Henry VIII
A portrait of Henry VIII by the workshop, made by Hans Holbein the YoungerWikimedia

Archaeologists have discovered the site of a long-lost banqueting house belonging to Tudor king Henry VIII. The site was originally uncovered by workmen laying a cable for a children's play area in the grounds near Surrey.

Finds reveal that the decoration of the building was luxuriant as items discovered include gilded lead leaves which were "a similar level of decoration" of the same high level as inside the opulent palace. "This is prime real estate in terms of Henry VIII's Hampton Court," said Dan Jackson, the palace's curator of historic buildings.

The banqueting house was located in one of the king's five Tiltyard Towers that bordered a large six-acre site specially created for jousting and other displays of pageantry. The Towers were built in the 1530s at lavish expense to entertain visiting kings and ambassadors. Documents show they were constructed between 1534-1536 and were among the earliest built in England.

The original buildings are believed to have been two to three storeys high and were viewing galleries for esteemed guests to watch the jousts and mock battle scenes. "These sporting events were a "Royal Ascot of the day… places to see and be seen," Jackson said in a Sunday Times report.

Over the years the royal tournaments fell out of favour and gardens were built over the foundations, with their precise location lost for three centuries – until now.

Dangers of jousting

The 1530s were tumultuous times in English history as well as in Henry VIII's personal life. On 25 January 1533, the Tudor king married Anne Boleyn his second Queen consort, and he became supreme head of the Church of England. Also in this year, the Buggery Act (applicable from 1534) made sodomy subject to the death penalty – the first time such sexual acts had been legislated against outside ecclesiastical courts.

Henry was a keen participant in jousting, but nearly died during an accident that occurred at a tournament at Greenwich Palace on 24 January 1536. In full armour, the king was thrown from his horse, which then fell on top of him. He was unconscious for two hours.

Although he recovered, his jousting career was over and he suffered from serious leg problems that tormented him for the rest of his life. It may have caused an undetected brain injury which affected his personality, according to a History Channel documentary, Inside the Body of Henry VIII.


Editor's note: The original headline indicated the building discovered was 300 years old. This has now been changed to 480 years. IBTimes UK apologises for the error.