The Tudor Monarchs


King Henry VII
by Unknown Netherlandish artist, 1505
© National Portrait Gallery, London


HENRY VII (1457-1509)
Reigned 1485-1509

‘the Crowne which it pleased God to geve us’

The first Tudor monarch, Henry Tudor seized the English throne from Richard III at the battle of Bosworth in Leicestershire in 1485, aged twenty-eight. Marriage to Elizabeth of York soon after his coronation helped to heal the dynastic dispute between the houses of Lancaster and York that had resulted in the ‘Wars of the Roses’. Henry’s reign brought a degree of order and stability and he was praised for his legislation although he developed a reputation for avarice.

The Gallery’s oldest portrait, which is of Henry VII, is displayed with a Book of Hours inscribed by the king to his daughter.

King Henry VIII
by Unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist, circa 1520
© National Portrait Gallery, London


HENRY VIII (1491-1547)
Reigned 1509-1547

‘The Rose both white and Rede / in one rose now dothe grow’

Henry VIII was seventeen years old when he became king in 1509. He was tall and athletic and was described by the Venetian ambassador in 1515 as 'the handsomest potentate I ever set eyes on'. Perhaps most well known for his six marriages, Henry’s reign was characterised by ambition abroad and ruthlessness at home. The lack of a male heir with his first wife Katherine of Aragon ultimately resulted in the annulment of their marriage, causing a break with the Catholic Church in Rome. Henry went on to marry Anne Boleyn and establish himself as the head of a new reformed church, known as the Church of England.

This display includes six portraits of Henry VIII, presented together with the king’s rosary on loan from Chatsworth.

King Edward VI
by an Unknown Anglo-Netherlandish workshop, dated 1546 to 1547
© Lord Egremont Collection


EDWARD VI (1537-1553)
Reigned 1547-1553

‘What a King should England have had if God had given him his father’s age’

Edward was only nine years old when he became king. His reign, under the stewardship of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and subsequently John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, saw the establishment of the Protestant Church in England. The desire to preserve a Protestant legacy lay at the heart of his attempt to write his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth out of the succession and to name Lady Jane Grey his heir. Edward died of tuberculosis shortly before his sixteenth birthday.

Portraits of Edward VI are presented together with a page from his diary in which he reports his father’s death.

Queen Mary I
by Hans Eworth, 1554
Loaned by kind permission of the Society of Antiquaries of London © Society of Antiquaries of London


MARY I (1516-1558)
Reigned 1553-1558

‘A queen, and by the same title a king also’

Mary was thirty-seven years old when she became England’s first crowned queen. She suffered years of ill health and was described by the Venetian ambassador Giovanni Michiel in 1557 as being short and 'of spare and delicate frame ... [with eyes that] are so piercing that they inspire, not only respect, but fear, in those on whom she fixes them.'

As the daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, Mary faced years of struggle following the annulment of her parents’ marriage. After the death of her half-brother Edward VI she successfully rallied supporters to claim the throne. She embraced the opportunity to restore Catholicism across the realm but faced strong resistance to her decision to marry Philip II of Spain.

This display includes five portraits of Mary, as well as her Prayer Book loaned from Westminster Cathedral.

Queen Elizabeth I
by Unknown English artist, circa 1588
© National Portrait Gallery, London


ELIZABETH I (1533-1603)
Reigned 1558-1603

‘Time stands still with gazing on her face’

The only surviving child of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth was twenty-five years old when she inherited the throne from her half-sister Mary. In 1557 she was described by the Venetian ambassador as:

comely rather than handsome ... tall and well formed, with a good skin ... she has fine eyes and above all a beautiful hand of which she makes a display.

On becoming queen, Elizabeth surrounded herself with able advisors and together they brought about the re-establishment of the Church of England. Over the course of Elizabeth’s long reign England developed as a maritime power, and saw the emergence of the first public theatres and an outstanding literary culture. Elizabeth never married and became idealised as the ‘Virgin Queen’ in the later part of her reign.

Several portraits of Elizabeth I are displayed alongside her locket ring, a rare loan from Chequers.