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King Henry VIII's Dartford days

PUBLISHED: 13:46 29 November 2012 | UPDATED: 17:02 29 November 2012

Dartford Manor

Dartford Manor

Archant

The present day Manor Gatehouse once formed one of King Henry V III's many houses.

Remembered for his six marriages, gruesome beheadings, morbid obesity and extravagant lifestyle, Henry VIII is history’s most colourful King of England.

Reigning under absolute power, he made the most radical act of any English monarch by breaking with the Catholic Church and declaring himself supreme head of the Church of England.

This decision led to the dissolution of the monasteries, priories and convents, which included the demolition of one of the most important nunneries in medieval and Tudor England – Dartford Priory.

It was this that brought King Henry VIII to Dartford.

Today, the Manor Gatehouse stands as a link to those fascinating Tudor days, but what exists now is just a fraction of the former manor house.

When Henry VIII got rid of the Catholic Church, the nuns from the priory left in exile to Europe, leaving the site free for him to make room for his new house.

It took four years to build, from 1541 to 1544, and was one of a series of houses built along the route from London to the coast that the king frequently travelled.

“It is a tangible piece of history connecting Dartford with one of the country’s most famous kings,” says Dartford Museum’s Mike Still, explaining the significance of the gatehouse today. “It was also home to the privy council for a few important days.”

From June 21 to 25, 1547, the privy council – the most important decision-making body of Tudor England – came to Dartford on one of the few occasions it did not meet in London.

It is thought that the king’s poor health brought the members, which included the Earl of Essex and Bishop of Winchester, down from the capital.

“During those five days, Dartford enjoyed a brief moment of being the centre of national government.

“No monumental decisions were made but records show they did discuss the plague at Boulogne, Spanish spies in Plymouth, French pirates operating in the English channel and the conscription of soldiers,” Mike says.

While he is not known to have come here with one of his wives, when Henry VIII died in 1547 – just three years after the manor house was finished – it was his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, who took over the property.

Later, when Mary became Queen, the manor house was given back to the nuns and it once again became the Dartford Priory.

However, this was short-lived as Elizabeth I reclaimed it for herself and went on to stay there just twice.

It was during her reign that large parts of the manor house were demolished with the leftover land being turned into farmland and becoming known as the Priory Farm, famous for its Dartford artichokes, reportedly the best in England.

As the years went on, the estate changed hands several times and scaled down to just the remaining gatehouse.

Today, the Manor Gatehouse is used as a registry office for couples looking to add a bit of Tudor majesty to their wedding day.

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