Henry VIII's jousting accident

Henry VIII’s infamous final jousting accident

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24th of January, 1536.

Henry VIII is 44 years of age and jousting in the lists at Greenwich.

Despite Henry VIII suffering numerous jousting accidents, he wouldn’t stop.

This isn’t the fat Henry we all have come to remember…scoffing his way through swan pie, half a pig and taking a bite of a chicken leg before chucking it at a cowering servant in the corner.

This is the Henry of the famous Holbein portrait. Slightly past the athletic prime of his youth, but still bloody imposing.

Remember Henry was 6 foot 1, in a time when the average man was more akin to a hobbit.

He was in full armour and on the biggest horse you did ever see.

Now imagine he is charging at you.

That is some weight coming at you, at some speed and it’s pointing a wooden lance towards your chest.

You feel a visit to the privy coming on. Quickly.

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You’d rather be anywhere else than facing Henry VIII on the tiltyard.

But then something happens…the King gets it wrong. He smashes into your lance and BOOM; he is knocked from his horse which then lands on top of him. You win!

This is Henry’s infamous final jousting accident.

He’s had many before. He would have suffered numerous concussions in his jousting career. Indeed, it is reported that he frequently suffered from headaches.

But this was the final straw.

In fact, if certain reports were to be believed, then this accident almost killed him.

When this event is depicted in stories, film or television, one account is usually used. The report written where Henry is unconscious for two hours and Anne Boleyn (the current beau) is told that he will die.

The problem is that this account was written in March, almost two months after the incident, by a fella that wasn’t even in England at the time.

Two more accounts from England, including one by the Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys, state the King wasn’t injured at all.

Which is true?

We don’t know. The reports from England could have been diplomatically worded in case they were being read in secret. While the guy overseas could be a little be truthful with his account because he didn’t have that worry.

We don’t know.

If he was unconscious…even for a short time, then that could have resulted in brain trauma. Especially when you consider Henry had been injured numerous times in the past, including once before when he failed to pull down the visor on his helmet.

Many people highlight this single event as the point when Henry changed. Historian, Lucy Worsley, chief curator of the Historic Royal Palaces states, “We posit that his jousting accident of 1536 provides the explanation for his personality change from sporty, promising, generous young prince, to cruel, paranoid and vicious tyrant. From that date the turnover of the wives really speeds up, and people begin to talk about him in quite a new and negative way.”

A few things we are sure of….

After this accident, Henry VIII never jousted again.

The problems with legs that resulted in constant open ulcers began.

He piled on the pounds.


The one thing that all accounts of this event agree on.

A few days after the joust Queen Anne Boleyn miscarried a child. A male.

The shock of the accident was said to have caused it.

Just four months later Anne would walk to the scaffold on Tower Green.

The tyrannical Henry had arrived.


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