Your cheeky guide to the dynasty

Look What They Found in Ye Olde Tudor Family Attic (Part 3)

Welcome to the final installment in the Vivat Rex! exhibit posts — I’ve realized that I’d been giving away a lot in these posts and don’t want to ruin the experience for anyone who can get to the Folger Shakespeare Library for this super spread. But I can’t resist mentioning a few more gems …

* A pre-Reformation case holds a little devotional book which Henry had given to Lord Protector Somerset, and which was then passed on to Mary I. She was lucky to have gotten it at all, as her fanatical brother (takes one to know one, I guess) had most books such as this destroyed. Under an illustration of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the queen’s careful, round handwriting: “Marye the quene Ave Maria.” Around these words, she drew a few simplistic crosses, with tiny dots at the tips. I found this touch endearing! (Photos of this piece are not allowed.)

* In the case regarding the king’s Great Matter (his obsessive need to give Cat of Aragon the boot because he was surely being punished by God for marrying his brother’s wife), there hangs a large letter from Cat to her nephew, Charles V. Charles was the Holy Roman Emperor (as well as being Charles I of Spain) and a huge proponent of nixing the Reformation, so part of her February 1531 letter was thanking him for having her back in this matter. Anyway, what struck me most about it was her chicken-scratch handwriting, complete with cross-outs and overwrites. I imagine stress and desperation had a lot to do with this; it was a bit painful to look at in that respect. (Again, photos not allowed.)  

* In one of the “Break with Rome” cases, there is a prayer book (below; click for a larger image) that belonged to a Reformer. You can see that certain passages have been crossed out, and the word “pope” is scratched out (left page, sixth line down).


The gift shop at the rear of the exhibit hall is a treasure trove of Tudor-era goodies. Lots are geared toward Henry VIII specifically and range from the serious (such as David Starkey books, books on the Reformation, and informative DVDs) to the flat-out-fun (such as the “disappearing wives” mug, a House of Tudor board game, and a set of plush Christmas ornaments featuring the monarch and all his lovely maidens). It being the Folger Shakespeare Library, there are also lots of neat Shakespearean-themed gifts, including Elizabeth I items.

The docents’ desk at the entrance has great activity flyers for kids, such as a Tudor family tree with space for children to fill out their own tree. Hopefully they will not need to include family members who have been beheaded!

**Special thanks to docents Jennifer Newton and Michael Neuman for their time, assistance, and knowledge.


  Amber wrote @

Forgive my ignorance…so the Folger has an exhibition part? I think I had read you have to make an appointment or something for research, but can anyone just walk in and look at the items you’re talking about? Because I might be in DC Thursday for another museum, so maybe I could stop there…I don’t think those spaces are affected by the holiday.

  barbalexander wrote @

Hi Amber, unfortunately the Folger is closed on all federal holidays including this Thursday. For future reference, you don’t need an appointment to see the exhibit on days when the Folger is open, and there is no cost to see it. Score!

  Amber wrote @

Great, thank so much for the information! I’ll definitely have to get down there to see it!

  Anne Barnhill wrote @

Thanks! All this is so wonderful–I wish I could figure a way to get to DC!! I love those illustrated books of hours–Hope to see Anne Boleyn’s someday at Hever!

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