24 January 1536 – Henry VIII’s Jousting Accident

Jan24,2012 #jousting

On the 24th January 1536 the 44 year old King Henry VIII had a serious jousting accident at Greenwich Palace. Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, reported it in his dispatches, writing:-

“On the eve of the Conversion of St. Paul, the King being mounted on a great horse to run at the lists, both fell so heavily that every one thought it a miracle he was not killed, but he sustained no injury. Thinks he might ask of fortune for what greater misfortune he is reserved, like the other tyrant who escaped from the fall of the house, in which all the rest were smothered, and soon after died.”

By the way, I do like Chapuys’s rather cutting remark about Henry’s fate!

Dr Ortiz also recorded the accident in a letter to the Empress:-

“The French king said that the king of England had fallen from his horse, and been for two hours without speaking. “La Ana” was so upset that she miscarried of a son.”

As Suzannah Lipscomb points out in her book “1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII”, “the speed of the gallop at the charge, his heavy armour, the height of Henry’s great horse (and weight, if the large, mailed animal fell on him) and the blow of his opponent’s lance combined to make this a very serious accident.” The King obviously had a huge blow to the head, but it could have obviously been so much worse.

In my article on the accident last year – see Henry VIII’s Jousting Accident – 24th January 1536 – I explored the possible impact this accident had on Henry, his family and also his reign, so do read that article for further information.

Notes and Sources

  • LP x.200, Chapuys to Granvelle
  • LP x.427, Dr Ortiz to the Empress
  • 1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII, Suzannah Lipscomb, p58

Also on this day in history…

  • 1503 – The foundation stone of King Henry VII’s chapel was laid at Westminster Abbey (Thank you to Paul Wiltshire for this fact)
  • 1555 – A great joust was held at Westminster between English and the Spanish knights – “grett ronnying at the tylt at Westmynster, with spayrer, boyth Englys men and Spaneards”

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19 thoughts on “24 January 1536 – Henry VIII’s Jousting Accident”
  1. Dear Claire,

    After I read your article, I sat for a few seconds with my eyes closed. Between the screams of the crowd, the pounding hoofbeats, the clash of lances and the smash of Henry and the steed’s fall: it must have sounded like a train wreck! On a smaller scale, of course. Gad, what a mess.

    It is a true testimony to Henry’s physical strenght that he was able to survive the accident. Imagine how he felt afterwards. Ugh.

  2. More changed in one day with Henry’s fall for more than just the King. The knock-on effects are still felt today.
    A goodly King fell from his horse, a tyrant awoke two hours later.

  3. I would be interested to know exactly what type of injuries he sustained, in modern medical terms, and what the long-term effects of, say, a certain head injury would have. The US National Geographic (?) Channel played an interesting program a few years back called “Inside the Body of Henry VIII” in which medical experts posited theories about his health. I was unable to find the complete program online, but there are clips such as this one:

    An American university also recently released an article about a possible genetic anamoly that made it difficult for Henry’s wives to give birth to healthy males:

    You all might know about these things already, but just passing it along if you don’t.

    1. Thanks, Melanie, there’s an interesting article on the impact of the accident on Henry at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/the-jousting-accident-that-turned-henry-viii-into-a-tyrant-1670421.html

      I hadn’t see that particular article on the blood disorder but I have read the research and I wrote an article on it at https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/should-henry-viii-be-exhumed-and-would-it-provide-the-answer-to-his-tyranny/8450/

  4. I wonder why we speak of a “personality change” following the accident? I think that Henry’s treatment of Catherien of Aragon, Mary, Thomas More, and John Fisher (among others) shows that the tyrant was always there … underneath the “virtuous prince”. However, I also believe that the accident made Henry realize his mortality … that he didn’t have a lot of time to father a son … so Anne’s miscarriage did seal her fate.

    1. Esther, I’ve just made the same point as you on our FB page – “I think it was a factor but not THE cause. I have to agree with J J Scarisbrick who said “Henry was not notably more cruel afterwards [after his 1536 accident] than he had been before”, think about More, Fisher, the Carthusian monks…” I think perhaps the blow to the head made a personality trait that he already had worse and perhaps made him more paranoid. Headaches, along with his leg problem, may also have made it more ill-tempered.

      1. Claire, Henry had a wound that never heald, it would keep absessing that would make anyone miserable as I had one in my back and sufferd tissue/ nerve damage.they really didn,t have antibiotics back in those days.With that and infections all the time, also he became very obessed was this his down fall?Also these type of wounds can cause sepsis,do you think that lead to his death? But I don’t agree he was a tyrant ,just sick old and bitter. This wound wasnot from the joust ,it was a leg wound from some other accident ,do you no what happend ?

  5. I most totally agree with Paudie on this one, but I also think it was then that he “really” began what he could do as opposed to what he should do. Thank you, WilesWales

  6. He agree that Henry had the capacity for great cruelty before his fall from this horse. His treatment of C of A and his own daughter, Mary, are proof enough. But he does seem to hvae allowed this streak to become more obvious after the fall. Maybe he had a really bad headache and was in a constantly grumpy state–I know I’m worse to be around when I’m under the weather–his leg, the injuries, his increasing weight–enough to turn even the sweetest temper a little sour. Thanks, Claire!

  7. Wasn’t the killing of Empson and Dudley right at the beginning of the reign a sign of the (not so) virtuous Prince’s colours?

  8. I have often thought about how the course of English history would have been dramatically altered had Henry died from that accident. Anne would not have been executed and neither would the men she was accused with. Her brother and father were still clinging to power at the time of the accident and even if she still miscarried the child, Elizabeth, for all intents and purposes, would have been the heir to the throne.

    Undoubtedly, Spain might have interceded on behalf of Mary as they, along with the Catholic Church, would have recognized her as heiress presumptive. However, some might have made the argument for Henry’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, who was a teenager at the time and married to Norfolk’s daughter. He did not die till a couple of months after Anne was executed, so he might have been considered.

    It is clear by speculation that had Henry died, he would have left one big gigantic unsettled mess with several factions battling for supremacy including the Howards and the Poles. It is an interesting “what if” scenario, much like if Catherine of Aragon’s prince from 1511 would have survived. Henry would never had divorced her, Anne would have been able to marry elsewhere and be happy, but Elizabeth would never had existed. What a paradox!

    Mary Ann

  9. I quite agree with the remarks made above about his head injury increasing the cruel side of Henry, and also that he had this streak, to a lesser degree before. Are there any more reports on him falling at the joust before this one?
    I think we also have to consider that Henry from being young would have been in the saddle, out on break neck speed hunts etc, therefore he could have on many occassions fallen from his horse, no matter how good a rider he was, and although no visible injuries were seen, who knows whats going on inside. I know many would fall off their horses without this kind of effect, but these bangs and bumps could have built up over the years, and that final one, which seems to be the worst we know of, was the finishing touch, so to speak.
    I have read a lot on Behavioral Science Unit, that the FBI developed in the !970s at Quantico, lead by John Douglas, that profile serial criminals of the worse kind, no I am not saying Henry was a serial killer/criminal, though I am sure some people would say he was 🙂 but a high number of these criminals had serious head/repeated head trauma, that over time altered the personalities of these people to change them into the inhumane monsters they became, of course there were other issues too, as there was with Henry, constant pain, frustration etc. but these head injuries featured many time, to the extent that the SBU were trying to put in place that hospitals report to the FBI all severe head trauma to them, so they could follow how it effected the sufferer long term, a form of Pre-profiling to stop any anti social behaviour early before it became a serious problem, whether they achieved this link I dont know, he hasn’t written anymore new books as far as I know, it is a fasinating subject and unbelievably precise. It would be great if John Douglas could do a profile on Henry, I know he has done one on ‘Jack the Ripper’ before. Anyway enough of that before I bore you all to death….One last thing though I have had horses in the past, fell and banged my head hard once, luckily I had the correct head gear on, but I have had tinitus ever since, and that was over 15 years ago….

  10. It would be a miracle if Henry VIII did not have personality changes after being unconcious for two hours. Damage to the frontal lobes would be likely after such a fall and such a period of unconsciousness. The quesion is: what did the courtiers and those surrounding Henry do in such a turbulent time? Presumably, they would have rallied round and kept things in order just to maintain their own powers (and heads!). Maybe there was a big cover-up just to keep this brain injured individual on the thone and the courtiers in power? Maybe they let him have his own way with so many extra wives and his terrible temper tantrums and cruelty – in order to hold power and on to their own jobs. Forget about the leg and the pain- just find out all you can about brain injury after an extended period of unconsciousness and you’ll see that after effects could lead to much misery, cruelty, paranoia etc. I am not an historian or particularly knowledgeable about Henry VIII’s reign but it would be interesting to find out what public events Henry participated in after his fall. Was he able to stand up intellectually to the machinations of court and international politics? Did he make sense in conversation with high powered officials and courtiers – or was he an intellectual invalid after the fall? Finally,I note that Hilary Mantell does not refer to any after effects following Henry’s disastrous accident. Maybe she realised that half of her fictional book,”Bring up the Bodies”could not have been written if she had conceded even the possibility of damage to that most precious part of the body: the brain…

  11. Inside the Body of Henry VIIII it was pointed out by the doctor on the programme that it would be of great concern today if someone was unconscious for a few minutes. Henry was out for two hours. He was hardly breathing and his leg was also injured, opening old wounds. He had hit hit front lobe and had some brain damage. Yes, he may have started to have some anger problems before this and show a cruel streak, but things escalated in the years following this accident. I do not agree it was all the accident. I think the accident played a big part. It was made worse by some other factors: Anne miscarried his son a few days later and Henry felt upset, distraught, angry, unable to have any sympathy for Anne who blamed him and he fell out of love with her. Added to this, the changes that he had gone through during the divorce, the years with Anne Boleyn, disappointments, not being able to joust again, the severe pain that followed on a number of times, and what he felt was his betrayal by Anne and her alleged lovers, and they do not make for a sunny disposition. Then to crown it all, the one person who could have reversed some of the damage and brought him peace is taken from him: Jane. A terrible sense of lose and two more serious falls, almost taking his life in 1538, together with a second betrayal: that of Catherine Howard; an event that aged him overnight; and you have the making of a tyrant. Not one event but a catylist and a lot of smaller events coming together to blight a brilliant life.

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