White Hart Crest of the Royal County of Berkshire

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Royal Visits
to Reading
in Tudor Times

Although after 1540 there was no longer an Abbot of Reading, many Royal visits to Reading took place in the sixteenth century. King Henry VIII made use of the Abbey buildings as a palace, and part of the old Hospital of St. John was used by him and his successors as stables for the Royal horses. In the time of Elizabeth, part of the Abbey was known as the 'Queen's House'. Meanwhile, the estates of the monks were given away to courtiers and some of the Abbey buildings were pulled down. Even the bridges and streets of Reading were repaired with the stones of Henry's Abbey.

In 1552, the young King Edward VI came to Reading. We still have an account, written down at the time, telling us how he was received. He was met at Coley Cross by Thomas Aldworth, the Mayor, and many of the people of Reading in their best apparel. As the King rode up, the Mayor, on his knees, welcomed him to the town. Then the Mayor took his mace and kissed it and, in token of submission, handed it to the King who gently put it back into his hand again. The Mayor then mounted his horse and rode before the King through the town, and so led him to the palace at the Abbey. This was the first time that Edward VI had visited Reading and the Mayor thought it would be proper to offer him a present. The present consisted of two yokes of oxen. They cost 16 and were paid for by the burgesses. The Mayor and burgesses also felt that politeness required them to present gifts of money to the King's heralds, his sergeants-at-arms, his trumpeters, his cup-bearer, his footmen and the other officers in waiting on him.

King Edward died the following year. In July, 1554, Queen Mary and her consort, Philip II of Spain, passed through Reading. They had come from Winchester, where their marriage had taken place in the Cathedral. The English people were not particularly pleased about this marriage of their Queen with a foreign king; but still the Reading burgesses behaved to her with loyal courtesy. Robert Bowyer was then Mayor. Accompanied by the chief burgesses in brave apparel, he met the Queen and her husband at the upper end of Sivier (Silver) Street, just where the Winchester (or Southampton) Road descends from Whitley Hill towards the town. As before, the Mayor knelt in loyal homage, handed to the Queen the mace and, from her hands, received it again. Again, he rode before his Sovereign, bearing the mace in his hand, and so he led them to the palace at the Abbey. He presented them with "four great fat oxen" and, again, the officers of the Court received presents from the burgesses.

Queen Elizabeth visited on least six occasions (1568, 1572, 1575, 1592, 1602 & 1603), staying with Sir Francis Knollys, to whom she had leased the old Palace or 'Abbey House' as it became known. So often was she in the town that, in 1575, she caused a seat to be made for her in the chancel of St. Lawrence's Church. This seat had a fine canopy above it and was called the 'State.' When she visited the church, the floor was strewn with flowers and rushes. On the occasion of her visit in 1602, she dined at Caversham House, where the Earl of Banbury, the Controller of her Household, resided. Queen Elizabeth took much interest in Reading. In 1560, she granted to the Corporation a new charter, greatly enlarging their powers and privileges. It was she who sent a large number of mulberry trees to Reading in order to encourage the industry of silk-weaving.

From WM Childs' "The Story of the Town of Reading" (1905)


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