The three ft-wide parchment letter, complete with 81 wax seals and red silk ribbons, was one of the highlights of the exhibition, which chronicles more than 1,200 years of the Vatican’s dealings with kings, conquerors and caliphates.
The letter was sent on Henry VIII’s orders to Pope Clement VII in 1530 and was signed by members of the English parliament, as well as bishops, abbots and the Archbishops of York and Canterbury.
They urged the Pope to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine so that he could marry one of her ladies-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn, in the hope of producing a longed for male heir.
“If the Pope is unwilling, we are left to find a remedy elsewhere. Some remedies are extreme, but a sick man seeks relief in any way he can find,” the lords wrote in a barely veiled threat.
Henry had fallen in love with Boleyn in 1526 and was desperate for his marriage to Catherine to be annulled – a struggle against the Vatican that he referred to as his “great matter”.