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  1. #1
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    I Wonder...? Could Katherine of Aragon Have Been...

    Anorexic?

    I was reading my copy of Royalty Magazine last night that commemorates William and Kate's Engagement and there's quite the interesting tidbit mini article in there about Katherine of Aragorn.

    Apparently, researchers have found letters sent by Pope Julius II to the Prince of Wales (Whether this is Arthur or Henry isn't clear) to let his concerns about the religious fervour of the Princess of Wales and her health be known. Apparently, Katherine was going overboard, in his eyes, when it came to her fasting ritiuals. To the point she was ignoring his orders when it came to not going through w/fasts so often.

    Here's the *really* interesting thing...

    They're wondering this. If Katherine was fasting so often and not eating as well as she should have been eating due to the restraints of whatever fasting ritual she was following at the time...Could this actually have been a form of Anorexia/Bulimia and *this* was the real cause of the fertitlity problems Katherine and Henry had?

    It makes sense when you think of it. If Katherine wasn't eating due to doing a fast, *and* she was pregnant, the baby wouldn't be getting that vital nutrition it needed and in turn...A still born baby.

    Dad turned to me when I let out a "Oh my GOSH!!!" after I'd read that wondering if I hadn't lost it. After I had him read the little tidbit article, he looked at me w/that same realization of shock and says to me, "That could explain everything right there!!"

    It could too. Just putting that out there for discussion.

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    what exactly would be changed if it turns out she was anorexic?
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    Quote Originally Posted by genevieve View Post
    what exactly would be changed if it turns out she was anorexic?
    It would be of interest to both Tudor and medical historians, I would imagine.

    I am not aware of cases of anorexia going so far back in history but who knows. It would certainly be interesting if confirmed.
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    Would it be anorexia as we know it today? If she was just so completely fervent in her religious beliefs, it certainly wouldn't fit the idea of anorexia that we have today. She wasn't doing it because of fear of gaining weight. I find that hard to believe because wasn't it seen as a good thing to be a little plump because it meant you had the money to afford to eat more than needed? Something like that. I just doubt she was doing it for physical reasons but more for spiritual and to me that is a different issue than anorexia. However, it could very well explain her child bearing issues.
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    Well, anorexia really only means lack of appetite. While in modern setting it is associated with preoccupation with one's weight and body dysmorphic disorder, it doesn't have to.

    Anorexia nervosa is a more specific name for the weight-related eating disorder.
    "Nature is a damp, inconvenient sort of place where birds and animals wander about uncooked."

    from Speedy Death

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    interesting for sure- but Henry was believed to be the one with the challenges in the fertility department!! lol I was watching the Tudors last night- man i wish they had also done Elizabeth and Mary's reigns as well- that show was epic!

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    Quote Originally Posted by victoriajh View Post
    interesting for sure- but Henry was believed to be the one with the challenges in the fertility department!!
    That is unlikely since he did have children by other wives and mistresses. Also, Anne Boleyn does fit the profile of the Rh factor problem. I don't think we will ever know for sure.
    "Nature is a damp, inconvenient sort of place where birds and animals wander about uncooked."

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    Also, I doubt that Katherine would have been fasting while pregnant. Furthermore, considering that Anne Boleyn also had several miscarriages, I doubt that the problem was Katherine's.

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    Anne Boleyn is speculated to have been RH-, and Henry VIII to have been RH+, hence the complications in the pregnancies following Elizabeth's birth. I doubt that had anything to do with Henry, nor did it have anything to do with Katherine.

    Later in life when he was obese and ill, yes, I believe that had to do with him, but not with his first wives. Jane Seymour and possibly the deaths of the early children with Katherine of Aragon are attributed to the lack of hygienic conditions at the time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by oleada View Post
    Later in life when he was obese and ill, yes, I believe that had to do with him, but not with his first wives. Jane Seymour and possibly the deaths of the early children with Katherine of Aragon are attributed to the lack of hygienic conditions at the time.
    Infant and maternal perinatal mortality was generally high at the time due to various reasons.
    "Nature is a damp, inconvenient sort of place where birds and animals wander about uncooked."

    from Speedy Death

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    Quote Originally Posted by IceAlisa View Post
    Infant and maternal perinatal mortality was generally high at the time due to various reasons.
    Yeah, you're right. I was referring to the fact that Janey Seymour was speculated to have died from an infected perineum, and I think there were some hygenic corners re: the first son too.

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    I read that she was quite fat near the end. But, if she was thin in the beginning, remember that Henry VII kept her dowry (from the Arthur debacle), left her to pawn her own plate for household money while looking around for better offers for Henry. Only when VII died, did her lot in life improve (or not, considering what VIII did to her). Must suck to be a princess by birth and then marry a philandering jackass. Of course, 3 of the next 4 didn't make it out of the marriage alive.

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    Quote Originally Posted by oleada View Post
    Anne Boleyn is speculated to have been RH-, and Henry VIII to have been RH+, hence the complications in the pregnancies following Elizabeth's birth. I doubt that had anything to do with Henry, nor did it have anything to do with Katherine.

    Later in life when he was obese and ill, yes, I believe that had to do with him, but not with his first wives. Jane Seymour and possibly the deaths of the early children with Katherine of Aragon are attributed to the lack of hygienic conditions at the time.
    Henry set down a lot of hygenic rules and restrictions (including frequent cleanings of everything) when households were set up, for his three surviving children ... so I am sure he did the same for the children that did not live as long.

    You are right, that the Rh issue is unique to Anne, just as the (possibility) of anorexia would be unique to Katherine. However, often times a common result (lots of miscarriages), indicates a common cause (something about Henry)

    However, a lot of the evidence indicating fertility troubles on Henry's part is debateable. For example, historians disagree as to when Henry had his affair with Mary Boleyn ... and if so, whether he was the father of her two children (one of whom was a son, BTW). Certainly, the number of illegitimate children he may have had bears on whether or not he had fertility problems.

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    Henry had one illegitimate son that I can remember - Henry Fitzroy. Personally, I don't think Mary Boleyn's kids are his, but that's my non-historian opinion. It's been a while since I re-read or read anything new on that era.

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    One thing I've always wondered about - how difficult it must have been for women to use the toilet in the days prior to plumbing, especially given the types and layers of clothing they had to deal with. Maybe there were hooks on the walls of outhouses for skirts. I've also heard that women used the bathroom in pairs.

    I would think it would be natural to become very controlled with eating and drinking habits if you faced that difficulty. It's not the same thing as an eating disorder, but could certainly lead to an eating disorder.

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    Ehhh..."anorexic" in the literal sense of not eating, but unlikely for the exact same modern psychological reasons. It is not unheard of for people of extreme religious beliefs to have taking fasting to extremes, probably at least in part inspired by stories of saints who existed only on the Eucharist (and Katherine WAS a very devout Catholic, who probably could have kept a lot of problems from occurring if she HAD decided to retire to a convent.) Combine religiously devout with any sort of predisposition to obsessive behavior and it wouldn't be a big stretch.

    As for..ah, using the facilities...having worn a variety of period garments, it's not actually as hard as you'd think. (Hoops are actually easier than Tudor clothes, if you know how to sit in them--bend the knees and 'break' them, don't try to sit like you're in pants!) Not least because while there are layers and the UPPER body was often constrained in one way or another, usually, there wasn't actually that much under the skirts. (I vaguely recall a book or paper on the subject noting it's a little conflicted--the upper body's often practically in armor, but all you really need to do for 'access', If You Know What I Mean, was flip up the skirts and maybe yank a pair of pantalettes down at most.) There isn't actually much going on to prevent you from doing your business, certainly less of a hassle than a modern bodysuit or leotard or a mid-20th-century girdle.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AragornElessar View Post
    Apparently, researchers have found letters sent by Pope Julius II to the Prince of Wales (Whether this is Arthur or Henry isn't clear)
    It would have been Henry. Arthur died in 1502 and Julius II was elected Pope in 1503.

    Anyway, it's an interesting theory. It would explain what could have happened with the stillbirths and the babies who didn't live long. But it wouldn't explain why Mary was so healthy and why she lived, when all the others didn't.

    The thing I always assumed was that there was some genetic disorder within either Henry or Katherine that was passed on to all their babies, save Mary, which made for a short life span.

    But we will likely never know. Not unless everyone was exhumed and tested, and even then, it might not explain anything.

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    This link gives a relatively good summary of Henry's legitimate and acknowledged children (in dispute naturally, but this is the most generally agreed on):
    http://www.thepeerage.com/p10148.htm#i101473

    Note that all Catherine's children were in the first 10 years of their marriage, when many historians believe that she and Henry were actually quite happy. Elizabeth Blount's child (who he acknowledged and who is listed on the link) was at the end of this period, and arguably, could have been either a symptom or a catalyst in the marriage starting to deteriorate.

    Note that Anne Boleyn wasn't in the picture for another 5 years or so after that, when Henry's marriage to Catherine was all but over. Sandwiched in between is the time when Henry reportedly had the affair with Mary Boleyn and she bore two children, whose paternity is still up for debate. (My belief is that Henry is his, Catherine is not.)

    So, if we look at the health of Henry's known children -

    • Mary - died age 42
    • Henry Fitzroy - lived to age 17, but is rumoured to have been murdered
    • Henry Carey (possibly) - lived to age 71, had 6 children, at least half reaching adulthood
    • Catherine Carey (possibly) - lived to age 45 and bore 14 children, at least half reaching adulthood and one infamously living to age 95
    • Elizabeth - died age 59 and was apparently quite healthy
    • Edward - died age 15, was sickly from childhood

    Henry's record is likely in line with the times.

    As for Catherine's eating, I agree it's most likely about religious fervour. As I understand it, the main motivation for eating disorders is not necessarily weight loss, but control over one's body, which in Catherine's case might be a morphing from the discipline that she hoped would achieve some kind of religious fulfillment.

    Either way, if it caused her stillbirths and miscarriages - three of the five were thought to be boys, so yes, if they had lived, the history of England would be completely rewritten.

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    Quote Originally Posted by IceAlisa View Post
    It would be of interest to both Tudor and medical historians, I would imagine.

    I am not aware of cases of anorexia going so far back in history but who knows. It would certainly be interesting if confirmed.
    I had heard that the ancient Romans used to binge and purge at their banquets. Also the upper class women women in earlier times (Medici court, French courts,) used to pride themselves on having 10 and 14 inch waists (with the help of corsets) so I would bet they were weight obsessed as well.

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    I always thought it was cruelly ironic that the Henry VIII blamed his wives for not giving him a son when it was up to him to contribute the necessary Y chromosone. Of course, the biological mechanics of gender selection were unknown in Tudor times. Nor was Henry the only husband throughout history who laid a guilt-trip on his wife for not giving him a male heir.

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