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Fit to Rule: How Royal Illness Changed History: Tudors to Stuarts: From Gods to Men – #1/3

29/05/2020

Lucy Worsley, chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, explores how the physical and mental health of our past monarchs has shaped the history of the nation. From Henry VIII to Edward VIII’s abdication in 1936, this three-part series reintroduces our past royals not just as powerful potentates, but as human beings, each with their own very personal problems of biology and psychology.

Stripping away the regal facade, Lucy examines their medical problems, doctors’ reports, personal correspondence and intimate possessions to gain a unique insight into the real men and women behind the royal portraits. She uncovers how kings and queens have had to deal with infertility, religious extremism, depression, bisexuality and culture shock. But could these supposed chinks in the royal armour provide a surprising explanation for the enduring power of the British monarchy? Lucy argues that the survival of the monarchy has been determined not so much by the strengths of our past monarchs but by their weaknesses.

In this first episode, Lucy explores the medical histories of the Tudor and Stuart dynasties, beginning with the ascension of Henry VIII and tracing the changing fortunes of these two very different royal families up to the execution of Charles I. Five hundred years ago our monarchs derived their authority from God alone, but despite their semi-divine status, they were subject to exactly the same harsh physical realities as the rest of us. Lucy discovers how the Tudors and Stuarts coped with royal bodies that were often too young or too old, too infirm or too infertile and sometimes simply the wrong sex at a time when male heirs were all-important.

Lucy investigates the most critical medical problems and family psychodramas faced by a fascinating cast of royal characters, including the trouble Henry VIII had in producing a male heir and the cause of his daughter Mary I’s phantom pregnancy. She sheds new light on the biological and psychological make-up of some of our greatest rulers by examining their personal correspondence and private possessions, including intimate love letters exchanged between James I and his lover the Duke of Buckingham, and the special orthopaedic boots worn by Charles I.

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