Book Review: “Medical Downfall of the Tudors: Sex, Reproduction and Succession” by Sylvia Barbara Soberton

The story of the Tudor dynasty has been told from many different angles. Each monarch has been explored through lenses like social and political history numerous times. However, there is a new approach that is coming into the forefront of historical research and that is the focus on the medical history of the Tudors. Each Tudor monarch, from Henry VII to Elizabeth I, had some sort of bout with illness that would drastically alter the course of their reigns and the future of the dynasty. In Sylvia Barbara Soberton’s latest book, “Medical Downfall of the Tudors: Sex, Reproduction and Succession”, she explores the more intimate aspects of this turbulent dynasty to discover the truth about why they fell.

I would like to thank Sylvia Barbara Soberton for sending me a copy of her latest book. I have talked to Sylvia in the past and I have hosted her on my blog before, but I have never read one of her books. When I heard about this particular title, I was intrigued since I find the medical history of the Tudors an area that needs to be explored a bit more.

Soberton begins her book by explaining the different diseases and medical maladies that were going around England during the reign of the Tudors. I found her knowledge about these different medical conditions quite fascinating. She explains in detail what the symptoms were and includes different descriptions of the conditions.

After this quick overview, Soberton dives into the main topic of her book, which is exploring the medical maladies of the Tudor monarchs and their significant others. She takes the time to explain each illness and rumors of pregnancy for each monarch, showing how fragile this dynasty truly was and how concerned those who were close to the throne were to preserve the health of the Tudors. I found this part a tad repetitive as many biographies do mention these maladies. However, Soberton does include possible theories about what the obscure maladies were and cures for the different conditions.

If I did have a suggestion on something that I wish Soberton would have included the prescriptions that the doctors would have prescribed their royal patients. Show the readers what some of the more unusual ingredients for these cures looked like and why they were used. I also wanted to see how the diagnosis of the royal family was different from those who were average citizens in England.

Overall, I found this book enjoyable. Soberton’s style of writing is easy to follow, yet her audience can tell she has researched her topic thoroughly. This may be the first time that I have read by Soberton, but now I want to explore her other titles. I think this book would be perfect for those who are still being introduced to the Tudor dynasty. If you are interested in the medical history of the Tudors or you are a fan of Sylvia Barbara Soberton’s books, you should check out “Medical Downfall of the Tudors: Sex, Reproduction, and Succession.”

Guest Post: Was Katherine Howard Pregnant by Henry VIII in 1540? By Sylvia Barbara Soberton

Today, I would like to welcome Sylvia Barbara Soberton to my blog as part of the book tour to promote her latest book, “Medical Downfall of the Tudors”, which is available now.

In July 1540, Henry VIII annulled his fourth marriage to the German Anne of Cleves on the grounds of non-consummation and married his fifth wife, the teenaged Katherine Howard. Katherine’s exact age remains unknown, but there is no doubt that she was very young when she married the fifty-year-old King. People who saw her believed Katherine was in her teens. The anonymous author of the Spanish Henry VIII’s Chronicle remarked that Katherine “was not more than fifteen” at the time of her marriage. [1] Charles de Marillac, French ambassador at the Tudor court who knew Katherine, believed she was about eighteen when she married the King. All observers unanimously agreed that Katherine was a good-looking young lady. She was “more graceful and beautiful than any lady in the court” in the words of the anonymous Spanish chronicler and “rather graceful than beautiful, of short stature” according to de Marillac. [2]

Katherine Howard came to court at some point in late 1539 to serve as Anne of Cleves’s maid of honour and quickly caught the King’s attention. Their private wedding took place almost immediately after the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves in July 1540. Henry VIII’s haste in marrying Katherine may be explained by the fact that Katherine was expecting his child. Historians usually don’t put much attention to the idea that Katherine was pregnant early in her marriage to Henry, although there’s compelling evidence that she indeed was.

In September 1540, the Venetian ambassador Francesco Contarini reported that “the new Queen Katherine is said for certain to be pregnant”. [3] Three months later, on 31 December 1540, the French ambassador Charles de Marillac saw Katherine and observed that she was “grosse”, stout. [4] The word “grosse” was used in French to describe a pregnant woman. [5] In April 1541, de Marillac continued to report about Katherine’s pregnancy, writing “that this Queen is thought to be with child, which would be a very great joy to this King, who, it seems, believes it, and intends, if it be found true, to have her crowned at Whitsuntide”. [6] According to this report, Katherine was pregnant and the King made plans to have her crowned on Whitsunday, the seventh Sunday after Easter. De Marillac reported that the preparations for her coronation were in full swing, which seems to prove the court was preparing for the coronation and then the christening of Katherine Howard’s child. Another ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, reported in November 1541 that during the last Lent—during the same period that de Marillac reported about Katherine’s pregnancy—there was “some presumption that she [the Queen] was in the family way [pregnant]”. [7]

Unfortunately, nothing further was reported of this pregnancy after Lent of 1541. Was it just a rumour? It is curious that three different ambassadors reported Katherine’s pregnancy and that Charles de Marillac described her as pregnant in late December 1540. I think this is no mere coincidence—these reports are evidence that the young Queen was expecting a child from September 1540 to April 1541. If this pregnancy was a mere rumour, would it really persist for seven months? Would de Marillac describe Katherine as “grosse”, visibly pregnant? I believe that Katherine was with child, but since no baby was born, she either miscarried or had a stillbirth. If she had a son, how different Katherine’s life would have been. The young Queen was accused of immoral living prior to her marriage to Henry VIII and adultery with courtier Thomas Culpeper. She was sentenced to death and executed on 13 February 1542.

References:
[1] M.S. Hume, The Spanish Chronicle, p. 75.
[2] Ibid. See also Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Volume 16, n. 12, for de Marillac’s comment.
[3] Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 5, n. 226.
[4] Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 16, n. 373. See also Josephine Wilkinson’s Katherine Howard: The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s Fifth Queen, pp. 107-108.
[5] William Cobbett, A New French and English Dictionary: In Two Parts, p. 245.
[6] Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 16, n. 712.
[7] Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 6 Part 1, n. 204.

If you would like to purchase a copy of Sylvia Barbara Soberton’s latest book, “Medical Downfall of the Tudors”, follow this link: https://www.amazon.com/Medical-Downfall-Tudors-Reproduction-Succession-ebook/dp/B08L713HRD/ref=sr_1_1?crid=IC8X21PUSC9W&dchild=1&keywords=medical+downfall+of+the+tudors&qid=1603200026&sprefix=Medical+Down%2Caps%2C208&sr=8-1/