Monday, 3 August 2009

Henry VIII: Man and Monarch

Yesterday, I visited the British Library’s Henry VIII: Man and Monarch exhibition for the third time. Guest curated by David Starkey it is an uncompromising affair. Documents abound: final letters from Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell; Henry’s amendments to the endless theological debates concerning his divorce from Katherine of Aragon; Bibles, Books of Hours, love letters. There are tremendous portraits too, especially Holbein’s brilliant study of the manipulative, scheming and supremely smug courtier Richard Southwell, who appears to have had a hand in just about every prominent personal downfall of the time. There is an almost complete absence of gizmos and flashing lights, and it is all the better for that, though it is noticeable how few children have been there when I have visited. But if you want to know what proper historians really do, there is no better place. The exhibition has entered its final month and everyone interested in English history should go. Wednesdays and Thursdays have late-night openings.

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