19 March 2018

Blog Tour ~ Pustules, Pestilence and Pain: Tudor Treatments and Ailments of Henry VIII, by Seamus O’Caellaigh

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Henry VIII lived for 55 years and had many health issues, particularly towards the end of his reign. Historian Seamus O'Caellaigh has delved deep into the documents of Henry's reign to select some authentic treatments that Henry's physicians compounded and prescribed to one suffering from those ailments.

Author Interview with Seamus O’Caellaigh

How did you go about researching the health of Henry?
I investigated the health of Henry VIII by working back from the better-known things about his conditions, then created a more detailed picture by adding letters from his court and the written works of his physicians. We know that his health affected the relationships he had with his six wives. Those relationships are notorious and the Tudors have become a well-known family because of it. Established Tudor history tells us the story of his life and some of the illnesses he had, but I wanted to go back to the people that saw him every day and to what they said about his fitness. From there, I studied the treatments his physicians used, using their written works.
How did you set up and take such stunning photos?
Henry VIII was visually impressive, many of those that visited his court said so in the letters they sent home. It is fitting that, if we are examining his health, the pictures would be equally impressive. My photographer did a wonderful job as they worked with me to capture images of the apothecary, Tudor medicine, and Tudor history. I compiled ingredients, made the treatments, and then spent hours over a series of days working to get everything as visually pleasing as possible. I am overwhelmed with how well my vision became the amazing photos in this book - a new and stunning way to look at Tudor life and the story of Henry VIII.
Was it difficult to find the primary sources on his illnesses?
It's not difficult to read about Henry VIII and the dramatic changes he made to the history of England and Europe. It is, however, more difficult to find primary sources about his illnesses and the treatments used. Physicians of the time did not keep the same sort of medical records that modern ones do. One source I used, in particular, is handwritten and stored in the Royal British Library, only available by requesting copies directly from them. The prescription book of Henry VIII took a while to find too, with many leads ending to dead ends. We are lucky that so many of correspondence to and from his court are recorded but it is a double-edged sword, as that increases the number of letters to look through to find the desired information.
What makes your book different to others on Henry's life?
The health of the monarch was at the forefront of many people's thoughts in the Tudor era. My book does not directly look at the six wives of Henry, the break with the Roman Catholic church, or the rebelling of the northern lords. Instead, it looks at the treatments of the Tudor period, those that Tudor Physicians recommended for a patient suffering from small-pox, fevers, and various injuries. The Tudor era was an important time in the history of medicine, filled with many advancements, and at the same time drawing off of the diagnostic practices of the past. While other books about Henry VIII look at the other aspects of his life, I have chosen to focus on his health and how this was a huge factor for the way his life played out.

Seamus O’Caellaigh
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About the Author

Seamus O’Caellaigh has always been interested in the Tudor dynasty and the many uses of plants. He grew up learning about plants from his grandmother Anne Kelley and mother Diane Prickett. Their love of plants has manifested in Seamus through his love of being out in the wild looking for medicinal plants, through his spending lots of time in the family garden and through spending time in the woods in the Pacific Northwest. He is most often seen with his head down, looking at the plants along the path and not at what lies ahead. Having joined a pre-1600s recreation group, Seamus found a way to incorporate his love of the Tudors with a study of medicinal plants from that time period, along with the many herbal books written from the 1st century to the turn of the 17th century. Nothing makes Seamus happier than finding an obscure reference, or his son Jerrick bringing him a plant for “Dad’s Plant Projects.”

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