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16th Century Henry VIII Mural Update

Posted By on January 31, 2011

You may have read my post on Saturday about a 16th century mural of Henry VIII being found under plaster in Mr and Mrs Powell’s home in Milverton, Somerset, well, Mr Rhodri Powell has been kind enough to share more information with us here at The Anne Boleyn Files and also send us a photo.

If you click on the photo you can see a larger image.

Here is the information from Rhodri:-

“A few points. The BBC report in particular has several errors. We weren’t doing DIY – we had a conservation plasterer dealing with some 1950s gypsum skim that was coming loose – when this was removed, a small patch of render underneath fell off, revealing a bit of colour. The panelling was only removed to see if the mural went underneath it – it didn’t. The mural is roughly life size, about 6ft high in total and part of a 20ft wide frieze that covers one wall. The date is speculative but based on his hairstyle – in 1528 he had long hair, but his 1536 portraits show him without any hair showing beneath his crown or hat. This picture shows him with ear-length hair. If the picture was done in 1532-3, this is at the end of Thomas Cranmer’s time as Archdeacon of Taunton, shortly before his surprise appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury. There is however, no evidence that he ever visited Taunton, or even this house.

It was so unexpected, and it wasn’t until the eyes appeared that we realised it was anything more than a bit of old wall decoration.

Why unexpected? Well I had found tiny bits of old hard plaster, some with hints of pigment, frustrating relics to show where an old wall painting had been. But we thought all the wall paintings had been destroyed in the great destructions of images that took place in the 1540s and 1650s. In fact, only the day before the discovery, I had mentioned this to our plasterer, so he was perhaps primed. Well, also, he was a proper conservation plasterer who had worked in the Tower of London, Windsor Castle etc so he knew what to look for.

First impressions were a few lines and a couple of scrappy oak leaves. But enough to set us uncovering the rest.

It seems likely that the painting was done to mark Henry’s decision to take over the church, but he probably was never intended to see it – The clothes and crown and sumptuously drawn, with ermine and pearls and embroidery. But the portrayal is hardly flattering, slightly cross-eyed, with a double chin, floppy, petulant lower lip and his shirt rucked up beneath his pot belly. He has narrow sloping shoulders and stumpy little legs – hardly the tall, broad and burly figure that was usually portrayed.

And why, when, and on whose orders was it covered up? No idea, but whoever plastered it over hacked holes to make the plaster stick, but didn’t damage the face, the orb or the sceptre…

We are setting up a website ‘milvertonmural.com’ with details of what we know and more pictures. With luck it will be up and running in the next week or two.”

Thank you so much for the information, Rhodri, and for the photo. It is an amazing find!

9 thoughts on “16th Century Henry VIII Mural Update”

  1. Chris says:

    What an exciting find! Thank you Claire and the Powells for sharing this with us!

  2. Jennifer says:

    I just think this is the most amazing thing ever!!! Thank you for sharing this fascinating update with us and thank you to the Powells as well!! Sure do wish I could find something like that….obviously I’d have to live there 🙂

  3. Fiz says:

    Thank you for Mr Powell supplying this information. I was telling my husband all about it whilst we were walking our dog.

  4. Carolyn says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your find with us.

  5. carol says:

    It is seldom that we find new documents, evidence or information regarding 450 year old history, I find it extraordinary that we are still able to celebrate such an exciting find.

    It makes me so excited to consider what is still to be uncovered and how many of our questions may be solved in the future by random finds such as this.

    I thank and applaud Mr and Mrs Powell for allowing us to enjoy the mural in their home, it truly has been wonderful to understand there are still undiscovered secrets and I for one cannot wait for the next ‘gem’ to appear.

    Claire, thank you, for the follow up. I have been wondering about the future of the mural and how it will be preserved. I am sure that it, having been defined as of national importance will be given the necessary significance and support it requires.

  6. Nasim says:

    I have been following this story with interest partly because I am from Somerset and have done some work into Henry VIII’s connection to this region. I do think that basing the date on Henry’s hairstyle is a bit problematic. Henry is depicted with the same ear-length hairstyle, and bearded, in images dated before 1530. See, for instance, the image of this monarch in the Plea Rolls of King’s Bench, 1529 (TNS KB 27/1066). These images of Henry are in no way true representations of him, but they still show that he can portrayed in a variety of ways at one time. When I first saw the mural on BBC Points West, I instantly thought of the portraits of Henry in legal papers.

    Saying that, I do think this is a later portrait of Henry. Obviously it is best to wait for further analysis (and the superb resources available today mean we can gain a somewhat accurate date). But I do agree with Mr Powell that it is to do with the break from Rome, and was probably commissioned by a subject to indicate their loyalty to the monarch and his position as head of the church. Perhaps this has some possible connection to the monarch’s appearance in the West Country in 1535? Though Henry did not visit Somerset – his plans to go to Bristol were ruined when plague broke out there – his visit had a significant impact on the region. The King used the progress as an occasion not only to show himself to the people and generate further loyalty to the Crown, but also to investigate monastic houses, and to test the loyalty of the gentry in the area. We know that Anne Boleyn played an important role in this, by ordering the investigation of religious houses accused of corruption, and granting money to those suffering financial difficulties. One historian stated of the 1535 royal visit that ‘the result, was literally, a triumphal progress for reform’, and it could be argued that this area posed little problems for the Crown (including under Edward VI – it was the very south-west, namely Devon, which remained conservative). Gloucestershire and Somerset had longstanding links with evangelical reformers – Tyndale, for instance, spent time in Little Sodbury, Gloucestershire – but the monarch’s visit resulted in significant changes in the area. Did all this have an impact upon the religiosity of whoever commissioned the mural? It is interesting to speculate!

    Another possibility – is it in any way linked to John Redman, who I believe was made archdeacon of Taunton in around 1542? I don’t know whether he visited Milverton – I know he was based in Cambridge at that time – but he may have still commissioned a mural of the King in the manor. Redman was a supporter of the Royal Supremacy and his works are noted for their anti-papal stance (that was conveniently edited out during the reign of the Catholic Mary I).

    Good luck to Mr and Mrs Powell with the investigations! I look forward to their site.

  7. Rhodri Powell says:

    Some very interesting points, Nasim, echoed by what Michael Liversidge said when he came on Friday. He also thinks it is later rather than earlier, possibly around 1542. He also raised the possibility of a link with John Redman (or Redmayne). And most exciting of all, there is a little clerical-looking figure to the left of the picture I sent – and he is named – as John *******. The second word hasn’t been cleaned and thus far is indecipherable, but I will send a picture of it tomorrow to Claire.

    1. Claire says:

      Hi Rhodri,
      Thank you so much for updating us on the mural, we really appreciate it and it’s great that you’re finding clues to help date it. I’d love a photo so please do email me. Thank you.

  8. Nasim says:

    Thank you Mr Powell for the additional information; I am even more intrigued by the mural!

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