Goodnight Sweet Prince

On New Year’s Day of 1511,  queen Katherina of Aragon gave birth to the son she and Henry VIII longed for. The newborn was named Henry after his proud father, but the tiny prince died just a few weeks later, on February 22nd.

As I pointed out in an earlier post, the birth of a healthy baby and his death at seven weeks old does not disprove the hypothesis that Henry VIII had a Kell positive blood type:

It is completely compatible with the hypothesis, because the little boy would have been one of Katherina’s lucky Kell negative infants, and was therefore able to thrive during gestation. If anything, it strengthens the theory. Of Katherina’s known pregnancies only five would reasonably be expected to be at risk for alloimmunization in the womb. There are circumstances wherein the first baby, her stillborn girl, would have possible been exposed to Katherina’s antigens but it is certain (provided the theory is correct) that the queen’s last five pregnancies would have been at risk of alloimmunization. If the New Year’s Prince was Kell negative, then the ratio of Kell+ or Kell- infants born to Katherina looks more balanced; of the five pregnancies, 3 would have been Kell positive and 2 would have been Kell negative … There is a slight possibility that Kell positive alloimmunization may have killed the New Year’s Prince. If the infant had a Kell positive blood type then his death might have been from hyporegenerative anemia, which is a delayed form of hemolytic disease of the newborn.  However, there are no historical records that hint at symptoms of delayed HDN in baby Henry; only the timing of his death makes it even remotely feasible.

Although we cannot know for sure what killed the infant prince, we can know that his parents were understandably grief-stricken. The queen, “like a natural woman, made much lamentation, howbeit by the king’s good persuasion and behavior, her sorrow was mitigated, but not shortly.” The king put on a brave face, as was expected of him, but his heart could have been no less heavy than his wife’s. This was not only his child, his son was the embodiment of the dynasty Henry hoped to continue. The king’s hopes, ambitions, and paternal love were all bound up in the prince’s swaddling cloths … which would perform cruel double duty as the baby’s shroud.

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