A Tale of Wine, Kings, and King’s Disease “Gout”

When King Charles V lost the battle of Metz, some blamed the loss on wine itself. But how was this alcoholic drink involved?

King Charles V ruled a global empire from Europe to Africa, Asia, and parts of America. He had an immense affection for food and wine. Due to excessive consumption of rich food and wine, he suffered from intense arthritis pain, which was later diagnosed as gout, also called king’s illness.

During clashes with France, King Charles V had severe ailments, and when France took control of Metz in 1552, he was trapped by the pain he suffered from gout and was unable to capture the city from France, resulting in the opposing country’s massive victory. Charles felt guilty, blamed his disease for defeat, and not long after he abdicated his throne and moved to a monastery. The connection between his wine consumption and drinking renders wine a key political player in this French victory.

Why was gout king’s disease, and why did it specifically target elites?

Gout is a disease that has been around since ancient human history. Ancient Egyptians first recorded it; Hippocrates described it as a disease of riches as it was associated with a luxurious lifestyle. Excessive consumption of alcohol and rich food has been known to lead to gout. According to ancient Greek doctors, only rich people could have gout as they were the only members of society able to afford such quantities of wine and rich food, making the disease an ailment of the elite classes.

It thus became a representation of strength and prosperity. People wanted to have the disease as a statement of social and political status. Copeman’s monograph on the history of gout mentioned a comment from the London Times in 1900, which stated that the common cold was well named. Still, gout raised the social status of a patient instantly.

Gout and King Henry VIII

King Henry VIII, who was married to the aunt of King Charles V, Catherine of Aragon, is famous for his lavish lifestyle. In that time period, people would drink wine to quench thirst because the water was not considered clean, and they believed that wine was healthy. Beyond that, King Henry VIII was a major wine lover. His palace at Hampton Court was the center of entertainment and hospitality, and a place where only the finest wines were served.

Also read: The Dark Story behind Italy’s Elite Wines

King Henry VIII of England was in power from 1509 to 1547. His efforts to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon declared null and void are well-known. Obsessed with having a male heir, he had six wives and was known to have beheaded two of them. His lavish lifestyle, including the excessive consumption of wine and food led him to develop gout. Despite having many diseases, he continued his notorious eating and drinking consumption which worsened his health, until his death in 1547 at the age of 55.

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