March 4 – May 2, 2009. Vivat Rex! Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Accession of Henry VIII. Curated by Arthur L. Schwarz.
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March 4 – May 2, 2009
Vivat Rex! Commemorating the
500th Anniversary of the
Accession of Henry VIII
Curated by Arthur L. Schwarz


The reign of King Henry VIII will be the subject of “VIVAT REX! Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Accession of Henry VIII,” a major exhibition to be held in New York City at The Grolier Club from March 4 to May 2, 2009.  The exhibition will travel, in modified form, to the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC, in 2010.   

The complicated personality and dramatic reign of England’s King Henry VIII – visionary, tyrant, monarch, bully, defender of the faith, destroyer of monasteries, lover and libertine – have been immortalized (and fictionalized) in literature, on stage, and in film by leading writers of their generations.  “VIVAT REX!” brings the real Henry and the machinations of his court and times to life through books, manuscripts, handwritten letters, and prints.  Among them are works that are unique or belonged to Henry himself, to his family, or to members of his court, including the monarch’s schoolboy copy of Cicero, which he emphatically inscribed, “Thys Boke Is Myne Prynce Henry.”   

Henry’s rule, which began 500 years ago on his accession on April 21, 1509 and ended with his death on January 28, 1547, saw the beginnings of the Reformation and the Protestant Church of England, the English Renaissance, and a state that within generations of his death would become a world power.    

"VIVAT REX!" takes its title from the Latin version of the familiar English phrase “Long live the King!,” which appears in a woodblock print in the first sanctioned English Bible (1539).  This work is among the 140 items that shed light on Henry VIII as man and monarch – his education, character, and unrelenting attempts to father a male heir.  The themes that run throughout the exhibition are power, marriage, and religion.  Its subjects include Henry's children, his six wives (two of whom were executed), and his advisors, confidantes, and opponents, many of whom met grisly fates. (Technically, Henry did not have any of his wives beheaded; the marriages were annulled first.)  

Works relating to his ongoing battles over religion include The Defense of the Seven Sacraments against Martin Luther (1521), the king’s attack on Martin Luther, which he wrote in defense of the Roman Catholic Church.  The book earned him the title “Defender of the Faith” from Pope Leo X.  Also included are many books and documents relating to Henry’s irrevocable break with the Church, which was triggered by Pope Clement VII’s refusal to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, who had failed to produce a male heir.  Other highlights include a manuscript letter from Catherine of Aragon to her nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, in which she complains of Henry’s slanderous allegations in the “abominable litigation between the King my Lord and myself” and asserting that she “was a maid . . . when [she] came unto the King.”

Some of the material — all of it historically significant — presents the human side of royalty. All too human are a series of  inquiries by  Henry VII about the attractiveness of a prospective wife and responses by his ambassadors, a dialogue that, in today’s culture, might commonly be carried on in a string of text messages.   

Visually arresting exhibits include exceptionally fine prints of Henry and his wives, children, and advisors based on paintings by court artist Hans Holbein, as well as hand-colored aquatints of several royal palaces. Other striking material includes elaborately illustrated frontispieces of the earliest printed English Bibles, a magnificent tenth-century illuminated manuscript presented to Henry by Pope Leo X, and a lengthy New Year’s Gift Roll (1539) listing gifts made both to and by the king.   

This exhibition is an exceptional collaboration between The Grolier Club and three major American libraries: the Folger Shakespeare Library of Washington, DC; the Houghton Library of the Harvard College Library of Cambridge, MA; and The Morgan Library & Museum of New York, NY.  Books and prints from the collection of Arthur L. Schwarz [see separate bio], who organized and curated the exhibition, as well as items from the collections of six other institutions and private collectors, will also be included in the exhibition.  

A full-color, 240-page catalogue by Mr. Schwarz, VIVAT REX! Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Accession of Henry VIII, accompanies the exhibition. It includes essays by three major scholars in the field of Tudor history: John Guy, a Fellow of Clare College, University of Cambridge; Dale Hoak, Chancellor Professor of History at the College of William & Mary; and Susan Wabuda, an Associate Professor of History at Fordham University. The catalogues is available through UPNE, exclusive distributor of Grolier Club publications. To order, click here. 


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