 6 miles South of Colchester and approximately 48 miles from central London. It is surrounded by formal gardens which lead on to flat parkland and rural farmland and, on a clear day, you can see the Blackwater Estuary in the distance.

The building itself is a magnificent red brick property dominated by an imposing twin turreted gate house, the tallest in England, standing at approximately 80 feet (24 meters or thereabouts).


The building work commenced in the first half of Henry VIII’s reign, roughly 1515-1520, and was designed to be a statement of wealth and power by its owner, Henry, 1st Lord Marney, who was at that time acting as Privy Councillor to the King – a position of high status and influence at Court. Henry Lord Marney even accompanied Henry VIII to the Field of The Cloth of Gold so would have been in great favour early in the Kings reign. His vision for Layer Marney was greatly influenced by the King, who was undertaking massive upgrades and building works to many of his own palaces and properties at that time. The King wanted to show the rest of Europe his unquestionable power, status and grandeur by building increasingly impressive palaces so that none could refute his status as King nor deny his magnificence.


In turn, this created something of a ‘fashion’ amongst his wealthy Courtiers who competed not only for status and power at Court, but to build or upgrade their existing properties to a similar scale and splendour – something fit for the king himself to visit which was of course the greatest honour of all.


Henry Marney, it is said, had observed the grandeur of Cardinal Wolsley’s new building project at Hampton Court and his ambition was to build something of equal, if not more, extraordinary lavishness at Layer Marney. There are visible similarities in appearance between Layer Marney and Hampton Court; the use of red-brick, terracotta, stucco and decorative detailing imported from Italy - all designed to impress visitors and show the status and success of its owner.


To the South side, the two semi-octagonal turrets of the gatehouse were latticed in terracotta and red brick and boasted 8 storeys of glazed windows – another show of wealth in their design as fine glass was an expensive luxury. The original plan was for the gate house to be the forefront of a huge palatial courtyard house. There was also a new Church, St Mary’s, built just in front of the gate house and several expansive outbuildings including a brick-built long gallery with magnificent windows.


The dream was sadly never realised as Henry Marney died in 1523, just 3 years into the building work. His Son, John Marney, immediately set out to continue his father’s building legacy but tragically he died just two years later in 1525 leaving no male heir. The Marney vision remained sadly uncompleted and the gatehouse range, church, stable block, long gallery and outbuildings are all that were completed. Nevertheless, the building work that has been undertaken remained impressive and of highest quality – a testament to that is that the exterior of the building has changed little and many of the Tudor features such as fireplaces, plaster ceilings and wood panelling remain largely intact today. Poignantly one of the finest testaments to the building works of that time is the magnificent marble tomb of Henry Marney which can still be seen in St Mary’s church today.


It is said that Henry VIII paid Layer Marney a visit in 1522 when the building work would have been well under way though I cannot find any record of whether he was suitably impressed with the work or not – it would, after all, have still been somewhat of a building site! When the Marney family line died out, the estate passed to Sir Brian Tuke, Treasurer to the Royal Household, and the house was still in the Tuke family when Elizabeth I stayed at Layer Marney in 1579 as part of her Progress through Essex.


Today Layer Marney is open to the public during Spring and Summer months. The gatehouse, long gallery, stable buildings and gardens are all accessible and events and educational days take place throughout the year as well as private functions and weddings. It also has a very nice little tea shop and gift shop as well as a children’s farm and large jungle gym/play area so makes a wonderful place for a family day out.


Unusually for an English Bank Holiday we were treated to clear blue sky and already, despite the early start, the warmth of the sun suggested to me that it would be a hot day! We quickly unpacked the car and myself and Jonny (Who today was in the guise of Prince Edward and I as Catherine Parr) in the East Court section of the building which is often used for weddings and functions.


Before long it was time to meet the public and myself and my little Prince made our way to the main lawn in front of the gatehouse. The promise of fine weather meant that turnout was very good and it was lovely to see the reaction of visitors when they glimpsed people in period costume as they arrived. It was not only myself and Jonny but there were other living history groups present for the weekend.


Activities included archery, brass rubbing, traditional Tudor games and May Pole dancing and we tried our hand at everything (OK well I stood and watched Jonny partake in the May Pole as my skirts are slightly too large to weave in and out!). Teachers were also specially invited to attend over the weekend to experience some of Layer Marneys excellent educational programmes. There was an apothecary giving talks on Tudor medicine (or lack of!) an Armourer with examples of equipment and weapons, a food and drinks specialist, needlework and embroidery displays and of course myself walking around the grounds, meeting people and talking with them about Tudor clothing particularly for high status Courtiers.


I was wearing my new black taffeta gown for the weekend. A somewhat questionable choice in the heat given it has very heavy fur sleeves, but like any new outfit, I was desperate to wear it and the promise of dry conditions meant I would not risk getting it wet and dirty! It is loosely based on the Anne Boleyn portrait at Hever and I picked a lovely bronze/gold brocade fabric for the panel which shone nicely with the bright sunshine. Once you get used to wearing a tight corset the gowns are actually quite comfortable to wear, if a little restrictive in movement – bending down to pick something up requires a slightly stiff ‘robotic’ action – not very lady-like! (I suppose this is what ladies in waiting and other servants are for! ;-) ) But as soon as the gown is on, I find I carry myself more upright and regally so it is very easy to get into a character in such atmospheric surroundings. I did end up with a rather un-glamorous ‘Tudor Tan’ by the end of the day however – a large square red neckline with the hint of a cross from my necklace! It would never have happened in Anne Boleyn’s time I’m sure! It was thought to be most unseemly to be tanned as it was the mark of poor labourers working out all day in the fields etc – Pale complexions were reserved for high status ladies and considered a mark of their beauty and standing.


One of the best things about the weekend was the sheer number of children approaching me to tell me about what they knew about the Tudor era. Happily naming all of Henry’s wives and what their fate was or asking questions about my outfit and the various components of it or asking ‘what was it like back then?’. It seems to be a period of history that young people can really engage with and enjoy – for the characters who played pivotal roles in history, the magnificent Royalty, the knights, the intrigue and the conspiracy as well as all the silly facts kids love, the dirt, the dungeons the pong! – it was certainly the case for me – and that will hopefully lead to a lifelong interest for some who will continue to be fascinated by this captivating period in history and who will continue into adulthood visiting places of historical interest, helping preserve and protect places like Layer Marney for future generations to enjoy.

VLOG from the Layer Marney Tower Tudor Weekend


Layer Marney is open to the public Sundays and Wednesdays 12-5pm and throughout the year hosting a range of special family events (See website for further information)

For more information about Layer Marney visit Layer Marney, Nr. Colchester, Essex C05 9US



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