King Henry the VIII’s Brain Injury and Behavioral Changes

24 Jan


King Henry VIII was often a bad boy. I mean, he had two of his many wives executed, for starters. But he was an historical giant—-he took on the Pope and established the Church of England—no small feat in the 1500’s.

But he also developed erratic behavior later in his life. Many date his significant personality change to a head injury following a fall beneath a horse in a 1536 jousting match. He apparently remained unconscious for two hours.

But could a blow to the head cause a dramatic personality change? Absolutely.

There are many types of brain injuries that could lead to such an outcome: Concussions (usually multiple such injuries are needed before personality changes would occur—if at all); Cerebral contusions (brain bruises); intracerebral bleeds (bleeding into the brain tissue; and subdural hematomas (bleeding in the space between the brain and the skull). In Henry’s case, I suspect the later might be the case.


Subdural Hematoma

Subdural hematomas follow blows to the head and here blood collects in the dural space—between the brain and the skull. It can be small and inconsequential or larger and compress the brain. It can occur immediately or be delayed by hours, days, weeks, and even months. The increased pressure on the brain can lead coma and death. Less dramatically, it can cause headaches, visual impairment, weakness, poor balance, sleepiness, confusion, and, yes, personality changes.


6 responses to “King Henry the VIII’s Brain Injury and Behavioral Changes

  1. Elise Warner

    January 24, 2017 at 12:15 pm

    Fascinating. Did a musical as assistant stage manager on Broadway called Rex about Henry VIII and his wives and children. Been interested ever since.


  2. Maria Hudgins

    January 24, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    Just think how different English (and our) history would be if he had stayed on his horse.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Deena McKinney

    January 25, 2017 at 7:22 am

    What are your thoughts on the Kell antigen theory to explain his difficulty in fathering male children and his health problems in later life? Thanks!


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      January 25, 2017 at 9:13 am

      The Kell Antigen is actually a group of antigens that cause hemolytic disease of newborns—an autoimmune disorder where the red blood cells of the child are destroyed. This can of course lead to death of the infant. Whether Henry possessed this antigen or not is a question many have asked. The large majority of the pregnancies attributed to him—both his queens and his mistresses—ended badly so he might easily have had a disorder such as Cell Antigen.


  4. Noreen Ayres

    January 25, 2017 at 7:34 am

    On a visit to England, I unfortunately saw the very tree stump his wives had to place their heads on before the hatchet (or sword) came down. The yard was very small and in shadow from the walls and castle. That only added to the indignity — and the horror. Killed, as we would a cornered vermin.

    Liked by 1 person


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