Monday, August 6, 2012

Erasmus and Thomas More Visit the Children of Henry VII

Erasmus of Rotterdam visiting the children of Henry VII at Eltham Palace in 1499 and presenting Prince Henry (the future Henry VIII) with a written tribute. Detail of oil painting in the East Corridor of the Palace of Westminster, London.
In this remarkable painting by Frank Cadogen Cowper, the lady in the background dressed like a nun is surely Lady Margaret Beaufort, the pious mother of Henry VII. The babe in arms is one of the younger siblings who died in infancy. The Prince of Wales is not shown since he had his own household at Ludlow. According to Explore-Parliament:
The painting shows the interior of the medieval palace of Greenwich: a man in black kneels before three small children in gorgeous apparel. Behind him and to the right, a tall manstands in profile, leaning on a stick. The story is a charming one, and it is true. Erasmus of Rotterdam was the most famous scholar of his day. In 1499 he was visiting England. He was in Greenwich one day with his young friend Thomas More, who made him an intriguing invitation.  
I prithee, bear me company to a certain great house nigh to here. There thou shalt find friends, who have a great desire to see thee. - More.
The house turned out to be the royal palace, and the 'friends' were the royal children. One of them was the future Henry VIII, who was eight years of age at the time. The infant prince promptly demanded that the great scholar should write them a poem - which he did.

(Left to right) Princess Margaret, Princess Mary and Prince Henry

The King leans forward, carefully observing the reactions of his children.

A contemporary portrait of King Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth of York and their children.



julygirl said...

Eerie and sad....knowing as we do now that the little boy would grow to be the man who would order More's cruel death sentence...

Anonymous said...

I've never seen this painting before--remarkable! I think perhaps the man standing is Erasmus (the severe angles of his face are similar to Holbein's portrait of him) and the younger man is St. Thomas More. He would have been about 22 at the time of the meeting. Regardless, it shows a moment of great promise--had Henry chosen to follow these men of principle, and not his own prideful path, what bloodshed might have been averted.

elena maria vidal said...

That's what I thought, too, Elizabeth! Although the whole point of the painting was for the great Erasmus to present his work to the royal children. But then Erasmus would not have been dressed like a courtier but in clerical garb. It is confusing. Matbe the men kneeling are courtiers and Erasmus in the man with the cane (which makes sense) and Thomas More is the younger man on the other side of the King. Or maybe More is the one kneeling, as you say.