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Henry VIII, Kell Blood Group and McLeod Syndrome

Posted By on March 7, 2011

Back in February, I wrote about a new report published by American researchers Catrina ­Whitley and Kyra Kramer in “The Historical Journal”, and for some reason it’s back in the news and is a hot topic at the moment.

The report, entitled “A New Explanation for the Reproductive Woes and Midlife Decline of Henry VIII” put forward the theory that Henry VIII’s mental decline, i.e. his tyranny, and his wives’ reproductive ‘woes’ may have been caused by Henry VIII having Kell positive blood and suffering from the related genetic syndrome, McLeod Syndrome. Whitley and Kramer believe that Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn suffered from miscarriages/still births because “a Kell positive father frequently causes negative reproductive outcomes for his reproductive partner after the first Kell negative pregnancy” and that McLeod Syndrome explains the King’s “psychological deterioration”.

You can read more about Whitley and Kramer’s theory, and also my views on their theory, in my article Should Henry VIII be Exhumed and Would it Provide the Answer to his Tyranny?

By the way, why do you think we have to explain Henry VIII’s tyranny with a medical condition or injury (syphilis, McLeod Syndrome, head injury….)? Do we have a problem accepting that he was simply who he was?

What do you think? Medical cause, combination of factors or simply his style of rule?

23 thoughts on “Henry VIII, Kell Blood Group and McLeod Syndrome”

  1. Jamie says:

    In today’s time everything needs a diagnoses. People just can not be evil or just do things in this day and age people need medical reasons being human and making your own decisions,choices or being thwarted towards a certain decision by someone is not enough anymore we are over diagnosed in this era 🙁

    1. catharine says:

      Absolutely. We are obsessed with labelling. If a peraon doesnt like making speeches he has social anxiety. A child is ecxited and very active and she has ADD. I giggle to myself thinking about the time my friend sat on an egg salad sandwich and a dog chased her while I wait for a bus and I am schizophrenic. Henry was a tyrant, a bully and just a jerk. Thats that. (in my opinion)

      1. rosalind says:

        Over the years there have been a few people whose extreme tyrannical behaviour has changed the course of history. Adolf Hitler being just one. They did so much harm and changed the lives of so many people that repercussions have been felt for generations. It is ,therefore, the job of historians to discover why these people had such extreme characteristics and were able to change history and cause do much destruction
        Rosalind

  2. Windy Stroud says:

    I think it could very well be a combination of issues that was the cause for Henry’s behavior However knowing the causes does not change who he was , nor would it change my opinion of him. I am willing to accept him for who he was.

  3. Christine says:

    Fascinating stuff those medical theories, thank you so much for keeping us up to date! However, I don’t think that we have to recourse to medical explanations in Henry’s case. He was sort of a tyrant, but many Renaissance princes were; and lots of medieval kings were also quite dreadful, they’re just not so much in the popular focus. Henry was ruthless from the start of his reign and I don’t think he was mentally unstable. I do think, however, that his wife Katherine of Aragon and his daughter Mary may have had some problems in this respect, some serious ones in the case of Mary.

  4. DuchessofBrittany says:

    I find in today’s world, we are always searching for legitimate pathology behind people’s behaviours. While I do believe many people do suffer from mental illness, etc .that can affect their personalities and decison-making, to suggest that someone like Henry VIII”s tyrannical behaviour can be explained away by a medical condition is questionable.
    There is too much information to suggest that Henry’s change was perpetuated from a variety of situations. I am not suggesting Henry’s head injuries were not a contributing factor, but there was more to him than that. Henry’s personality change happens in tandum with Rome’s denial for annulment, pressure from Anne to marry, and the subsequent religious and social change in the years following. For a man who was never told NO, suddenly he has to fight to get his way, and that must have had a tremendous effect on a man who thought he had absolute power.

    1. Duchess, I agree with you. Too much time is spent trying to justify the actions and place the blame for bad behavior (to put it mildly) on anyone or anything other than the one responsible. Henry showed the tendency to be a tyrant early in his life. He was the “favored” second son, given most of the privileges of his older brother with none of the responsibility. I believe spoiled would be a good word. Your response hits the nail on the head.

    2. Norma V says:

      We must also not forget that at this time Henrys looks were going, something which he highly valued were his looks. He was also obsessing about having his legitimate living male heir which seemed to allude him, this must have been like a stigma to his manhood. (A King chosen by God, a King who held Gods own ear and he couldn’t get this male child he wanted) Henry must have questioned himself, drove himself to distraction, and taken his anger out on anyone handy. Not to mention his painful abcess on his leg. Reports that the smell was putrid. Also as for the idea that Henry had this Kell blood disorder, one must remember that Catherine of Aragon had her first living child Mary l after a few pregnancies. She had a living son prior to Mary but this male child died after a few weeks time. So Mary was not the first.

    3. Sandra Carr says:

      I would think so. Behavior is not either biological or learned but a combination of both and its good to understand these things.

  5. Rian says:

    I’m not too sure if I believe that Henry had any mental disabilities that started with birth. He was always a tyrant, which was pretty typical in those days. One pretty much had to be to keep people in line. However, I do think that his head injuries may have contributed to his change in personality a bit. Not to mention, the pressures with siring a son and his seperation from the papacy could have affected him too. He was under a lot of pressure at that time. He wanted his divorce so he could marry Anne, yet the papacy kept denying him. That had to have done something to the king who was used to getting his own way.

    And he also had to deal with the “betrayal” of friends in which he sentenced to die. And then following that the deaths of three of his wives. That definitely had to have changed him. And he also was in constant pain with his migraines and ulcerated leg.

    I have to admit though that I would love to have everything explained away with Henry if they do exhume his body, but I just think it was a combination of pain–physical and mental–pressure, and some head injuries that contributed to his tyranny.

    I hope that made sense and I got the facts straight, i’m a bit tired right now. 🙂

  6. Audra Hedger says:

    I would LOVE to know something definitive. There is a part of me that has always wanted to like Henry VIII, and wanted to sympathize with him. Of course, as an Anne Boleyn admirer, he’s made it exceedingly difficult for me to do so! If there was a way for me to like them BOTH (for different reasons, obviously), that would really be wonderful.

  7. Taryn Curry says:

    I watched the documentary “The Body of Henry VIII’ and it was very interesting because the scientists were definitely able to rule out syphillis, which was shocking to me because I always believed that was cause his mental illness and poor reproduction. By the end of the show they came to the conclusion (though it isn’t a proven fact) that he may have had diabetes which caused him to gain excessive weight, which combined with high blood pressure, cholesterol and of course stress made him somewhat “lose his mind”. I don’t think we will ever know the true cause of The King’s health conditions but I’m always opened to new theories.

  8. TudorRose says:

    It is an interesting thought but to say wether he had actually had this condition or not is another matter. I mean it could of been anything. Wether being from birth, nature or up-bringing or the whole lot we may never know for sure but something had to be wrong that is for certain and it probably would not surprise me if the condition in which he had was indeed genetic it is just he showed his in another way in comparison to perhaps some of the others that had the same condition within his family.

  9. Claire, I actually cannot agree more with the statement: “By the way, why do you think we have to explain Henry VIII’s tyranny with a medical condition or injury (syphilis, McLeod Syndrome, head injury….)? Do we have a problem accepting that he was simply who he was?”

  10. Nita says:

    Biology isn’t necessarily destiny. We all have free will but having medical conditions that cause pain and physical distress makes it hard to make the right decisions all of the time. Yes, Henry VIII was a man to whom no one had ever said “no” to once he was king and for the first 20 or so years of his reign, he was pretty decent (by 16th century standards) but he did have the outside pressure of having to defend his throne (the Tudors barely had a claim to it) and needing to have a male heir to keep that self-same throne. As time went by and Catherine hadn’t produced a living heir (and wasn’t getting any younger) plus the length of time and the amount of trouble it took to get Anne as his wife only to have deja vu as far as how her pregnancies and births seemed to mimick what had happened with Catherine. I think he felt a greater sense of panic that time was passing (he’s now in his 40’s). Add that to the medical problems he may or may not have had and his injuries plus his personality and I think it made it easier for him to make tyrannical decisions.

  11. Nasim says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more Claire & Gareth.

    Having read the article about a month ago, I was disappointed by the lack of original research. It relied purely upon secondary sources; they didn’t even consult transcripts of primary material. Why did the authors not hit the archives? Very poor for The Historical Journal.

  12. Thaïs says:

    I do believe that Henry VIII was a pure tyrant. For medicine, these achievements are great and may explain some things but do not take away his tyranny. Imagine if everybody who has McLeod disease or any other problem decide to do everything Henry VIII did? The world would be such a disaster!
    I insist on believing that Henry VIII tyranny is intrinsic to his personality and his life. He became who and what he became not because of a genetic disease or whatsoever but due to the time in history he lived and his personality. He wanted the absolute power and he would not allow anyone to destroy or overcome him. This is what I do believe! Unfortunatelly, lots of people have to suffer in so many ways for him to keep his power and throne! Poor Anne…

  13. The evidence for syphilis as the relevant factor in the biographies of Henry VIII and his wives and children is too strong to seek among arcane DNA diagnoses for something less unpleasant.

  14. liza howard says:

    he was simply a tyrant and a cruel human being and didn’t like it when things didn’t go his way. Those poor wives of his..

  15. Yes, he was a tyrant, a sick tyrant, sick with syphilis. The symptoms are undeniable, his paranoid insanity attributable to general paresis, the final stages of the disease. Her fear for herself and her children were she to get pregnant is the major reason why Queen Elizabeth would not marry. If we’re ignorant today about syphilis and its effect on the second and third generation, the Elizabethans were not, for they had no cure for it.

  16. Chicky says:

    I think the diabetes explanation works, too, particularly if he had end stage renal failure. I’ve seen what it can do to a person’s mind. Without dialysis, the toxins build up and affect the brain. It also fits with the well-documented ulcer he had on his leg that would not heal. This is a classic symptom of untreated, uncontrolled diabetes. Syphilis may have been present, also, certainly. Wildly fluctuating blood glucose levels can also cause mood swings and paranoia.
    I suspect he was born with the tendency to be a tyrant and the ills he suffered in later life made bad matters worse for someone who had those traits anyway. Plus, as another poster noted, he was unused to hearing the word “no.” And he was also spoiled rotten by his grandmother, who doted on him. Bad combination. I don’t think he was a psychopath. I think he may have been a sex addict. I know he was consumed with the issue of having a male heir. It was a driving force in his life.
    For more on the Wars of the Roses, I HIGHLY recommend the book “Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses” by Sarah Gristwood. Compelling reading.

  17. MindyP51 says:

    As a registered nurse, I also believe that Henry had diabetes. for the reasons mentioned above; I also believe that, as Chicky says above, Henry was inherently a tyrant–Cardinal Wolsey said (and I”m paraphrasing here, so forgive me) “it would be a terrible thing if the lions learns his own power.”

    Related to this discussion, I read an article (was it here?) once that speculated that Anne was Rh positive, which is why she was unable to carry a baby to term after her first successul pregnancy, i.e., Elizabeth. Has anyone else read of this speculation?

  18. ardeth says:

    The Rh- had occurred to me too, but I’m an English teacher and not a medical person! That tho’t makes it easier to consider the Kell and McLeod syndrome possibility because it surely looks as if there’s an autoimmune situation going on with so many women of such different backgrounds following so similar a pattern in pregnancy. Nevertheless, while there may be an explanation for Henry’s deterioration from a gallant young prince to a paranoid tyrant, there is no excuse. He and his policies were responsible for 70,000 deaths it is estimated. No excuse at all!! Even for his era he was a phenomenon — and a negative one at that!

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