Your cheeky guide to the dynasty

Look What They Found in Ye Olde Tudor Family Attic (Part 1)

Finally, I made it to the Vivat Rex! exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. last week, and it did not disappoint! Most of the exhibit is in a gorgeous hallway panelled in dark wood with an ivory embossed ceiling, the perfect setting for these grand and historically-rich books and manuscripts.

The first case is, to me, one of the most interesting in the exhibit. It has just enough items linking the power-hungry man we know to his humble (?) beginnings. Elizabeth of York’s little prayer book has  her loopy-scratchy writing inside: “Madam j pray yow Remember me in yowr good prayers yawr mastras Elyzabeth R.” (Now there’s a kreetiv spelling of that name I’d never seen before! Remember that even names weren’t spelled in a standardized way at the time.) There is a beautifully illustrated page from Hall’s Chronicle showing how Henry VIII eventually became the personification of  Chez York plus Chez Lancaster.

And this copy of Cicero, on which schoolboy Hal marked his territory with charming loopy writing, “Thys Boke Is Myne Prynce Henry.” (click for a larger view)

I was pretty taken with one particular goodie in this case, though, and that is the list of, ahem, qualities that Henry VII told his ambassadors to look for in the young dowager Queen of Naples when he was back on the market after his dear wife, Elizabeth of York, died. The ambassors were to note the length of the girl’s fingers, if her hands were fat or thin, her breasts and “pappes” big or small, her complexion clear, and her neck “long or short or misshapen.”

There are several cases devoted to Henry as “Defender of the Faith” including (wait for it) the actual bull signed by Pope Leo X declaring Henry so. It is small but impressive, considering the weight it held and what was to follow.  Then Leo said something like “But that’s not all! There’s more!” and presented the king with the real treasure in the same case, the Golden Gospels of Henry VIII. 

This serious tome has satiny cranberry-coloured vellum pages stained with berries and gracefully decked out in neat gold Latin printing. Rumor has it this impressive book was made for the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III in 983. No way was Henry regifting this!

(Photos of the book aren’t allowed and for the life of me I haven’t been able to find a photo of it online. But there’s a formal page about its details on this page.)

Want to see pics of Henry VIII’s looooong holiday shopping list from the 1538-39 season? You’ve got to wait for the next blog post, coming tomorrow!


  Anne Barnhill wrote @

This is awesome! Thank you so much! It looks so interesting I may have to head to DC myself. I’ll be there in February for the AWP conference but that’s too late!! So interesting. I think I would be weak-kneed to see some of that stuff, especially little Henry’s school book.

  barbalexander wrote @

You’re very welcome, Anne! I would say definitely try to get there for the exhibit if you can. A wonderful collection.

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