'Head off' to the Henry VIII exhibition
Famous for having six wives and beheading two of them, find out more about one of the most popular kings in British history at an anniversary exhibition at his former home and final resting place, Windsor Castle.
Henry VIII, painter anonymous
The Drawings Gallery | Windsor Castle | 08.04.09 - 18.04.10
A special exhibition to mark the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's accession to the throne is launching at Windsor Castle, the monarch's one-time home and final resting place.
Henry VIII was proclaimed king on 23 April 1509, just before his 18th birthday, and reigned for almost 38 years until his death in 1547.
The exhibition explores the life of one of the most significant figures in the history of the English monarchy, bringing together treasures from the Royal Collection and the archives of St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.
Henry VIII by Lucas Horenbout
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The story of Henry VIII continues to generate widespread interest today.
In popular tradition, he is often cast as a tyrant, famous for marrying six times and executing two of his wives, and for his split with papal authority in Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries.
Windsor Castle by Joris Hoefnagel
The early years
When Henry ascended the throne in 1509 he was a striking, auburn-haired youth, ‘much handsomer than any sovereign in Christendom', and known for his great physical energy.
A miniature of the king by Lucas Horenbout shows a lithe figure of 35 years old.
The king enjoyed hunting and hawking at Windsor, and his hunting sword is included in the exhibition.
Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond
Windsor Castle was the backdrop to a number of important events during Henry's reign.
In 1522 it was the scene of negotiations with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and in 1536 Henry met representatives of the Northern Rebellion at the Castle.
Windsor was also the sometime home of the king's illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond.
One of the main entrances to Windsor Castle – now known as the Henry VIII Gate – was re-constructed around 1511, soon after Henry's accession.
The grant to make a gate in the Castle's North Wall, signed by Henry, is included in the exhibition.
St George's Chapel
St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, one of the jewels of late-medieval English architecture, was completed during Henry VIII's reign.
Henry VIII by Nicholas Hilliard
Jane Seymour, Henry's third and favourite wife, was buried in the Chapel following her death in 1537, twelve days after the birth of the future Edward VI.
Henry VIII himself was laid to rest there ten years later, requesting in his will that Jane be reburied with him.
St George's Chapel remains the seat of the Order of the Garter, the oldest surviving order of chivalry, to which Henry was appointed as a young child in around 1495.
Religious debate and political struggle
Henry VIII's reign was characterised by religious debate and political struggle.
The king was initially a staunch defender of Catholicism and attempted to suppress reform during the early years of his reign.
In 1521 he published a scathing attack on Martin Luther in the Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (The Defence of the Seven Sacraments) and, as a result, was awarded the title 'Defender of the Faith' by Pope Leo X.
A signed copy of the Assertio is included in the exhibition, alongside copies of other key religious texts of the period and books from the king's library.
He later engineered a complete split from Catholic Rome to create a new religion - The Church of England.
It was the only way he could ultimately annul his first marriage to Catherine Of Aragon and wed Anne Boleyn.
Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein the Younger
Hans Holbein the Younger
The court of the young Henry VIII attracted some of the most important European artists and scholars of the period.
Among the highlights of the exhibition are a number of works by the German artist Hans Holbein the Younger.
Holbein arrived in England in 1526 and had soon become the king's painter, portraying many of the key personalities of Henry's reign.
Tickets, visitor information and opening hours:
last updated: 17/12/2008 at 18:22