The Tudors behind closed doors

Was Henry VIII a hypochondriac? Did Elizabeth I wish that she was a man? And could Mary I have been addicted to gambling? Tracy Borman reveals the private reality behind the well-crafted public image of the Tudors' lives...

Mary I was defined by her intense piety and sober-mindedness but, says Tracy Borman, England’s first crown queen regnant was a different woman in the closeted world of her privy chamber. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Henry VII

The myth: He was a dour old miser

Henry VII has long had the reputation of a penny-pinching killjoy whose only pleasure in life was to scrutinise his accounts and swell the royal coffers. But there was a good deal more to the first Tudor king than that. True, he was careful with money to the point of parsimony, but he also knew how to spend it when the occasion demanded. One of his first acts upon becoming king after defeating Richard III at Bosworth in 1485 was to order a lavish new set of clothes. During the two years that followed, he spent a staggering £5,386 (equivalent to £3m today) on his wardrobe.

Although he liked to appear as a sober-minded and pious king, in private Henry was much more light-hearted. His household accounts reveal that he was fond of playing cards, even though he regularly suffered heavy losses – most notably in June 1492, when he was obliged to raid the royal coffers for £40 (£20,000 today) in order to pay off his creditor.

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