Historic Tudor Football Painting – April 1, 1545

Historic Tudor Football Painting –  April 1, 1545

Print on archival watercolour art paper

610mm x 366mm

This is the picture that changed football history – the ancient parchment that proves King Henry VIII invented the international football match, 327 years earlier than what had been thought of as the first match between countries.

The image is part of the earliest known poster for any sporting event.

Artists Harbour’s real-world gallery and faming studio in Portsmouth discovered this historic poster –– on the opening day of April, 2007. We were dismantling an old picture of the Tudor warship Mary Rose for reframing and found the parchment hidden inside.

According to the parchment, the first match took place between England and France at Portsmouth, on the English south coast, 467 years ago in an attempt to avert a French invasion. By coincidence, the parchment puts the date of the match also as "ye First Day of Aprille".

Until this discovery, the first international football match was officially recorded as Scotland vs England at Glasgow in 1872.

The ancient illustration depicts King Henry and his army in 1545, watching the English goalkeeper with the ball while the referee shows a red card to another player, thought to be French because it is unlikely the referee would have booked an English player under the nose of King Henry himself.

A third player writhes in agony on the ground, while trainers rush on with a stretcher. Another trainer is wheeling a barrow of oranges onto the ground, suggesting the incident may have happened on the stroke of half-time.

Meanwhile, English supporters in doublet and hose wave a huge red-and-white flag of St. George.

With 30,000 French men-at-arms anchored in the Solent in March 1545 aboard 200 ships, the biggest invasion fleet ever to reach British shores, it is thought King Henry commanded the game to be played as a diplomatic gesture to defuse the situation – he had only 80 ships and 12,000 troops.

The parchment says: “By Comande of His Royal Majestye ye Kinge Henry VIII fidei def. (defender of the faith) A Matche At Futbal to be Playd between ye Nationes opposed at Portsmuthe, [ye Matelots and ye Men-at-Armes of Real England vs. France, ye Attacking Forces] at Southsea Castle Fielde on ye First Day of Aprille, MDXLV (1545).”

But the football match obviously did not succeed in averting the attempted invasion and King Henry’s warship Mary Rose sank in the ensuing Battle of the Solent off Southsea Castle before the French fleet departed empty handed.

The illustrated parchment – probably the oldest sporting event poster in the world – was found inside a picture frame, stuck underneath an old painting sent for reframing to a Portsmouth art gallery near the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

The art gallery has now copied the ancient parchment onto its website as –

  • art prints from the image
  • reproductions of the whole poster, and
  • free downloadable wallpaper for your computer


To help raise funds for several Southsea seafront good causes, including restoration of a Victorian seafront shelter (see http://www.southseashelter.co.uk ), voluntary donations for the free wallpaper are requested, and reproduction posters of the old parchment are for sale in the same cause.-- 20% of the price of the reproduction posters and art prints will be donated to the fund.

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