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We all know Henry VIII as intelligent but cruel, Francis I as flamboyant, Catherine de Medici as shrewd and so on. Most 16 century personalities have fixed characters, at least so our high school text books and popular culture will tell us. But when it comes down to Mary Queen of Scots there seems to be no fixed agreement on her character. Some of us think her to be a frail weak creature who made a series of very doubtful decisions. Others portray her as a smart, stout woman with little luck and an impossible task. Some texts claim her to be as important as Elizabeth I or Catherine de Medici, while others point out how she never actually ruled and only gained significance because of her son James VI & I.

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It is hard to imagine what the English court looked like in the sixteenth century without the works of Hans Holbein the younger. The images we have of Henry VIII, Thomas More, Anne Boleyn and many others have been constructed by him. But how come this German born painter ended up in the English court and why is his work considered the greatest among his peers?