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Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation of the Tyranny of Henry VIII [Kindle Edition]

Kyra Cornelius Kramer
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (234 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

This book started five years ago with a conversation about the Showtime series The Tudors. I was complaining to Dr. Catrina Banks Whitley that the show, while accurate in some places and featuring the pulchritudinous glory of Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Henry Cavil, would reinforce the belief that it was Henry’s wives, not the King himself, who were the reason for the shortage of surviving offspring. I had done quite a bit of research about male-mediated negative reproductive outcomes in graduate school, so it was natural that I would see Henry as the source of the sad fetal loss his wives endured.

Within twenty-four hours, Dr, Whitley had found a potential reason why the King only had four living children in spite of six wives and a least three mistresses. If Henry had a Kell positive blood type, then any fetus conceived after the first pregnancy that was unfortunate enough to inherit the Kell blood type would be attacked by the mother’s antibodies, and would not survive. Moreover, if Henry had a Kell positive blood type then he may have also suffered from McLeod syndrome, which would have explained his radical personality change after his fortieth birthday.

I wholeheartedly agreed with Dr. Whitley’s postulation, and together we spent two years collaborating on a paper outlining this theory and the historical evidence which supported it. The result was the article “A New Explanation for the Reproductive Woes and Midlife Decline of Henry VIII”, which was published in the December 2010 issue of The Historical Journal.

After the theory’s publication, I felt there was still so much of the King’s story left to tell that I decided to write a book to share more of the information with anyone who was interested. The book tells about the Henry’s health, how the Tudor physicians would have understood his illnesses, his complex love life, the way his behavior altered over time, and how his mental state affected his court and his kingdom. Furthermore, I did my best to correct some common historical inaccuracies seldom addressed in non-academic works, and tried to explain how cultural gender ideologies have frequently influenced the public's conceptions about Henry’s wives.

I sincerely hope you enjoy reading my book as much as I enjoyed learning more about this incredible monarch and his amazing life.


Product Details

  • File Size: 1535 KB
  • Print Length: 340 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1478183438
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Ash Wood Press (January 9, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00902U3RO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #32,966 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Something was missing... April 4, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book would have been greatly improved by an explanation of the Kells' antigen and McLeod syndrome. If the central thesis of a text is that a person has a rare genetic disorder as the result of a mutation of a chromosome it makes no sense not to explain the mutation and disorder.
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55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Blood Will Tell April 13, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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.
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176 of 196 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Inexplicable April 22, 2013
By MJS
Format:Paperback
Let's face it, even by 16th century royalty standards Henry VIII was not a good husband. He was accustomed to getting his own way - absolute monarchs are like that, a bit of a romance junkie, known to sample the ladies in waiting on occasion and fixated on having a son to inherit his crown. Then there is that unfortunate habit of executing former loved ones.

Kyra Cornelius Kramer promises to explain this all to us. Which is part of the problem. When the title of a book promises an "explanation" a certain of amount of explaining is required, particularly if the explanation is medical. The average reader does not possess an advanced degree in medicine so antigens and syndromes will need to be explained. For reasons I cannot begin to fathom, the author of this book chooses to give the most cursory once-over-lightly to both the all important Kell antigen and McLeod Syndrome. Is McLeod common? Rare? Hereditary? Does one inherit it from one parent? Is it recessive? Co-morbid? Fatal? You won't find any of the answers here. You won't even find a reasonably detailed explanation of its symptoms. This "explanation" doesn't get an explanation.

Given the weakness of the medical case, it is somewhat amazing that the weakest links in this thesis are Kramer's interpretation of Henry's behavior and analysis of events. She offers no evidence that Henry was any more tyrannical than his father (Henry VII) or his contemporaries. She lists the number of executions during his reign but does not compare this to what was going on elsewhere. Just to put this in context, at the same time Henry reigned Ivan the Terrible was earning his nickname Tsar in Russia and Francis I was ordering entire villages and cities destroyed on grounds of disloyalty.
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55 of 66 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
You will love this book! As an historically-informed professional performer of baroque music, I have a keen interest in the histories of European monarchies, and in particular, of those that existed prior to the 19th-century. While I have read works written on the life of Henry VIII's turbulent reign, none gave me the unique medical perspective of Kyra Cornelius Kramer's account in Blood Will Tell. Her evident expertise in medical anthropology brings to light a new reasoning behind some of the horror in the personality of Henry VII's leadership, welcoming the reader into the story with all of its drama and gore. I can highly recommend this book without reservation for its vibrant language and story-telling, and for its feminist perspective. FINALLY we are getting to learn things with an eye to the perspective of the women in this English king's life! I also especially enjoyed the chapter on medicine in Tudor life; in including such relevant contextual facts, Kramer breathes even more life into her account, and makes her explanation into a highly accessible "living" history. Kramer's thorough account of Henry's actions, his relationships in court life, symptoms, and their juxtaposition to an undeniable timeline, all contribute to this author's convincing argument. Her vivacious account proves her theory in a most entertaining and joyful fashion.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read
I found it an interesting read, I'd wonder if say queen Katherine of spain had died say in childbirth with Mary & Henry did end up with the long for son from anne boleyn after... Read more
Published 5 days ago by Cynthia F. Drake
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Written fair but not very well
Published 12 days ago by Linda Ikuta
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting theory
I wish that they would test Henry viii's remains it would shed a lot of light into a complicated man. This was a good theory that does seem to fit a lot of his life events.
Published 18 days ago by Lady Phoenix
4.0 out of 5 stars Can be a tad boring if you don't understand the basics of genetic...
I'm a history buff and my husband loves to study genetics so this spurred some entertaining discussions for is. Read more
Published 24 days ago by Katia
5.0 out of 5 stars but it was a good read.
Not sure if I believe the premise offered by this author, but it is as plausible as any other. Not being a doctor or in the medical profession at all, can't really say if it makes... Read more
Published 26 days ago by Jennifer S. Frazier
2.0 out of 5 stars Bad genetics
I think the author has little understanding of basic genetics. McLeod syndrome is related to an X-linked, recessive gene, similar to hemophilia. Read more
Published 1 month ago by C. A. Chance
1.0 out of 5 stars An interesting theory, but unproven by the circumstantial evidence ...
An interesting theory, but unproven by the circumstantial evidence given. Blood Will Tell argues that the Kell positive blood progenitor explains Henry VIII's "irrational"... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Renaissance Pro
3.0 out of 5 stars but I guess that the fact that it presents everything so thoroughly...
I was expecting more science and less history, but I guess that the fact that it presents everything so thoroughly makes this book an easy read even for those who aren't completely... Read more
Published 1 month ago by dprallon
4.0 out of 5 stars The good and the bad: all in all I recommend it.
I think that the author's theory that King Henry VIII had this rare condition is very possible. I enjoyed reading about his medical history. Read more
Published 2 months ago by V. Smith
3.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing thesis
Speculation about the health status of an historical figure is a time-honored tradition, but in this case, the writer carries her theory into extremes. I am left unconvinced .
Published 2 months ago by Rev. Judith Kelsey-Powell
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More About the Author



Kyra Cornelius Kramer is a freelance academic with BS degrees in both biology and anthropology from the University of Kentucky, as well as a MA in medical anthropology from Southern Methodist University. She has written essays on the agency of the Female Gothic heroine and women's bodies as feminist texts in the works of Jennifer Crusie. She has also co-authored two works; one with Dr. Laura Vivanco on the way in which the bodies of romance heroes and heroines act as the sites of reinforcement of, and resistance to, enculturated sexualities and gender ideologies, and another with Dr. Catrina Banks Whitley on Henry VIII.

Ms. Kramer lives in Bloomington, IN with her husband, three young daughters, assorted pets, and occasionally her mother, who journeys northward from Kentucky in order to care for her grandchildren while her daughter feverishly types away on the computer.

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