Why has the health of a few individuals affected our history?

Whose health am I meaning?

Over the last couple of months, I have seen a lot of programmes about history on TV, especially BBC4. Some were disappointing, but I found many worth watching. You may have seen my comments on the one about the Armada, but I wish they would give the Tudors a rest.

A series I found fascinating was Fit to Rule which Lucy Worsley presented. It looked at the health issues of most of our monarchs from Henry VIII to the Twentieth Century.

 

Did I not know many monarchs had health issues?

Henry’s problems of obtaining a male heir are well-known, but I did not know Charles I wore surgical boots. Perhaps that fact, along with his small stature, may have made him oversensitive to criticism and particularly precious about his divine right.  Similarly, William III’s asthma may explain why he withdrew from much of the social life of the Court and why he appeared distant.

Of course, there were several occasions when the monarch’s inability to reproduce led to a succession crisis : Mary I, Elizabeth I, Charles II, Anne. I would like to think that people would have handled Queen Victoria’s inability to recover from the death of Albert differently today.

Does the monarch’s health have to matter that much?

Yes! At least, it does when the succession is hereditary and when the monarch has serious political power. You might say this was an argument for a constitutional monarchy or a republic. Or perhaps a system where fitness to rule was a factor in the succession. If Parliament could exclude Roman Catholics, could it not exclude people who showed an inability to rule for other reasons? George IV comes to mind.

We are fortunate to live in a time when such issues are less critical than they were. In any case, we have a Queen who is eminently fit to rule in every sense. (Call me a creep if you like, but compare her with any of her predecessors.)

 

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