“Thys Boke is Myne”

An image of the youthful king by Thomas Trevelyon

By Emily Gold Boutilier

Before everything went sour between Henry VIII and Rome, Pope Leo X presented the King of England with a gospel book in 1521 and conferred upon Henry the title “Defender of the Faith.” This book, a bound manuscript likely made for the coronation of Holy Roman Emperor Otto III in 983, will be among the treasures on display at the Folger Shakespeare Library this fall.

Henry’s schoolboy copy of a work by Cicero

The Folger (which opened in 1932 with a gift from Henry Clay Folger, Class of 1879, and his wife, Emily, and is administered under the auspices of Amherst College) will present Vivat Rex!: An Exhibition Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Accession of Henry VIII from Sept. 24 to Dec. 30. First seen in 2009 at the Grolier Club in New York City, the exhibition, curated by scholar and collector Arthur L. Schwarz, traces Henry’s life through rare books, manuscripts, letters, portraits and more. 

Highlights include the book Henry wrote in 1521, Defense of the Seven Sacraments Against Martin Luther, which led the pope to give him the imposing title. There is also Henry’s schoolboy copy of a work of Cicero, inscribed, “Thys Boke is Myne Prynce Henry,” and the text of a speech he gave in Parliament in 1545, more than a decade after he gained control of the Church of England, in which he (in the words of the exhibition book) “chastises the people for ... forming their own religious opinions.” Among the many letters is one by Henry’s special ambassador to the pope concerning the king’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and another in which Catherine tells her side of the story: she writes to her nephew of the “abominable litigation” between the king and herself.

An engraving by Franz Hogenberg of Henry’s palace at Nonsuch

Along with portraits of the king and his wives, the exhibition features an engraving of Edward Stafford, third Duke of Buckingham, beheaded by Henry in 1521. Another portrait depicts “The Lady Mary after Queen,” likely the king’s eldest daughter, demoted from “princess” after her parents’ divorce.

Vivat Rex! runs from Sept. 24 to Dec. 30 in Washington, D.C., at Amherst’s Folger Shakespeare Library. Tickets are free. The Folger will stage a production of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, directed by Robert Richmond, from Oct. 12 to Nov. 21. The library will present an “autumnal feast of music from the court of Henry VIII” Oct. 1-3. For information on buying tickets to the play and the concert, go to www.folger.edu