Friday, November 13, 2009

Question from David - Studies of intellect and metal stability of the Tudors

According to my grandmother (who died in 1979) she was told as a child that our family is descended from a daughter of the 'Duke of Bedford' who lived "over 400 years ago". This ancestor was said to be the source of the "family curse" ... a "mental instability" with associated very high intelligence that resulted in many family members "ending their lives in institutions" (as my grandmother did).

Helen Tudor seems to be a possibility as the family came from a locality close to Bury St Edmunds ... where some sources say she married a local merchant ... and her son, Stephen Gardiner's intellect fits the pattern. My opinion is that this presumably genetically driven trait is a form of Autism (Asperger's?). I think I remember reading a book a while back in which the author (a woman?) claimed that Henry VIII was "schizophrenic". Does anyone know of any studies of the Tudors' that examines their intellect/mental stability?


tudor fanatic said...

It is a possibility that Henry VIII was schizophrenic because it did appear to run in the family through his great grandmother, Catherine of Valois. One of Catherine's children, Henry VI, is widely believed to have had catatonic schizophrenia, and her father Charles VI of France did also.

kb said...

This is a very difficult area for historians. Schizophrenia is a relatively recent categorization of diagnosis and to diagnose backwards, as it were, presents real challenges.

Unfortunately I don't recall which book claimed Henry VIII was schizophrenic'. Certainly his behavior from our perspective looks very odd.

Having said that there is evidence of genetic disorders among many royals. For example, Ruth Norrington argues that Arbella Stuart had porphyria and that this contributed to her mental instability. Arbella was the grand-daughter of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox who in turn was the daughter of Henry VIII's sister, Margaret Tudor who married the King of Scots. Cecil wrote on the back of one of her letters to him that he that she had 'vapours on the brain'.

I am interested in your deduction that Helen Tudor may be your ancestress. This would mean descent from Jasper Tudor's illegitimate daughter?