Henry VIII’s Psalter


Written and illuminated in 1540 by an emigré from the court of the French king Francis I, King Henry VIII’s Psalter is Jean Mallard’s most lavish production. 

It contains numerous decorated initials, as well as eight larger illuminations that allude to the text of the Psalter they illustrate. Several link Henry visually to King David and perhaps even to Christ himself. Small and easy to handle, the Psalter was used by Henry in his private devotions, as the miniature accompanying Psalm 1 shows. The King sits in his Privy Chamber contemplating the Word of God ‘day and night’, just as the Psalmist admonishes. 

Henry made many notes in the Psalter and these  witness to his theological concerns and his identification of himself with his Old Testament counterpart. Overweight and increasingly immobile, he regretted the passing of years and read in Psalm 36: 25 that ‘I have been young and now am old’. Nor did he take much consolation in the second part of the verse, which stated that ‘I have not seen the just forsaken, nor his seed seeking bread’.

Next to Psalm 1:4, a poem that contrasts good and evil, Henry has written 'note what happens to the ungodly' and on the opposite page in the margin of another Psalm, 'note what little use it is to rage against God'.

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Full title:
Henry VIII’s Psalter
Illuminated manuscript
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Royal MS 2 A XVI

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