Henry VIII portrait
Portrait of Henry VIII (After Hans Holbein the Younger): Late 16th century | Object number: I.51
This painting is based on a portrait that was in the Privy Chamber at Whitehall Palace in 1537. When first acquired, this panel was in desperate need of cleaning. As it was cleaned, the details of Henry VIII’s jewels and clothing, previously hidden, were revealed.
Though resembling a famous portrait of Henry by the famous artist Hans Holbein the Younger, this version was actually painted later by an unknown artist in a similar style.
Henry admired his own portrait and would send copies of it to his friends and overseas allies. Henry’s clothing in the painting reflects not only his wealth, but his worldliness.
To maintain his place at the forefront of society and style, Henry employed the ‘King’s Tailor’ and the office of the ‘Great Wardrobe’ as well as the ‘Wardrobe of the Robes’ to clean and maintain his clothes.
Although a few of Henry’s armours survive, sadly his clothing does not. However, images of the King such as this give us great insights, as do the accounts of the Great Wardrobe and an inventory of the King’s possessions written after his death in 1547.
Henry made sure he had first sight of new textiles and jewels being imported into England, such as luxury silks from Italy.
Henry’s sisters Margaret and Mary and his daughters Mary I and Elizabeth I shared Henry’s fondness for clothes, shoes and jewellery.
The King did not wish to be seen to wear clothes more than once for important occasions and he liked to show off how many clothes he had, so he frequently gave away his clothes to members of his court.
The materials used for his clothing were from around the globe. The velvet for his garments would have come from Italy. The fur trim and lining, probably sable, originated in Russia or Eastern Europe. The rubies on his jewellery and buttons were imported from India.