The Prince and the Pauper – Chapter Eight – Historical Tidbit

Believe it or not, Henry VIII started out as a healthy, handsome, and strong young king. It wasn’t until later in life where he became the king most remember him for today — ornery, overweight, ill, and many-wived. So where did it all go wrong? Today our Historical Tidbit for Chapter 8 of The Prince and the Pauper is…


If you’ve ever done any exploration into the medical practices of the past, you probably agree that it’s shocking anyone even lived past childhood. Yet somehow, amongst plagues, infections, and terrifyingly unhygienic practices, people still survived! Unfortunately for Henry VIII, that luck eventually ran out. Keep reading or watch the video below to find out more about his failing health.

Chapter 8 shows multiple moments where we see his health start to fade. Below is one specific example:

“His voice failed; an ashen pallor swept the flush from his cheeks; and the attendants eased him back upon his pillows, and hurriedly assisted him with restoratives. ” (p. 39)

How did Henry’s health fail?

Henry started out very healthy and atheltic. Most people agree that the start of his failing health was a jousting accident. It happened on January 24, 1536, while he was still married to Anne Boleyn (his second wife). During a joust match, he was knocked from his horse, and the horse actually fell on him. As a result of this, he suffered a concussion. He also had an ulcer burst on his left leg, which had formed from a previous injury. He ended up getting ulcers on both of his legs, which led to many infections throughout the rest of his life.

What happened as a result?

There were many different ailments that happened as a result of this accident including:

  • He began to eat large amounts to compensate for pain (likely more than 300 lbs at death, maybe almost 400)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Some believe paranoia, anxiety, depression, and mental deterioration
  • Possibly suffered from Type II diabetes, syphillis, Cushing’s syndrome (endocrine problem), myxedema (caused by hypothyroidism)
  • Died January 28, 1547 (age 55) of renal (kidney) and liver failure

What were some other theories about his health?

Obviously now that we have a deeper understanding of the human body and diseases, scientists, doctors, and researchers can look back on the symptoms Henry was experiencing and can make some other guesses about what might have been happening.

One theory is that he was Kell positive (a rare blood 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.” It is believed this this could possibly be what caused his wives to have so many miscarriages and so few healthy children.

Another theory is that he could have had McLeod Syndrome. “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.” These symptoms match up with many of the descriptions of Henry in his later years, so it certainly seems possible.

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