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Henry VIII: The Man Behind the Royal Image

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Tuesday, June 11, 2024 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET
Code: 1M2327
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Materials for this program

Portrait of Henry VIII after Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1537–1562

The image of Henry VIII is immediately recognizable—hands on hips, lips curled into a sneer, eyes piercing and unrelenting. He has been portrayed as a large, buffoonish womanizer by Charles Laughton, a slender athletic lover by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and a stern, powerful monarch by Damian Lewis.

His character prompts a similar range of responses: Walter Raleigh called him a “merciless prince,” he was a “disgrace to human nature and a blot of blood and grease upon the history of England” according to Charles Dickens, and clergyman Edward Lewis declared him “a sincere Christian and a patriot king.”

His reign changed the political, religious, cultural, and financial landscapes of England. Was he a tyrant seeking wealth and power who was willing to destroy a thousand years of spiritual and cultural tradition in the process? Or a true reformer, seeking to rid the church of years of corruption and wrest religious authority from a distant pope with little interest in England? An egomaniacal misogynist who used and disposed of women or a dedicated king putting his kingdom’s need for an heir ahead of his own desires? Henry was careful to portray a carefully constructed image, but we can pull back the curtain and peek at the man behind that creation.

The real Henry VIII is all these men, a complex king who built a dynasty that changed England and Europe. Tudor scholar Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger explores how Henry continues to resist efforts to be reduced to a one-dimensional character and how he seized on the challenges and opportunities of a changing world to become a monarch who fascinates us more than 450 years after his tumultuous reign.

Lloyd-Stanger is former manager of visitor education at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Her first Tudor book, The Tudors by Numbers, was published by Pen and Sword in 2023. Her next, Courting the Virgin Queen, will be published in late summer 2024.

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