How Did Henry VIII Mow His Lawn?

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HENRY’S lawns at Hamp­ton Court were orig­i­nally planted in 1531, hun­dreds of years be­fore the ad­vent of com­pact in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gines and elec­tric mo­tors. As a re­sult, in or­der to drive his push-along mower the monarch had to rely on his own mus­cle power. To give him­self the stamina to cut the 200 acres of for­mal lawns at his palace each Sun­day morn­ing, Henry would break­fast on sev­eral haunches of veni­son, hun­grily bit­ing the meat off with the side of his mouth be­fore throw­ing the gnawed bones over his shoul­der for his pack of big grey­hounds to fight over.

TO GET the im­mac­u­lately man­i­cured fin­ish for which his turf was renowned, Henry bought him­self a state-of-the-art mower - the best avail­able in Tu­dor Eng­land - from his lo­cal gar­den cen­tre in East Mole­sey. Although it looks some­what or­nate and com­pli­cated to our mod­ern eyes, its me­chan­ics are re­mark­ably sim­i­lar to those of a mod­ern-day pusha­long mower. Via a sim­ple gear sys­tem, a roller pow­ered a set of rapidly ro­tat­ing quadra-he­li­cal sig­moidal cut­ters, which trapped the grass blades against a static hor­i­zon­tal bar, sev­er­ing it to a pre-set length be­fore throw­ing the cut­tings into a highly dec­o­ra­tive, front­mounted grass col­lec­tion bin, which Henry would empty each time it got full. Be­lieve it or not, so vast were the Hamp­ton Court grounds, that a sin­gle cut of the lawns would cre­ate a cone of clip­pings 30 feet high and 40 feet across be­hind the King’s shed.

WITH so many dogs liv­ing in the palace, there were always lots of shits that needed pick­ing up off the lawn be­fore Henry could set to work cut­ting it. This job fell to the Master of the King’s Hounds’ Stool, a loyal ser­vant whose only re­spon­si­bil­ity was to make sure that Henry didn’t ac­ci­den­tally push his mower over a barker’s egg. Woe be­tide this ser­vant if he were to ac­ci­den­tally miss a brown land­mine nes­tled in the long grass. If it ended up go­ing through the blades and speck­ling his tyran­ni­cal master’s tights, the un­for­tu­nate flunkey would be im­me­di­ately hauled off to the Tower. HENRY found the me­chan­i­cal rat-a-tat of his mower ex­tremely irk­some so he in­sisted that he was fol­lowed by his favourite min­strels. The sound of them singing a med­ley of Tu­dor hits, such as Greensleeves, Pas­tance With Good Com­pany and the Hey Nonny Nonny Madri­gal, drowned out the noise he found so an­noy­ing. Nowa­days, of course, we drown out the racket from our mod­ern petrol-pow­ered mow­ers, we have a pair of iPod ear­phones. and lis­ten to the hits of to­day, such as Fat­boy Slim’s Weapon of Choice, Elec­tric 6’s Gay Bar or Gal­way Girl by Ed fuck­ing Sheeran.

HENRY was well aware of the im­por­tance of keep­ing his mower prop­erly ser­viced. And the most es­sen­tial part of his main­te­nance rou­tine was keep­ing the cut­ting blades ra­zor sharp. For­tu­nately, he had on his staff a man who knew ev­ery­thing there was to know about sharp­en­ing blades - his Chief Ex­e­cu­tioner. When he wasn’t busy chop­ping the heads off Henry’s var­i­ous wives, bish­ops and any­one else who up­set him, the ex­e­cu­tioner was sharp­en­ing his axe. And ev­ery Satur­day night it was his duty to set to with his trusty oil­stone to make sure the mower was in tip-top shape for the King’s go round the lawns the fol­low­ing morn­ing.

EV­ERY­ONE knows that mow­ing the lawn is hot, thirsty work, and it was even hot­ter and thirstier for Henry VIII. His trade­mark out­fit of multi-lay­ered cloth of gold dou­blet, em­broi­dered pur­ple vel­vet sur­coat, padded cod­piece, er­mine-lined cape, all topped off with a jew­elled mink cap, re­put­edly weighed up to 50lbs or more. A few hours of push­ing his heavy, hand-pow­ered mower up and down his lawn must have left the King spit­ting feath­ers. It would be nice to think that his wife of the time, such as Ann Bo­leyn, Cather­ine Parr or who­ever, might have brought him out the oc­ca­sional cool, re­fresh­ing gob­let of what­ever was the equiv­a­lent of Tizer or Irn Bru in them days.

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