An alternative view on Henry VIII's personality change

In my late twenties I had developed chronic back pain. I couldn’t walk, stand, even lean without being in pain. The constancy of it meant I had not slept properly for years. This was, however, my norm. So too was my inability to take much emotional distress before I erupted in a temper or melted into an emotional mess! I had, as the phrase goes “had it up to here!” [imagine my salute style hand touching the top of my forehead].

Was I an emotional erratic?

Was I a bad tempered person?

Would I have been described as having a volatile personality?

Quite possibly! But was that an accurate evaluation of the person I am?


Henry VIII

As a 44 year old Henry VIII set up for the joust on 24th January 1536, an event in which he both revelled and excelled in, he would not have know how life changing this day would be. The crowd looked on in horror as Henry, in full armour, fell from his horse which then fell on top of him, the weight of the animal for a time on top of the king.

Different sources differ in their account of what happened immediately after the accident from ones saying he was not hurt to a report saying he lay unconscious, or at least unable to speak, for 2 hours. 

Whatever the extent of his initial injuries the incident preventing him from ever jousting again. His major health problems also began to take hold after this time. 

The once athletic man began a decline into obesity, inactivity and ill-health. Henry had been a very active, athletic young man. His love of riding, hunting and sports are well known.It gave him the physical outlet he needed to expend energy, a chance to show of his physical prowess and remove himself from the business of government for short periods.

What effect then, this lack of physical activity? Speak to anyone who would describe them self as active and ask them how they feel if they can’t get to the gym. They will tell you they feel grouchy, lethargic, lazy and frustrated. If an injury suddenly stops them in their tracks they also feel the dreaded hand of time too….they are getting older, they are not infallible etc etc

So was there really a sudden change in Henry’s personality? 

As Claire Ridgway argued, in a recent talk given the our ‘Discover the Tudors’ tour group (click here to see what the tour group got up to), Henry showed callous and unrelentingly selfish behaviour on plenty of occasions prior to 1536. For example, the horrendous mass killing of the Carthusian monks of the Charterhouse monastery in 1535, also in 1535 the executions of More and Fisher, men loyal to the king, and the cold treatment of his daughter and wife of over 20 years.

Is inactivity and suffering from a painful condition does not seem enough to explain Henry’s bad temper, increasingly erratic and tyrannical behaviour? Surely there has to be a better, more tangible explanation - a mental illness, a brain injury! I would argue, yes!

You may or may not agree with me. To be honest, from 500 years hence we can debate all day long for none of us will ever know the 100% truth. However, if I have at least allowed you to explore a different theory for a few moments, then my job is done!

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