“The Handsomest Potentate I ever set Eyes on”
Early in his reign, Henry was not only lauded for his greatness and dignity as King- but for his physical attributes. In 1515, Pietro Pasqualigio, the Venetian ambassador referred to Henry as: ” the handsomest potentate I ever set eyes on; above the usual height, with an extremely fine calf to his leg, his complexion very fair and bright, with auburn hair combed straight and short in the French fashion and a round face so very beautiful that it should become a pretty womanâ¦.”.
Many believed the King of England to be the best-looking monarch in Europe- including Henry himself who after interrogating Pasqualigio about the calves of Francis I of France, exposed his own with great pride exclaiming: “Look here! and I have also a good calf to my leg.” Certainly, he was the tallest: measuring 6 feet, 2 inches tall.
Others, however, admired Henry’s mind rather than his body. The philosopher Erasmus met Henry when he was just eight years old and had a high opinion of the young Prince’s intellect. By the time he was King, Henry was remarked to be fluent in French and Latin and also some Italian. He was also a diligent amateur theologian.
However, it was for his athletic ability that the King was most noted. He drew “the bow with greater strength than any man in England,” Pasqualigio somewhat sycophantically observed, “and jousts marvelously.” A fellow Italian, Giustiniana also observed that Henry was “very fond of hunting and never takes this diversion without tiring eight or ten horses” as well as ” fond of tennis and it is the prettiest thing in the world to see him play, his fair skin glowing.”
Henry does, indeed, seem to have had a mania for the game. One of his first building projects was a court at the Palace of Westminster, and over the next 25 years, he built tennis courts at St. James, Whitehall, Bridewell and Greenwich as well as the Great Covered Court at Hampton Court. However, his sporting attributes did not end there. The King also fancied himself as something of an amateur wrestler. When he met King Francis I at the peace negotiations between France and England at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, Henry challenged his fellow monarch to a wrestling match. Despite being much smaller, however, Francis won.