September 22, 2014
While the skeleton of Richard III may have shown us that he didn’t quite fit the deformed villain mould it has shown us that his death was pretty brutal including 9 blows to his unprotected skull from swords, halberds and billhooks.
That son of York was the last British monarch to die in battle but my post about locked room mysteries reminded me of (the fanciful) take on Barbarossa’s death in Baudolino by Umberto Eco (which made my pick of the last decade) and generally got me thinking about regal mortality.
Henry I’s “surfeit of lampreys” is certainly a memorable one. At the age of 35 he fell ill and against doctors orders consumed an excessive number of lampreys and within weeks was dead. I wonder how many lampreys you’d have to eat for that to be the cause of death rather than your illness?
William II, Rufus, was killed in a ‘hunting accident’ in the New Forest after only 3 years on the throne (though by most accounts he wasn’t missed).
Edward II was killed while imprisoned in Berkeley Castle; it’s likely that death wasn’t administered by a red-hot poker to the rear but was certainly engineered by his own mother.
A cutting from a New York paper of the mid 1800s offers a rather unflattering summary the deaths of English/British monarchs from William the Conqueror:
Compare Richard the Lionheart’s “died like the animal from which his heart was named” with “the Lion (that) by the Ant was slain”, I fear our author is not a fan of the monarchy.
The death of Mary I by a “surfeit of black puddings” is an interesting one though I can’t find any other references beyond this cutting (it certainly never caught on like “surfeit of lampreys” did).
For the greatest royal death by food we have to look across the North Sea to Adolf Frederick, King of Sweden who died of digestion problems after a meal of:
…lobster, caviar, sauerkraut, kippers and champagne, which was topped off with 14 servings of his favourite dessert: semla served in a bowl of hot milk.