Inside the Body of Henry VIII

I finally got to watch the wonderful documentary "Inside the Body of Henry VIII" last weekend. It was a really interesting watch and quite informative. The presenters were Robert Hutchinson whose writing I greatly enjoy (I am currently reading his book ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’), historian Dr Lucy Worlsey who is quirky and funny but extremely knowledgeable about Tudor history, and Dr Catherine Hood, a medical doctor. 

Hutchinson stated that “Henry’s health was the health of England” and this documentary really showed just how powerful and correct this statement was.

To look into the health of Henry VIII, Hutchinson, Worlsey and Hood looked at a range of reports written about Henry VIII. Henry was the King of England and everything concerning his being, from his public appearances right down to his bowel movements, was recorded. The King could barely have any time alone because as Hutchinson said, his health was the health of England. They needed their King and thus it was important to record every tiny little detail about Henry’s health. It was noted that Henry’s doctors spent a lot of time studying his urine, stools, blood and spit to gain an idea of how healthy the King was.

In his younger years Henry was a healthy, strong, very handsome young man. He was tall and his good looks were often spoken about. He enjoyed playing sports including, archery, wrestling, jousting and hunting.  Henry VIII may have contracted smallpox at approximately age twenty three but he recovered. Henry was terribly fearful about catching illnesses, and was very paranoid about his health and trying to keep healthy; which I suppose as the King of England is in some way justified. He had to keep himself healthy and strong so that he could effectively rule his Kingdom. If there was an outbreak of illness or infection Henry would move his court as to reduce the chances of getting sick. 

Henry VIII’s health problems:
Age 23: Catches Smallpox but recovers.
Age 30: Catches Malaria, recovers but continues to suffer bouts throughout his life.
Age 33: Jousting accident, forgets to put the visor down and his hit in the head above right eye with a lance (I believe the Duke of Suffolk was Henry’s jousting partner) After this he suffers from terrible migraines.
Age 36: Suffers a painful wrench foot during a tennis match
Age 36: Varicose Ulcers, used by tight garters
Age 45: Jousting accident: Falls from horse, is squashed by the weight of his armour, the horse falling on him and the weight of his horses armour. He is unconscious for two hours. May have caused frontal lobe damage and seriously worsened the ulcers upon his legs.
Later years: Starts to gain a great deal of weight, over eats, does not eat a balanced diet. Becomes obese and may have had type two diabetes and raised blood pressure.

Hutchinson, Worlsey and Hood then look at the 1536 jousting accident in which Henry fell and was crushed by his horse causing him to be unconscious for two hours. They try to recreate the trauma that Henry would have suffered during his accident. A large pig is used to represent Henry (no comment there!) and a weight is dropped upon it.  The weight represents the weight of Henry’s armour, the weight of his horse and the weight of his horses armour. I have to say I jumped when the weight squished the pig carcass! Truly it was amazing that Henry did survive. Henry’s fall would have been the equivalent of a 40 mile per hour car crash! As well as giving Henry a major head injury the accident also reopens the ulcers in his legs. Henry may have suffered a personality change due to this major head injury, especially if there was injury to the frontal lobe. Suzannah Lipscomb talks more about this in her fantastic book “1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII” – she talks about how the jousting accident of 1536 may have affected Henry’s mood and personality. I would strong recommend giving it a read as it is very informative and very interesting!

Over the years the ulcers in Henry’s his legs grew worse and when they healed it actually increased the seriousness of the injury. The ulcers were kept open and weeping and therefore were constantly susceptible to infection which could cause the ulcers to become very, very smelly. This instantly reminded me of how Henry VIII complained that Anne of Cleves had bad odours about her! I wonder if it was really just Henry’s leg that smelt and he tried to blame it on poor Anne!

Due to Henry’s bad legs he was increasingly unable to participate in exercise and sports. He started to binge eat and was often constipated and suffered from terrible mood swings. The documentary looked at how much Henry actually ate in his later years. They suggest that Henry ate around 5000 calories a day, which is twice the average for a man of today’s times. Henry ate all the wrong types of foods, including too much ale and red wine, far too much bread and meat and not enough vegetables and fruits. They did a weekly shop for Henry and oh my gosh it made me shudder to think one man could eat so much in a single week! (Not to mention the cost of all the food that Henry consumed each week! I’m amazed his coffers weren’t even more bankrupt than they already were!) Of course back in the Tudor period they did not have anywhere as much knowledge or understanding about the types of foods and the appropriate amounts of foods required to keep the body functioning in a healthy manner. But still, Henry VIII did eat to the extreme!

We also got to see the other very serious problems that Henry’s body would have suffered from. We were told about how fat he became and that he would have had very poor circulation. His heart would have grown very large and would have had to pump very hard to try and circulate the blood around his body. His liver would have become very fatty and he probably would have had high blood pressure and possibly type two diabetes.

Henry VIII would have been in a lot of pain and the treatments the doctors gave him would not have helped since they did not have the medical knowledge and understand we have in today’s times. Henry would have became a massively overweight, comfort eating, paranoid, cruel, tyrannical man with mood swings. What a sad decline for a once handsome, athletic, influential young man.

This documentary was fascinating and was presented in an entertaining, easy to understand format. Dr Lucy Worsley and Robert Hutchinson are extraordinarily knowledgeable in Tudor history and it was wonderful to hear their thoughts and views regarding the health of Henry VIII. I really enjoyed this documentary and it was just so interesting to see all the physical changes and health problems that Henry VIII, one of England’s most famous Kings, would have suffered with.

Dr Lucy Worsley, Robert Hutchinson and Dr Catherine Wood
National Geographic Website


Melissa said...

Thanks for sharing this! I will have to check it out!

Anonymous said...

Missed this the first time round. I will have to track it down. Thanks for the prod and the interesting summery. Sarah (Le Temps Viendra)

Anonymous said...

Hi! I have just seen this docfilm this morning!
It was wery interesting, impressive! I haven't read the Hutchinson's book but I started to look for the historian and Henry's health...It's great that I chanced to find you, your blog!
I've a friend, she is a doctor - I'll tell her about Henry's body...Bye!
Eve - from Budapest, Hungary

Anonymous said...

Сейчас вижу, что там у тебя 7 часов больше! Это Сибирь? Или Джакарта?
Ah!Intresting to know is this Indonesia/..or Russia...? There 7 hours more.
Bye : Éva/ Hungary

Anonymous said...

Ok! In the end i could see the your photo and data. Sorry for the previous note!
Bye - Eve/Hu

Anonymous said...

Did this program state how to treat Henry's ulcers and wounds with today's medicine?

Sarah said...

Not specifically no, but if you do a bit of research on the ulcers you can find out how they are treated using modern medicine :)

Anonymous said...

i wonder about the leg ulcers. all information indicates that he was treated by selected "doctors" picked for the king's health. we know what the outcome was. i'm wondered if a peasant medicine woman who knew more about the properties od plants and roots treatedhim would the outcome be different.

Sarah said...

I think it probably may have been :)

Karen said...

I watch this document and was taken in greatly. Thank you all for putting it together.
Love Karen

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