Today in history, Henry VIII, fully armored, was thrown from his horse in a joust. His horse, also fully armored, fell on top of him. Henry was unconscious for two hours after the fall, and people thought he had actually died or that his death was inevitable. Many historians see this as the incident that turned the King into the tyrant he was in his later years, for several reasons:
- Doctors today theorize that Henry suffered a traumatic brain injury which profoundly affected his personality (National Geographic did a wonderful documentary about this called Inside the Body of Henry VIII).
- Henry exacerbated the sore on his leg. Painful unhealing ulcers plagued him the rest of his life, the pain often making him irascible and even more prone to rages.
- His near-death experience is believed to have intensified his obsessive quest for a son. Had he in fact died, it is clear that the country would not look the same today. Although all of England had sworn the Oath of Succession that they would honor the rights of the Princess Elizabeth to the throne, she was not even three years years old and definitely not the right bet. Henry Fitzroy would have been the natural choice of the English people – he was a boy after all. And now that Mary was technically as illegitimate as he was, he would have the upper hand. But Charles V would have invaded to put his niece on the throne….and then rule in her name afterwards. The scenario Henry feared, that England would become a province of Spain, would be all but inevitable. This, too, would have sealed Anne Boleyn’s fate when she “miscarried her savior” a few days later.
The irony of all this: while technically in honor of St. Paul (staged on the eve of the anniversary of his conversion), the joust might have been planned as another way to celebrate of Catherine of Aragon’s death. We know there were archery tournaments and jousts that went on for days – this might well have been another unseemly display. Of course, the superstitious among us already point to the fact that Anne’s miscarriage occurred on the day of Catherine’s funeral. But I like to think she also got in a zinger at Henry…
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