How Did Henry VIII Mow His Lawn?
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.