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Henry VIII’s gardening manual ‘unearthed’

Buckingham Palace curators may have dug deep (pun intended) to find out Henry VIII may have had interest in gardening and referred to the world’s first gardening manual for inspiration.

Front page of the gardening manual, c. 1490-5, showing inscription by Richard Rawson, the king's chaplain, and an inventory number for Henry VIII's library.  Royal Collection Trust / copyright Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015.

Front page of the gardening manual, c. 1490-5, showing inscription by Richard Rawson, the king’s chaplain, and an inventory number for Henry VIII’s library. Royal Collection Trust / copyright Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015.

Henry’s lost 16th century Whitehall Palace garden, was quite possibly inspired by Ruralia Commoda, a set of horticultural instructions written between 1304 and 1309 by Petrus de Crescentiis, a wealthy lawyer from Bologna, Italy.

The book became part of the King’s library after the death of its previous owner, Richard Rawson, the chaplain who counselled Henry on his divorce from Catherine of Aragon.

In the book, illustrated cucumbers quiver with fear at thunder, there is mention of cabbage blend anticipated to produce savoury lettuces when put inside a ball of goat manure and if planted in the ashes of human bone and sprinkled with oil, squash will bear fruit in nine days’ time.

The Commoda is part of a new exhibit opening in March at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace.

Vanessa Remington, the curator of the exhibition noted: “This is no coffee-table book, but a real, thumbed-through and annotated gardening manual, showing that its various owners referred to it time and time again.”

“Although it is impossible to know, it is tempting to think that Henry VIII may have sat in his library and looked through it for inspiration. This book shines a new light on Henry VIII, showing a different aspect of his kingship that we haven’t really got any other evidence of,” Remington added.

A section in the book reveals how to create a royal garden. In 1698, Henry’s Great Garden at Whitehall, met its demise by fire. Not a single trace left as evidence of his grand garden. The exhibit although has a painting, The Family of Henry VIII dated c. 1545, that shows clear evidence of a garden in the background.

The Family of Henry VIII, c. 1545. Royal Collection Trust / copyright Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

The Family of Henry VIII, c. 1545. Royal Collection Trust / copyright Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

According to the manual, a royal garden is the manifestation of the ruler’s prominence, wealth and control over his surroundings. It needs to occupy a plot of at least 20 acres with perfect trees and plants, as well as aromatic plants to “not only delight by their odor, but…refresh the sight.”

Ruralia Commoda also covered hunting, falconry, wine production, field tidying and instruction on growing various produce.

Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden begins on 20 March 2015 and runs until 11 October.

Tickets are available online through the Royal Collection website.

Photo Credits: Royal Collection Trust / copyright Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015.

  • Elizabeth

    Anullment from Katherine of Aragon was in 1532/3 not 1543. By then he was marrying Katherine Parr his 6th Queen having had his 5th, Catherine Howard executed due to her adultery.

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