Henry VIII was the strongest Tudor monarch

England's history is rich in illustrious monarchs: some of them were crazy or remembered as warriors. Lots of eaters, sex maniacs and builders sat on the throne.

Some kings, on the other hand, were pious, idealistic, they hyped and ruled relentlessly. With Henry the Eighth (1491-1547) everything happened at once. And: He was the one with the six wives.

Well-read Brits sometimes turn up their noses, because today everyone tends to reduce that king of the House of Tudor to his love life.

Blue-blooded womanizer

Didn't Henry VIII fortify large parts of the English south coast? Didn't he own more than 50 residences and invest large sums in art? Wasn't he showing an almost universal interest that ranged from astronomy to tennis? Didn't he bravely stand up to the Pope, break with Rome and create the Anglican Church?

What about building the fleet, which is essential for England's later advancement? And with a foreign policy that brought many years of peace?

Nevertheless, tourists are more likely to be lured by the image of the multiply king, and he recently even rummaged through the courtly bedchamber as a television character. Blue-blooded womanizers are especially sexy.

500 years ago, in April 1509, the young prince was crowned and anointed in London. Accordingly, the historical palace administration is celebrating the great anniversary of the accession to the throne in detail - and is hoping for a stream of visitors in the crisis year.

Dramas re-enacted for posterity

The program that is presented around the dazzling Heinrich is colorful: A festival with Tudor music is planned, as is a knightly lancing on horseback.

Fencing fights, falcon hunts and archery are to be presented - sports that the king once pursued.

Costumed actors re-enact historical events: the rise of Anne Boleyn from mistress to queen - and the deep fall of the alleged adulteress including a death sentence.

Finally: the royal marriage of the now bloated king to Catherine Parr, the wife who was his sixth and survived him.

Jubilee Tower attractions

A trip to the Thames is supposed to be pompous in June; The entourage is supposed to row upriver on dozens of replica boats like Henry VIII once did. Of course, a historians' congress should not be missing either.

Only the interactive attraction "Tudor Prisoners" seems weird: "Will you survive Henry's reign alive?", It says in the advance notice - "or will you, like so many of his friends, lose your head in the tower?"

This "fun game" (quote from the press release) is offered in July in the Tower, where people have been tortured, beheaded and died in other ways for centuries. The British have never lost their jet-black humor, even in times of torture prisoners like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

The tower on the Thames, a protective and stronghold of the English kings for almost 1000 years, is overcrowded these days as it has ever been. There are hundreds of visitors in line, after they have entered they are met by a keeper of the tower.

In a broad Scottish accent, one of the "Beefeaters" succinctly describes successful executions and those that were less ("The executioner hit the shoulder and neck first - he was probably excited"), while two of the Tower ravens croak at the screeching of school children.

Other tourists rush straight to the crown jewels: they only get to see the crowns and sceptres of the Empire for a few moments as they slide past the rocks on a treadmill. But you can go on the treadmill several times.

Magnificent and murderous, that was how the king loved it

The rush will increase in the Heinrich year, this is ensured: In the central White Tower, a stone's throw away from the place where the unscrupulous king had his wives number two and four chopped off, the exhibition "Dressed to kill" shown: Armaments and military equipment of Heinrichs.

The well-explained show impressively shows the transition phase in world history Heinrich lived in. Medieval knighthood goes over into the age of firearms - Heinrich amalgamated the two.

Rifles with mighty wooden butts can be seen, a lance with a barrel for a deadly bullet embedded in the iron shaft, plus protective shields with built-in guns. Everything was splendid, innovative - and murderous, that was how the king loved it.

Heinrich's arms and armaments chamber

The main attraction, however, is Henry's armor, which has been borrowed from various collections.

The Renaissance prince had several polished luxury specimens forged by Tyrolean experts, and soon he founded his own factory in Greenwich, just outside London. The metal combat outfits also show how the sporty, slim king has become fat over the years.

The armor that suited him in the last years of his life seems to have been made for a bear: the breastplate offered space for Heinrich's mighty belly, his legs, which were swollen and littered with ulcers, were no longer completely covered with iron, but only protected by splinted rails - the king is said to have weighed 160 kilograms at the end of his life.

The monarch had eaten his colossal body during numerous feasts. You can get an impression of the opulently equipped table in Hampton Court - both of the food and the ambience.

The palace is located in southwest London, near Richmond, and is not only worth a visit, but also pleasantly less crowded than the Tower or the inner city palaces.

Heinrich obediently let its owner, Cardinal Wolsey, leave the red brick palace to him. After falling out of favor, the man of God was at least allowed to keep his life.

Masterpieces, half a millennium old

The king ordered that the complex on the banks of the Thames be expanded, a stroke of luck for posterity: the preserved Great Hall with its wooden roof is a masterpiece. It served Heinrich as a multifunctional hall: Here people dined, played theater and, above all, represented. The hall is hung with unique tapestries, as is the large guard room next door.

Under the ceiling of the castle chapel, blue, playful, covered with stars, Heinrich thought he was at peace with his God. The astronomical clock is also worth seeing. The latter is said to have been created according to a design by a certain Nicolaus Kratzer, a man from distant Bavaria. Not to forget Heinrich's tennis court, where balls are still threshed according to 500-year-old rules.

The living quarters of Heinrich and his wives fell victim to a general renovation that had been abandoned in the 18th century, to which the castle owes its appearance: one half shines red and warm in the Tudor style, the other side, redesigned by the baroque master builder Christopher Wren, is chalk white and angular in the direction of the extensive gardens.

In the kitchen of the Tudor king

Parts of the palace kitchens have also been preserved from Heinrich's time: the motto at the time was only the most expensive and the best and a lot of it for the court.

While the common subjects spooned gruel, the king and his suite of up to 800 people had exquisite dishes served up twice a day: fine pies and sugary cakes, citrus fruits from Italy and pineapples from the newly discovered New World, pepper from India and ginger from China were offered, with wine from the mainland and above all - meat.

A man at court is said to have devoured about a kilo of it every day, 5,000 calories found their way into the well-born stomachs, researchers estimate.

Everything that tasted was grilled, fried and braised: pheasants and cattle, lambs and salmon, kids, pigs - and now and then a dolphin.

All of this was dragged to serve by liveried servants under the stern gaze of the stewards. They not only monitored the orderly process and counted the dishes, but also made sure that the valuable pewter dishes returned in full.

How it must have been in the kitchen wings responsible for the opulent mass menus is described today by food archaeologists. They lead through the vaults in which the barrels were stored for the royal intoxication, show the fireplaces and ovens in which bread and pies were baked and chunks of meat sizzled on a spit over the flames.

Every now and then, people cook in front of the visitors, just like in Henry's time - but tasting the food is not allowed, today's health regulations forbid it.

Like a swarm of locusts

"A food factory", says the expert, "a food factory" it was - for the Tudor king an opportunity to demonstrate prosperity and generosity.

By the way, the gentlemen got rid of all the stuffed food in the "House of Relief": At the moat was the "Common jakes", a communal toilet where boys and men relieved themselves. Higher members of the court used toilet chairs. The king even relieved himself with the help of a special servant. Its resounding title was: "Caretaker of the Chair".

After a few weeks of daily feasting, the hungry court moved on - like a swarm of locusts, it had devoured the surrounding area. Another residence was already prepared for the gluttony to continue.

Hampton Court Palace remained a special place for Heinrich until the end of his life. Here he was often, here he liked to hold court, even after the spirit of the once so handsome, athletic youth had darkened: Henry had developed into a fat, raging brutal who was responsible for tens of thousands of deaths.

Among the many unfortunates was his faithful teacher and advisor, Thomas More. Unlike Heinrich, the humanist and statesman did not want to break with the Catholic Church: he rejected the notorious Supreme Oath - for the king a case for the scaffold.

More's severed head is said to have been displayed to the gawking crowd on London Bridge for a month. The Catholic Church honored so much martyrdom with a title of saint, but not until the 1930s.

Heinrich and his women

Portraits of Heinrich and his wives hang in a small, darkened cabinet in Hampton Court. There you can see the pale Katharina von Aragon, that unhappy widow of his brother, who Heinrich took over at his father's request.

He banished her and her daughter from court after she could not bear a male heir to the throne. Anne Boleyn, the lady who made the king fidget until he broke with the Pope in order to be able to marry her.