The love letter that changed the nation

 Concealed in the Vatican for almost five centuries, Henry VIII's declaration of his 'unchangeable intention' to marry Anne Boleyn returns to London as part of the British Library's major new exhibition Henry VIII: Man and Monarch.

Almost certainly stolen from Lady Anne to serve as evidence against the King's divorce, this previously un-exhibited letter gives a deeply personal insight into Henry's pursuit of his most infamous infatuation. Aware of his reputation as a notorious womaniser, Anne continually frustrated the King by refusing to become yet another royal mistress and instead held out for marriage. This letter marks a key turning point in their relationship, with Anne at last seemingly making a 'too humble submission' to Henry's proffered love.

Henry's assurance that 'henceforth my heart will be dedicated to you alone' followed by his wish 'that my body was so too' suggests, however, that Anne's surrender was not unconditional. It represents a clear demonstration of Anne's denial of pre-marital sexual relations, turning the King's passions into an obsession. Utterly besotted, Henry apologises profusely for having suggested Anne could ever have been a mere mistress, and pledges to 'pray once a day' for the circumstances which would enable them to consummate their love. Henry signs the letter like a love-sick school boy, writing 'H seeks A.B. no other Rex', and encloses his beloved's initials in a heart.

Guest curated by historian and broadcaster Dr David Starkey, Henry VIII: Man and Monarch, sponsored by PACCAR Inc, will reach beyond the myths and stereotypes, exploring the beliefs and motives behind Henry's actions, telling the story of his reign from his own perspective. The Vatican love letter is just one of a variety of important loan items, including portraits, tapestries and armour, that will be used in support of the British Library's unrivalled collection of correspondence, key official documents, maps and books, to examine the extraordinary transformations ­ personal and political, intellectual and religious, literary, aesthetic and linguistic ­ that took place in the reign of Henry VIII.

Describing the exhibition, David Starkey commented: "Henry is not only England's best-known king ­ with his wives, his girth and his bloodthirstiness ­ he is also our most important single ruler. When he came to the throne, Henry was the Pious Prince who ruled an England at the heart of Catholic Europe; when he died, he was the Great Schismatic, who had created a national Church and an insular, xenophobic politics that shaped the development of England for the next 500 years. This exhibition draws on the British Library's rich collections - including the books that Henry himself chose, read and annotated ­ which outline the revolutionary change in ideas that took place during the reign of Henry VIII and take us, as nothing else can, into the King's own mind."

Advanced Tickets for Henry VIII: Man and Monarch go on sale from tomorrow, 16 February. Ticket Prices; Adult: £9. Concessions £7. £5; Under 18s: Free

Share this story