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REVIEW Six Lives: The Stories of Henry VIII's Queens

The Tudors are not currently a compulsory unit in the National Curriculum (boo!) but many schools continue to teach them in KS2. With good reason, as this fab new show at the National Portrait Gallery makes clear. If you want to engage a child with history, you need characters and the Tudor Court is packed full of them.


“Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.” The fates of Henry VIII’s six queens are known to us all but the women themselves are often shadowy figures behind the King, unless of course you have seen the hit musical SIX. The exhibition starts with the famous Holbein portrait of Henry VIII before going back to front with costumes from the musical and a series of strangely unsettling photographic portraits taken by Hiroshi Sugimoto from their waxwork models. While kids will find these two rooms fun (together with the display of Tudor merch that has continued through the centuries), don’t dwell too long here but head left into the main galleries. Hung in regal purple, each queen gets her own gallery, facing us with her portrait. On the surrounding walls are paintings, letters, jewellery and other personal artefacts that build up intricate detail of each of their lives – the context into which they came to power, the influence they wielded, the Court intrigues that swirled around them. The break from Rome, the desperate need for a son, the fixers - Wolsey, More, Cromwell – it is like a technicolour Wolf Hall.


There is quite a bit of explanatory text so confident readers will get the most out of it. The accompanying Bloomberg Connects audio is also geared towards older listeners, say 8+.


On 26 July there is a ‘One of a Kind’ Late Opening with SIX the Musical. A Tudor takeover will run from 6–8.30pm with a special performance from the cast members of the West End hit, workshops and activities. And its all free!


Later in the summer, 12–16 August is the Summer Family Festival: the Tudors. Lots of drop in Tudor fun, 11am–4pm. Free.

Six Lives: The Stories of Henry VIII's Queens National Portrait Gallery, 20 June–8 September.

Tickets: £21 adults, £10.50 ages 12–18, U12s free. U25s £5 Fridays and weekends.

Emily Turner, 21 June 2024



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