It’s April and the leaves are emerging, the days are longer, and the robins are out (so is the pollen, but I digress). New beginnings are all around us now, but April 1552 signaled the beginning of the end for young Eddie VI, Henry VIII’s only legitimate son and intended savior of the post-Henry dynasty. He was smacked down by measles, and although his illness was a short one, it may have contributed to possible his death by tuberculosis (the most common theory, though not proven beyond a doubt).
The spotty sickness is thought to suppress the body’s natural immunity to TB, and he would have only needed to be exposed to the pulmonary disease briefly after having had measles. His swift downward spiral came at the start of 1553 and gained momentum with each passing month. Scattered fevers and fits of coughing gave way to a major drop in weight and some amazing technicolor vomit: yellow, green, black, and pink.
By late May, the boy-king’s demise was a done deal. Eddie had grown up draped in the most gorgeous fabrics and in the most sumptuous settings, but now all vanity took a back seat. He was coughing up a black carbon-like substance that stunk to the high heavens and sank when placed in a basin of water. His hair and nails were falling out, and his skin was turning blue. He was wasting away and yet blown up like a balloon. The “medicine” he was given was a concoction of raisins, dates, turnips, celery, pork, fennel, and spearmint syrup. If I were given that, I’d be producing something worse than heavy carbon mucus, that’s for sure.
He whispered his last prayer on the evening of 6 July 1553, while a major thunderstorm raged outside his windows and red hailstones pelted the earth. By six o’clock he was dead and the Lady Jane Grey saga began. When Eddie’s docs did an autopsy, they found huge black pits in his lungs, smelly with decay. The findings are consistent with death from TB, though at the time many thought (from his skin color and swellings) that he was actually poisoned. Tuberculosis is the likely cause, but it’s never been determined exactly what was in that long-awaited, celebrated heir.