Documentary Notes – ‘Henry VIII: Patron or Plunderer’ Part 2

Henry VIII c.1542.
Henry VIII c.1542.

String of failed marriages and a religious revolution

Imagery and reputation

1533 Henry VIII anxious about the Tudor dynasty – no son to succeed him so ditched key advisors, split from Rome, divorced his wife and married Anne Boleyn

Powerful and controlling monarch, successful dynasty

Tapestry, art and palaces designed but plundered religious houses

New image had to be forged quickly as his future depended on it

Wrath of the pope and catholic European nations and English people – Rome refused to sanction divorce so Henry left it behind

Supreme Head of the Church of England

Henry vulnerable so built sea forts and the basis of the royal navy

Army of painters, builders and designers through palaces and paintings

Henry VIII interested in art by story – everything he commissioned told the story of his own self importance

Learn things about Henry from the art he commissioned

Hans Holbein by Lucas Horenbout
Hans Holbein by Lucas Horenbout

Hans Holbein = lured to London 1526, Renaissance man designing architecture, painting, etc

Anne Boleyn admired him 1533 “the ambassadors”

First image of Henry would tackle the break with Rome

English kings had their own direct line to god, no need for saints or cardinals or popes

Henry’s own word became the word of god

Henry was still essentially catholic, but other reformers wanted more – the bible was the font of protestant religion

Allegorical tableau with Henry as King Soloman painted on velum

Known for justice, wealth, power, etc

Receiving the Queen of Sheba, representing the church, submitting to Henry

“To be king by the lord thy god”

No formal campaign strategy, but a new image was being created

Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsey had fallen from favour over the divorce – early 1530s Cromwell was on the rise

Son of a Putney blacksmith and had travelled in Italy before working for Wolsey

Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.
Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.

Cromwell a supporter of the reformation – publication of a bible in English

People should be able to read the word of god for themselves, without the need for a priest

1535 first bible in English, Miles Coverdale and Henry VIII appears on the front page – first real image of Henry VIII as the head of state and church designed by Hans Holbein

Still an elite project – in the know and sympathetic to the reformation

1520s Germany had a vernacular bible

Cromwell and Coverdale were trying to persuade Henry to put English language bibles into English – successful, self-fulfilling prophecy

Is Henry manipulating art or art manipulating Henry?

Didn’t have to be in a pulpit to make a point

Court at the centre of Henry’s life – entertainment alongside politics and prayer

Drama = early reign based on morality and religion, later reign became more political

John Hayward – Catholic playwright “A Play of the Weather” – Henry VIII represented by Jupiter the god, what kind of weather is needed to live?


Lots to say about the split from Rome and break from papacy

Jupiter = godly, omnipotent, power, kingship

Renaissance monarch – should be able to laugh at yourself, no boring art or plays, allows comedy and jokes within limits

Henry VIII by Hans Holbein 1540
Henry VIII by Hans Holbein 1540

Not everyone bought into Henry’s new ideas

Rebellion was fermenting and France and Spain were preparing to attack

Henry needed a new army and navy = monasteries had vast amounts of money – 1535 Cromwell was commissioned to find out how much they were worth

Lucas Horenbout valor ecclesiasticus

Monastic wealth equalled or surpassed that of the crown

If the monks had agreed with Henry over the reformation, they would have survived in some way

Henry also destroyed the architectural legacy of the 200 monasteries which had formed the focus of medieval life

Response to an emergency?

Spain and France made peace to side against England, a heretic country

Question over material things – Protestants call them a distraction, Catholics say they are themselves imbued with holiness

Every monastery was destroyed – no survivors, Henry at his most ruthless

Cromwell promised to make Henry the richest man in England – lands and treasures became Henry’s property, trinkets, paintings and tapestries given to others to buy their loyalty

Medieval people lived in filth in general – lost lots of colour when the monasteries were destroyed “paradise upon earth”

Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait
Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait

Anne Boleyn sympathetic to reformers, but hated the destruction of the monasteries

January 1536 Henry injured in a jousting accident, 5 days later Anne miscarried a son

Dropping a handkerchief seen as a symbol of infidelity

Anne accused of treason, including adultery, incest and plotting to overthrow Henry – fell from grace and was executed

Next day Henry betrothed to Jane Seymour

Seymour family replaced the Boleyn family

England riddled with religious divide and destruction continued

Canterbury Thomas Becket’s shrine dismantled – turned a huge ruby from it into a thumb ring

Local people had saved things from abbeys to prevent them being destroyed – Henry and Cromwell became very unpopular

Uprising led by Robert Aske 9000 men stormed York

July 1537 many executed or imprisoned as a result – Pilgrimage of Grace, across the north of England people of all classes joined together to ask for restoration of monasteries

At their height the pilgrims numbered 40000 – single biggest challenge to Henry’s rule

Coastal defences

Improved England’s navy with cannons

No heir or future for the dynasty – Holbein’s painting, most memorable portrait of Henry to date

Whitehall Mural Copy by Remigius van Leemput hangs in the Haunted Gallery at Hampton Court Palace
Whitehall Mural Copy by Remigius van Leemput hangs in the Haunted Gallery at Hampton Court Palace

Whitehall mural – 1698 destroyed by fire but a copy remains in the royal collection

Privy chamber at Whitehall palace = relatively small audience

Henry VIII a powerful and important king – Henry VII brought peace and established the dynasty, Henry VIII even greater because he separated from the Pope

Proclaim wealth and status, latest and most expensive fashions, power

1536 Henry VIII lost both previous wives, rebellion breaks out

1537 Henry trying to re-establish his position – but no heir still, trying to establish promise and hope without a future

Only seen by a small group of people, most important and ambassadors, the actual mural, but plenty of copies made and circulated to the people

No evidence of Henry trying to control his image as Elizabeth did

People wanted a picture of the king

Still how we see Henry today – strong image made to cover his weaknesses

Prepared in sections before being moved to its final location

Original sketch has Henry looking side on, but final image has Henry looking full front

15th century portraits tended to be head and shoulders, closer, but Henry VIII is painted full length, full of confidence

Jane Seymour pregnant October 1537 Prince Edward (Edward VI)

Holbein painted the prince age 2 to be given to Henry as a new year’s gift

No religious images in the portrait but Edward is the future Head of the Church in England

Groomed to be king in a proud upright position

Text under the image claimed that Edward could never surpass his father

Edward VI by William Scrots 1550.
Edward VI by William Scrots 1550.

Son and heir changed everything for Henry = house of Tudor now had a future, confidence that problems could be overcome now he had someone to pass it on to

Great Hall at Hampton Court – Abraham tapestries

Total length of 88 yards and height of 15 feet, around 3 years to produce

Story of Abraham, biblical characters = first of the great patriarchs

Circumcision of Isaac – Prince Edward a parallel to Isaac and Henry to Abraham, new biblical authority for Henry

Experiment to restore tapestries by projecting actual colour onto the faded ones

Tudor propaganda

Edward baptised 3 days after his birth, Jane Seymour receives 300 guests, but she soon falls ill and dies when Edward is just 12 days old

Fragility of life

King needed another son, so began to search for another wife “heir and a spare”

Holbein sent to do portraits of prospective brides – only after Henry wanted to meet the girls at Calais and pick one that way

Shop for a wife the way he would for a horse

Holbein did preliminary sketches and then had to paint from notes and memory

Christina of Denmark painting survives – creating dazzling effects with black paint, textures of clothing, etc

Christina was 16 and widowed, woman of wealth, youthful clear skin

Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein 1539
Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein 1539

Anne of Cleves = persuaded by a Holbein portrait and pressure from Cromwell over Lutheran connections

More than a hint of beauty in her demure portrait

Made a full size painting and a portrait miniature – Henry could have it with him

Something about her that Henry didn’t like and couldn’t consummate the marriage which was quickly annulled

Cromwell beheaded 1540

Katherine Howard – Anne Boleyn’s cousin – colourful past with a music master and family friend, married on the day of Cromwell’s execution

Past made public, and linked to Thomas Culpeper during her marriage to Henry

Beheaded February 1542

Publicly cried for two weeks over Katherine’s infidelity

Engraving Cornelius Metsis (Dutch engraver) – corpulent and beady eyed, never recovered from his jousting accident

Royal coffers were all but empty

Continued to project an image of strength and courage in public

Nonsuch Palace = fantasy sketches, home like no other – invested in architecture more than any other

Had 13 properties when he came to the throne, but had 60 when he died

April 1538 levelled the church to make way for Nonsuch

Private building = no great hall for receiving guests, only his closest family and friends would be permitted

“Very pearl of the realm”

Nothing left apart from markers showing where it began and ended

Mouldings of classical emperors and gods – ambition was poignant, began at Edward’s birth, possibly a folly?

Katherine Parr at the National Portrait Gallery.
Katherine Parr at the National Portrait Gallery.

1543 Henry married Katherine Parr, not for lust

She nursed him for the last 4 years of his life

Completion of Nonsuch coincided with Henry’s own demise 28 January 1547

Henry VIII’s reign changed the face of England

Buried at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, buried next to Jane Seymour who provided his son and heir, Edward VI

Complex figure full of contradictions – endlessly fascinating

Use of art not art for art’s sake = used art to show himself in the best light and push his agenda at particular points in time

Loved pomp and opulence but buried now beneath a black slab from the 19th century

Had planned an opulent tomb, but there were neither the funds or the will to finish it.

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