A Venetian at the court of Henry VIII

1519. The Venetian ambassador Sebastiano Giustinian describes a youthful Henry VIII in glowing terms.

King Henry was 29 years old, and much handsomer than any other Sovereign in Christendom,—a great deal handsomer than the King of France. He was very fair, and his whole frame admirably proportioned. Hearing that King Francis wore a beard, he allowed his own to grow, and as it was reddish, he had then got a beard which looked like gold. He was very accomplished and a good musician; composed well; was a capital horseman, and a fine jouster; spoke good French, Latin, and Spanish; was very religious; heard three masses daily when he hunted, and sometimes five on other days, besides hearing the office daily in the Queen’s chamber, that is to say, vespers and compline. He was extremely fond of hunting, and never took that diversion without tiring eight or ten horses, which he caused to be stationed beforehand along the line of country he meant to take. He was also fond of tennis, at which game it was the prettiest thing in the world to see him play; his fair skin glowing through a shirt of the finest texture. He gambled with the French hostages to the amount, occasionally, it was said, of from 6,000 to 8,000 ducats in a day.

He was affable and gracious; harmed no one; did not covet his neighbour’s goods, and was satisfied with his own dominions, having often said to the ambassador, “Domine Orator, we want all potentates to content themselves with their own territories; we are satisfied with this island of ours.” He seemed extremely desirous of peace.


He was very rich. His father left him ten millions of ready money in gold, of which he was supposed to have spent one half in the war against France, when he had three armies on foot; one crossed the Channel with him; another was in the field against Scotland; and the third remained with the Queen in reserve.

His revenues amounted to about 350,000 ducats annually, and were derived from estates, forests, and meres, the customs, hereditary and confiscated property, the duchies of Lancaster, York, Cornwall, and Suffolk, the county palatine of Chester and others, the principality of Wales, the export duties, the wool staple, the Great Seal, the annats yielded by church benefices, the Court of Wards, and from new years’ gifts: for on the first day of the year it is customary for his Majesty to make presents to everybody, but the value of those he receives in return greatly exceeds his own outlay.

His Majesty’s expenses might be estimated at 100,000 ducats, those in ordinary having been reduced from 100,000 to 56,000, to which must be added 16,000 for salaries, 5,000 for the stable, 5,000 for the halberdiers, who had been reduced from 500 to 150; and 16,000 for the wardrobe, for he was the best dressed sovereign in the world. His robes were very rich and superb, and he put on new clothes every holiday.

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