The story of the Tudors is like a “soap opera”. It is not for nothing that countless of films and TV series have been created around the experiences of this dynasty. The Tudors have left indelible traces in the history of England, and in today’s Great Britain. The jewels of both Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I were necessary accessories to demonstrate power. Paintings and portraits of the time depict Henry adorned with Rubies, while Elizabeth wore Pearls of all sizes.
Henry VIII had undoubtedly a mysterious and enigmatic character. As a King, he sought to manifest the power that his father acquired. He was known for his break with the Roman Catholic Church, but also because of his six marriages. Passionate affairs, scandals, intrigues, adultery, and other “trifles” were “daily bread” to Henry’s court. Two of his wives – Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard – landed on the scaffold!
It was Hans Holbein who immortalised Henry VIII in several portraits. One of these portraits was a fresco in the private chamber of the Whitehall Palace – the royal residence of Henry VIII and his newly married wife Jane Seymour. It is believed today that the painting was commissioned in 1537 to celebrate the birth of Edward – his first male descendant. The original painting was destroyed forever, when the palace burned in 1696. Fortunately, several copies of the portrait were made in its original size.
This awe-inspiring representation shows the monarch with an imposing Ruby around his neck and shoulders. It was not the only portrait that Holbein painted of Henry VIII, all portraits show the monarch accompanied by heavy Ruby jewellery. In all the representations of Henry there are Rubies – and indeed plenty!
We should not forget that the Ruby was the most precious gem of that time. Much more precious than Diamonds, for example! That is why they were the symbol of power and wealth and Henry VIII has always had portraits of himself with Rubies. It was not just Ruby jewellery, including a Ruby necklace known in all the courts of Europe, but also Henry’s robes were richly decorated with large Rubies. To this day the Ruby has remained one of the most coveted gemstones in the world.
Henry VIII presented himself to the public with large Rubies as a faithful companion. The famous portrait by Hans Holbein portrays the monarch as he had never been shown before: without sceptre, without sword, without ruler – as was customary in the Renaissance. We see Henry VIII front on, looking us directly in the eye from his portrait. He has a glove and a dagger in his hands. He stands with his legs apart and gives us the feeling of absolute control over the scene. An imposing Ruby chain falls on his shoulder. He also wears many other jewels like massive rings, a hat decorated with Sapphires and clothes made of gold and pearls. It represents a majestic and frightening figure.
This portrait was made into woodcuts and reproduced many times. The purpose of these copies was, on one hand was to spread the image of the monarch to the population. On the other hand, it was also to display a powerful message to foreign countries and the other monarchs of Europe; “Don’t even think about messing with somebody like me!”. This image has become iconic and a legacy for Henry VII. In the 18th century it was customary among the noble families to have their children portrayed as Henry VIII. The famous painting “Master Crewe” by Joshua Reynolds is an example. You can see the little boy in the same pose and similar clothes as Henry VIII – of course adorned with a Ruby necklace!
But the whole thing also has a funny side. A few centuries later science was able to find out that the famous Rubies Henry VIII were in fact not Rubies, but Spinels! Beautiful Spinels, of deep colour and outstanding quality …. But no Rubies!