It’s easy to imagine that the lives of kings and queens and their families are made up of leisurely lifestyles with very little to do except enjoy their palaces, feasts, and the freedom from the daily toil that most people have to deal with. 

Over the centuries, the lifestyles of top royals have varied greatly, and the images of decadence and endless free time may well have been the reality of royal living during some periods in the past. Yet, for many royals, the reality of duty and obligations meant that their roles were much more demanding than a relaxed whirl of social delights and shopping. 

Kings, Queens & Leisure

In recent times, the culture of royal living has become even more about service and duty, with many modern royals enduring intense itineraries that keep them busy on a full-time basis. 

So, contrary to the popular impression that royals spend their time purely on their pleasures and leisurely pastimes, it’s very common for hard-working royals to experience demanding schedules of engagements and duties. 

While their busy regal lives may involve far more work than is commonly expected, throughout the ages, many royals have still managed to find some time to indulge in their favourite pastimes, not necessarily as a way to while away endless hours of leisure, but as a way to cope with demands of royal living or to relax in between their royal duties. 

Here are some of the favourite pastimes of famous royals around the world from a number of periods of history ranging from medieval times through to the Renaissance and the modern era. 

King Henry VIII – Composing Songs & Music

King Henry VIII in 1540
King Henry VIII in 1540.

The history books reflect the famous King Henry VIII of England as a keen lover of the arts and it’s believed he composed both songs and music himself. 

During his reign in the 16th century, music would have been one of the most popular pastimes, especially for those in the royal court who would have had more leisure time than the working classes. So, it’s not surprising that King Henry VIII would enjoy musical entertainment, particularly as his role as king would enable him to enjoy the very best talents and performers. 

What is more unusual is that he would choose to turn his own hand to creating original works himself. It’s believed he composed a number of pieces of music and was in the habit of writing lyrics, reportedly penning a number of songs for his romantic interests and his numerous wives. 

It’s perhaps surprising to discover the famous king’s proclivities for songwriting and composing given that he went down in history as one of the most infamous rulers and momentous leaders of all time, alongside his fame for the high number of marriages. Though perhaps it is precisely because of his activities as a powerful king and controversial ruler that he found solace and enjoyment in his creative pursuits. 

King Louis XVI – Locksmithery & Furniture

Louis XVI, the famous King of France who was beheaded during the French Revolution, reportedly had a keen interest in craftsmanship and working with tools. 

In particular, King Louis enjoyed the intricate work of locksmithing, as well as carpentry and furniture-making. While the history books may paint a picture of the legendary French king as decadent and aloof, impervious to the trials of the working classes, it seems that he had more in common with the peasant craftsmen than many would believe. 

Of course, his interest in working with metal and wood was enabled by his position and vast fortune, and it’s not clear whether his talent would have been sufficient to provide a living had he not been king. Yet, this unassuming and intricate hobby reveals another side of the king to the controversial political figure of history. 

It’s believed that King Louis preferred the quieter aspects of life, at least on occasion, and that his favourite pastimes of locksmithery and carpentry were a way for him to enjoy simpler pleasures than the grand extravagance and courtly lifestyles of his famous Versaille home. 

Princess Grace – Swimming & Knitting

Princess Grace at Floriade garden exhibit, 1972
Princess Grace at Floriade garden exhibit, 1972 – Hans Peters / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The famous Princess Grace of Monaco may have been more renowned for her movie background than her quieter private pastimes but like many royals, she had a number of activities that she enjoyed in her spare time. 

One of her favourites was a love of swimming. It’s perhaps not a coincidence that one of her most iconic movie moments was the pool scene from her role in her final film, High Society. Many of the published photographs of Princess Grace show her sporting a glamorous swimsuit and indulging in her love of the water, whether at the pools of her homes or movie sets, in the waters of the Riviera coast, or beside a luxury yacht on holiday. 

According to her son’s disclosure during an interview, Princess Grace’s love of swimming even extended to designing the pool at the palace home she shared with her husband, Prince Rainier III of Monaco. 

While Princess Grace was much admired as a dutiful royal and hard-working ambassador for her new family and adopted nation, it’s believed that she also enjoyed a number of other pastimes, one of which was the perhaps unlikely hobby of knitting. In contrast to the glamourous role as a movie star and fairy tale princess, Princess Grace could often be found knitting in her private moments or during preparations for her many engagements. 

Princess Grace also inspired others through her knitting pastime, with the baby jacket pattern she knit for her daughter being published in Woman’s Day in 1956 and becoming one of their most popular patterns. 

While the royals of the ages may have enjoyed lives of privilege that many hard-working members of the public may imagine as an idyllic life of leisure, it’s clear that at least some of history’s royals lived full lives of duty and ceaseless service. Yet, like people from all walks of life, they needed to escape to quieter pastimes or to express themselves through creative hobbies. 

The intriguing pastimes of these famous royals give an inspiring and captivating glimpse of their lives and personalities as simple men and women, with interests and delights beyond the realms of royal living and the public gaze.