Hi everyone! It’s me, Kyra Cornelius Kramer, again. Today’s topic will be McLeod syndrome, which is the second half of the theory featured in my book.
Before I begin talking about McLeod syndrome, I would like to take a moment to say that although there isn’t room to cover it all here, I do address many issues in my book that otherwise lend to skepticism about the theory. That includes other theories about Henry’s health, such as the speculation he had syphilis or scurvy (which have been debunked), or the idea that he had Type II diabetes and osteomyelitis (which is very likely to be true).
McLeod syndrome can only be manifested in people who have a Kell positive blood type (and almost exclusively in men to date). It has both physical and mental symptoms. Usually the symptoms of McLeod syndrome begin to appear near the patient’s fortieth birthday (with only a very few cases that start in the 30s or as late as 50s) and they grow progressively worse over time. Those symptoms include muscle and nerve deterioration, facial tics, malformed blood cells, and damage of the internal organs like the liver and the heart. There is also often an erosion of mental stability, wherein the patient becomes more and more irrational and erratic.
There is extreme variability and severity of symptoms for this disease. Take, for example, something suffered by all McLeod patients, such as elevated levels of serum creatine phosphokinase. Although all patients with McLeod syndrome have the elevation levels, it will vary from as little as 1.3 times the normal limit to as much as 15 times the normal limit. That’s a BIG difference. Other common symptoms of McLeod syndrome show a similar spectrum of severity. No matter if the symptoms of McLeod syndrome are mental or physical, they can still vary widely. Some patients may have a lot of facial tics, while many others have no visible tics at all. Some patients may develop a lot of psychological aberrations, while others have little or no personality alteration. Because of all the variation, malformed red blood cells are the best giveaway of this disease, since the blood cells of all McLeod patients are affected. However, there was no way for the physicians in Henry’s time to have looked at his cells (after all, they didn’t even know that the blood contained cells in this era) so we will never find the “smoking gun” of a royal doctor’s diary recording, “The King doth have wondrous shaped blood amicules.” More is the pity.
Taking into consideration that the King had several other health issues bothering him during the last half of his life, looking for physical symptoms alone cannot be used to effectively argue that Henry suffered from McLeod syndrome. Thus, it is the signs of his decreasing rationality that most strongly support the argument that he had the disease.The kinds of psychopathology exhibited by patients with McLeod syndrome include, but are not limited to, deterioration of memory and executive functions, paranoia, depression, socially inappropriate conduct, and can even get so bad that it mimics schizophrenia-like behaviors. In severe cases, “schizophrenia-like symptoms” of personality changes can be the “prominent initial clinical manifestation” of McLeod syndrome.
There is a plethora of evidence to show how Henry’s personality and mental processes had changed, and I try to put the largest quantity possible in the book. Moreover, the timing fits McLeod syndrome like a glove. Henry turned forty in the summer of 1531, and shortly thereafter he started getting meaner in his treatment of Queen Katherina. For the first couple of years she was the only victim. By the time he was forty-four the King’s personality alterations were becoming more and more clear. In spite of his enduring reputation for tyranny, he only started killing people who disagreed with him in 1535, the year he beheaded Thomas More. Before that getting him to agree to an execution was like pulling teeth. Cardinal Wolsey even had a devil of a time getting him to execute the Duke of Buckingham, who was clearly gunning for the throne. Therefore, while most people remember 1536 as the watershed year for Henry’s new fondness for the axe, inasmuch as that is the year he legally murdered Anne, his killing spree actually started the summer before.
Incidentally, the bloodbath began several months before he fell and was knocked unconscious during a tournament in January of 1536. That means that the blow to the head may have exacerbated his symptoms, but the alteration in his personality had already started more than a year before.
His relationship with Anne Boleyn neatly straddles his manifestation of mental symptoms. Henry started pursuing Anne in 1525 (maybe as early as 1524) and then beheaded her in 1536. Prior to his fortieth birthday he is clearly a besotted swain, but he is still trying to please everyone and let Katherina down gently (not that he would have had much luck with that). After his fortieth birthday he becomes increasingly cruel to Katherina, and then murderous to anyone who disagrees with him, and then turns abruptly and viciously on the woman he had loved so dearly. I happen to agree with Walker, and think Anne’s fall was not because of her miscarriage, but because she told a courtier that he wished for “dead men’s shoes”, which could be construed as imagining the death of the King. Her enemies, lead by Cromwell, pounced on it and convinced Henry she was out to get him. A little torture of Mark Smeaton to ge his confession of adultery with the Queen and … voila, she is a whore and Cromwell can conveniently rid himself of some of her supporters. I also think while historian Retha Warnicke is probably wrong about a Anne’s birthing a deformed fetus, she is probably right in that Anne was ascribed the witch-like behaviors in which the Tudors believed. Henry, having become paranoid and irrational from McLeod syndrome, was easy prey to to manipulation by Anne’s foes and signed off on his wife’s beheading.
The man who killed Anne Boleyn was clearly not the same kind and gentle knight of his youth, and he would grow steadily worse. Nowadays, most people only remember the monstrous brute he was during the last 15 years of his reign, and not the gentle and intelligent man he was until the 1530’s. I really hope that the theory and the evidence I present will at least encourage people to see Henry VIII as the complex monarch he was, and perhaps even forgive him for the crimes he committed as a result of an uncontrollable disease that caused mental illness.