Young Henry VIII
A remarkable find in the archives of the national Library of Wales shows the weeping Henry VIII together with his sisters at his mother’s empty deathbed
The illustration shows the presentation of a manuscript to a seated king. In the background two girls wearing black veils are sitting below an empty bed draped in black. A boy is weeping into the bedcover. According to the librarian, Dr Maredudd ap Huw, preliminary investigations suggest that these background figures may be the 13 year old Princess Margaret, 7 year old princess Mary and 11 year old Prince Henry (the future Henry VIII) shortly after the death of their mother in February 1503.
The manuscript contains two French texts. First a passional – La Passion de Nostre Seigneur – inviting the reader to meditate on the sufferings of Christ during his arrest, trial, Crucifixion and Resurrection. This text was originally translated in 1398 for Isabeau de Bavière (Isabelle of Bavaria), queen of France. The second text is a poetic invitation to meditate on the futility of worldly pleasures in the face of certain death. The author was Georges Chastellain (1415-1475), who was chronicler to the Dukes of Burgundy.
The manuscript is illustrated with 34 large and beautiful Flemish-style miniatures in gold and colours with rich flower borders. The heraldry of the illuminations indicates that the volume may have been prepared for Henry VII of England. The manuscript is remarkable because it still has its original binding of wooden boards covered with crimson velvet retaining marks from brass bosses.
The richly illustrated volume, called the Vaux Passional (Peniarth MS 482D), was probably written in London around 1500 by one scribe and on parchment. A number of heraldic decorations in the manuscript still remain to be identified, before it may be decided by whom it was commissioned. However, the manuscript did belong to Lady Jane Guildford, whose mother was a native of Provence and lady-in-waiting to Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI. Jane herself was close to the Royal Household of Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth of York and acted as ‘lady governess’ to the royal princesses Margaret and Mary Tudor, who called her ‘Mother Guildford’.
According to a series of inscriptions in the manuscript it was passed on to her descendants, who were Roman Catholic recusants and may have venerated the manuscript for religious reasons. In 1921 it was presented to the National Library of Wales. It was in the process of the digitization of the manuscripts in the collection of the Library that the discovery of the illumination was made.
As is usual with such miniatures no likeness may be expected. It is rather the scene, which makes the identification probable. However, it is remarkable that the manuscript ends with an illumination showing a young man with flaming red hair holding a mirror up in front of a dead woman in a white shroud, while an older man is watching from a chair in the background. Might that be another idealised picture of the prince?