The death of King Henry VIII, ‘extincter’ of ‘supersticion’ and ‘sturdy Idolls’

This blackletter broadside is the only surviving copy of a verse epitaph lamenting the death of ‘the moost victorious Prynce Henry the eyght’ in 1547. It both records and invents an event of some significance in the English Reformation: the demise of the monarch who initiated the break with Rome in 1534 and inaugurated a programme of reform that eventually turned England into a Protestant country. It remembers Henry VIII in a role that had flattered his substantial ego: in the mould of the godly Old Testament kings who had ‘extincted’ ‘error’, ‘supersticion’, ‘sturdy Idolls’ and ‘false religion’ from their realms. Glossing over the conservative reaction that marked the later years of his reign, the unknown author also strategically forgets the considerable resistance with which the King’s Reformation had in fact met. On the contrary, he marvels at the ease with which Henry had ‘unknyt[ted]’ the ‘knottes’ binding England and Rome. Published by two printers who actively supported the evangelical cause, the epitaph is simultaneously a transparent piece of Protestant propaganda for his young heir Edward VI, who it hopes will fulfil his father’s vow to purge the land yet further from popery. The ephemerality of this single sheet is emblematic of a fitful and idiosyncratic Reformation that was far more precarious than these eulogistic verses imply. Six years later, following Edward’s own death, Mary I did her very best to reverse it, before dying prematurely herself. AW

A lamentation of the death of the moost victorious prynce Henry the eyght late kynge of thys noble royalme of Englande (London: [J.Day and W. Seres for] John Turcke, [1547]).

CUL: Broadsides B.54.1

Further Reading

Alec Ryrie, The Gospel and Henry VIII: Evangelicals in the Early English Reformation (Cambridge, 2003).

Richard Rex, Henry VIII and the English Reformation (Basingstoke, 2006 edition).

Extended captions