Weird History

Everything You Didn't Need To Know About Henry VIII's Ulcerated Leg

King Henry VIII has gone down as being one of the greatest medieval villains - a man with a tyrannical attitude and penchant for killing people he disagreed with (executing approximately 57,000 people in his time on the throne). However, it's possible that his inhumane ways may have stemmed from an excruciatingly painful condition - a leg injury that Henry VIII struggled with for over 10 years. 

This wouldn't be the first time that a ruler's physical condition affected their ruling prowess (Napoleon, for example, was quick to anger after his hemorrhoids prevented him from riding horseback alongside his soldiers). But does a decade of unrelenting pain forgive any of the horrors that Henry inflicted upon his kingdom? We'll let you be the judge of that. 

  • Henry's Leg Woes Started After Being Crushed By A Horse
    Photo: Sebastian Münster / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Henry's Leg Woes Started After Being Crushed By A Horse

    As a young king, Henry VIII was regarded highly and had great promise as a strapping, charismatic ruler for England. However, his legacy took a turn for the worse when he was convinced his wife, Catherine of Aragon, would be unable to supply him with a male heir. 

    Falling for the young Anne Boleyn, Henry set down the path that many of us know him for - declaring his marriage from Catherine annulled - and marrying Anne. 

    In 1536, just three years after marrying Anne, Henry fell off his horse during a jousting tournament - with the fully-armored horse falling on top of the king. Henry was unconscious for multiple hours, and his life was in such grave danger that the shock appeared to trigger Anne's miscarriage. 

    In this fall, it's likely that Henry suffered multiple fractures to the bones in his legs. This would have lifelong consequences for the king. 

  • The Pain Henry Suffered Likely Contributed To His Transformation Into A Tyrant
    Photo: Anonymous / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The Pain Henry Suffered Likely Contributed To His Transformation Into A Tyrant

    During the 16th century, medical knowledge was quite lacking compared to what we can theorize about Henry's condition today. But the royal doctors did the best they could - and they did save the king's life after the harrowing horse accident. In fact, at first it seemed like Henry's legs healed properly. 

    But soon after, Henry started developing horrific leg ulcers - seeping wounds that could not be managed regardless of what the doctors tried. It's noted by historians that about this time is when Henry's personality changed.

    In fact, just six months after the accident, Henry ordered the execution of Anne Boleyn to marry Jane Seymour.  

  • The Ulcers Prevented Henry From Exercising, And Led To Massive Weight Gain
    Photo: Follower of Hans Holbein the Younger / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The Ulcers Prevented Henry From Exercising, And Led To Massive Weight Gain

    After developing his leg ulcers, Henry's quality of life changed drastically. As a young man, Henry had been active in participating in sporting events. This kept his 6-foot-2-inch frame in good shape; in his twenties, Henry was roughly 210 pounds with a 32-inch waistline. 

    However, after developing his leg condition, the king could do little exercise. So, he compensated by eating and drinking - and terrorizing his kingdom. Years of trying to eat and drink away his pain made a sizable impact on the king's body; his final suit of armor reveals he weighed more than 300 pounds with a waistline of 52 inches

    By 1546, 10 years after the initial jousting accident, Henry required wooden chairs to transport him around - and hoists to lift him. 

  • Tight-Fitting Garters May Have Predisposed Henry To Blood Clots And Varicose Veins
    Photo: Hans Holbein the Younger / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Tight-Fitting Garters May Have Predisposed Henry To Blood Clots And Varicose Veins

    While Henry's multiple fractures from his jousting accident were likely the leading cause of his leg ulcers, the king surely wasn't helping matters by his choice of clothing. 

    As a young man, it became widely known that Henry was a handsome king. Additionally, he was known for his particularly striking calves - to the degree that Giustinian, the Venetian Ambassador to the English Court, even described them in writing

    The handsomest potentate I ever set eyes on; above the usual height, with an extremely fine calf to his leg

    Well, what do you do when you have a particularly good asset? You highlight it, of course! And that's exactly what Henry did by wearing a tight garter around the top of his calf. 

    Today, we know that constantly wearing a constricting garter around your leg can have multiple negative effects - such as varicose veins and blood clots. So the king's favorite garment may have also contributed to his leg issues later in life.