Tag Archives: Henry VIII

Illuminated pedigree compiled by Thomas Gardiner, Monk of Westminster, showing the descent of Henry VIII from Cadwallader, Hugh Capet, Alfred and William the Conqueror, 1542/1564: MS. Eng. hist. e. 193

Notice the choice of a lion underneath Henry VIII, a symbol in heraldry symbolising courage, nobility, royalty, and strength. The Royal Arms of England contains 3 lions and was chosen by the Plantagenet kings who ruled England from 1154 until the House of Tudor.[1]

“Kynge Henry the VIJth in wysedome And ryches Equall to
Kynge Solomon he was sonne and Eyre to noble Edmunde
Erle of Rychemonde the ryght And trew Eyre to Holy
Kynge Cadwallyder / He maryed Quene Elizabethe the
Daughter and Eyre to Kynge Edwarde the IIIJth / After he
had openly in the ffelde obtayned Hys Ryghte he raigned
XXIIJth yere VIIJ monthes & XXIJ Dayes And he lyethe
Buryed in Westmynster where as he orderyd perpetuallye
to Endure the moste nobleste foundacyon that ever was
Harde of / He had by quene Elizabethe / Artur prince of
Wales / Edmunde Duke of Somersett / Elizabethe / & Kateryn /
All iiij Dyed wythe oute issu / Quene Margette of Scotlande
Quene mary of ffrance /”


Henry VIII (1491-1547) is without a doubt one of the best known English kings, mostly due to his penchant for wives, his break with Rome and the Catholic Church, and his role in the English reformation. The king reigned for 38 years, got through 6 wives, and “favoured then dispensed” of 3 chief ministers, all named Thomas.[2] But even this king, infamous now for his fickle attitude to marriage and his gluttony, had to prove his royal legitimacy in the 16th century. Henry VIII was, after all, only the second Tudor king. His father, Henry VII, had fought against the house of York for the crown, plotting their downfall from exile in Brittany for 14 years before his coronation in 1485.[3]

What is it?

This item, an illuminated pedigree, is a family tree/genealogy which served to provide evidence of Henry VIII’s legitimacy as king of England. It expresses the line of succession to Henry all the way back to the Welsh king Cadwallyder (633-682), also known as Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon. Cadwallyder ruled as king of Gwynedd from around 655 to 682 AD, when he is said to have died of a plague. There is not much information recorded on the Welsh king, aside from the fact he was the “laste kynge of that blode,” before the pedigree begins connecting him to Henry VI, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. There is no doubt left as to who the pedigree was attempting to legitimise.

The pedigree traces Henry’s lineage through such other rulers as Hugh Capet (d. 996), King of the Franks between 987 and 996, as well as William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy. William ruled England between 1066 and 1087 after he had “slayne kynge harolde in the felde” and was succeeded by his son, William Rufus. The roll does not add much illuminating detail about each ruler, though tends to mention how they came to power, how they died, and any notable religious houses they founded.

The pedigree is dated internally as 1542, though on the outside is written “Pedigree of the Kings by Thomas Gardiner, Monke: 1564”. Alongside stitching and evidence of extra parchment being glued together, this may suggest that elements were added at different times, possibly by different people. The main author and artist of this piece does, however, seem to be Thomas Gardiner (or Gardyner), who was possibly the same monk of Westminster who wrote a chronicle of English history from Brutus to Henry VIII, called The Flowers of England.

Matthew Payne and Julia Boffey explored the life of Gardiner in their 2017 paper “The Gardyner’s Passetaunce, the Flowers of England, and Thomas Gardyner, Monk of Westminster.”[4] According to this research, Gardiner was born around 1479 in London. His father was a skinner and his mother may have been “the illegitimate daughter of Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford and the brother of Edmund Tudor, whose marriage to Margaret Beaufort produced the future Henry VII; Gardyner was thus, after 1485, the date of Henry’s accession, the king’s step-cousin once removed.”[5] This, if the same person, brings an interestingly personal element to this pedigree.

In around 1493, Gardyner was admitted a novice at Westminster Abbey. He studied at Oxford between 1497 and 1499 and even added a year at Cambridge. Displaying such intellectual prowess was probably part of the reason why he was chosen to create the pedigree. When he returned to Westminster in 1501, he was ordained a priest. Payne and Boffey point out that although the exact purposes of his book and the pedigree are unknown “their function as part of a programme of pious royal promotion seems unquestionable”. They were undoubtedly there to extol Henry VII and Henry VIII’s virtues as great kings, “proclaiming the justice of their claims to the crown.”[6]

Why did he need this?

Henry VIII undoubtedly led in a very different fashion to his father, Henry VII, who was known to be reserved and did not involve himself in foreign affairs. Much more ostentatious, Henry VIII was known for his lavish banquets and greed, and his inability to reconcile his own opinions and actions with the Catholic Church. By breaking from tradition and waging war in France and Scotland, Henry VIII would have needed documents like this to ensure the people knew he was rightly in power, and there was nothing they could do about it.[7]

You can view and request this item through the new Bodleian Archives and Manuscripts webpage.

[1] Garai, J., The Book of Symbols (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973); Jamieson, A. S., Coats of Arms (Pitkin Publishing, 1998)

[2] Cheshire, P., Kings, Queens, Chiefs and Rulers (London: Star Fire, 2003),  p. 132

[3] Ibid,  p. 129

[4] Payne, M., and J. Boffey, “The Gardyner’s Passetaunce, the Flowers of England, and Thomas Gardyner, Monk of Westminster,” The Library 18.2 (2017): 175-190

[5] Ibid, p. 177

[6] Ibid, pp. 178-182

[7] Brewer, J. S., and J. Gairdner. The Reign of Henry VIII from His Accession to the Death of Wolsey: Reviewed and Illustrated from Original Documents (London: John Murray, 1884)