Today I went to the library and dragged home the first volume of The Inventory of King Henry VIII. Transcribed by Philip Ward and edited by David Starkey, this is the inventory of Henry’s goods that was made after his death. It’s a very thick, heavy, and expensive book, and it’s fascinating!
One thing that I learned from this book was Henry owned spectacles. Lots of spectacles, with, of course, cases to place them in when they were not gracing the royal visage. Not only did the king own spectacles, he possessed those magnifying glasses that one moves across a page to see the text better. No wonder poor Katherine Howard carried on with Thomas Culpeper–she probably got tired of conversations like this:
Henry: “Honey, where are my spectacles?”
Katherine: “I don’t know. Can you remember where you last saw them?”
Henry: “If I could, I wouldn’t be asking you.”
Katherine: “Well, maybe they’re over there on the table by that little prayer book.”
Henry: “What prayer book?”
Katherine: “That one.”
Henry: “How can I see the prayer book without my spectacles?”
Katherine: “Well, if you can’t see without them, you should keep them on.”
Henry: “I don’t need them except to read.”
Katherine: “Oh, Lady Rochford? Can you help the king find his spectacles? Master Culpeper and I will go search in the other room.”
Anyway, here are a few of Henry’s spectacular spectacles and other optical accessories:
Item one glasse to lay vppon a Boke trymmed at bothe theends with silver and gilt.
Item one like glasse trymmed with silver white.
Item a grene stone to reade with all garnysshed with siluer guilt [sic].
Item twoo Spectacle cases of Siluer gilte with spectacles Siluer gilte enameled.
Item a Spectacle case siluer white withowte Spectacles.
Item a Spectacle case of Morisco worke.
Item a spectacle case syluer gilte flagon wise with spectacles in yt.
Item a Spectacle case of lether with a pair of spectacles in it.
Item a Spectacle case of lether like a booke harnessed with syluer and spectacles in it.
Item xv Cases of Leather for Spectacles whereof three furnished.
Item one brode glasse to loke vppon a boke garnished with gold weying iiii oz. di.
Item a Spectacle case of golde engraven with the Armes of England with twoo spectacles.
Item a boke of gold enameled with the kinges Armes and Dyuers conclusyons of Astronomy furnished with Spectacles.
(Incidentally, when I typed up this list, I had to resort to my own “glass to lay upon a book,” albeit without the gilt trimming. It took me five minutes to find it.)