How did King Henry VIII get this disease when syphilis was a disease originating from the Americas?


2 Answers 2


The currently accepted theory for this is that he didn't. Although there is some debate as to what his exact problem was, it doesn't appear to have been Syphilis.

The theory that Henry suffered from syphilis has been dismissed by most historians. A more recent theory suggests that Henry's medical symptoms are characteristic of untreated Type II diabetes. Alternatively, his wives' pattern of pregnancies and his mental deterioration have led some to suggest that the king may have been Kell positive and suffered from McLeod syndrome. According to another study, Henry VIII's history and body morphology was probably the result of traumatic brain injury after his 1536 jousting accident, which in turn led to a neuroendocrine cause of his obesity. This analysis identifies growth hormone deficiency (GHD) as the source for his increased adiposity but also significant behavioural changes noted in his later years, including his multiple marriages.

  • Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred and ninety two; a full 55 years before Henry died in 1547. Henry was not known for his chaste ways, so it is quite conceivable that he would have been an early contractor of a new venereal disease.
  • The most recent excavations at Pompeii have revealed remains two twin teen-aged sisters, apparently in a brothel, with apparent syphilitic symptoms; if so, the disease may not have originated in the Americas after all:

This remains contentious and unresolved however.

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    I'm of the opinion that the evidence for a New World origin is far more compelling. However, you are quite correct to point out that this is still an unsettled issue.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 14:15
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    Left field alternative: Pompeii incidence of Syphilis is due to Phoenician contact with the Americas. (Note: I do not actually hold this theory; I just think it is interesting to consider. One of the strangest things to me is the distribution of Haplogroup R1b and its presence in pre-Columbian America, see link). Commented Oct 2, 2015 at 15:30
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    @called2voyage - There are all sorts of fanciful theories you could come up with. Perhaps a gigantic volcanic eruption spread it by physically blasting the virus to the other side of the earth too. But that quickly gets to be a mess, so we need some kind of razor to cut through it all. I prefer Occam's, which I'm afraid leaves difficult to explain things like inter-continental ballistic viri or demigod-like Phonecians tireme sailors on the cutting-room floor.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 2, 2015 at 16:30
  • @T.E.D. I understand that Occam's razor currently puts Phoenician contact with the Americas on thin ice, but I don't understand why they would have to be demigod-like. Philip Beale recreated a hypothetical Phoenician voyage to circumnavigate Africa to prove it would be possible and he believes it is possible to cross the Atlantic this way--he is going to attempt this voyage as well. Commented Oct 2, 2015 at 16:41
  • @called2voyage - I wonder if I could get funding and noteriety for my ICBV idea too then...
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 2, 2015 at 17:15

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