The death of Enrique El Impotente, the unsolved mystery that changed the history of the Monarchy

Updated:09/21/2021 01:32h

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The 15th century was that of poisons, betrayals and daggers kept in the sleeves. And he was also the one who experienced the rise of the Catholic Monarchs, who had to make their way to the throne above candidates and relatives who were ahead of them in the line of succession. It is tempting, and this has been done throughout history, to join both ends to present Isabel and Fernando as assassins, responsible for the death of the Infante Alfonso, King Henry IV of Castile, the valid Juan Pacheco or the Aragonese Carlos de Viana, but the reality is that there is no scientific proof that shows the hand of the monarchs in these deaths that placed the crown of the great Spanish kingdoms on their heads.

Especially controversial was the case of Enrique El Impotente, Isabel’s stepbrother, due to the political consequences of his death and because of how close that of his favorite was to his. Juan Pacheco, Marquis of Villena, He died in October 1474 in a fulminating way due to an “aposthema that came out in his throat, spilling blood from his mouth”, as the chroniclers pointed out. It could well have been a throat cancer (larynx) which ended the life of this marquis at 55 years of age, who conspired more than breathed, but already then the possibility of poisoning was widely discussed.

Only two months later, the King also fell ill when he was hunting in Madrid and barely had time for the doctors to attend to him or to write a new will before exhaling his last breath. The chronicler Fernando del Pulgar He related the event thus:

«And then the king came to the town of Madrid, and within fifteen days he aggravated the ailment he had and died there in the fortress on eleven days of the month of December this year of one thousand and four hundred and seventy and four years, at eleven hours of the night: he died at the age of fifty, he was a homebody with a good complexion, he did not drink wine; but he was suffering from the daughter of stone; and this ailment often made him very tired. ‘

Arsenic, a common suspect

The death of Enrique without leaving any legitimate son other than his daughter Juana, maliciously called the Beltraneja because he considers her the daughter of one of the King’s favorites, initiated a succession conflict from which Isabel would emerge triumphant, whom the Monarch had named his heir years. before and then disinherited again. The suspicions that pointed to the Catholic Monarchs, great beneficiaries of death, as executors of the poisoning were wielded for years by the propaganda of their enemies.

Juana, Queen consort of Portugal.
Juana, Queen consort of Portugal.

A manifesto in favor of Juana la Beltraneja, discovered at Harvard University a few years ago by the researcher Alberto Garcia Gil, author of several books on the matter, renewed the theory that the origin of the immediate deterioration of the King’s health would have been at a dinner held a year earlier in Segovia with Isabel and Fernando. In this meeting designed to reduce tensions between stepbrothers, the King began to feel bad and have digestive problems. Days before he died, he suffered severe vomiting and found himself increasingly affected.

The text, with the signature of Juana la Beltraneja, maintains that Isabel La Católica ordered her brother to be poisoned to accelerate his ascent to the throne “by disorderly cobdicia de reynar”, together with Fernando de Aragón, who “agreed, and treated them, and others for them, and they were told and advised by him (…) ponçoña that he later died ». However, Juana and her aunt were mired in a war of international dyes, with France and Portugal growing in their favor, so any manifesto of theirs is not very enlightening if it is not accompanied by other evidence.

Juana and her aunt were mired in a war of international dyes, with France and Portugal growing in their favor, so any manifesto of theirs is not very enlightening.

Has anyone been able to find them? Gregorio Marañón, author of the classic ‘Biological Essay on Enrique IV of Castilla’, already defended in his day that neither nephritis, nor a heart injury, nor cancer fit as well in the diagnosis as poisoning, “perhaps arsenic, the most used at that time, in the final phase of which there is an intense bloody anasarca gastroenteritis ». Still, his medical study of the character, which he completed in 1947 with a report from Enrique’s mummy, presents a puzzle of pathologies and symptoms almost impossible to unite. Nothing points to poisoning, and yes to a health deteriorating every year.

The puzzle

Gregorio Marañón stated that the King suffered throughout his life a “dysplastic eunucoid with acromegalic reaction” of a hereditary nature, according to the nomenclature of the time, which not only hampered the King’s complete sexual development but also caused him to be sterile.

Enrique The Impotent.
Enrique The Impotent.

More recently, the urologist Emilio Maganto Pavón considers in his work ‘Enrique IV of Castile (1454-1474). A singular urological patient ‘ that the famous doctor’s diagnosis is incomplete and points out that the origin of the hormonal disorder was rather a syndrome of multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) produced by a pituitary tumor producing growth hormone and prolactin.

In both cases, the study of the perfectly preserved mummy of Enrique IV, served to corroborate the serious hormonal deficiencies that the Castilian’s body showed. Thus, it was observed that the Monarch had a broad forehead, that the hands (disproportionately large) had long and strong fingers, and that there was a valgus foot (deviated). The giant hands of Enrique IV could originate, in turn, the phobia of human contact that the chronicles identify as a feature of his antipathy and problems to relate. And the deformation of one of his feet would explain, according to the work of Marañón himself, in a certain way, the clumsiness of the Monarch’s movements described in almost all the writings.

These anomalous features and symptoms could not be identified by the doctors of the time as a whole, nor could anyone realize the serious process that Castilian was subjected to. Even today it is not possible to make a definitive diagnosis about the genesis of the hormonal disorder suffered by the King since puberty. It is only reliable to list the symptoms described in historical texts. Henry IV He suffered from impotence, penile anomaly, infertility, malformation in his genitals, chronic kidney stones (bad flank, stone and flank pain) and hematuria (flow of blood through the urine). Precisely, these urological problems could be behind his death on December 11, 1474 due to an obstruction of the urine.

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