The year 1509 saw the accession to the throne of Henry VIII, a man who would change the face of Britain and the religious and political map of Europe forever.

Henry was the first monarch to title himself 'Majesty' - and his reign was nothing if not majestic. Over the next 38 years he would embark on a campaign of courtly magnificence, splendour and pleasure the like of which had never been seen before.

By the end of his reign, Henry owned 55 royal properties - more than any other English monarch ever had before or would again. His passion for palace-building was legendary, and fundamentally changed the way monarchs were expected to live.

Building these palaces was like embarking on a Tudor Grand Designs. The changing political aspirations of the Tudors were played out in the buildings they designed, and Henry VIII's palaces were a bold statement: he was physically sweeping away the old medieval kingdom and laying the foundations for the Britain we know today.

At the heart of this story are five very important and very special buildings. But these palaces aren't simply a lesson in architectural history. They are the key to understanding the inner workings of one of the most powerful men this country has ever seen.

Henry's palaces are a self-portrait in bricks and mortar. From his first, Beaulieu in Essex, to sprawling Whitehall Palace in London, and the pocket-sized Nonsuch Palace in Surrey, we can see how Henry changed as a person. These buildings tell us how the sporty young athlete who owned a pair of football boots gave way to an aging recluse who just wanted to get away from it all and build fantasy palaces.

But they also reveal the contradictions at the heart of Henry's personality. How does a man who famously broke England's ancient religious ties with Rome reconcile his love for the Italian Renaissance? The palaces of Tudor England were similarly confused - gothic arches supported by classical columns; medieval ceilings decorated by depictions of Roman gods.

Henry certainly wanted to be seen as being at the cutting edge of fashion. And at the heart of this was the concept of comfort. Go to Hampton Court Palace today, and you will be struck by the sheer number of chimneys - each one linked to a heated room. This was a powerful statement: Henry's guests got nothing but the best.

But all of this makes for a bit of an architectural melting pot. Lavish comfort, surrounded by classical imagery, uneasily sitting alongside echoes of England's medieval past.

It's a bit of a metaphor for the Tudor monarchy itself, and more importantly, the fundamental change it represented. Henry VIII's reign was literally the point at which this country moved from the medieval into the modern. And his legacy is all around us.