The illustrations that Henry VIII commissioned in a Psalter for his own use in around 1540 demonstrate that he saw himself as a Davidic king. Henry also annotated the Psalter liberally with marginal notes, commenting on the text. By this date a manuscript Psalter in Latin rather than the more popular Book of Hours was an unusual choice. Perhaps the opportunity presented for a direct alignment with David accounts, in part, for the commissioning of such a personalized copy of this text. The King’s connection with David is made directly in several Psalms, where he appears in the guise of David, wearing a distinctive feathered Tudor hat.
Henry commissioned the Psalter from Jean Mallard, who wrote out the Psalms in a beautifully clear Humanistic script and signed his name in the dedicatory preface as the King’s poet (orator regius). It has never been entirely clear whether Mallard painted the miniatures in the manuscript as well, although it is known that he did illuminate other books, including one for Henry. If Mallard did illustrate some or all of the painting in the Psalter, this may account for the somewhat awkward handling of the perspective and hesitancy in the details in execution of some of the images, as he was primarily a scribe rather than an artist.
In the illustration before Psalm 69 (Psalm 68 in the Vulgate), the King kneels in his armour before an angel of the Lord. The angel holds a scourge in his right hand and brandishes a sword in his left, while cradling a skull against his body. These attributes refer to the choices of punishment offered to David after he had numbered the people of Israel: seven years of famine, fleeing for three months before his enemies, or three days of pestilence (2 Samuel 24:12–14).
No reader of Psalm 69—Henry included—could doubt that to be a Davidic king might mean suffering and trials. But for Henry to kneel and be ‘humbled’ as David was (v.10) was also to hope for the blessing that was David’s:
For God will save Zionand rebuild the cities of Judah;and his servants shall dwell there and possess it. (v.35)
69Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
2I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
3I am weary with my crying;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.
4More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.
What I did not steal
must I now restore?
5O God, thou knowest my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from thee.
6Let not those who hope in thee be put to shame through me,
O Lord God of hosts;
let not those who seek thee be brought to dishonor through me,
O God of Israel.
7For it is for thy sake that I have borne reproach,
that shame has covered my face.
8I have become a stranger to my brethren,
an alien to my mother’s sons.
9For zeal for thy house has consumed me,
and the insults of those who insult thee have fallen on me.
10When I humbled my soul with fasting,
it became my reproach.
11When I made sackcloth my clothing,
I became a byword to them.
12I am the talk of those who sit in the gate,
and the drunkards make songs about me.
13But as for me, my prayer is to thee, O Lord.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of thy steadfast love answer me.
With thy faithful help 14rescue me
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
15Let not the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the pit close its mouth over me.
16Answer me, O Lord, for thy steadfast love is good;
according to thy abundant mercy, turn to me.
17Hide not thy face from thy servant;
for I am in distress, make haste to answer me.
18Draw near to me, redeem me,
set me free because of my enemies!
19Thou knowest my reproach,
and my shame and my dishonor;
my foes are all known to thee.
20Insults have broken my heart,
so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none;
and for comforters, but I found none.
21They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
22Let their own table before them become a snare;
let their sacrificial feasts be a trap.
23Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see;
and make their loins tremble continually.
24Pour out thy indignation upon them,
and let thy burning anger overtake them.
25May their camp be a desolation,
let no one dwell in their tents.
26For they persecute him whom thou hast smitten,
and him whom thou hast wounded, they afflict still more.
27Add to them punishment upon punishment;
may they have no acquittal from thee.
28Let them be blotted out of the book of the living;
let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
29But I am afflicted and in pain;
let thy salvation, O God, set me on high!
30I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
31This will please the Lord more than an ox
or a bull with horns and hoofs.
32Let the oppressed see it and be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
33For the Lord hears the needy,
and does not despise his own that are in bonds.
34Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and everything that moves therein.
35For God will save Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah;
and his servants shall dwell there and possess it;
36the children of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall dwell in it.