Did Henry VIII play football?

Henry VIII from Compton Verney

© Compton Verney

    • We might think King Henry VIII liked nothing more feasting and getting married, but evidence suggests that he also enjoyed having a kickabout with his mates.

      Henry VIII, after Hans Holbein, late sixteenth century. Henry is a large man with a beard. He wears a beaded hat with a white feather in it, and a embroidered tunic.© © National Maritime Museum, London
      Dr Maria Hayward, an expert at Southampton University, has discovered that Henry VIII - the Tudor King who had six wives - owned a pair of football boots. David Beckham and Suarez might have specially-made football boots which cost a fortune, but they weren't the first - by a long way.

      Henry's boots, costing four shillings (nearly £100 in today's money), were made by his personal shoemaker, Cornelius Johnson, in 1525. Dr Hayward found them in an inventory (a list) of the king's clothes made when he died in 1547.

      We don't know what the football boots looked like, but it's unlikely they were anything like the boots worn today. They were probably heavier than the normal shoes of the time and made of especially strong leather.

      Shows a photo of the blue and white 'Pig' design on a pair of football boots.© Photo: © Design Museum.
      These are some modern football boots, and they cost more than Henry VIII's special custom-made boots.

      Tudor football

      Henry VIII's boots needed to be strong because football during the 16th century, when he was King, was a very tough game. 'Football in Tudor times was a very vicious game, with no teams and no rules, so it was not a game for gentlemen,' said Dr Hayward.

      According to a Tudor writer called Sir Thomas Elyot, it was a game of 'beastly fury and extreme violence'. It is known that it was especially popular on Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day) and Henry VIII even tried to ban the game because it so often led to riots and violence.

      Shows Henry VIII - a large man with a beard, wearing a beaded hat with a white feather in it, a embroidered tunic and coat, white hose (tights) and white shoes with square toes. He has necklaces and rings made from gold and precious stones.
      Looking at pictures of Henry VIII, you might imagine that if anything, rugby or wrestling were his favourite sports. In fact, the king was a keen sportsman who enjoyed tennis, riding and jousting.

      If you're interested in Henry VIII and want to find out more about his life and times, the Royal Palace at Hampton Court is a good place to go; and you can see his massive suit of armour at the Royal Armouries at HM Tower of London.

      If Henry was alive today, he'd enjoy a visit to The National Football Museum where you can also find out about the history of football.
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