The jousting accident that turned Henry VIII into a tyrant

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Medical study uncovers turning point in king's life. Michael McCarthy reports

Henry VIII became the tyrannical monster remembered by history because of a personality change following a serious jousting accident, according to a new historical documentary.

After the accident – just before he became estranged from the second of his six wives, Anne Boleyn – the king, once sporty and generous, became cruel, vicious and paranoid, his subjects began talking about him in a new way, and the turnover of his wives speeded up.

The accident occurred at a tournament at Greenwich Palace on 24 January 1536 when 44-year-old Henry, in full armour, was thrown from his horse, itself armoured, which then fell on top of him. He was unconscious for two hours and was thought at first to have been fatally injured.

But, although he recovered, the incident, which ended his jousting career, aggravated serious leg problems which plagued him for the rest of his life, and may well have caused an undetected brain injury which profoundly affected his personality, according to the History Channel documentary Inside the Body of Henry VIII. The programme focuses on the king's medical problems which grew worse in his later years, especially his ulcerated legs and his obesity: measurements of his armour show that, between his 20s and his 50s, the 6ft 1in monarch's waist grew from 32in to 52in, his chest expanded from 39in to 53in, and, by the time of his death in 1547 at the age of 56, he is likely to have weighed 28 stone.

Robert Hutchinson, a biographer of Henry; Catherine Hood, a doctor; and the historian Lucy Worsley, who is chief curator of Britain's Historic Royal Palaces, offer a picture of a sovereign eventually overwhelmed by health problems by the time of his death. His doctors recorded that he had badly ulcerated legs, was unable to walk, his eyesight was fading, and he was plagued by paranoia and melancholy.

However, Henry had started out with excellent health as a young man, being universally admired for his manly physique. An ambassador at the Tudor court reported: "His Majesty is the most handsomest potentate I have ever set eyes on. Above the usual height with an extremely fine calf to his leg and a round face so very beautiful it would become a pretty woman."

He may have had a bout of smallpox at the age of 23, but the experts speculate that his real medical problems began at the age of 30 when he appears to have contracted malaria, which is thought to have returned throughout his life. They were intensified by two factors: open sores on his legs and sporting injuries.

The sores – varicose ulcers, which began on his left leg when he was 36, and later affected his right – may have been caused by the restrictive garters he wore to show off his calves. They never healed, and increasingly restricted his mobility.

Henry also suffered various injuries because of his well-known love of sports – he excelled at pursuits such as archery, wrestling and real tennis, and, playing the latter game he seriously injured his foot.

But it was jousting – two armoured horsemen charging at each other with wooden lances in "the lists" – which proved the most dangerous. His first serious accident occurred in 1524 when he failed to lower the visor on his helmet and was hit by his opponent's lance just above the right eye, after which he constantly suffered from migraines.

Jousting nearly killed him 12 years later. The fall at Greenwich left him "speechless" for two hours, and Anne Boleyn, the woman for whom he had divorced his original queen, Katherine of Aragon, was told that he would die – the shock of which news, she said, caused her to miscarry the child she was expecting. The miscarried baby was male, and it was immediately after this that Henry told Anne they would clearly never have male children together, and turned against her. Less than six months later Anne had been executed and Henry had married the third of his six wives, Jane Seymour.

But the jousting accident may have affected his whole personality, the experts suggest. "We posit that his jousting accident of 1536 provides the explanation for his personality change from sporty, promising, generous young prince, to cruel, paranoid and vicious tyrant," Lucy Worsley says. "From that date the turnover of the wives really speeds up, and people begin to talk about him in quite a new and negative way. "After the accident he was unconscious for two hours; even five minutes of unconsciousness is considered to be a major trauma today." Henry may have suffered a brain injury, Dr Worsley says. "Damage to the frontal lobe of the brain can perfectly well result in personality change."

What is beyond doubt is that the end of his jousting combined with his leg ulcers to restrict his movement and Henry, who had a large appetite anyway, began to put on weight rapidly. The programme reconstructs his diet, suggesting he may have eaten up to 13 dishes a day, the majority comprising meat such as lamb, chicken, beef, game, rabbit, and a variety of birds like peacock and swan, and he may have drunk 10 pints of ale a day as well as wine, as water was unsafe.

Henry, the programme says, "became a comfort-eating paranoid recluse – a 28 stone man-mountain."

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape