Body & image

Henry was involved with the construction of his image through artistic commissions and the Court painters and craftsmen he employed. Many of the images of Henry painted from life convey an impression of power and magnificence. This is reflected not just in the way his costume and jewels are represented but also by his air of authority.

Written accounts reveal that the young Henry was bearded, tall and imposing, a physique probably inherited from his mother’s family. By his mid-forties he had become so obese he had to be hoisted by crane onto his war horse, a far cry from his carefully constructed public image.

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This document (KB 27/1024) shows the young crowned Henry VIII enthroned under the Tudor rose with orb and sceptre. The image might have been a stock one that had previously been deployed for Henry VII and adapted once Henry VIII came to the throne.

This is one of several surviving images of the young Henry where he is clean shaven. It is alleged that Catherine of Aragon implored Henry to shave on a daily basis, but history does not reveal whether he agreed to her request. Henry is enclosed by the branches of a tree forming the letter ‘P’, which is embellished by a heraldic emblem of a hairy ‘wild man’ bearing a shield.

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While Henry’s square features and long nose as depicted in this document (KB 27/119) are similar to those found in oil paintings and medals around the same date, the composition of Henry enthroned, staring head-on and in his royal regalia follows an earlier tradition of plea rolls.

While this is a relatively simple composition, Henry’s blue and red robes lined with ermine convey the magnificence of his reign. ‘Filazers’ were employed to provide the calligraphy and decoration on the top membrane of plea rolls.