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What was wrong with Henry?
July 25, 2009
8:36 am
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cynthia
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Quite a bit of conjecture has gone on about Henry VIII's \”problem\” in both fiction and non-fiction:

Was he ill, either emotionally or with a disease that eroded him neurologically? 

Was he just a spoiled brat or merely a man who grew up with an inferiority complex because he wasn't initially the heir to the throne, and so gave in to his lack of self-esteem by overcompensating? 

Was he so desperate to have a male heir so as to finally lay the Plantagenet claim to rest or did he merely want what any king wants?

Was he evil?  A hypocrite?  A religious fanatic?

What caused that nasty ulceration on his leg? 

Did the head injury he received prior to Anne's imprisonment lead him to act more violently toward her and everyone else from then on?

I honestly flip-flop my opinions on these questions frequently.  I have suspected syphillis, head trauma, narcissism w/ pychosis, religious mania, diabetes, too little love from his father, and schizophrenia; some of these I've even over-lapped as potentials.

What are your thoughts?

July 26, 2009
6:08 pm
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ipaud
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Hi Cynthia,

I think history has painted Henry as the Henry of Holbein's portraits, brash, overbearing and not to be messed with. The \”full on\” life size picture painted by Holbein since destroyed in a fire, was what greeted people on entering Henry's rooms in court, setting the mood for the conversation ahead? As king of England and known for all he had put to death, he somehow needed a lot of imagery around to remind people.

He was known for his physical abuse of his servants and I'm sure that this treatment was not reserved for just the servants?

We have all met people with some of Henry's traits, maybe not all of them and not all in the one person and would we not treat them accordingly?

I have pondered the accident and coma of Henry's in 1536 and how Anne got fast tracked to the Tower soon after, I still think that there were plans made if Henry was to die then and Anne was possibly blamed for how others would see the throne filled. While I would like to think that Henry lacked in his judgement as a result of the head trauma, I am thinking that his way of being before and after would take any sympathy away from him. 

I flip-flop too on Henry, think that there was more than a little \”Wizard of Oz\” theatrics to build him up in the eyes of people. He changed England beyond all expectations in his time, however I believe Elisabeth I to have been ten times more than Henry in her time, maybe as a result of the mix of DNA?

The little regard I give Henry comes from Anne's speech before she died, if she loved him, there must have been some quality in him that history did not pick up?

Paudie. 

If it was not this, then it would be something else?

July 27, 2009
1:28 am
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gwenne
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I think he was also very much a product of his times.  At this point in history monarchs and monarchies across Europe (and the rest of the world also) lived lives of unlimited excesses.  I believe Henry went to the ultimate extremes of course, but his counterparts were very much behavior wise on the same page. 

Diem et animus scire cupio: I desire knowledge of the soul.

August 22, 2009
4:30 pm
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starbug
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Having read Suzannah Lipscombe's book, '1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII', I believe that Henry's jousting accident may have caused some brain damage that later changed his personality. He was unconscious for two hours, which frightened everyone to death. After the accident, his behaviour became much more erratic, with huge moodswings. He also became more paranoid and suspicious of the people around him.

If he hadn't had the accident, I wonder what would have happened to Anne? For one thing, she could have carried her son to full term.

August 23, 2009
5:22 pm
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Claire
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Hi Starbug,

Welcome to the forum! I've just ordered that book and am dying for it to arrive from Amazon. I read an article in one of the UK newspapers about the theory of Henry's knock on the head causing his behaviour. I think a blow to the head that knocked him out for 2 hours would be enough to cause some type of brain damage.

Debunking the myths about Anne Boleyn

August 23, 2009
8:28 pm
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Autumn Star
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i too feel that that head injury could of changed him. though unfortunatley i dont feel Anne would have held her son to full term… there was underlying stress (ie; jane, etc) that prob would have hindered her pregnancy anyway…she had it rough

*Autumn*Star*
le plus heurex

March 14, 2011
11:40 pm
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La Belle Creole
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I'm hesitant to blame Henry's personality disorder on his jousting concussion/coma.  He was already abusing people with whom he'd enjoyed close relationships (Katherine of Aragon, Wolsey, Mary Tudor, Sir Thomas More) prior to his accident. 

It's difficult to psychologically diagnose a historical figure ethically and fairly, and some allowance has to be made for Henry's position in life — most royals, especially kings, were raised to believe they answered to no earthly superior.

Many politically savvy monarchs operated as Henry did, surrounding themselves with ministers, advisors, and even mistresses who could be used as a shield to deflect blame from the monarch when unpopular policies were enacted.  Anne Boleyn's unpopularity is a classic example of this kind of political manipulation.  Henry was not a tyrant; rather he was the “victim” of a “witch,” had been seduced from his wife and family and the national religion by an ambitious “whore,” etc..  The public conveniently overlooked that Henry was the one in charge, the one forming policy.

I think what points out Henry's mental illness — whatever it may have been — was his inability to form and retain lasting, non-abusive friendships or other meaingful family relationships.  Many of his “closest friends” left his service for the scaffold.  He used and abused people (servants, less important mistresses) with impunity.  He seduced all his wives and won their affections, then catted around on them, but turned homicidal if they returned the favor. 

There isn't a single relationship I know Henry to have had that wasn't somehow dysfunctional, abusive, or unstable.  Most competent kings seek to employ some degree of stability and consistency, but Henry seemed to operate on emotional chaos.       

May 1, 2011
3:29 pm
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Claire-Louise
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La Belle Creole said:

I'm hesitant to blame Henry's personality disorder on his jousting concussion/coma.  He was already abusing people with whom he'd enjoyed close relationships (Katherine of Aragon, Wolsey, Mary Tudor, Sir Thomas More) prior to his accident. 

It's difficult to psychologically diagnose a historical figure ethically and fairly, and some allowance has to be made for Henry's position in life — most royals, especially kings, were raised to believe they answered to no earthly superior.

Many politically savvy monarchs operated as Henry did, surrounding themselves with ministers, advisors, and even mistresses who could be used as a shield to deflect blame from the monarch when unpopular policies were enacted.  Anne Boleyn's unpopularity is a classic example of this kind of political manipulation.  Henry was not a tyrant; rather he was the “victim” of a “witch,” had been seduced from his wife and family and the national religion by an ambitious “whore,” etc..  The public conveniently overlooked that Henry was the one in charge, the one forming policy.

I think what points out Henry's mental illness — whatever it may have been — was his inability to form and retain lasting, non-abusive friendships or other meaingful family relationships.  Many of his “closest friends” left his service for the scaffold.  He used and abused people (servants, less important mistresses) with impunity.  He seduced all his wives and won their affections, then catted around on them, but turned homicidal if they returned the favor. 

There isn't a single relationship I know Henry to have had that wasn't somehow dysfunctional, abusive, or unstable.  Most competent kings seek to employ some degree of stability and consistency, but Henry seemed to operate on emotional chaos.       


I agree, Henry did operate on emotional chaos, I think a lot of his behaviour has similarities to Narcissistic Personality disorder- I've read a little about this (I did psychology for A level) and I'm sure that I read something about Narcissistic personality disorder and how it can lead to turbulent or abusive relationships in some cases. I'm really going to have to get my old notes out!

Also Henry was a King, surrounded by bad advisors and under immense pressure a lot of the time so if he did have Narcissistic personality disorder-it would have been made 100 times worse!

June 20, 2012
12:49 pm
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Boleyn
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Very interesting debate. Henry had Smallpox at the age of 23 and although he recovered (obvisously) could this be part of an explaination to why he appeared to go mad? The blow on his head I think did something. I’ve toyed with all sorts of ideas to actually what may of happened to his head after his fall but nothing seems to stand out conclusively.
It’s always easy to fall back to using twee words, such as Porthia, schizophrenia and the dreaded pox. I even thought it was possible he was suffering from Ergot poisoning, which would partly explain his paranoia.
The well known psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud would have had a field day trying to sort out Henry’s mindscape.

Semper Fidelis, quod sum quod

June 20, 2012
6:17 pm
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Mya Elise
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Henry was a….very….interesting person. I think becoming King really changed everything for him, if that had not of happend then Henry may of never been like he was – an evil, almost psychotic, tyrant. He was a spoiled brat before which is understandable because he was a prince and basically got everything handed to him so that’s inevitable in this case but everything could of been avoided unless the term ‘fate’ is actually real therefore it was all according to plan. I just think all the stress and persusaion from 20 different sides finally got to him and literally broke him and he was never the same again. I also think his fall from the horse during his marriage to Anne B caused something too, he probably hit his head real hard and something just went wrong. My brother is a proven fact of that too, he got a concusion about 2 years ago (?) and from that day his personality almost completely altered and he has a hard time paying attention and has a hard time thinking things through which wasn’t an issue before.
Over time and all the different difficulties and situations I think affected the way Henry turned out to be. He wasn’t a good man, in my eyes, he is someone I love learning about because of all the horrible things he’s known for.

• Grumble all you like, this is how it’s going to be.

June 20, 2012
7:33 pm
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Sharon
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Freud would more than likely have answered the way he always did. Mommy Issues! That was a pat answer you could depend on from him.

Henry was a spoiled, egotistical man. He was use to getting his way, and the older he became the more demanding he became. It is entirely possible that if Henry was knocked out for two hours after that accident, there could have been brain damage. If we are trying to figure out why Henry killed Anne, we could say that the accident may have been part of the reason. But I hate making excuses for Henry. Henry was killing his friends without blinking before the accident. If the people around him couldn’t do what he wanted them to do, they were of no use to him. Nobody could have human faults. Henry wouldn’t stand for it. Now would that be a god complex?
I find Henry an endlessly fascinating king, even though I don’t like him very much.

June 20, 2012
8:36 pm
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Louise
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It’s true that Henry was killing off friends way before the accident in January 1536. The accident didn’t change him, because the cruelty and self absorption were always there. They may have been exacerbated by the accident, but the basic mentality of the man had always been there. I think it’s true that 1536 changed him, but that was because of his actions, which indelibly tainted the rest of his reign.
I don’t think the accident was the cause of Anne’s death. I believe he was behind her death, and that Cromwell was merely putting into effect Henry’s wish to rid himself of her. Admittedly Cromwell used the opportunity to also get rid of some powerful courtiers who were thorns in his side, and not because they were nasty to Wolsey, but Henry didn’t care that friends were being sacrificed provided he got what he wanted.
Henry was able to play along for weeks with the plot without giving the game away. He was still showing support for Anne until her arrest. He played it cleverly. He was the consummate politician in his two-faced actions, giving nothing away. Those aren’t the actions of a mentally ill man who was simply out of control with his paranoia. He knew exactly what he was doing. It was a calculated plot which Henry was able to conceal through cunning and deceit.

June 20, 2012
9:22 pm
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Sharon
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Exactly.
I think Henry was quite aware of what was being planned for Anne and the gentlemen and he approved. Their deaths were a means to an end. There is no excuse for what Henry did to those innocents. I agree that the fall may have exacerbated Henry’s tendencies towards cruelty, but he always had that cruel streak in him. I think he played the lost, hurt, poor me, king to the hilt. He knew exactly what was going on and what he was doing. Henry was a manipulator. He wasn’t hoodwinked by Cromwell. That would be giving power to Cromwell that he did not have. Henry was in charge of his kingdom. If he was changed by any of the events in 1536, it was his murder of the woman he had fought so hard to obtain, and the murders of his friends and companions. With these deaths on his head, I would think he would be a changed man. Killing innocent friends and loved ones has to eventually take a toll on the mind.

June 21, 2012
4:25 pm
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Boleyn
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Totally agree Louise. Henry’s attitude towards life and towards the lives of those around him was very strange. I suppose it could be classed as a little like the Pharoahs of Ancient Egypt. Their kings were seen as the living embodiment of a God, and revered and worshipped as such. These kings had the power over life and death and at the drop of a hat they could find themselves on the end of a rope or going home with their head in a bag.
Henry was typical of a man who had it all but still wants more.
Sharon I think you are onto something about Freud. It does seem wholely possible that Henry had a touch of the Norman Bates about him.
I agree Henry was a master manipulator, and the strange thing is woman would literely throw themselves at his feet. In that direction he was a charmer.
To give him some merit (although he doesn’t deserve it) I’ve seen no evidence that he abused any of wives other than verbally, although he wasn’t beyond giving his Yes men the odd clout round the ear.
I believe that he had a sadistic streak about him, this kind of showed out when he gave Cromwell the title of the Earl of Essex one week and then had him (Cromwell) arrested, and executed. I also think the same thing happened with Henry Howard when he was given the Order of the Garter only to be arrested a few months later and executed (19th January 1547). Don’t quote me.

I don’t think he had a a concious guilty or otherwise, he killed people just because he could. I think that Anne.B death was the one that affected him more than anything. He did genuinely love her, his fall didn’t help things and I think her death at his order did actually affect him phychologically. Her death at his order was more that his mind could accept, Yes Mark Smeaton and the others who died with him he could find an excuse and blame someone else for their deaths in much the same way as he blamed Howard and the Seymours for Cromwell’s death. But Anne’s death fell squarely on his own shoulders and he couldn’t handle it. K.H’s digrace and downfall didn’t help matter much either although again as in the case of most of his victims he was always able to lay the blame on someone else. The Howards being the main whipping post here.
As to what actually killed him I don’t think we’ll really ever know, the usual twee words have been bounced about for hundreds of years and yet there hasn’t been anything to back up the use of these twee words to give anyone a plausible and debatable explaination.

Semper Fidelis, quod sum quod

June 21, 2012
6:20 pm
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AmandineR
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The years 1535 1536 certainly one of the worst period of Henry’s life. In one year, he lost his best friend Thomas More and his wife so obviously it affected him psychologically. He was frustrated and psychologically unstable.
Moreover, I really think that having all the powers can drive a man crazy because he has no lomits and nothing can stop him. So in that way, Henry was lost between his kingdom and his power. He was affraid of not having enough and thinking that somebody else can take his place like the Duke of Buckingham for example. He killed all those who might harm him (I don’t know if my sentence is right in English).
Boleyn, you’ve said that women should literely throw themselves at his feet. I think it’s normal, the King was like God at the time. So, being in front of him was very impressive and intimidating. He was powerfull and charismatic and had a lot of influence on his kingdom and his entourage.
We can’t forget that he was the first king to divorce without the papal agreement. Just to show us his determination.

June 21, 2012
7:11 pm
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Boleyn
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Mon Ami AmandineR.
Thomas More once said of Henry. “If the Lion knew his own strength no man would be able to hold him” and that just about summed Henry up.
Yes I totally agree with the sentence, He killed all those who would harm him, and yes your sentence is completely right. Don’t worry about your English it’s ok. He basically removed all those he thought or percieved as a threat. One of his worst executions was Margaret, Countess of Salisbury. She was a elderly lady, who when asked to kneel at the block saying she had committed no crime and was no traitor to Henry, so the headsman was forced to chase Margaret around the block hacking away at her until she fell to the ground so he could chop her head off. Her crime? being the mother of Reginald Pole who had spoken out against Henry destruction of the monastries.
Yes it was perfectly normal for woman to throw themselves at his feet, it would have been seen as a great honour back then being the King’s mistress, and who knows by the time the King got fed up and moved onto his next conquest they could well end up with a husband of nobel origin.
Certainly Henry is remembered for sticking 2 fingers up the Pope and shouting eh mon oeil, but really he didn’t acheive an awful lot when he was on the throne. He really is only remembered for having 6 wives and killing 2 of them.
Yes I agree he changed England’s religious path, but that would have come later on in history anyway. The Luterans were gaining ground on the continent and nothing the Hapsburgs or the French said or did would have made any difference, which in time would have affected England’s religious structure.

Semper Fidelis, quod sum quod

June 22, 2012
2:28 pm
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Elliemarianna
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I’ve often wondered if Henry was a psychopath. He fits the description perfectly, and it would explain his lack of feelings and guilt towards those he ‘loved’.

Key symptoms of a Psychopath/Sociopath:

1. Glib and superficial
2. Egocentric and grandiose
3. Lack of remorse or guilt
4. Lack of empathy
5. Deceitful and manipulative
6. Shallow emotions

Psychopaths can be very effective in presenting themselves well and are often very likable and charming. To some people, however, they seem too slick and smooth, too obviously insincere and superficial. Astute observers often get the impression that psychopaths are play-acting, mechanically, “reading their lines”.

Sociopaths are very egocentric individuals that lack a sense of personal responsibility and morality. They may be impulsive, manipulative, reckless, quarrelsome, and consistent liars.

The sociopath may be an excellent actor, always appearing charming, calm, and collected. They usually have a normal or above normal intelligence level and good verbal fluency. It is these qualities that sometimes place the sociopath in leadership positions within their social groups and often make it hard to spot their “black side”.

from http://www.findlaci2003.us
Psychopaths can be very sociable, even though they are antisocial behind their “mask” in the sense that their “emotions” are completely fake. They are masters at manipulating others for their personal gain. Their charm, in fact, is legendary.

Psychopaths are experts at using people. They can ask anything of anyone without embarrassment and because of their outgoing seducing friendliness, their use of “poor innocent me! I am such a GOOD person and I have been treated so BADLY!” the victim invariably gets sucked into giving the psychopath what they ask for – no matter how outrageous.

Psychopaths are masters at faking emotions in order to manipulate others. One psychologist reported that if you actually catch them in the act of committing a crime, or telling a lie, “they will immediately justify their actions by self pity and blaming another, by creating a heart-rending scene of faked emotional feelings.” These fake emotions are only for effect, as the careful observer will note. The Psychopath considers getting their way or getting out of trouble using faked emotions as a victory over another person.

Psychopaths are incapable of feeling concern or remorse for the consequences of their actions. They can calmly rationalize their insensitive and bizarre behavior all the while attributing malice to everyone but themselves. When caught in a lie, they will manipulate others or stories to their own advantage without any fear of being found out – even if it is obvious to everyone around them that they WILL be found out.

Psychopaths cannot feel fear for themselves, much less empathy for others. Most normal people, when they are about to do something dangerous, illegal, or immoral, feel a rush of worry, nervousness, or fear. Guilt may overwhelm them and prevent them from even committing the deed. The psychopath feels little or nothing.

The psychopath seems to be full of something akin to deep greed. They manifest this inner state in many ways. One of the most common ways is to steal something of value to their victim (valuables), or to hurt/slander the victim or something or someone the victim loves. In the psychopath’s mind, this is justified because the victim crossed him, did not give him what he wanted, or rejected him (or her).

Psychopaths lie for the sake of lying. They can convey the deepest heart-felt message without meaning a word of it. They can also tell the most outrageous stories simply in order to be at the center of attention and to get what they want.

The psychopath is obsessed with control even if they give the impression of being helpless. Their pretense to emotional sensitivity is really part of their control function: The higher the level of belief in the psychopath that can be induced in their victim through their dramas, the more “control” the psychopath believes they have. And in fact, this is true. They DO have control when others believe their lies. Sadly, the degree of belief, the degree of “submission” to this control via false representation, generally produces so much pain when the truth is glimpsed that the victim would prefer to continue in the lie than face the fact that they have been duped. The psychopath counts on this. It is part of their “actuarial calculations.” It gives them a feeling of power.

It is all too easy to fall under the spell of the charismatic psychopath. There are many who do the psychopath’s bidding without realizing that they have been subtly and cleverly controlled. They can even be manipulated to perform criminal acts, or acts of sabotage against another – innocent – person on behalf of the psychopath. Very often, when this is realized by the victim, that they have caused suffering in innocent people at the behest of a liar, again they prefer to deny this than to face up to the truth of their own perfidy and gullibility.

from “A Natural State of Pschopathy”, by Laura Knight-Jadzyk

"It is however but Justice, & my Duty to declre that this amiable Woman was entirely innocent of the Crimes with which she was accused, of which her Beauty, her Elegance, & her Sprightliness were sufficient proofs..." Jane Austen.

June 22, 2012
6:12 pm
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Sharon
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Ellie,
That about sums up Henry! Cry

June 22, 2012
9:29 pm
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Boleyn
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Bang on Ellie. This does seem to be Henry’s MO down to a T.

Semper Fidelis, quod sum quod

August 3, 2012
6:52 pm
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Boleyn
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I read something the other day, We know that it took a long time for Jane to get pregnant after she married Henry and at one stage there was talk that he was going to toss her aside because of it.. Was it possible that Henry was suffering from Gonadotropin? Could this be a reason to why Henry couldn’t father anymore children after Edward? From what I read it’s said that it can cause impotence in a man. In a woman can produce false pregnancy symptoms. Now this is just a thought I’m in no way suggesting it as fact..

Semper Fidelis, quod sum quod

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