Queens on trial: Henry VIII

An oil painting of a crowded court scene. Queen Katherine of Aragon, wearing a crown and a dark green velvet gown with ermine-lined sleeves, stands just right of centre and points an accusatory finger at a seated man in a cardinal's red robes and broad-brimmed hat. Another cardinal hovers behind the queen, with one palm raised in apparent disagreement. In the centre of the foreground, two children are attempting to move a heavy red velvet bag or cushion. Behind them, a table spread with a gold cloth bears several books and papers and a gold sceptre. Thomas Cromwell is seated behind the table, in a black coat, white collar, and fur-lined robe, holding a quill pen. Behind him, King Henry VIII sits on an elevated throne; his cheek is propped on one hand, and he wears an elaborate doublet and hat with several chains of office. On both sides, more figures crowd into the background to watch the trial; some of them are dressed as bishops and holding crosiers. There is a  curtained canopy over the king's seat and red velvet curtains on both sides; a glimpse of a vaulted ceiling can be seen through a gap in the curtains.

Though less familiar today, Henry VIII; or, All Is True was once among Shakespeare's most performed plays.

Co-written with John Fletcher, Henry VIII covers the rise of Anne Boleyn and the King's divorce from Katherine of Aragon. 'Queen Katherine', who is put on trial in Act 2, became a favourite tragic role for actresses such as Sarah Siddons (1755-1831) and Ellen Terry (1847-1928).

From at least 1727, when a revival by Colley Cibber made explicit reference to George II's coronation, Henry VIII was a popular reference point for contemporary royal events. The play's interest in royal women, and in sexuality, made it ripe for comparison with troubled latter-day royal marriages. Meanwhile, its English Reformation backdrop lent it an edge of anti-Catholicism. This made it a useful tool for criticising overreaching by members of the Hanoverian dynasty, who had been installed in Britain primarily because of their Protestant faith.

Objects in this room