Brain and Spinal Injuries

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Henry VIII - Tyrant, or Victim of Traumatic Brain Injury?

View profile for Malcolm Underhill
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Henry VIII had two of his wives executed, and his sixth and final wife Katherine Parr came within a whisper of suffering the same fate, thanks to a plot by vindictive Tudor courtiers. 

It is well known that Henry’s personality changed dramatically over the course of his life; from that of the ideal chivalrous prince to an unpredictable monster. 

Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn suffered terrible fates because they failed to bear Henry a son and heir.  But were they to blame or was part of the problem Henry’s sexual dysfunction?  Recent studies have concluded that the Tudor monarch may have suffered repeated traumatic brain injuries similar to those experienced by American Football players. This, researchers claim, would explain Henry’s explosive anger, headaches, insomnia, memory problems, inability to control impulses, and even impotence.

Head Injuries and Behaviour Changes

One of the worst parts of coping with a brain injury, for both the victim and their family, is the personality change that can occur.  People who were once gentle, loving and calm can suddenly turn into angry, selfish or depressed individuals, and what makes the situation more difficult is they can also be completely irrational when it comes to recognising the effect their personality change has on others.

Henry appears to have suffered this fate.  Early on in his life, he was known as the ‘Golden Prince’, due to his charm, intelligence, love of pomp and pageantry, and musical ability.  However, he was also fond of tournaments and jousting, and during his 30s suffered serious head injuries.  Then in 1536, Henry’s horse fell on him during a tournament and he lost consciousness for over two hours.

Brain Injury *

Historians agree that Henry’s personality changed drastically after the accident, (he had Anne Boleyn executed later that same year).  He changed from a king known for being an intelligent and even-tempered young man who made wise military and policy decisions, to a moody, forgetful man prone to rages and impulsiveness.

Sexual Problems and Brain Trauma

Henry’s last three wives, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Katherine Parr never conceived while married to Henry.  Despite the womanising reputation of his youth, evidence suggests that Henry had difficulty completing sexual intercourse as far back as his marriage to his second wife, Anne Boleyn, in 1533.

Brain injuries are well known for causing sexual problems, with 40-60 percent of men suffering from erectile dysfunction following a brain trauma.

Sexual problems can occur due to hormone changes, damage to parts of the brain linked to sexual functioning and arousal, and changes in personality and mental health (for example, the development of depression and/or anxiety).

Sometimes sexual behaviour can increase after a brain injury, causing particular distress to family members as patients may seek out other sexual partners or masturbate in front of others.

In Henry’s case, impotence and weight gain indicate signs of a growth hormone and sex hormone deficiency which is a known, but less common outcome of traumatic brain injury.

Treatment for Personality Changes and Sexual Problems Following a Brain Injury

If Henry VIII had been alive today his chances of full or partial recovery would have been very different.  Sixteenth-century medicine was primitive at best and dangerous at worst, and it is only in the recent past 50 years that we have become aware  of the profound effect brain injuries could have on a person’s character.

In 2015 Henry would have had access to medication, therapy and rehabilitation centres that specialise in helping victims of traumatic brain injury recover.  He would also have worn a helmet, or following a risk assessment, been advised not to joust in the first place (given that he was the King of England).

Although the chances of recovering from brain injury are much-improved, rehabilitation can still take months if not years, and most patients are unable to make  a living during this time.  If your brain injury was not your fault, claiming compensation can help cover some of the costs of treatment, as well as take away the stress lack of income can cause you and your family, allowing you to concentrate on putting your life back together.

At IBB, our brain injury solicitors, led by Malcolm Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to make a claim for traumatic brain injury. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099​, email us at  or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.


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