The Collyweston Palace estate belonged to Lady Margaret Beaufort, grandmother to King Henry VIII.
Five years ago, members of Collyweston Historical and Preservation Society (CHAPS) set out on a search to find a lost 15th-century palace that belonged to Henry VIII’s grandmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. Now, “against all the odds,” they have done it.
“We’re just a bunch of amateurs really, with no money, no plans, just a lot of enthusiasm and against all the odds we have unearthed this,” Chris Close, a Chaps member who was part of the dig, tells the BBC. “Although we are confident we can clearly see the palace, in the next phase we want to find out more about the people who used it and how they used it.”
The palace, Collyweston Palace in Northamptonshire, belonged to Lady Beaufort up until her death in 1509, after which it fell into disrepair. In 1650, the Dutch Tryon family purchased the crumbling palace and surrounding land but chose to construct a new home there.
While the palace had been mentioned in historical records, there was very little archaeological evidence pointing to where it may have stood.
“Local hearsay was always saying there’s an area here called ‘the palace gardens’ and everyone had their own independent views as to where we’d found this palace, but nobody had an idea of how big it was,” Close said, per the Daily Mail.
Using a variety of sources, including this “local hearsay” and public records, the team from CHAPS was ultimately able to zero in on a location in Northamptonshire. They also spoke to several landowners, receiving permission to conduct excavations in their gardens.
With an initial budget of just £1,000 ($1,256), the CHAPS team began excavations in 2018, which had to later be put on hold as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In that time, they were able to raise roughly £14,000 ($17,578) in grants to conduct the work. The team then used Ground-penetrating Radar (GPR) and Lidar scans to reveal the remains of old palace walls.
Earlier this year, the CHAPS team resumed excavations and uncovered the first remnants of the palace’s stone molding in a private garden. These findings were then verified by experts from the University of York.
The GPR scans and subsequent excavations also revealed the palace to be much bigger than the team had anticipated.
“You think this is just a mini-stately home and it turns out to be a complex of buildings which is over a thousand paces all the way around the outside,” Close said.
This project is also revealing much more information about the palace, suggesting that, in its heyday, it likely would have rivaled many other impressive Tudor estates.
“When Henry VII won the Battle of Bosworth, Lady Margaret Beaufort was gifted the site,” Close said. “In 1503, there was a big shindig at Collyweston. So all the great and the good came, because Henry VII’s daughter, Margaret, was being sent off to Scotland to marry James IV, and they had a two week party at Collyweston.”
During her time at the palace, Elizabeth I ordered the construction of several new additions to the estate, including a large banqueting hall.
“We’ve still not found that by the way. We’ve got a banqueting hall to find,” Close added. “There’s lots went on here.”
Further excavations of the site are expected to continue on into 2024, Close said, with plans to reveal further findings by September. As part of the next wave of study, the CHAPS team plans to use penetrating radar to hopefully determine what each building’s purpose was.
“We will also be able to obtain other useful information that will enable us to work out the architectural style along with other important dating evidence,” they said.
After reading about this long-lost Tudor castle, learn about the recent discovery of a long-lost Artemisia Gentileschi painting found in an English storeroom. Or, for more Tudor history, dive into the complicated story of King Henry VIII’s children.