The mystery of Henry VIII's Green Quilt
King Henry the 8th – Source: Bing images

I love to research historical quilts – especially prior to 1820. One quilt that intrigues me is a quilt that belonged to King Henry VIII. The mystery of Henry VIII’s green quilt is well researched by the chapter author, and for historic quilt lovers is fascinating.

According to the book, “Medieval Clothing and Textiles 4” edited by Robin Netherton and Gale R. Owen-Crocker pg. 193-207(published by Boydell Press in 2008). Currently it can be purchased on Amazon. This entire series is wonderful, but this is the only one I purchased because it had this one chapter about Henry VIII’s green quilt.

Book cover: Medieval Clothing and Textiles
Source: My personal library

The Mystery of Henry VIII’s Green Quilt:

The list of Henry VIII’s possessions on his death included many expensive and skillfully made items. This includes armor, manuscripts, plate, clothing, paintings, furniture, and bedding.  The bedding included approximately 100 bed quilts at a time when these were rare luxuries and usually imported. All known ones were made by professionals.

According to the article, most were whole cloth linen quilts (55).  There were some silk (44), and some were worked with gold or “copper gold”.

One particular quilt stands out for more than a few reasons, Henry’s Green Quilt:

  • It was stored at Whitehall Palace in the keeping of Sir Anthony Denny
  • Double green sarcenet quilted with …bordered around with fleurs de lis with a middle square of roses and pomegranates.
  • Being old and worn. 
  • The description of this quilt is more detailed than any other quilt on the list.

There is no photo of this quilt in the article. However, there is no indication of where the quilt is now either.

This article goes on to describe the possible meaning both politically and personally of the imagery that the quilt could portray.

Quilts during this time were made by professionals in workshops. Or if a family was wealthy enough, in a professional workshop within a family castle or manor.  These quilts were usually whole cloth and made of linen or silk. Quilts were a status symbol and were valued as such. They were heirlooms to be passed on to others.

Most of the quilts listed are about 3 yards square – plenty big enough to cover the large Tudor size beds we see in museums.

The Green Quilt

The imagery of fleur-de-lis, roses, and pomegranates would seem to indicate that it originally had something to do with the wedding of Henry’s older brother Arthur and Catherine of Aragon. Arthur died shortly after their marriage and in 1509 Henry and Catherine married.  She was to claim until her dying day that she went to Henry a virgin.  The quilt turns up in the list as old and worn, so the author believes that Henry and Catherine used the quilt (common sense says this would not have happened if Arthur and Catherine had consummated the marriage) because a quilt would not have been “old and worn” after just a few months on the bed of Arthur and Catherine.

Catherine of Aragon
Source: Bing images

 If this quilt was actually made for the marriage of Arthur and Catherine but was used for longer by Henry and Catherine – this could have been evidence against the divorce that Henry desired (and eventually got) so, he could marry Ann Boleyn. This could also explain why the quilt was in the care of Sir Denny and not stored with the other bedding. Could this quilt have been the mute witness to the truth of Catherine’s virginity upon her marriage to Henry??

Anne Boleyn
Source: Bing images

An interesting side note here is that Sir Denny also ended up being the custodian of items that belonged to Ann Boleyn, Jane Seymour, and Catherine Howard. 

There are also bed hangings of the same imagery that remained with Catherine and are listed on her death inventory. Were they originally a complete set with the quilt?

Was it a reminder?

One has to wonder if Henry kept the quilt, even after 5 other wives, as a bittersweet reminder of his first wife and his youth. Maybe it was hidden evidence that verified Catherine’s claim, or simply a forgotten item.

If you have no interest in historical quilts and quilting – that is just fine. It is a good thing we don’t like the same quilts. Can you imagine the quilting world without variety due to all our various personal interests?

I hope you enjoyed this small look into the mystery of Henry VIII’s green quilt. Just remember that as quilters we are building on the skills and interests of previous quilters.


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