“Henry is great box office. Henry is beyond history. He is myth,” David Starkey
This year we celebrate the 500th anniversary of one of our country’s most famous monarch’s accession to the throne. In 1509, Henry VIII became King of England and wielded his power ruthlessly throughout his kingdom. Henry had a profound impact on British history and is known for his fighting spirit, his break from the Catholic Church, the creation of the new Church of England as well as his turbulent love-life – no less than 6 wives of which 2 were beheaded and 2 divorced.
Such was his remarkable reign that Henry VIII is still today, nearly 5 centuries on, more talked about than any other monarch in British history.
In and around London the celebrations are underway with an array of fabulous exhibitions at the British Library, the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace and Windsor Castle.
THE BRITISH LIBRARY
‘Henceforth my heart will be dedicated to you alone’
Henry’s words in a love-letter to his second wife Anne-Boleyn, were buried in the vaults of the Vatican for almost five centuries. The letter is now on display at the British Library, in the exhibition Man and Monarch, which explores the reasoning behind Henry’s reign, his beliefs and the changes that he implemented during his reign.
The letter appears to suggest that Anne had finally succumbed to Henry’s charms – having previously refused his sexual advances until she had been made Queen. It also shows, that perhaps despite appearances, Henry took marriage very seriously (though maybe the ‘till death do us part’ bit too seriously!)
In order to marry Anne, Henry first needed to secure a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. The importance of this one event cannot be underestimated. As a direct result of the Pope’s refusal to grant the divorce, Henry broke from the Catholic Church, proclaiming himself head of the Church of England. The British monarch holds this position to this day.
A short time after Henry’s words of adoration, Anne Boleyn’s head was on the block under the excecutioner’s axe and the devoted King Henry would go on to marry four more women.
Other highlights of the exhibition include Henry’s personal prayer book containing his own hand written notes, a marriage contract between Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon and a list of people executed during his reign including wives and ministers.
The Man and Monarch exhibition is well worth a visit, and has received great press reviews:-
The Guardian – “An exhibition that seeks to blow away the preconceptions surrounding arguably England’s most important monarch”
The Times ” **** a show to nurture the enthusiasms of a new generation of historians” .
You can include the British Library on one of our full day flexible London tours with your own guide. Your guide will collect you by car/minibus from your hotel.
For more about Man and Monarch exhibition see
HAMPTON COURT PALACE & CATHERINE PARR
It seems we can’t get enough of anything related to Henry. Earlier this month, Charles Hudson of the Wyke Manor Estate in Worcestershire – which he said was once home to Catherine Parr – purchased for £2,160 a 500 year old lock of hair, thought to have come from Catherine Parr. Catherine was Henry’s last wife and stayed with him until his death in 1547, by which time Henry was not physically the man he used to be!
The marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine Parr is currently being re-enacted at Hampton Court Palace, which was for almost 200 years the centre of court life, politics and national history and is the largest and most important surviving Tudor building in the country. Actors recreate the wedding and visitors are invited to join in the celebrations in this fascinating exhibition.
Henry lived at the Palace with 5 of his wives and took all of his honeymoons here. There is also an exhibition running at the Palace Henry’s Women, where surprising and unusual portraits of each of Henry VIII’s wives can be seen along with other personal objects. The exhibition is hosted in King Henry VIII’s Council Chamber which has been opened to the public for the first time ever.
Tour options: We offer a 7 hour tour visiting both Hampton Court and Windsor or alternatively visit just the Palace in 4 hours. See our Windsor Castle, Eton and Hampton Court tour
More about Henry at Hampton Court
THE TOWER OF LONDON
“He wanted to do two things. He wanted to screw and he wanted to fight. He had both in abundance in the next 20 years”. David Starkey
At the Tower of London, the ‘Dressed to Kill’ exhibition is displayed over 3 floors of the oldest part of the Tower – the ‘White Tower’ built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. On display are some of the world’s rarest arms and armour, which have been moved specially from the Royal Armouries and other international collections.
These spectacular objects have not been seen by the public since the reign of his daughter, Elizabeth I. Visitors have a chance to see the largest collection of surviving armours known to have belonged to Henry. There is something truly majestic about this armour and all within this imposing fortress where two of Henry’s wives were executed upon his orders.
Henry’s armour was made to measure his generous proportions and there were no gaps for swords to enter. NASA studied one of Henry’s suits of armour in the 1960’s as a model for making space suits.
Windsor Castle was founded in around 1080 by William the Conqueror and today is the Queen’s weekend getaway and favourite residence. To mark the occasion here, some of the most important and beautiful treasures to survive from the King’s reign have been brought together from the Royal Collection and the St George’s Chapel archives.
Through paintings, drawings, miniatures, prints, books and manuscripts, the exhibition explores the life of a king. Windsor played host to Henry VIII and his court on many occasions and Henry is buried in St George’s Chapel, with his favourite wife, Jane Seymour. Jane was the only wife to bear Henry his much longed for son and died soon after the birth, leaving him devastated.
More about the anniversary at Windsor Castle
Touring options: We offer a 7 hour tour visiting both Windsor Castle and Hampton Court https://www.britishtours.com/windsor-hampton-court-palace or alternatively visit just Windsor in 4 hours. Windsor can also be combined with Blenheim Palace, Stonehenge and Oxford. See day tours from London . Your expert guide will collect you by car or minibus from your London hotel; we can also customise a private day tour or overnight tour around Henry Vlll to suit your interests.