Did King Henry VIII Have CTE?

The book-turned-movie Concussion has shed a great deal of light on CTE, a traumatic brain injury suffered by professional football players. But the life-threatening head trauma is not confined to the NFL – in fact, a new study by Yale revealed that a similar injury may have been the cause of King Henry VIII’s notoriously bad behavior.

Scientists Study King Henry’s Medical History

Researchers examined historical documents regarding the infamous monarch’s medical history and learned that Henry, who was feared for his raging temper, had suffered from headaches, insomnia, memory loss, and poor impulse control. The study suggests that repeated injuries to the head could have transformed an intelligent young man into the angry, impulsive king of history books.

Arash Salardini, a behavioral neurologist and co-director of the Yale Memory Clinic, is the senior author of the research. “It is intriguing to think that modern European history may have changed forever because of a blow to the head,” he said in a university news release.

Head Trauma Left Henry Dazed and Confused

The young Henry that ascended to the throne of England in 1509 was handsome and likeable. “Before 1536, Henry VIII was famed for being good-looking,” says Suzannah Lipscomb, author of 1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII. “He could play a number of musical instruments. He could speak a number of languages.”

The letters and documents reviewed in the Yale study, however, revealed that Henry sustained at least three serious head injuries. During a jousting tournament in 1524, Henry forgot to close his visor and he took a lance to the face. “And he was unhorsed. He was dazed. But he wasn’t taken out of play, so to speak, and he continued to joust for the rest of the day,” says Salardini.

In 1525, while trying to vault across a stream, Henry fell head-first in the water and was rendered unconscious. But it was the third injury that marked the onset of the king’s notoriously unpredictable behavior.

“In 1536, he fell off his horse,” says Salardini. “But also the horse lost his footing and fell on top of him. And he was said to have been ‘without speech for two hours,’ which we can interpret to mean that he was unconscious.”

Any one of these traumas, let alone the cumulative effect of all, might have influenced the king’s state of health and his erratic behavior. “Historians agree his behavior changed after 1536,” said Salardini. The king became increasingly forgetful and impulsive. Lipscomb says, “He seemed to be much more paranoid, much more irritable and fickle.”

Was It CTE?

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE, is a progressive degenerative disease found in people who have suffered severe head trauma. A 2015 research study by Boston University and the Department of Veterans Affairs indicated that CTE had been identified in 96 percent of deceased NFL players and 79 percent of all football players.

While it’s been most recently associated with pro football players, it is found in other sports as well, namely boxing, hockey, and professional wrestling. It’s also been identified as present in those with epilepsy, military who’ve endured blast injury, and victims of domestic violence.

Individuals diagnosed with CTE exhibit symptoms of dementia, including confusion, memory loss, depression, and aggression, and many of these effects may not appear until decades after the trauma.

While we may never know for certain whether or not King Henry VIII had CTE, it’s the best explanation we’ve had yet for the erratic behavior of one of history’s most infamous rulers.

About: David Christensen specializes in traumatic brain injury cases. He helps victims with TBI injuries collect no -fault benefits after an auto accident. Christensen Law has offices in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Southfield, Michigan.