Thomas Urquhart Died From Laughing at the Thought of Charles II as King
Sir Thomas Urquhart (1611 – 1660), of Cromarty, Scotland, was one of the oddest writers in the history of Scottish literature, and he ended up with a prominent position in a book titled Scottish Eccentrics. To date, it is still unclear if he was crazy, a conman, or the most gifted prankster ever produced by Scotland. He was an idiosyncratic polymath and author, best known for his original and vivid translation of the works of Francois Rabelais into English. His own writings included original work on a new system of trigonometry, which he revolutionized, mathematics, family histories, epigrams, and the invention of a universal language long before Esperanto.
Urquhart was a royalist who fought for king Charles I against the Scottish Covenanters in 1639, and was knighted by the king for his support in 1641. The following year, Urquhart’s father died, leaving him a heavily indebted estate. So Urquhart spent most of the 1640s dealing with and evading creditors, even fleeing Scotland to the continent for a time. He returned in 1645 to publish a mathematical treatise, Trissotetras, Or A Most Exquisite Table For Resolving Triangles, which he claimed could enable a student to learn a year’s worth of math in just seven weeks. However, it was written in such a cryptic way as to be nearly unintelligible.
He joined a failed royalist uprising at Inverness in 1648, and was declared a traitor by Parliament. In 1651, he joined Charles II’s long shot attempt at regaining the throne, but grew increasingly disgusted with the incompetence and mismanagement of the affair, which culminated in a decisive royalist defeat at the Battle of Worcester. Urquhart was captured and imprisoned for two years, first in the Tower of London, then at Windsor.
While locked up, he lobbied Oliver Cromwell to release him, by writing a series of increasingly bizarre pamphlets, including a detailed description of how the Urquharts were supposedly descended from Adam and Eve via a host of luminaries. One such was his great 109th grandmother, whom Urquhart claimed had discovered baby Moses in the Nile’s rushes. He also claimed that his great 87th grandmother was the Queen of Sheba; his great 66th grandfather had been a general for the mythical Fergus I of Scotland, and that one of King Arthur’s daughters had married into the Urquharts.
Cromwell eventually ordered him freed in 1653, but Urquhart lost all his manuscripts, and had to forfeit all his properties as a condition for his parole and release. He also had to leave Britain for the continent. He reportedly died in 1660 in a fit of maniacal laughter, upon hearing that Charles II – whose incompetence in the 1651 attempt to gain the throne had ended in disaster and cost Urquhart so much – had been restored and welcomed back as king.