All Images Credit Thornbury Castle

The Thornbury Castle: A Regal Stay in King Henry VIII’s Royal Abode

Feb. 16th, 2024

To be a king is to sit at the pinnacle of wealth, power, and privilege. Arguably the most revered kingdom is the United Kingdom which through the millennium, has remained an icon of this institution. During the Tudor dynasty of the 16th century, King Henry VIII ruled as one of the British Empire’s most iconic figures. To breathe the rarified air that he once breathed and to stay where he once stayed in a castle he once owned is an experience that one would think almost unattainable. However not far from Bristol and on the outskirts of the Cotswolds is where you’ll find one of England’s most fascinating and grand castle hotels that was indeed the former castle of Henry VIII, the Thornbury Castle.   

The southwest part of England is simply gorgeous with quaint towns surrounded by farmlands, rolling hills, and livestock behind rock-walled paddocks. In those towns, you’ll find a colorful assortment of pubs, and shops, as well as castles that have stood for century after century such as the Thornbury Castle. Today this 500-year-old regal abode is one of England’s most exquisite castle hotels and is, in fact, the only Tudor castle that welcomes overnight guests.


The location is on a sprawling estate set on a hill overlooking the bucolic countryside of the Severn Valley.  This is far from an old and stuffy castle. It is the epithet of regal opulence while perfectly matching the noble décor of the 1520s with the modernity of today. Beyond that, the dining, services, and amenities are five-star and befitting of its membership in Relais & Châteaux.   

The Castle’s Fascinating History 

Thornbury is one of Britain’s last baronial castles, steeped in a rich history filled with celebrity and intrigue. It was built a half millennium ago by one of the wealthiest aristocrats in the UK, the Third Duke of Buckingham, Edward Stafford. At that time, Stafford was second in wealth only to Henry VIII. The grandeur of the castle was a showcase of his wealth and power which Henry looked upon with disdain. As he was a descendant of King Edward III and who had made several proclamations against the crown, Stafford was seen as a threat to King Henry VIII and was convicted of treason and beheaded.  Upon his grisly end, King Henry VIII claimed all of his lands, wealth, and possessions including Thornbury Castle which he had long coveted.     

This impressive castle is also where Henry VIII romanced his second wife, Anne Boleyn, and today, guests can choose to stay in Henry VIII’s bed chamber, which is accessed by a spiral staircase.  Throughout the castle hotels are references to its historical past with grand oil paintings or the royals who stayed there. One could just imagine what these walls could tell from that era long ago with regal affairs, medieval banquets, and courtly dances.   

One of the finest Castle Hotels in England

The castle is regal and imposing and is what guests would want in a castle holiday.  Guests enter the estate past the guard gate and travel the long driveway where they begin to see the castle façade set behind sprawling lawns of the 15-acre estate dotted with cedar and sequoia trees.  Through the arched gateway, they will arrive and see impressive turrets, octagonal towers, Tudor chimneys, and crenelated battlements, and as its centerpiece, a courtyard with a gurgling water fountain.

Thornbury Castle oozes atmosphere with grand halls with cathedral-high ceilings, rich wood panels, coats of arms, and oil paintings of a who’s who of British royalty including serval pieces featuring its former lords, King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Queen Mary Tudor, and Edward VI. This is not a dark and dreary castle, in fact, far from it. The castle is well-lit by natural light passing through grand bay windows. Many of them are stained glass with beautifully crafted as gorgeous works of art. The craftsmanship throughout impresses with ornate woodwork and intricate details.

To call it grand would be an understatement with a mix of tapestries and oil paintings of the royals of long ago with arresting artwork, coats of arms, statues, and objets d’art. Throughout are ceilings adorned with beautiful frescoes and sparkling crystal chandeliers. The Stafford knot was the emblem of the castle’s original owner, Edward Stafford, which you’ll notice throughout the adornments, on the door arch, and incorporated into the design of the fireplace. 

One could sit in the grand hall for hours admiring the design and décor with royal artifacts, colorful sofas, and Chesterfield chairs that mix the modern with the antique. The room features a large hearth fireplace that makes it the ideal place to read a book by the fire, gather with other guests, or where you’ll have your cocktails and canapes before dinner. Further along in the castle, you’ll find more rooms equally as elegant including the library with volumes of leather-bound books on shelves that reach the ceiling. The ground floor also houses the restaurant and several other gathering places to get lost in.

Just beyond the interiors are the castle's exquisite Tudor walled gardens. The Privy Garden and hedge-lined Labyrinth are places to walk on the crushed gravel paths while admiring the fragrant and colorful flowers, well-coifed hedges, with plenty of sitting areas to take in the fresh air and sunshine. Afternoon tea is also served there as well which is particularly exquisite in April when tulips and roses are in bloom.   One could imagine Kings a royals who came before enjoying these spaces just as one does today.

The Thornbury Castle offers a stay epitome of Tudor splendor. However, through all of its grandeur, it manages to keep a warm atmosphere with homely comfort, where guests feel at ease and relaxed while enjoying the best of castle life.   

The Decadent Bed Chambers of the Thornbury Castle

Yes, to say that the accommodations are fit for a king is a cliché, but what you’ll find is nothing short of that.  In fact, many royals have stayed there over the past 500 years and even today these rooms are often occupied by aristocrats and dignitaries from around the world.  Within the thick stone walls are spacious bright airy bed chambers that balance historical finery and contemporary luxury.  

There are 27 uniquely designed guest rooms located in the castle, across the courtyard as well as the gatehouse. All of which are plush, lavish, and opulent. The castle’s bedrooms are full of character with exquisite period artwork and silk wall hangings, crystal chandeliers, fireplaces, stone mullion windows, and cozy window seats that overlook the castle’s gardens. The decadent chambers exude Tudor style with tasteful period furnishings, English heritage fabrics, and four poster beds with fine bed linens. Bathrooms are exquisite as well with clawfoot or rolltop baths, walk-in showers, fluffy robes and slippers, and toiletries courtesy of Molton Brown. The amenities don’t stop there with fresh orchids, a complimentary decanter of sloe gin and chocolates, and sweet treats each evening at turn down.  

England's Largest Hotel Bed - A royal 10'x6' in size

The specialty suites are sure to awe including the Catherine of Aragon Suite, named after King Henry VIII’s first wife. Sitting at the top of a 77-step spiral staircase, its centerpiece is the 10-by-6-foot 24-carat gilding four-poster bed that holds the distinction as the large bed of any UK hotel.   

Henry VIII Suite,

As it should be, the most grand suite is the Henry VIII Suite, which the king once shared with Anne Boleyn in 1535. Less than a year later, Anne would lose her head; executed at the king’s request. Only 11 days later, he would then marry his third wife, Jane Seymour, who was one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting.

The Henry VIII Suite offers a chance to experience this piece of Tudor history from 500 years ago. Guests ascend the spiral stone steps where royals had climbed before them. Inside is extravagant as expected with ornate ceilings, an imposing four poster bed, a richly decorated living area with an emerald green sofa and lounge, and elaborately crafted fireplace.

Indulging in Afternoon Tea

The royal treatment continues with the dining experience at Thornbury Castle where one could not ask for a more exquisite location for an Afternoon Tea.  Guests gather in the library, lounge, or outside in the gardens for one of the castle’s most regal affairs.  The respite begins with a glass of champagne followed wide selection of loose teas along with a timer to make sure they are brewed to perfection.  

Next served is a three-tier tower of scrumptious sweet and savory delicacies. The prowess of the culinary team is evident in dishes such as scones, hot from the oven, one with raisins, and with the Cornish clotted cream and strawberry jam. Finger sandwiches of egg salad with truffle and smoked salmon with a bite of horse radish.  The pastry chef displays their acumen with an indulgent Gateaux cake with coconut and passion fruit filling, and of course, light as-air macaroons for good measure. The setting amongst the tombs of leather-bound books or in the garden surrounded by fragrant flowers makes it all the more mouthwatering indeed.

The Award-Winning Dining Experience

The Afternoon Tea at Thornbury Castle offers a glimpse into what is in store for the dining experience. The restaurant is a standout in the English culinary scene and has hosted royalty, dignitaries, and celebrities since the 70s such as Sophia Loren and Laurence Olivier. It was also the first English restaurant to receive a Michelin star outside of London. As a member of Relais and Chateaux, it caters to the culinary connoisseur and has also received other culinary accolades including a 3AA rosette rating.

Guests are invited for cocktails and canapes before dinner in the grand hall. As dinner is served, guests are invited into the octagonal-shaped wood paneled dining rooms with oil paintings of British monarchs including an imposing portrait of King Henry VIII that overlooks the venue to ensure all is to his standard. The tables are immaculately set with crisp white tablecloths, custom china, and glasses embossed with the Thornbury Castle emblem.

The British-inspired cuisine is sure to impress the most discerning palette. Dining options include three courses, six courses, or a la carte menu of artfully prepared dishes. The menu is based on sustainable, in-season, and locally sourced ingredients. In fact, many of the items that you’ll see on your plate are sourced from the restaurant’s nearby gardens. Dishes you may find include a torched fillet of mackerel with pickled cucumber and horseradish or the Loch Duart salmon with crab, pink grapefruit, and coriander as entrée. Main courses offer choices such as thyme and roasted garlic rack of lamb or the Creedy Carver roasted duck breast. The wine cellar and talented sommeliers impress as well with a wine expertly paired from their selection of 200 wines from England and afar.   

Activities and Experiences at Thornbury Castle

The estate is set on 15 acres of lawns, gardens, and parklands. The setting offers a range of experiences from a castle tour courtesy of the town historian to participating in royal pastimes from longbow archery, to falconry and even axe throwing. More genteel activities include croquet or just strolling through the serene gardens. For a more active option, there are wonderful walking trails for a trek through the English countryside. Nearby the quaint village of Thornbury offers shops and pubs to explore. While further afield a day trip to Bristol, Bath, or touring the Cotswolds makes the location ideal for exploring this part of England.    

A stay in Thornbury Castle is a chance to walk in the steps of one of England’s most revered kings who ruled a half millennium ago. Today it offers the perfect blend of palatial Tudor splendor, period-inspired luxury, and the modernity of now. Only the rare few will become royalty, however, a stay at the Thornbury castle allows us a chance to taste the indulgences of that unattainable and regal life.

Glenn Harris

Glenn Harris is an accomplished journalist focusing on international travel, fine dining, and luxury lifestyle events. His wanderlust has taken him to over 105 countries where he is constantly straying off the beaten path uncovering new and exotic finds. He particularly enjoys seeking out lesser known travel gems and places to stay, dine, or experiences to capture. ...(Read More)