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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A rambling love letter written by Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn in an effort to convince her to become his second wife will go on display in Britain for the first time in April.
The letter, written in French around 1528, reveals the English king's affectionate side and shows just how determined he was to break with the Roman Catholic Church, which would not annul his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
"The demonstrations of your affection are such, and the beautiful words of your letter are so cordially phrased, that they really oblige me to honor, love and serve you forever," Henry wrote to Anne nearly five years before they would marry.
"...Henceforth my heart will be dedicated to you alone."
Historians believe the letter was stolen from Anne by a servant. It eventually ended up at the Vatican where it was kept for nearly 500 years, only recently being brought to light.
The British Library, which will put the letter on show as part of an exhibit starting April 23, says the letter touches on the revolutionary changes in ideas that took place during Henry's reign "and take us...into the king's own mind."
"Henry is not only England's best-known king -- with his wives, his girth and his bloodthirstiness -- he is also our most important single ruler," David Starkey, a historian who is curating the exhibition, told Reuters.
"When he came to the throne, Henry was the pious prince who ruled an England at the heart of Catholic Europe. When he died, he was the great schismatic."
Henry, who ruled from 1509 until his death in 1547, was known for his brutality but also had a reputation as a notorious womanizer, seducing Anne's sister Mary as well as many other women. He famously married six times.
Henry courted Anne assiduously, determined to win her heart after she rebuffed him. In the letter he wrote of how he would prove his love for her no matter how long it took.
"For my part, I will outdo you, if this be possible, rather than reciprocate, in loyalty of heart and my desire to please you," the infatuated king wrote.
They eventually tied the knot in 1533, but historians say Anne had several affairs during their short-lived marriage.
In 1536, Henry had her beheaded for adultery and high treason at the Tower of London and married another four women during the course of his life.
During his reign, Henry brutally suppressed the Protestant reformation of the church and battled with the Vatican, leading to the separation of the Anglican church from Rome.
The love letter will be displayed at the British Library in London as part of the exhibition 'Henry VIII; Man and Monarch', which runs from April 23 to September 6 and will also feature portraits, tapestries and books.
Editing by Paul Casciato