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Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation of the Tyranny of Henry VIII

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With his tumultuous love life, relentless pursuit of a male heir, and drastic religious transformation, England’s King Henry VIII’s life sounds more like reality television than history. He was a man of fascinating contradictions—he pursued a woman he loved for almost a decade only to behead her less than four years after their marriage. He defended Catholicism so vigorous With his tumultuous love life, relentless pursuit of a male heir, and drastic religious transformation, England’s King Henry VIII’s life sounds more like reality television than history. He was a man of fascinating contradictions—he pursued a woman he loved for almost a decade only to behead her less than four years after their marriage. He defended Catholicism so vigorously that he was honored as Defender of the Faith, but he went on to break with Rome and have himself declared Supreme Head of the Church of England. Worst of all, the King who began his reign praised as “hero” and “lover of justice and goodness” ended it having metamorphosed into such a monster that he was called the "English Nero." What could have caused these incredible paradoxes? Could there be a simple medical explanation for the King’s descent into tyranny? Where do the answers lie? Blood Will Tell.


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With his tumultuous love life, relentless pursuit of a male heir, and drastic religious transformation, England’s King Henry VIII’s life sounds more like reality television than history. He was a man of fascinating contradictions—he pursued a woman he loved for almost a decade only to behead her less than four years after their marriage. He defended Catholicism so vigorous With his tumultuous love life, relentless pursuit of a male heir, and drastic religious transformation, England’s King Henry VIII’s life sounds more like reality television than history. He was a man of fascinating contradictions—he pursued a woman he loved for almost a decade only to behead her less than four years after their marriage. He defended Catholicism so vigorously that he was honored as Defender of the Faith, but he went on to break with Rome and have himself declared Supreme Head of the Church of England. Worst of all, the King who began his reign praised as “hero” and “lover of justice and goodness” ended it having metamorphosed into such a monster that he was called the "English Nero." What could have caused these incredible paradoxes? Could there be a simple medical explanation for the King’s descent into tyranny? Where do the answers lie? Blood Will Tell.

30 review for Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation of the Tyranny of Henry VIII

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    It has been a long time since a book inspired me to rate it with one star but this one just called for it for a number of reasons. First, the author includes much editorial commenting in the text, comments that are out of place in a book that purports to give new insights into the life and character of Henry VIII and his reign. The man is called a "putz", a "psychopath", and we are told he is suffering from a narcissistic syndrome. We are also told that his behavior suddenly deteriorated when he It has been a long time since a book inspired me to rate it with one star but this one just called for it for a number of reasons. First, the author includes much editorial commenting in the text, comments that are out of place in a book that purports to give new insights into the life and character of Henry VIII and his reign. The man is called a "putz", a "psychopath", and we are told he is suffering from a narcissistic syndrome. We are also told that his behavior suddenly deteriorated when he turned 40 and that he then started killing those who disagreed with him because of a medical condition. I have read 49 percent of this book and have found no documentation so far for the above findings. I also read some of the summary in the last chapter which summarizes the same conclusions. Where is the evidence that Henry had the Kell disorder or may have had it? And the McLeod Syndrome? It seems as if the historical facts have been applied to some modern medical knowledge and a fit attempted. Henry was a loved and lauded king. Why wouldn't he be a bit self-proud? He is known to have had a head injury from jousting. Could that alone have accounted for behavioral changes? Could he simply have become afraid for his position in the nation and world? (this is my idle speculation.) Some may find my comments too harsh. I enjoy reading history and I enjoy historical fiction but there has to be a barrier between the two. Speculation must be labeled and historical speculation should try to eliminate such editorializing about its subjects.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Orsolya

    Tudor England fans are quite aware of King Henry VIII’s decline from charming prince to the brute and even irrational King of his later days. What is unknown is the cause of this about-face. Was it pure narcissism? Perhaps mental deterioration due to a blow to the head? Maybe it was paranoia. Kyra Cornelius Kramer puts forth a new theory: that all of Henry’s mental defects and the obstetrical losses suffered by his wives were a result of him being Kell positive and consequently suffering from Mc Tudor England fans are quite aware of King Henry VIII’s decline from charming prince to the brute and even irrational King of his later days. What is unknown is the cause of this about-face. Was it pure narcissism? Perhaps mental deterioration due to a blow to the head? Maybe it was paranoia. Kyra Cornelius Kramer puts forth a new theory: that all of Henry’s mental defects and the obstetrical losses suffered by his wives were a result of him being Kell positive and consequently suffering from McLeod Syndrome. Kramer explores this theory in, “Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation of the Tyranny of Henry VIII”. The premise of “Blood Will Tell” is truly unique amongst the plethora of Tudor England saturated book shelves; but sadly Kramer fails to deliver on what could be an exceptional account. Kramer strategically divides the chapters of “Blood Will Tell” into thematic focal points versus just a chronological biography in order to debunk myths and argue that Henry’s behaviors were a result of Kell positive blood and McLeod syndrome. The problem is not with this outline style but with the writing, itself. Kramer’s prose is no better than a college term paper (and not a very good one, at that); lacking gripping text, being quite repetitive, and missing sound arguments to discuss her hypothesis. Kramer’s guilty of mentioning her ideas briefly but then quickly moving on without elaborating or providing case studies. Even though her premise is acknowledged; her execution is poor and not persuasive at all. On a related note, Kramer also drags “Blood Will Tell” on an overabundance of tangents. Much of the text is a recap of Henry’s reign and the lives of his wives (not a very detailed one) versus focusing on the health aspects or the Kell and McLeod theory. There are many moments when the readers’ eyes glaze over and Kramer seemingly forgot her main topic. In fact, if the pages on other subjects were stripped away; “Blood Will Tell” would probably be only about 50 pages long. “Blood Will Tell” also suffers from strong biases (Kramer clearly things Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were angels while Henry was a tyrant) and a large amount of speculation with “must have” and “could have” statements. Furthermore, Kramer tries too hard to be humorous and overly familiar at times which has no place in a medical history text. Plus, Kramer often intersperses “Blood Will Tell” with slight jabs at historians or Tudor England aficionados which demonstrate her ego as she has degrees in the medical fields with nothing related to history on her resume. There are some strong points in “Blood Will Tell” especially slightly past the halfway point in which Kramer focuses on her theory and provides more exploration. Sadly, these are few and far between and don’t work to save the struggle of “Blood Will Tell”. Instead of strengthening her argument as “Blood Will Tell” progresses; Kramer unfortunately becomes weaker hardly mentioning her theory at all and basically just asserting (in more or less words) that it is the way it is because she thinks it to be so. Yet, she mentions events in Henry’s life which don’t fit her view but simply says these are exceptions and then moves on. This is not very captivating, to say the least. Kramer also increases her name calling of Henry and his courtiers (i.e. knave, sociopath, rapist) which also makes the text feel juvenile and like a last resort to pump up the pages. The final chapter of “Blood Will Tell” ends on a captivating note with Kramer discussing the ramifications and differences which would resulted from Henry’s reign had he not been ‘sick’ as proposed by her theory. More of this in the book would have been welcomed. This conclusion flows into a biography of all secondary sources; mostly Tudor England works (most of which I, myself, have read) versus too many medical sources which is slightly discouraging. Overall, “Blood Will Tell” is recommended to readers who must read all Tudor books but not much else will be gained if one is already familiar with the Kell/McLeod theory. Basically, the theory is mentioned and that is pretty much it. “Blood Will Tell” is not necessarily a book to rush toward. Perhaps Kramer should stick to her day job.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Historical Fiction

    Find this and other reviews at: http://flashlightcommentary.blogspot.... When I think of royal families affected by medical maladies, my mind jumps immediately to the Romanovs or the Hapsburgs, not the Tudors, yet it is this latter family that is the focus of Kyra Cornelius Kramer's Blood Will Tell. Kramer presents an interesting theory, that Henry VIII might have been kell positive and suffered from McLeod's syndrome, and supports the idea with several well known events from Henry's first two ma Find this and other reviews at: http://flashlightcommentary.blogspot.... When I think of royal families affected by medical maladies, my mind jumps immediately to the Romanovs or the Hapsburgs, not the Tudors, yet it is this latter family that is the focus of Kyra Cornelius Kramer's Blood Will Tell. Kramer presents an interesting theory, that Henry VIII might have been kell positive and suffered from McLeod's syndrome, and supports the idea with several well known events from Henry's first two marriages to support her conclusions. The presentation, however, is not flawless. Particularly in the king's latter years, Kramer frequently drops all pretense of suggestion and slips, referring to her suppositions as outright fact. Throughout the book she also fails to adequately address and/or discount other explanations for Henry's behavior, relying on vague blanket statements that all of Henry's other conditions could have coexisted with her diagnosis. Most concerning, however, is the frequency at which Kramer entirely ignores Henry and focuses on the behavior and character of his wives. Perhaps I missed it, but I thought, as the title suggests, the focus of this piece was Henry's health and how it related to his policies. While the book does touch on these subjects, it also boasts a comprehensive play by play of court life over the course of his reign. To be perfectly honest I often felt Kramer lost her way and forgetting her thesis, became mired in entirely irrelevant chapters of Tudor history (i.e. the motivations behind Katherine Howard's affair with Thomas Culpeper and the regard in which the English people viewed Anne of Cleves). My criticisms are not meant to discredit Kramer, her theory is plausible and certainly gives one reason to pause. No, I simply feel her argument might have been stronger had she approached it differently and that on the whole, the content of her work wanders from time to time.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Huston

    A very intriguing and fascinating look at the medical history of Henry VIII; while most histories assume that Henry had syphilis, the author gives an entirely new reason for Henry's decline as he aged, and the unfortunate attempts of his wives to give him a healthy child. While the author does use quite a bit of medical terminology, it is presented in very readable language. Four stars overall, and especially recommended for those interested in Tudor history. For the longer review, please go here A very intriguing and fascinating look at the medical history of Henry VIII; while most histories assume that Henry had syphilis, the author gives an entirely new reason for Henry's decline as he aged, and the unfortunate attempts of his wives to give him a healthy child. While the author does use quite a bit of medical terminology, it is presented in very readable language. Four stars overall, and especially recommended for those interested in Tudor history. For the longer review, please go here: http://www.epinions.com/review/Kyra_C...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jemidar

    Really 3.5 stars. Enjoyable, easy and interesting read about Henry VIII's reproductive woes, and personality changes & obvious mental instability in his later years. Would've liked more info on the Kell positive blood types and the associate McLeod's Syndrome that the author bases her hypothesis on though. It also got a little repetitive in places and although well researched, it was on the lighter side as biographies go. On the whole though, it was a refreshing take on the history of the times i Really 3.5 stars. Enjoyable, easy and interesting read about Henry VIII's reproductive woes, and personality changes & obvious mental instability in his later years. Would've liked more info on the Kell positive blood types and the associate McLeod's Syndrome that the author bases her hypothesis on though. It also got a little repetitive in places and although well researched, it was on the lighter side as biographies go. On the whole though, it was a refreshing take on the history of the times in general and of Henry VIII in particular.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    An interesting read that could be summed up as the author thinking Henry had a combination of the Kell positive antigen and McLeod syndrome, making him both incapable of siring healthy offspring and also causing him to become a psychopath after the age of 40. Kramer makes a compelling argument but it gets lost in a more general history of Henry’s life and interactions with his wives. This is tricky because it’s a subject that has already been written about by so many people. I understand Kramer w An interesting read that could be summed up as the author thinking Henry had a combination of the Kell positive antigen and McLeod syndrome, making him both incapable of siring healthy offspring and also causing him to become a psychopath after the age of 40. Kramer makes a compelling argument but it gets lost in a more general history of Henry’s life and interactions with his wives. This is tricky because it’s a subject that has already been written about by so many people. I understand Kramer was trying to frame Henry’s actions along a timeline but ultimately she ends up burying the lede and making the book longer than it needed to be. I would have liked to see more variation in his diagnosis as well. Could it have been a combination of Kell/McLeod? Sure. Could it have also been a lot of other things? Probably. I think this would have been a better read if the focus were more on medical issues and less on historical events, although I understand that in this case the two are at times inextricably linked. See more of my reviews: Instagram

  7. 4 out of 5

    Beverly Diehl

    3.5 stars. This book expounds upon an interesting theory that Henry VIII carried Kell-positive genes, and may also have suffered from a condition called McLeod syndrome. Kramer starts off explaining why Henry did not, could not have had syphilis, despite persistent rumors to the contrary. This also shows how persistent a rumor can be, over time. A Victorian physician postulated this theory in 1888 as a possible explanation for Henry’s problems with reproduction and his later tyrannical behavior. 3.5 stars. This book expounds upon an interesting theory that Henry VIII carried Kell-positive genes, and may also have suffered from a condition called McLeod syndrome. Kramer starts off explaining why Henry did not, could not have had syphilis, despite persistent rumors to the contrary. This also shows how persistent a rumor can be, over time. A Victorian physician postulated this theory in 1888 as a possible explanation for Henry’s problems with reproduction and his later tyrannical behavior. This theory was soundly refuted in 1931, yet it continues to be repeated to this day. Kramer’s theory, about Henry being Kell-positive, and having McLeod syndrome, is also a theory, and while it makes for an interesting essay and perhaps scholarly presentation, I am not sure that it is strong enough to carry an entire book. The story of Henry VIII and his six wives is retold here, with frequent insertions as to the McLeod syndrome in some places as possible cause for erratic behavior, in others stated as firmly as if it is a demonstrated scientific fact. But as Kramer herself pointed out about the syphilis rumor, simply repeating something over and over again does not make it true. The author holds a Masters degree in Medical Anthropology, a field many of us probably did not realize existed. Could her theory be true? Absolutely, but until and unless the body of Henry VIII is exhumed and tested, there is no way of knowing for sure. The chapter I found most interesting was about the development of medicine, and the interweaving of astrology, in Tudor historical times. The role of John Dee, Elizabeth’s astrologer, and others suddenly makes much more sense now. The insight on how diet was thought to affect the body, and the different “humours” of the body, and how balancing this needed to also take into account the role of the planets upon the body, was fascinating. I also enjoyed the clarity and separating out the roles of the medical professionals: the doctors/astrologers, the nurses/herbal women, the apothecaries, and the surgeon-barbers all had different parts to play, although from a modern viewpoint, many of the treatments seem ridiculous or barbaric. That chapter makes it worthwhile for a Tudor fan to read the book, IMO. Much of the rest is a retelling of the story that we’ve heard before, from other historians and novelists. The author’s voice is inconsistent: in some places very scholarly, in others almost Gossip-Girlish. There are also minor but annoying typos. For example, after making a big deal out of the way she was going to refer to Catherine of Aragon as Katharina, in some places she’s referred to as Catherine anyway. There’s mention of the “wracking” of Anne Askew and others. I’m glad I read this, and I hope, someday, that we really discover whether or not this medical theory is true. If you’ve never read anything on Henry VIII and his wives, but saw The Tudors, this is not a bad book for an overall recap of the period, but you might want to consult other books as well.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    I picked this one up because (a) I could get it free through the kindle prime lending program and (b) the of Kell positive antigen had been mentioned in The Children of Henry VIII, which I read recently and really enjoyed. I was intrigued that someone had come up with a medical theory for why Henry had such problems building the family he so desperately wanted which also could explain why he became such a grotesque and horrible individual later in life. I have to say the theory of Kell positive a I picked this one up because (a) I could get it free through the kindle prime lending program and (b) the of Kell positive antigen had been mentioned in The Children of Henry VIII, which I read recently and really enjoyed. I was intrigued that someone had come up with a medical theory for why Henry had such problems building the family he so desperately wanted which also could explain why he became such a grotesque and horrible individual later in life. I have to say the theory of Kell positive antigen is really quite convincing, and far more convincing than anything else that's been bandied about. The author goes through many of the myths about Henry and his wives and blasts most of them into outer space. I was less convinced about the Macleod's syndrome, simply because there is no evidence to support some of the symptoms, and the author tended to look down the centuries through only 21st century eyes. There is definitely benefit in looking through history objectively and reflecting modern outlooks and understanding of psychology and physiology, but morality and society was different and expectations and standards of behavior were very different, so I do think you can't easily dismiss everything out of hand as wrong. For example, women were legally the property of their husbands, and I'm sure some of them chafed at the bit, but on the whole, I can't believe that they were all budding feminists in the 20th century sense. Anyway, really interesting book, with some wonderful insights. 4 stars. I really liked it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

    This is a pretty good summary of the rule of Henry VII - her thesis is that suffered from a marker in his blood that caused miscarriages/stillbirths and that then caused a mental illness later in his life. It is plausible and there's no way to know short of analysis of his DNA, if then. I like history so this was enjoyable - she definitely reminded the reader that this was a time and place which held very different views about most of life! This is a pretty good summary of the rule of Henry VII - her thesis is that suffered from a marker in his blood that caused miscarriages/stillbirths and that then caused a mental illness later in his life. It is plausible and there's no way to know short of analysis of his DNA, if then. I like history so this was enjoyable - she definitely reminded the reader that this was a time and place which held very different views about most of life!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jill Myles

    I know it's someone's thesis. I know a lot of it is pure and total speculation. But for entertainment value? Loved it. I also loved that the author gave a more girl-positive angle to a lot of Henry's wives -- that Anne Boleyn wasn't necessarily a scheming whore, and that Kathryn Howard wasn't necessarily an equally scheming whore, but a frivolous girl in way over her head, etc. At any rate, really enjoyed. Don't know if I believe the medical explanation, but it was interesting. I know it's someone's thesis. I know a lot of it is pure and total speculation. But for entertainment value? Loved it. I also loved that the author gave a more girl-positive angle to a lot of Henry's wives -- that Anne Boleyn wasn't necessarily a scheming whore, and that Kathryn Howard wasn't necessarily an equally scheming whore, but a frivolous girl in way over her head, etc. At any rate, really enjoyed. Don't know if I believe the medical explanation, but it was interesting.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Carolina Casas

    This is the first book I finished this 2015 and it's on my favorites' shelf now. 'Blood Will Tell' is the story of Henry VIII from (both) a medical and historical perspective. Often times when we are studying history we don't take into account the medical or mental history of our subjects and it is an important factor that determined who they were and why they did the things they did. While nurture is an important part of who we are, what makes you 'you' and me 'me', genetics plays a great part This is the first book I finished this 2015 and it's on my favorites' shelf now. 'Blood Will Tell' is the story of Henry VIII from (both) a medical and historical perspective. Often times when we are studying history we don't take into account the medical or mental history of our subjects and it is an important factor that determined who they were and why they did the things they did. While nurture is an important part of who we are, what makes you 'you' and me 'me', genetics plays a great part in our upbringing. In the past decades, geneticists have managed to map most of the human genome and of course it will still be a long while before they are finished, but in the meanwhile what they have found is that not all of our choices are our choices per say. Some of our beliefs and choices are in fact pre-determined. So how much of what we do or say is pre-determined by our blood is something that is put into question as the author examines Henry's medical history. Henry was Kell Blood Positive type which he probably inherited from his mother and also proved fatal for his first two wives' who needed to give him a son to secure their positions and his dynasty. Katherine of Aragon, the Spanish Infanta and a woman whom the author objectively points out was a "pretty girl" and highly accomplished, became deeply devoted to Henry. Unfortunately as her successor, she had no idea of what awaited her when she married him on the eleventh of June of 1509. Although Katherine was no longer a rich and prospective bride as when she married his older brother, the late Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia, she was nonetheless a young woman Henry was besotted with and whom he knew personally. Additionally, Henry was a lover of courtly love and wanted to present himself as the dashing lover, the knight in shining armor rescuing his fair maiden from poverty. Katherine was deeply charmed by this and showed her loyalty throughout their marriage until he made his intentions to divorce her known to her. With medicinal knowledge as it was back then, there was no way of knowing that it was Henry who was the one responsible behind his wife's miscarriage. Katherine and Henry's only son was born healthy, possibly the result of not being affected as the author explains by Henry's blood type but as it was common with the era, child mortality was high and their son, the Duke of Cornwall lived only for fifty two days. The couple comforted each other and Henry remained courteous to her in spite of his known affairs and her father's betrayal during the battle of the Spurs in 1513, when Katherine had been left as Regent while Henry was off fighting in France. Henry's next wife Anne Boleyn, as Katherine, is looked on objective Kramer points out as other historians such as Ives and more recently, Licence, have done, that Anne was not the scheming temptress of legend and recent period dramas but that instead she was deeply religious and devoted to her faith as Katherine of Aragon was to her. Yet who could say no to the King? When Anne grew tired of refuting Henry and she realized it would be political death for her family to keep refusing, and also realizing that she would have no better prospects, she accepted his advances. But even then, she was careful to avoid scandal yet she was unable to when Katherine was going to fight as fiercely as Henry, to keep their marriage and her crown. Anne as Katherine were victims of their own time. Women who viewed themselves as the rightful Queens. Anne was not without her flaws, but many of these were down out of desperation and these include her outbursts against the Queen and her native Spain. Katherine as well was not going to abandon the position she viewed as hers. As Henry grew older, he became worse, developing McLeod syndrome after he turned forty and five years later the fall from his horse at a joust, made his symptoms worse and as it is possible he developed other ailment as he got older such as myxedema which could also explain his additional weight gain. But in spite of this, the author makes an important point and that is, that much as we are predisposed by our genetics, we are also predisposes by our environments and the culture in which we grow up. Henry was much the victim of his complicated medical history as of his own ego and narcissism. "As a young man," Kramer writes, "Henry was a handsome, genial and rational ruler. The youthful King was described, in the private letters of more than one foreign ambassador or other court contemporary, as having incredible physical beauty … Henry was also uncommonly tall for his time, well over six feet, with the chiseled physique of a champion athlete. The fact he was an excellent dancer and a model of chivalry further added to his attractiveness. He was a master horseman, excelled at jousting …" and "early in his reign Henry enjoyed theological debates and would listen to opinions which differed from his own with remarkable calm." Indeed he was all these things and more and add that the fact that this was the time when Kings were also seen as semi-divine. Even when he lost his looks, people still kept praising him as the most virtuous of princes to keep his favor. And there was no reason for Henry to think that this praise was ill-begotten or fake. He really "seemed to think that God agreed with him on every topic since he seemed to feel Heaven was always on his side" and everyone who defied him in the smallest of things was not only defying his authority but God's as well. It is no wonder then, why Henry turned from the prince everyone rooted for to the man everyone grew to fear and was obliged to pay homage or otherwise they would end with a head shorter or lose all their possessions as others had done for much less. Blood Will Tell by Kyra Cornelius Kramer is a well in depth study about the possible ailments that afflicted the King and caused his personality change. A must have for every Tudor fan. As Kyra C. Kramer says in her epilogue, it is amazing to think how different England would have been had Henry not suffered from Kell Blood Positive Type which brought so many other diseases, including McLeod syndrome which was intensified when he fell from his horse and as he grew older and impotent. There is no doubt, it would have been a different world. The Reformation would have probably happened since as the author points out, and many other historians agree, it was bound to happen. And for everyone who has read on the history of England, they will known this was inevitable as Judgment Day in the Terminator. England always had its problems with Catholicism since the twelfth century with the schism between Henry II and Beckett. It was only a matter of time when. Many of his wives' lives would have been better and perhaps not as turbulent and Katherine would not have lost so many children. It is an amazing read and while I did not always agree with the author's assessment on Henry's third and fifth wife and his eldest daughter Mary Tudor; the book nonetheless provided good information on the possible effects these diseases had on Henry's behavior, besides the one that is already documented. As I once said in my biology class, it is amazing how much our genes can determine everything from the way we look, think and act, but in the end as the author also stressed out since the beginning of her book, some of Henry's actions were still his own and being born in an environment where he was pampered and hailed as the great savior -and no wonder why since he was handsome, athletic, smart and everything everyone dreamed in a king- it is no wonder why became the big narcissist. McLeod and his blood type made him worse, but his attitude of self-importance was already there and with nobody to tell him otherwise since Kings were seen as the centers of their realms, Henry came to believe in his own con. And then there was also the matter of the succession which there was no way of knowing it was his fault. In the middle ages and the renaissance, no male heir meant proof that the marriage was doomed and the blame was always laid on a woman and Henry was no different from other men (and women) acting on these misogynist beliefs. It is a sad end for a man who had such a promising beginning, but also a sad end for all of his victims who fell under the axe and the others who suffered word deaths because his erratic behavior and his ego.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kristi

    It was an interesting read... the author, not a historian but a medical anthropologist, retells the story of Henry VIII and his six wives within the framework of the theory that Henry VIII had a rare blood type--he was, she asserts, Kell positive (those who are have an additional antigen on the surface of their red blood cells), which accounts for the countless miscarriages of his wives. Those with Kell negative blood who bear children with a Kell positive man will often carry a healthy first ch It was an interesting read... the author, not a historian but a medical anthropologist, retells the story of Henry VIII and his six wives within the framework of the theory that Henry VIII had a rare blood type--he was, she asserts, Kell positive (those who are have an additional antigen on the surface of their red blood cells), which accounts for the countless miscarriages of his wives. Those with Kell negative blood who bear children with a Kell positive man will often carry a healthy first child to term, but subsequent pregnancies will often result in miscarriages or stillbirths-unless the fetus inherits the Kell negative blood type from the mother (which accounts for Princess Mary). The author claims that King Henry suffered from McLeod syndrome, a rare disease that develops in those with Kell positive blood later in life, and this illness explains Henry's descent into tyranny as well as his deteriorating physical health. While the author accedes that the McLeod syndrome could have been co-morbid with other illnesses that affected the King's health, she seemed to "force" every action of Henry's and every symptom of ill health as being a result of McLeod syndrome. It is an interesting theory and should be studied (and tested for if scientists are ever given access to Henry's remains) but I feel a more well-rounded approach should have been applied. I wish the author would have done an analysis of Henry's family tree; looking at his maternal line I can see the male progeny of Henry's great-grandmother Jaquetta of Luxembourg were not so fruitful, whereas her female descendants bred like rabbits. The author's retelling of Henry VIII's story-which i know so well-was fun to read; it was refreshing to have a non-historian who is obviously passionate about the subject tell the tale. I agreed with a lot of her opinions-- i.e. I don't believe Anne Boleyn was exactly hot and heavy for Henry initially, Katherine Howard was not the "whore" that History has dubbed her... my favorite part was her comment that Maria de Salinas was ultimately revenged on Henry (her daughter Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk, later married Richard Bertie; their descendants include Princess Diana Spencer) because her descendants will sit on the throne whereas Henry's never did nor will (his line died with Elizabeth I)- I've actually had the same thought! As I read the book, I kept annoying my husband-- "Look what she says here! Didn't you head me say that a hundred times?!" and so on. I felt the author was my kindred spirit in that respect.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Shari Larsen

    This book presents an interesting theory to explain the personality of Henry VIII, and why he became such a tyrant after his 40th birthday. It's possible that he had a rare blood type called Kell, which can cause autoimmune disorders, and the author makes the case that Henry probably suffered from one of those Kell induced disorders, McLeod Syndrome, which is a genetic disorder affecting the blood, brain, nerves and heart. The author makes a convincing case, but unless his body is exhumed and his This book presents an interesting theory to explain the personality of Henry VIII, and why he became such a tyrant after his 40th birthday. It's possible that he had a rare blood type called Kell, which can cause autoimmune disorders, and the author makes the case that Henry probably suffered from one of those Kell induced disorders, McLeod Syndrome, which is a genetic disorder affecting the blood, brain, nerves and heart. The author makes a convincing case, but unless his body is exhumed and his DNA checked, it remains just a theory, but a very interesting theory none the less. In my opinion, his health issues don't excuse his actions, but it's a fascinating look at how his health may have shaped history. The writing felt repetitive at times; the author went into great detail with the Tudor history, but it felt like she did that just to stretch out the story. I was already very familiar with Tudor history before I read this, so except for the links to the Kell blood type and McCleod syndrome, I really didn't learn anything new. The book also had a chapter on astrology, which was part of the practicing of medicine at the time. That aspect was interesting, but it veered off into a tangent on geometry which I didn't feel had anything to do with the subject of the book. Something I wondered about that was not addressed in the book was that if McLeod syndrome is genetic, which parent did he inherit it from? This was an interesting book for the most part, but I think rather than a whole book, her theories could have been summed up in a magazine article.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tina

    The Tudor era is one of my favourite periods of history to study, and I have read a far bit about it. I have never read anything that has addressed the idiosyncratic reign of Henry VIII from the perspective of a medical condition. "Blood Will Tell" is witty, accessible, eloquent and persuasive; the book is engaging and very well researched. Even those with little interest in the period cannot fail to be drawn into the eventful and horrific story of Henry VIII's later years. Ms Kramer is balanced The Tudor era is one of my favourite periods of history to study, and I have read a far bit about it. I have never read anything that has addressed the idiosyncratic reign of Henry VIII from the perspective of a medical condition. "Blood Will Tell" is witty, accessible, eloquent and persuasive; the book is engaging and very well researched. Even those with little interest in the period cannot fail to be drawn into the eventful and horrific story of Henry VIII's later years. Ms Kramer is balanced and puts forward a learned and compelling case. Very highly recommended.

  15. 4 out of 5

    B.P. Perry

    An interesting take on the bloated old monster and his succession of hard done by wives.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sherry Sharpnack

    What if Henry VIII had an extra antigen on his blood cells, the Kell Antigen? What if he subsequently developed McLeod Syndrome, a rare disease that only affects those who are Kell positive? This is the thesis of Ms. Kramer, and it actually reads like a thesis written for an advanced degree, w/ citations in the text. The Kell antigen, and subsequent McLeod Syndrome, would explain Henry’s change from almost-sweet teenage king into the unpredictable, bloodthirsty tyrant of his final years. The ant What if Henry VIII had an extra antigen on his blood cells, the Kell Antigen? What if he subsequently developed McLeod Syndrome, a rare disease that only affects those who are Kell positive? This is the thesis of Ms. Kramer, and it actually reads like a thesis written for an advanced degree, w/ citations in the text. The Kell antigen, and subsequent McLeod Syndrome, would explain Henry’s change from almost-sweet teenage king into the unpredictable, bloodthirsty tyrant of his final years. The antigen alone would explain the horrific obstetrical history of his first two wives, who had possibly as many as thirteen pregnancies between them, but only two daughters who survived into adulthood. As with the Rhesus incompatibility, the first babies would be fine b/c the Rh-negative (or Kell negative) Mothers wouldn’t develop antibodies to Kell (or Rh-) positive babies until after that first pregnancy. Anne Boleyn’s first pregnancy was w/ Elizabeth, but she miscarried at least once and possibly three more times. Katherine of Aragon had a healthy baby boy for her first child, who died a month later, unrelated to any antigen differences. Katherine lost many more children to miscarriages and stillbirths except for her daughter Mary, who would have had to have been Kell-negative like Katherine. McLeod Syndrome has varying degrees of mental and physical sequeliae, all of which start affecting the afflicted person after the age of 40. Henry’s health problems began at around age 40, and his behavior changed markedly in 1535-36, when he was 44-45. He was heartless when Katherine died in Jan, 1536, and sent Anne to the block inMay. He married Jane Seymour 11 days later, but went hunting instead of staying by Jane as she lay dying after giving birth to his long-awaited son. His behavior only deteriorated from there. Ms.Kramer has me convinced that the Kell antigen and McLeod Syndrome account for Henry VIII’s descent into monstrosity. It’s just interesting that we don’t hear of this mental/obstetrical history in any of his relatives—but then the Tudors really didn’t let any of their royal relatives survive, did they?

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kara

    Kramer offers some sound medical explanations both for Henry VIII's behavior as well as his attempts to have living, healthy children. She has some good arguments to defend her ideas of his genetic makeup, physical changes, and mental make up - but not enough for a whole book. She admits this started as an article in a medical journal, and it shows. To pad things out, the book has a structure of the typical Henry and His Six Wives, following his martial career, but told though a medical lens - a Kramer offers some sound medical explanations both for Henry VIII's behavior as well as his attempts to have living, healthy children. She has some good arguments to defend her ideas of his genetic makeup, physical changes, and mental make up - but not enough for a whole book. She admits this started as an article in a medical journal, and it shows. To pad things out, the book has a structure of the typical Henry and His Six Wives, following his martial career, but told though a medical lens - as well as feminist one. Kramer valiantly rides out to defend the besmirched honor of 5 out of 6 of Henry's wives. Oddly, she puts down Jane Seymour, but for the rest she staunchly defends them as intelligent women who did the best they could to deal with, basically, in her view, a diseased monster. She also pads this out to book length by stopping all action mid-way through to give us an in depth explanation of ancient Greek medicine, including the astrology parts, how it was passed to early medieval Muslims, who then brought it to Spain, where it was then passed to late medieval Christians, became part of Tudor medicine and how, unfortunately, some of the worst parts of that belief system are still part of western medicine (i.e. the ludicrous idea that a woman can't become pregnant by being raped). She then gets back to the reign of Henry VIII, also doing a good job exploring the politics of the Catholic-Protestant fight of the time, and really hammers away at the thesis that Henry was INSANE and both his own men and the historians to follow can't abide the idea of putting a fellow man down, so they have to stomp all over the women in his life. An intriguing - if padded out - history of Henry VIII.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Charity

    What happened to Henry Tudor? This question has puzzled scholars, historians, and laymen for generations, as they are left baffled over an intelligent, compassionate and oftentimes too generous young king who became a full-blown tyrant in his later years. He started out writing sonnets and freeing his father's prisoners and wound up terrorizing the nobles and cutting off heads. Various theories have been proposed in an attempt to explain his violent mood swings, his intense paranoia, his willingne What happened to Henry Tudor? This question has puzzled scholars, historians, and laymen for generations, as they are left baffled over an intelligent, compassionate and oftentimes too generous young king who became a full-blown tyrant in his later years. He started out writing sonnets and freeing his father's prisoners and wound up terrorizing the nobles and cutting off heads. Various theories have been proposed in an attempt to explain his violent mood swings, his intense paranoia, his willingness to emotionally torment the people he once cared about, and his axe-happy tendencies in his later years, but no theory completely fits the bill. Syphilis is the common suggestion, but in comparison to King Francis of the same period, Henry manifested none of the symptoms and neither did any of his wives. Simple psychosis does not explain the added misfortune of Henry's wives miscarrying so many of his children. Out of nine to thirteen pregnancies with his wives, he had only three living heirs, all of them with serious medical defects (he had one additional child, Henry Fitzroy, with a mistress). This book proposes that Henry was possessed of a rare blood disorder that creates antibodies that destroy pregnancies in the womb or so weaken the child that it dies after birth, as well as that brings about dramatic mood swings, paranoia, and psychosis in the carrier after the age of forty (around the same time Henry's behavior ceased being merely "annoyed" and started becoming "cruel and irrational"). Though it is a large book that also delves into the behavior Henry engaged in around the different stages of proposed illness, the actual proof is rather thin. It's a theory more than a diagnosis and while it does fit many of the symptoms, it does not completely pan out (people with this condition often produce a healthy first child, and subsequent miscarriages; the pattern does not match Katharine of Aragon's pregnancies). It might have been more beneficial to paint a full portrait of someone with this actual disorder and the accompanying syndrome, and contrast the results with that of Henry, because the lack of background information does not leave the reader much to go on, other than getting the sense that behavior is being used to prop up a theory, of which by the end of the book, the reader still does not know much about. It is also interesting that the author tests the other theories about Henry and rules them out based on slight differences, then goes on to dismiss the similarly slight differences in her own argument for this particular illness. In truth, no theory completely matches the displayed symptoms, which means any attempt to diagnose Henry with a single illness to "explain everything" does not work. (It's likely he had multiple disorders, and the reason so many of his children died in the womb may not be the same reason he became so violent in his old age.) For a scholastic and historical work, the author's biases show through in obvious ways. Putting aside the name-calling of the monarch himself (psychopath, narcissist, etc), her favoritism is on full display with the sections devoted to the king's wives. Anne in particular is a saint and all her actions are cast in a pure and innocent light (under the assumption that she wanted nothing to do with any of it, and that her intentions in kicking Katharine of Aragon from the throne were all honorable and revolving around her great piety and desire to spread the Reformist faith); but none of the same courtesy is extended to Jane, who is berated for everything Anne got a pass on. Having slandered her completely, the author comes back for another round right at the end of the book, when she targets the Seymour family in its entirety for their scheming and political manipulations even though by then, Henry's death ought to have meant the end of her thesis topic. She also makes inflammatory statements about historical characters along the way that HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE TOPIC OF HENRY'S ILLNESS (Thomas More is harpooned toward the end, as one example) and further underscore her biases. This personal slant makes it difficult to regard the book as a straightforward medical and historical work, although I did find her theory feasible and it will certainly open the door for further discussion. I also enjoyed the last chapter, which explores the "what if?" had Henry not possessed her theorized condition -- the "undoing" of history brings up some interesting possibilities for his later wives, his friends, and his counselors. I wish a little more care been taken in adding a professional and unbiased air to the book, with a little more evidence; I would have given it four stars.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Josephine (Jo)

    This is a very interesting look at the life of Henry VIII supposing retrospectively that Henry had McLeod syndrome and that this was the cause of every problem in his life. The McLeod phenotype is a recessive mutation of the Kell blood group system. Men with Kell Blood group are often unable to have children although the first born with a partner may survive. Mothers who are negative for the Kell antigen develop antibodies after being exposed to red blood cells that are positive for Kell. Subseq This is a very interesting look at the life of Henry VIII supposing retrospectively that Henry had McLeod syndrome and that this was the cause of every problem in his life. The McLeod phenotype is a recessive mutation of the Kell blood group system. Men with Kell Blood group are often unable to have children although the first born with a partner may survive. Mothers who are negative for the Kell antigen develop antibodies after being exposed to red blood cells that are positive for Kell. Subsequent pregnancies are then at extreme risk and often result in miscarriage or early death of the new born. If Henry did carry this gene then none of his wives would have been to blame for their 'failure' to provide him with a male heir. McLeod Syndrome, if indeed he did suffer from this disease, could have been responsible for his totally unreasonable, cruel behaviour in his later life due to the fact that his brain function may have been altered by his illness. The neurological illness usually makes itself apparent in the person's mid to late forties, it can be a genetic illness or brought on by a traumatic injury which damages certain nerves. Henry did have a serious jousting injury whilst married to Anne Boleyn but this does not explain the loss of maybe as many as eleven babies with Catherine of Aragon. Unless we are able to do tests on the remains of Henry VIII it is impossible to verify whether or not this theory is correct. In my opinion it may have contributed to Henry's infertility but it is also very likely that Henry, a handsome and charming younger man, had never been denied anything he wanted. Henry was in fact extremely spoilt, both as a child and an adult, no one ever said no to him, he was constantly flattered about his looks, his sporting ability and is brilliant mind, all of which were true, but when things started to go wrong and he did not get an heir and the Pope would not give him a divorce the other side of his character started to show. Anne Boleyn also refused to become his mistress and kept him waiting for years until he finally divorced Catherine, (something which probably went against his true conscience) he was being thwarted and did not like it. Henry in later life became like a petulant child and thought nothing of ridding himself of anyone who annoyed him in even small ways and he had not more conscience in killing them than a horrid child pulling wings off a fly. I think he was just a greedy, lustful, spoilt tyrant who probably was in the end mentally unhinged due to the way he lived his life. I apologise if I have not described the McLeod and Kell Syndrome correctly but this is my understanding of it having read this excellent book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Brittany

    Kramer, a medical anthropologist, does a commendable job of dissecting Henry VIII's medical, psychological, and behavioral history. Her theory is that Henry VIII's blood was Kell positive. As such, he would have had an extraordinarily difficult time fathering healthy children who thrived. Kell negative women who have children by Kell positive fathers have fine pregnancies the first time around, but develop an "allergy" to the Kell antigens afterwards, causing future fetuses to miscarry or die ea Kramer, a medical anthropologist, does a commendable job of dissecting Henry VIII's medical, psychological, and behavioral history. Her theory is that Henry VIII's blood was Kell positive. As such, he would have had an extraordinarily difficult time fathering healthy children who thrived. Kell negative women who have children by Kell positive fathers have fine pregnancies the first time around, but develop an "allergy" to the Kell antigens afterwards, causing future fetuses to miscarry or die early in infancy. She walks through the reproductive trials and tribulations of each of his first three wives, examining how Henry's possibly Kell-positive status could have affected each pregnancy. It's entirely plausible and incredibly fascinating. But she goes further, into postulating that Henry may additionally have suffered from McLeod syndrome, a disorder that interestingly enough can cause major personality changes, including paranoia and schizophrenia. It all makes for a very interesting read, and Kramer is a capable writer. She does repeat herself a few times, and is obviously seduced by the idea of writing a history of religious and astrological influences on the development of medicine. But the book is readable, well-researched, and ruthlessly cited. She doesn't let her own voice intrude very much, choosing to maintain a smooth, logical tone that fits well with the medical report style of the book. However, where her voice does slip through, it's revealingly engaging. I'm thinking in particular of the point at which she notes, with a vague air of affront, that probably no one will ever be allowed to exhume Henry to perform the simple test to tell for sure whether he was Kell negative.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Correen

    Hypothesis: King Henry VIII who was most notorious for his six wives and bizarre behavior was the victim of a rare blood condition, Kell blood type, and a related condition called McCloud Syndrome. It is an interesting hypothesis that seems to come out of nowhere and is supported by an analysis the king's behaviors as described in writings of that time. Kramer does a credible job of researching his behavior and other symptoms and lining them up with Kell and McCloud. The most interesting part of Hypothesis: King Henry VIII who was most notorious for his six wives and bizarre behavior was the victim of a rare blood condition, Kell blood type, and a related condition called McCloud Syndrome. It is an interesting hypothesis that seems to come out of nowhere and is supported by an analysis the king's behaviors as described in writings of that time. Kramer does a credible job of researching his behavior and other symptoms and lining them up with Kell and McCloud. The most interesting part of the book was the biographical component, his relationship with each of his wives, his deterioration from a strong but narcissistic personality to morbid obesity and serious paranoia. The author tells a slightly different story of each of his wives than I have read elsewhere. She treats them as dignified and responsible women. I learned much about the lives of the women. The biggest downfall of the book was that it was not well written. It was repetitive, needed editing for errors, and seemed to drum in the connection between the blood condition and the king. This detracted from the seriousness of the hypothesis.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer de Guzman

    This would have been a passable biography of Henry VIII -- nothing revelatory, concentrating mostly on his treatment of his wives. However, it claims to be something more: An argument that Henry VIII's erratic behavior had a medical cause, McLeod's Sydrome, and that the author can prove it. McLeod's Syndrome is fairly obscure. If the author wanted to demonstrably show that Henry VIII could have been suffering from it, she should have included case studies of people who have it and give specific e This would have been a passable biography of Henry VIII -- nothing revelatory, concentrating mostly on his treatment of his wives. However, it claims to be something more: An argument that Henry VIII's erratic behavior had a medical cause, McLeod's Sydrome, and that the author can prove it. McLeod's Syndrome is fairly obscure. If the author wanted to demonstrably show that Henry VIII could have been suffering from it, she should have included case studies of people who have it and give specific examples of how Henry's symptoms corresponded to theirs. However, Kramer does little more than point out Henry's bizarre or cruel behavior and insert something like "because of the mental impairment caused by McLeod's Syndrome." Combine this with strange choices to break into contemporary language (like saying Henry VIII ("acted like a putz") that doesn't fit with the overall tone of the book and scant primary source documentation, and you come out with an uneven work that doesn't prove its central thesis.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Aishuu

    This reads like someone's college thesis rather than a serious historical work. It's got some interesting ideas, but the citations of modern historians rather than primary sources makes me distrust the material, and the author's pointed hammering of the Kell and MacLeod theories get really old. It feels like someone defending a dissertation, and lacks nuance. By halfway through, I gave up in disgust. Edit: And wow, as I check the other reviews I see I called it right on being a thesis. Ye gods, This reads like someone's college thesis rather than a serious historical work. It's got some interesting ideas, but the citations of modern historians rather than primary sources makes me distrust the material, and the author's pointed hammering of the Kell and MacLeod theories get really old. It feels like someone defending a dissertation, and lacks nuance. By halfway through, I gave up in disgust. Edit: And wow, as I check the other reviews I see I called it right on being a thesis. Ye gods, advertise it that way so people can avoid the sucker! I know several books based off thesis, but those are usually converted. A book is different than a thesis!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    Blood Will Tell presents an intriguing theory that accounts for both the difficulty Henry VIII had fathering healthy children, and the brutality of the later years of his reign. I didn't know much about Henry, and found this book entertaining and accessible. The only thing missing was a family tree or chart of some kind. With six wives and packs of in-laws, it was sometimes hard to keep everyone straight in my mind. Blood Will Tell presents an intriguing theory that accounts for both the difficulty Henry VIII had fathering healthy children, and the brutality of the later years of his reign. I didn't know much about Henry, and found this book entertaining and accessible. The only thing missing was a family tree or chart of some kind. With six wives and packs of in-laws, it was sometimes hard to keep everyone straight in my mind.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Tawna Fenske

    I'm not normally a big fan of non-fiction, but I absolutely ADORED this book! The author hooked me in from page one, and I ended up doing a two-hour workout on the elliptical machine without realizing it because I was so engrossed in the story. Fascinating theories, interesting history, and an engaging writing style. This book is a must whether you're a serious Henry VIII buff, or just looking to learn something different from what you see on "The Tudors" or read in "The Other Boleyn Girl." I'm not normally a big fan of non-fiction, but I absolutely ADORED this book! The author hooked me in from page one, and I ended up doing a two-hour workout on the elliptical machine without realizing it because I was so engrossed in the story. Fascinating theories, interesting history, and an engaging writing style. This book is a must whether you're a serious Henry VIII buff, or just looking to learn something different from what you see on "The Tudors" or read in "The Other Boleyn Girl."

  26. 5 out of 5

    Renee

    I really enjoyed this history of Henry VIII. The author hypothesizes that Henry VIII suffered from Kell Syndrome and Mcleod Syndrome,both of which could account for the very low live birthrate of his wives, and they were fertile women, and the drastic changes in his personality after the age of 40. The author made the history interesting, and it read well.

  27. 4 out of 5

    KC

    After having watched the Tudor series, this book gives a more detailed insight to Henry's live. Although it cannot be proved (today) that Henry suffered from the proposed disease in the book, the theory is very convincing (at least for me). If you are a fan of Tudors, or of the live of King Henry VIII, then this book will be enjoyable, or at least critic the proposed theory. After having watched the Tudor series, this book gives a more detailed insight to Henry's live. Although it cannot be proved (today) that Henry suffered from the proposed disease in the book, the theory is very convincing (at least for me). If you are a fan of Tudors, or of the live of King Henry VIII, then this book will be enjoyable, or at least critic the proposed theory.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    I very much enjoyed this book from a different outlook, the medical side. The explanation of being Kell positive and the results that happen when that person turns 40 years old. It explains the sudden bad behavior of Henry VIII when he turned 40 and makes you wonder if things would have been different without his illness. Very interesting!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Christy

    Kyra is a friend - which is why I started reading the book. I'm continuing to read because her style is informative and interesting. update: I finished the book and have to say that it was even better than I expected. Kyra is a friend - which is why I started reading the book. I'm continuing to read because her style is informative and interesting. update: I finished the book and have to say that it was even better than I expected.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Interesting speculation on why Henry VIII had such dramatic personality changes. All speculation but well researched and put together. Good read for fans of Tudor era non-fiction or medical mystery type books.

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