Henry VIII inherited considerable wealth but, unlike his frugal father, Henry spent, flaunted and gambled with his money. His conspicuous consumption was exemplified on the occasion of the peace agreement between France and England at the Field of Cloth of Gold, near Calais in 1520. Keen to impress his French neighbour, Francis I, Henry VIII shipped vast quantities of luxury goods over the Channel for the festivities.

When Henry financed good causes or took away the wealth from the Church, his tactics sometimes backfired. The wealth either ended up in his ministers’ pockets, or with the lay officials that replaced the clergy and exploited the Church’s wealth for their own ends.

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This manuscript, the Valor Ecclesiasticus from 1535 (E 344/22), was a valuation of the wealth of the Church in England and Wales. It was written in Latin and has illuminated portraits depicting Henry VIII enthroned, surrounded by his courtiers, and in his middle years. This survey provided important information for Henry, who had by this stage appointed himself as Head of the English Church. It preceded his major initiative involving the dissolution of more than 800 monasteries which began a year later in 1536.

This document has considerable artistic merit. The images were painted from life and are thought to be by the Flemish artist Lucas Horenbout, who was employed as painter to the King and under whom Holbein was apprenticed.