Men and Music: Henry VIII Psalter



King Henry VIII of England is remembered for many important personal and political acts which had a profound effect on English history. His numerous marriages, political intrigues, and formation of the Church of England come immediately to mind.

What isn’t generally known about Henry VIII was his role as a patron of music. Surviving accounts tell of a man who not only loved listening to music, but making it—he played the organ, virginal, lute, and other instruments. An inventory of his large musical instrument collection, taken after he passed away, gives us an idea about how deeply interested he was.

Henry VIII was also a composer. Many of his songs are found in the aptly named Henry VIII Manuscript, the most famous being Pastyme with good companye.

A fascinating image of the king playing a musical instrument can be found in a personal Psalter of his. In it, he is depicted playing the harp (see below), an instrument historically (and biblically) associated with kings and power.

Henry VIII’s Psalter is held in the British Library, which put together the following podcast on the Psalter and its significance.


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(Detail of Henry VIII playing the harp by Jean Mallard; image: British Library)

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