Vivat Rex!: 500th Anniversary of Henry VIII's Accession to the Throne

Portrait of Henry VIII in the 1608 Trevelyon Miscellany. Folger Digital Image 4613.

This article is about an exhibition about the historical figure Henry VIII. For other uses, see Henry VIII (disambiguation).

Vivat Rex!: 500th Anniversary of Henry VIII's Accession to the Throne, one of the Exhibitions at the Folger, opened on September 24, 2010 and closed December 30, 2010 and was first seen at The Grolier Club in New York. The exhibition was curated by Arthur L. Schwarz. The catalog can be purchased from the Folger Shop.

Contents of the exhibition

Prince Henry, King Henry

The first of the Tudor monarchs, King Henry VII, gained his throne at the Battle of Bosworth, on August 22, 1485. He married Elizabeth of York, uniting the royal houses of Lancaster and York, and they had four children who survived infancy. Their elder son, Prince Arthur, married Catherine of Aragon, but he died without an heir at the age of fifteen. Henry VII himself died on April 21, 1509, and two days later his second son, not yet eighteen, was proclaimed King Henry VIII. Within two months, the new king married his brother’s widow, having received papal dispensation to do so some five years earlier. What they wanted most was a son and heir, but this was not to be: a son, named Henry for his father, was born on New Year’s Day, 1511, but he died seven weeks later.

Pictured here is Henry VIII's birthplace—Greenwich Palace (earlier named Placentia, “the palace of courtesy”). The palace was demolished in the seventeenth century, and the Old Royal Navy College now stands on the same site.

Listen to curator Arthur Schwarz discuss the title page to Edward Hall's Chronicles.

Items included

  • FACSIMILE from the Royal Collection, by gracious permission of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. Photograph of Laughing child, possibly Henry VIII. Painted and gilded terracotta bust, ca. 1498, attributed to Guido Mazzoni. RCIN 73197.
  • James Basire. A view of the Antient Royal Palace called Placentia, in East Greenwich. Print. London, 1767. Call number: ART Vol. d60 no.3 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Edward Hall. The union of the two noble and illustre famelies of Lancastre [and] Yorke, beyng long in continuall discension for the croune of this noble realme. London: Rychard Grafton, 1550. Call number: STC 12723; displayed title page.

Educating a Young King

The early years of Henry’s reign were occupied with warfare against France and Scotland, worry about a possible invasion of Europe by Muslim forces, and concern for his throne, which was always vulnerable to possible usurpers. Meanwhile, Henry studied the arts of leadership and kingship, drawing inspiration from books by Thomas More, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Desiderius Erasmus.

The volume pictured here, whose title translates as “Familiar Commentary on the ‘Duties’ of Cicero,” is Henry’s own schoolboy text, inscribed “Thys Boke Is Myne Prynce Henry.” In addition to Henry’s assertive ownership claim, the volume contains numerous glosses, annotations, notes, and aphorisms in the hand of Henry and what is thought to be that of his tutor, the poet John Skelton. It is one of the earliest surviving examples of a book containing Henry’s annotations.

In a woodcut image of the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513, Scotland's James IV stands outside his tent before battle. Henry and James were rivals; the Scottish king was killed in the battle. This case also included Henry VIII as a young man from the Trevelyon Miscellany, and an image of his rival, James IV, from Henry Holland's Book of Kings.

Listen to curator Arthur L. Schwarz discuss Henry's copy of Cicero.

Items included

  • Marcus Tullius Cicero. Commentú familiare in Ciceronis officia. Lyon: Etienne Gueynard, 1502. Call number: PA 6295 .A3 1502 Cage and LUNA Digital Image.
  • LOAN courtesy of The Morgan Library & Museum from the collections of Frances Mary Richardson Currer and A. W. Griswold. Richard Faques. Hereafter ensue the trewe encountre or batayle lately don betwene Englande and Scotlande: in whiche batayle the Scottsshe kynge was slayne. London, 1809. Morgan call number: 006828
  • Thomas Trevelyon. Trevelyon Miscellany [formerly called Commonplace book]. Manuscript, 1608. Call number: V.b.232; displayed Leaf 217, image of Henry VIII.
  • LOAN courtesy of the Houghton Library of the Harvard College Library; Gift of Christian A. Zabriskie in memory of Edward Powis Jones. Henry Holland. Baziliōlogia = A Booke of kings: beeing the true and lively effigies of all our English kings from the Conquest untill this present, with their severall coats of armes, impreses and devises, and a briefe chronologie of their lives and deaths. London, 1618. Harvard call number: Houghton f STC 13581.
  • John Skelton. Pithy pleasaunt and profitable workes of maister Skelton, Poete Laureate. London: Thomas Marshe, [1568]. Call number: STC 22608 copy 1 and LUNA Digital Image.

King at Court

Print portrait of Will Sommers, 1622-1627. Folger Digital Image 17954.

Henry VIII was heavily influenced by the writings of Erasmus, More, Machiavelli, and Thomas Elyot, which provided him with advice and suggested appropriate standards of royal behavior. But Henry and his court had much more fun and pleasure than these treatises on morality may suggest. Ruler and courtiers outfitted themselves richly, according to their station, and Henry’s jester, Will Sommers, provided merriment in the court, much to the annoyance of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who detested him. He might well have done so, as one of Sommers’s favorite pastimes was lampooning the cardinal.

This view of Nonsuch, near Epsom, in Surrey, was engraved some thirty-five years after Henry’s death but nevertheless provides an excellent impression of one of his royal palaces that is long gone. Arguably the greatest of Henry VIII’s building projects, Nonsuch was begun in 1538 but remained incomplete at the king’s death, almost nine years later. It was built to demonstrate the grandeur and power of the Tudor monarchy and to compete with the palace of Chambord, built by Henry’s great rival, Francis I, king of France.

Pictured here is Henry's jester, Will Sommers, wearing an elaborate coat with the letters “HR”—“Henricus Rex”—embroidered on the chest and jester’s cap tucked into his belt. Sommers was Henry's jester for over twenty years. He amused the king with foolish riddles and by playing practical jokes on Cardinal Wolsey, who could never abide him.

Items included

Power and Pageantry; Magnificence and Munificence

Henry was the father of the English navy and, by the time of his death in 1547, the fleet had grown to fifty-eight ships. The extravagant ship “Great Harry” conveyed him and part of his retinue to France for his meeting with Francis I at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. In England, Henry also made a point of putting on display his vast wealth and his indulgent lifestyle. In 1546, Henry combined Cambridge’s King’s Hall and Michaelhouse Colleges to found Trinity College with the goal of producing future leaders of the Church of England. He also completed the hugely expensive construction of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, which was begun a century earlier. Despite these grand gestures, one might conclude that his goal was less to further education than to demonstrate his wealth and power.

This painting depicts The Field of the Cloth of Gold—the name given to the site of a meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I of France. Henry and Francis tried to impress and outshine each other, and neither spared any expense. Huge temporary pavilions were erected to serve as halls and chapels, and great silken tents were decorated with gems and cloth of gold. Organized jousts and tilts, other competitions of skill and strength, masked balls, and lavish banquets filled the days and evenings. Henry challenged the French king to a wrestling match. Francis won.

Two items of further shows of power and wealth are King's College and a manuscript listing the gifts given by Henry for New Years Day, 1539.

King’s College was first founded by Henry VI in 1441, but it was only under the first two Tudor kings, Henry VII and Henry VIII, that its spectacular chapel was completed. The majority of construction and glazing of the windows was completed during the reign of Henry VIII, who was also responsible for the chancel screen, which bears the carved initials of Henry and Anne Boleyn, and much of the chapel woodwork. When Henry died in 1547, King’s College Chapel was recognized as one of Europe’s finest buildings.

The New Year's gift roll is eight and one-half feet long and signed on both sides by the king. It lists the gifts given by Henry to various recipients, arranged in descending order of precedence. Listed are “the Lorde Prince (Edward),” “the Lady Mariee,” “the Lady Elizabeth,” and “the Lady Margret Doughtles,” followed by “Bisshops,” “Dukes and Erles,” and lesser “Lordes.” The value of each gift is listed in the right-hand column. On the back of the document are some of the gifts received by the king, also in descending order of precedence. In the section headed “Gentelmen,” the gifts presented to Henry include “a brase of greyhoundes” from the marquis of Dorset, “a boke covered with grene velvet” from Lord Morley, “a night cap with cheynes & buttons of golde” from the Countess of Hampton, and “a shirte of camericke wrought in silke” from Lord Richard Grey.

Learn more about the gift roll by listening to the curator's audio tour remarks.

Items included

  • FACSIMILE from the Royal Collection, by gracious permission of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. Unknown Artist. The Field of the Cloth of Gold. Painting, ca. 1545. RCIN 405794.
  • LOAN courtesy of Arthur L. Schwarz. Rudolph Ackerman. A History of the University of Cambridge. London, 1815.
  • Henry VIII. New Year’s gift roll of Henry VIII, King of England. Manuscript, 1 January 1538/9. Call number: Z.d.11 and LUNA Digital Image.

Defender of the Faith

When Martin Luther published his ninety-five Theses (1518) and his On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), he ignited a controversy far greater than any he intended or imagined. While many agreed with his desire for a reformation of the Church’s excesses, others leapt to defend the papacy and its teachings. For his Assertion (Defense) of the Seven Sacraments against Martin Luther (1521), Pope Leo X named Henry VIII “Defender of the Faith,” a title still held today by British monarchs.

Prominent churchmen on the Continent and in England wrote spirited defenses of the Church against Luther’s “heresies.” People stood for hours inside churches and outdoors in churchyards to listen to sermons like this one by John Fisher. These sermons would have been delivered with enthusiasm and fervor. Copies of Fisher’s attack on Luther are very rare, this being one of only two complete survivors.

The battle between Martin Luther and the Roman Catholic Church continued with polemical writings emanating from both camps. Attack followed attack, and others like John Fisher and Thomas More joined Henry in defense of the Church and the papacy against Lutheran heresies.

With hindsight, the irony is clear: within a dozen years, Henry VIII would break from Rome and establish himself as head of the Church of England.

Listen to curator Arthur Schwarz talk about Henry's new title, "Defender of the Faith."

Hear the curator discuss a purple vellum gift thought to have been given to him by Pope Leo X.

Items included

  • LOAN courtesy of Arthur L. Schwarz. Henry VIII. Assertio septem sacramentorum: or, a defence of the seven sacraments, against Martin Luther. London, 1687.
  • John Fisher. The sermon of Johan the bysshop of Rochester made agayn the pernicious doctryn of Martin luther within the octaves of the ascensyon by the assingement of the most reverend fader in god th] lord Thomas Cardinal of Yorke and legate ex latere from our holy father the pope. London: Wynkyn de Worde, 1521?. Call number: STC 10894 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Henry VIII, King of England. Assertio septem sacramentorum adversus Martin. Lutherum, ædita ab invictissimo Angliæ et Franciæ rege, et do. Hyberniæ Henrico eius nominis octavo. London, 1521. Call number: STC 13078 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • LOAN courtesy of the Morgan Library and Museum. The Golden Gospels of Henry VIII. Manuscript, ca. 977-993. Morgan call number: MS M.23.

The King's Great Matter: Catherine of Aragon

Having no male heir to succeed him, the King sought a divorce from Catherine of Aragon—in twenty-first-century terminology, an “annulment”—citing the Biblical prohibition of marriage to one’s brother’s wife. The “king’s great matter” was further complicated by his infatuation with Anne Boleyn, who refused his amorous advances; for her, it was marriage or nothing.

With Cardinal Wolsey in charge, Henry petitioned Rome to grant the divorce, but the pope was under the thumb of the Emperor, Charles V, who was also Catherine’s nephew. A court was convened, opinions were sought from theological experts across Europe, but all was in vain. It was Henry VIII vs. the Roman Catholic Church, with no softening of position on either side.

William Tyndale penned The Practyse of Prelates as a treatise on the excesses and abuses of Church power and the matter of the king’s proposed divorce. Tyndale, best known for his translation of the Bible into English, sharply attacked the English prelacy, antagonizing both Church and important government leaders. In the second part of the book are Tyndale’s aggressive objections to Henry VIII’s proposed divorce of Catherine of Aragon.

In Henry's answer to Practyse of Prelates, Henry argues that the pope cannot dispense with the law of God and cannot, therefore, waive the biblical stricture against marrying one’s brother’s wife. He repeatedly declares that the pope has no power to override the law of Scripture nor the power to revoke to Rome a case that should, by both Church and English law, be heard in England. This is the first hint of Henry’s coming attack on the supremacy of the pope in the English Church.

Learn more about Catherine's defense of her position by listening to the curator's audio comments on the letter she wrote to her nephew, Emperor Charles V.

Hear about Henry's trials with the Pope in this audio commentary.

Items included

  • FACSIMILE from the Royal Collection, by gracious permission of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. Unknown Artist. Caterina Prima Uxor Henrici Octavi. Oil on panel, ca. 1550–1699. RCIN 404746.
  • Henry VIII. A glass of the truthe. London: Thomas Berthelet, 1532?. Call number: STC 11919 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • LOAN courtesy of the Morgan Library and Museum. Catherine of Aragon. Autograph letter signed to her nephew Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. Manuscript, 22 February 1531. Morgan call number: Rulers of England Box 02, Henry VIII, no. 29.
  • LOAN courtesy of the Morgan Library and Museum. Peter Vannes. Autograph letter signed to Cardinal Wolsey. Manuscript, 19 April 1529. Morgan call number: Rulers of England Box 02, Henry VIII, no. 40

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey

The influence of Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York and Henry’s confidante and closest advisor for almost twenty years, was far greater in secular matters than in ecclesiastical ones. Wolsey was ordained a priest in 1498, and, following a series of appointments, including one as chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, he was appointed chaplain to Henry VIII in 1507. In 1515, the pope named him cardinal, and later the same year, Henry named him lord chancellor, giving him the highest secular position in the land (save for the King). Although reviled by many as a self-aggrandizing, over-powerful butcher’s son, he was responsible for many good works, including the founding of Cardinal College, later renamed Christ Church.

Wolsey lost Henry’s confidence following his failure to obtain for the king a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. He fell from favor and was stripped of his government office and property, lamenting, “if I had served God as dyligently as I have don the Kyng, he wold not have gevyn me over in my gray heares.” He was arrested and accused of treason in his diocese of York. In great distress, he set out for London, but fell ill and died on the way, on November 29, 1530, around the age of sixty.

This painting depicts Wolsey’s downfall in Act 3, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII. The artist shows the cardinal being stripped of his power by the duke of Suffolk, Lord Surrey, the duke of Norfolk, and the lord chamberlain. His right hand rests on a bag containing the great seal. The figures’ faces are based on actual portraits of the men involved. This painting is one of four Henry VIII scenes Westall painted for the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery. The three smaller paintings, this one included, were engraved for the nine-volume edition of Shakespeare published by Boydell in 1802.

Listen to Arthur Schwarz discuss Cardinal Wolsey.

Items included

  • Richard Westall. Wolsey Disgraced. Oil on canvas, 1795. Call number: FPa84 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • LOAN courtesy of Arthur L. Schwarz. Rudolph Ackermann. A History of the University of Oxford. London, 1814.
  • George Cavendish. Copy of Thomas Wolsey, his life and death, ca. 1554-1558. Manuscript, ca. 1600. Call number: V.b.111.

The Break with Rome

Although opposed by Thomas More, John Fisher, and others, Henry solved the problem of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon by following a path designed by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and More’s successor as chancellor, Thomas Cromwell: he separated the English Catholic Church from the Roman, declared the “pope” to be merely the “bishop of Rome,” without rights or title superior to other bishops, and took for himself the title “Supreme Head of the Church of England.” It was Cromwell, Henry’s chief minister from 1532 to 1540, who suggested that Henry make himself head of the English Church and who was also responsible for drafting the legislation that formalized England’s break with Rome.

Thomas More resigned as Lord Chancellor of England, rather than champion Henry’s divorce, of which he disapproved on theological grounds. In 1534, the Act of Succession established the order in which Henry's heirs could inherit the crown, eliminating the now bastardized Mary and putting in children born to Anne Boleyn, whose marriage to Henry was now deemed proper. When it came time to swear to uphold this act, whose preamble offended his religious beliefs, More stood his ground and refused. He was executed on July 6, 1535. Four hundred years later, he and Bishop Fisher, who met a similar fate, were canonized as saints by the Roman Catholic Church. More and Fisher were not alone in their belief that Henry’s split from Rome was heretical. Evidence of the controversy can be found in passages variously canceled or honored in devotional books of hours.

The layman’s book of devotions shown at right was intended for private use. In this copy, many of the rubrics which are particularly offensive to anti-Roman Catholics have been lightly cancelled in ink, as required by royal injunctions, but they are still legible; in several cases the word “pope” has been scratched out. Other copies can be found with the rubrics intact and, in some cases, a number of the initials and images gilded as a show of devotion.

Listen to curator Arthur Schwarz discuss differences in personal devotional books.

Items included

  • LOAN courtesy of Arthur L. Schwarz. John Foxe. Acts and monuments of matters most special and memorable, happening in the church: with an universal history of the same. London, 1684.
  • LOAN courtesy of Arthur L. Schwarz. Francesco Bartolozzi after Hans Holbein the Younger. Tho. Moor Ld. Chancelour. Engraving, 1792-1800.
  • Catholic Church. [Book of Hours (Salisbury)]. Hore Beatissime virginis marie ad legitimum Sarisburiensis Ecclesie ritum, cum quindecim orationibus beate Brigitte, ac multis alijs orationibus pulcherrimis, et indulgentijs, cum tabula aptissima iam ultimo adiectis. Paris, 1530. Call number: STC 15968 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Articles devisid by the holle consent of the kynges counsayle, to enfourme his louynge subiectis. London, 1534. Call number: STC 9178 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • William Roper. The mirrour of vertue in worldly greatnes. Or The life of Syr Thomas More Knight, sometime Lo. Chancellour of England. Paris, 1626. Call number: STC 21316 copy 1.
  • Cresacre More. D.O.M.S. The life and death of Sir Thomas Moore Lord high Chancellour of England. [Douai: B. Bellière, 1631?]. Call number: STC 18066 Copy 1.

Reforming the Church

Henry, with Thomas Cromwell as his newly appointed vicegerent of spirituals, set about distancing his Church from the Roman Church and acquiring its vast wealth for the Crown. In addition, the 1530s saw the imposition of many new Church practices, required by the “Act of Ten Articles,” including the purchase of Bibles in English translation, requirements for education and moral conduct of the priesthood, and a recognition of three sacraments (baptism, penance, and the Eucharist) rather than the Roman Church’s seven. In two other critical areas the Articles differed from the Roman Church, as well as from emerging Protestant teachings: transubstantiation (the miraculous conversion of wine and bread into the blood and body of Christ) was not specifically mentioned; and the Lutheran “justification by faith alone” (the belief that God’s forgiveness of guilty sinners is granted and received solely through faith or belief, and not through any human efforts or works) was noted but not fully accepted.

Items included

  • Gilbert Burnet. The History of the Reformation of the Church of England. London: T.H. for Richard Chiswell, 1681. Call number: B5798 Vol.1 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • A treatise prouynge by the kynges lawes, that the byshops of Rome, had neuer ryght to any supremitie within this realme. London: Tho. Berthelet, [1538]. Call number: STC 24248 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Richard Rolt. The lives of the principal reformers, both Englishmen and foreigners. London, 1759. Call number: BR304.R7 Cage and LUNA Digital Image.

The Bible in English

The title page of Index of Prohibited Books, 1559. Folger Digital Image 44011.

One of the most important results of Henry’s reformation of the English Church was the production of Bibles translated into the vernacular. What earlier would have been a crime—possessing a Bible in English—became a requirement for all churches in the realm. Henry’s influence as Head of the Church of England can be seen in the images and iconography on the title pages of these early English bibles. Unlike medieval royalty, who received the symbols of royal power such as the orb and scepter from the clergy, the king is no longer separate from the church but has become an integral part of it. His developing power is exemplified by the location of his image on the title page: in the 1535 Coverdale Bible Henry’s image is at the foot of the title page; four years later, Henry sits almost at the top, immediately under a very small image of the risen Christ.

Henry's influence and writings as the Head of the Church of England were not without controversy. Pictured at right is the Index of Prohibited Books (1559), a list of books forbidden to Roman Catholics as dangerous to faith or morals. In it, the works of “Henricus viij Anglus” are listed among the Auctores quorum libri & scripta omnia prohibentur—authors all of whose books and writings are prohibited. Others afforded similar treatment include Coverdale, Cranmer, Erasmus, Luther, and Tyndale. The ban on all of Henry’s books also included Assertio Septem Sacramentorum—or the Defense of the Seven Sacraments—for which the pope had named him “Defender of the Faith.” Years later, the Inquisition tried to censor Shakespeare’s Henry VIII for making statements which the Church thought offensive.

Listen to Arthur Schwarz discuss the great Bible in English.

Items included

  • LOAN courtesy of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Byble in Englyshe: that is to saye the content of all the holy Scrypture, bothe of ye Olde and Newe testament, truly translated after the veryte of the Hebrue and Greke textes, by ye dylygent studye of dyuerse excellent learned men, expert in the forsayde tonges.. London: Rychard Grafton & Edward Whitchurch, 1539. U of Illinois call number: IUQ00027.
  • Index auctorum, et librorum qui ab Officio Sanctae Rom, et Universalis Inquisitionis caveri ab omnibus et singulis in uniuersa Christiana republica mandantur: sub censuris contra legentes, vel tenentes libros prohibitos in bulla, quae lecta est in Coena Domini expressis, & sub aliis poenis in decreto eiusdem Sacri Officii contentis. Genoa, 1559. Call number: Z1020 .I559 Cage and LUNA Digital Image.

Henry's Wives

In Hans Holbein’s famous painting of Henry VIII, the king looms large and domineering, magnificently attired, ever magisterial, with his procreative power clearly suggested. Henry married six times, but he was not the lustful libertine often portrayed in modern fiction. According to the king’s knowledge and belief, he needed a male heir to assure continuation of a Tudor dynasty, justifying his divorce of Catherine of Aragon (his first wife). Wives two and five (Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard) were executed for alleged infidelity, wife three (Jane Seymour) died of childbed fever, wife four (Anne of Cleves) was divorced for what today would be termed “incompatability.” Wife six, Catherine Parr, survived Henry. All told, his wives bore Henry three children who survived him: Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth, each of whom came to rule England.

Listen to curator Arthur Schwarz discuss Henry's six wives.

Items included

The Final Years

The King became ever more irascible during his later years as his health deteriorated. He was preoccupied with the Church and, in a sudden about-face, “An Act Abolishing Diversity in Opinions,” was enacted in 1539. The law reasserted much traditional doctrine, and the burning of heretics increased. The return to conservatism was a major defeat for Archbishop Cranmer, chief minister Cromwell, and others who wished to move closer to Protestantism.

Henry also continued to attack his intimates. Among those executed for treason were Thomas Cromwell (for having misled the king in urging his marriage to Anne of Cleves) and the poet Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (for suggesting that his father, Duke of Norfolk, was the logical Protector for Prince Edward, the heir to the throne). Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547 at the age of fifty-five. He was buried in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle beside Jane Seymour, his favorite wife, the woman who had borne him a son and heir.

Items included

  • LOAN courtesy of Scott C. Schwartz. Henry VIII. Contemporary original portrait of the king... removed from an official manuscript document. Manuscript, ca. 1542/3.
  • Cornelius Metsys. Henricus dei gratia rex anglie. Print. Antwerp?, 1548. Call number: ART 252- 711 (size S) and LUNA Digital Image.

Verdicts on the Reign

In some quarters, Henry has been remembered as an ogre, a tyrant, and a man who would do anything to anyone to achieve his personal aims, with his years on the throne a veritable reign of terror. Other views of the reign suggest that the king was more a “creature of his time,” who did not act outside the accepted values and rules of the sixteenth century, who served his country with dignity, grace, and honor, and who helped create the England that has survived and prospered for five centuries since his accession to the Crown.

In Sir Walter Raleigh's History of the World, Raleigh was highly critical of Henry, saying:

if all the pictures and Patternes of a mercilesse Prince were lost in the World, they might all againe be painted to the life, out of the story of this King. For how many servants did hee advance in hast … and with the change of his fancy ruined againe …? How many wives did hee cut off, and cast off, as his fancy and affection changed?

On the other side, Edward Lewis wrote an eighteenth century biography of the king, and had this to say:

Henry then, was a person of great sagacity and judgment, … of considerable learning himself; a friend and patron to learned men, and to every useful and ornamental art and science; – social, magnificent, magnanimous, – a tender husband, – an indulgent father, – a faithful friend, – a generous master, – not lewd, not cruel, not voluptuous, – an honest open-hearted man, – a sincere christian, and a Patriot King.

Finally, Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, concluded, in his authoritative biography of Henry VIII:

With all his crimes yet, he was one of the most glorious Princes of his time …. But what this Prince was, and whether, and how far forth excusable in point of State, Conscience or Honour, a diligent observation of his Actions, together with a conjuncture of the times, will (I conceive) better declare to the judicious Reader, then any factious relation on what side whatsoever. To conclude; I wish I could leave him in his grave.

Listen to curator Arthur Schwarz opinion of Henry's monarchy and legacy.

Items included

  • LOAN courtesy of Arthur L. Schwarz. William Henry Pyne. The History of the Royal Residences. London, 1819.
  • Walter Raleigh. The history of the world. In five bookes. [London: William Iaggard, William Stansby, and Nicholas Okes for Walter Burre, 1621]. Call number: STC 20639.
  • Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury. The life and reign of King Henry the Eighth. London: Andr. Clark, for S. Mearne [1672]. Call number: H1505A and LUNA Digital Image

Additional items exhibited

Salisbury Book of Hours, 1498. Folger Digital Image 18461.

The following items are listed chronologically according to the Hamnet catalog.

  • Catholic Church. [Book of Hours (Salisbury)]. Incipiunt Hore Beate Marie Virginis secu[n]dum vsum Sarum .... [1498]. Call number: STC 15889 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • John Fisher. This sermon folowynge was compyled [and] sayd in the cathedrall chyrche of saynt Poule within [the] cyte of London by the ryght reuerende fader in god Iohn̄ bysshop of Rochester, the body beynge present of the moost famouse prynce kynge Henry the. vij. the. x. day of Maye, the yere of our lorde god. M.CCCCC.ix. whiche sermon was enprynted at the specyall request of [the] ryght excellent pryncesse Margarete moder vnto the sayd noble prynce and Countesse of Rychemonde and Derby. London: Wynkyn de Worde, [1509 or 1510]. Call number: STC 10901 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Martin Luther. De captiuitate Babylonica ecclesiae praeludium. Wittenberg, [1520]. Call number: 171- 251q and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Martin Luther. Contra Henricum Regem Angliae Martinus Luther : longe alius est hic liber [quam] ille quem ante hunc uernacula lingua scripsit. Wittenberg: [Adam Petri], 1522. Call number: 164- 595q and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Thomas More. Eruditissimi viri Guilielmi Rossei opus elegans, doctum, festiuum, pium, quo pulcherrime retegit, ac refellit insanas Lutheri calumnias. London: Richard Pynson, [1523]. Call number: STC 18089 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Jean Froissart. Here begynneth the first volum of sir Iohan Froyssart: of the cronycles of Englande, Fraunce, Spayne, Portyngale, Scotlande, Bretayne, Flau[n]ders: and other places adioynynge. London: Richard Pynson, [1523]. Call number: STC 11396 Vol. 1 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Henry VIII, King of England. A copy of the letters, wherin the most redouted [and] mighty pri[n]ce, our souerayne lorde kyng Henry the eight, kyng of Englande [and] of Frau[n]ce, defe[n]sor of the faith, and lorde of Irla[n]de: made answere vnto a certayne letter of Martyn Luther, sente vnto him by the same, and also the copy of the foresaid Luthers letter, in such order, as here after foloweth. London: Richard Pynson, [1527?]. Call number: STC 13087 and LUNA Digital Image and Binding image on LUNA.
  • William Tyndale. The obedie[n]ce of a Christen man and how Christe[n] rulers ought to governe, where in also (yf thou marke diligently) thou shalt fynde eyes to perceave the crafty conveyau[n]ce of all iugglers. Antwerp: [Hans luft [i.e. J. Hoochstraten], [1528]. Call number: STC 24446 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Thomas More. The supplycacyon of soulys made by syr Thomas More knyght councellour to our souerayn lorde the Kynge and chauncellour of hys duchy of Lancaster. Agaynst the supplycacyon of beggars. London: William Rastell, 1529. Call number: STC 18092 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Thomas More. A dyaloge of syr Thomas More knyghte. London: William Rastell, 1530. Call number: STC 18085 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Edward Fox. The determinations of the moste famous and mooste excellent vniuersities of Italy and Fraunce, that it is so vnlefull [sic] for a man to marie his brothers wyfe, that the pope hath no power to dispence therwith. London: Thomas Berthelet, 1531. Call number: STC 14287 Copy 2 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Catholic Church. [Book of Hours (Salisbury)]. Enchirdio preclare ecclie sarisburiesis. Paris [1533?]. Call number: STC 15982 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Henry VIII, King of England. Writ under sign manual and signet, for Christopher Moore. Manuscript, 24 November 1539. Call number: L.b.1 and Guide to the Loseley Collection and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Henry VIII, King of England. An epistle of the most myghty and redouted Prynce Henry the .viii. by the grace of God Kynge of Englande and of Fraunce, lorde of Irlande, defender of the faith, and supreme heed of the Churche of Englande, nexte vnder Christe, wrytten to the Emperours Maiestie, to all Christen princes, and to all those that trewly and syncerely professe Christes religion. London: Thomæ Bertheleti, [1538]. Call number: STC 13081 pt. 2 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Anno tricesimo primo Henrici octaui. Henry the VIII. By the grace of God kynge of England and of Fraunce, defender of the fayth, Lord of Irelande, and in earth supreme hed immediatly under Christ of the churche of England to the honour of almyghty God, conseruation of the true doctrine of Christes religion, and for the concord quiet and welth of this his realme and subiectes of the same, helde his moste hyghe court of Parliament, begonne at Westm[inster] the .xxviii. day of Aprill, and ther continued tyll the .xxviii. day of June, the .xxxi. yere of his most noble and victorious reigne, wherin vvere establysshed these actes folowinge. London: [Thomæ Bertheleti], [1539]. Call number: STC 9397 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • William Turner. The huntyng & fyndyng out of the Romishe fox whiche more then seuen yeares hath bene hyd among the bisshoppes of Englong [sic] after that the Kynges hyghnes had comma[n]ded hym to be dryuen out of hys realme. Basel: [i.e. Bonn: L. Mylius], 1543. Call number: STC 24353 Copy 1 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Church of England. The primer, in Englishe and Latyn, set foorth by the Kynges maiestie and his clergie to be taught learned, and read: and none other to be vsed throughout all his dominions. London: Richard Grafton, [1545]. Call number: STC 16040 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • A supplication of the poore commons. Wherunto is added the supplication of beggers. London: John Day and William Seres?, 1546. Call number: STC 10884 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Philipp Melanchthon. The epistle of the famous and great clerke Philip Melancton made vnto oure late Souereygne Lorde Kynge Henry the eight, for the reuokinge and abolishing of the six articles set forth and enacted by the craftie meanes and procurement of certeyne of our prelates of the clergie. Antwerp: S. Mierdman, 1547. Call number: STC 17789 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Catharine Parr. The lamentacion of a synner, made by the moste vertuous Lady quene Caterine, bewailyng the ignoraunce of her blind life. London: Edwarde Whitchurche, [1548]. Call number: STC 4828 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • John Lambert. A treatyse made by Johan Lambert vnto kynge Henry the .viij. concerynge hys opynyon in the sacrame[n]t of the aultre as they call it, or supper of the lorde as the scripture nameth it. [Wesel: D. van der Straten, 1548?]. Call number: STC 15180 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Marguerite, Queen, consort of Henry II, King of Navarre. A godly medytacyon of the christen sowle, concerninge a loue towardes God and hys Christe. [Wesel: Dirik van der Straten, 1548]. Call number: STC 17320 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Catharine Parr. Prayers or meditacions, wherein the minde is stirred, paciently to suffre all afflictions here, to set at nought the vayne prosperitee of this worlde, and alway to longe for the euerlastinge felicitee. London: : W. Powell?, ca. 1550. Call number: STC 4824a and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Anno XXIIII Henrici VIII. Actes made in the session of this present parlyamente, holden vppon prorogacion at Westminster, the. iiii. daie of Februarie, in the. xxiiii. yere of the reygne of our moste dradde soueraigne lorde Kynge Henrie the eyght, and there continued and kept tyll the. vii. daie of Aprill then nexte ensuinge, to the honour of god and holy church, and for the common weale of this his realme. London: Thomas Powell, 1562. Call number: STC 9377 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Anno XXV. Henrici Octaui. Actes made in the session of this present parliament holden vpon prorogation at Westminster, the xv. daye of Ianuarye, in the xxv. yeare of the raigne of our most drad soueraigne lord King Henry the viii and there continued and kept till the xxx. day of March then next ensuinge: to the honour of God and holy Church, and for the common weale and profite of this his realme. London: [Thomas Marsh], [1542, i.e. 1575?]. Call number: STC 9384 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • William Lambarde. A perambulation of Kent: conteining the description, hystorie, and customes of that shyre. London: For Ralphe Newberie, 1576. Call number: STC 15175 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Raphael Holished. [Vol. I:] 1577. The firste volume of the chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande.... London: H. Denham, 1587. Call number: STC 13569.2 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Francis Bacon. The historie of the raigne of King Henry the Seventh. London: W. Stansby, 1622. Call number: STC 1160 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • William Shakespeare. Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies : published according to the true originall copies. London: Isaac Iaggard and Ed. Blount, 1623. Call number: STC 22273 Fo.1 no.31 and Binding image on LUNA.
  • Henry VIII, King of England. A famous speech of King Henry the eighth, made in the Parliament House the 24. of December, in the 37. yeare of his Majesties reigne. Anno Dom. 1545. London, 1642. Call number: H1471.
  • John Topham. A description of an antient picture in Windsor Castle, representing the embarkation of King Henry VIII. at Dover, May 31, 1520. London: J. Nichols, 1781. Call number: 200870.
  • Luigi Schiavonetti after Hans Holbein. Edward Stafford Duke of Buckingham. London: E. Harding, 1792. Call number: ART File B922.5 no.2 (size XS).
  • Howard Henry Surrey. The works of Henry Howard earl of Surrey and of Sir Thomas Wyatt the elder. London: T. Bensley, for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, 1815-16. Call number: Folio PR2370 .A1 1815 Cage.
  • Henry Shaw. Dresses and decorations of the Middle Ages. London: W. Pickering, 1843. Call number: GT732 .S4.
  • Gilbert Abbott À Beckett. The comic history of England. London: Bradbury, Agnew & Co. [1864?]. Call number: DA33 .A2.

Supplemental materials

Vivat Rex! children's exhibition

Image Gallery

To view some highlighted images from this exhibition, visit this Flickr photo album.

Audio tour

Arthur Schwarz, curator of the exhibition, shares insights into a selection of items from the exhibition. Additional audio can be found within the above exhibition material descriptions.

A Most Accomplished Prince

Curator Arthur Schwarz shares the Venitian Ambassador's opinion of the king.

Party for a Prince

When Catherine of Aragon had a son, a grand celebration took place. Listen to curator Arthur Schwarz tell about it.

  • FACSIMILE. A Description of the solemn Justs held at Westminster … in the first year of Henry the VIII in honor of his Queen Katherin upon the birth of their eldest Son Prince Henry. A.D. 1510. Print, 1726. Call number: ART Flat a3 and LUNA Digital Image.

Reformation in Five Acts

Curator Arthur Schwarz discusses five acts that made the English Reformation possible.

  • Anno XXVI. Henrici VIII. Actes made in the session of this presente parliamente holden uppon prorogacion at Westminster, the thyrde daye of November in the XXVI. yeare of the reigne of our moste drad soveraigne lord king Henry ye viii. and there continued and kepte till the xviii. day of December next ensuing. London: Thomas Marsh, 1575?. Call number: STC 9302.2 Part 10 and LUNA Digital Image.

Royal Instructions

Curator Arthur Schwarz explains some of the changes Henry brought upon England's parishes.

  • LOAN courtesy of Arthur L. Schwarz. Injunctions to the Clergy. Diocese of Worcester(?), 1538.

Censoring Shakespeare

The Spanish Inquisition did not agree with Shakespeare's portrayal of Henry VIII, as curator Arthur Schwarz explains in this audio commentary.

  • William Shakespeare. Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, and tragedies. London: Tho. Cotes, 1632. Call number: STC 22274 Fo.2 no.07; displayed y6v.


Famous for making himself head of the Church of England, Henry VIII instituted sweeping religious changes during his reign. Hear curator Arthur Schwarz discuss Henry VIII's break with Rome.

Was King Henry VIII a womanizer? Curator Arthur Schwarz takes a look at the king's romantic history.

Related Programs

Talks and Screenings at the Folger

  • Folger Friday: Henry VIII Discussion, October 15, 2010
  • Henry VIII: Art and Magnificence, November 5, 2010
  • A Reading by Margaret George, author of The Autobiography of Henry VIII, November 29, 2010

Folger Theatre

  • William Shakespeare's Henry VIII, October 12 – November 28, 2010

Folger Consort

Folger Institute