The Message Behind Henry VIII’s Imposing Codpiece

Video essayist Evan Puschak of The Nerdwriter takes a prosaic look at the 1537 Hans Holbein the Younger royal portrait of Henry VIII, noting how particularly how the King’s codpiece was depicted as imposing, despite his questionable virility and inability to produce any male heirs over the course of six marriages.

This is arguably the most famous portrait of royalty ever painted it has indelibly aided our perception of Henry as a man and a monarch which was the goal in many ways this image is a lie a masterful example of political propaganda…people throughout the land were questioning Henry’s virility…what better way to assert your masculinity than by having a mighty Cod piece bulge out of the center of your portrait like a 3D object.

The codpiece was not the only prop used to convey Henry’s power.

 …if that wasn’t enough to get the uh point across you can add a dagger just to the right and an incredibly phallic glove to the left …Everything about this portrait is designed to communicate power sexual power, political power, spiritual power. What’s remarkable is that Holbein achieves this without using many of the typical symbols of royal power.

King Henry Codpiece

Here’s the portrait in question.