Rare blood disorders that cause death

Monarch or monster? A portrait of a portly Henry VIII painted in 1540 when he was 49. But as a younger man, Henry was athletic, handsome and intelligentA rare blood disorder could be the reason why King Henry VIII had so few children, despite marrying six times.

The condition could also be behind the King’s transformation from a witty and athletic youth to an overweight and unstable tyrant by the time he was in his forties.

Henry, King of England from 1509 until his death in 1547, was desperate for a male heir to continue the Tudor line.

He did in fact produce three children, one from each of his first three wives – but many others were stillborn or lost through miscarriages.

Researchers say there is compelling evidence that he was ‘Kell positive’, a rare blood type which can cause serious health and fertility problems.

Those with Kell positive blood can pass it down to future generations.

If a man with the disorder conceives a child with a Kell negative partner, each child has a 50-50 chance of inheriting the condition. When a baby is conceived with the same rare blood group as its father, then the mother will have difficulties with further pregnancies.

The antibodies she produces during that first pregnancy will attack future Kell positive babies she carries – triggering miscarriages.

Dr Catrina Banks Whitley and Kyra Kramer, of the Southern Methodist University, Dallas, believe that Henry’s first two wives Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn suffered this fate.

Catherine apparently had six pregnancies. All but the fifth child, Mary, were stillborn or died shortly after birth. Anne also produced just one child, Elizabeth, and also had at least two miscarriages. Henry’s third wife Jane Seymour provided a male heir, Edward, but died soon after a difficult labour. None of his other wives are known to have had children by him.

Dr Banks Whitley said the blood condition may have been inherited by Elizabeth and Mary and could explain why both died childless.

‘We have identified the causal medical condition underlying Henry’s reproductive problems and psychological deterioration, ’ the authors said in a study published in The Historical Journal.

‘Although the fact that Henry and Catherine of Aragon’s first born did not survive is somewhat atypical, it is possible that some cases of Kell sensitisation affect even the first pregnancy.’

The researchers added: ‘We have traced the possible transmission of the Kell positive gene from Jacquetta of Luxembourg, the king’s maternal great-grandmother.’

The study challenges the widely-held view that Henry’s health and personality problems in later life were the result of syphilis.

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