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Did you know that the English king Richard II invented the handkerchief and that when Henry VIII died he weighed a whopping 30 stone (420 pounds)?

Well, you do now.

The secrets, loves and scandals of the Royal Family are laid bare

A new book of historical trivia lays bare obscure secrets and quirks of monarchs down the ages, from Richard II’s dress sense to Edward VII’s fear of cutlery. Chief reporter Andrew Alderson takes a peek.


By Andrew Alderson
01 Oct 2008
The Telegraph


Studies of suits of armour belonging to Henry VIII show how the Tudor monarch went from being a thin young man to someone who would now be considered clinically obese Photo: PA



Prince Albert, who wanted to be a fireman, asked the fire brigade if he could assist with fighting future major fires in the capital


Edward VII was the most notorious of royal gamblers. His largest bet on the horses was £600, on a nag called Matchbox in 1894
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

How overweight was Henry VIII? Who were the country’s most superstitious monarchs?

Which king desperately wanted to be a fireman? Who was the first member of the Royal family to own a car? Why does the Queen have corgis?

A new book published this week – a godsend to those of us who are gripped by royal trivia – provides answers to these questions, along with scores more regal conundrums.

For centuries, the people of Britain have been fascinated by the personal lives of their kings and queens – a fascination matched by a determination from members of the Royal family to protect themselves from their subjects’ prying eyes.

Now, How Fat Was Henry VIII? And 101 Other Questions on Royal History attempts to strip away the mystique surrounding the Royal family by using previously unpublished evidence to unearth new facts about the lives and loves of our monarchs.

Royal rumours, romances, scandals, assassinations, plots, courtiers, castles and coronations all come under scrutiny, and the results are surprising and, at times, amusing. Here, The Sunday Telegraph highlights a few entertaining revelations…

How fat was Henry VIII?

Studies of suits of armour belonging to Henry VIII – and now at the Tower of London – show how the Tudor monarch went from being a tall, handsome and decidedly thin young man to someone who would now be considered clinically obese.

The king, who ruled from 1509, ballooned from a 32in waist in 1512, aged 21, to a 54in waist just 33 years later. It is calculated that shortly before his death in 1547 – aged 55 – Henry VIII was nearly 30 stone.

In his final years, the king could barely walk. Instead, he had to be carried around on specially constructed sedan chairs. After he died, he was placed in a vast elm coffin which took 16 Yeomen of the Guard, “of exceptional heights and strength”, to manoeuvre.

Historic records show perhaps why Henry VIII was quite so large. At Hampton Court, the royal home that he “acquired” from his doomed Lord Chancellor Thomas Wolsey, archaeologists discovered 55 kitchen rooms, requiring a staff of around 200, who made twice-daily meals for a court of 600.

In one year alone, the king and his court devoured 1,240 oxen, 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 760 calves, 1,870 pigs, 53 wild boar and a multitude of fish and sea life, ranging from cod to a whale. This food, plus an unknown quantity of fowl, swans and peacocks, was washed down with 600,000 gallons of ale.

Which king would have liked to have been a fireman?

The “king” who wanted to be a fireman was Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). His interest in firefighting began in 1864, when there was a blaze in the nursery of Marlborough House, the home of the Prince and Princess of Wales.

The Prince of Wales helped put out the burning floorboards and organised servants in a human chain to carry jugs and buckets of water. He got such a buzz from his actions that he asked the fire brigade if he could assist with fighting future major fires in the capital. His wish was granted.

After donning a fireman’s uniform and helmet, he was present when a blaze destroyed the 17th-century Saville House in Leicester Square in 1865. Queen Victoria, his mother, was said to disapprove of such “gallivanting”, but to no avail.

Who was Britain’s first royal car owner?

Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, was the first member of the Royal family to own a car. He had his first drive in a “horseless carriage” – a Daimler – on a private road in February 1896, aged 55. In 1898, while some were still branding the new invention “dirty” and “evil”, he drove a vehicle for the first time on public roads. He bought his first car – again, a Daimler – in 1900. In 1905, by then Edward VII, he bought no fewer than seven Daimlers in a single year.

Who was the first king to have a crown?

It is now believed that the first king to wear a crown for his coronation was Edward the Elder, King of the West Saxons, who ruled from AD 899 to 924. His coronation took place on or around June 8, AD 900, at Kingston upon Thames and was conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Edward, who was the second son of Alfred the Great, was the first king to proclaim himself “by the gift of God’s grace, King of the Anglo-Saxons”.

Which king invented the handkerchief?

Richard II is credited with inventing the handkerchief more than 600 years ago. The king, who ruled from 1377 to 1399, had a effete court and was thought to have been
homosexual, due to his foppish dress sense and the fact that his “favourites” were male.

His interest in clothes is said to have led him to make his invention. The Household Rolls noted “little pieces [of cloth] for the King to wipe and clean his nose”.

Which monarch was the greatest gambler?

Many kings and queens have enjoyed a flutter. But the most notorious gambler of all was Edward VII. He was at his most reckless while Prince of Wales, when he ran up so much debt playing cards that Lord Palmerston, the statesman, wrote to Queen Victoria warning of her son’s gambling habit. His largest bet on the horses was £600, on a nag called Matchbox that ran in Paris in 1894. It lost.
  • 'How Fat Was Henry VIII?’ by Raymond Lamont-Brown (History Press, £12.99) is available from Telegraph Books for £11.99 + £1.25 p&p. Call 0870 428 4115 or go to books.telegraph.co.uk
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