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Henry VIII’s Writing Desk

King Henry VIII's Writing Desk

King Henry VIII’s Writing Desk

Henry VIII’s portable writing desk was made in about 1525 for the King of England. It was produced by the royal workshops and is richly embellished with ornamental motifs introduced to England by continental artists.

The gilded leather lining is painted with figures and profiles similar to contemporary portrait miniatures. The figures of Mars in armor and Venus with cupid are taken from woodcuts by a German artist published in 1510.

The desk also bears the royal coat of arms and badges of Henry VIII and his first queen Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536).

Similar images of allegiance were used in the decorative schemes of Henry VIII’s royal palaces. However, later Henry began divorce proceedings against Katherine in 1527.

The Latin inscription on the inner lid reads:

“God of Kingdoms great Protector of the authority of the Christian Church give to your servant Henry VIII King of England a great victory over his enemies.”

The decoration includes late Gothic and early Renaissance ornaments. On either side of the coat of arms are Mars, the Roman god of war, and Venus, the goddess of love and fertility, with her son Cupid.

The compartment lids depict the head of Christ and figures of St George and the Dragon. The front has a male and a female head in profile. The flap bears profiles from Greek legend, Paris, prince of Troy, and Helen, the Spartan queen.

The desk’s exterior is covered with sharkskin used as a decorative material with a naturally rough surface of scales and fitted with metal-gilt angle-mounts. The loop handles and ball feet were added during the 18th century.

The interior surfaces are lined with red silk velvet, and the writing surface has been relined with crimson silk velvet.

Henry VIII

Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) was King of England from 1509 until he died in 1547. Henry is best known for his six marriages.

His disagreement with the Pope on an annulment led Henry to initiate the English Reformation, separating the Church of England from papal authority.

He appointed himself Supreme Head of the Church of England and dissolved convents and monasteries, for which he was excommunicated.

Henry was an extravagant spender, using the proceeds from the monasteries’ dissolution, and he also converted the money that was formerly paid to Rome into royal revenue.

He was an author and composer. As he aged, he became severely overweight and is frequently characterized in his later life as a lustful, egotistical, paranoid, and tyrannical monarch.

Writing Desk

A writing desk acts as a kind of compact office. Traditionally, it was used for writing letters by hand. It usually has a top that closes to hide current work, maintains privacy, and protects the work.

The closing top may contain several joints so that it can roll closed or may fold closed. The writing surface typically folds down or slides out to preserve the compact size when closed. They often have small drawers or “pigeon holes.”

Henry VIII’s Writing Desk

  • Title:                 Henry VIII’s Writing Desk
  • Date:                1525
  • Origin:              London
  • Materials:         Walnut and oak, lined with painted and gilded leather and silk velvet; later shagreen (possibly sharkskin) outer covering
  • Category:         Furniture 
  • Museum:          Victoria and Albert Museum

Henry VIII’s Writing Box

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Victoria and Albert Museum Furniture Collection

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Two Royal Writing Desks

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“I give unto my wife my second best bed with the furniture.”
– William Shakespeare

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Photo Credit: Gryffindor / CC BY-SA (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0); The original uploader was VAwebteam at English Wikipedia. / CC BY-SA (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/); Gryffindor / CC BY-SA (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0); Sandstein / CC BY-SA (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

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