Review: The Sickly Stuarts by Frederick Holmes

It’s been ages since I’ve posted a book review on here so I thought I would delight you all and post one. I will warn you now that this review may end up with me yelling about how much I love the Stuart family and how much I want to hug them all. But I’ll try not to do that.

So, this book came through my letterbox yesterday morning, and I read the entire thing in a day. Whenever this has happened previously it’s because the books have been really pants. This one was however, rather good. I’d spotted Holmes’ book in the shop at Hampton Court before and kept wondering whether to pick it up or not, but if I’m honest it was the price that put me off. Then I found it on amazon, nice and cheap. And so when my ex library copy arrived, I settled down to read about the medical problems of my favourite historical family. And let me tell you, I learnt a lot, especially about the Stuart monarchs who I don’t know all that much about.

Holmes splits the book up into each monarch that ruled throughout the Stuart era, with one chapter that concentrated on the children of Charles I. But before Holmes gets into the nitty gritty medical history of each monarch we are given a rather good introduction to disease and doctoring in the seventeenth century. This chapter describes how rife disease was in Stuart England, London in particular, and how the ever increasing population affected said disease. We are also given a brief introduction to the various illnesses and epidemics that plagued the populace (including plague…see what I did there? lolol) as well as the various treatments that are given them. Now then, some of these treatments were a little daft, including the “hot and cold method” of treating small pox. There was one part in this introduction that really made me prick my ears up, and that was a brief mention of early methods of diagnosing diabetes (as a type 1 diabetic myself, the history of this disease is hugely fascinating to me):

“In 1694 Thomas Willis was the first to note that the urine of diabetics ‘is wonderfully sweet, like Sugar or hony’”

As I quoted on our tumblr page, this 17th century doctor really has earned my respect and I really like him (even though I don’t know all that much about him) because he had the balls the taste a diabetic person’s urine. Now that is pretty gross, but it really opened the door for further treatment and even (in some distant way) paved the way for the advent of insulin by Banting and Best in the 1900’s. Anyway, I’ll shut up about the medical history of diabetes now and get on with reviewing the book. So yeah, after this we are given an introduction to the main doctors of the Seventeenth Century, and these are the men who feature prominently as physicians to the monarchy – Theodore de Mayerne, William Harvey, Thomas Sydenham, Richard Lower, John Radcliffe, Richard Mead and John Arbuthnot.

Following this introduction, Holmes’ gets right into the thick of things and begins looking at each Stuart monarch. Of course we start out with James I (VI of Scotland) and Holmes then looks at each monarch in chronological order. The layout of each chapter is exactly the same – we start out with a brief look at their medical history, stuff that made them sick throughout their reign and their death and then goes on to look at their post mortem results to come to a conclusion as to what actually killed them. And as I made my way through each of the chapters, I learnt a lot of stuff that I didn’t know about these monarchs.

Of course, Holmes is unable to come to a definitive answer as to the right diagnosis for each monarch but he does a damn good job with the information he had available. Drawing on primary sources and post mortem reports he was able to say “ok then it is super likely that Charles II had this, but not likely at all he had this other thing because the post mortem report says this”. And although I’m not trained in medicine, a lot of Holmes’ conclusions made a lot of sense. OK so he used some big words for various illnesses, but he also explained what they meant and what the illness was made up of. So yes, good.

Interesting stuff I learnt from this book:

James I had dementia, weak legs and his tongue was too big for his mouth so whenever he drank anything he slobbered it everywhere. He also didn’t wash his hands, only dabbed the ends of his fingers.

Charles I had weak legs (inherited from his father), a speech impediment and according to Holmes was a tad delusional (mainly because he was all “lol parliament, I’m the King and I own all so shut up and let me rule on my own).

Charles II was actually pretty healthy until he made a massive derp of himself and conducted mercury experiments without safety gear (but then, was safety gear even invented then?) and gave himself mercury poisoning which killed him.

James II was also a derp, had an epic nosebleed that meant he couldn’t fight off William of Orange (later William III, or actually he probably used the nosebleed as an excuse because he couldn’t be bothered…maybe). And he died in exile of a stroke and pneumonia.

William III was an epic warrior who invaded England yet was pretty sickly and had asthma and died young because of bacterial pneumonia. His wife, Mary II confused everyone and no one knew whether she died of small pox or measles – at any rate she burned loads of her letters and papers before she died. And it was actually a really bad form of smallpox that killed her.

And last but not least, Anne was never really all that healthy. She survived 17 pregnancies, only 1 child surviving until he died of pneumonia at the age of 11, and eventually it was Lupus that killed her. And she was the last of the Stuart Monarchs…

All in all, an utterly fantastic book and a brilliant read. Some of it is a little complicated and I found myself having to read a few bits a couple of times before the medical terminology sunk in. This is certainly a book I would recommend for anyone interested in the Stuart family. It makes for quite morbid reading, and I won’t lie, I did shed a tear at Charles II’s death but it is hugely interesting and eye-opening. A good read and highly recommended. 

Hampton Court Take Two

So as I’m sure you’re all aware from the amount I’ve been harping on and on about it on twitter and facebook for the past few weeks that yesterday I went to Hampton Court. The main reason for the visit was to see the Wild, the Beautiful & The Damned, all about sex and beauty at the Court of Charles II. But of course, Hampton Court isn’t all about that and there was plenty of other stuff to see and do. So here we go, complete with lots and lots of photos!

Of course, Hampton Court is full of Tudor bits and bobs and is best known as “the home of Henry VIII”, as well as the stories that haunt the entire Palace. The one that always gets me is that Hampton Court is where Henry found out that Katherine Howard was having it away with other men, thanks to Cranmer leaving him a note in the Chapel Royal. Katherine was confined to her chambers (the staff reckon this was where Mary II’s chambers now are) and she ran down the gallery where all the Tudor Portraits now hang, screaming out for him. Is this a true story? Who knows, but there are plenty of stories about visitors getting creeped out in the gallery, and staff members noticing some funny goings on!

Hung along the so called Haunted Gallery are an absolute cornucopia of Tudor portraits, including the famous family portrait, the famous portrait of the young Edward VI and the well known face of Henry VII.

At the end of this gallery you have the Great Watching Chamber. When we were here last time, a dude dressed up as Henry VIII received petitions in here, and I had the honour of asking him to help my “unmarried sister” find a husband. Today there were no costumed interpreters (they were too busy in the courtyard) but the room still managed to take my breath away.

Just off from here is the Great Hall, where the royalty would have eaten their dinner/massive banquets. My photos of the Hall didn’t come out very well, but here goes…

Now then, earlier on I mentioned costumed interpreters. We found these in Clock Court…

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn decided to have a full scale argument about the fact Katherine of Aragon was still making his shirts! After Anne stormed off, Henry just couldn’t work out what he had done wrong and wandered off leaving George Boleyn to get help from the audience! Later on, Anne was much happier as Katherine was no longer allowed to make his shirts and she was going to made Marquess of Pembroke. I did wonder whether George took forward my suggestion of flowers!

After lunch we decided to take a walk around the Gardens because the weather was actually AMAZING and last time we were there it was raining too hard to even think about going for a walk around them. I was absolutely stunned at their beauty. And it was Charles II who introduced the central avenue of trees!

After this, we headed back inside and discovered a whole wing of the Palace that we had never seen before. I spotted a sign pointing to William III’s apartments leading to an extraordinarily grand staircase. Now the staircase I had seen before but we hadn’t gone up there, which is a shame because I was completely in awe seeing these wonderful rooms.

At first I thought this was a painting of a group of people in the room where we were standing. But at a closer look I realised that it was actually a photograph of people re-enacting a scene from the time of William III! This room as well (I didn’t manage to get any pictures due to rubbish lighting) was decorated with guns all over the walls in incredibly beautiful patterns. After this we were taken through a series of room which made up grand bedrooms, huge rooms with gorgeous portraits hung on the wall…

And then I was surprised by this guy…

Standing there, in all regal and kingly glory was Charles I. I may have had a bit of a moment when I saw it and jumped up and down squealing with joy. Yes, I adore this man almost as much as I adore his son and I have far too many feelings for the Stuart family. They were just incredibly unlucky, and made some bad decisions but just…wow. I adore them. As you may have gathered from my 17th Century, Stuart family rambles on this blog. And after this room full of fab, there were even more rooms that just made me long to live in the palace. Oh, and I discovered the royal toilet as well!

Wait? More Charlie? I’m not sorry at all. Anyway, after finding more fabulous portraits of Charlie I we stumbled across this absolutely stunning corridor which reminded me, somewhat weirdly, of the mansion from the original Resident Evil game.

Isn’t it just fantastic? And the best bit was that there was literally no one there! It seems these parts of the Palace are much less known about than the Tudor areas, which is so sad because these hallways and galleries are just absolutely stunning.

And that was that. I’m sure there are many more nooks and crannies to discover in this fantastic palace and I will say now that next time I go I will be spending more time in the Stuart and later era rooms than the Tudor parts. Just because…I mean look at them. I just adore Hampton Court, and it has a really special place in my heart – mainly for the massive Charles II portrait that hangs in Mary’s apartments. But not only that, it’s like something out of a fairy tale with so many hidden gems it’s unreal. I doubt I will ever love anywhere as much as I love Hampton Court, the stories that just come at you from every angle. It is certainly a very magical place. Now, I will leave you with a picture of me and a wooden man getting drunk in Base Court.