Emily Sohn, science writer for the Discovery News Online Blog, covered the research of bioarcheologist Catarina Whitley on King Henry VIII. Whitley, who completed her research at SMU and now works for the Museum of New Mexico, asserts that the former British monarch could have had a rare blood type that caused reproductive issues, as well as major physical and mental illness.

Henry VIII has been a widely studied character, even more than 500 years after his death. He is most known for his six wives — two of whom he had beheaded — and for leading the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. He is said to have undergone a major personality shift and put on hundreds of pounds in his midlife. Despite numerous attempts, Henry VIII was not able to produce any male offspring.

Whitley suggests the reproduction issues may have been caused by a rare blood type, called Kell positive. Kell negative females have problems bearing children from Kell positive men because their immune systems attack the fetus.

In addition, Whitley says Henry VIII may have suffered from a rare genetic disorder called McLeod syndrome, which causes heart disease and major psychological issues, including paranoia and general mental decline.

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By Emily Sohn
Discovery News Online

Among a long list of personality quirks and historical drama, Henry VIII is known for the development of health problems in mid-life and a series of miscarriages for two of his wives. In a new study, researchers propose that Henry had an X-linked genetic disorder and a rare blood type that could explain many of his problems.

By suggesting biological causes for significant historical events, the study offers new ways to think about the infamous life of the notorious 16th-century British monarch, said Catarina Whitley, a bioarchaeologist who completed the research while at Southern Methodist University.

“What really made us look at Henry was that he had more than one wife that had obstetrical problems and a bad obstetrical history,” said Whitley, now with the Museum of New Mexico. “We got to thinking: Could it be him?”

Plenty of historians have written about Henry’s health problems. As a young man, he was fit and healthy. But by the time of his death, the King weighed close to 400 pounds. He had leg ulcers, muscle weakness, and, according to some accounts, a significant personality shift in middle age towards more paranoia, anxiety, depression and mental deterioration.

Among other theories, experts have proposed that Henry suffered from Type II diabetes, syphilis, an endocrine problem called Cushing’s syndrome, or myxedema, which is a byproduct of hypothyroidism.

All of those theories have flaws, Whitley said, and none address the monarch’s reproductive woes. Two of his six wives — Ann Boleyn and Katherine of Aragon — are thought to have suffered multiple miscarriages, often in the third trimester.

To explain those patterns, Whitley and colleague Kyra Kramer offer a new theory: Henry may have belonged to a rare blood group, called Kell positive. Only 9 percent of the Caucasian population belongs to this group.

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