Henry VIII letter that "changed history" on show

Thu Apr 23, 2009 11:33am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A handwritten love letter from Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn, which curators say changed the course of history, is the star exhibit of a new show on the English king who came to power 500 years ago this week.

"Henry VIII: Man and Monarch" at London's British Library examines how a conventional medieval prince became a revolutionary monarch who broke with Rome and resorted to brutal means to push through his agenda.

The 1527 letter is one of 17 Henry wrote to Boleyn, testament to his passion for her since he confessed he found writing them "tedious and painful."

It is displayed alongside the king's ornately decorated portable desk on which the letter was probably written.

In the letter, in French and on loan from the Vatican, he said: "The proofs of your affection are such ... that they constrain me ever truly to honor, love and serve you."

Historians interpret the words as the moment Henry committed his future to Boleyn, encouraging him to annul his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon and set himself and England on a collision course with the Pope in Rome.

"We see the hand (Henry's handwriting) really for the first time with the love letter to Anne Boleyn," said historian David Starkey who curated the exhibition which runs until September 6.

"There is this extraordinary paradox -- this is a passionate love letter and yet this is the basis of all the revolutionary changes of the reign," Starkey told Reuters.   Continued...

<p>An undated handout image of a letter sent by King Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn in 1527. It is part of a new exhibition on the monarch at the British Library which runs from April 23 to September 6. The letter was one of 17 Henry wrote to Boleyn and marks the beginning of his quest to divorce Catherine of Aragon, which eventually led to his rift with the Catholic Church in Rome. REUTERS/Vatican Library/Handout</p>