There are a few legends surrounding Henry VIII, some true and some not so true…
The first is that he was overweight, or in some way unhealthy.
Despite numerous iconic paintings depicting him as a large man, it’s generally agreed today that these impressions of him were created to eschew the belief that he was a great man – in both stature and power. At the time, being of a large build could only be seen as a sign of strength. Men who had managed to accumulate the necessary girth to be considered ‘fat’ by today’s standards would have almost been respected for retaining such weight – it was a sign that they were wealthy and therefore powerful.
From historical accounts uncovered since, historians have come to the decision that Henry was most likely a well built man, who ate well but was by no means unhealthily overweight. One well acknowledged fact about the popular King is that he was a proliferate spender. Despite inheriting the equivalent of £375 million from his predecessor, Henry’s taste for luxurious items, hand-made weapons and war inevitably led him to taking drastic measures halfway through his lengthy reign as King.
So just where did the famous spendthrift spend all of his cash and what did he have to do in order to right his wrongs?
Henry ascended the throne at the age of 17. Not much is known about his youth, other than the appointments that he was given during his infancy. His father, Henry VII, had achieved much during his own reign. In addition to wresting power for his family, the elder Henry had proved to be a frugal ruler, saving well over a million pounds for the benefit of his heirs, of which he had many.
In short, the teenaged Henry had a lot to live up to when he came to the throne in 1509; however the young ruler’s developing interests proved to have little in common with his sensible father’s. During his reign, Henry commissioned the creation and purchase of 2000 tapestries for his various castles and manors (ten times as many as his Scottish counterpart, James V) and loved nothing more than playing with his veritable arsenal of weapons. He also invested in the buildings owned by the crown, fixing damaged conservatory roofs (something that this writer has recently got round to doing, thank to this useful business), grand stained glass windows and numerous self-portraits.
Despite his father having spent much of his rule avoiding conflicts with other countries, the young Henry struggled to avoid causing arguments with the other major powers at the time.
Spain, France and the religious power of the Vatican all fell at odds with Henry VIII at some point during his reign, whether as a result of his prolific marriage record or his rather graceless foreign relation strategies. As a result, the King spent thousands on defensive constructions, training solider and forging weapons – fearing that an invasion was inevitable.
The invasion didn’t happen in his lifetime but Henry still managed to spend more money when he decided to invade both Scotland and France on separate occasions. His costly (and unsuccessful) invasions were arguably the biggest expenditures of his reign.
Although considered by many be an enduring character of English History, the financial ruin that Henry led the country to forever see him branded as a reckless monarch, whose habit for spending was as prolific as his fickle taste for women.