Was Richard the big-spender on fashion? No, it was Henry….

Fashionisto Henry


I must admit that the following article didn’t come as quite the surprise it should. Henry has always struck me as a man who enjoyed the good things in life, and was prepared to be lavish when he felt like it.

Big spender

Yes, indeed! And he enjoyed being entertained and so on…but that he was quite as spendthrift on clothes takes me aback. He really was a fashionisto! £3 million is a lot by today’s standards, let alone the 15th/16th century. On top of which, if he spent wildly when he was under threat, then I suspect he suffered from depression. Come the calamity, someone with depression will spend. So perhaps Henry Tudor was a sufferer.

The following link takes you to the article that has prompted this post:-


Henry VII blew money on clothes when he feared invasion

by Sarah Knapton, Science Editor

Henry VII has gone down in history as a miserly monarch who instigated punishing tax policies in order to replenish the Royal coffers following the Wars of the Roses. But a new book suggests the first Tudor monarch was not so parsimonious as previously believed.

In fact, according to Tracy Borman, the Chief Curator of the Historic Royal Palaces, Henry was a vain spendthrift who blew the equivalent of £3 million on his wardrobe in just two years. It’s like he looks in his wardrobe and thinks, Oh God, I’m going to be invaded and I’ve literally got nothing to wear.

 “The first Tudor was the one that probably changed most in my opinion when I looked behind closed doors,” Borman told The Hay Festival.

“Perhaps the word miser springs to mind when you think about Henry VII and he’s quite sobre, serious minded. Well at least that’s how he may have appeared to his public but behind closed doors how different he was.

“That miser has to be one of the first myths to be exploded. He probably spent more than any of the other Tudors and particularly he liked to spend money on clothes. “And so in the first two years of his reign alone he spent the equivalent of £3 million on his dress.”

Henry VII established the Tudor dynasty after defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. But the new king was increasingly paranoid and expected to be toppled from the throne at any time. Borman said that he always spent vast sums on clothing when he was feeling particularly vulnerable to attack.

“It’s really fascinating with Henry VII bought new clothes because it’s always when he’s feeling vulnerable. Nothing changes.

“He was seen as an illegitimate usurper, he himself was born legitimate but his line was illegitimate. He wasn’t expected to last as this new dynasty, even though we look back and see the Tudors of all powerful, in fact they weren’t expected to last beyond about five years.

“And there were a serious of rival claimants to the throne during Henry VII’s reign notably the two pretenders Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck. And when Warbeck started to rise to prominence look at Henry’s personal accounts and yet again he buys a new wardrobe.

“It’s like he looks in his wardrobe and thinks, Oh God, I’m going to be invaded and I’ve literally got nothing to wear.”

Borman also said the public image of Henry VIII, who was portrayed as ‘stridently self-confident’ was also far from reality. The king regularly sought the advice of astronomers and doctors and was in constant fear of falling ill.

“This was another real surprise to me, as a Tudor historian, just how different Henry VIII really was behind closed doors to this magnificent public image,” she said.

“In fact, the Henry behind closed doors was described by one astonished visitor as ‘the most timid man you could hope to meet.’

“He was a hypochondriac and was absolutely paranoid about illness, so much so that he kept his own cabinet of medicines. Henry also submitted himself daily to the examinations of his physicians.

“There is the Tudors that they want us to see, these great iconic figures and then there is the real human beings who lie behind that public image.”

Borman’s new book The Private Lives of the Tudors is out now.


  1. I wonder if that 3 million pounds included jewels? Jewels were an important investment, a (fairly) portable bank account.
    When it comes to clothing, there was only a limited amount that Henry could bring with him from France. He couldn’t wear hand-me-downs from Richard, Edward V or Edward IV, so it stands to reason he had to spend a great deal in the first two years of his reign, having to start from scratch. Richard, on the other hand, must have already had an impressive ducal wardrobe, which would have needed only a few updates/improvements.
    This is interesting, and could certainly be the basis for more research. But we have to remember that people in the late Medieval/Early Modern period had a very different idea of proper dress for males that our contemporaries.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I seem to recall that (at least in later years) Henry used to carry around a purse full of jewels. Didn’t he allow Catherine of Aragon to choose one – to cheer her up?


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