If you were in England during 2009 you could not escape the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of King Henry VIII's accession to the throne. Here in the United States an exhibition was mounted by The Grolier Library in New York City in collaboration with the Houghton Library of the Harvard College Library, The Morgan Library and Museum and the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. The exhibit, Vivat Rex! is curated by Arthur L. SchwarzHe, who also narrates a cell phone audio tour and wrote the greatly detailed catalogue which is available in the Folger's gift shop.
While the exhibit is not as massive as the Man and Monarch exhibit mounted at the British Library, there are many wonderful historic gems on display. Highlights include the following artifacts:***
Henry's Mother's Prayer Book - signed "Madam I pray you remember me in your good prayers, your mistress, Elizabeth R.
Henry's schoolboy copy of Cicero - signed "This book is mine, Prince Henry" and featuring English translations in the margins by Prince Henry and probably his tutor, the poet John Skelton.
A facsimile of the Westminster Tournament Roll of 1511 - the entire document showing Henry VIII jousting for Katherine of Aragon at the grand tournament celebrating the birth of their short-lived heir, Prince Henry, the New Year's Day Boy.
The New Year's Gift Roll of 1539 - double sided the part on view shows the gifts given by the King starting with the royal family - to the Prince Edward, to the Lady Mary, to the Lady Elizabeth and to the Lady Margaret Douglas. The other side shows the gifts given to the King.
The Golden Gospels of Henry VIII - a bound manuscript written on vellum dyed in various shades of purple with gold letters.
A letter from Katherine of Aragon to her nephew, the Emperor Charles V from February 22, 1531.
A letter from Peter Vannes, Henry's Latin secretary and an English diplomat to Cardinal Wolsey written in Latin and partly in cipher showing the translation of the code.
The Great Bible of 1539 with a copy of the ornate title page designed by Hans Holbein the younger.
A later copy of the Bible with Thomas Cromwell's coat of arms whited out.
A Shakespeare second folio heavily censored by the Inquisition showing passages from the play Henry VIII favorable to Queen Elizabeth and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer blacked out.
This is just a taste of the books, drawings and manuscripts on display. Not everything that is listed in the exhibition catalogue traveled to the Folger, but there is enough in the cases to keep a Tudor enthusiast busy for at least an hour.
****I have modernized the spelling for quoted inscriptions.
The audio tour for cell phones can be a little dry, but the information is excellent. Cards are available with the phone number and codes for each item highlighted by the tour.
The number is 202-595-1844 and the codes are:
60# - Welcome, 61# - Family Tree, 62# Thys Boke is Myne, 63# A Most Accomplished Prince, #64 Party for a Prince, 65# The Butcher's Son, 66# Gifts Fit for a King, 67# A Grand New Title, 68# Golden Gospels, 69# Catherine's Defense, 70# A Letter in Code, 71# Reformation in Five Acts, 72# The Religious Divide, 73# Royal Instructions, 74# The Great Bible, 75# Censoring Shakespeare, 76# Henry and his Wives, 77# Masterful Monarch?
Vivat Rex! will be on exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library through December 31, 2010. The exhibit is free and open to the public Monday - Saturday - 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is closed Sundays and Federal holidays. The exhibition is also open one hour prior to and during the intermission of performances of Shakespeare's Henry VIII playing in the Folger Theatre through November 21, 2010.
For additional information please visit www.folger.edu/vivatrex