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Painting of Henry VIII Holding a Turkey Leg

Henry VIII of England (June 28th, 1491 – January 28th, 1547) was the King of England from April 21st, 1509 until his death. He is commonly depicted as fairly tall and heavyset. Possibly, the most famous image of him is a Renaissance painting, painted by Hans Holbein the Younger. He is depicted standing tall and boisterous, dressed in a king’s attire, holding a pair of leather gloves in one hand and clutching at the string of a scabbard in the other.

It is a painting similar to this that many people seem to have a memory of.  The key difference is that Henry VIII is holding a turkey leg (or drumstick) in one hand. Others seem to recall him sitting at a table (at a feast or dinner) showing just his upper torso. The memory is a usually foggy for most, but the common memory is that it is definitely a Renaissance style painting, and he is definitely holding a turkey leg. The problem is neither painting exists.

King Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger
King Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger

It has largely been debated online that this painting could have never existed anyway due to the turkey being brought over after Henry VIII’s death (1547), in 1550. This date has also been debated since another source claims that Henry VIII was the first King of England to eat turkey. This blog even says Henry VIII was a fan of turkey!

It’s possible that this painting could have depicted the leg of another bird, such as a chicken, swan, or peafowl, the latter two making the most sense as they were normally domesticated and reserved for the social elite. However, the leg in most people’s memory was large, like, medieval turkey leg style large, neither of which fit the swan or peafowl. Some have suggested a guineafowl may also be possible as it was referred to as a “turkey” as well but may be a bit too small for most memories. For the sake of argument, let’s change this to “Painting of Henry VIII Holding a Chicken Leg”. Unfortunately even then, there is no precedence for a commissioned painting to show a noble person eating or holding food, especially one with a giant drumstick in their hand. It just wouldn’t happen, and as evidence shows, it never did.

The first time I was made aware of this one was on The Mandela Effect website, although it has been talked about in many places as it’s easily one of the most popular Mandela Effects. The concept shows itself quite a fair number of times in popular media as well.

My Experience

After hearing about this one, my mind raced as I too recalled such a painting. The memory was foggy and seemed conflicted between several other memories of similar imagery. I think that is probably the root of this strange case as we’ll explore in the explanations.

Possible Explanations

The depiction of Henry VIII eating a turkey leg is quite common upon research. The main issue is none of the media appears to match the memory, at least not exactly. Is it possible that we are all creating false memories by combining several together in an odd Henry VIII turkey memory amalgamation?

Here are some examples in media:

Museum of Monster Art Sesame Street 1990 coloring book page, showing the Cookie Monster as Henry VII with bitten turkey leg.
Museum of Monster Art Sesame Street 1990 coloring book page, showing the Cookie Monster as Henry VII with bitten turkey leg.
Horrible Histories: Terrifying Tudors, a 1998 children's book depicting Henry VII holding a bitten turkey leg.
Horrible Histories: Terrifying Tudors, a 1998 children’s book depicting Henry VII holding a bitten turkey leg.
The Simpsons shows Homer as Henry VIII biting in to two turkey legs in a 2004 episode.
The Simpsons shows Homer as Henry VIII biting in to two turkey legs in a 2004 episode.
The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) with Charles Laughton as Henry VIII plays out a scene where he eats almost an entire chicken.
The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) with Charles Laughton as Henry VIII plays out a scene where he eats almost an entire chicken.
Cartoon image with unknown source showing Henry VIII eating a turkey leg.
Cartoon image with unknown source showing Henry VIII eating a turkey leg.
"Henry VIII And Anne Boleyn Observed By Queen Katherine", a 1870 painting showing Henry VIII holding a mirror which almost looks to be a turkey leg.
“Henry VIII And Anne Boleyn Observed By Queen Katherine”, a 1870 painting showing Henry VIII holding a mirror which almost looks to be a turkey leg.
Mad Magazine depiction of Henry VIII eating what appears to be a turkey leg.
Mad Magazine depiction of Henry VIII eating what appears to be a turkey leg.

Another subconscious thing we may be doing is implanting thoughts based on our biases towards “larger” men and kings. Kings are often depicted as particularly gluttonous, always eating food in large quantities. Henry VIII was a big man and definitely did also eat a lot of food, especially later in his life. Because we may perceive him to be a king set in the medieval (or shortly thereafter) times, we just expect him to be a gluttonous king as well, maybe even stereotypically holding a big greasy turkey leg while being painted? This is possibly why it become so prevalent in media.

The painting by Hans Holbein the Younger itself can almost appear as though Henry VIII is holding some food on a quick glance if it’s a small enough picture. Especially if you don’t already know he is holding gloves. This could further the false connection for some.

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27 thoughts on “Painting of Henry VIII Holding a Turkey Leg

  1. Noting that I only found out about this last night, so I am still in the throes of being driven crazy, the argument about England not having turkeys only makes it worse for me. I really sat and thought about this before I started digging, and I had a middle school teacher who had a very love-hate relationship with this painting. And I have never in my life wished so much that I had paid more attention in class than I do right now, but it was not a turkey leg – that was a common misconception, and I forget what kind of bird and where from, but that was a pet peeve of his. And if my nonexistent memory serves, it was a painting that Henry the VIII sat for, and there was some old-fashioned photo shopping that he insisted on when it was being done that created some inaccuracies. There was also something about the food and the eating that made it an unusual painting for the day, and there was some political point in there. My major take away from the discussion was that he was even more of a disgusting little mole rat than I thought. This is maddening, and I know all of that is very vague, but I’m a 40 something pulling out a memory from a middle school class. That little actually feels like a lot.

    • your a NEEEEEKKKKKKK

      !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. The lower half of this painting was destroyed and repainted….

    Many interpretations of it have been redone over the years. There’s nothing for you to “remember”. All you are “remembering” is what other people have drawn as their guess as to what the bottom of the original painting may have looked like.

  3. No I clearly remember it. It was a painting in color he was sitting at a table his right hand had a drumstick with a bite out of it and his left hand was holding a off white cloth. He had a smile and a yellow and Brown outfit and matching hat.

  4. In addition to the turkey leg, I assume that distinctive hat is definitely there? The one that’s in all the images above, except the 1870 painting.

    These are all examples of references to the The Private Live of Henry VIII, and Charles Laughton’s costume and props in that scene in particular. The film was a commercial and a critical success – Laughton won the 1933 Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance, the first non-Hollywood act to do so.

    Given the movie’s impact on 20th century references to Henry VIII, I’d imagine this is the material that’s being remembered.

  5. I’m almost certain that the turkey leg thing was from a Monty Python animation. I’m thinking that it’s from The Life of Brian, but it could be one of their other movies.

  6. The Mandella effect is just that, a Mandella.
    A network of people organized around a core of
    something to blame.

    If one person in a hundred is mistaken about a
    thing it’s no big deal. That’s two in two hundred,
    three in three hundred and so on.
    Multiply that times the billion people on the internet
    and the number is now substantial,and they are all
    talking to each other, toward the end, of fortifying
    doubt, not certainty.

    Factor in the number of people that make up stories
    because they want to belong to something for whatever
    reason and the number of people in agreement grows.

    Factor in the number of people making stuff up just
    to jerk people’s chain and the group is even larger.

    Did the droid have a silver leg? Honestly, I wasn’t
    paying that much attention to that detail.

    Froot loops has been spelled that way for as long
    as I can remember, but over a twenty year period
    the spelling on lots of things change. It’s the nature
    of the beast.

    You were not paying close attention the first time around
    and neither were the 200,000 other people you are discussing
    this with. Your doubt about one thing weakens your certainty
    about others and nutcases, of which there are many, add
    to the flavor of the soup. When someone says their home town
    disappeared, you would normally think they were lying or
    mentally damaged. But in the atmosphere of self doubt. there
    is the worry, “what if it’s true?”
    Seriously?
    Remember where you are. This is the internet. A place where
    most of what you read has a heaping helping of bullcrap.

    • I can understand that distinction, but I feel that this is different. We’re not discussing some minute detail that would have easily slipped by. This was an entire painting. We remember it remarkably similarly. It seems like it would have been featured in every high school history book. Why would I remember the exact same painting as Stephen describes above to the slightest detail? I don’t believe in a dimensional shift, but to brush our memories off so smugly is shitty. I have a very good memory, and I have a very inquisitive but skeptical mind. That painting existed somewhere.

    • Miguel ~ You DO realize, surely, that a haughty manner clearly intended to (using the common term in today’s jargon of transitional definitions) “marginalize” other people’s experience tends to”shut down” one’s message even when it may contain valid points of information.
      Yes, this is after all is said, still only the “internet”. And I think the greater majority of those perusing it exercise careful consideration BEFORE they write their articles, create their videos and/or offer their comments. That said, of course we also see, unfortunately, the works of darkness, the which have always been rampant. But this IS still a place where one can express his or her ideas [to the ?”collective”?]. This territory innately comes with hype, mockery, warmth, shilling [‘new’ verb] (also a noun in antiquity – coinage}, challenge, agreement, ridicule, uplift, denigration, etc.
      It is anyone’s guess as to percentages represented in any given venue. I for one, have never taken a course of “statistics”. I do understand your points given, nor would I want to attempt to annul them. I do NOT appreciate their being couched in condescension and disdain towards others’ personal conclusions.
      I am thankful there is STILL much true empathy and compassion and generosity of heart in this world. And yes, I see it conveyed even over the internet. So I try not to “toss out the baby with the bathwater”. Be quick to listen and slow to speak.
      Folks, if you’ve read this far, here is making it worth your while (I hope). I clearly recall a very “Renaissance” – flavored ( no pun intended) portrait of Henry VIII with a very large drumstick (likeliest, from a turkey) in his right hand. Most of his ‘person’ was visible. Whether he was standing or sitting at table, I cannot remember. Which artist’s rendition, I have no clue……….As to much of what is out there today, in terms of titles and logos, I simply see it as a dumbed-down version of a more classic and accurate spelling in an earlier version. I think I understand that the “Mandela effect” requires the ABSENCE OF any “earlier version” to be presently found. I cannot speak to that requirement in this particular case.

  7. The Brady Bunch episode Family Effort from 1970 where Greg makes a homemade movie of the family playing Pilgrims for a School project also references the Henry the VIII turkey leg painting. When the family is later watching the movie Mrs. Brady tells Mr. Brady he looks like Henry the VIII when the scene where the family is eating the first feast with the Indians shows Mr. Brady eating a turkey leg. Starting minute 3:26 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygoLKkLExAg

  8. I was just introduced to the Mandela Effect recently and view it as much ado about nothing as Shakespeare might say.
    England never had turkeys as they are indigenous to America. If the Salem witch trials could evolve over verbal mass hysteria, then are we so immune in this age of mass and dis information? AS a history buff, I have never seen a depiction of Henry VII with a turkey leg myself nor have I a memory of such.

  9. THAT’s your “debunking”?

    So nobody actually saw pictures of such a painting, but instead, they saw similar depictions (some very similar) in popular media?

    Wow!!!

  10. I have a definite memory of this painting. If no such painting never existed, WHY does the depiction of him with a bitten drumstick appear SO many times in pop culture?? I even remember an episode of The Brady Bunch where Ms. Brady mentioned that Mr. Brady looked like Henry the VIII because he was eating a drumstick. And I HATED that show, so that is a random memory that I am sure of because I was mad that I couldn’t watch something else.

  11. no no no, I remember it is the popular picture of him and YES he had a leg/drumstick. It amazes me others also recall this because my memories go back almost 30 years, in my childhood. he held a drumstick and I recall not liking he or the painting for that reason. overall he gave off an unlikable image.

    it seems to me there must have been a parody image broadcast on television in the 80s or early 90s. maybe it was in a commercial on TV as a modified secondary source. as i have said before, people are seeing secondary sources more than they see the primary and I think this is possibly the reasoning behind most mandela effects. it is very possible there simply are not currently any searchable images from the very old broadcast. maybe it was in a commercial or TV show.

  12. The painting I clearly remember was of him, sitting, you could see a table in front of him, he was visible only from the waste up and he was facing to his right, our left. The goblet was gold, and sitting in the bottom left of the image, about the same size as his head, maybe a little smaller…. the turkey leg (or whatever foul) was in his left hand (our right)… he was sitting. Every example of this Medala effect I see shows him standing, or a full body shot of him sitting? Why? It wasn’t animated and it wasn’t live-action tv, it was a colour PAINTING. Whether that painting was created 100’s of years ago, or in the 1970’s for a tv show is irrelevant… the painting, in whatever form, exists… I saw it, and I know the difference between imagination and reality. It probably was a parody on a tv show, old school photoshop perhaps, but so what? It exists, I saw it, many others saw it, and now we just can’t find it on the internet.

    I remember it well. and others have mentioned all of these traits… but whenever that topic comes up there’s an image of him standing or sitting with his family… nothing like the image we’re talking about… why always go for the painting where he’s standing up? Because it was the easiest grab on the internet… that’s why. You do a search for him and that’s the first image that comes up. No one posting an article about this went to a gallery and photographed a thing. No one opened an old book and took a scan of an image in it. No… they logged on and treated the net like it was the actual world and contained all the same information that the actual world contains… it isn’t… it does not… and that’s why the internet cannot be trusted as factual… it’s convenience based, controlled by interests, and this is the best, it’s less than 50 years old! and we all trust it! As if it were fact! We’ll hold it against 100 year old books and say Google must be right! Come on people!

    I don’t think anything interdimensional is happening. I think what’s really happening here is people are mistaking the internet for real life. All of history is NOT on Google, not even remotely close to it, and many historic facts have changed… on google… yet people treat Google like the new god of information. It’s a very dangerous practice… in a few decades it’s completely feasible for someone in charge of the big machine to change the facts of history, practically, to get people to do and think what they want them to… and we’ll be fine with it, because things like this will already have us used to believing our memories are less accurate than Google. They are not.

    Open a few old school encyclopedias, which still represent a bent version of the tiniest portion of what actually happened, and you’ll find a LOT of things absent or very different from Google. Historic events, now… not things like scientific facts, which change every day with new information, but places, dates, things that happened… changed… don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself… IN REAL LIFE… log onto some website, and you’re still in the fantasy world. Get off the web and research in the real world… typed ink on paper doesn’t change with the whim of a web designer or the agenda of an oligarchy.

    • Kudos. This painting subject is how I stumbled across ME a week or two ago. I, indeed, saw a painting. Then I saw posts where people sketched out what they remembered and it matched the one I saw. One day, someone will find it and maybe we will learn why so many assume it was King Henry.

  13. Well, this one is a mind freak. I visited a Renaissance festival in 1997, and that led to me vending at them, and then moved on to doing street and stage entertainment. I was awful at history, so I didn’t know much/anything about the time period. I learned all the “wrong things” festivals do, thanks to authentinazis always pointing out this or that being wrong.

    Turkey legs are THE stereotypical festival food. I even knew this when I went to two Texas events when I was a kid in 1980. It wasn’t until the late 90s that someone told me about them not being found in England, and used this painting as a reference to why people must have thought that. “It was most likely a leg of lamb or some other type of meat.”

    And until now, I thought I remembered a different painting where he WAS holding meat. I remember thinking I could easily understand someone thinking it was a turkey leg, since that’s what we would be familiar with in context.

    But it was not this painting – that is clearly not a turkey leg.

    I eventually wrote a comedy song that made fun of wrong things at renfests (“Where is the Renaissance (in the Festival)” and turkey legs was one of the things mentioned in it.

    Now I need to track down my friend who first pointed out this painting to me and see what they recall.

    Wild.

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