Henry VIII, nationalist icon or global prince?: A tale of two portraits.

Henry VIII lived in unprecedented times, partly of his own making and partly not. Two massive cultural moments define the period in which he ruled – The Reformation and The Age of Discovery –  but only one of them has fixed the monarch’s subsequent image in popular memory.

Henry’s role in the Protestant Reformation has seen the king and his reign heralded as an origin story of English Nationalism. He was the monarch who freed England from the tyranny of Rome, who brought renewed military glory against the old enemy – the French – and who started the process of building the navy that was to become the envy (and menace) of the entire world.

But Henry also operated in a uniquely global context. He came of age, and to the throne, when the fundamentals of European knowledge about the world were being swept away. In 1492, a new continent had been discovered, and by 1498 Europeans had found a direct Sea route to the Indies that opened a treasure trove of exotic goods and spices. This no doubt had a significant effect on the king and his perception of his place in, and relationship to, the wider world. This side of Henry, however, has been little discussed both academically and in the popular sphere. When compared to his rival monarchs on the continent he has been painted as rather uninterested and disengaged with the global times he lived in.

To the contrary, Henry had many cosmopolitan connections and spent considerable  money, time, and effort projecting himself visually and materially as a monarch intimately engaged with and interested in the growing early modern globe.

To think of Henry and his court as inherently nationalist is thus an anachronism, largely born of the C19 Whig tradition that privileged these elements of his persona in the writing of the period. If you were to walk into one of the King’s many palaces, at Hampton Court or Whitehall, you would not find a bunch of ‘little Englander’s’ decked out in badges of Saint George, sat at a table gorging on ale and pork pies. These same men would also be decked out in the finest venetian velvet, drinking out of cups with ‘Moorish design’ and enjoying a feast seasoned with spices from the far most corners of the globe. They may also be seated on top of a fine ottoman carpet, surrounded by a Flemish tapestry depicting voyages to the other side of the word.

The tale of the two Henrys –  the national emblem and the cosmopolitan prince – and their legacy, is perhaps best summed up in a tale of two portraits, both painted by Hans Holbein the younger. The Whitehall Mural (1537) and The Ambassadors Portrait (1533.)

The Whitehall Mural is the most enduring and probably the most important image we have of the king.


Reproduction of the Whitehall Mural, originally painted by Hans Holbein the younger c.1537.

It is this representation that has so strongly fixed the image of Henry as national hero. Painted in 1537 to commemorate the break from Rome and the birth of what was to be (infuriatingly) Henry’s only male heir, Prince Edward, it was designed as a powerful statement of national dynasty. It depicts Henry, his third wife, Jane Seymour, and his parents King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York stood around a classically designed monument. Henry dominates the mural. Standing at the forefront – face on, legs apart, hands on hips, dominant codpiece – he projects sovereign power and independence. This message is further cemented by the inscription on the plinth that recalls the glory of his achievements and invokes England’s independence from Rome. It reads “The son, born indeed for greater tasks, from the altar removed the unworthy and put worthy men in their place.” The ‘Whitehall Henry’ went on to become the prototype for most subsequent images of the monarch, and at the mention of his name is likely the first image that comes to mind, bringing with it all the connotations of sovereign national power and even pride.

However, there is another image, almost as famous as The Whitehall Mural that alludes to the more cosmopolitan reality of Henry’s persona, but has failed to become as closely associated with the monarch as it should be.


The Ambassadors, Hans Holbein the Younger, c.1533, The National Gallery, London.

The Ambassadors portrait is a tour de force of renaissance global achievement and enterprise. It is an image of two cosmopolitan individuals bound up in an exciting and unprecedented global moment. Its sitters, two Frenchman, Jean de Dinteville and Georges de Selve, are surrounded by the technology and spoils of discovery. There are globes, compasses, and a beautiful oriental carpet. What is less celebrated, or even discussed, is that this work was painted at Westminster Abbey when de Dinteville was on mission to Henry’s court as the King of France’s ambassador. The culture of this portrait was also Henry’s world. In fact, many of the items on display were not owned by the sitters but were lent by individuals extremely close to the king. The polyhedral sundial almost definitely belonged to Nicholas Kratzer, Henry’s court astronomer. The same dial appears in Holbien’s earlier portrait of him painted in 1528.

Holbien cropped
The polyhedral sundial from The Ambassadors.
Nicholas Kratzer, Hans Holbein the younger, 1528.

Moreover, the terrestrial globe bears a striking resemblance to Martin von Behaim’s ‘Erdapfel’ (earth apple), the first of its kind made c.1493 as a pitching prop for German merchants selling their enterprises to wealthy potential patrons. Both Kratzer and Holbien had very close links to this community in London, so it is not unlikely that they may have lent a version of the globe for this occasion. 

The tale of these two portraits is indicative of how the King’s image as a cosmopolitan monarch has been largely overwritten by his national persona and the ‘Whitehall Henry.’

Why may this have been the case?

Today, when we think of the national and the global they are not the easiest of bedfellows. This has never been clearer than in the political environment of 2016-2017 – the year of  Brexit and of Trump – where the new division being written is between the ‘nationalists’ and the ‘globalists.’ Could it be that this modern paradigm, which attempts to force a choice between one or the other, is distorting our understanding of these concepts and how they operated during the first global age?

When we look at Henry, a king defining what it meant to be English in an increasingly global context – we see both a national emblem and a cosmopolitan king with little contradiction. Rather, these discourses operated within the same cultural web. If we take another look at that most ‘nationalist’ of images, the Whitehall Mural, this reality is clear. The mise en scène is distinctly cosmopolitan. Henry et al are stood on an Ottoman carpet and surrounded by ornate architectural forms that would be at home as much in an eastern palace as a western one. Read in this way, the ‘Whitehall mural’ remains a powerful image of English identity but it also suggests that cosmopolitanism may be far more embedded in the national than we are encouraged to think, and perhaps this is an important reminder that in our own modern world the choice doesn’t’ have to be one or the other.



***New Documentary series*** Bollywood and Bolsheviks: Indo-Soviet Collaboration in Literature and Film 1954-1991

The culmination of six months work here are three short documentaries I completed for my friend and colleague Jessica Bachman’s exhibit of the same title.

This exciting project explores collaboration between the USSR and India from 1954-1991 and its cultural effects.

The films each look at a different aspect of this dynamic exchange.

‘Bollywood Blockbusters in the USSR’ explores the popularity of Indian film in the Soviet block.

‘Soviet Stories in Indian Homes’ looks at the impact of Russian literary efforts in India.

‘Readers Respond’ focuses on the impact of soviet literature on Indian readers now residing in Seattle, Washington.

These films are being shown as part of the exhibit, alongside many other oral history interviews.  The exhibit is currently on display in Suzzallo/Allen library at the University of Washington.

Swing by if you can and I hope you enjoy!

For more information see http://www.bollywoodandbolsheviks.com

Henry VIII and English Cosmopolitanism



I’ve finally reached the stage in my academic career where I get to make my own original contribution to scholarship, and ideally to the publics understanding of this most infamous monarch!

I’m really excited about this project – titled ‘Henry VIII and English cosmopolitanism.’ The dissertation will explore how King Henry VIII of England (you know the one with all the wives) cultivated an image of himself as a worldly, outward looking king, in order to challenge the persistent notion that Henry and his court were inherently insular and nationalistic.

This project intends to explore the relationship between the global and the national as reflected in Henry’s performance of Kingship. It begs important questions about their co-existence and interdependence, questions which have continued significance in our own global age that struggles with the nations place within it.

Could it have been that Henry was both a national monarch and a worldly king? Why have we come to assume that these two ideas are somehow contradictory? And how do these discourses continue to effect British national identity? I hope my work can shed some light on these ideas.

I’ll also be building a 360 tour of Hampton court palace as part of this project and of course I aim to make it into a doc!

For those interested here is my prospectus which provides a detailed explanation of the goals and scope of this project.


An update


This site was starting to look neglected so I thought i’d give you all an update.

The radio silence has mainly been due to the fact that i’m currently working on my dissertation proposal which i’ll be uploading once completed.

I’m really excited about this project – titled ‘Henry VIII and the performance of worldly kingship.’ The dissertation will explore how King Henry VIII of England (you know the one with all the wives) cultivated an image of himself as a worldly, outward looking king, in order to challenge the persistent notion that Henry and his court were inherently insular and nationalistic.

This project intends to explore the relationship between the global and the national as reflected in Henry’s performance of Kingship. It begs important questions about their co-existence and interdependence, questions which have continued significance in our own global age that struggles with the nations place within it.

Could it have been that Henry was both a national monarch and a worldly king? Why have we come to assume that these two ideas are somehow contradictory? And how do these discourses continue to effect British national identity? I hope my work can shed some light on these ideas.

I’ll also be building a 360 tour of Hampton court palace as part of this project and of course I aim to make it into a doc!

Now back to the prospectus!

**New Video** – Arcaro Boxing

One of the results of my year at the Northwest Film Forum.

Arcaro Boxing is a boxing gym located on Capitol Hill. It’s owner Trisha is a fierce advocate for the value of community, women’s rights, and the healing power of the art of boxing .

I was lead editor on the project.

Credits as follows:

Director – Claire Busse

Lead Editor – Emma Hinchliffe

Second Editor – Claire Busse

Director of Photography – David Stair

Sound – Sarah Wrainright

Producer – Caterina de re




Reflections on the revolution in the Anglosphere…..

“There were no revolutionary circumstances, but rather a revolution that reacted to circumstance.” Francois Furet on the French Revolution.

The Trump and Sander’s movements stem from a similar shift in historical consciousness to that which Francois Furet highlighted as unleashing the French Revolution. Americans feel like the current political system has failed them, it no longer works. Hence the establishment needs to go. This same stirring of consciousness is happening in Europe. The juggernaut in Brussels continues to grow and antagonism continues to rise. Marine Le Pen’s National Front is now one of the largest political forces in France, Austria very narrowly avoided electing a right wing president. Instead they went for a member of the Green party and not an establishment candidate. .

Something is stirring, and I can’t help but get the feeling that we are living in historically significant times. As a British permanent resident of the US I can’t vote in this country, but if I could, I think I’d feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. Two of the candidates offer, in different forms, a revolution. This frightens me. As Furet’s quote attests, once unleashed these movements have a momentum all of their own. Checks and balances go out the window, if you aren’t for the revolution, if you don’t tow the party line, you are its enemy. The third candidate offers little solution, but rather a continuation of the type of politics that bred this shift in the first place.

It is not yet clear whether this conscious break has gone far and spread deep enough to make revolution in one form or another inevitable. But I pray this isn’t so and have hope that it may be avoided. What I believe the Anglosphere needs is not a revolution, but a return. A return to the foundations of individual sovereignty on which both America and Britain were founded. We need to put the individual’s basic natural rights back at the center of politics. Without this we can’t help but feel failed by the system. Without this we can’t help but fall into revolution and all its attendant violence.

The failure of modern politics has been its steady move away from these principles. This is also why the French Revolution failed. The people of 1789 hoped for a revolution that would give man his natural rights after centuries of oppression by the Old Regime, but by creating a system that placed sovereignty in the state and not in themselves, they actually gave up their ability to exercise them. Robespierre’s revolutionary government forged itself as a moral body. The state dictated what equality and ‘rights’ would look like. Unlike the American system, it was not a government principally designed to protect individuals and to legislate against the actions of those who threatened their wellbeing. It also took on the job of policing ‘morality,” with notoriously bloody consequences.

Our current governments have morphed more and more into the French model. They enact policies that don’t protect individual rights and freedoms but rather restrict them based on ideas of what the state itself deems to be right or wrong. This is not to say that the government should never do this, but rather that this should only be the case when a fundamental right is in danger. For example, a person should never be discriminated against simply due to their gender or race, but it is not the government’s job to tell me or anyone that it is wrong to drink a certain size soda, or that it is now illegal to use my dependable vacuum cleaner because it’s now deemed “too powerful.” No matter how futile these examples may seem it is dictatorial policies like these, and the way they make individuals feel, that has led to the dissolution with the current system. This has caused many to seek radical alternatives, whether that be on the right or the left. And what is most scary about the revolutions offered by both Trump and Sanders is that they threaten to fix the ‘morality’ of the state more firmly on one side or the other. Pure democracy in a sovereign state, rather than in a state made up of sovereign individuals IS democracy by the guillotine.

The word return will likely scare many people that read this, it brings up notions of regression, of going back to an age when the rights of many individuals were not recognized. To advocate for the importance of natural rights embedded in historical documents such as the American Constitution or the British Bill of Rights as the way to regain a healthy government apparatus is not to advocate for a return to those time periods. The world is a very different place from 1689 and 1776. Centuries of civil rights movements have, and continue to remind us, that natural rights cannot be exclusive or restrictive by their very being.

Really, return isn’t the word I’m looking for, how can we return to something that is transcendent? Rather, we need to re-orientate ourselves to these fundamental notions of what it means to be free. This brings me to the EU. The EU model is fundamentally antithetical to the Anglo tradition of individual sovereignty. It is a top down system that draws up laws then asks later. The people answer to the commission, the commission does not answer to the people. Of course there are many who will disagree with me, who will believe that for them the role of government should be to wield a heavy paternalist hand over its ‘peoples.’ That is not freedom to me, that is not equality for anyone, and that is why I will be voting to leave on June 23rd. Britain finds itself in the unique position were we have an opportunity to halt the tide of further radicalization, resentment, and division. The choice on June 23rd is a choice between a revolution or a re-orientation, a stemming or an opening of the floodgates. Even if Britain chooses to stay (and if they do I pray that choice is respected by those that disagree,) I can’t see the EU continuing as it is. A shift is coming. I just hope it’s the right one.

America doesn’t appear to have it as lucky as Britain. Whatever happens in the American election, it’s looking like the individual will lose out. But perhaps Americans can also reflect on the significance of these times to push for a third way. The Anglosphere would do very well to take heed of the advice of one of its most eminent politicians. When asked about the enforcement of her religious settlement in England Elizabeth I quipped “I would not open windows into men’s souls.” Though not wholesale, Elizabeth brought a semblance of peace and prosperity to England that it had not seen in years of bloody religious war. Perhaps if we were to once again make this notion an intrinsic part of our political outlook we too can avoid revolution and all its unyielding forces.

My answer to the ‘The Quarter Life Crisis’ – Don’t overthink it!

People sometimes tell me I have a lot going for myself. When they do, more than often I think – I’m 25, soon to be 26, unmarried with no prospects of being so anytime soon, financially unstable, no career to speak of and have troubled relations with family – what are these people talking about?

Then I think why am I doing this? Should I not be taking the compliment and focusing on the positives they are clearly referencing? I’m also very well educated, have successfully started a new life in America, have great relationships with great people, and have tenaciously been pursuing my career of choice….

Why am I telling myself that this is not ‘good enough’?

To many the idea of ‘a quarter life crisis’ may sound frivolous or even laughable. At 25 you’re young, have limited responsibilities, are at your most attractive and usually most healthy. What do you have to complain about? But regardless of whether these fears are justifiable comparatively, they do exist.So many of my friends suffer or have suffered from these same self doubts and anxieties as me. People who I see as wonderful, successful, attractive, kind people, but who continue to see themselves as ‘not enough.’ They should have a serious partner by now, the should be working somewhere better, they should just be ‘doing more’…..

And this got me to thinking, why should they be, or more correctly why do they believe they should?

Firstly I blame The Renaissance! The Renaissance was undoubtedly a historical turning point that brought many positive changes. It was an age where for the first time individuals began to believe that their world ‘was enough’, and that the purpose of life went beyond survival and preparation for death – which had been the prevailing social paradigm of the middle ages. But with this renewed positivity came a whole new host of anxieties. The idea that an individual could be important and do something of matter in their lifetime that was not predetermined by the position in which they were born, opened up a huge Pandora’s box of opportunity but also expectation. What should they be doing? What if they never do anything of significance? What if they waste the opportunity to ‘do more’?  It is these same anxieties that plague many adults in their mid twenties today.

Secondly, and more seriously,  I blame the phrase ‘you can have it all.’ Earlier this year the New York Times ran an article on the history of this oft repeated mantra (New York Times, The complicated origins of having it all) Originally a moniker of successful young women the 1980’s, it positively defined a women who was wealthy, had lots of sex, lots of money, and a satisfying job. Despite it’s fairly humble beginnings as book title, this aspirational image of ‘having it all’ has had far wider implications that go beyond women and betray the positive intentions in which it was originally coined.

The pressure to ‘have it all’ has put unrealistic and unfounded expectations on young people. We are told that we need to be successful and to be hitting certain ‘life goals’ earlier and earlier if we are to ‘have it all.’ It has become such a compelling idea that we forget to ask first what is it all? And more importantly do we actually want it? Some may, but many will not. And that’s OK.

So what’s the answer to dealing with this crisis?

A person close to me recently brought up the phrase ‘analysis paralysis’ in a conversation we were having about this very topic – the idea that all this overthinking of what we should be doing to ‘get it all’, actually gets in the way of us getting what we want. If analysis paralysis is the problem then the answer is don’t overthink it!

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t care or put serious thought into what we are doing, or that we shouldn’t have lofty goals that will take a lot of work to reach. Everyone wants to make their mark on the world and should purse that desire, but the important thing to remember is that it should be their unique mark, not the mark they are told to leave or aim for.

My advice..find out what YOU love and as long is it makes you happy without hurting others pursue it. Pursuing what you love is a mark of success in itself, not where this pursuit may lead or how how much money or recognition it may get you. If you don’t desire a conventional relationship….have the relationship you want, with who you want. If you do want marriage and kids go for it. If you want to give up a big pay check for a career where you can more fully be you and express yourself…..go for it. If you really want to eat that slice of cake even though your not the perfect ten…eat it! You really want to loose five pounds…get that gym membership.

If we don’t take the time to look into ourselves and really think about what we want it becomes so easy to get lost in the distressing pursuit of searching for what society thinks we should have – it all! And if we do make the conscious effort not to overthink every decision or action, and focus instead on our own desires/passions we can have ALL that we want. Surely that’s ‘good enough.’