Henry VIII and the English Reformation: Cause and Effect

Essential information

Date and time: 
Wednesdays, 6 - 27 Sept | 6.30-8.30pm
£25 per event, £20 concessions and members | £80 all four events, £60 concessions and members
Queen's House, Great Hall
Talks & courses

A series of evening lectures and a choral performance at the Queen's House 

Henry VIII’s break with the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church in the 1530s sent shock waves across England and the rest of Europe. The repercussions for Henry’s kingdom and dynasty were profound with his children Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I divided between Protestantism and Catholicism.

As part of the Reformation Anniversary (1517–2017), Royal Museums Greenwich are hosting a during September 2017 on related themes given by acknowledged experts and renowned performers.

These cover topics from Henry’s decision to divorce Katharine of Aragon and the defeat of the Spanish Armada spurring Elizabethan engagement with Islamic states, to the sacred music of Thomas Tallis, who lived and is buried in Greenwich, and the art and architecture of the Chapels Royal.

The four events in the Great Hall of the recently refurbished Queen’s House, followed by a wine reception in the Orangery.

Please note: special offer for multiple events available only through phone booking. Contact 020 8312 6608


6 September

Dr David Starkey

Henry VIII and the Reformation: From Defender of the Faith to Supreme Head of the Church

In 1517, Martin Luther, a German priest and professor of theology, wrote his ‘Ninety-Five Theses’ and nailed them to the doors of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. Luther’s simple act of defiance against Catholic teaching and practices heralded the Protestant Reformation. It would thus have profound consequences for religion, society and culture in Europe and beyond. In England, Henry VIII had been on the throne since 1509. He had also married his dead brother’s widow, Katherine of Aragon, which had required a papal dispensation. A devout Roman Catholic and defender of papal supremacy, Henry led the opposition to Luther’s reforms; his publication Defence of the Seven Sacraments, published in 1521, earned him the title of 'Defender of the Faith' from Pope Leo X. Within a decade, his frustration over the lack of a legitimate male heir would result in him seeking a divorce from Katherine and marriage to Anne Boleyn, a decision that would lead Henry to reject papal authority and initiate the English Reformation. In this special evening lecture, Dr David Starkey will reveal the dramatic causes, and far-reaching effects, of this momentous period in history, arguing that it was the ‘Tudor Brexit’.  

A world-renowned historian and broadcaster, Dr Starkey has published and lectured extensively on the Tudor dynasty, most recently Henry: Model of a Tyrant (2016). His television work includes ‘Monarchy’ (C4, 2004–7), ‘Henry VIII: The Mind of a Tyrant’ (C4, 2009) and ‘Music and Monarchy’ (BBC2, 2015) and he has been the guest curator of three major exhibitions, Henry VIII at Greenwich (1991), Elizabeth I (2003) and Royal River: Power, Pageantry and the Thames (2012), held at the National Maritime Museum. His new programme, ‘Reformation’, will be aired on BBC2 in the autumn.

13 September

Professor Jerry Brotton

This Orient Isle: The Tudors and the Islamic World

The Reformation in England had many consequences. But one of the most remarkable was a series of diplomatic and commercial alliances with the Muslim world. As Catholic Europe branded the reformed Tudor rulers as heretics, like Muslims, England signed treaties with the Ottoman Porte, received ambassadors from the kings of Morocco and shipped munitions to Marrakesh in the hope of establishing an accord that would keep the common enemy of Habsburg Spain at bay. By the late 1580s hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Elizabethan merchants, diplomats, sailors, artisans and privateers were plying their trade from Morocco to Persia. Jerry Brotton shows that Tudor England's relations with the Muslim world were far more extensive, and often more amicable, than we have ever appreciated, and that their influence was felt across the political, commercial and domestic landscape of England. It is a startlingly unfamiliar picture of a part of our national and international history.

Jerry Brotton is Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary University of London. He is a regular broadcaster and critic as well the author of Renaissance Bazaar: From the Silk Road to Michelangelo, The Sale of the Late King's Goods: Charles I and his Art Collection (shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction and the Hessell-Tiltman History Prize) and the bestselling, award-winning A History of the World in Twelve Maps, which has been translated into twelve languages. His most recent publication, This Orient Isle: Elizabethan England and the Islamic World (2016) was serialised on BBC Radio 4.

20 September

The Queen’s Ensemble

Fit for a Queen: Mary I, Elizabeth I and the Music of Thomas Tallis and his Contemporaries

This evening’s programme is based around some of the themes present in the Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. Thirty years prior to his attempted invasion of England, Philip II of Spain had been married to Elizabeth’s half-sister Mary before her death in 1558. During a visit to England, he brought much of his court across with him, including his choir, the Capilla Flamenca, who joined forces with the Chapel Royal. Thomas Tallis, himself buried just around the corner at St Alfege Church, wrote music for this rather unusual combination of voices, creating a sound world unique to this period of English music. The portrait also touches on themes of tension between Catholics and Protestants, something that Elizabeth had to manage carefully during her reign. In this year, the 500th since the start of the Protestant Reformation in Europe, the Queen’s Ensemble will explore this theme in choral and solo works by English and Spanish composers including William Byrd, John Dowland, Robert Johnson, Guerrero and Morales. The programme will also include works from a major publication composed in celebration of Elizabeth’s reign, ‘The Triumphs of Oriana’. 

The Queen’s Ensemble is a group of young professional musicians based in London. Newly formed for the reopening of the Queen’s House in 2016, they specialise in music from the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods, performing music relevant to the themes contained within the House. All the singers are both excellent choral musicians and accomplished soloists in their own right. 

27 September

Dr Simon Thurley

The Chapel Royal – The Jewel in the Tudor Crown

It is easy when thinking of royal palaces to imagine the great state rooms used for spectacular court events, or perhaps the elegant gardens enjoyed by the royal family and select invited courtiers. However the real engine house of most royal palaces before 1700 was the chapel royal. The chapel royal was both a building, a church within a palace, but also the team of priests and choristers who served in it. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the chapels royal became a liturgical and theological battle-ground as Reformation and Counter-Reformation were fought out within its walls. Everything that went on in the monarch’s chapel was subjected to intense scrutiny.  By understanding the twists and turns of royal religion and the changing fashions in the royal chapels it is possible to throw new light on the Reformation and what it meant for England.

Dr Simon Thurley is a leading historian of Tudor and Stuart architecture and royal history. He has served as Curator of Historic Royal Palaces, Director of the Museum of London and from 2002 to 2015 he was Chief Executive of English Heritage. Dr Thurley’s academic publishing includes books on Whitehall Palace (1999) and Hampton Court Palace (2004). His most recent publication, Houses of Power: The Places that Shaped Tudor World (2017), tells the architectural history of the Tudor monarchy.