What Daily Life Was Really Like For Henry VIII

Henry VIII is often remembered in broad brush strokes, partly because he had a broad body but also because it makes history bite-sized. Rather than looking at the nooks and crannies of daily life, it's much more convenient to rattle off how many people he married, how many people he murdered, and where those two things overlapped. Plus, you want to know how much he sucked, broadly speaking. Given that he lived in an age before Instagram, it would be hard to get too granular about the facts of his life, anyway. But by combining a series of details, you can paint an approximation of things Henry might like to do or have to deal with on a regular basis.

Sweating the details about Henry VIII

If you're looking for the daily dirt on Henry VIII, it seems safe to assume that he was dirty, basically all the time. Not dirty in a flirty "cheat on my wife but execute her for adultery" kind of way, though he did that, too, according to History. The BBC observes however during the philandering king's reign, people saw water as a source of disease. Accordingly, they avoided bathing in the stuff, preferring instead to wipe themselves with linens and cleaning their hair by combing. However, Hampton Palace disputes accounts that he avoided bathing, alleging that Henry had a "luxurious bathroom" with a bath that ran hot and cold water. Either way, he likely dreaded the prospect of bathing in his own sweat, which is how many people died in the summertime in those days.

Henry VIII's conspicuous overconsumption

Henry VIII wanted everyone to know he was large and in charge, so he amassed a gaggle of palaces — or at least enough to make a person gag. Per Historic Royal Palaces, he owned more than 60 homes, the crown jewel of which was Hampton Court. This was his finest "pleasure palace, which he turned into a fabulous centre of entertaining with feasting, jousting and hunting." In his youthful days, Henry was a great sportsman, and would compete against members of his court in the "tiltyard," or stadium, to the delight of court ladies.

Henry and the fam would stay at a single residence for anywhere from a few months at a time to mere hours before moving to the next, often traveling up the Thames on the royal barge. The National Archives notes that back in those days greatness was measured not just by how many homes you owned but the number of people who served you. At Hampton, he had nearly 1,000 people around to satisfy his desires and kiss his royal heinie. He employed an entire "army of women" to wash linens daily, and his royal barber would await the king's arrival in the "privy" for his daily manscaping.

In order to emphasize his royal highness, Henry installed guards to prevent "unworthy" visitors from entering parts of the palace that were reserved for esteemed guests. Henry was a massive fan of opulent banquets, and hosted over-the-top feasts featuring beaver tails, whale meat, and peacocks.

Not content with keeping his flashiness to himself, Henry showed off in front of other kings, once having an entire "town of tents and timber" built just so he could meet with the King of France. He also liked to show off his skills at singing and songwriting, and by 1547 had over 60 musicians on his payroll. He led a pretty full life and clearly, was pretty full of himself.