Henry VIII’s Psalter


Commissioned by King Henry VIII, this Psalter (Book of Psalms) is the most sumptuous production of the French scribe and illuminator, Jean Mallard. Several images depict Henry as King David; the annotations in Henry’s own hand show how strongly he identified with the godly Old Testament king.

The manuscript

Henry is likely to have commissioned a Psalter (rather than a Book of Hours) because this text afforded the greatest opportunity for him to be associated with King David, who was believed to have written the Psalms. Next to Psalm 1, (‘Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of sinners … his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night’), Henry writes ‘note who is blessed’. He was undoubtedly thinking of himself: the text is accompanied by an image of him reading in his bedchamber (representing night), which opens onto a garden (the daytime). The book he muses on might even be a representation of this Psalter. Other miniatures associating Henry with David include depictions of Henry playing the harp (which David used to ward away evil spirits) with his jester Will Sommers (Psalm 53); Henry as David battling Goliath (Psalm 27); and an image of Henry as David in penitence (Psalm 69).

Why is it so important?

Henry had come to see his kingship as an example of divine providence (as David’s had been). The illustrations in this Psalter, combined with Henry’s annotations, demonstrate that he did not regard reading the Psalms as an opportunity to reflect on his own possible shortcomings as a man or a ruler, but to congratulate himself and sympathise with its author. Henry’s enemies were sinners and heretics, just as God’s were.

To see more of the Henry VIII Psalter please go to our award-winning Turning the Pages™. 

Browse through the entire manuscript on our Digitised Manuscripts website.

Full title:
Psalter ('The Psalter of Henry VIII')
c. 1540–1541
Illuminated manuscript
Jean Maillart (or Mallard)
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Royal MS 2 A XVI

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Faith and religions

Article by:
The British Library

Study magnificent hand-painted books and manuscripts from the many faiths and religions of the world.

Historical texts

Article by:
The British Library

Explore the documents that mark crucial events in the world's political and social history.

Henry VIII and the Reformation

Article by:
Susan Doran

Professor Susan Doran discusses Henry VIII and the Reformation, looking at the Catholic devotional texts that were owned by the king, his break with the Catholic Church and the development of the English Bible following the Reformation.

Related collection items