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Digging up Britain’s Past: By George, I think she’s got it

This second episode of this Channel Five series, presented by Alex Langlands and Helen Skelton, took us to Elsyng Palace, a North London house built by Henry VIII but with question marks about its precise venue until recently. Very unusually, the presenters clearly stated that the “King’s Great Matter” concerned not a divorce from Catherine of Aragon but an annulment (see the Shavian subtitle for my surprise), before they explained how Henry ran short of money and sought to extract it from the great monasteries, such as Rievaulx Abbey, which were thus dissolved. A visit to the Royal Mint, now at Llantrisant, showed how he debased the coinage from 92% silver to 25% and the plating over the King’s portrait wore off leaving him the moniker “Old Coppernose”.

Elsyng came into use because it was more private that Henry’s inner London palaces and because he could take his heir away from the unhealthy conditions that prevailed in the capital. In fact, Edward VI learned of his succession at Elsyng and spent his first night as King there.

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And the king’s hair seethed with lice at his coronation. . .!

Do not read on if you’re squeamish about blood-sucking parasites. No, I’m not referring to Henry VII, but his equally usurping Lancastrian predecessor, Henry IV.

henry4coronation

When we think of medieval coronations, and see contemporary illustrations, we see the glamour, colour and solemnity of the occasion, hear the singing, smell the incense, observe the wonderful robes and so on. The last thing we modern folk would expect would be to learn that the new king’s head was infested with lice! Oh, yuk! But that is what was found at the coronation of Henry IV.

70d67851d7f5d05589d60ebf5372ba95

It is not something I had heard before, but yesterday, on reading King Richard II by Bryan Bevan, I discovered: “It was fortunate for Henry that the sacred oil of Edward the Confessor was used during the anointing ceremony, but it was found that the new King’s head was full of lice.” And Adam Usk claimed that shortly after the coronation his [Henry’s] hair fell out, supposedly a result of lice. Another report says that he had his hair close-cropped because of head lice, which may explain the sudden baldness report. Although when his remains were examined in the 19th century, he was found to be completely bald, albeit with a full beard. This is how he appears on his circa 1437 tomb in Canterbury Cathedral.

Canterbury, made around 1437

Yes, I know that such parasites were much more abundant in times gone by, but this must have been a bad case to warrant such specific mention. There is no excuse for Henry. Adult lice can be squashed and removed, even if the nits are a trickier matter. The necessary combs were available, so for a King of England to be crowned when he was that lousy and crawling is an awful indictment. It wasn’t as if he didn’t have an army of servants to attend to such matters!

I cannot imagine his murdered predecessor appearing like that. Richard II was a fastidious man who took infinite care with his appearance.The first louse foolish enough to advance upon him would have been exterminated at first contact! I’m sure Richard would have had the shuddering habdabs if such an unwelcome visitor were to dare to sully his royal pate! The nit comb must have been very regularly applied, to ensure such a thing didn’t happen.

220px-Richard_II_King_of_EnglandLice were mainly associated with the lowest people in society. So much for Henry of Bolingbroke. But then, he was low. He, no more than Henry VII, had any business sitting on the throne, and both achieved their aim by the violent death of the rightful incumbent.

According to http://nitwitslice.com/a-short-history-of-head-lice/ “…One myth tells that to lure the lice off of the scalp, one would make a fur vest and wear it throughout the day and night hoping lice would make their way onto the warm fur. As ridiculous as that may sound, with no real medical knowledge of how to alleviate the problem who knows how many medieval men or women may have actually attempted this practice…” Who indeed.

What was the medieval view and treatment of these parasites? All lice, not just those on the head? According to Shakespeare’s Medical Language, by Sujata Iyengar:

“. . .lice were thought to develop from corrupted humors in the blood, and to escape through small holes or pores in the skin. If the patient had been cursed by God, as in the plagues of Egypt, lice-infestation was incurable, but if the infestation was natural, sufferers ought to abstain from foods that would breed phlegm and particularly from figs and dates, and to wash their bodies twice a day in salt water and a mixture of lye and wormwood. Mustard-plasters and quicksilver dissolved in grease or oil was also effective. . .”

Head Lice

Ew….!

A “cure” for head lice that has existed since at least 1526 (Treasure of Pore Men) recommends pounding olive oil with Rhenish wine and the unidentified “Aruement”, which could well be arrowmint, and applying it to the body. An alternative was to smear the body with grease from an ungelded pig, mixed with brimstone and quicksilver in Rhemish wine and arrowmint. It was suggested in The Castel of Helthe (1539) that eating dried figs breeds lice, since the dessicated fruit is by complexion so hot and dry.

The above is all very well for the rich, but how many really poor people could afford such ingredients? I think the nit comb was probably the best they could do. Maybe such an implement was passed around as needed, which, of course, would ensure the transmission of the parasite. But then, transmission of this sort was not understood, although it was understood that “the homeless, the poverty-stricken, the overcrowded, and children suffered disproportionately from infestation”.

A social pastime?

So. . .can Henry IV be excused for turning up at his coronation in such a lousy state? No. Nits are sods to remove, but not the living adults. To get into such a terrible state of infestation, he cannot have done much about checking the parasites’ relentless advance. Perhaps he liked their company.

Oh, I do love an opportunity to give Bolingbroke yet another thumbs-down! He had no right to Richard II’s throne, he stole it. The right should have passed down through the Mortimers from Lionel of Clarence, not through John of Gaunt. So it’s boo! hiss! to Henry IV. And his lice.

For more:

http://www.medievalhistories.com/medieval-hair-colours/

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/some-of-historys-most-beautiful-combs-were-made-for-lice-removal

https://www.licedoctors.com/blog/history-of-head-lice-treatment.html

The Fears of Henry IV, by Ian Mortimer.

Might Edward IV have suffered from Type 2 diabetes…?

edwardiv

http://ricardianregister.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/did-king-edward-iv-have-type-2-diabetes.html

No doubt many of you have read this article  before (see link above), but I had not. It’s very interesting to ponder whether Edward IV may have suffered from Type 2 Diabetes. I have to say that his portrait seems a prime example of the “fair, fat and forty” stereotype (of which I too am a prime example, except that in my case you should add another thirty years!)

OK, he’s not fat in this portrait, but he’s not lean either, unlike his brother Richard III. Nor was the portrait painted in his lifetime, but Edward was recorded as being very fat by the time he died. He had to start gaining weight some time before then.

Of course, in the days before insulin and other marvellous medical advances, if Edward had indeed become diabetic, the condition would simply follow its course. Which brings me to wonder if he might not, after all, have suffered from it. My mother, who was not fat, also suffered from Type 2, and she lost weight. A great deal of it. She stopped losing it when insulin injections commenced. So, does Type 2 Diabetes mean putting on weight? Or shedding it? I cannot answer the question, and am not medically trained, so can only be left wondering about Edward. It’s a possibility, but I have yet to be convinced.

By the way, , I’m a bit taken aback by the statement that Derbyshire is the only land-locked county. I can’t imagine that in the 15th century the likes of Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Rutland, Staffordshire,  Warwickshire and Wiltshire had sandy, wave-kissed beaches. Maybe I’m wrong. (If I am, or have missed a county, I apologise!)

Was Richard the big-spender on fashion? No, it was Henry….

Fashionisto Henry

 

I must admit that the following article didn’t come as quite the surprise it should. Henry has always struck me as a man who enjoyed the good things in life, and was prepared to be lavish when he felt like it.

Big spender

Yes, indeed! And he enjoyed being entertained and so on…but that he was quite as spendthrift on clothes takes me aback. He really was a fashionisto! £3 million is a lot by today’s standards, let alone the 15th/16th century. On top of which, if he spent wildly when he was under threat, then I suspect he suffered from depression. Come the calamity, someone with depression will spend. So perhaps Henry Tudor was a sufferer.

The following link takes you to the article that has prompted this post:-

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/06/01/miserly-henry-vii-was-actually-a-shopaholic-who-spent-3-million/

Henry VII blew money on clothes when he feared invasion

by Sarah Knapton, Science Editor

Henry VII has gone down in history as a miserly monarch who instigated punishing tax policies in order to replenish the Royal coffers following the Wars of the Roses. But a new book suggests the first Tudor monarch was not so parsimonious as previously believed.

In fact, according to Tracy Borman, the Chief Curator of the Historic Royal Palaces, Henry was a vain spendthrift who blew the equivalent of £3 million on his wardrobe in just two years. It’s like he looks in his wardrobe and thinks, Oh God, I’m going to be invaded and I’ve literally got nothing to wear.

 “The first Tudor was the one that probably changed most in my opinion when I looked behind closed doors,” Borman told The Hay Festival.

“Perhaps the word miser springs to mind when you think about Henry VII and he’s quite sobre, serious minded. Well at least that’s how he may have appeared to his public but behind closed doors how different he was.

“That miser has to be one of the first myths to be exploded. He probably spent more than any of the other Tudors and particularly he liked to spend money on clothes. “And so in the first two years of his reign alone he spent the equivalent of £3 million on his dress.”

Henry VII established the Tudor dynasty after defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. But the new king was increasingly paranoid and expected to be toppled from the throne at any time. Borman said that he always spent vast sums on clothing when he was feeling particularly vulnerable to attack.

“It’s really fascinating with Henry VII bought new clothes because it’s always when he’s feeling vulnerable. Nothing changes.

“He was seen as an illegitimate usurper, he himself was born legitimate but his line was illegitimate. He wasn’t expected to last as this new dynasty, even though we look back and see the Tudors of all powerful, in fact they weren’t expected to last beyond about five years.

“And there were a serious of rival claimants to the throne during Henry VII’s reign notably the two pretenders Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck. And when Warbeck started to rise to prominence look at Henry’s personal accounts and yet again he buys a new wardrobe.

“It’s like he looks in his wardrobe and thinks, Oh God, I’m going to be invaded and I’ve literally got nothing to wear.”

Borman also said the public image of Henry VIII, who was portrayed as ‘stridently self-confident’ was also far from reality. The king regularly sought the advice of astronomers and doctors and was in constant fear of falling ill.

“This was another real surprise to me, as a Tudor historian, just how different Henry VIII really was behind closed doors to this magnificent public image,” she said.

“In fact, the Henry behind closed doors was described by one astonished visitor as ‘the most timid man you could hope to meet.’

“He was a hypochondriac and was absolutely paranoid about illness, so much so that he kept his own cabinet of medicines. Henry also submitted himself daily to the examinations of his physicians.

“There is the Tudors that they want us to see, these great iconic figures and then there is the real human beings who lie behind that public image.”

Borman’s new book The Private Lives of the Tudors is out now.

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