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His majesty lives

King Henry VIII will rule again in 2009 as England marks his reign.

September 07, 2008|Susan James | Special to The Times

LONDON — Best known of the English kings, Henry VIII has usually been portrayed as a gargantuan party boy seducing court ladies, quarreling with the church, arresting friends and beheading wives. But he brought more to the throne than that.

Bright, cultured and handsome, Henry succeeded peacefully to the crown as he turned 18, securing the Tudor dynasty and making possible England's golden age.

Next year marks the 500th anniversary of that accession, and a variety of special events will be held in and around London to explore his life and reign.

A major presentation at Hampton Court, Henry's magnificent palace on the Thames, opens April 12 and runs daily through the year. It focuses on one day in the king's life: July 12, 1543, the day he married his sixth queen, Catherine Parr.

Visitors will be able to interact with costumed actors re-creating the event and can wander Tudor rooms such as the king's council chamber, never before open to the public.

Two exhibitions will also be on display, the ongoing "Young Henry VIII," which opened this year, and a new show featuring portraits and personal objects of all the women in Henry's life. Also planned: falconry, fencing and archery weekends (May 22 to 25, July 25 and 26 and Aug. 28 to 31); a summer season of theater; a jousting tournament (Aug. 28 to 31); and a special coronation weekend (June 20 and 21).

Beginning Oct. 31, 2009, the palace will host a series of ghost tours through candlelighted rooms, including the Haunted Corridor where Henry's fifth queen, Catherine Howard, ran screaming from guards sent to take her to the Tower.

Tudor Christmas (Dec. 27 to Jan. 1) will be celebrated with traditional music, dancing and live entertainment as well as an open-air ice rink.

Hampton Court is also celebrating Henry VIII's musical gifts with Tudor Music Weekends featuring court music played on period instruments. A special Tudor Music Festival will be held on the nights of May 7 to 10 in the Great Hall.

Henry's fondness for food was certainly no secret. Special cooking exhibitions in the palace kitchens take place the first weekend of every month from this fall through March. Starting April, a royal wedding feast will be the order of the day. Costumed cooks will produce gargantuan meals from period cookbooks, and visitors can learn about the art of Tudor cooking, help turn a spit threaded with a haunch of venison and sample the results at lunch in the Tiltyard Cafe.

At another royal address, the Tower of London, a 2009 exhibition (from April through October) dubbed "Henry VIII: Dressed to Kill" celebrates Henry the soldier with a display of his personal arms and armor. Because the king stood 6 feet 4 and weighed about 200 pounds in his prime, his armor was oversized. Suits made for him later in life grew even bigger, as age and illness added to his girth.

Many pieces of Henry's armor were hammered out at the famous Greenwich armories on what is now the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site, only 15 minutes by train from London. Both Henry and his daughter, Elizabeth, were born at Greenwich, and Tudor festivities for the king's 500th are planned for May 22 to 25 at the Old Royal Naval College there.

Another of Henry's contributions to English culture was his personal library, which provided the founding core for the modern British Library. A "Henry VIII: Man and Monarch" exhibition will be open from November through March. It will explore Henry's collection of books, the manuscripts he commissioned, the printed volumes he sponsored and the works in which he scribbled margin notes. Paintings, tapestries, plates and jewels -- contributions from other national collections -- will also be on display to illustrate the cultural breadth of Henry's life.

And for visitors who want to separate the myth from the man, the University of Oxford's Department for Continuing Education is offering a course titled "Henry VIII: Reputation and Reality" on May 16. Nearer London, St. Mary's University College Twickenham offers a Henry VIII International Summer School on two weekends in June and July.

Like your history up close and personal? Thornbury Castle Hotel in Gloucestershire is offering a special package until December that includes a tower room where the king and Anne Boleyn once slept, the use of handmade Tudor costumes and a five-course royal gala dinner.

And while you're in London, don't forget to pick up a special 2009 anniversary coin, a crown piece approved by the queen and stamped with Henry's head.


Susan James is author of "Catherine Parr: Henry VIII's Last Love."


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Royal highlights


* "Young Henry VIII" exhibition, now through 2009.

* Tudor cookery, Dec. 27 through Jan. 1 and the first weekends of February and March, with more live events scheduled throughout the year.

* Tudor Christmas celebrations, Dec. 27 to Jan. 1 (also Dec. 27, 2009, through Jan. 3, 2010).

* Exhibit on Henry's wedding to Catherine Parr opens April 12.

* Exhibit on Henry's women opens April 12.

* Tudor Music Festival, May 7 to 10.

* Falconry, fencing and archery weekends, May 22 to 25, July 25 and 26 and Aug. 28 to 31.

* Henry VIII's coronation weekend, June 20 and 21.

* Jousting tournament, Aug. 28 to 31.

* Ghost tours, Oct. 31, 2009, to March 1, 2010, every Friday and Sunday night.


* "Henry VIII: Dressed to Kill," April through October.


* Old Royal Naval College Tudor celebration, May 22 through 25.


* "Henry VIII: Man and Monarch," November through March 2009.


* "Henry VIII: Reputation and Reality," May 16.


* Henry VIII International Summer School, June 19 to 27; June 28 to July 6.


* Henry VIII regal castle experience, ongoing through Dec. 1.

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