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Henry VIII 1491–1547

This portrait of Henry VIII is an early derivation of Holbein's original portrait of the King, painted in 1537 on the wall of the Privy Chamber at Whitehall (see RCIN 405750). It was probably painted later in the sixteenth century.

The panel seems to h

Henry VIII (1491-1547) ©

Henry VIII became King in April 1509, at the age of seventeen. Handsome and cultured, an eager sportsman and an astute politician, he ruled for thirty-seven years. He was to marry six times, and two of his wives were executed for treason. Henry’s reign saw religious upheaval: in the 1530s the King broke from papal authority in Rome and dissolved the monasteries, declaring himself head of the Church in England. His aggressive foreign policy and his sophisticated court, which included writers such as Thomas More and Nicholas Bourbon, saw him play an important role as a European monarch. Following his death in 1547, Henry was succeeded on the throne by his son Edward, and then by his daughters Mary and Elizabeth.

This exhibition explores Henry, his family and his reign through some of the most beautiful and fascinating objects to have survived from the sixteenth century. The works on display come from the Royal Collection, and from the Archives of St George’s Chapel. Henry was a patron of artists from all over Europe, most notably the German painter Hans Holbein, who first came to England in 1526, and who was soon employed at Court. Holbein captured the appearance of Henry’s family and courtiers in a series of perceptive portraits, a number of which are shown here. Among the other artists working for Henry were the Flemish miniaturist Lucas Horenbout, who recorded the King’s appearance at the age of thirty-five, and the Spanish swordsmith Diego de Çaias, whose work for the King included the beautiful hunting sword.

After Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8-1543)

Henry VIII (1491-1547)

Lucas Horenbout (c. 1490/5-1544)

Henry VIII (1491-1547)

Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8-1543)

Solomon and the Queen of Sheba

Cornelis Massys (c.1510-62)


Diego de Çaias (active c. 1530-52)

Hunting sword, by-knife and scabbard

Morgan Wolff (active 1542)

Great Seal of Henry VIII