Henry VIII portrait and detail of Henry VIIIs armour

Henry VIII

“For the future, the whole world will talk of him.”

The above was written 500 years ago, describing the young King Henry VIII. Henry seemed to have unlimited energy when he became king at the age of eighteen. It was said that he could dance the rest of the court off their feet and tire as many as eight or nine horses in a single day’s hunting.

Throughout his reign Henry VIII excelled in a variety of sports, including hunting and archery. By age 23, he was a strong sportsman standing at about 1.88 m (6ft 2in) tall with a 107cm (42 in) chest. He went in to become not only a fine tennis player and wrestler, but also an outstanding jouster: perhaps the best in the land.

‘The King, being lusty, young and courageous, greatly delighted in feats of chivalry.’

When Henry died in 1547, his reputation had spread across Europe and even today he remains one of England’s most famous kings.


By Henry’s reign (1509-47) tournaments presented the finest sportsmen – skilled contestants who trained from a young age – and were often held to celebrate marriages, births, alliances and victories. They had become fashionable, courtly displays of power with glittering parades of rulers and noblemen. The spectacle of tournament continued to provide an opportunity for entertainment and sport, training with weapons and even diplomacy.

For many years Henry VIII was one of the best jousters in England and, despite the risks of the sport and suffering from a number of injuries and narrow escapes, it was said that he had…

‘no respect or fear of anyone in the world’.


To display his wealth and power he ordered the best armours to be made for him to wear for tournaments, parades and in battle.

The Royal Armouries collection contains four of Henry VIII’s personal armours including examples made at his royal armoury at Greenwich by some of the finest craftsmen in Europe.

The Field of Cloth of Gold

YouTube link to Field of Cloth of Gold In 1520 Henry VIII met Francis I, King of France, at the Field of Cloth of Gold. The aim was to make England and France allies rather than enemies.

To celebrate their new friendship and trust, Henry and Francis held tournament games which lasted 11 days. Wrestling and archery contests took place when the weather was too bad for jousting or tourneys.

The two kings wanted to show off their wealth, power and athletic skills. They were meant to compete side by side, not against one another. However, Henry VIII challenged Francis I to a wrestling match and was thrown by a cunning French move!

The painting shown in the video is a story picture that shows many events during the three-week gathering in June 1520.

Want to know more?

The related documents below are free articles from Henry VIII: Arms and the Man. This major publication Henry VIII: Arms and the Man can be purchased from The Royal Armouries Shop.

  • Published to coincide with the 500th anniversary of the accession of King Henry VIII to the English throne, this definitive publication illustrates and records over 90 Henrician treasures from the Royal Armouries’ own collections and from around the world

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Did you know?

Strange but true

A bullet fired from a gun parallel to the ground, and an identical bullet dropped from the same height simultaneously, will both hit the ground at the same time.

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