Named from the slang word for scrotum, codpieces were originally functional; to close an embarrassing gap between stocking-tops.
They became prominent in the 15th and 16th centuries when doublets were very short indeed. Slowly, simple protective padding was exaggerated and no one, especially not Henry VIII, wanted to fall behind in that particular game of one-upmanship.
Without the original garments it’s impossible to know exactly how large the Royal codpiece would have been, let alone what went inside it. Paintings were created to flatter, not document the king’s prowess. We do, however, have one way of telling the statistics of Henry’s vitals.
His 1540 suit of tournament armour still enjoys pride of place at the Tower of London and, weighing a staggering 2lb 9oz (1.31kg), its gigantic, metal codpiece has always been the star attraction. Visiting 18th-century ladies would stick pins in its lining in hopes of ‘improving their fertility’.
This article was first published in BBC History Revealed magazine