Recently I came across a portrait of Henry VIII that I had not seen before–certainly it is one of the lesser known ones.
Ar first glance, the painting appears to be of a youth, pudgy-faced and beardless (with some similarities to portraits of Edward IV around the tip of the nose, eyes and mouth)–however, a bit of research shows that Henry was not a young boy, but in fact around thirty five, when this miniature was painted by Lucas Horenbout. This was around the time Henry was enamoured with Anne Boleyn–so it is possoble he shaved the beard off to impress her!
Apparently Henry was frequently clean shaven, despite his most famous portraits showing him bearded. His beard when it grew in was described as ‘golden’ and he seemed to have taken that as a compliment and a good match to his kingliness–however, Katherine of Aragon hated her husband’s facial hair with a passion and frequently begged him to shave it off…which, on occasion, he dutifully did. (At that point in his life, Henry clearly preferred lopping off facial hair to lopping off a wife’s head.)
Henry was also rumoured to have decreed a ‘beard tax’ in 1535 (although the evidence for this is rather scanty…just like some beards). The wealthier and higher status you were, the more you paid to have a beard–which promptly turned facial hair into a much-desired status symbol. If Henry didn’t in fact implement this tax, his daughter Elizabeth certainly did–any beard which had more than two weeks growth was to be taxed.
The hipsters of today would be horrified.