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Henry VIII has never had a reputation as a thrifty monarch but calculations about the extent of his largesse show that he makes the current royal family seem frugal.
A review of his finances suggests that his meat bill alone would come to £3.5 million a year in today’s money; more than twice the £1.4 million cost of feeding the Queen and her guests. The king’s bill for drinks is estimated at £6 million.
His divorce of Anne of Cleves in 1540 cost £30 million in modern terms — including the provision of Hever Castle in Kent. Historians estimate that the settlement was worth £3,000 a year at the time which, over the remaining 17 years of Anne’s life, would be equivalent to £29.6 million. When Diana, Princess of Wales divorced the Prince of Wales in 1996 she is thought to have received a £17.5 million settlement, equivalent to £23 million today.
Guy Walters, a historian known for his books about the Second World War, examined the expenses of the Tudor household to coincide with the Yesterday channel’s broadcast of Castles: Britain’s Fortified History, which will be broadcast today.
The king’s banquets were not short on meat, with large orders of ox, mutton, pork, beef and venison. They were accompanied by 600,000 gallons of beer — costing £5.8 million at today’s prices, he calculated.
Edward I spent three quarters of his treasury’s annual income to build Beaumaris castle in Anglesey in the 1290s — the equivalent of today’s government spending £136 billion on the Queen’s royal residences, Mr Walters said. It was “insane”, he said. “It just shows the huge vanity project that some of these buildings were. It puts the expenditure on Buckingham palace into huge perspective.”
William the Conqueror also spent a large portion of the royal purse on building and fortifying castles after the Battle of Hastings. He built 500 castles in the first 20 years of his rule, with each the result of an estimated 50 men working for 80 days. Based on the current British minimum wage of £7.20, William would have spent £115 million over two decades on labour alone.
By contrast, repairs to Windsor Castle after the 1992 fire cost £37 million in 1997 — equivalent to £60 million today.