Henry VIII: The King Who Had Six Wives and Four Eyes

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.)

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25 Responses to Henry VIII: The King Who Had Six Wives and Four Eyes

  1. Susan Flantzer says:

    It looks like Henry had spectacles for every room he read in. I do too, but I have far fewer rooms! 😉

    • boswellbaxter says:

      Mine never leave my face except in bed! I wouldn’t mind a few spares and some gold-trimmed cases to put them in , though.

      • Christine says:

        It’s intriguing he had so many eyeglasses: By the 1580s spectacles apparently came in sixpacks, and they were pretty cheap. The Earl of Leicester was bying them in quantities, so perhaps he was loosing them all the time.

  2. Anerje says:

    No doubt Henry’s spectacles were on extremely expensive chains:) I’m sure there is a drawing or woodcut with him wearing spectacles.

  3. Debra Brown says:

    It is apparent by your spelling that you are in need of another visit to the optician. It seems I will have to get used to this problem on your website!

  4. Adelaida says:

    “A Spectacle case of Morisco worke.” I wonder where they came from, and what type of Morisco worke, He must have seen plenty of Morisco worke in Catherine of Aragon quarters.
    Inventory records are endlessly fascinating.

  5. Sharon says:

    You might want to check out Vincent Ilardi’s articles on the invention of eyeglasses.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Ye Olde Lens Crafters – goodness those things must have cost a small fortune! And I wonder how many of those were not around by the time the inventory was taken? What a fun thing to have discovered – we don’t often think of kings and queen having such silly human foibles as poor eyesight!

    • boswellbaxter says:

      Elizabeth, how true! I seem to remember that Mary was short-sighted as a young woman.

      • Elizabeth says:

        Yes – I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading on Elizabeth I and some sources refer to her bad teeth, especially as she grew older. I’ve always held her on a bit of a pedestal so facing this bit of reality is a come down even though I know in the back of my mind not many of the upper class could boast a nice set of chompers.

  7. Spectacles are sexy. In any age. Because it’s one more thing to be… removed!

    Great post — great title!

  8. Kathryn says:

    Wow, I never knew that about Henry VIII. Great!

  9. Silvialaura says:

    He even had an helmet with spectacles:
    http://nightofthehats.blogspot.com/2011/04/royal-hats-henry-viii.html
    It was a gift from Emperor Maximilian.

  10. Susan Moreau says:

    I experienced a strange situation regarding glasses and Henry v111. As a family we were visiting one of Henry’s castles (Portland Dorset) We were trying on helmets that were on display,my sister put her sunglasses down during this time.Whist doing so they disappeared (no-one else was in the same room as us) Strange we thought.On returning home I was watching a programme I had recorded by David Starkey on Henry whilst watching I thought I will switch off now as most of the programme content I was aware of……..Just then Mr Starkey mentioned about the spectacles including sun glasses I am sure Henry’s spirit took them.Mad I know……………

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