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24 January 1536 – To be unconscious or not to be unconscious? That is the question

Posted By on January 24, 2018

Henry VIII

On this day in history, 24th January 1536, the forty-four-year-old King Henry VIII suffered an accident while jousting at Greenwich Palace. It was an accident that is hotly debated today, nearly 500 years after it happened, with some historians seeing it as a real turning point in Henry VIII’s reign and a cause of his later tyranny.

But what happened on that day in 1536?

Well, there are three main sources for Henry VIII’s 1536 jousting accident: one written by Pedro Ortiz to the Empress, one written by chronicler Charles Wriothesley, and another written by Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador. The problem is that two of them downplay the accident, saying that the king was not seriously hurt, but the other suggests that the king was unconscious for two hours.

You can read the accounts in my article from last year – click here.

23 thoughts on “24 January 1536 – To be unconscious or not to be unconscious? That is the question”

  1. LINDA FOX says:

    I THINK THAT THE KING HAD A BRAIN BLEED OR STROKE WHEN HE FELL . HIS TEMPER AND MOODS IN ALTER LIFE WOULD HAVE BEEN INFLUENCED BY THIS ACCIDENT NO MATTER NOW .
    HEAD INJURIES RE SERIOUS …IT WAS AN ACCIDENT ….BUT ONLY A NAIVE PERSON WOULD THINK THIS SERIOUS ACCIDENT DID NOT INFLUENCE THE KINGS MIND IN LATER LIFE ESPECIALLY HIS MOODS. .

  2. Michael Wright says:

    I used to think that this accident was mainly responsible for his tyranny in later life but the more I read I think he had a bent towards being very mean even when he was younger. This accident just seems to have exacerbated a problem he already had and made him far worse than he may have been. I don’t think a normal person could have survived this accident but he was a sturdily built man and very robust. Someone was certainly looking out for him on that day.

  3. Banditqueen says:

    The King must have fallen hard, he was in full armour, at 40 miles an hour. If you crash a car at that speed you will do yourself a serious injury and can kill anyone you hit. Even strapped in to avoid going through a windscreen you can get whiplash. Even without banging into his opponent and the horse falling on him, his frontal lobe would be rattled around and his armour would be at least 60 pounds, plus horses armour, plus a warhorse, not a light animal, if it did fall, well he would not be very well afterwards.

    One account says he was unconscious for two hours, another he was not hurt, well not badly or physically but we know he was hurt because an old ulcer wound opened up. This was found later on. The impact alone and fall, without the being knocked out would be traumatic and bad enough. I have fallen from a horse at that speed, not knocking my head, fortunately, landing on my rear, but it was still a bad fall. The two jousting horses were thundering towards each other and somehow Henry’s saddle or armour got caught and he was yanked to the ground at full tilt. 40 mph is the minimum speed a full tilt horse can go, it could be faster. He was actually lucky not to have been killed. Henry was certainly different all of a sudden after this, even if he had problems before hand. He was even more temperamental, his moods were extremely up and down and he was more susceptible to being persuaded that people were traitors, became more suspicious and his tyrannical nature and overweight and major health problems stem from this accident. Whether Henry was unconscious or not, he took a nasty fall, everyone feared for him and some frontal lobe damage is very likely. Personality changes occur, either partly or fully or hidden traits come to the fore. This was a turning point, either way.

    1. Christine says:

      Ouch I bet your backside hurt, my sister fell of her horse but she was ok, think she was shaken up a bit though.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        I can’t recall but yes it must have. I was fifteen at the time and tiny, so probably bounced, lol. No seriously, it was quite bruised and I was shaken if not stirred, dizzy and sick. I was off for two weeks, but back on a horse with a much padded saddle and plenty of witch hazel after only a week. I was so dizzy, my cousin told me that I actually wanted to get back on but couldn’t actually stand up and off course they would not let me. My pride was hurt more than anything, they had a doctor at the school anyway and I was checked out. It was scary and I really had been rattling. I was back on the same horse, but within a few weeks I could ride properly. I was then on a very frisky mare who liked to throw people, she tried, but I pulled myself back into the saddle, controlled her and that was the last time she tried that. I have ended up on a horses neck as he tried to throw me on my first day, then when he celebrated his birthday by having a roll around as I felt him going down, I slid off and got out of the way. He was deemed too over excited and went for a rub down, while I had to sit for fifteen minutes in the middle of a field while they brought me another mount from the school stables. I gave up riding save on holiday some years ago. I can still ride, you don’t forget, but don’t get the opportunity now. I did go riding for the disabled for a few years, but the stable was closed by the council so now the only opportunity is on holiday. Mind you give me a mount at full gallop along a beach in the waves in the sun anytime over some of the plodding drays at the schools. I am afraid some of us are adrenaline junkies and that describes Henry Viii. I don’t know about bang on the head, yes, that would have serious consequences, as research today shows, but his temper and frustration would certainly be not made any better by not being able to joust and later, by curbing his hunting and riding also. We know he could still ride for some time, when his leg allowed because he spent three weeks hunting with Jane Seymour and he is recorded during 1540 as riding every morning. He certainly rode some of the time during the Northern progress in 1541 and he went hunting, although it must have been a very big horse as he was putting on weight by then. The high backed wooden saddles gave very good support and if anyone saw the documentary with Dominic Smee, when they tested out how Richard iii galloped at Bosworth, when he was in a modern saddle he had difficulty, but in the robust Medieval saddle he had stability and support and could do everything with ease. In case people don’t know, Dominic Smee is a historical reenactor who works at the Bosworth Battlefield Centre and has scoliosis similar to Richard iii who was used in a documentary on Channel 4_to gather evidence about how Richard functioned at Bosworth. Modern saddles are leather, light and strong, normally stable but with low back support. A Medieval saddle is wooden, padded, not light, strong, stable, fixed in place and has high backs and is narrow to keep you upright during a fast, hard ride. I have seen marvellous adapted saddles, many based on old personalised saddles from the past which have proved much more robust and given people with every sort of disability great freedom to ride, jump and even compete on horseback. When Beech stables was lost a much needed resource was as well. It was very much loved in the community and there was nothing like it at Christmas when they put on a live nativity at the stables or at the fetes three times a year. Sorry to spout of subject, but I am getting nostalgic.

        1. Christine says:

          Aw that’s ok, I have fond memories of going with my sister to the stables when she went to see her horse, we was both only around fourteen at the time, he was a big black Welsh cob called Oscar, given to her one day by whom I can’t remember, but he was we believed ill treated in his youth and he was ok one minute, peacefully grazing in the field, then he would turn and make a lunge for you, I can’t remember if I ever rode him but I know I was very wary of him, horses are beautiful creatures and they have certainly played their part in our history as one King famously remarked, ‘ my horse my horse my kingdom for a horse’! I cannot recall who it was though was it Richard 1st Coer De Lion ?

        2. Banditqueen says:

          It’s difficult with a horse who has been mistreated, most schools won’t take them on, which is a shame as some can be retrained. Many are retired and that is better.

          It was Richard iii according to Shakespeare, but it never happened in any chronicle, Tudor or contemporary. He is recorded as being offered a horse to flee and refusing, then dying in the press of his enemies by Virgil, the Tudor apologist historian and in others by asking for a horse to continue the fight. His mythical White Surrey, not named in any record, but who has gone down in legend, although we have no idea what colour horse he had, fell with him on it during a second charge after Richard unseated John Cheney and Killed Sir William Brandon, Henry’s standard bearer, literally feet away from the Earl of Richmond as Henry was before the Battle of Bosworth. We just about know were the ditch was but then a press back caused the horse to fall in the mud, and it was either unable to get up, being completely covered in armour or did so and ran off. Anyway, Richard as we know, and a number of others had to fight on foot and Sir William Stanley took the opportunity to ride his elite company down. At some point the fray was joined by the Welsh as one of them claimed to have killed Richard, named Ryce ap Thomas. The chronicle makes clear that Richard refused to flee and it’s obvious nobody found another horse or he would have remounted if he could and regained his advantage. You would tire very quickly, even though knights did dismount traditionally on the battlefield and form up into a tank formation. Fighting in a virtual swamp pressed in on both sides was a life and death struggle, tiring and many could be crushed or struggle to breathe. Shakespeare got it very wrong. However, it can be interpreted as needing a horse to carry on the fight.

  4. Christine says:

    Henry V111 was its true big boned and physically strong, he had always jousted since young, loved the sport and was an expert, however the human skull is delicate and is vulnerable against heavy blows, falling as he did from his horse, which must have been quite large itself and the speed with which he fell was enough to render him unconscious for several hours, and the more he was out the more serious it became, however if we are to believe the account given by Ortiz, the other accounts mention no unconscious state but any fall from a horse especially for a heavy man like Henry was enough to have caused some kind of injury, broken ribs for instance, a ruptured spleen a discolated shoulder bone, all these can damage the delicate human frame, and his legs suffered also, already being injured from a similar accident years before, any fall from jousting was serious and quite a few fatalities ensured, it was very dangerous and there must have been quite a few faint hearted ladies who watched their sweethearts take part in this most chivalrous of sports, and wives to, if Henry had damage done to his frontal lobe it would explain his bursts of short temper, it can also affect sexual behaviour which is interesting as according to which lesion it affected in the brain, it can bring on abnormal sexual behaviour or decreased libido, and Henry was said to have suffered from impotency, it also affected memory, according to Wikipedia, the ability to speak and rationalise, it’s true everyone noted his temper over the years did soar but I think it was also the fact that he became increasing immobile to, his legs caused him untold agony at times and he grew so obese which excarberated the problem, he should have cut down drastically on his food and wine intake, any problems with the joints are made worse with the extra weight they have to carry, however I think he was one of those who comfort ate and he knew he would never become the man he used to be, he had been so fit in his youth it was said he could tire out ten horses, to suddenly have to face the reality that he would never joust again would have made him feel very morose and bitter, did his doctors prescribe a healthy diet I don’t think so, it was normal for kings to eat large quantities of meat and pies, there was always banquets and somehow I don’t think any physician would have dared tell Henry to go easy on the venison and the claret, his legs also were tightly bound another early medical mistake, as this impeded the circulation of the blood, thus causing damage to his dreadful ulcers, they had no knowledge that the blood circulated round the body a discovery made two hundred years later by William Harvey, a lot of factors today would have helped Henry, he would have had treatment for his head injury and legs, he would have been advised to go on a strict diet, possibly supervised, but alas this is the 16th century, Henry I believe did suffer from a frontal lobe injury it would explain his tyrannical behaviour over the years especially his behaviour towards his two queens, his treatment towards Robert Aske and many others, although he could also be quite merciful like when he allowed Culpeper to die by the axe instead of the awful horror of hanging drawing and quartering, however he let Dereham suffer this dreadful punishment because by all accounts he had ‘damaged the queen for him’, this is not rational thinking and therefore we can assume this was part of his head injury, also executed Lady Margaret Pole, a cousin of his and whom had looked after his daughter Mary when she was young, an elderly woman whose only crime was to be the mother of the son who Henry perceived as a traitor, again this is not reasonable behaviour, I wonder if experts would ever have the chance to examine Henry V111’s skull would they be able to determine whether he did in fact suffer from this traumatic injury, it would be so interesting but alas he’s sleeping quietly in his grave, leaving many questions unanswered about his turbulent life and behaviour.

  5. Diane Wilshere says:

    Has anyone ever thought about interviewing actual full contact jousters? Several troops exist and I have witnessed unhorsings that are real and not theatricallly choreographed. They can suffer, broken bones, concussions, dislocations, etc etc etc. My point is, we have three accounts, historians gravitate to accepting the worst account as they believe it justifies a magical personality change in the King, when historical evidence is that Henry’s personality traits are there from the beginning of his reign (Epsom and Dudley). Interviewing modern day full armor contact jousters might give professional incite

    1. Claire says:

      The trouble is that we don’t actually know what happened that day so I’m not sure what could be said to professional jousters. We have more details about his earlier accident in 1524, which does suggest a head injury because we know that Henry forgot to put his visor down and that “the duke struck the king on the brow right under the guard of the headpiece on the very skull cap or basinet piece”. The lance “broke all to splinters”, sending splinters into the king’s helmet. However, all we know about this one is that he fell and no further details are given, only that, according to 2/3 of the accounts, he wasn’t hurt. I think if he had been seriously hurt then the accounts from the two people on the ground in England would have reflected that.

      I always find it odd that many historians do gravitate towards the Ortiz account when it is third-hand at best. It would make more sense to argue that the 1524 accident affected him.

  6. Gibbs says:

    What was the formula we hadto use? “ If an object s traveling at 40 mph and meets another object traveling at 40 mph, what is the impact? “ wouldn’t that be 80 miles per hour?

  7. Esther says:

    What I find interesting is that the two records from those closer at hand report that Henry was not seriously hurt, whereas the idea that he was unconscious for two hours is third hand hearsay. While Chapuys and Wriothesley might not have had personal knowledge, they were likely to have access to people who did have first hand knowledge.

    So, I think the idea that Henry’s descent into tyrannical behavior was due to an injury sustained at this time is flat out unsupported. Henry was fully capable of being a ruthless monster before this accident anyway — as his treatment of his father’s ministers (as well as Katherine of Aragon and his own daughter, who were mistreated in 1535) — show.

    1. Christine says:

      Epsom and Dudley it’s true were executed within a few days of Henry ascending the throne, so yes it seems brutal to us today but these two men were hated by the public for their extortionate ways of getting tax out of the people, they were very unpopular and he treated Katherine of Aragon with a lot of respect and affection until she stuck her horns in and refused to give him what he wanted, we all know how shabbily she was treated but his behaviour was caused in part by increased frustration over the obstacles she put in his wife, her appeal to Rome, the meddling of Rome in what he believed to be a very English affair, Anne Boleyn his sweetheart nagging him, Wolseys failure to secure the divorce, his ministers in revolt, he came to hate his wife as she stood between him and his future happiness, his need for a son which she could not give him and didn’t want any other woman to give him either, this was what made him treat her the way he did, no husband wants to be shackled to an unwanted wife, and his treatment of Mary was not really considered harsh according to 16thc standards, royalty and children of the nobility were brought up strictly and in fact it was considered normal to beat them if they misbehaved, the term seen and not heard was very apparent, one of Marys biographers states that a king who let his child misbehaved was no King at all, and this is true for if he was seen to have no control over that child, how could he have respect from his subjects? He did in fact adore Mary he was proud of her achievements, she could play music well and speak and write several languages, she was intelligent and he had deep sentimental feelings for her, he was quite wounded by her siding with her mother over their marital break up, he often spoke of her with tears in his eyes, no matter how how much her mother antagonised him he always loved his daughter, he was not a monster he was treating Mary like the rebellious daughter she was, it may seem harsh to us but he did in fact let her get away with quite a bit, she had been rude and disrespectful towards his new wife for years, she refused to accept her new title of Lady instead of Princess, we can understand her behaviour perfectly but from Henrys point of view it was not acceptable for a daughter to defy her father, particurlaly if he was the King, it was after Annes death he ordered her to sign the document stating that her mothers marriage was not valid, and after that she was allowed back to court and he embraced her with very real affection, he delighted that she was his obedient daughter once more and she was received most warmly by his current queen Jane Seymour who had done her most to bring them together, early on in his reign he was said to be most friendly and affable to all, he was sunny natured for he had been blessed by the gods, he posessed a handsome face and an athletic body combined with a academic and cultured mind, he was King and had power, he was exceedingly rich thanks to his wise father, he had women falling over themselves at his feet, in a sense he had it all and people who do have it all are good natured and benign, and why shouldn’t they be, they have no reason not to be, something went wrong to turn him into the person he later became, suspicious paranoid and tyrannical, a murdurer of women, I think it’s very plausible that it was his head injuries that were responsible for that, head trauma is serious and as Claire says his first injury was probably overlooked a bit as not being that serious, when it could in fact have set in motion the events that later happened in his reign, his second injury was fatal as it only done more damage, obesity and his ulcerated legs did not help his moods and just as a person with no head injury suddenly taken ill can rage at their invalid state, so it must have been far worse with a man such as Henry V111, yet he was still King and tried to carry out his duties as such, he was still determined to marry and have another son after Jane Seymour died, he was still King and demanded respect and complete obedience, here is another thought, he was prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to Catherine Howard after her frolics in her youth came out, he did not suddenly fly into a rage and demand her head, he ordered an investigation and told Cranmer he was prepared to show mercy, it was only after her meetings with Culpeper came out he realised most of it was true and that she more than likely had deceived him with the latter, his reaction to this was normal, but then he decided to execute her which was harsh as he could have just had her banished, disgraced and cast off surely that would have been punishment enough, at this time in his life when he was like a powder keg it was a highly dangerous thing for Henrys queen to act the way she did, her betrayal made him ever more suspicious and paranoid, and as he grew older he did not appear to trust anyone, certainly in his last speech to parliament there is evidence of his mistrust in his ministers.

      1. Esther says:

        The idea that head injuries were responsible for Henry’s behavior applies only if you accept that Henry wasn’t that bad until after 1536 — and I don’t believe that is correct. That Empson and Dudley were hated doesn’t alter the fact that (a) what they did was legal and (b) they were not charged with wrongdoing in connection with their tax collecting, but instead, the charge involved trying to force HenryVIII to do certain things — they ere absolutely innocent of the crime with which they were charged. Henry’s treatment of Mary was considered quite surprising at the time — and makes no sense. If legitimate, Mary could be married and have a grandson to secure a male inheritance, just as Henry VII ruled even thought his mother (who actually held the claim) was alive, and the “good faith exception” meant that Hnery did not have to bastardize Mary while he pursued his annulment. So, his treatment of Mary before the jousting accident qualifies as abusive (iIMO) because it was absolutely unnecessary.

        1. Christine says:

          The good faith agreement did mean that Mary was legitimate yes, and it was put to Katherine that if she would agree to go to a nunnery then Mary would still be in the succession, however we know this is what she refused to do, but Mary would not have been declared illegitimate had she complied, the problem was Henrys new marriage meant that Annes heirs had to be legal, and Anne would not accept Mary having the superior claim over Elizabeth, therefore and possibly Katherine knew this, Anne would have made sure that Henry would have his eldest bastardised either way, it was Marys insolent behaviour towards Anne referring to her as the kings mistress and Elizabeth merely as her sister instead of the princess that irked Henry, as iv said we can see it from Marys point of view but also from Henrys, he realised that she was as stubborn as her mother and he possibly thought she was influencing her behaviour, it was very sad that Mary was caught in the middle of all this, she was only a teenager and too inexperienced to deal with her parents break up, she was hormonal and was experiencing all the torrent of feelings that teenagers experience without the added trauma of her parents warring, her loss of status etc, her obstinacy only made it worse for her, however regarding Henrys behaviour when he was younger history has shown he wasn’t as brutal or tyrannical as he later became, he beheaded Epsom and Dudley for extortionate taxation yes, and possibly it was to please the people wether it was justified is another matter and so they were charged with constructive treason, he was all fired up to begin war on France and was advised not to, he was a hot head as most young men are but he did not kill people at the drop of a hat, Wolsley run his kingdom for him whilst he enjoyed himself at jousting and parties banquets masquerades etc, he was as I said of a genial nature, very friendly and very popular with his subjects, he did not act on ceremony and would often put his arm around a man he was talking to in a great show of friendliness, people warmed to him, to read the glowing reports of him when he was younger and then to see how he later became is tragic.

        2. Banditqueen says:

          Epsom and Dudley were indeed charged with a ridiculous crime, but they were also guilty of extortion, they had gone well beyond their legal remit as enforcers, were also guilty of embezzlement, of using threat and caused a lot of misery, not just on landowners, nor to enforce bonds, but on rival business owners who complained against them. In one case they were refused extra money and placed a business mans wife in the Fleet for no reason. They kept her in poor conditions until he paid double, then accused her of another crime and refused to release her. He brought another complaint, which was upheld, but by the time his wife was let out she was dying. She died hours later. That today would be called murder and there are hundreds of complaints made against them, so what they did wasn’t legal as they did much for their own ends. They were hated up and down England and not just in London or Lancaster were they held political office. They were held for almost twelve months and then tried fairly, according to the law. Treason may have been the wrong charge, but after hearing several complaints against them, it was what Henry was advised to do. Any other charges could also have hung them. I cannot understand why people have any sympathy for these two scumbags, which I can’t find anything to be sympathetic about.

          If Henry Viii was a monster in 1510, they would not even have had a trial, but been killed at once without one. Far more state executions would also have followed. There are very few between 1509 and 1534. Monsters may not be formed over night, I agree, but there is very little evidence to support the idea that Henry was one during the first two decades of his reign. He may have had certain flaws, character problems that point to a development into tyranny later on, such as hidden insecurity, a ruthless side as all rulers have, an over sensitive nature and obsessive beliefs, but they don’t emerge in a dangerous way for many years. There is too much evidence to the contrary, such as chivalry, patience, mercy, being good natured, charming, many good reports and his sense of fairness is also well documented. He also takes advice better during his early decades. A monster is none of these things.

        3. Claire says:

          I’m not sure giving Empson and Dudley a trial makes Henry VIII any less of a monster. Like Thomas Cromwell later, Empson and Dudley were faithful servants of the king and their actions were sanctioned by him. Henry VII had become unpopular towards the end of his reign and I think Henry VIII was simply using them as scapegoats for his father’s regime. He wanted to take action to show that his reign would be different.
          I’m not sure that any trial in those days was fair. You were presumed guilty, rather than innocent, and the jury or commission were expected to find you guilty. They were theatre, more than justice.

          You can be chivalrous and charming, and still be ruthless and tyrannical. Sir Thomas More once said of Henry VIII “If my head should win him a castle in France, it should not fail to go” and he knew the king well.

          Looking at Henry VIII’s reign as a whole, looking at his actions before and after 1536, I don’t see a radical change after 1536. Was he a tyrant? That’s hard to answer because we cannot fully understand the context he lived in, and he was king after all, but I don’t think he suddenly became ruthless and tyrannical after 1536, there was always that side of him, and there was always the charming and chivalrous side as well.

        4. Banditqueen says:

          Would charging Epsom and Dudley with extortionate behaviour or embezzlement have made their fate fairer?

          I am not certain it would. They were a recognised symbol of everything the people and nobles saw as wrong with the old regime. Henry was an inexperienced young man of seventeen, which in brain terms as a male makes him five years younger, was not trained in statecraft, was depending on the advice of a lot of older men and many of his father’s council. He was partly acting on advice, partly on instinct to gain popular control. If you read Penn, who will bore you silly with every account from every account book, there is some truth to the charges of treason. However, it may be more a case of interpretation to suit the need to find a way to get rid of these two unpopular men once and for all. They did gather their retainers, they did gather arms, they did give orders for more arms and did try to take over the Capital. However, it was, they claimed to prevent a riot, not to control the heir. It looked more than that and was certainly. presented as more than that. They sent notes to their retainers in the Duchy of Lancaster and elsewhere to reinforce their position, but again was it to prevent trouble or a coup? The evidence at their trial claimed the latter of course. Now Tudor trials as Claire rightly points out were not fair by modern standards as you were guilty until proven innocent, but they may not have received a trial under a Tyrant. Whatever the justice or not of getting rid of two enforcers from the previous reign, who had the nod from Henry Vii most of the time, as his signature at every fine shows, this was more a case of starting afresh than being fair. Henry Viii promised free pardons and over 200 people were released. The Epsom and Dudley situations was a problem. Henry was obligated to find a solution. The Council came up with interpretation of their actions in the days after Henry Vii died as treason and Henry, having heard hundreds of complaints, went with it. They had also given out pardons for sale for murder, treason, sedition, rape, taken bribes from both sides in law courts, turned innocent people threatened by false information into spies and informers and it is very obvious they were not going to be missed. It is interesting to note that Henry’s Council arrested five others, but they were released without charge. I couldn’t find a reason for this in Penn or elsewhere so can only conclude they turned over evidence or were not as heavily involved. I am surprised Sir Richard Bray was not made a scapegoat as well as he had also been an enforcer. However, he had not been involved in some of the less savoury activities during the last two years. Whatever the actual facts there are certainly questions over the treason charges, but at the end of the day, as a symbol of putting right the wrongs of his father’s reign as Henry had vowed, they had to go, hence their almost inevitable execution. Tyranny? No, common sense, from the view of the new King and a necessary step to give the people what they wanted. I don’t believe it was characteristic of later actions and many of his other actions speak to a man of justice, not of ruthless disposition. The fall as I have said before may have triggered a real change or just brought out repressed characteristics which led to a very nightmarish time during his last ten years, but we don’t really know. Together with a long and bitter divorce, frustrated by not having the woman and son he desired, a sudden achievement of ultimate absolute power, the need to end opposition, this certainly does appear to have played a real role in his character flaws afterwards.

  8. Banditqueen says:

    I don’t believe Henry was a tyrant until after 1538. I don’t believe the execution of two scumbags like Epsom and Dudley was the act of a tyrant. It was more the act of someone craving popularity, which a number of rulers have done. Thro other high profile executions took place before 1531. One was the unfortunate Earl of Suffolk whose alternative claim to the throne made him dangerous if the King was off to war, even if he was in the Tower. Nothing unusual about his execution either, as others had cleared the Tower when going to war. Yes, it was ruthless, but not tyrannical. The other was the Duke of Buckingham, after a fair trial who had made an enemy of Wolsey and was more the victim of gossip than anything else. If Henry was persuaded that Buckingham intended to kill him as he had no male heir, was probably not the most secure minded person in the world, then when he was found guilty, which he was, he was bound by law to execute him. Henry was easily persuaded by others, which does show he had some of the flaws before 1536, but they were obviously controlled. His other, better qualities dominated. He was far more gracious, even inclined to mercy and he could take advice at this stage. The sources abound not of accusations of injustice but of fairness and many good qualities. Henry was not even swift to anger at this point. His energy may have been boundless but it was put into sports and other activities. Had he only had sons, Henry during this two decades had the potential to be a great King.

    I don’t believe he changed over night in 1536, but over a few years and the fall was the last straw. Personality traits previously under control came out in force and now dominated. There is evidence that the accident in 1524 had wider effects as he suffered from terrible migraines and I believe his eyes were affected. From then onwards he also gave up on any children with Katherine and within two years he had started to question the legality of his marriage. Henry was genuinely desperate for a son and a new wife. Then Anne Boleyn waddled in and he was gone.

    Seven years of passionate desire, possibly without sexual relations, a bitter and expensive divorce and his desperation and determination to both marry again, his growing love for Anne and need for a son as he grew older, all this took a toll on his patience, frustrating as it must have been and he now also grew in power. The power Henry gained through the start of the break from Rome, the Act of Supremacy and the submission of the English clergy gave him the confidence and the right to act with more decision and more command. His advisers now included Thomas Cromwell who helped Henry to discover his real power.

    Henry also clearly sat on his hands for a couple of years because he would tolerate no further opposition to his marriage and authority once he finally married and crowned Anne in 1533. Cromwell clearly helped form the legislation because Henry was no lawyer. His determination was to give the King as much power as possible and to make him answerable to none. Henry needed his new wife accepted so with Cromwell et al he made new laws and determination to keep people obedient meant that tough penalties were attached. I am not saying Henry acted as a tyrant here, but during 1533,4 and 5, the seeds were sown. Maybe the King naively thought his new marriage and status would simply be accepted and few people would oppose him and end up being executed. I doubt he thought tough opposition would come from More, even though he knew ‘his conscience ‘ on the matter and support of Queen Katherine. I think Henry actually believed he would sign out of friendship, which is why More’s refusal over a long period of time was so frustrating and a shock. He was opposed by more people than I believe he anticipated. His main opponents of course were friars and he had already turned from the Pope, so their opposition stuck in his claw.

    The confusion over what happened in 1536 is not made any easier by historians who do like to go with Dr Ortiz, who says Henry was out for two hours, probably with a severe concussion and this would definitely be a brain injury, maybe even lead to a tumour or brain bleed. We know this equates to a personality change as indicated by his increased temper, suspicions nature, hatred for Anne Boleyn, his sudden desire to be rid of her, his marriage problems, his loss of all patience, his frustration and the way he now terrified people. Chayuys is far too vague but does not mention any period of unconsciousness. Henry could still have had an injury, simply because he was charging at 40 plus miles an hour, impacts at a combination of 80,_was thrown at speed and landed heavily. He would not exactly be totally unhurt and badly shaken. Research shows that his brain would still be rattled by the movement of the head, jerking back and forth.. It could take days, weeks or even months or years for any changes to take place, but we do know Henry grew more ruthless and inpatient within a few months.

    If a personality is not changed by brain damage, hidden or controlled traits can become more dominant. The ruthless streak of the last few years, somewhat still under control, may well have come out in force due to the accident. Henry had also shown patience during the last three years, because he didn’t force through the Act of Treason or Supremacy and he held off from execution until 1535 in the case of Fisher and More, partly because of the process of legislation, partly because he wanted them to give in. More signing the Act of Succession and Supremacy would be a significant victory and it would endorse the claims Henry made. A few months after this accident, Henry showed very little patience. He suddenly turned against a wife he had passionately loved for several years and believed wild stories about men he had little cause to suspect any ill or danger from. He went from looking into divorce to demanding in public that the Imperial Ambassador and Charles recognise Anne as Queen and then a few days later she was in the Tower under arrest for treason and adultery. The men arrested before or afterwards were killed as was Anne on false charges with indecent haste. Henry became morbidly obsessed over every detail of his wife’s execution, was not able to see any reason during this time and he acted like she was already dead. I believe his mental state had much to do with these events.

    Henry’s main problems began because he gained far too much power and wealth and like many others he became anxious for more and saw anyone who spoke against him as contrary to that power. Henry defiantly had some of the signs of tyranny before 1536 but they were under some degree of control. As people challenged or failed to appreciate his growing power, he became more and more a defender of his rights under that power. It became treason to deny his title and his royal prerogative. Henry was feeling his power and he liked it. The brain damage made him like and express it almost obsessively even more. More opposition to his religious policies did what such opposition does, made him even more determined to have his own way, to show his power and to ensure he was not opposed. The northern threat to his authority challenged his right to make his own policies and his government. Imagine marching on downing street armed with 50,000 fanatics in toe, demanding not only a change of policy, but a change of government or cabinet. The natural response will be negative. Now, the Pilgrimage of Grace as it was called actually didn’t get to do that, but that was their declared intention to march on London and demand the King get rid of certain bad advisors like Cromwell and heretical bishops. Of course the answer was no because Henry was happy with these so called bad advisors. His reaction was first to pacify, then to repress and make examples of those who led this insult to his good rule as he saw it. This was partly tyrannical, partly typical of Tudor or Kingly reactions to rebellion. It was as his father and children would treat rebels. His response had varied all the way through this crisis with many different emotions and mood swings. Again, historians and neurological specialists see this as stemming from his brain injury. By the following year 1538 Henry had completely transformed and it is after this we sed his real decline into over eating, depression, mood swings, weight gain, an increase in action on defence and defence building, an increase in direct government, an increase in control, an increase in theological and religious correction, an increase in personal and political executions and general enforcement of his own will and power. Occasionally the old Henry comes out, but it is only occasionally. Whether or not the accident really does mark a transformation and caused it, 1536 was the start of a process which saw the Henry Viii or myth and the later Holbein portrait emerge into the open.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      Thro should read three. I haven’t mentioned Henry and his treatment of Mary or Katherine as these have been aptly debated above and are far too complex to put down to mere ruthlessness or tyranny.

  9. Globerose says:

    There is a difference between a robustly strong, young lion and an older, lamed and pain-filled one: a difference between sublime youthful arrogance and long-in-the-tooth, learned experience. A lion, by it’s very nature, is dangerous: a disabled one, doubly so.
    Thanks, as ever, to BQ – lot of stuff about Epsom & Dudley new to me.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      If the lion is loosed or realised his strength, there would be no end to his power. Words to that effect anyway. Norfolk and More may after all have seen something dangerous lurking which later came out.

  10. Shocking how the prince of the British Empire didn’t know how to ride a horse. Even the moors of France knew that in order to correctly ride one, you had to repeatedly attempt to mount it. No matter how many times it kicks you, the donkey will eventually come to accept you. My wife knows this all to well and no doubt the queen of the Bitish empire knew this to.

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