Did Henry VIII Have Traumatic Brain Injury or CTE?

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Did famed English monarch Henry VIII have the same neurodegenerative brain disease affecting professional football players today? That is what researchers from Yale University are claiming in new research published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience.

Arash Saladari, an expert in cognitive and behavioral neurology at Yale, says traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and potentially chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) could explain many issues that afflicted Henry during his reign, such as memory problems, explosive anger, inability to control impulses, headaches, insomnia, and maybe even impotence.


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“It is intriguing to think that modern European history may have changed forever because of a blow to the head,” Salardini says in the published report.

Henry VIII sticks out in history for his dispute with the Catholic Church due to his desire to annul his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon in favor of marrying Ann Boleyn. These events would eventually lead to the English Reformation, the creation of the Church of England, and an era of religious oppression from his successors.

Henry experienced two significant head injuries during his 30’s, including a time when a lance penetrated the visor of his helmet during a jousting tournament leaving him dazed. A year after that, in 1525, he was knocked unconscious when he fell head-first into a stream he was attempting to vault with a pole. Despite these, the researchers point to a later accident during a jousting match in January 1536 as the source of his increasingly erratic and belligerent behavior. During the tournament, a horse fell on Henry, causing a severe head injury that caused him to lose consciousness for two hours.

“Historians agree his behavior changed after 1536,’’ notes Salardini, going on to say that early descriptions of Henry from his youth paint him as an intelligent and well-mannered young man characterized by well-reasoned judgement.

After 1536 however, Henry became more unpredictable and even violent. For example, in 1546 Henry was in the process of reassuring his sixth wife, Catherine Parr, that she would not be sent to the Tower of London when soldiers came for her arrest. He began to berate the soldiers, only to be informed he had given the order for her arrest the day before.

Salardini’s findings also suggest TBI may be related to other symptoms and ailments Henry VIII experienced in his life. TBI is associated in some instances with growth hormone deficiency and hypogonadism – which can contribute to impotence. There is extensive evidence that while Henry stayed a womanizer throughout his life, he also struggled with impotence going back to his second marriage to Ann Boleyn.

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