August 3, 2006
Gout forced Charles V abdication: study
By Gene Emery
BOSTON (Reuters) - Tests of a 500-year-old pinky finger
confirm that Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was debilitated by
gout and the painful joints it produces, Spanish researchers
reported on Wednesday.
Jaume Ordi of the University of Barcelona and colleagues
used a microscope to examine the tip of one of Charles' pinkie
fingers, which was preserved separately from his body in a
small red velvet box.
After rehydrating and slicing the mummified fingertip, the
Ordi team found telltale signs of gout, including the buildup
of uric acid crystals.
At the height of his 40-year reign from 1516 to 1556,
Charles V controlled lands in Europe, Africa and Asia and even
conquered parts of the Inca Kingdom of Peru and the Aztec
Empire of Mexico.
"Despite this power, Charles V had to live within the
limitations of very intense arthritic pain for most of his
adult life and needed, for example, a special chair for
transportation," the researchers wrote.
"His physical suffering influenced decisions that affected
the future of many countries," they added.
"His physicians recommended that he follow a strict diet,
but the emperor had a voracious appetite, especially for meat.
He also liked to drink large quantities of beer and wine, and
he even ordered a specially designed four-handled drinking
The condition became so severe and distracting, it probably
prompted him to put off military action against the French city
of Metz, which prevented him from conquering it in 1552,
according to historians. That failure, and possibly his
illness, led him to abdicate to his brother, Ferdinand I, four
"Charles V was only 58 years of age at his death, probably
from malaria, in 1558, but he seemed an old and crippled man
who could barely walk or use his hands," the researchers wrote.
Historically, gout has been regarded as a disease of the
rich because the foods that increase the risk have usually only
been available in quantity to the wealthy.
The concept of a Roman Empire was resurrected in the 17th
century after the ancient Roman Empire had fallen centuries