Tudor Royal Propaganda

‘We must not let in daylight upon magic’

Chapter 2 : A Tale of Two Henrys

Although examples of effective royal propagandists can be drawn from the past 1,000 years and more of the monarchy’s history, no dynasty was more highly skilled at propaganda than the Tudors. This was evident from the very beginning. The first Tudor monarch, Henry VII, was eager to project an image of unity after his defeat of Richard III at Bosworth and subsequent marriage to Elizabeth of York brought an end to the Wars of the Roses that Henry’s marriage symbolised was expressed in other ways. No sooner had the crown been lowered onto his head than the Tudor propaganda machine got to work. Throughout Henry’s palaces, the emblem of entwined red and white roses was scattered. It was also on prominent display in court pageantry and featured in the poetry that was published during the new reign. The Tudor rose is still one of the most instantly recognisable symbols of monarchy today.

Henry’s more famous son and namesake made even more effective use of PR, particularly at times of crisis. In breaking with Rome, annulling his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and requiring all his subjects to recognise him as supreme head of the new Church of England, Henry VIII had courted widespread opposition. This found expression within his kingdom with the Pilgrimage of Grace, as well as across Roman Catholic Europe. But Henry held his nerve and sanctioned a number of other reforming measures, notably the publication of the first complete modern English translation of the Bible. The frontispiece was a masterful piece of Henrician propaganda. Designed by Hans Holbein, it shows Henry VIII enthroned directly beneath God as he distributes the Bible to the bishops in the presence of the laity.

In the centuries following his death, Henry has often been judged a tyrant, driven by selfish desires and greed. In part this is justified: the king that he became was in all essential respects the same as the indulged and petulant child who had dominated the royal nursery at Eltham. But, thanks largely to his highly effective use of propaganda, this was never how he was viewed by his loyal subjects. To them, he was everything a king should be: magnificent, chivalrous, militaristic and awe-inspiring. Above all, the sheer force of his personality had enabled him to uncover the power of the English crown. As he reminded the earl of Surrey in the later years of his reign, as 'sovereign lord and prince … of our absolute power we be above the laws'.