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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.

Look What They Found in Ye Olde Tudor Family Attic (Part 2)

I spent yesterday morning at our local mall, strolling beneath the tinsel and red baubles to the sounds of Frank Sinatra’s Christmas album. It’s only the first week of November! But I adore Christmas so I can’t complain, and I got a tiny bit of shopping done as well.

Who knows how long I’d have been there if my list were as long as Henry VIII’s from New Year’s Day 1539! (click for a larger view)

On display as part of the Vivat Rex! exhibition, the scroll is 8 1/2 foot long scroll and lists recipients from most to least important. In the top pic it is easy to see three “to” sections: The first is to “the Lorde Prince [Eddie],” the next is to “the Lady Mariee,” and finally “to the Lady Elizabeth.”

Because of the wrinkle, it is difficult to see “to the Lady Margret Doughtles” after that, followed by the list of bishops. I’m able to make out “Canterbury,” “York,” “Lincoln,” and “London.” Maybe you can figure out more? The second pic (below) is the lower half of the scroll, and lists the goods for dukes and lords, earls, and duchess and countesses.  

Near this scroll is a bittersweet spot in history, the account of another New Year’s Day, that of 1511. In Holinshed’s Chronicles, we see the whole shebang celebrating the birth of  Henry and Cat of Aragon’s son, Prince Henry (who died nearly two months later).

The noted festivities included a pageant “glistening by night as though it had beene all of gold and set with stones” and jousts with “certeine lords apparelled, they and their horsses in cloth of gold and russet tinsell…Then came the king under a pauilion of cloth of gold and purple veluet embrodered, and powered with H. and K. of fine gold.”

The next post will wrap up the peek at this fine exhibit, including some chat about Catherine of Aragon’s letter to her nephew, and a Reformist vs. a Traditionist face-off in the pages of a Tudor-era prayer book.

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!