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Henry VIII was a footballer, say historians

February 18, 2004 18:54 IST

He was famous for drinking, hunting, jousting and having six wives. But historians now think King Henry VIII may have had a secret passion -- football.

Researchers have found the much-married king ordered a pair of football boots from the Great Wardrobe, the office responsible for supplying his attire, in 1526.

The boots were made of leather, hand-stitched by the royal cordwainer, Cornelius Johnson, and cost King Henry the royal sum of four shillings.

Dr Maria Hayward, a clothes historian who discovered the order among records of Henry's wardrobe, says she finds it difficult to believe he played football, but cannot see why else he would have ordered the boots.

"Football in Tudor times was a very vicious game with no teams and no rules...It was not a game for gentlemen," Hayward, who works at the textile conservation centre at the Winchester School of Art in southern England, told Reuters.

According to Sir Thomas Elyot, a writer during Tudor times, football was a game of "beastly fury and extreme violence".

"I don't think he would have bought a pair if he didn't actually wear them and play, but I also don't think he would have played on a regular basis," Hayward said. "I certainly don't think he was out there every Saturday."

History's lasting image of Henry VIII, born in 1491 and married six times, is of a hugely fat man who spent his time eating, drinking and womanising -- not of a lithe, athletic sportsman.

But in his younger, slimmer days Hayward said he was a keen jouster, tennis player and occasionally went in for man-to-man wrestling, so the rough and tumble of a football match probably appealed to him.

She said the boots were most likely to have been worn in matches played on Shrove Tuesday, a traditional footballing day in Tudor times. "He wasn't a serious player," she said.

One thing the Henry certainly was serious about was shoes.

The order for the football boots was sent alongside requests for around 80 pairs of shoes.

"The order was 10 pairs of English leather boots; 10 pairs of Spanish leather buskins; a pair of velvet buskins; 38 pairs of velvet shoes in purple, black and crimson; three pairs of slippers in black velvet; three pairs of arming shoes; six pairs of English leather shoes; another six pairs of shoes in Spanish leather and then the football boots," said Hayward.

"And that's all for just six months."

Kate Kelland
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