Friday, May 23, 2008

Questions from Tabitha - Henry's leg ulcer and the Duke of Buckingham's rebellion

In the book "The Autobiography of Henry VIII"
(With notes by his Fool, Will Somers)
by: Margaret George

Which I must say is a GREAT book!!! I read that Henry often drank a dark green syrup as a relief of pain for his headaches and during the times with his ulcered leg.

1.What is the syrup? And what was the cause for his leg ulcer, was it from syphillis?

2.Did the Duke of Buckingham really start a rebellion against Henry and did he give him a clock for Christmas and Henry return it while the Duke was in prison? The movie series "The Tudors" showed this in one of their scenes, I know the show does not always hold historical value in its scenes.



PhD Historian said...

First, let me remind everyone that the "Autobiography of Henry VIII" is a work of fiction.
Question 1 : The fictional syrup could have been any of a multitude of concoctions in use by physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries during the period. Medicinal herbs and plant extracts were commonly mixed with sweeteners and syrups to make them more palattable. And as I noted in an answer to a recent question regarding Elizabeth's headaches, pain remedies in the Tudor era were already fairly sophisticated and included the use of opium extracts, commonly administered in syrup form. The "green syrup" could thus have been any number of things, including an opium derivative.

The cause of Henry VIII's leg ulcer cannot be known so long after the fact. Syphilis is a popular assumption, but probably an incorrect one. In the early Tudor period, syphilis was often rapidly fatal, quite different from its modern pattern of lingering infection and slow decline of the patient. Many scholars have suggested that the ulcer may have been caused by osteomyelitis, an infection of the surface of a bone that often creates an ulcer in the skin lying closely over the infected bone, such as the shin. Henry is known to have suffered injuries that could have resulted in osteomyelitis, especially during his earlier years when he was so fond of jousting. A deep cut over the shin could easily have tranmsitted infection to the bone, and that infection would have been a smoldering one that would have caused him pain for many years without killing him.
Another cause may have been poor circulation resulting from obesity (in his later years) and poor diet. Decreased circulation in the lower extremities can result in ulcerations of the skin and is still seen today in older obese people.

Question 2 : Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham (died 1521) was suspected of planning a rebellion against Henry VIII, though there is some evidence that the charges were manufactured on Henry's orders in retaliation for personal wrongs Henry perceived Edward to have done to him. I am not aware that Stafford ever took up arms and actually started a rebellion, however.
As for the clock story, I have never heard that one.

Foose said...

I read somewhere that Henry's animus against the Duke of Buckingham began when he was sick at some point and speculation was rife as to his successor; nobody mentioned Princess Mary but the Duke of Buckingham was a popular choice, and this was reported to Henry.

I think, if true, this validates a point made by Charles Ross (I think); nobody in the late Middle Ages or Early Modern Age sat down with a genealogical chart and copies of the relevant statutes and canon laws, like we would, to determine who was the rightful King of England. Instead, it seems to have been a case of who your local feudal lord or "important noble of influence" was supporting, and for lords who had immense "affinities" -- feudal followings -- the odds were stacked in their favour. Buckingham had a huge affinity, was descended from Edward III and at that time was a kind of "traditional Duke" as opposed to Suffolk, the jumped-up commoner, or Norfolk, whose dukedom was only restored in 1514.

Also, there was the issue of Buckingham's sister, who apparently had an affair with Henry VIII. (In "The Tudors," it is Buckingham's daughter.) Buckingham was pretty annoyed about it. But as far as I know he did not offically rebel -- Henry just had him on the radar as a troublemaker and possible threat to the throne, and very inclined to favor people talking trash about him.

Shakespeare suggested that Wolsey was out to get Buckingham, because of Buckingham's contempt for him and other "new men" (i.e. non-nobles), which is a theme I think was picked up in "The Tudors."

Bearded Lady said...

The dark green liquid was called guaiacum. It was ground up into sawdust and mixed with water. People drank it and rubbed it on the skin to cure syphilis and also leg ulcers. (no, Henry did not have syphilis). Guaiacum is listed under Henry’s medical expenses. Francis I and Charles V also used it. Charles used it for his gout and Francis used it to treat a septic groin infection. Supposedly, many people claimed it work or at least it became popular enough to cause a prejudicial backlash amongst the medical community. (Physicians were very suspicious of any cure-all.)