Okay – so I’m a couple of days out. On the plus side at the end of January 1547 the news of Henry VIII’s death was kept secret for two days following his demise on the 28th Janury at Whitehall so that arrangements could be made to move young King Edward VI to the Tower from Hoddesdon and so that Sir Edward Seymour and Sir William Paget could persuade the sixteen council members identified in Henry’s will that it would be far better if Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford shortly to be duke of Somerset would be an infinitely preferable choice as Lord Protector rather than a regency council of sixteen as envisaged in Henry’s will.
This post coincides with the date (30th Jan) that Chancellor Wriothesley cried buckets of crocodile tears in Parliament when he stood to announce that Henry was dead. He had been on the throne since 1509. The King is dead! Long live the King!
Cranmer had arrived in the nick of time from his home in Croydon to administer the last rites to his master after Sir Anthony Denny eventually plucked up the courage to tell Henry that he was dying. To predict the death of the king was treason – even when stating the obvious. At that time Henry could speak but by the time Cranmer arrived having been delayed on icy roads Henry was beyond words and could only squeeze his archbishop’s hand to show that he trusted in his salvation through Christ. And let’s face it if anyone had need of forgiveness then it was Henry who’d shuffled two wives off this mortal coil somewhat before their time as well as rather a lot of his nobility, his monastics and his thinkers as well as ordinary citizens who hadn’t gone along with his religious views, been in the wrong place at the wrong time or had the temerity to have a family tree that was rather more distinguished than his own. And that’s before we get to the dissolution of the monasteries and the harassment of his first wife and the Princess Mary.
Weir suggests that Henry died of a pulmonary embolism (Weir, 502). Earlier writers suggested that his wives failure to produce sons, his ulcerated leg and his increasing paranoia were symptoms of syphilis although an article in the Journal of Medical Biography states that these factors are not evidence of syphilis and more specifically Henry was never treated for ‘the pox’. It has even been suggested that the king famous for getting steadily bulkier with each passing year was suffering from malnutrition bought about by fasting- and certainly not eating his greens. Certainly his own physicians record him suffering from constipation. A more recent writer, whose name escapes me at the moment (sorry) suggests that the ulcerated leg could have been caused by an over tight garter. It has also been suggested that Henry’s jousting accident on 24 January 1536 which knocked him out cold (Anne Boleyn claimed her miscarriage of the male infant that would certainly have saved her life had it lived was the result of hearing the news) caused many of his health problems in later years.
Henry certainly had a series of strokes as he neared the end of his life. In the last year of his life he was carried everywhere, he could be smelled a room before he arrived, was short-tempered and he showed symptoms of depression. It has also been suggested that he had Cushing’s Syndrome and that’s only the start of it. Robert Hutchinson opts for renal and liver failure not to mention the effects of being so obese as the causes of Henry’s death at the age of fifty-five. He’d been on the throne since his eighteenth year.
By the nineteenth century Henry’s death had been somewhat embroidered including the idea that Henry’s last conscious words were “Monks! Monks! Monks!” whilst staring manically into darkened corners where the spectres of his monastic victims lurked. He’s also supposed to have cried out for Jane Seymour. Whilst the former is a work of fiction the latter does have an element of truth in it if we look at his will. He wished to be buried in Windsor next to his “true wife” – or in other words the one who’d provided a male heir.
I couldn’t really finish this post off without the gory story of Syon Abbey. Henry’s body was popped into its casket which in turn was covered with blue velvet. On the journey to Windsor the king’s body rested overnight in Syon Abbey – rather unfortunately the contents leaked of the coffin dripped onto the stone floor beneath the trestle upon which it was resting. When the entourage turned up in the morning to continue their journey they saw a stray dog enjoying an unexpected early morning snack, er, let’s just say soup under the coffin. Friar Peto, a loyal supporter of Katherine of Aragon, had preached a sermon in 1532 comparing Anne Boleyn to Jezabel and Henry to King Ahab. When Ahab died wild dogs licked his blood. Peto hadn’t won friends and influenced people- most specifically the king- when he suggested that the same fate would befall Henry if he set aside his lawful wife and broke with the Pope. Sadly it seems according to Alison Weir that this is yet another Victorian flight of fancy.
Want to know more? Click on the link to the Journal of Medical Biography.
Cohen J. Did blood cause Henry VIII’s madness and reproductive woes? March 4, 2011. History Web site. http://www.history.com/news/did-blood-cause-henry-viiis-madness-and-reproductive-woes.
Hutchinson, Robert (2005) The Last Days of Henry VIII: Conspiracies, Treason and Heresy at the Court of the Dying Tyrant.
Keynes M. The personality and health of King Henry VIII (1491-1547). Journal of Medical Biography 2005;13:174.http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/096777200501300313
Weir, A. Henry VIII: King and Court, 2001.