… Love and History …

Henry VIII made one of the most momentous breaks in Western history:  he severed England from the Catholic Church, and established the Church of England independent from Rome.  Why?  Henry wanted to marry Anne Boleyn and the Pope wouldn’t let him divorce his current wife.  So it’s often summed up — a kind of mnemonic.  How often people look to great historical turning points and find a love affair at the crux!  The very birth of democracy in Greece, for instance, with a love story as its origin myth — the Tyrannicides.  The exhibition Vivat Rex! reminds us:  to rescue history from fantasy, look to primary documents.  And they are here — astonishing texts and objects of the period that enable the viewer to engage with the true story.  That’s even more exciting than a love affair — well, maybe as exciting …

You’ll find here remarkable “true” things of the time, things from the hand of Henry and those associated with him:  Henry VIII’s schoolboy copy of Cicero from which he learned Latin;  his mother’s prayer book;  his father’s, Henry VII’s, list of characteristics — mainly physical — that he looked for in a new wife;  the great Francois I of France’s handwritten account of expenses incurred in meeting with Henry, Martin Luther’s Open Letter to Pope Leo X Concerning Indulgences; and Henry’s Attack on Martin Luther;  and Luther’s Response to Henry;  and the inordinately valuable 10th century gospel book the Pope gave Henry to thank him for his support (prematurely as it turns out);  Henry writing with first hints at a break with Rome;  Erasmus coming in on the divorce issue;  the Act of Parliament in which England declared its complete independence from Rome (passed in a hurry because Anne Boleyn was two months pregnant and that divorce was really needed);  the Act dissolving the Monasteries — all showing the complexities of the process we call the Reformation, and how mired it was in conflicting motivations, pragmatism and high ideals.  Treaties, portraits of contemporaries who made history all are here, including a youthful portrait of his daughter Elizabeth who became queen (he never did have a son survive to adulthood in spite of divorcing two wives, beheading two others after first divorcing them, having one who died otherwise and one who lived, in his quest for a male heir).

Arthur L. Schwarz of the Grolier Club is the prime mover of the exhibition and richly illustrated catalog that has essays by leading scholars, well written annotations, and full scholarly back-up — it’s a major resource for anyone interested in the period, from political, military and social history to customs and manners.  The exhibition is drawn from works in the Houghton, Law and Theater Libraries at Harvard, the Morgan Library,the Folger Library, and Schwarz’ own collection.  See the exhibition — take advantage of this remarkable cooperation!

Vivat Rex! is at the Grolier Club, in midtown Manhattan, through May 2.  For more information on attending, click on link.

Of related interest, see posts here on A Man for All Seasons, and New Thoughts on A Man for All Seasons