A couple in Milverton, Somerset removed layers of old wood panels, plaster and wallpaper from their living room wall to get it ready for repainting only to find a a large mural of Henry VIII had already claimed the space in the early 16th century. This mural is the only one known of Henry VIII. There was another one decorating a wall in the Palace of Whitehall, but it burned down in the 1698 fire that destroyed the palace complex. (Hans Holbein’s iconic portrait of Henry VIII was also destroyed in that fire. We only know of it now from copies.)
The artist is unknown, but the home, categorized as a “particularly important building of more than special interest” on England’s Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest, belonged to Thomas Cranmer who was Archdeacon of Taunton at the time the mural was painted (ca. 1530). The personal chaplain of the Boleyn family, Cranmer was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by Henry in October of 1532, and on May 23, 1533, two months after his consecration, he ruled Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon null and void. Five days later he declared Henry and Anne’s secret January marriage valid. Four days after that he crown Anne Queen of England.
You can see why he might have enjoyed an enormous mural of the king in his home.
Michael Liversidge, former head of history of art department at Bristol University, said the discovery was “totally fascinating” and of “enormous importance and significance”.
“It would have been an expression of loyalty,” he said.
“Cranmer could have done it as a tribute to Henry and that would make it an object of great importance and significance. It is a unique image.”
Once the 20-foot-wide, 6-foot-high mural was revealed, homeowners Angie and Rhodri Powell brought in conservation experts to clean off the plaster, glue and assorted building materials and to fill in holes behind the facade.
Conservator Ann Ballatyne said: “This is quite special. I’ve not seen anything like it and I’ve been working on wall paintings since 1966.
“I’ve not seen anything as magnificent as this.”
You can see some BBC video of the mural and its conservation here.