Jonathan Foyle looks for clues in Henry VIII's art to glimpse what was going on inside the king's head as he faced his darkest days following his divorce and break with Rome.
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500 years after he was crowned King of England,
Henry VIII remains the most recognisable of all our monarchs.
When that iconic portrait - magnificent, omnipotent -
was painted, Henry had already changed the course
of English history,
with the fallout from a string of failed marriages,
and a religious revolution.
But long before that,
he'd already learnt the lessons of imagery and reputation.
Crowned in 1509, Henry carried the golden promise of youth.
He was athletic and charismatic.
His court filled with colour and revelry.
He hired the finest craftsmen and players from Renaissance Europe.
Outwardly, a true king in all his glory.
But two decades on, Henry was anxious about the future
of the house of Tudor.
He still had no son to succeed him.
In his desperation for a new wife and a future heir,
Henry had ditched his key advisors,
broken away from Rome,
divorced his Queen, Catherine of Aragon, and married Anne Boleyn.
Henry was at a crossroads. He needed a new identity,
one which underpinned his divine right to rule England,
and show him as a powerful and controlling monarch
and the guarantor of a successful dynasty.
Henry would commission images...
and build palaces to reflect his new role.
But he would also destroy the English monasteries
and plunder their treasures.
If Henry was to find his way through this crisis
and make his mark in history as a great king,
a reforming monarch, a strong ruler,
he didn't have long to seal his reputation.
This new image of Henry would have to be forged quickly -
his future depended on it.
When Henry knelt to make his wedding vows to Anne Boleyn in January 1533,
he knew he was headed for trouble.
In his pursuit of his marriage to Anne
he'd incurred the wrath of the Pope, and the European Catholic nations.
And he'd also incurred the displeasure of his own subjects -
the English people.
Rome had refused to sanction Henry's divorce of Catherine.
Henry now rejected Rome.
He would not merely be King, but supreme head of the English Church.
It was a drastic move. One which threatened invasion from abroad
and revolution at home.
Henry was now vulnerable and it was time for action.
Henry would build sea forts and create the basis of the Royal Navy.
But that wasn't all.
He also had an army of builders, craftsmen, sculptors, painters,
to reflect the King's growing authoritarian rule
in the most splendid palaces and propagandistic paintings.
I'm an architectural historian.
For eight years, I looked after the best surviving of Henry's palaces
at Hampton Court.
And I'm fascinated by the way Henry used art.
Art's not really a concept he'd have recognised.
He never valued works of art according to who made them,
or their material value,
or their power of ornamentation.
It was storytelling he was interested in.
Every piece he ever commissioned told one aspect of a central story -
The Tudor audience was exceptionally good at reading these signs.
When you looked at a picture, you expected to learn something
about the owner - who they were, how they wanted to be seen.
I believe that by looking at Henry's palaces, tapestries,
sculpture and paintings,
it's possible to get a glimpse of what was going on inside his head,
as he faced his darkest days on the throne.
One of Henry's key recruits would become
one of the most famous artists of his reign -
the German painter, Hans Holbein.
Holbein had been first lured to London in 1526.
He was a true Renaissance man - skilled in designing jewellery,
book illustrations, woodcuts, architecture and painting.
His realistic style of portraiture was admired by Henry's new Queen,
Anne Boleyn and her circle.
His masterpiece of 1533 was entitled The Ambassadors.
It had turned heads and now he found himself engaged to paint
the King himself.
His first known image of Henry would tackle the break with Rome.
By declaring himself supreme head of the Church in England,
Henry ended a millennium-long tradition
of Anglo-Roman Catholicism.
In arguing his own case for his divorce against Catherine,
he claimed he'd come across ancient texts
which showed that English kings had their own direct line to God.
No longer would Henry need the Pope or even the saints he'd ratified,
less still the Cardinals who represented him.
From now on, Henry decided on doctrine.
His was the word of God.
Henry remained a Catholic, but in Europe, Protestant reformers
were calling for a much more radical change to the old order.
They believed the word of God could be found in the Bible alone.
They decried the practice of paying the Church for a promise of forgiveness.
And they denied the authority of the Pope.
These ideas were starting to find favour in England.
Even in Henry's court.
But for the moment, Henry was driven
more by the fallout of his divorce than by pure theology.
It was precisely at this moment that Holbein was asked
to make his first image of Henry.
What Holbein painted gives us a vital clue
to how Henry wanted to be seen.
Holbein created an allegorical tableau in which Henry appears
as the biblical hero, King Solomon,
who is known for his wisdom, justice, wealth and power.
The picture is very small. Just about 23cm x 18cm,
painted on vellum.
But I think it's fascinating.
It's drawn in ink, coloured with watercolour, silver and gold.
Henry, recognisable as Solomon, is receiving the Queen of Sheba.
The queen represents the Church.
In other words, the Church submits to Henry.
And this is underlined by the biblical text over Solomon's head,
which reads, "Blessed be the Lord thy God,
"who delighteth in thee to set thee on his throne.
"To be king by the Lord thy God."
And look how Henry stares straight out at the viewer.
This is a picture of Henry's confident authority over his realm.
The message couldn't be much clearer.
The King rules, as decreed by God himself.
Forget the Pope and Rome.
But this painting was just the beginning.
Although there's no evidence of a formal campaign strategy,
there's no doubt that a new image was being created for the King.
Henry gathered around him a new group of advisors.
His two most constant counsellors from the early years of his reign,
Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsey, had fallen from favour
over Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn.
But their places were soon taken by another.
In the early 1530s, the man on the ascendant was this guy,
Cromwell was the son of a Putney blacksmith who was well-educated
and had travelled to Italy before he became Wolsey's solicitor.
As one of the Cardinal's confidantes, he must have been aware
that you could rise through the ranks of Henry's court rapidly.
But your fall could be even quicker.
Cromwell, who had encouraged Henry to declare himself
supreme head of the Church, was a supporter of the ideals
of the Reformation.
And his first target was an area where he thought Henry would be sympathetic.
The publication of a Bible in English.
Until now, the Bible had been written in Latin.
It was not meant to be read by the ordinary man.
It was the priest's job to communicate the message.
That began to change with the Protestant reformers,
who argued that people should be able to read the word of God
for themselves, in their own language.
Some English-language Bibles had begun to appear.
But in 1535, the first complete English Bible was published
under the King's auspices.
The translation was edited by one of Cromwell's associates,
The King didn't commission the Bible
but his blessing to publish must have been expected,
because he appears on the front page with the Royal coat of arms.
And the designer of this incredible title page
was once again Hans Holbein.
Tania String has written extensively on the iconography of Henry VIII
and how he used images as propaganda.
This is a fascinating document, because what we've got here
is the first demonstration of the new Royal supremacy
of Henry as supreme head of both Church and state.
We're looking at a demonstration of the ways the English Reformation
is being presented,
really for the first time,
to the English people.
So is this like a billboard? As soon as you open the Bible,
it's supposed to give you all the messages the King intends.
Only for sophisticated viewers.
This is still very much an elite project,
intended for those who would be in the know and sympathetic
to the cause of the Reformation.
And for those aristocrats who are, kind of, team players
and can be convinced quite easily of Henry's new role.
This is very much a collaborative project, between Thomas Cromwell,
Myles Coverdale - the translator
and the driving force between producing an English language Bible -
and Hans Holbein the younger, who is finding his way
into the Henritian court.
In some ways, the whole Bible project
was intended to reflect some of those Protestant concerns
and have a vernacular Bible, which had happened in Germany in the 1520s.
So what we've got is a revolutionary project here.
And Holbein has been called in as a specialist woodcut designer
to show us, in fact, how Henry, at the bottom of the page,
is now disseminating the word of God to both his bishops and his laymen -
The main message is really very much about translation.
This is what Myles Coverdale is contributing.
He chooses the passages.
"Pray for us that the word of God may have free passage and be glorified."
Cromwell and Coverdale were very much trying to get Henry
to sanction the production of English-language Bibles
and their dissemination out into the English public.
Here is Cromwell, using Holbein,
who we think of as the King's painter,
to actually give an image to the King about himself.
So is this Henry actually manipulating art?
Or is it art manipulating Henry?
In some way, flattering the King, persuading the King,
hoping that this will be seen as something that is
so elegantly performed that he can see himself in that role.
It's a heady mix. You've got the intellect of Coverdale,
-as the translator...
-you've got the political nous of Cromwell...
..and the artistic skill of Holbein.
That must have created quite a persuasive package.
What was Henry's response?
Henry's response was that, immediately after this,
the idea of an English language Bible was accepted.
So what we've got is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Within four years, Henry officially commissioned the first English Bible
under Royal Licence - The Great Bible. A copy was placed in each
parish church, chained to the pulpit. In many cases, a reader
was even provided. Now every man could read, or hear,
the word of God in his own native language.
Henry was astute enough to know you didn't have to be in a pulpit
to make a point.
The court was the centre of his life, filled with the noblemen
and ambassadors who could best convey his chosen message.
Here, alongside the daily diet of politics and prayer, there was entertainment too.
Henry's advisors and spin merchants used one art form
to deliver vivid political messages
to captive audiences.
That was drama.
In Henry's early reign, the medieval tradition of moral plays,
religious plays, folk plays and revels were standard entertainment.
But as his reign progressed, drama became more politicised.
And just as with visual art,
Henry was always at the centre, always the hero.
Didst thou never know the manner of our senses?
I was never with them acquainted by St Denis...
Any nobleman or courtier of influence had his own acting troupe
or sponsored one. It says volumes that a man like Cromwell,
who essentially ran the country,
had time to cultivate drama.
It wasn't just entertainment. It was an aspect of government.
But by what name? Tell me, I heartily pray thee.
To win the people, I appoint each man his place...
John Heywood was a Catholic playwright
employed at Henry's court.
His challenge was to produce plays which would both entertain and make clear political points.
Here at Hampton Court, rehearsals of Heywood's The Play Of The Weather are under way.
..by them engendered, the full of their powers for term everlasting.
In this play, Henry is represented by no historical character
but by a celestial body - Jupiter, the planet of jollity, benevolence and moderation.
Each of Jupiter's subjects approaches him to ask what kind of weather they need to live,
and Jupiter then decides how to allocate it -
what a picture of omnipotence. The opening lines have a lot to say
about the split from Rome.
..With one voice agreeable, we have clearly finished our foresaid parliament.
To your great wealth which shall be firm and stable,
and to our honour, far inestimable,
for since their powers as ours added to our own,
who can we say know us as we should be known?
Now, what was that passage all about?
Jupiter is a representation of Henry.
Jupiter is saying in that speech,
"Thank you for all these extra powers.
"I don't need them, I'll take them because you want me to take them,
"but I'm only taking them because you want me to. It's nothing to do with what I need -
"I have all the power I need already."
Would Henry want to be Jupiter? What are the attributes of Jupiter,
that make it appropriate for a king?
It allows him to be represented as a god,
but obviously not in any kind of sacrilegious way.
Also, for Heywood, it allows him to reflect on Henry's power,
Henry's kingship, in a way which is safe, a kind of comic space.
By my faith, his Lordship is right busy with a piece of work that needs must be done.
Even now, is he making of a new moon...
'He creates a Jupiter who, at times, is very funny,
'at times is slightly bawdy, but is always in complete control.'
..Shall make a thing spring...
'How would Heywood have got away with this?'
He had licence. He had a very close relationship with Henry in some ways.
Part of being a Renaissance monarch is being able to laugh at yourself.
It's that old thing of Heywood having to walk the line.
I think him wise enough for he looketh oldly...
He doesn't want to produce boring art.
Henry doesn't want to be known as a king who only has boring plays, boring art.
He wants to be known as the King who allows licence, allows comedy, within limits.
The comedy provided welcome relief from the merry monarch's darker concerns.
Not everyone was buying into Henry's vision of a new England.
Rebellion was fermenting in the north of his kingdom.
And France and Spain were preparing to attack England
in retaliation for the break with Rome.
Henry was going to need a substantial war chest,
and Cromwell was warning the King the royal coffers were running out fast.
Where could Henry get money quickly?
The answer was the monasteries, which had amassed vast wealth
and were potential hotbeds of support for Rome.
Early in 1535, Henry commissioned Thomas Cromwell to find out exactly how much the monasteries were worth.
Cromwell reported back in this document - the Valor Ecclesiasticus.
Written in Latin, it was lavishly illustrated by the Flemish artist Lucas Horenbout.
The title page shows Henry in a position of absolute authority.
He's the central focus of the picture, sitting with his limbs outstretched.
His courtiers appear timid in the background.
Inside, Cromwell's text detailed the monasteries' monetary value.
It equalled or surpassed the Crown's own wealth.
A separate inventory listed the religious houses supposed corruptions -
popery, buggery and fornication.
The abbeys were accused of being awash with sin.
Their power was about to come crashing down
and, with it, the most wonderful architectural legacy.
When Henry came to the throne, he inherited a medieval England
whose land was shaped by the monastic houses, over 200 of them.
Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans and many others
were all here farming and tending the land,
maintaining beautiful buildings,
providing comfort for the poor and a place of spiritual seclusion.
In 1536, he changed all that.
Henry wants money and glory.
Had the monks of England been prepared to go full steam ahead,
support his reformation, then we'd probably
still have monasteries in some form today.
But a lot of them are upset about it,
a lot are connected to foreign orders abroad,
so not too sure whom they serve.
So Henry's wobbly about monks and Thomas Cromwell,
his main advisor and hit man, really doesn't like them very much -
he's a reformer.
He's also going to gain the King's goodwill by delivering him
a fantastic quantity of cash and loot.
In many ways, this is in response to an emergency.
The rulers of Spain and France have made peace, sensationally,
for about the first time in generations,
in order to destroy England as a heretic, non-Catholic country.
Lots of cash is needed for ships and for fortresses to protect us,
so there's a good argument now that the monasteries should come down
to release wealth in a hurry to defend the nation.
Now, where did art stand in all of this?
The monasteries are houses of God
and the art here is to direct people's attention to God.
Now, this is contentious because Protestants would say
that they are traps set by the devil
to take your mind away from the real God that's in the Bible
to the fake God who's in material things.
Catholics would say these material things are vested with holiness,
God is present in them.
And Henry, being Henry, wobbles between the two positions.
Henry's reformation is not Protestant.
It's officially for a new, better, slicker kind of Catholicism.
So you're not actually getting rid of images under Henry,
you're getting rid of the few images which have been worshiped as idols,
and the Bible definitely comes down hard on that,
and you keep the other images, not as sacred things themselves,
but as means of turning your mind to heaven and the saints.
How many monasteries around Britain were affected?
We lose them all which means several hundred,
and so it's a wholesale demolition, there are no survivors.
This was Henry at his most ruthless.
The monasteries of England and all their treasures
were looted, plundered and abandoned.
Cromwell reportedly promised Henry
he would make him the richest man in Christendom.
The lands, buildings and glorious religious treasures
of the monasteries became the property of Henry.
A few books and tapestries were added to the King's own collections,
but most of the contents were simply melted down,
burned, sold on or given to others to buy their loyalty.
What I'm drawing is Jervaulx Abbey's east end,
the altar platform would have been just behind these windows
which are straight ahead of me.
And then, amongst those ruins, is the Chapter House,
still with beautiful little columns and florid cut capitals,
and it shows the quality of the architecture which was here.
Jervaulx was founded in 1146 and so, for almost 400 years,
this place had been here, serving a community,
a place of burial where people thought they would rest forever.
It's a very fine piece of architecture indeed.
But Henry, the Royal patron of painters and playwrights,
pulled it down.
We lost a little image of heaven.
Remember that people in the Middle Ages
live in a world of generally drab colours and filth
and vermin and foul smells.
They come into a church like this in its glory days
and virtually every inch of stonework is painted in vivid colours.
You have more colour splashing down from the stained glass windows,
the air is thick with incense,
the voices of the monks are sounding every couple of hours,
it's a view of paradise upon Earth.
And what we have here is battered stonework
with rooks and crows cawing over it.
Anne Boleyn, though sympathetic to the reformers,
was horrified at the destruction of the monasteries.
Within a few months of their demise, she faced her own.
January, 1536, was the blackest month.
Henry was badly injured in a jousting accident.
Almost overnight, the athlete became the invalid.
And five days later, worse was to come.
The child would have been a boy.
That was disastrous for Anne.
The whole point of marrying this young woman was to deliver a son.
She'd given birth to Elizabeth,
but now the storm clouds were gathering against her.
Amongst the evidence,
was the fact that she dropped a handkerchief at Greenwich,
a sure fire symbol of infidelity.
On the 19th of May 1536,
Anne was sent to the executioner's block
accused of multiple acts of treason including adultery,
incest with her brother Lord Rochford,
and plotting to overthrow Henry.
The passion of his life had fatally fallen from grace.
The very next day, he was betrothed to Jane Seymour.
Jane was the daughter of a Wiltshire nobleman
and had been a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn.
As Jane replaced Anne, the Seymour family swept the Boleyns from court.
England was now sober, sombre, riddled with religious divide.
And the destruction continued.
A lone candle in Canterbury Cathedral
marks the spot where Thomas Becket's shrine had stood for 300 years.
Thousands of pilgrims from across Europe made their way here
to pay homage to the saint.
Henry would have his shrine dismantled,
he even turned a huge ruby which had adorned it
into a thumb ring for himself.
Many of his people didn't care for Henry's brave new England.
In small parish churches, local people saved treasures
from their monasteries rather than watch their destruction.
This rood screen was rescued from Jervaulx Abbey.
Revolution was in the air.
As 1536 wore on,
Henry and his henchman, Cromwell, became increasingly unpopular.
They pulled down perfectly beautiful and useful buildings,
burned the furniture inside them
which had sustained those communities,
and the painted and graven image which supported their beliefs.
This was enough to cause an uprising led by one Robert Aske,
a London barrister, who, with 9,000 men, stormed York.
Henry sent representatives to negotiate an amnesty
if they would disband, but he didn't keep to his word.
By July, 1537, many had been executed
and the Abbot of Jervaulx himself ended up in the Tower.
The uprising in York was known as The Pilgrimage of Grace.
Across the north of England, noblemen and servants joined forces
to demand the restoration of the monasteries
and the return of the old Church.
At their height, these pilgrims numbered 40,000 men.
This was the greatest civil challenge to Henry's rule.
The money from the monasteries would be spent on coastal defences.
France and Spain were a constant threat.
The Pope, infuriated by Henry's independence,
was pushing for invasion.
Henry planned an enormous programme of fortifications which would run
from Milford Haven to the Humber. And he began to build a great navy,
his warships weighed down with powerful cannons.
And Henry still had no heir, no future for the Tudor dynasty.
It was crucial he reasserted his power and regained stability.
Once again, Holbein, by now officially the King's painter
and on a handsome salary, reveals the state of Henry's mind.
He was about to create the most shocking, most effective,
and most memorable portrait of Henry to date.
This painting was called the Whitehall Mural.
It was destroyed in a fire which swept the palace in 1698,
but a copy remains in the Royal Collection.
Kate, this watercolour copy of the Whitehall Mural is what,
a foot and a half square?
How closely does it resemble the original?
Well, it's a huge difference in size,
the original was about three metres high, we think,
so this is a small, pocket-sized version of the original.
And how was this first seen by Henry's intended audience?
The original audience of the mural
would have been quite a small group of people
because it was placed in the Privy Chamber at Whitehall Palace
and only a select group of people were allowed to go in.
They will have seen Henry VIII standing at their own height,
standing before them almost,
they came into the presence of the King in that way.
Certainly one commentator says that people were
"stricken with fear" as they looked at it.
So what does it tell us?
Well, it tells us that Henry VIII is a powerful and important king
because it has this inscription in the centre
which defines the message of the painting very clearly.
It says Henry VII was the King who brought peace to England
and who established the dynasty of the Tudors
and his son Henry is even greater
because he showed his rule over the Church,
he established England as separate from the Pope.
So it gives us a very clear message of Henry's own power as a king.
So Henry's really saying, "I'm better than my dad."
"Dad was great, but I'm even better."
Now what about those fabulous clothes and grand architecture,
what do they tell us?
Well, they absolutely proclaim Henry's wealth and status
because they're the most fashionable things you can have in England or indeed Europe.
Not only the latest fashion, but the most expensive -
the cloth of gold, the carpet that he's standing on.
But it again, it proclaims power.
When the mural was painted in 1537,
what were Henry's circumstances and what did he really want to say?
Well, Henry's had a bad time in 1536.
He's lost his two previous wives -
Catherine of Aragon has died, Anne Boleyn has been executed.
He has married Jane Seymour in May,
but in October, a big rebellion breaks out
as a reaction to his church reforms and he is very much under threat
from the rebellion known as The Pilgrimage of Grace.
So in 1537, you can see Henry trying to re-establish his position,
to re-assert Henry as the big, important monarch who is in charge.
Without this son and heir in place,
is claiming he's better than his own dad the best he can do?
Absolutely, he's giving a sense of promise and hope,
but he has got nothing to show for it
as he has nobody to pass the throne on to,
so, yes, saying, "Look how fabulous I am,"
takes the emphasis off, "Where are we going next?"
How far do you think that a mural would have helped him?
Well, we have the answer to that in the immediate copies are made.
This view of Henry, we've been talking about how
it would have only been seen by a closed group,
but it's how we see Henry VIII today,
it's our immediate image of Henry
and that's done by almost immediate copies
of the figure which are circulated
and it becomes the iconic image of the King.
So while the mural was only seen by a few people,
those people were very influential,
they were ambassadors who were going back to kings of other countries,
they were the most important men in government - so very important.
And is that by design?
Is that by the King wanting to circulate the images of himself?
We don't have any evidence that Henry tried to control his image
in the way Elizabeth I did.
Holbein is one of the leading artists,
if not THE leading artist of the period,
and many of the early copies seem to originate
with artists around Holbein.
But at the same time, Henry is King
and he's the man you're going to want a picture of.
So that's probably why they circulate.
There's no simple answer, is there, with this picture?
It's so complex because it was in a private space
and yet it became incredibly familiar.
There's Henry looking every inch the confident King,
but it's made to cover his vulnerability.
Absolute myriad of contradictions - so typical of Henry.
But this picture hides two big secrets,
and in both cases it's what the viewer DOESN'T see that matters.
Holbein would not have simply painted the family group
straight onto the wall of the palace.
The composition would have been carefully prepared
in sections like this, before it was transferred
to its permanent location.
This sort of original sketch is known as the cartoon.
I've drawn Henry exactly as he appears
in the Whitehall Mural, head on.
And you'd expect that's what Holbein did too,
but the cartoon reveals an extraordinary difference.
In Holbein's original sketch, Henry's head is turned to the side.
It's a much softer, less confrontational look.
In the final painting, he's staring boldly ahead,
transforming Henry into the imposing figure we still recognise today.
Whose idea was it? Holbein's or Henry's himself?
We'll never know, but it was a master stroke.
During the 15th century, portraits tended to be head and shoulders.
You could choose which way you looked to get your best side.
They're quite intimate.
It's a much harder game to paint someone full height, square on.
It's in your face, it has to be done with confidence
and Holbein's portraits of Henry standing like that
are amongst the greatest depictions of confidence ever painted.
And now the second surprise.
Perhaps there's another reason
why Henry looked so confident in this picture.
Confident of something which would give him renewed hope.
There's no hint of it in the painting,
but this mural of 1537 was almost certainly painted
during Jane Seymour's pregnancy.
After almost three decades of bleakness
in which Henry was longing for a son and heir,
eventually, in October 1537, Jane Seymour gave him a son.
It was Prince Edward, the future King Edward VI.
Henry was overjoyed. And amongst the artistic responses
was a painting of the young prince, aged two, made by Holbein
to be given to the King on New Year's Day, 1540.
Here's the little fella, decked out in cloth of gold
with a feather in his cap.
The cap, now a brown-ish colour,
would once have been a dazzling scarlet,
a red glaze painted over silver leaf.
Such precious materials state that this was a very important infant.
The background, now a grey-ish brown,
would have been a striking blue.
This painting would have glistened in its day.
It's also notable that there are
no traditional religious images in the portrait
and yet it IS a religious painting.
Edward is the religious symbol,
the future supreme head of the Church in England.
His rattle is effectively a sceptre.
We see the head looking forward, once more.
It's very bold, if completely unrealistic,
for a child to hold such an upright stance,
but it's stressing Edward is a baby groomed to be King.
He will be head of both Church and state.
Given Henry's notorious track record for mistreating family members,
you always have to wonder what lies behind the image.
Well, the Latin text underneath young Edward tells us that
although this prince is destined for great things,
he can never surpass his father.
The arrival of a son and heir changed everything for Henry.
The house of Tudor now had a future.
Although Henry still had enemies, they could be overcome.
The important thing was that the bloodline
with the properties and the policies could all be handed down.
Henry's response to his new fatherhood
is captured in an extraordinary commission.
A magnificent work of art
which is, today, priceless.
The Great Hall at Hampton Court is home to the Abraham tapestries.
Ten scenes depicting the biblical story of Abraham.
The palace furnishings played a key role in emphasising
the King's majesty and other personal attributes
and these enormous images were an awe inspiring way to do it.
At a total length of 88 yards, and a height of 15 feet,
they're extraordinarily rich,
woven with a high percentage of silk and gold metallic thread.
They took around three years to produce.
It was one of the most lavish sets ever made in Brussels
and, without doubt, Henry's most expensive tapestry acquisition.
Henry would not have chosen the story of Abraham by chance.
Biblical characters had played an important part in his imagery
for many years, but now Henry identified himself with Abraham,
first of the great patriarchs.
The symbolism is unmistakable, especially in this tapestry,
The Circumcision Of Isaac.
You can see the parallels between Abraham and Henry.
Abraham, the founder of the Hebrew nation and a biblical hero,
is the parallel to Henry, the leader of England
and the founder of the new English Church.
He sees himself as a bit of a religious hero,
despite having just pulled down most of the medieval monasteries.
But at this time, when he commissions these,
Henry is a new father, as Abraham was father to Isaac.
The young Prince Edward is a parallel to Isaac then.
These tapestries were intended to dazzle everyone who saw them,
and leave them in no doubt about Henry's new biblical authority.
Imagine arriving at a state occasion in the great hall of Hampton Court
and being surrounded by these tapestries,
under a great roof which shone with the same brilliant colours.
I'm not talking about any brilliant colours - not just vivid greens and blue and red,
but in each of these tapestries is gold thread - real gold.
It's woven right the way through.
These things are incredibly expensive.
Given they're about 500 years old,
the tapestries are in pretty good condition, but their original
natural colours have now faded to shades of brown.
Upstairs, there's an experiment to try and bring them back to their former glory.
Henry's tapestries enhanced the King's reputation through glorious, sumptuous colour.
Kathryn Hallett of Historic Royal Palaces wants visitors
to experience the richness of the Abraham tapestries as they were seen in the 1540s.
As a conservator, I have the privilege of looking and studying the back of the tapestries,
and we wanted to find a way to show the incredible bright colours on the reverse to our visitors.
So they've been protected from sunlight and degradation
and kept their original...?
Absolutely right, yes.
They've been protected from light for 500 years, so they're still
-splendidly bright on the reverse.
-What will you do? Re-weave this?
No, in fact, we're using the latest digital technology to measure, digitally,
the colour on the back of the tapestry and then to project that missing colour,
-the faded colour, back onto the front of the tapestry.
-All right, let's have a look then.
Oh, my Lord!
It gives you an idea of just how bright the colours on the reverse really are,
and also of the original intention of the tapestries
to inspire awe and wonder to the visitors to the palace,
and certainly we know that that worked.
What else have you got in your box of tricks?
What we can do is mask off individual features within the tapestry
to show visitors the story behind the incredible scene you see here.
So for example, we can show visitors the figure of Abraham
here on the left, the star of the story and perhaps the character with which Henry most closely identified.
Here you can see Eliezer, Abraham's faithful servant.
He is being charged by Abraham to go and find a wife for Abraham's son, Isaac.
Now, that I like as an interpretive device,
cos you can pick out the figures, tell the story, and bring the message alive for people.
Absolutely. These are not just wall hangings -
they're Tudor propaganda. They really tell a story that was resonant to Henry.
But Henry's happy family life was tragically short-lived.
Edward was baptised in the Royal Chapel at Hampton Court just three days after his birth.
His delighted mother Jane Seymour received 300 guests.
But 48 hours later, septicaemia raged through her body,
she became delirious and the last rites were performed.
She died when her baby son was only 12 days old.
The King wrote that divine providence had mingled his joy with the bitterness of her death.
The fragility of life could never have been so obvious to Henry.
He must have known that Edward could be snatched away just as abruptly.
To secure his dynasty, the King needed an insurance policy.
He began an urgent search to find a new wife who could deliver a second son.
Henry needed an heir and a spare. Once again he called on the services
of his trusted painter Holbein.
Henry VIII could hardly travel around Europe in search of a bride,
so he wanted the next best thing - a beauty parade in Calais so he could pick for himself.
It didn't go down well. The Constable of France
wrote to the French Ambassador in England, Castillon, and said, "It's not the custom of France
"to send damsels to be passed in review as if they were hackneys for sale."
But Henry pushed the matter further. Castillon, shocked that Henry seemed
to be searching for a new wife as he would a new horse, retorted,
"Maybe Your Grace would like to mount them one after the other,
"and keep the one you find to be best broken in."
So what was Henry's reaction to that? He blushed a little
and laughed, he liked Castillon's bonhomie, but beyond the laddish jokes
there had to be a solution. If Henry couldn't see the girls for himself,
someone had to show him what they looked like and there was one man he could trust - Holbein.
From 1538 to '39, Holbein spent months travelling across Europe,
painting the women who had been identified as potential queens.
Their pictures were brought back to Henry just so he could pick his favourite.
Holbein would get a few hours to make preliminary sketches,
then he had to do the actual painting from notes and memory.
One of the paintings from Henry's virtual beauty parade
hangs in the National Gallery in London.
Here she is - Christina of Denmark.
This portrait shows one of Holbein's special talents -
creating dazzling effects with black paint.
It was one of his trademark techniques.
The strength of this composition is based on the different textures of Christina's clothing,
convincing black velvet and satin,
and just the tiniest amount of bare pale flesh.
At 16, Christina was already a widow,
but it's no normal mourning dress that she wears for her dead husband, the Duke of Milan.
Look at the silky sheen on the furs. She is a woman of wealth.
Other than that, the painting doesn't tell you what kind of room she is in or even what country.
What matters is that plain background projects her youthful clear skin.
She is a good-looking girl who brings with her wealth.
That's all Henry VIII needs to know.
So what could Christina have made of Henry VIII's advances?
Well, beyond the initial flattery, the facts were that Henry was 30 years her senior,
pretty portly and had been responsible for tossing aside her great aunt, Catherine of Aragon
before executing a second wife and recently losing a third.
For anyone with more than a passing interest in self-preservation, the prospects didn't look good.
In the end, Henry didn't marry Christina,
but he did keep the painting.
The woman who Henry went on to marry was Anne of Cleves.
Persuaded by this portrait by Holbein,
as well as pressure and encouragement from his adviser Cromwell
who liked Anne's German/Lutheran connections.
Her expression is demure,
but there's more than a hint of beauty.
In fact, Holbein made two very similar paintings of Anne,
one full-sized and one miniature, which was executed with exceptional care
using precious pigments to paint details like the tassel of jewels
in Anne's headdress.
In its tiny ivory case,
it was small enough that the King could have it with him
until Anne arrived to be by his side.
Holbein's portrait of Anne of Cleves may have been too flattering
or possibly it was accurate, but didn't give Henry the whole picture
because there was something about her, maybe her looks, her personality, or even bodily hygiene
that meant he couldn't consummate the marriage and it was annulled.
Cromwell, the main champion of the marriage,
lost his head over the affair and was executed in 1540.
Holbein kept his head.
Only these paintings of the match-making expedition survive -
a fantastic artistic legacy,
even if they were created for a highly practical purpose.
Henry wasn't slow to move on.
One of Anne of Cleves' maids of honour had caught the King's eye.
The young, flighty Catherine Howard, Anne Boleyn's cousin,
had had a colourful past involving her music teacher and a family friend.
Such a history was unknown to the King who was besotted by her.
After a brief courtship, they married at Oatlands Palace in Surrey
on the day of Cromwell's execution, but it wasn't long before Catherine's past was made public.
This alone would have been enough to condemn her,
but she was also romantically linked to another man, Thomas Culpeper,
during her marriage to Henry.
Queen Catherine was doomed
and beheaded in February 1542.
At times like this, Henry could undermine his image as a magnificent, charismatic king.
He publicly blubbered over Catherine Howard's infidelity for two weeks.
Henry was devastated, a broken man.
This engraving portrays Henry toward the end of his life.
It was made by Cornelis Metsys, a Dutch engraver
who chose to show Henry in the trappings of luxury,
but mealy-mouthed, corpulent, beady-eyed.
Each of his marriages had ended disastrously
and still no second son was forthcoming.
He'd never recovered from his jousting accident in 1536.
He was overweight, suffering from gout with grotesque ulcerated legs.
The Royal coffers which had funded
so many lavish symbols of power and majesty were all but bare.
The days of the heroic young knight were far behind him.
Outwardly, Henry continued to project an image of strength and courage,
but, in truth, the King was now so ill, he could barely walk.
He suffered from continual headaches.
His ulcers produced dangerous fevers and pain which turned his face black with agony.
But through that pain Henry pressed on with building his most ambitious palace yet.
A fantasy hunting lodge for the King who had never forgotten his passion for horses and sport.
A private retreat, a place where the troubles of the world could be left behind.
A palace to outshine all others.
A home of such boyish indulgence, it has always fascinated me.
Amongst all of the arts, Henry probably invested in architecture more that any other.
When he came to the throne, he had 13 properties,
but by his death he had over 60!
And it certainly cemented his reputation as a great builder.
For several hundred years during the Middle Ages,
the villagers of Cuddington had interred the remains of their relatives beneath the parish church
which stood on that site until April 1538
when Henry VIII's workmen turned up, levelled the church
to make way for a pleasure pavilion on a massive scale.
Henry wanted a palace of international renown
perhaps responding to the reputation of the great country palace of Chambord,
the jewel in the crown of his constant tormentor, Francis I of France.
It would be his last great flourish.
This was to be a private building.
There was no great hall for receiving important guests,
only Henry's closest friends and family would be invited here.
And yet in this quiet parkland, Henry created a palace of such incomparable splendour
it was called Nonsuch - because nobody had ever seen anything like it before.
It was described as "the very pearl of the realm".
All that remains today are the markers showing where the building started and finished,
and some scraps of the stucco work are held in local museums.
We have to imagine what this fantastical palace would have looked like,
so I'm recreating it on paper.
Any visitor to Nonsuch in Henry's day would have been startled by the use of materials.
Never in England before do we know of gilded slate hanging.
Nicholas Bellin of Modena, a northern Italian artist
was entrusted with carving and finishing those.
But the most astonishing thing was the white work or stucco which covered the outer courtyard.
I would have been about 20 feet from it here, and it glittered as the sun followed its course.
That stucco was in high relief, mouldings of classical emperors and gods
and I am sure Henry would have liked to have joined their rank.
There's something very poignant about the ambition of Nonsuch.
It was begun at Edward's birth
as a vision of optimism and exuberance unmatched in Henry's reign.
But in the end, it was simply a glorious retreat,
perhaps even a folly.
In 1543, Henry married again. This time, it was not primarily for lust.
He chose the placid and faithful Catherine Parr who nursed him
and brought him comfort for the last four years of his life.
Nonsuch was so ambitious it took nearly ten years to build.
Its completion coincided with Henry's demise.
Well, there you are, there's Nonsuch -
one of the buildings in the world that I most wished I had seen.
After a tumultuous and controversial reign of 38 years -
a reign that changed the face of England and sent shockwaves across Europe -
Henry died on 28th January 1547.
He was buried here in the working chapel of St George at Windsor Castle.
Next to him is the woman who bore him a son and heir - Jane Seymour.
Henry is a much more complex figure than I suspected.
He sometimes uses art or people use it for him, but that contradiction
is part of the allure that makes him endlessly fascinating.
It's clear that Henry's use of art wasn't art for art's sake.
Henry used forms of art to show himself in the best light, to push his agenda at particular times!
Perhaps the greatest irony is that Henry, who loved pomp and opulence,
the art of magnificence, has, for his resting place,
nothing more complex than this simple 19th century slab.
Henry lay in an unmarked grave until this flagstone was laid in 1837.
He'd commissioned a fine Italianate tomb but, when he died,
there were neither the funds nor will to complete it.
As he rests in peace here in Windsor, I wonder what he'd make of
the fact that his image is one of the most famous faces in the world.
Millions of people have emblazoned on their minds that corpulent, bearded, bejewelled monarch.
Whether by accident or design, art ultimately worked for Henry VIII.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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In the 1530s, King Henry VIII was at a crossroads. In his desperation for a new wife and an heir he had broken with Rome, divorced Catherine of Aragon and married Anne Boleyn. Isolated and vulnerable, he needed a powerful new image as head of church and state.
In the second of a two-part documentary, architectural historian Jonathan Foyle looks for clues in the king's art to glimpse what was going on inside his head as he faced his darkest days.