Henry VIII c.1520, King of England (1509-1547)

© National Portrait Gallery, London
King Henry VIII
Unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist | c. 1520
Oil on panel | 20 in. x 15 in.
NPG 4690

Henry VIII was the second son of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Henry VII was the first monarch of the Tudor House, and had become King of England after defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

Henry VIII was never meant to be king, but after the death of his older brother Arthur in 1502, he became his father’s sole male heir.

Henry VIII ascended the throne in 1509, just before his eighteenth birthday. Shortly afterwards he married his brother’s widow, Katherine of Aragon.

At this time, England’s political system was based around the individual monarch. However, unlike his father, Henry VIII had little interest in the day to day workings of government.

As a result, either the royal council or, alternatively, an individual minister was elevated to a preeminent position in order to maintain regular governance, with Henry overseeing the process.

Neither system of power worked perfectly, and Henry’s reign witnessed the dramatic rise and fall of several key advisors.

This portrait is from c.1520, and is one of the earliest surviving images of Henry VIII as king.

Henry is about 30 years old, and is not yet shown as the barrel-chested, dominant figure so familiar to us.

The king is lavishly dressed. On his right hand he is either removing or placing a ring. This is a common gesture in royal portraits, and may refer to his acceptance of kingship.

At the top corners of the portrait are the Tudor Rose and a portcullis. Both were heraldic symbols of the Tudor dynasty.

The young Henry VIII was tall and athletic. In 1515, the Venetian ambassador to England declared that Henry was

The handsomest potentate I ever set eyes on”

Explore the Tudor history we tell through this portrait:

The Year 1520


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