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How did King Henry VIII get this disease when syphilis was a disease originating from the Americas?
The currently accepted theory for this is that he didn't. Although there is some debate as to what his exact problem was, it doesn't appear to have been Syphilis.
The theory that Henry suffered from syphilis has been dismissed by most historians. A more recent theory suggests that Henry's medical symptoms are characteristic of untreated Type II diabetes. Alternatively, his wives' pattern of pregnancies and his mental deterioration have led some to suggest that the king may have been Kell positive and suffered from McLeod syndrome. According to another study, Henry VIII's history and body morphology was probably the result of traumatic brain injury after his 1536 jousting accident, which in turn led to a neuroendocrine cause of his obesity. This analysis identifies growth hormone deficiency (GHD) as the source for his increased adiposity but also significant behavioural changes noted in his later years, including his multiple marriages.
- Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred and ninety two; a full 55 years before Henry died in 1547. Henry was not known for his chaste ways, so it is quite conceivable that he would have been an early contractor of a new venereal disease.
- The most recent excavations at Pompeii have revealed remains two twin teen-aged sisters, apparently in a brothel, with apparent syphilitic symptoms; if so, the disease may not have originated in the Americas after all:
- and here
among many others easily found by Google.
This remains contentious and unresolved however.
Henry VIII - A Malnourished King?
Almost four and a half centuries have passed since Henry VIII took to the grave secrets of an illness that changed his personality from 'one of the goodliest men that lived in his time' to Dickens's description of him as 'a blot of blood and grease upon the History of England'. So many profound physical and emotional changes manifested themselves upon Henry during the last decade of his life, that his illness has been the subject of numerous hypotheses published in the past century.
In 1888, A.S. Currie was the first to suggest that Henry VIII suffered from syphilis – a belief still being taught in some history classes. Currie based his assertions on the luckless obstetric histories of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn and his work was supported by two other medical writers, James Rae and C. MacLaurin. Soon it was the universal belief that the king had succumbed to syphilitic disease.
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Born on 28 June 1491 at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, Kent, Henry Tudor was the third child and second son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.  Of the young Henry's six (or seven) siblings, only three – his brother Arthur, Prince of Wales, and sisters Margaret and Mary – survived infancy.  He was baptised by Richard Fox, the Bishop of Exeter, at a church of the Observant Franciscans close to the palace.  In 1493, at the age of two, Henry was appointed Constable of Dover Castle and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. He was subsequently appointed Earl Marshal of England and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at age three and was made a Knight of the Bath soon after. The day after the ceremony, he was created Duke of York and a month or so later made Warden of the Scottish Marches. In May 1495, he was appointed to the Order of the Garter. The reason for giving such appointments to a small child was to enable his father to retain personal control of lucrative positions and not share them with established families. 
Not much is known about Henry's early life – save for his appointments – because he was not expected to become king,  but it is known that he received a first-rate education from leading tutors. He became fluent in Latin and French and learned at least some Italian.  
In November 1501, Henry played a considerable part in the ceremonies surrounding his brother's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, the youngest surviving child of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile.  As Duke of York, Henry used the arms of his father as king, differenced by a label of three points ermine. He was further honoured, on 9 February 1506, by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, who made him a Knight of the Golden Fleece. 
In 1502, Arthur died at the age of 15, possibly of sweating sickness,  just 20 weeks after his marriage to Catherine.  Arthur's death thrust all his duties upon his younger brother, the 10-year-old Henry. Henry became the new Duke of Cornwall, and the new Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester in February 1504.  Henry VII gave the boy few responsibilities even after the death of his brother Arthur. Young Henry was strictly supervised and did not appear in public. As a result, he ascended the throne "untrained in the exacting art of kingship". 
Henry VII renewed his efforts to seal a marital alliance between England and Spain, by offering his second son in marriage to Arthur's widow Catherine.  Both Isabella and Henry VII were keen on the idea, which had arisen very shortly after Arthur's death.  On 23 June 1503, a treaty was signed for their marriage, and they were betrothed two days later.  A papal dispensation was only needed for the "impediment of public honesty" if the marriage had not been consummated as Catherine and her duenna claimed, but Henry VII and the Spanish ambassador set out instead to obtain a dispensation for "affinity", which took account of the possibility of consummation.  Cohabitation was not possible because Henry was too young.  Isabella's death in 1504, and the ensuing problems of succession in Castile, complicated matters. Her father preferred her to stay in England, but Henry VII's relations with Ferdinand had deteriorated.  Catherine was therefore left in limbo for some time, culminating in Prince Henry's rejection of the marriage as soon he was able, at the age of 14. Ferdinand's solution was to make his daughter ambassador, allowing her to stay in England indefinitely. Devout, she began to believe that it was God's will that she marry the prince despite his opposition. 
Henry VII died on 21 April 1509, and the 17-year-old Henry succeeded him as king. Soon after his father's burial on 10 May, Henry suddenly declared that he would indeed marry Catherine, leaving unresolved several issues concerning the papal dispensation and a missing part of the marriage portion.   The new king maintained that it had been his father's dying wish that he marry Catherine.  Whether or not this was true, it was certainly convenient. Emperor Maximilian I had been attempting to marry his granddaughter (and Catherine's niece) Eleanor to Henry she had now been jilted.  Henry's wedding to Catherine was kept low-key and was held at the friar's church in Greenwich on 11 June 1509. 
On 23 June 1509, Henry led the now 23-year-old Catherine from the Tower of London to Westminster Abbey for their coronation, which took place the following day.  It was a grand affair: the king's passage was lined with tapestries and laid with fine cloth.  Following the ceremony, there was a grand banquet in Westminster Hall.  As Catherine wrote to her father, "our time is spent in continuous festival". 
Two days after his coronation, Henry arrested his father's two most unpopular ministers, Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley. They were charged with high treason and were executed in 1510. Politically motivated executions would remain one of Henry's primary tactics for dealing with those who stood in his way.  Henry also returned some of the money supposedly extorted by the two ministers.  By contrast, Henry's view of the House of York – potential rival claimants for the throne – was more moderate than his father's had been. Several who had been imprisoned by his father, including the Marquess of Dorset, were pardoned.  Others (most notably Edmund de la Pole) went unreconciled de la Pole was eventually beheaded in 1513, an execution prompted by his brother Richard siding against the king. 
Soon after, Catherine conceived, but the child, a girl, was stillborn on 31 January 1510. About four months later, Catherine again became pregnant.  On 1 January 1511, New Year's Day, the child – Henry – was born. After the grief of losing their first child, the couple were pleased to have a boy and festivities were held,  including a two-day joust known as the Westminster Tournament. However, the child died seven weeks later.  Catherine had two stillborn sons in 1513 and 1515, but gave birth in February 1516 to a girl, Mary. Relations between Henry and Catherine had been strained, but they eased slightly after Mary's birth. 
Although Henry's marriage to Catherine has since been described as "unusually good",  it is known that Henry took mistresses. It was revealed in 1510 that Henry had been conducting an affair with one of the sisters of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, either Elizabeth or Anne Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon.  The most significant mistress for about three years, starting in 1516, was Elizabeth Blount.  Blount is one of only two completely undisputed mistresses, considered by some to be few for a virile young king.   Exactly how many Henry had is disputed: David Loades believes Henry had mistresses "only to a very limited extent",  whilst Alison Weir believes there were numerous other affairs.  Catherine is not known to have protested. In 1518 she fell pregnant again with another girl, who was also stillborn. 
Blount gave birth in June 1519 to Henry's illegitimate son, Henry FitzRoy.  The young boy was made Duke of Richmond in June 1525 in what some thought was one step on the path to his eventual legitimisation.  In 1533, FitzRoy married Mary Howard, but died childless three years later.  At the time of Richmond's death in June 1536, Parliament was considering the Second Succession Act, which could have allowed him to become king. 
In 1510, France, with a fragile alliance with the Holy Roman Empire in the League of Cambrai, was winning a war against Venice. Henry renewed his father's friendship with Louis XII of France, an issue that divided his council. Certainly, war with the combined might of the two powers would have been exceedingly difficult.  Shortly thereafter, however, Henry also signed a pact with Ferdinand. After Pope Julius II created the anti-French Holy League in October 1511,  Henry followed Ferdinand's lead and brought England into the new League. An initial joint Anglo-Spanish attack was planned for the spring to recover Aquitaine for England, the start of making Henry's dreams of ruling France a reality.  The attack, however, following a formal declaration of war in April 1512, was not led by Henry personally  and was a considerable failure Ferdinand used it simply to further his own ends, and it strained the Anglo-Spanish alliance. Nevertheless, the French were pushed out of Italy soon after, and the alliance survived, with both parties keen to win further victories over the French.   Henry then pulled off a diplomatic coup by convincing the Emperor to join the Holy League.  Remarkably, Henry had also secured the promised title of "Most Christian King of France" from Julius and possibly coronation by the Pope himself in Paris, if only Louis could be defeated. 
On 30 June 1513, Henry invaded France, and his troops defeated a French army at the Battle of the Spurs – a relatively minor result, but one which was seized on by the English for propaganda purposes. Soon after, the English took Thérouanne and handed it over to Maximillian Tournai, a more significant settlement, followed.  Henry had led the army personally, complete with a large entourage.  His absence from the country, however, had prompted his brother-in-law, James IV of Scotland, to invade England at the behest of Louis.  Nevertheless, the English army, overseen by Queen Catherine, decisively defeated the Scots at the Battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513.  Among the dead was the Scottish king, thus ending Scotland's brief involvement in the war.  These campaigns had given Henry a taste of the military success he so desired. However, despite initial indications, he decided not to pursue a 1514 campaign. He had been supporting Ferdinand and Maximilian financially during the campaign but had received little in return England's coffers were now empty.  With the replacement of Julius by Pope Leo X, who was inclined to negotiate for peace with France, Henry signed his own treaty with Louis: his sister Mary would become Louis' wife, having previously been pledged to the younger Charles, and peace was secured for eight years, a remarkably long time. 
Charles V ascended the thrones of both Spain and the Holy Roman Empire following the deaths of his grandfathers, Ferdinand in 1516 and Maximilian in 1519. Francis I likewise became king of France upon the death of Louis in 1515,  leaving three relatively young rulers and an opportunity for a clean slate. The careful diplomacy of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey had resulted in the Treaty of London in 1518, aimed at uniting the kingdoms of western Europe in the wake of a new Ottoman threat, and it seemed that peace might be secured.  Henry met Francis I on 7 June 1520 at the Field of the Cloth of Gold near Calais for a fortnight of lavish entertainment. Both hoped for friendly relations in place of the wars of the previous decade. The strong air of competition laid to rest any hopes of a renewal of the Treaty of London, however, and conflict was inevitable.  Henry had more in common with Charles, whom he met once before and once after Francis. Charles brought the Empire into war with France in 1521 Henry offered to mediate, but little was achieved and by the end of the year Henry had aligned England with Charles. He still clung to his previous aim of restoring English lands in France but also sought to secure an alliance with Burgundy, then part of Charles' realm, and the continued support of Charles.  A small English attack in the north of France made up little ground. Charles defeated and captured Francis at Pavia and could dictate peace, but he believed he owed Henry nothing. Sensing this, Henry decided to take England out of the war before his ally, signing the Treaty of the More on 30 August 1525. 
Annulment from Catherine
During his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Henry conducted an affair with Mary Boleyn, Catherine's lady-in-waiting. There has been speculation that Mary's two children, Henry Carey and Catherine Carey, were fathered by Henry, but this has never been proved, and the King never acknowledged them as he did in the case of Henry FitzRoy.  In 1525, as Henry grew more impatient with Catherine's inability to produce the male heir he desired,   he became enamoured of Boleyn's sister, Anne Boleyn, then a charismatic young woman of 25 in the Queen's entourage.  Anne, however, resisted his attempts to seduce her, and refused to become his mistress as her sister had.  [nb 1] It was in this context that Henry considered his three options for finding a dynastic successor and hence resolving what came to be described at court as the King's "great matter". These options were legitimising Henry FitzRoy, which would need the involvement of the pope and would be open to challenge marrying off Mary as soon as possible and hoping for a grandson to inherit directly, but Mary was considered unlikely to conceive before Henry's death, or somehow rejecting Catherine and marrying someone else of child-bearing age. Probably seeing the possibility of marrying Anne, the third was ultimately the most attractive possibility to the 34-year-old Henry,  and it soon became the King's absorbing desire to annul his marriage to the now 40-year-old Catherine.  It was a decision that would lead Henry to reject papal authority and initiate the English Reformation. [ citation needed ]
Henry's precise motivations and intentions over the coming years are not widely agreed on.  Henry himself, at least in the early part of his reign, was a devout and well-informed Catholic to the extent that his 1521 publication Assertio Septem Sacramentorum ("Defence of the Seven Sacraments") earned him the title of Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith) from Pope Leo X.  The work represented a staunch defence of papal supremacy, albeit one couched in somewhat contingent terms.  It is not clear exactly when Henry changed his mind on the issue as he grew more intent on a second marriage. Certainly, by 1527, he had convinced himself that Catherine had produced no male heir because their union was "blighted in the eyes of God".  Indeed, in marrying Catherine, his brother's wife, he had acted contrary to Leviticus 20:21, a justification Thomas Cranmer used to declare the marriage null.  [nb 2] Martin Luther, on the other hand, had initially argued against the annulment, stating that Henry VIII could take a second wife in accordance with his teaching that the Bible allowed for polygamy but not divorce.  Henry now believed the Pope had lacked the authority to grant a dispensation from this impediment. It was this argument Henry took to Pope Clement VII in 1527 in the hope of having his marriage to Catherine annulled, forgoing at least one less openly defiant line of attack.  In going public, all hope of tempting Catherine to retire to a nunnery or otherwise stay quiet was lost.  Henry sent his secretary, William Knight, to appeal directly to the Holy See by way of a deceptively worded draft papal bull. Knight was unsuccessful the Pope could not be misled so easily. 
Other missions concentrated on arranging an ecclesiastical court to meet in England, with a representative from Clement VII. Although Clement agreed to the creation of such a court, he never had any intention of empowering his legate, Lorenzo Campeggio, to decide in Henry's favour.  This bias was perhaps the result of pressure from Emperor Charles V, Catherine's nephew, but it is not clear how far this influenced either Campeggio or the Pope. After less than two months of hearing evidence, Clement called the case back to Rome in July 1529, from which it was clear that it would never re-emerge.  With the chance for an annulment lost, Cardinal Wolsey bore the blame. He was charged with praemunire in October 1529,  and his fall from grace was "sudden and total".  Briefly reconciled with Henry (and officially pardoned) in the first half of 1530, he was charged once more in November 1530, this time for treason, but died while awaiting trial.   After a short period in which Henry took government upon his own shoulders,  Sir Thomas More took on the role of Lord Chancellor and chief minister. Intelligent and able, but also a devout Catholic and opponent of the annulment,  More initially cooperated with the king's new policy, denouncing Wolsey in Parliament. 
A year later, Catherine was banished from court, and her rooms were given to Anne. Anne was an unusually educated and intellectual woman for her time and was keenly absorbed and engaged with the ideas of the Protestant Reformers, but the extent to which she herself was a committed Protestant is much debated.  When Archbishop of Canterbury William Warham died, Anne's influence and the need to find a trustworthy supporter of the annulment had Thomas Cranmer appointed to the vacant position.  This was approved by the Pope, unaware of the King's nascent plans for the Church. 
Henry was married to Catherine for 24 years. Their divorce has been described as a "deeply wounding and isolating" experience for Henry. 
Marriage to Anne Boleyn
In the winter of 1532, Henry met with Francis I at Calais and enlisted the support of the French king for his new marriage.  Immediately upon returning to Dover in England, Henry, now 41, and Anne went through a secret wedding service.  She soon became pregnant, and there was a second wedding service in London on 25 January 1533. On 23 May 1533, Cranmer, sitting in judgment at a special court convened at Dunstable Priory to rule on the validity of the king's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, declared the marriage of Henry and Catherine null and void. Five days later, on 28 May 1533, Cranmer declared the marriage of Henry and Anne to be valid.  Catherine was formally stripped of her title as queen, becoming instead "princess dowager" as the widow of Arthur. In her place, Anne was crowned queen consort on 1 June 1533.  The queen gave birth to a daughter slightly prematurely on 7 September 1533. The child was christened Elizabeth, in honour of Henry's mother, Elizabeth of York. 
Following the marriage, there was a period of consolidation, taking the form of a series of statutes of the Reformation Parliament aimed at finding solutions to any remaining issues, whilst protecting the new reforms from challenge, convincing the public of their legitimacy, and exposing and dealing with opponents.  Although the canon law was dealt with at length by Cranmer and others, these acts were advanced by Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Audley and the Duke of Norfolk and indeed by Henry himself.  With this process complete, in May 1532 More resigned as Lord Chancellor, leaving Cromwell as Henry's chief minister.  With the Act of Succession 1533, Catherine's daughter, Mary, was declared illegitimate Henry's marriage to Anne was declared legitimate and Anne's issue declared to be next in the line of succession.  With the Acts of Supremacy in 1534, Parliament also recognised the King's status as head of the church in England and, together with the Act in Restraint of Appeals in 1532, abolished the right of appeal to Rome.  It was only then that Pope Clement took the step of excommunicating Henry and Thomas Cranmer, although the excommunication was not made official until some time later. [nb 3]
The king and queen were not pleased with married life. The royal couple enjoyed periods of calm and affection, but Anne refused to play the submissive role expected of her. The vivacity and opinionated intellect that had made her so attractive as an illicit lover made her too independent for the largely ceremonial role of a royal wife and it made her many enemies. For his part, Henry disliked Anne's constant irritability and violent temper. After a false pregnancy or miscarriage in 1534, he saw her failure to give him a son as a betrayal. As early as Christmas 1534, Henry was discussing with Cranmer and Cromwell the chances of leaving Anne without having to return to Catherine.  Henry is traditionally believed to have had an affair with Margaret ("Madge") Shelton in 1535, although historian Antonia Fraser argues that Henry in fact had an affair with her sister Mary Shelton. 
Opposition to Henry's religious policies was quickly suppressed in England. A number of dissenting monks, including the first Carthusian Martyrs, were executed and many more pilloried. The most prominent resisters included John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, and Sir Thomas More, both of whom refused to take the oath to the King.  Neither Henry nor Cromwell sought at that stage to have the men executed rather, they hoped that the two might change their minds and save themselves. Fisher openly rejected Henry as the Supreme Head of the Church, but More was careful to avoid openly breaking the Treasons Act of 1534, which (unlike later acts) did not forbid mere silence. Both men were subsequently convicted of high treason, however – More on the evidence of a single conversation with Richard Rich, the Solicitor General, and both were executed in the summer of 1535. 
These suppressions, as well as the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries Act of 1536, in turn contributed to more general resistance to Henry's reforms, most notably in the Pilgrimage of Grace, a large uprising in northern England in October 1536.  Some 20,000 to 40,000 rebels were led by Robert Aske, together with parts of the northern nobility.  Henry VIII promised the rebels he would pardon them and thanked them for raising the issues. Aske told the rebels they had been successful and they could disperse and go home.  Henry saw the rebels as traitors and did not feel obliged to keep his promises to them, so when further violence occurred after Henry's offer of a pardon he was quick to break his promise of clemency.  The leaders, including Aske, were arrested and executed for treason. In total, about 200 rebels were executed, and the disturbances ended. 
Execution of Anne Boleyn
On 8 January 1536, news reached the king and the queen that Catherine of Aragon had died. The following day, Henry dressed all in yellow, with a white feather in his bonnet.  The queen was pregnant again, and she was aware of the consequences if she failed to give birth to a son. Later that month, the King was unhorsed in a tournament and was badly injured it seemed for a time that his life was in danger. When news of this accident reached the queen, she was sent into shock and miscarried a male child at about 15 weeks' gestation, on the day of Catherine's funeral, 29 January 1536.  For most observers, this personal loss was the beginning of the end of this royal marriage. 
Although the Boleyn family still held important positions on the Privy Council, Anne had many enemies, including the Duke of Suffolk. Even her own uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, had come to resent her attitude to her power. The Boleyns preferred France over the Emperor as a potential ally, but the King's favour had swung towards the latter (partly because of Cromwell), damaging the family's influence.  Also opposed to Anne were supporters of reconciliation with Princess Mary (among them the former supporters of Catherine), who had reached maturity. A second annulment was now a real possibility, although it is commonly believed that it was Cromwell's anti-Boleyn influence that led opponents to look for a way of having her executed.  
Anne's downfall came shortly after she had recovered from her final miscarriage. Whether it was primarily the result of allegations of conspiracy, adultery, or witchcraft remains a matter of debate among historians.  Early signs of a fall from grace included the King's new mistress, the 28-year-old Jane Seymour, being moved into new quarters,  and Anne's brother, George Boleyn, being refused the Order of the Garter, which was instead given to Nicholas Carew.  Between 30 April and 2 May, five men, including Anne's brother George, were arrested on charges of treasonable adultery and accused of having sexual relationships with the queen. Anne was also arrested, accused of treasonous adultery and incest. Although the evidence against them was unconvincing, the accused were found guilty and condemned to death. George Boleyn and the other accused men were executed on 17 May 1536.  Henry and Anne's marriage was annulled by Archbishop Cranmer at Lambeth on the same day.  Cranmer appears to have had difficulty finding grounds for an annulment and probably based it on the prior liaison between Henry and Anne's sister Mary, which in canon law meant that Henry's marriage to Anne was, like his first marriage, within a forbidden degree of affinity and therefore void.  At 8 am on 19 May 1536, Anne was executed on Tower Green. 
Medieval overcompensation. King Henry VIII's Suit of Armour with an exaggerated codpiece.
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I remember discussing this with an armorer who told me this was highly likely to reduce friction. King Henry VIII was said to have syphilis, causing him great discomfort in regular armor. Therefore, a larger, padded codpiece was made for him.
However, the large codpiece was also popular in those days for bragging rights. It went out of style in the Elizabethan age when it was decided men walking around bragging about their large member was undesirable.
Cod goes better with chips and vinegar
IDK, I could see giving him more crouch space could help but look at its SHAPE. Was henry VIII riding into battle with a fully erect penis? This is still stinks of over compensation, and knowing Henry VIII (the philanderer/serial wife murderer) over compensation sounds a lot more likely than just giving him more space for his swollen/painful genitals.
I find “medical” explanation somewhat unlikely - I agree more with the second paragraph, that wearing giant codpieces was simply in style at the time, and Henry was following the style.
For one, he’s not alone - there are other suits of armour from that era with large codpieces it was also an item of ordinary men’s clothing. Armour simply followed the clothing style - it had no practical purpose (and armour from future periods, which presumably contained many suffering from such diseases, lacked the codpieces).
The style attracted some ridicule (for its obvious licentious exaggeration and emphasis) at the time. For example, Rabelais in his masterpiece Gargantua and Pantagruel referred, sarcastically, to an imaginary book entitled “On the dignity of codpieces”. The obvious implication is that those employing this style were lacking in dignity .
Accession to the throne
Henry was the second son of Henry VII, first of the Tudor line, and Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV, first king of the short-lived line of York. When his elder brother, Arthur, died in 1502, Henry became the heir to the throne of all the Tudor monarchs, he alone spent his childhood in calm expectation of the crown, which helped give an assurance of majesty and righteousness to his willful, ebullient character. He excelled in book learning as well as in the physical exercises of an aristocratic society, and, when in 1509 he ascended the throne, great things were expected of him. Six feet tall, powerfully built, and a tireless athlete, huntsman, and dancer, he promised England the joys of spring after the long winter of Henry VII’s reign.
Henry and his ministers exploited the dislike inspired by his father’s energetic pursuit of royal rights by sacrificing, without a thought, some of the unpopular institutions and some of the men that had served his predecessor. Yet the unpopular means for governing the realm soon reappeared because they were necessary. Soon after his accession, Henry married Catherine of Aragon, Arthur’s widow, and the attendant lavish entertainments ate into the modest royal reserves.
More serious was Henry’s determination to engage in military adventure. Europe was being kept on the boil by rivalries between the French and Spanish kingdoms, mostly over Italian claims and, against the advice of his older councillors, Henry in 1512 joined his father-in-law, Ferdinand II of Aragon, against France and ostensibly in support of a threatened pope, to whom the devout king for a long time paid almost slavish respect.
Henry himself displayed no military talent, but a real victory was won by the earl of Surrey at Flodden (1513) against a Scottish invasion. Despite the obvious pointlessness of the fighting, the appearance of success was popular. Moreover, in Thomas Wolsey, who organized his first campaign in France, Henry discovered his first outstanding minister. By 1515 Wolsey was archbishop of York, lord chancellor of England, and a cardinal of the church more important, he was the king’s good friend, to whom was gladly left the active conduct of affairs. Henry never altogether abandoned the positive tasks of kingship and often interfered in business though the world might think that England was ruled by the cardinal, the king himself knew that he possessed perfect control any time he cared to assert it, and Wolsey only rarely mistook the world’s opinion for the right one.
Nevertheless, the years from 1515 to 1527 were marked by Wolsey’s ascendancy, and his initiatives set the scene. The cardinal had some occasional ambition for the papal tiara, and this Henry supported Wolsey at Rome would have been a powerful card in English hands. In fact, there was never any chance of this happening, any more than there was of Henry’s election to the imperial crown, briefly mooted in 1519 when the emperor Maximilian I died, to be succeeded by his grandson Charles V. That event altered the European situation. In Charles, the crowns of Spain, Burgundy (with the Netherlands), and Austria were united in an overwhelming complex of power that reduced all the dynasties of Europe, with the exception of France, to an inferior position. From 1521, Henry became an outpost of Charles V’s imperial power, which at Pavia (1525), for the moment, destroyed the rival power of France. Wolsey’s attempt to reverse alliances at this unpropitious moment brought reprisals against the vital English cloth trade with the Netherlands and lost the advantages that alliance with the victor of Pavia might have had. It provoked a serious reaction in England, and Henry concluded that Wolsey’s usefulness might be coming to an end.
Debunking the Myths of the Death of Henry VIII
No one would have called Sir Anthony Denny a brave man, but on the evening of January 27, 1547, the Gentleman of the Privy Chamber performed a duty the most resolute would recoil from: He informed Henry VIII that “in man’s judgment you are not like to live.”
The 55-year-old king, lying in his vast bed in Westm i nster Palace, replied he believed “the mercy of Christ is able to pardon me all my sins, yes, though they were greater than they be.” When asked if he wanted to speak to any “learned man,” King Henry asked for Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer “but I will first take a little sleep. And then, as I feel myself, I will advise on the matter.”
Cranmer was sent for but it took hours for the archbishop to make his way on frozen roads. Shortly after midnight, Henry VIII was barely conscious, unable to speak. The faithful Cranmer always insisted that when he asked for a sign that his monarch trusted in the mercy of Christ, Henry Tudor squeezed his hand.
At about 2 a.m. Henry VIII died, “probably from renal and liver failure, coupled with the effects of his obesity,” says Robert Hutchinson in his 2005 book The Last Days of Henry VIII: Conspiracies, Treason and Heresy at the Court of the Dying Tyrant.
It was a subdued end to a riotous life. The sources for what happened that night are respected, though they are secondary, coming long after the event: Gilbert Burnet’s History of the Reformation of the Church of England (1679) and John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (1874).
Yet there are other stories told of the death and funeral of Henry VIII. The Tudor monarch was finally laid to rest in Windsor Castle on February 14th. He was perhaps the most famous king in English history, and so it is no surprise that in books and on the Internet, some strange or maudlin words and ghoulish acts have attached themselves to his demise.
It is time to address them, one by one.
Myth Number One: “Monks, monks, monks”
Henry VIII broke from Rome and made himself the head of the Church of England, dissolving the monasteries. The monks and friars and nuns faithful to the Pope lost their homes and were turned out on the road. Those who defied the king and denied the royal supremacy, such as the Carthusian martyrs, were tortured and killed.
Did the king regret it at the end? “He expired soon after allegedly uttering his last words: ‘Monks! Monks! Monks!’” says the Wikipedia entry for Henry VIII. It’s a story that has popped up in books too. The major source for it seems to be Agnes Strickland, a 19th century poet turned historian who penned the eight-volume Lives of the Queens of England from the Norman Conquest, and Lives of the Queens of Scotland, and English Princesses. Strickland writes: The king “was afflicted with visionary horrors at the hour of his departure for that he glanced with rolling eyes and looks of wild import towards the darker recesses of his chamber, muttering, ‘Monks — monks!’ ”
More on Strickland later. But when it comes to visions of cowled avengers glowering in the corner, it seems certain that this is an embellishment, an attempt at poetic justice. But not something that happened. Most likely at the final hour Henry regretted nothing.
Myth Number Two: “Cried out for Jane Seymour”
Another story is that while dying Henry VIII cried out for his third wife, the long dead Jane Seymour. It supports the idea that Jane, the pale lady-in-waiting who rapidly replaced Anne Boleyn, was the love of Henry’s life. He did, after all, request to be buried next to her. And whenever a family portrait was commissioned after 1537, Jane was shown sitting beside him, rather than one of the wives he was actually married to. But Henry VIII does not quite deserve his reputation for being impossible to please when it comes to women. He actually had a low bar for marital success: birth of a baby boy. Jane produced the son who became Edward VI — doing so killed her — and thus moved to the top of the pecking order.
Whether he actually loved Jane more than the five other spouses (not to mention those alluring mistresses) is best left to screenwriters. But one thing seems certain: Henry VIII did not cry for his third wife while expiring. There is no historical source for it.
Myth Number Three: “And the dogs will lick his blood”
The most macabre story of all supposedly happened weeks after the king died but before he was lowered into the crypt next to Jane Seymour in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor. The king’s corpse was transported in a lead coffin from Westminster the procession of thousands lasted two days. There was a large funeral effigy on top of the coffin, complete with crown at one end and crimson velvet shoes at the other, that, one chronicler said fearfully, was so realistic “he seemed just as if he were alive.”
At the halfway mark, the coffin was housed in Syon Abbey, once one of England’s most prestigious religious houses. That is fact. But the rest is suspect. Because of an accident or just the undoubted heaviness of the monarch’s coffin — Henry VIII weighed well over 300 pounds at his death — there was supposedly a leak in the night, and either blood or “putrid matter” leaked onto the floor. When men arrived in the morning, a stray dog was seen licking under the coffin, goes the tale.
This hearkened to an unforgettable Easter Sunday sermon in 1532 before the king and his soon-to-be-second-wife, Anne Boleyn. Friar William Peto, provincial of the Observant Franciscans and a fiery supporter of first wife Katherine of Aragon, compared Henry VIII to King Ahab, husband of Jezebel. According to Scripture, after Ahab died, wild dogs licked his blood. Peto thundered that the same thing would happen to the English king.
Gilbert Burnet is the main source for the coffin-leaking story. A Scottish theologian and bishop of Salisbury, he is today considered reliable — except when he’s not. One historian, while praising Burnet’s book as an “epoch in our historical literature,” fretted that “a great deal of fault has been found — and, no doubt, justly — with the inaccuracy and general imperfection of the transcripts on which his work was largely founded and which gave rise to endless blunders.” One of Burnet’s most well known contributions to Tudor lore was that a disappointed Henry VIII described fourth wife Anne of Cleves as a “Flanders mare.” Author Antonia Fraser, in particular, writes sternly that Burnet had “no contemporary reference to back it up” in her book The Six Wives of Henry VIII.
What seems undeniable is that the foundation Burnet created, Agnes Strickland built on. Indeed, she raised a whole Gothic mansion in her own description of that night in Syon: “The King, being carried to Windsor to be buried, stood all night among the broken walls of Syon, and there the leaden coffin being cleft by the shaking of the carriage, the pavement of the church was wetted with Henry’s blood. In the morning came plumbers to solder the coffin, under whose feet — ‘I tremble while I write it,’ says the author — ‘was suddenly seen a dog creeping, and licking up the king’s blood. If you ask me how I know this, I answer, William Greville, who could scarcely drive away the dog, told me and so did the plumber also.’
“It appears certain that the sleepy mourners and choristers had retired to rest, after the midnight dirges were sung, leaving the dead king to defend himself, as best as he might, from the assaults of his ghostly enemies, and some people might think they made their approaches in a currish form. It is scarcely, however, to be wondered that a circumstance so frightful should have excited feelings of superstitious horror, especially at such a time and place for this desecrated convent had been the prison of his unhappy queen, Katherine Howard, whose tragic fate was fresh in the minds of men and by a singular coincidence it happened that Henry’s corpse rested there the very day after the fifth anniversary of her execution.”
Putting aside Strickland’s Bram Stoker-esque prose, there’s the question of whether such a ghastly thing could even occur. Sixteen-century embalmment did not call for completely draining a corpse of blood, it is true.
But Strickland’s fervent connections to not only Friar Peto’s sermon but also Syon’s monastery past — echoing the “Monks, monks, monks” poetic justice — and the (near) anniversary of Katherine Howard’s death make it seem likely that this was a case of too good a story to resist.
No one disturbed the coffin of the indomitable King Henry VIII — not even ghosts in “currish form.”
Henry VIII’s Deteriorating Health 1509-1547
Healthy, attractive and with great sporting aptitude? These adjectives are not usually associated with King Henry VIII. Of course, he is well known for his six marriages, beheading two wives, his obsession with a male heir and the break away from Rome. On a more personal side, he is also known for his growing waist line, extravagant feasts and poor health however, this does not give a full picture of the man who ruled over England for 38 years.
A jousting accident could be said to have been the catalyst for Henry to change into a tyrannical monarch with an unpredictable bad temper.
Henry VIII with Charles V and Pope Leon X, circa 1520
In 1509, at the young age of eighteen, Henry VIII ascended to the throne. Henry’s reign is well researched due in no small part to the political and religious turmoil of the period. At the beginning of his reign, Henry was a truly remarkable character oozing charisma, good-looking and both academically and athletically talented. Indeed, many scholars of the period considered Henry VIII to be extremely handsome: he was even referred to as an ‘Adonis’. At six-feet and two-inches tall with a slim athletic build, fair complexion and prowess on the jousting and tennis courts, Henry spent the majority of his life and reign, slim and athletic. Throughout his youth and reign up to 1536, Henry lived a healthy lifestyle. During Henry’s twenties, he weighed approximately fifteen stone, with a thirty-two inch wait and a thirst for jousting.
Portrait of a young Henry VIII by Joos van Cleve, thought to date to 1532.
However as he aged, his athletic figure and attractive features began to disappear. His girth, waist-line and reputation as the impossible, irritable and ruthless King only grew after the King suffered a serious jousting accident in 1536. This accident impacted Henry massively, and left him with both physical and mental scars.
The accident occurred on 24th January 1536 at Greenwich, during his marriage to Anne Boleyn. Henry suffered severe concussion and burst a varicose ulcer on his left leg, a legacy from an earlier traumatic jousting injury in 1527 which had healed quickly under the care of the surgeon Thomas Vicary. This time Henry was not so lucky and ulcers now appeared on both legs, causing incredible pain. These ulcers never truly healed and Henry had constant, severe infections as a result. In February 1541, the French Ambassador recalled the plight of the King.
“The King’s Life was really thought [to be] in danger, not from fever, but from the leg which often troubles him.”
The ambassador then highlighted how the king compensated for this pain by eating and drinking excessively, which altered his mood greatly. Henry’s growing obesity and constant infections continued to concern Parliament.
The jousting accident, which had prevented him from enjoying his favourite pastime, had also prohibited Henry from exercising. Henry’s final suit of armour in 1544, three years before his death, suggests he weighed at least three hundred pounds, his waist having expanded from a very slim thirty-two inches to fifty-two inches. By 1546, Henry had become so large that he required wooden chairs to carry him around and hoists to lift him. He needed to be lifted onto his horse and his leg continued to deteriorate. It is this image, of a morbidly obese king, that most people recall when asked about Henry VIII.
Portrait of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger, circa 1540
The endless pain was undoubtedly a factor in Henry’s metamorphosis into a bad tempered, unpredictable and irascible monarch. Persistent chronic pain can severely impact quality of life – even today- and with the absence of modern medicine, Henry must have been faced with excruciating pain daily, which must have had an impact on his temperament. Henry’s latter years were a far-cry from the valiant, charismatic prince of 1509.
Henry’s last days were filled with extreme pain his leg injuries needed to be cauterised by his doctors and he had chronic stomach ache. He died on 28th January 1547 aged 55, as a result of renal and liver failure.
By Laura John. I am currently a History Teacher, planning to complete a PhD. I have an MA and BA Hons in History from Cardiff University. I am passionate about historical study and sharing my love of history with everyone, and making it accessible and engaging.
Henry VIII was king of England from 1509 to 1547. Henry’s father was Henry VII and his mother was Elizabeth of York. Henry had six wives – 1. Catherine of Aragon (divorced) 2. Anne Boleyn (executed) 3. Jane Seymour (died) 4. Anne of Cleves (divorced) 5. Catherine Howard (executed) and 6. Catherine Parr (outlived Henry).
He had three children – Mary (by Catherine of Aragon), Elizabeth (by Anne Boleyn) and Edward (by Jane Seymour). Each became a monarch – Edward VI, Mary Tudor (or Mary I) and Elizabeth I in that order.
Henry’s reign saw major changes in religion – the English Reformation.
Though Henry could be a cruel and heartless man – as the trial of Anne Boleyn and the marriage to Anne of Cleves might indicate – he was also highly intelligent.
He enjoyed watching plays, he wrote poetry and he was a skilled lute player. Some historians believe that he wrote the famous song “Greensleeves”. Henry also loved sports such as wrestling and hunting. As a young man he was a skilled horse rider though as he got older, he put on a lot of weight and this lead to him exercising less and the less he exercised, the fatter he got. In the last few years of his life, he was affected by ulcerous legs that turned gangrenous, he may have had syphilis and he may have had osteomyelitis possibly caused by a jousting accident.
When Henry died on January 28th, 1547, few mourned his death. He had become highly unpredictable in his final years and this alone made him more and more of a danger to those who were near to him.
Henry VIII the dust
Despite this rather large death toll, the evidence suggests that Henry Tudor, known to history as England's King Henry VIII, believed in God. Before they had their famous falling-out, the pope had declared Henry "Defender of the Faith," for the monarch's writings in opposition to Martin Luther. It should come as no surprise, then, that the afterlife, and what it might hold, took up much of Henry's waning attention as he slowly slipped from this life to eternal life.
The chronicles from the time spun his final moments as befitting a king, but bear in mind there were also examinations of Henry's sputum and stools going on. Hopefully in a different room. As power brokers "hovered solicitously in the background," according to the History Press, perhaps hoping to get name-checked in his yet-to-be finalized will, Henry was overcome by a "final paralysing weakness." Assistants would be applying various potions and poultices, generally fussing about. History Press describes a scent of "grey amber and musk to smother the stench of physical decay," and a "shadowy gloom created by the window tapestries, which were tightly drawn to bar the invasive damp, along with "the stifling fug generated by the great wood fire that was fed continually to eliminate all 'evil vapours'."
King Henry VIII's health problems explained
Among a long list of personality quirks and historical drama, Henry VIII is known for the development of health problems in midlife and a series of miscarriages for two of his wives. In a new study, researchers propose that Henry had an X-linked genetic disorder and a rare blood type that could explain many of his problems.
By suggesting biological causes for significant historical events, the study offers new ways to think about the infamous life of the notorious 16th-century British monarch, said Catarina Whitley, a bioarchaeologist who completed the research while at Southern Methodist University.
"What really made us look at Henry was that he had more than one wife that had obstetrical problems and a bad obstetrical history," said Whitley, now with the Museum of New Mexico. "We got to thinking: Could it be him?"
Plenty of historians have written about Henry's health problems. As a young man, he was fit and healthy. But by the time of his death, the King weighed close to 400 pounds. He had leg ulcers, muscle weakness, and, according to some accounts, a significant personality shift in middle age towards more paranoia, anxiety, depression and mental deterioration.
Among other theories, experts have proposed that Henry suffered from Type II diabetes, syphilis, an endocrine problem called Cushing's syndrome, or myxedema, which is a byproduct of hypothyroidism.
All of those theories have flaws, Whitley said, and none address the monarch's reproductive woes. Two of his six wives — Ann Boleyn and Katherine of Aragon — are thought to have suffered multiple miscarriages, often in the third trimester.
Positive meets negative?
To explain those patterns, Whitley and colleague Kyra Kramer offer a new theory: Henry may have belonged to a rare blood group, called Kell positive. Only 9 percent of the Caucasian population belongs to this group.
When a Kell positive man impregnates a Kell negative woman, there is a 50 percent chance of provoking an immune response in the woman's body that attacks her developing fetus. The first baby of a Kell positive father and Kell negative mother is usually fine. But some of the baby's blood will inevitably get into the mother's body — either during development or at birth, leading her to produce antibodies against the baby's Kell antigens.
As a result, in subsequent pregnancies, babies may suffer from extra fluid in their tissues, anemia, jaundice, enlarged spleens, or heart failure, often leading to miscarriage between about 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.
Ann Boleyn is a classic example of this pattern, Whitley said. According to some accounts (and there is still much dispute about the details, including how many pregnancies there actually were), Elizabeth — Anne's first daughter with Henry — was born healthy and without complications. But her second and third pregnancies miscarried at about month six or seven.
Catherine of Aragon carried as many as six pregnancies. Only her fifth led to the birth of a live and health baby, a daughter named Mary.
McLeod syndrome, too?
In addition to Henry's problematic blood type, the researchers propose that he also had a rare genetic disorder called McLeod syndrome. Carried on the X-chromosome, the disease generally affects only men and usually sets in around age 40 with symptoms including heart disease, movement disorders and major psychological symptoms, including paranoia and mental decline.
The disease could explain many of Henry's physical ailments, the researchers propose. It could also explain why he may have become more despotic as he grew older and why he shifted from supporting Anne to having her beheaded.
"This gives us an alternative way of interpreting Henry and understanding his life," Whitley said. "It gives us a new way to look at the reasons he changed."
Without any genetic evidence, however, there's no way to know for sure whether the new theories are right, said Retha Warnicke, a historian at Arizona State University and author of "The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII."
Other conditions could explain the miscarriages, she said. Until the late 19th century, midwives did not wash their hands. And in Henry's time, up to half of all children died before age 15.
As for Henry's woes, dementia could explain his personality shifts, she added. Lack of exercise — after an active youth — combined with a hearty appetite could have led to his obesity and related ills.
"'Could' is the big word," Warnicke said. "It's an interesting theory and it's possibly true, but it can't be proven without some clinical evidence, and there is none."