Sunday, August 01, 2010

Question from Anon - Henry VIII using a wheelchair

Did Henry VIII use a wheelchair?


Alia said...

As far as I know, he didn't quite use a 'wheelchair.' He used a litter, carried by many men, as he became more and more unable to walk. Eventually he was carried all the time, exccept when seated. Hope this helps.

Foose said...

When Bess Holland, mistress of the Duke of Norfolk, was being interrogated in 1546 by three agents of the Privy Council (they were after her lover and his son, Surrey, for treason and conspiracy), she reported that the Duke had told her:

".. that the King was much grown of his body and that he could not go up and down the stairs, but was let up and down by a device ..."

This "device" has been described by some subsequent historians as similar to a wheelchair, although they use terms like "traveling chair" or "tram" (the latter suggesting something utilized chiefly for helping the king navigate lengthy distances or challenging architectural features, like stairs.)

Alison Weir suggests the "device" was specifically a pulley, used to haul Henry up and down stairs, although she notes that no evidence of one has been found in the records. (Henry VIII: The King and His Court.)

Starkey seems to think more along the lines of a wheelchair, saying "... [Henry VIII] was dragged along the endless galleries and enfilades of his palaces in a special wheeled chair or 'tram.'" (Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne)

Maria Perry, in The Word of a Prince, states that in 1546 "At Hampton Court [the king] had to be winched into a wheelchair by a series of pulleys."

Some writers suggest he was entirely confined to a "wheeled chair" during his final years. I don't know that this is accurate. Perry cites an earlier work of Dr. Starkey for her reference, one that reads:

"By later 1546 [Henry] could barely walk and was carried 'to and fro in his chambers' in a pair of specially constructed chairs called trams, which were covered with quilted tawny velvet and embroidered with roses in Venice gold."