Washington: A new study has claimed that blood group anomaly could have been the reason for Tudor king`s reproductive problems as well as his mental and physical impairment.
Catrina Banks Whitley at Southern Methodist University and anthropologist Kyra Kramer said that if the king`s blood carried the Kell antigen, a Kell negative woman who has multiple pregnancies with a Kell positive man can produce a healthy, Kell positive child in a first pregnancy.
But the antibodies she produces during that first pregnancy will cross the placenta and attack a Kell positive foetus in subsequent pregnancies.
This could explain the pregnancies of Henry`s first two wives, Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn.
If Henry also suffered from McLeod syndrome, a genetic disorder specific to the Kell blood group, it would explain why he turned from a strong, athletic, generous individual in his first 40 years to the monstrous paranoiac he would become, virtually immobilized by massive weight gain and leg ailments.
"It is our assertion that we have identified the causal medical condition underlying Henry`s reproductive problems and psychological deterioration," write Whitley and Kramer.
For the sake of a male heir, the king married six women, two of whom he famously executed, and broke England`s ties with the Catholic Church.
A Kell positive father frequently is the cause behind the inability of his partner to bear a healthy infant after the first Kell negative pregnancy, which the authors note is precisely the circumstance experienced with women who had multiple pregnancies by Henry.
The majority of individuals within the Kell blood group are Kell negative, so it is the rare Kell positive father that creates reproductive problems.
By middle age, the King suffered from chronic leg ulcers, fuelling longstanding historical speculation that he suffered from type II diabetes. The ulcers also could have been caused by osteomyelitis, a chronic bone infection that would have made walking extremely painful.
There are no records of whether Henry displayed other physical signs of McLeod syndrome but the dramatic changes in his personality provide stronger evidence that Henry had McLeod syndrome, the authors point out: His mental and emotional instability increased in the dozen years before death to an extent that some have labelled his behaviour psychotic.
Henry was nearly 18 when he married 23-year-old Catherine of Aragon.
Six babies later, who were either stillborn or died shortly after birth, the only surviving child was Mary, who would eventually be crowned the fourth Monarch in the Tudor dynasty.
Even taking in the possibility of mistresses, king’`s partners had a total of at least 11 and possibly 13 or more pregnancies. Only four of the eleven known pregnancies survived infancy.
Whitley and Kramer call the high rate of spontaneous late-term abortion, stillbirth, or rapid neonatal death suffered by Henry`s first two queens "an atypical reproductive pattern" because, even in an age of high child mortality, most women carried their pregnancies to term, and their infants usually lived long enough to be christened.
"Although the fact that Henry and Katherine of Aragon`s firstborn did not survive is somewhat atypical, it is possible that some cases of Kell sensitization affect even the first pregnancy," the report notes.
The survival of Mary, the fifth pregnancy for Katherine of Aragon, fits the Kell scenario if Mary inherited the recessive Kell gene from Henry, resulting in a healthy infant. Anne Boleyn`s pregnancies were a textbook example of Kell alloimmunization with a healthy first child and subsequent late-term miscarriages. Jane Seymour had only one child before her death, but that healthy firstborn also is consistent with a Kell positive father.
"We have traced the possible transmission of the Kell positive gene from Jacquetta of Luxembourg, the king`s maternal great-grandmother," the report explains.
"The pattern of reproductive failure among Jacquetta`s male descendants, while the females were generally reproductively successful, suggests the genetic presence of the Kell phenotype within the family."
The study is published in The Historical Journal.