The embarkation of Henry VIII at Dover 1520
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This is an eighteenth century watercolour copy of the Tudor painting ‘The Embarkation of Henry VIII at Dover’- the first of two large paintings commemorating the celebrated meeting between King Henry and the French monarch Francis I at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520.
Commissioned by Henry VIII and now in the Royal Collection, the painting shows the monarch setting sail for Calais and was no doubt designed to capture the might of his newly- established royal navy. (It is likely no accident that the perspective has been skewed to emphasise the impressive scale of Henry’s newly built warships).
The summit, instigated by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (Henry VIII’s chief minister), was intended as a very public celebration of the Treaty of Universal Peace, signed two years earlier. It also served as an opportunity to further unite the two nations. Before the treaty, the two young monarchs had been rivals, with Henry having invaded France in 1513. They were now united against the common threat of the Ottoman Empire and in their unease for the ever-growing empire of Charles of Hapsburg, ruler of the Netherlands, King of Spain, and Holy Roman Emperor. However, Henry’s personal pride and political ambition ensured that he still intended to exhibit the might and majesty of his forces and the magnificence of the English court and he travelled with a fleet of purpose-built warships, c. 800 elaborate tents, a portable palace and over 6000 noblemen, women, and servants.
Henry can be seen standing in the waist of a ship adorned with golden sails, presumably the Henry Grace à Dieu.
Learn More / Did you Know
The Treaty of Universal Peace, also known as the Treaty of London, was an international summit attended by ambassadors from Western Europe. The treaty aimed for peace between all European powers, enabling a joint response to the expansion of the Ottoman Empire and was signed by Burgundy, France, England, the Holy Roman Empire, the Netherlands, the Papal States and Spain. Originally a Papal initiative, Henry, with the help of his advisor Cardinal Wolsey, had successfully centred himself in the peace talks, with the summit held in London. This ensured that England was seen as a significant player in European politics, and Henry as a unifying force.
The Society’s 1779 version was painted by the Swiss watercolourist Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, who also copied other Tudor paintings for the Antiquaries.
In 1781 Grimm’s painting was engraved by James Basire as one of a series of Historical Prints including ‘The Field of Cloth of Gold’ (also in the Royal Collection) and five paintings from Cowdray House. The scale of the subject led the Society to commission a new size of paper, the ‘antiquarian’, measuring 31 by 53 inches.
- Samuel Hieronymus Grimm (1733-1794)
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- Watercolour on paper
- H595mm; W1200mm
- Commisioned by the Society of Antiquaries