Syphilis and Scurvy: Diagnosing Henry VIII

There is an enduring obsession with understanding the body and mind of Henry VIII, but how sound are diagnoses past and present – and do we need them?

Portrait of Henry VIII, from the studio of Hans Holbein the Younger, c.1543. Bridgeman Images.

In his younger days Henry VIII was something of a heartthrob. He sang like a troubadour, wrestled (though unsuccessfully) with Francis I of France at the Field of Cloth of Gold and enjoyed vigorously dangerous jousts, hunting and falconry. Encountering Henry in his heyday, the admiring Venetian ambassador Sebastian Giustinian described the English king as:

The handsomest potentate I ever set eyes on; above the usual height, with an extremely fine calf to his leg, his complexion very fair and bright with auburn hair combed straight and short in the French fashion, and a round face so very beautiful that it would become a pretty woman.

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