With his tumultuous love life, relentless pursuit of a male heir, and drastic religious transformation, England’s King Henry VIII’s life sounds more like reality television than history. He was a man of fascinating contradictions—he pursued a woman he loved for almost a decade only to behead her less than four years after their marriage. He defended Catholicism so vigorously that he was honored as Defender of the Faith, but he went on to break with Rome and have himself declared Supreme Head of the Church of England. Worst of all, the King who began his reign praised as “hero” and “lover of justice and goodness” ended it having metamorphosed into such a monster that he was called the “English Nero.” What could have caused these incredible paradoxes? Could there be a simple medical explanation for the King’s descent into tyranny? Where do the answers lie?
Blood Will Tell.
This book started five years ago with a conversation about the Showtime series The Tudors. I was complaining to Dr. Catrina Banks Whitley that the show, while accurate in some places and featuring the pulchritudinous glory of Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Henry Cavil, would reinforce the belief that it was Henry VIII’s wives, not the King himself, who were the reason for the shortage of surviving offspring. I had done quite a bit of research about male-mediated negative reproductive outcomes in graduate school, so it was natural that I would see Henry as the source of the sad fetal loss his wives endured.
Within twenty-four hours, Dr, Whitley had found a potential reason why the King only had four living children in spite of six wives and a least three mistresses. If Henry had a Kell positive blood type, then any fetus conceived after the first pregnancy that was unfortunate enough to inherit the Kell blood type would be attacked by the mother’s antibodies, and would not survive. Moreover, if Henry had a Kell positive blood type then he may have also suffered from McLeod syndrome, which would have explained his radical personality change after his fortieth birthday.
I wholeheartedly agreed with Dr. Whitley’s postulation, and together we spent two years collaborating on a paper outlining this theory and the historical evidence which supported it. The result was the article “A New Explanation for the Reproductive Woes and Midlife Decline of Henry VIII”, which was published in the December 2010 issue of The Historical Journal.
After the theory’s publication, I felt there was still so much of the King’s story left to tell that I decided to write a book to share more of the information with anyone who was interested. The book tells about the Henry’s health, how the Tudor physicians would have understood his illnesses, his complex love life, the way his behavior altered over time, and how his mental state affected his court and his kingdom. Furthermore, I did my best to correct some common historical inaccuracies seldom addressed in non-academic works, and tried to explain how cultural gender ideologies have frequently influenced the public’s conceptions about Henry’s wives.
I sincerely hope you enjoy reading my book as much as I enjoyed learning more about this incredible monarch and his amazing life.