Thursday, July 18, 2013

Question from Isabel - Why did Henry VIII struggle to produce an heir

I am 17 and doing my EPQ on Henry VIII and my title is "Why did Henry VIII struggle to produce an heir?"
I would appreciate your opinion on why he seemed to, or whether he did, have problems producing a male heir. I would like to use it, along with other historian's opinions, and my own research to help me reach a conclusion.
Thank you very much for your time,


PhD Historian said...

Isabel, your question is itself a little problematic. Producing children is an issue of biology. Without some ability to run modern medical tests on Henry VIII, each of his wives, and his children, the question cannot really be answered. I would suggest re-framing the question into one that is more nearly answerable, perhaps "Why did Henry VIII feel it was so necessary to produce a male heir?"

As for the original question, I would point out that Henry VIII did, in fact, produce male children. Katherine of Aragon delivered 3 male infants, though each died shortly thereafter. Henry had at least one illegitimate son by Elizabeth Blount. And he had a son and heir by Jane Seymour, the future Edward VI. So Henry DID have at least 5 male children, of which two lived into their teens. The fact that illness and disease claimed all five of them was pretty much beyond Henry's control. In the days before modern medicine, a large percentage of all children died before reaching adulthood. That cannot be counted as Henry's fault.

Anonymous said...

First of all: please bear in mind that everything I say here is pure speculation, as there is no way to confirm.

I think it's a mixture of things, such as overall bad hygene (they didn't have a clue about steralizing materials and were very supersticious when it came to medical affairs), illnesses not yet diagnosed or even known and other factors.

For example: It's not unthinkable that Henry had several STD's such as syffilis or ghonnorea. Had hiv excisted, he might have gotten that too. And it does have a negative effect on your fertility. There's also talk of him having diabetes, which can also have a negative effect. Plus, it would explain his violent moodswings as well as his never quite healing leg wound, which botheted him for the rest of his life.

So that's only Henry. Anne's problem, again just speculating, with carrying a baby to term, could be caused by her having a negative blood type. I suggest you google that one for more information, since it's harder to explain.

All in all, I think any woman giving birth in Tudor time should consider herself extremely lucky if both she and her child survived.

I hope my answer, for all the lack of real proof, at least got you somewhat in the right direction. Good luck with your EPQ.

vikkisf1 said...

Keep in mind that in Henry's day, only a male could inherit the crown; England had never had a ruling queen (unless you count Maud, daughter of Henry I, who was never crowned and lost a civil war with her cousin Stephen). Also, the Tudor dynasty was new on the scene, having begun only in 1485 with the victory of Henry VII over Richard III, which ended years of civil war (the so-called Wars of the Roses). Thus, a male heir, to insure the succession and avoid a return to the civil wars of less than a century before, was an absolute necessity as far as Henry was concerned.

Marilyn R said...

"Keep in mind that in Henry's day, only a male could inherit the crown."

Has Salic Law or an equivalent ever operated in England? There was no legal reason to prevent a woman ascending the throne, although a man was always seen as being preferable in a male-dominated world.

Anonymous said...

There are a few reasons that it could have happened, including one mentioned above: Rhesus factor. What this means is that the mother has a negative type blood but the father is positive, or vice versa. It might be okay for one pregnancy, but the mother's body eventually rejects all further fetuses because if they take after Dad they'll have his blood type and not hers and the baby cannot be born (modern medicine can fix this, but in the 1500s, it would have been unknown.)

Another reason (and this is very important) is that back then they had no idea that it is the FATHER that determines the sex of his baby. The male sex cell would not be discovered until 1690 and egg cells even later than that (19th century.) Concepts of human conception and birth were primeval: Henry VIII's own mother died of puerperal fever because the doctors did not wash their hands. Bloodletting with a knife to a doctor was a way to relieve amenorrhea. And nobody could explain why a baby looked so much like its mother when the father was considered the sole source of begetting, women only the vessel.

If anything went wrong with a pregnancy or if a woman did not conceive an heir, she was often blamed for it (at least when there were no witches around.) Henry VIII, arrogant slimeball that he was, couldn't and wouldn't have understood that he was responsible for Elizabeth being a daughter and Mary too, and the stress of trying to have a boy was slowly killing Anne, just like it got to be too much for Catherine before her. Perhaps God was trying to tell Henry something:

"Shut up, you arrogant git! You are a terrible theologian!! It is going to be a girl on the throne for you and a kick in the bum when you pay for all the bloomin' people you've sent up here!! GAAAAHH!!!"

Kate said...

OK, I feel compelled to make a few corrections. First of all Henry did not have an STD, while it was a commonly accepted practice for all men to have mistresses and flings compared to his contemporaries, Henry was pretty reserved in this area and the women he associated with were high born ladies, not that that is a guarantee but the speculation that he had syphillus was debumked over 100 years ago although historians still banter it about as though it were true RH factor would account for still birth or infant death shortly after birth but not for the late term miscarragies Henry's quuen's suffered with. Henry may well have had a positive Kell blood type, the extra antigen in this blood type causes late term miscarraiges in positive fetus'. First babies are born unaffected as their mother's must build up antibodies so with consecutive pregnancy's the fetus' are often miscarried in the last trimester or stillborn. Kell negitive babies would be born without incident so all Henry's first children were born alive and survived save his first child with Catherine that died a month later (too late for it to have been Kell)and Mary, Catherine's 6th pregnancy would have been Kell negitive.There is an syndrome asociated with Kell positive blood which causes extreem behavioral changes after the age of 40 which if you do your research you will see that Henry's behaviour was markedly different after he turned 40 than it was before. He was always arrogant and self rightouse, being ordained by God will do that to a person but his paranoia, depression, irrationality and mood swings were a feature of his later life beginning around the age of 41 and reaching near despotism around the age of 50. Look at how how many murders he committed before the age of 40 and then after. Research the time frame and you will see the contradictions in his behaviour not at all reminiscent of the truely noble man he ws when he came to the throne. Also this syndrome causes difficulty walking as Henry expierenced as he aged. His ulcerous leg,was most likely caused by osteomyolitis an inflamation of the bone which probably developed as a result of the injury sustained to his leg from his horse falling on him in 1536. Also doctors didnot in most circumstances diliver babies, this was strictly a female perview, babies were dilivered by midwives with the queens ladies and female relatives in attendance. but you are right that simple hygeine was unknown and many women died of what was termed then perpetual fever, a bacterial infection that became systemic, Henry's mother, Queen Jane and Queen Dowager Catherine Parr all died of such Primogeniture meant that the throne or estate would pass to the oldest child en total, girl' were not seen as fit to inherit and so the need for a boy. Nothing whould have prevent a female from inheriting the throne as we see with Mary and Elizabeth, it simply hadn't been done before and seemed anathema at the time. Fertility was not an issue for Henry or his queens #1-3 anyway, he didn't like #4 and #5&6 he was probably not able. It is also completely possible that Henry had multiple medical conditions going on and certainly all of this is just and hypothesis based on best information. Addison's disease, diabetes II, hypothyroidism have all been ruled out because Henry simply didn't show enough symptoms of these diseases Kell positive blood antigen and it's associated syndrome seems to be the best fit when all factors are taken into account. The only real way to know for sure is DNA testing and I don't see that happening soon. However if Henry was ill which I believe he was we can no more hold him accountable for his later in life actions thatn we would a physiclly or mentally ill person today