Based on most paintings of the corpulent and pompous King Henry VIII, it’s difficult to imagine him doing anything the least bit athletic, dangerous or even just strenuous. Yet historians claim that the younger version of Henry liked to joust, which was definitely a sport and required attacking another jouster with a long lance while mounted on a horse. Not only that, it was said that the king was seriously injured in a jousting match and that event turned him into the obese, moody, impulsive wife-hater most people think of him as. Unfortunately, the evidence was lost when the palace was demolished. Now, archeologists have discovered the infamous and long-lost jousting yard. Does this prove Henry VIII was as unlucky at jousting as he was at fathering?
“The images recorded on the radargrams are tantalisingly ambiguous and it has taken some time to reconcile these with what had long been considered to be the location of the tiltyard.”
The “tiltyard” is the jousting court and the radargrams were taken under the direction of Simon Withers, an architectural expert at the University of Greenwich, during a ground-penetrating radar scan of an area underneath what is now the is now the Naval Maritime Museum. The area is assumed to be the location of Greenwich Palace, where Henry VIII was born and held parties and banquets throughout the early years of his reign. (Also known as the Palace of Placentia, it was demolished by Charles II to make room for a new palace, which was never built.) Those events included jousting and records show Henry actually participated in them until January 24, 1536. On that date during a jousting match, Henry was said to have been knocked off of his horse, followed by the horse landing on him followed by over two hours of unconsciousness. This being 1536, it’s believed Henry VIII suffered permanent brain damage as a result of the accident.
The royals were just as secretive back then as they are now, but there’s plenty of circumstantial evidence to back up this claim. Henry was not known to have a temper, but he developed one after the accident. In attendance was second wife Anne Boleyn (he divorced first wife Catherine) who was mother of Elizabeth I and pregnant at the time with what the king hoped was a male heir. It’s believed Anne was told Henry would die (obviously, he didn’t) and the trauma caused her to miscarry, while the head injury caused Henry to behead her rather than getting another divorce. It’s said that Henry was fit in his youth and didn’t get fat until after the accident, which also seemed to be the beginning of the memory problems, impulse control, headaches, insomnia and depression associated with a severe concussion.
"It's very difficult to think of this octagon not being one of the towers."
Back to the present. According to Live Science, Withers was scanning the grounds at the Naval Museum in preparation for the 500th anniversary of the Field of the Cloth of Gold summit between England and France in 1520. In addition to the 650 by 250-foot jousting field, they found the remains of two octagonal towers which would have been viewing locations for tournaments. All of this was amazingly just 5.5 feet underground.
" (It) does seem to be this central event that changed the behavior of [Henry VIII]."
Is this proof that Henry VIII changed after an accident on this long-lost jousting tiltyard? Withers thinks so. How would history have been different if the king had stayed on his horse and never hit his head? Who knows? If Anne Boleyn had not miscarried that male child, Henry would have had an heir, she might have survived and England might never have had Elizabeth I.
And Henry VIII never would have had all of those fat, pompous paintings.