The Tudor Society

Henry VIII’s inventory and his spectacles

I'm finding research and writing a challenge at the moment as I'm having issues with my eyesight, which is very frustrating. It got me thinking about a Facebook Live talk I did on the Tudor Society Facebook page at Christmas on Henry VIII's inventory and the mentions of magnifying glasses and spectacles that the king owned. He owned quite a few!

I thought I'd share this video with you today, along with a list of what I found in the inventory taken at Henry VIII's death in 1547. I have changed the spelling to modern English.

Magnifying glasses

  • In the king's jewel house, Hampton Court Palace: "one broad glass to look upon a book, garnished with gold". Item 23.
  • In a coffer sent to the Tower: "one glass to lay upon a book, trimmed at both the ends with silver and gilt" and "one like glass trimmed with silver white". Items 3316 and 3317.
  • In the king's secret jewel house, Westminster: "a glass to read with, set in wood with a handle". Item 3195.

There are other mentions too, and some with cases, for example: "ii reading glasses garnished with silver in cases of printed leather" item 10506. There's also this interesting item in a coffer in the king's secret jewel house, Westminster: "a green stone to read with, all garnished with silver gilt." Item 3161.


Then we have actual spectacles, along with cases for them:

  • "a spectacle case of gold engraven with the arms of England with two spectacles." Item 2088.
  • "two spectacle cases of silver gilt with spectacles silver gilt enamelled." Item 2286.
  • "a spectacle case of gold engraven with the arms of England with two spectacles." Item 2088.
  • "a spectacle case silver gilt flagon wise with spectacles in it." Item 2291.
  • "a spectacle case of leather with a pair of spectacles in it." Item 2295.
  • "a spectacle case of leather like a book, harnessed with silver and spectacles in it." Item 2312.
  • "five pair of spectacles in another Till." Item 2391.
  • "a book of gold enamelled with the king's arms and diverse conclusions of astronomy furnished with spectacles." Item 2546.
  • "two pair of spectacles set in silver gilt in two cases." Item 2598.
  • "two pair of spectacles garnished with gold." Item 2612.
  • "In another till iiii spectacle cases furnished." Furnished meaning that they contained spectacles. Item 10454.
  • "a spectacle case of leather having one spectacle silver and the other of horn." Item 2313.

There are also lots of mentions of cases without spectacles, e.g. "a spectacle case of Moriscoe work" (item 2289) and other mentions of cases furnished with spectacles, i.e. with glasses inside. Henry had a lot!

But what were these spectacles like?

Well, from what I've read about the history of spectacles and eyeglasses, these were either handheld or they rested on the bridge of the nose, rather than having arms that fit over the ears. Here's a link to some drawings of 16th-century spectacles -


  • ed. Starkey, David (1998) The Inventory of King Henry VIII: The Transcript, Harvey Miller Publishers.

There are 4 comments Go To Comment

  1. A

    They need to republish that book! It sounds so fascinating, I would use it to find any portraits that would of existed back then that don’t survive now! Great video Claire 🙂

    1. C - Post Author

      Hi Anthony,
      The inventory has been transcribed and published, and edited by David Starkey – see It’s very expensive, but it is immense. I used Amazon vouchers that I’d had for Christmas and my birthday on it. Sometimes you see it cheaper on ebay or AbeBooks. Volume 2, which was published in 2012, and volume 3 which is due to be published sometime, are essays by historians on the inventory, but if you just want the inventory then you just need the first volume. I did a lot of digging into objects connected to Anne Boleyn and her family, and that was fascinating.
      Hope that helps!

      1. A

        Thanks so much for this info Claire, hopefully I will own a copy one day as it would be incredible research. You know me and my portrait obsession!
        Hope you find some great Boleyn connected items in there too!

  2. A

    Hah! Reminds me of myself—reading glasses everywhere! Thanks!

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Henry VIII’s inventory and his spectacles