9 Bizarre Objects Owned by Henry VIII

Hulton Archive/Getty Images (Henry VIII), iStock (Marmoset)
Hulton Archive/Getty Images (Henry VIII), iStock (Marmoset)

Six months after Henry VIII died in 1547, a full inventory of all of the possessions of Henry’s crown was commissioned in London. Now housed in The British Library, the inventory took 18 months to complete and listed tens of thousands of individual items—from castles and ships to more than 3500 gold and silver trinkets, as well as Henry’s enormous collection of 2000 tapestries.

Also making the list, however, were a handful of more bizarre objects, including an orchestra’s worth of musical instruments [PDF], experimental weapons, and one of the largest suits of armor in British royal history. Add to that some of the incredible gifts Henry received from fellow rulers during his lifetime—as well as some of the surprising personal items he commissioned for his own use while on the throne—and arguably the most famous king in British history owned some very unusual curiosities indeed.

1. A SET OF PURPLE VELVET BAGPIPES

Although he probably didn’t write "Greensleeves," Henry was nevertheless a talented musician and composer, and was able to play the organ, the lute, the flute, and the virginal, an early form of harpsichord. Most of Henry’s personal collection of musical instruments was housed at Westminster Palace in London, where they were maintained by a Flemish-born composer named Philip van Wilder, who was given the title of “Keeper of the King’s Instruments.” Henry’s 1547 inventory lists more than 20 recorders, 19 viols, two clavichords, and four sets of bagpipes—including one made of purple velvet, with ivory pipework.

2. A BOWLING ALLEY

Shortly after the birth of his son Edward (later the short-lived King Edward VI) in 1537, Henry had a bowling alley built at Hampton Court Palace on the outskirts of London. At almost 200 feet long, it was more than three times the length of a modern 10-pin bowling alley. Bowling was a hugely popular pastime in Tudor England—at least until Henry’s daughter, Queen Mary I, outlawed the “keeping of any bowling-alleys, dicing houses, or other unlawful games” in 1555.

3. A “SCAVENGER’S DAUGHTER”

The “scavenger’s daughter” was a gruesome and brutal instrument of torture invented sometime during Henry VIII’s reign by Sir Leonard Skevington, the Lieutenant of the Tower of London. The device consisted of an A-shaped iron brace, inside of which a victim would be made to sit in a crouched position, with their head almost touching their knees, and their wrists, ankles, and neck shackled in place. An iron bar passed through the top of the A-frame would then be tightened like a vice, crushing the victim with excruciating force—apparently, until the eyes, nose, and even ears began to bleed. The “scavenger’s daughter” was intended to be an alternative to the rack, which stretched its victims rather than compacting them, but unlike the rack, it mercifully seems to have only been used occasionally.

4. A MARMOSET

By all accounts, Henry VIII loved animals. He kept ferrets, hawks, falcons, and numerous other birds (the windows at Hampton Court were surrounded by cages containing canaries and nightingales), and owned dozens of dogs during his lifetime; after his death, more than 60 dog leashes were found in his wardrobe. By far Henry’s most unusual pet, however, was a marmoset he received as a Christmas present in the late 1530s. Coincidentally, his first wife, Catherine (sometimes Katherine) of Aragon, also had a pet marmoset, and was even painted with it earlier that decade. But are these the strangest royal pets on record? Oddly enough, they aren’t—in 1252, King Henry III was given a polar bear by the Norwegian king, Haakon IV, which was housed at the Tower of London and kept on an enormous leash long enough to allow it to swim in the river Thames.

5. A CODPIECE LARGE ENOUGH TO CONCEAL A WEAPON

Henry VIII is credited with popularizing the peculiar Tudor fashion for enormous, exaggerated codpieces, which during his reign established themselves as symbols of a man’s virility and masculinity. The king, of course, had to have the biggest codpiece of all—and toward the end of his life, Henry’s codpieces had become roomy enough for him to use them as glorified pockets, in which he could keep jewels and other valuables, and even small weapons. He even had them built into his armor.

6. A MACE PISTOL

This monstrous-looking device is called a mace pistol, although in Henry’s day it was nicknamed the “holy water sprinkler,” or “the king’s walking staff.” Now housed in the Royal Armouries in Leeds, England, the weapon was comprised of a pronged mace concealing three gun barrels in its spiked head. Henry apparently had a habit of wandering the streets of London at night brandishing his “walking staff” in order to check that his constables were doing their work properly. However, one night he was arrested for carrying a weapon by one of his men who failed to recognize him, and ended up spending a night in a prison cell. When the constable recognized his error the following day, he presumed the king would have him immediately executed—but instead, Henry granted him a handsome raise, and supplied all the prisoners with whom he had spent the night a supply of coal and bread.

7. A PAIR OF FOOTBALL BOOTS

Records show that in 1526, Henry VIII commissioned a pair of leather football boots at a cost of 4 shillings (around £90, or $130 today); 14 years later, in 1540, he banned football on the grounds that it incited riots.

8. A SUIT OF ARMOR (WITH A 51-INCH WAIST)

A suit of armor made for Henry, five years into his reign in 1514, shows that the 23-year-old king was 6-foot-1, and had an athletic 32-inch waist and a 39-inch chest. Twenty-five years of a king’s diet later, a suit of armor Henry had made for a May Day tournament in 1540 when he was 49 years old shows that he now required a 51 inch waist, and a 54.5 inch chest.

9. A HORNED HELMET

This bespectacled, demon-faced “Horned Helmet” was presented to Henry VIII by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I in 1514 (along, tragically, with the rest of a now-lost suit of armor). After Henry’s death in 1547, his court jester, Will Somers, apparently took possession of it and most likely incorporated it in his act.

7 Terrifying Historical Remedies for Migraine Headaches

George Marks/Getty Images
George Marks/Getty Images

Migraines are more than just splitting headaches. Migraine symptoms, which affect about one in seven people worldwide, can include throbbing pain on one side of the head, nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and visual disturbances called auras. Today, several classes of drugs are prescribed to either prevent migraine headaches from happening or halt them once they’ve started. But in previous centuries, migraine treatments weren’t so convenient—or effective.

1. Bloodletting

Whether by scalpel or by leeches, bloodletting was the most common remedy for migraine headaches (and many other ailments) before the advent of modern medicine. Throughout most of history, Western physicians subscribed to the humoral theory, in which human health was governed by four fluids (humors) that must be kept in balance. Sickness was explained as an imbalance of humors, and bloodletting was thought to rebalance the system. The methods varied, though. In the case of migraine headaches, the Greek physician Aretaeus suggested sticking a barbed goose feather up the unfortunate patient’s nose and prodding around until blood flowed.

Even as late as the 18th century, bloodletting was still believed to help migraines. Swiss physician Samuel Auguste Tissot, who was the first to describe migraines as a discrete medical condition in the 1770s, recommended bleeding, better hygiene and diet, and drugs including infusions of orange leaves and valerian.

2. Garlic

The 11th-century physician Abu al-Qasim suggested sticking a clove of garlic into the migraine headache sufferer’s temple. He offered a handy recipe:

“Take a garlic; peel and cut at both extremities. Make an incision with a large scalpel in the temple and keep under the skin a cavity wide enough to introduce the garlic and to conceal it completely. Apply compresses and tighten, let it remain about 15 hours, then remove the device. Extract the garlic, leave the wound for two or three days, then apply cotton soaked in butter until it suppurates.”

Once the wound started oozing—which was considered a good sign—the physician would cauterize the incision with a hot iron. Cauterization was meant to prevent infection, although modern research has shown that it actually lowers the threshold for bacterial infections.

3. Cupping

Cupping—inverting hot glass vessels on the patients’ body—was thought to perform the same function as bloodletting. Prominent Dutch physician Nicolaes Tulp, depicted in Rembrandt’s 1632 painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, treated a migraine sufferer by cupping. She soon recovered.

A substance called cantharidin, a potent blistering agent secreted by the Meloidae family of beetles, was also applied as part of the cupping and blistering process to draw out bad humors. Unfortunately, if the cantharidin was left on too long, it could be absorbed into the body and cause painful urination, gastrointestinal and renal dysfunction, and organ failure. (Perhaps unrelatedly, cantharidin was also used as an aphrodisiac.)

4. Trepanation

One of the oldest types of surgery, trepanation is the practice of cutting away part of the cranium and exposing brain tissue to treat injuries or chronic conditions like migraine headaches. The 16th-century Dutch physician Petrus Forestus, who meticulously recorded the ailments and treatments of his patients, performed trepanation on a person with incurable migraines. In the brain tissue he found something he called a “black worm.” According to a 2010 study by neurologist Peter J. Koehler, the mass may have been a chronic subdural hematoma—a collection of blood between the surface of the brain and its outermost covering—and a possible cause of the patient’s agony.

5. Dead Moles

Ali ibn Isa al-Kahhal, the leading ophthalmologist of the medieval Muslim world, described more than 130 eye diseases and treatments in his groundbreaking monograph Tadhkirat al-kaḥḥālīn (The Notebook of the Oculists). While his descriptions of ocular anatomy were sound, he also touched on remedies for headaches, and here his prescriptions seem more suspect. To treat migraines, he suggested tying a dead mole to one’s head.

6. Electric Fish

Long before scientists fully understood the principles of electricity, ancient doctors recommended it as a remedy for migraines. Scribonius Largus, the court physician for the Roman emperor Claudius, saw that the torpedo fish—also known as the electric ray, native to the Mediterranean Sea among other areas—had the power to shock anyone who touched it. Largus and other doctors prescribed the shocks as cures for headache, gout, and prolapsed anus.

In the mid-18th century, a Dutch journal reported that the electric eel, found in South America, emitted even stronger shocks than the Mediterranean fish and were used for head pain. One observer wrote that headache sufferers “put one of their hands on their head and the other on the fish, and thereby will be helped immediately, without exception.”

7. Mud Foot-Baths

Compared to expired rodents, warm foot-baths must have sounded positively decadent to those afflicted with extreme pain. Nineteenth-century physicians suggested that migraine sufferers take the waters at Marienbad (now Mariánské Lázně) and Karlsbad (now Karlovy Vary), two spa towns in what is now the Czech Republic. While the mineral waters were useful for alleviating congestive headaches, mud foot-baths were believed to draw blood toward the feet and away from the head, calming the nervous system. “The foot-bath ought not to be taken too hot, and the feet should be rubbed one over the other while washing the mud off, and afterwards with a coarse towel. A brisk walk may be used to keep up the circulation,” suggested Prussian Army physician Apollinaris Victor Jagielski, M.D. in 1873.

Who Stole My Cheese? Archivists Are Cataloging 200 Years of Criminal Records From the Isle of Ely

Internet Archive Book Images via Flickr, Wikimedia Commons
Internet Archive Book Images via Flickr, Wikimedia Commons

And you thought your parents were strict. In 16th century England, the same courts that tried murderers were also tasked with getting to the bottom of cheese thefts.

As The Guardian reports, archivists from the University of Cambridge have begun cataloging close to 270 court documents from the Isle of Ely, a historic region of England known for its magnificent, gothic-style cathedral as well as being the home of Oliver Cromwell for more than a decade (Cromwell was appointed governor of the isle in 1643).

Some of the documents, which are dated from 1557 to 1775, relate to matters that may seem macabre—or even ridiculous—in the modern world. But they offer a keen insight into the area's past. "This project enables us to hear the voices of people from all backgrounds ... long dead and forgotten, and for whom there is no other surviving record," archivist Sian Collins told The Guardian.

One such person was yeoman John Webbe, who was charged with defamation by one William Tyler after Tyler's wife, Joan, overheard Webbe tell someone that: "Tyler thy husband is a knave, a rascall & a thief for he stole my goodes thefyshely [thievishly] in the night."

Then there was poor William Sturns, whose only crime was a hunger that led him to steal three cheeses; ultimately, he was deemed not guilty. "Unfortunately we don’t know what type of cheese it was," Collins told Atlas Obscura. "But cheesemaking was fairly common in the area at the time."

Not all of Ely's court cases were about backtalk and dairy products, though. The university’s website details how in 1577, Margaret Cotte was accused of using witchcraft to kill Martha Johnson, the daughter of a local blacksmith. Margaret was eventually found not guilty, which is part of what makes this project so important.

"Martha and Margaret may not appear in any other records," Collins said. "This is all we know about them."

[h/t The Guardian]

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