Was Henry Vll mean? His funeral – and other – Expenses.

UPDATED POST AT sparkypus.com A Medieval Potpourri https://sparkypus.com/2020/07/19/was-henry-vii-mean-his-funeral-and-other-expenses/

IMG_3508.JPGEffigies of Henry Vll and Elizabeth of York by Torrigiano 

Henry died on 21 April 1509.  Henry has come down through history as something of a miser, a tightwad.  Whether this is undeserved or otherwise , I do not know,  although his Privy Purse Expenses make very interesting reading.  He certainly enjoyed gambling, frequently incurring debts (1) as did Elizabeth,  his wife, whose debts often Henry paid (2),  although on one occasion £100  was given as a loan and to be repaid (3).  An astonishing £30 pounds was paid to a ‘young damoysell that daunceth’ (4)..really, Henry! although the ‘little feloo of Shaftesbury’ only received £1 (5),  presumably the poor little blighter was not  half as attractive as the damoysell.  But I digress,  because what I wanted to discuss here,  are the expenses incurred from Henry’s  funeral and tomb, an area in  which Henry clearly did not wish to rein in.

I am grateful for the following information which I have gleaned from The Royal Tombs of Medieval England by Mark Duffy – a marvellous book which I can thoroughly recommend.

‘The costs of building the new chapel at Westminster are estimated at around  £14,856.  The chapel was conceived as Henry’s personal chantry, and there was to be no room for any doubt.  Henry’s will instructed that ‘the Walles , Doores, Windows, Archies and Vaults, and Ymages of the same our chappel, wittin and without, be painted, garnished and adorned with our Armes, Bagies, Cognoissants, and other convenient painting, in as goodly and riche maner as suche a work requireth, and as to a Kings wek apperteigneth'(6).


The  pendant fan vaulted  roof of the Henry Vll chapel adorned with Beaufort portcullis and Tudor Rose ‘Bagies’.

‘The tomb commissioned by Henry itself,  featured gilt effigies of himself and Elizabeth,  plus figures of himself and 4 kneeling lords and a tomb chest of black and white marble housing 12 small images of saints to be crafted by a group of craftsmen.  The cost of this tomb was estimated at £1257.6s.8d of which the gilt metal amounted to £1050(7).’

‘The funeral expenses exceeded an unprecedented £7,000  including £ 1,000 pounds of black cloth supplied by 56 merchants and 3,606 lbs of candle wax (8)’

‘The bronze screen enclosing the tomb was supplied by a Thomas Ducheman who was paid £51.8s and housed 32 bronze statues of saints (of which only 6 survive).'(9)


Chantry screen of Henry Vll and Elizabeth of York

‘The tomb chest contains an epitaph in bronze recording the achievements of the couple, not least the procreation of Henry Vlll, suggesting his role in the detailing of the monument’ (10)


Tomb of Henry Vll and Elizabeth of York

It is ironic that  Henry Vlll’s design for his and Jane Seymour’s tomb never came to fruition and only a slab covers the vault which he shares with Charles l.  But that is another story.


Slab covering the burial vault of Henry Vlll, St Georges Chapel, Windsor.

  1. Excerpta Historica Edited by Samuel Bentley pp 88, 90, 102, 108, 120, 122, 126.
  2. Excerpta Historica Edited by Samuel Bentley pp 95, 907, 111, 132.
  3. Excerpta Historica  Edited by Samuel Bentley p 97
  4. Excerpta Historica Edited by Samuel Bentley P 94
  5. Excerpta Historica Edited by Samuel Bentley P 88
  6. Royal Tombs of Medieval England Mark Duffy p 279
  7. Royal Tombs of Medieval England Mark Duffy P.281
  8. Royal Tombs of Medieval England Mark Duffy p.284
  9. Royal Tombs of Medieval England Mark Duffy p.287
  10. Royal Tombs of Medieval England Mark Duffy p.286


  1. I think Henry the Tightwad was obsessed with every farthing, making sure it was correctly spent and accounted for, but when he wanted to put on a show, he really let rip. He knew the value of grand display when necessary, but in between he knotted the purse strings. Sensible, really, and I think a LOT of his mean reputation is down to his portraits, especially the NPG masterpiece. Did you ever see such a mean, miserly face?.

    Observing his mother’s likenesses (exactly the same features!) the looks appear to have been pure Beaufort. Or Beauchamp, from her mother. Not Tudor. Yes, I know he couldn’t help his dodgy eye, but even so, maybe when he sat for his portraits, his idea of a suitably kingly expression just did not transfer to the artist’s brush. It’s difficult to picture him enjoying singing, dancing and pretty women, but from all accounts he did.

    I wonder what he would think if he knew that these days in his future, HE is the one with the lousy personal reputation, not Richard (who must be up there somewhere, hugging himself with enjoyment of the turnaround!)

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Henry the Tightwad!!!! I love it.
      Seriously though, when you look at the actions side by side of Richard and Henry, Henry really does seem more of the tyrant of the two. He invaded a country for no other reason but greed after going around calling himself king with no real right to the throne and claiming a right to marry a daughter of Edward IV. Once he secured power, he did everything he could to control the Yorks and keep them at bay, including his own wife and her family.
      Yet somehow Henry and Elizabeth’s marriage is thought to be a great love story of the ages? I don’t buy it despite what current popular history is trying to sell me.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ve also noticed that despite Henry being quite tight with the purse strings, when the occasion called for it, he spent so lavishly that it raised eyebrows. Queen Isabel even raised an eyebrow at how much he was spending on the wedding of Arthur to her daughter, KoA. I think part of that was insecuirty- he knew he didn’t have a right to the throne he had stolen from Richard and thus had to overcompensate by showing off his (stolen from egregious tax policies) money.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. A nit to pick: I don’t think we can say Henry did not resemble the Tudors at all, because we don’t know what they did look like. No portraits exist. Even if they did, they might not tell us much, as portraits were fairly stylized before c. 1470

    The NPG portrait was intended by the artist to be realistic, I believe, but it was also intended for Henry to use in shopping around for a second wife. In order to erase the heavy lines from his face, the artist painted him in a harsh front light, which erased all expression except for the reflection of light in his eyes, the ‘mean gleam.’ The Torregiano bust probably gives a more accurate representation – suspicious, cynical, yes, but not necessarily ‘mean,’ either in the British sense – stingy – or the American – spiteful.

    Agreed, Henry was a king with the soul of a CPA. What’s wrong with that? I’m related to an accountant, and she is a perfectly nice person (which doesn’t mean that all of them are, of course). I have to admit, she is a good manager, which could lead to being a micro-manager. Maybe that could be the key to Henry’s personality?


  3. Interestingly, the tomb and accompanying screen, statutes etc closely resembles that of the Catholic Kings at Granada. I wonder if that was deliberate, or simply represents the current trend for kingly tombs.

    There is no doubt from contemporary accounts, that Henry was badly affected by the death of Elizabeth – he shut himself away, covered everything in mourning and his character was very different once he emerged. That does point to a deep affection on his part. It is not surprising if the two of them developed a warm relationship – they had a joint project in the creation of a family and the continuation of their new dynasty.

    I think is unreasonable for some Ricardians to assert Richard and Anne must have loved each other, yet deny that Henry and Elizabeth may also have had a happy marriage.


    1. Good point about Los Reyes Catolocios. Henry, of course, never saw that tomb, and I doubt it was finished – or even started – in his lifetime. Ferdinand survived both his wife and Henry. Probably, as you say, just the current trend – from Italy, maybe?
      In historical fiction, the novelist can make a marriage whatever he/she wishes – happy, abusive, indifferent. That”s fine. They can invent extra-marital affairs for their hero or heroine, so long as it is not with a person they could not possibly have met. Also fine – in fiction. It is historians trying to pass this speculation off as history that irritates me.
      I speak as one who has read and reviewed more Ricardian and Tudor trash than anyone still alive!


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