Published: 06:00, 16 May 2021
When a king comes to tea, you need to push the boat out - but when Henry VIII first visited Penshurst Place in Kent just over 500 years ago, its then owner spent over £1m in today's money entertaining him.
Unfortunately for Penshurst's then owner, the 3rd Duke of Buckingham, Edward Stafford, it wasn't long after he had spent his £2,500 on lavish events to entertain the king, that he was tried and executed for treason - and Henry would take possession of his home.
When visitors step over the threshold of Penshurst Place tomorrow, as it reopens indoors for the first time since lockdown, it will be 500 years to the day that King Henry VIII took the 14th century site over and it became the property of the Crown.
Henry and his entourage had been wined and dined in staggeringly lavish style when he first arrived at Penshurst just two years before.
Once it became his, he used it as a hunting lodge and is thought to have stayed there while secretly courting Anne Boleyn, who lived at nearby Hever Castle.
Heir to Penshurst, Dr Hon Philip Sidney, said: "The Duke of Buckingham was a bit of a Marmite character. He was part of the old guard and rather looked down his nose at these Tudor upstarts.
"He spent a £1m in today's money on entertaining Henry, but he slightly shot himself in the foot by doing that. Henry became suspicious of him."
Today's visitors to Penshurst can walk along the very same corridors that Henry did, and stand in the Baron's Hall, which is as it was when he would have stayed there.
They can also walk in the grounds where he would have walked, and rode horses while hunting deer. The formal garden, which was laid out in Tudor times, also remains true its original design.
Dr Sidney said: "He clearly found Penshurst a rather convenient location in that it was near where he was courting Ann - and Mary - Boleyn.
"The Baron's Hall today is totally unchanged. What makes Penshurst so special is actually that we have never really had the money to tear it down and start again, so needed to work in sympathy with the original building.
"If Henry visited today, he would recognise much of it."
Unfortunately for the Duke of Buckingham, the reopening date is also the 500th anniversary of the day he was beheaded at Tower Hill.
Penshurst's history and its original state has made it popular with film crews.
During its history, the property has been owned by a range of royalty and nobles, including two of Henry IV’s sons. It was included as part of Anne of Cleves’ divorce settlement from Henry VIII.
In 1552, Edward VI gifted Penshurst Place to his steward and tutor Sir William Sidney, in whose family’s hands it has remained ever since.
Dr Sidney said: "The history is tremendously interesting. There is an awful lot of it about!
"It is part of our family - we have always lived over the shop, so to speak."
Of the anniversary tomorrow, he said: "I suspect it will be an emotional one. The house being open once more is going to be quite a special moment after a challenging time. Though whether this has been the most challenging is questionable. After all, it is far from our first plague."
King Henry VIII and his six queens are still seen regularly wandering around the gardens, as the Tudor Legacies historical re-enactment group visit in period costume once a month in the summer.
The enforced closure during the pandemic is the first time that Penshurst Place has been closed since 1947, when it was first opened to the general public following the Second World War.
Work has continued behind the scenes during lockdown to keep the house, gardens, woodlands and estate in good condition.
When it reopens inside, visitor numbers will be limited and tickets need to be booked in advance via the website. Guided tours of the State Rooms will be available during the week, with free-flow visits at weekends, school holidays and bank holidays.
To book tickets to visit go to penshurstplace.com