This fall, the renowned Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, is focusing on the life of Henry VIII. There’s an exhibit, “Vivat Rex!” (“Long Live the King!”) with original manuscripts, art, artifacts, and jewelry from the notorious king’s reign on display. And there’s a production of the rarely-performed “Henry VIII” by Shakespeare, in the Elizabethan theater. I’m deeply honored to have been invited to give a lecture in the theater on November 29, at 7:30 pm, on the life and times of Henry VIII. Afterwards there will be a reception in the Great Hall, surrounded by Tudor artifacts on display for the exhibit.
It’s been 500 years since Henry VIII came to the throne as a seventeen year old and proceeded to rewrite English history. As an outsized character he has no equal. Not only was he genuinely outsized, but his marriage history is as varied and scandalous as Elizabeth Taylor’s—more so, as none of Elizabeth’s husbands went to the block. But he’s so much more than a tabloid item. He remade England politically, breaking the iron grip of the Pope in Rome and putting his country on a stand-alone basis, going its way apart from Continental Europe. (A course it still pursues, in spite of being in the EU. It has not embraced the Euro and sticks with the pound.) He also founded the English navy (and we know what that led to, the domination of the seas and the British Empire), dissolved the monasteries and redistributed the wealth, accidently creating a powerful middle class; made Parliament his instrument, but in so doing gave it special political power it had not possessed (and we know what that led to, to: a Parliamentary democracy).
Historians aren’t sure whether Henry VIII was a bad man and a good king; a bad man and bad king; or a good man gone wrong. His psychology continues to fascinate. I’ll be putting forward the various theories and then telling you which one I believe in. I’ll also be reading selections from The Autobiography of Henry VIII to illustrate my ideas, and some from my forthcoming (April 2011) Elizabeth I.
I hope you’ll be able to come if you are in the area. You can purchase tickets through the Folger on its website, www.folger.edu, and then check “what’s on.”