How to choose a wife – sixteenth-century style

If you are a man seeking a wife, you can do worse than employ this helpful list of questions prepared by King Henry VII in 1505 when he was thinking of marrying again (to Joanna of Naples).


Ask yourself:

1. Does she speak any French or Latin?

2. How old is she?

3. Does she wear makeup?

The wisdom of Henry VII

4. Is her face fat or lean, sharp or round?

5. Is her countenance cheerful and amiable, frowning and malicious, steadfast or light, and does she blush when she speaks?

6. How clear is her skin?

7. What colour is her hair?

8. What shape is her nose?

9. Measure the height and breadth of her forehead.

10. Are her arms long or short, small or great?

11. Get a look at her bare hands: are her palms thick or thin? Are her hands fat or lean, long or short?

12. What about her fingers? Are they long or short, small or great, broad or narrow?

13. And her neck? Is it long or short, small or great?

14. Are her breasts big or small?

15. Does she have any hair about her lips?

16. Find some excuse to get her to tell a story at some length, get as close to her as possible and note: how sweet is her breath?

17. Every time you speak with her, notice: does she smell of spices, or rosewater, or musk?

18. How tall is she? And is she wearing heels? How high are the heels? Don’t be deceived into thinking she’s taller than she actually is.

19. When she takes the heels off, get a look at her feet: what shape are they?

Joanna of Naples - how did she fare under Henry VII's vigorous questionnaire?
Joanna of Naples – how did she fare under Henry VII’s vigorous questionnaire?

20. Does she have any sickness, deformities or blemishes? Is she often ill? With what?

21. Enquire about her diet. Is she a great feeder or drinker? Does she eat often? Does she drink wine or water, or both?

22. Finally, appoint a ‘cunning painter’ to produce an image of her.

This, gentlemen, is all the information you need to make your decision.


Based on:

Instructions given by King Henry the Seventh to his Embassadors, When he intended to marry the young queen of Naples: together with the answers of the embassadors ed. by T. Becket and P.A. De Hondt (1761)

Excerpts below:

  1. …whether the young queen speke any other languages thatn Spaynyshe and Italyon, and whether she can speke any Frenshe or Late
  1. Item, Specially to marke and note well the age and stature of the said yong quene, and the feturys of her bodye
  1. Item, Specially to marke favour of hir visage, whether she bee paynted or not, and whether it be fate or leene, sharpe or rounde, and whether hir countenance bee chierfuil and amiable, frowning or malinco yous, stedefast or light, or blushing in communicacion.
  1. Item, To note the clearness of hir skynne
  1. Item, To note the colours of hir here
  1. Item, To note well her ies, browes, teethe, and lippes
  1. Item, To marke well the fashion of hir nose, and heithe and brede of hir forehedde
  1. Item, Specially to note hir complexion
  1. Item, To marke hir armes, whether they bee grete or small, long or shorte
  1. Item, To see hir hands bare, and note the fascion of theym, whether the palm of hir hand bee thikke or thynne, and whether hir hands be fatte or leene, long or shorte
  1. Item, To note hir fyngers, whether they bee longe or shorte, small or grete, brode or narrowe before
  1. Item, To marke whether hir nekke be longe or shorte, small or grete
  1. Item, To marke hir brest and pappes, whether they be bigg or small
  1. Item, To marke whether ther appere any here about hir lippes or not
  1. Item, That they endevor theyme to speke with the said yong quene… and that she may tell unto them some matier at lengthe, and to approach as nere to hir mouthe as they honestly maye, to thentent that they may fele the condicion of hir brethe, whether it be swete or not, and to marke at every time when they speke with hir, if they fele any favour of spices, rose waters, or muske, by the brethe of her mouthe, or not
  1. Item, To note the height of hir stature, and to enquire whether she were any slippers, and of what height her slippers bee, to thentent they be not deceived in the veray height and stature of hir, and if they may come to the height of her slippers, then to note the fashion of hir foote
  1. Item, To enquire whether she have any sekenesse of her nativitie, deformity or blemmyshe in hir bodye, and what that shuld bee; or whether she hath been communely in health, or sometye seke, and sometime hole, and to know the specialities of such diseases and sicknesse…
  1. Item, To enquire of the manner of hir diet, and whether she bee a grete fedar or drynker, and whether she useth often to eat and drynke, and whether she drynketh wyne or water, or bothe

23. Item, … diligently enqere for some conynge painter…  [to] drawe a picture of the visage and semblance of the said young quene…


6 thoughts on “How to choose a wife – sixteenth-century style

  1. I find it more interesting to read the actual original questions to see the difference in spelling and grammar. I wonder if the modern pronunciation has, over time, changed the grammar phonetically.

  2. I don’t know if that list would worj today, i know some ladies who would be offended..
    Did Henry VIII use this against Anne of Cleves i wonder??

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