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Was Henry Vlll's first wife anorexic? Catherine of Aragon's secret problem

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Rowan
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Was Henry Vlll's first wife anorexic? Catherine of Aragon's secret problem

Post by Rowan » Mon November 8th, 2010, 2:51 pm

Not that I take this source very seriously, but I have to wonder what the motivation is when our tabloid papers are actually hitting history as though they are really a part of it. :rolleyes: Sounds to me like they're really hard up for others to annoy.
The warning signs were there. The teenage girl due to become England’s queen consort was not eating properly. Behind her back, worried letters were sent from one side of Europe to the other. In a sharp echo of the words used to describe anorexia, bulimia and today’s food-orientated illnesses, Catherine of Aragon was given to ‘disorderly eating’ – or so one close observer would go on to write in the early days of her marriage to Henry VIII.
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Post by boswellbaxter » Mon November 8th, 2010, 3:00 pm

[quote=""Rowan""]Not that I take this source very seriously, but I have to wonder what the motivation is when our tabloid papers are actually hitting history as though they are really a part of it. :rolleyes: Sounds to me like they're really hard up for others to annoy.



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I thought the article made a good case, though I wasn't quite convinced in the end. The author has written a full-length bio of Catherine that seems to be getting good reviews in the UK.
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Post by Madeleine » Mon November 8th, 2010, 5:31 pm

yes there was an article on it in one of the Sunday supplements, can't say I blame her if she was that unhappy.
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Post by Madeleine » Mon November 8th, 2010, 5:33 pm

[quote=""Rowan""]Not that I take this source very seriously, but I have to wonder what the motivation is when our tabloid papers are actually hitting history as though they are really a part of it. :rolleyes: Sounds to me like they're really hard up for others to annoy.



Full Story[/quote]

Oh well, at least they know they won't be sued...... :rolleyes:
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Post by LoveHistory » Mon November 8th, 2010, 5:39 pm

With all the stress she was under during those years, is it any wonder she had little appetite?

And how come there's no mention of the fact that she didn't have enough money. Perhaps she felt that restricting her own eating would enable others in her household to avoid starvation.

All of that combined could have set a nasty pattern, but I'm thinking this is more likely just an attempt to sell books.

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Post by Margaret » Mon November 8th, 2010, 6:45 pm

The article is disorganized and doesn't present the case very effectively, but there do seem to be some tidbits that might be solid evidence if they were considered in context.

It seems likely to me that anorexia was actually far more widespread in the Middle Ages than it is now. Fasting was equated with saintliness for both men and women, but it offered an outlet for women that got them attention and admiration in a society that was generally more likely to denigrate and ignore them. Stories about medieval pious and/or holy women who practiced extreme fasting are pretty common. My understanding of the modern theories about anorexia are that it offers young women a sense of control over their lives and bodies that they may find difficult to achieve otherwise. It's certainly true that medieval women had little control over their own lives, so the theory would fit.
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Post by Michy » Mon November 8th, 2010, 7:03 pm

Just wondering -- to be truly considered "anorexia nervosa", does the self-starvation have to be in conjunction with a distorted body image? That is, the female perceiving herself as "fat" regardless of how thin she truly is?

If that is the case, then I think anorexia (and bulimia) as we know them today are fairly modern phenomena, brought on by the modern perception of extreme thin-ness as a beauty ideal.

That's not to say that women all throughout the ages haven't "starved" themselves for a number of reasons, some of which have already been mentioned such as an association with piousness. And of course, deep depression has been a cause for loss of appetite and interest in food since the dawn of human existence.

I could see Katherine having poor eating habits due to these or any other number of things. But to call it anorexia -- she was starving herself because of a distorted body image and desire to become unnaturally thin -- I would have a hard time believing that of a Medieval woman.

Of course, maybe anorexia is simply self-starvation, regardless of the reason. In that case, yes, it would be conceivable that she had anorexia. And no doubt hundreds of other historical women, as well.

ETA: I should clarify that the diagnosis of anorexia can also be applied to females who are strongly motivated to stay unnaturally small and/or thin, but who don't necessarily suffer from a distorted body image (ballerinas and gymnasts come to mind). Even so, I still can't see Katherine of Aragon or any other woman of her time starving herself for the purpose of being thin. It just doesn't fit with what I know of the medieval mindset (although, admittedly I am no scholar). Why would she have wanted to be thin?
Last edited by Michy on Mon November 8th, 2010, 7:19 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Post by SarahWoodbury » Tue November 9th, 2010, 5:09 am

I second Michy's thoughts. Anorexia as we know it is a modern, western phenomenon. There's a great article I read (someone sent to me, I don't have it at my fingertips) about how one of the consequences of the spread of American culture (via television, movies, education) is that our psychological illnesses are now being codified throughout the world in other countries. Anthropologically speaking, (okay, I'm being flip but I hope you understand what I'm saying) humans go crazy in culturally specific ways. With the codification of standard American psychological illnesses, which are being exported to other countries either by literature or education, people in other countries are now showing up with these problems where nobody in that culture had ever been diagnosed with such a problem before. And while you can make an issue of a lack of diagnoses due to ignorance, the flip side is that some of these illness or disorders or whatever you call them aren't a culturally consistent way to be psychologically different.

Whew. Anyway, the point being that anorexia as diagnosed in the US is a specific disorder that means something different in this cultural context than even in another, present-day country (like China, Indonesia). To extrapolate anorexia as we understand to a time hundreds of years in the past, to my mind, is an even more profound error.

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Post by EC2 » Tue November 9th, 2010, 1:07 pm

Nothing to add beyond very well said Michy and Sarah. I agree with every point you make.
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Post by Mythica » Thu November 11th, 2010, 10:26 am

[quote=""Michy""]Just wondering -- to be truly considered "anorexia nervosa", does the self-starvation have to be in conjunction with a distorted body image? That is, the female perceiving herself as "fat" regardless of how thin she truly is?
[/quote]

I agree, if she experienced a loss of appetite, it was probably not due to a warped body image and obsessive need to be as thin as possible.

Also, wasn't it Anne Boleyn, not Catherine, who was known to be "too thin", which was one of the criticisms about why she was not considered very attractive for the times?

Anyway, the Daily Mail should never really be taken seriously.

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