Weird History
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16 Strange Facts About Henry VIII You Definitely Didn't Learn in History Class

Updated November 5, 2020 1.7m views16 items

Henry VIII might be famous for killing two of his wives, but there was a lot more to the life of this early modern monarch than marital madness. So just who was Henry VIII? A superior athlete, a guy who liked to strut around and show off his gorgeous legs, a talented musician who might have composed a song or two, and an all-around egomaniac. But there are other things that raise the question of "What did Henry VIII do"?

In great contrast to his later break from the Church in Rome, Henry was once fervently pro-Pope, so much so that he went to the mat for the Holy Father and got quite the honor. In his spare time, he arranged marriages for close relatives, played a lot of tunes, and loved animals. And that's just the beginning of the odd facts about Henry VIII. Keep reading to find out more bizarre things about the life of Henry VIII.

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  • Henry's Toilet Attendant Was The Most Important Royal Servant

    In Henry's court, his servants vied to be as physically close to the king as possible - at all times. The monarch reserved the honor of being close to his royal person for only a few people. During his reign, only four men got the gig of "Groom of the Stool," the most physically intimate position - and therefore the most honored - of his attendants.

    These grooms not only helped dress and undress the king before and after he went to the bathroom, but also controlled access to the monarch and some of his finances. They even had power over a stamp of the King's signature, a powerful financial tool.

  • He Was So Fat He Had To Be Hoisted Into His Horse Saddle With A Crane

    Everyone knows that Henry, once an athletic, svelte man, got plump, but how fat was he? Once he got into his 40s, he'd gained so much weight (some sources put him at upwards of 400 pounds) that he couldn't even mount a horse by himself. In fact, Henry needed a crane to hoist him up and drop him into his war horse's saddle.

    Some scholars believe that he also needed an early version of a wheelchair to get around.

    Eventually, his waist ballooned to over 50 inches.

  • Henry Once Planned To Marry Two Of His Kids To One Another

    For the longest time, Henry didn't have a legitimate male heir, so he decided to concoct what, had it come to fruition, might have been the grossest marriage ever. Though he didn't have a son by his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, he did have an illegitimate boy by his mistress, Elizabeth "Bessie" Blount.

    Henry Fitzroy (a surname meaning "son of the king") was named duke of Richmond and Somerset. In order to ensure that his country didn't descend into war again over his lack of a male heir, King Henry wanted to make Fitzroy the next monarch with the boy's half-sister, Mary, as his wife. This incestuous match got the green-light from the Pope, but thankfully Fitzroy ended up marrying someone else. He actually died at the age of 17, leaving the door open for Henry's legitimate kids to take the throne.

  • A Blow To The Brain From Jousting Might Have Changed His Personality 

    Photo: Paulus Hector Mair / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In 2020, English researchers discovered what they believe is the site where Henry VIII received a blow to the head from jousting that could have caused traumatic brain injury. Other scientists have suggested the incident might have led to Henry's erratic, depressed behavior.

    Using radar, the scientists found the site of a jousting tiltyard about 5.5 feet underground at Greenwich Palace, where Henry was born and liked to spend time partying and jousting. The palace and tiltyard were destroyed during the reign of Charles II. Simon Withers, a doctoral candidate in the Design School at the University of Greenwich, said he and other researchers found the remains of two octagonal buildings that might have been viewing towers for watching jousting tournaments.

    In 1536, Henry was taking part in a tournament when he fell off his horse, and the horse in turn fell on him, leaving the king unconscious for several hours and possibly altering his cheerful, outgoing personality. The incident "does seem to be this central event that changed the behavior of [Henry VIII]," Withers said.