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Archaeologists reveal traces of Henry VIII’s Otford Palace

A team of community archaeologists have conducted a survey in Kent, England, revealing traces of Henry VIII’s Otford Palace, also known as the Archbishop’s Palace.

The site of Otford palace lies in the parish of Otford, Kent, a few miles south-east of Greater London and adjacent to the Pilgrims Way.

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The origins of the present site can be traced back to the Saxon period, however, the first documented mention of a structure on the site was by Lanfranc Archbishop of Canterbury, which was valued at £60 in the Doomsday survey of 1086.

Over the course of the following 400 years, the original manor house underwent significant expansions under the remodelling efforts of Archbishop William Courtenay. He transformed the house into a stunning edifice with a great hall in the late 14th century.

Image Credit : Darent Valley Landscape Partnership

150 years later, William Warham, Courtenay’s successor, made a lasting impact on Tudor building design with the construction of a building that can be seen as a precursor to Hampton Court and many styles of Tudor architecture.

In 1514, Warham embarked on a complete redesign of Otford, creating a palace that was fitting for a prince of the church, and which conveyed a clear expression of his power and status. He demolished most of the existing buildings and constructed a new lavish palace that established the current layout of Otford Palace.

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Cardinal Wolsey took Warham’s place as the key political leader in Tudor England and intensified a rivalry that was to continue until Wolsey’s death.

When we look at the plan and design features of Otford Palace, and compare them to Wolsey’s edifice at Hampton Court, we can see a glimpse of the rivalry and dislike that existed between both men. Both buildings were built over existing manor houses and they shared common architectural features.

Otford Palace was designed and laid out on such a scale that it compares favourably with any of the largest contemporary palaces in England. At over 163m by 98m, it covered an area greater than the later renaissance influenced Nonsuch Palace, or the moated area of Eltham Palace.

As part of the English Reformation, Henry VIII acquired Otford Palace and it became a Royal Palace with the title The Honour of Otford in 1537. Despite some investment by Henry, the upkeep was insufficient, and the condition of the building gradually worsened.

From 1553 to 1558, Cardinal Reginald Pole, the final Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, resided at the palace. He was the last of 56 Archbishops of Canterbury to occupy the Palace before it fell out of use.

Image Credit : Darent Valley Landscape Partnership

As part of a community led project by the Darent Valley Landscape Partnership, an organisation that works to conserve and enhance the distinctive heritage landscapes of the Darent Valley, community archaeologists have conducted an electrical resistance survey across Palace Field adjacent to the surviving palace ruins.

The survey measures the pattern differences as electrical current is passed through the ground, revealing archaeological features which can be mapped when they are of higher or lower resistivity than their surroundings.

The study has revealed the NW tower of the palace and the western range, showing the higher resistance where the wall foundations lie, in addition to sections of the palace layout.

The Hidden Palace – Otford’s own Hampton Court project is working alongside the Archbishop’s Palace Conservation Trust to help safeguard the Palace’s future and make it more accessible to the local community.

Darent Valley Landscape Partnership

Header Image Credit : Shutterstock

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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
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