Realm and Castle: Henry VIII as European Builder

Henry VIII spent astronomical amounts on military fortifications from the Scottish border to the South Coast of England. Marcus Merriman discusses the locations and architecture of these fortifications.

There are two viewpoints by which one can try to measure Henry VIII as a builder: within the context of English practice and in comparison with his European counterparts. By either standard he is remarkable, although in degrees which vary. The age was a materialistic one and Henry VIII was one of the greatest acquirers of 'things' (although his cross channel rival, Francis I, easily outstripped him) and what he did not inherit, he built, bought and appropriated. These acquisitions took the form of almost whatever artefact the craftsmen of material culture could provide, from T, musical instruments, to books, to armour, to jewels.

Given the money, getting things is easy and Henry in the last twelve years of his life was flush like no king before him and indeed was much wealthier than he had been in 1509 when he came into the hoard his frugal father had amassed. Three principal sources of income came to his hand: parliamentary taxation and non-repayable loans, the sale of monastic lands and the king's plunder of the church and debasement of the coinage.

Between 1536 and 1547, Henry spent a total of £2,134,783 on warlike costs. It is always difficult for a modern audience to appreciate what Tudor magnitudes of money costs really mean, and attempts to 'inflation link' them invariably backfire (particularly with economies in which so many payments were in kind). A skilled mason could earn approximately 1s. 6d. (Sp) a day; limeburners working day and night received 14d (6p) a shift. John Rogers when Surveyor in Boulogne received 6s. 8d. (33p) a day. A well-to-do member of the gentry could be looking at £780 a year.

Before the great upsurge in royal income with the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII was probably expending £135,000 per annum or an average daily rate of expenditure of something like £370 a day (but remember this was spent on maintaining his quite large court and household).

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