Henry VIII’s Health in a Nutshell
by Kyra Cornelius Kramer
Will Henry VIII, Napoleon, Mary, Queen of Scots, and Rasputin be assigned new labels to their maladies? More than likely as modern medical science will continually bring up possible diagnoses for our historical figures. Theories have continually changed over the years but it does not make them any less interesting. Therefore, it was with great curiosity that I approached this title.
Before embarking on the discussion of the text itself, this reviewer would like to mention that the publication was well-done. There were a few (literally I think there were three) typographical errors (such as the word window instead of widow) but not enough to be off putting. An impressive list of sources supported the concisely presented, wealth of information provided.
Kramer put forth her theories and explained not only the illness and its possible symptoms, but also matched the documented behaviors and treatments associated with Henry VIII.
Recent awareness of the long-term effect of concussions, from the National Football League in America, and the identified Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, has made most scholars of Henry VIII assume that his severe falls in 1524 and 1536 (especially the later) generated his physical and mental changes.
Kramer, after presenting other theories from osteomyelitis, and psychopathic tendencies, brought in a new perspective: Kell antigen system and McLeod Syndrome (a condition often found in those with the Kell positive blood group.) Combined together these two ailments argue convincingly for the explanation of the mid-life alteration in Henry’s physical characteristics and personality.
Kramer’s identification of Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Duchess of Bedford as the altered gene carrier was well-documented. I had always found it interesting that with her reproductive success rate and those of Isabella of Castile, the Norfolk women, Margery Wentworth (Jane Seymour’s mother), Maria of Jülich-Berg (Anne of Cleves’ mom) and many of the Parr women, that Henry’s marriages were so barren.
It is not in the scope of this review to list all of the theories presented and analyzed by Kramer, the reader can explore those easily enough. What this reviewer found fascinating was the premise that emerges in the reader’s mind that major historical events can be linked to biological causes. Fascinating! Whose health should next to be studied?