12 Royal Deaths that Took a Bizarre and Undignified Turn
12 Royal Deaths that Took a Bizarre and Undignified Turn

12 Royal Deaths that Took a Bizarre and Undignified Turn

Khalid Elhassan - December 9, 2017

12 Royal Deaths that Took a Bizarre and Undignified Turn
Emperor Valerian’s capture by king Shapur I of Persia. Ancient EU.

Emperor Valerian Drank Molten Gold

Publius Licinius Valerianus, known to history as Emperor Valerian (circa 195 – 264 AD), ruled the Roman Empire from 253 to 260. His reign came to a humiliating end after he attempted an invasion of the newly established Sassanid Persian Empire, only to suffer a crushing defeat and end up as a prisoner. He endured an undignified captivity, which came to an end with an undignified death.

Born into a patrician family, Valerian was a military man who became Consul under emperor Severus Alexander (reigned 222 – 235 AD), and rose to command various armies. In 253, amidst a period of chaos that came to be known as the Crisis of the Third Century, Valerian was crowned emperor. Realizing that it was impractical for a single emperor to oversee the sprawling empire, he appointed his son to command the western half of the empire, while he headed east to deal with the newly arisen menace of Sassanid Persia.

Valerian assembled an army of about 70,000 men and marched to resolve the Persian problem. In 260, he fought an army commanded by Persian king Shapur I in the Battle of Edessa, and was decisively defeated. The remnants of the Roman army were besieged, and Valerian tried to personally negotiate a way out with Shapur. The peace talks turned out to be a trap, however, and Valerian was seized by Shapur when he showed up.

After his capture, Valerian was made Shapur’s slave, and subjected to sundry humiliations. The Persian king took particular delight in advertising his victory and demonstrating his might by using the former Roman emperor as a foot stool to mount his horse. His death was as ignominious and undignified as his captivity, and came after he offended Shapur by offering a huge ransom in exchange for his release. As punishment, and to show his disdain for the offer, Shapur forced Valerian to drink molten gold. His humiliation continued even after death, as his captor ordered his corpse flayed, and had his skin dyed and displayed at a temple.

12 Royal Deaths that Took a Bizarre and Undignified Turn
The White Ship sinking. Modern Notion.

William the Aethling Died in a Drunken Accident

William the Aethling (1103 – 1120) was the heir and only legitimate son of king Henry I of England. He was also the Duke of Normandy in his own right, after his father fought successful battles in France to compel the Norman barons to recognize William as their Duke. From an early age, William was spoiled rotten, and according to a contemporary chronicler, he was pampered so much that it was clear he was “destined to be food for the fire“. That indulgence would have fatal consequences, when the young prince got himself killed in a silly accident that wrecked his father’s plans and plunged England into chaos.

In November of 1120, after a diplomatic visit to France, a fleet was assembled to transport king Henry and his court across the English Channel back to England. The 17 year old prince William made plans to cross in a vessel known as the White Ship, the English navy’s pride and fastest ship. William and his companions turned the affair into a wild party, and delayed the crossing while they got rip roaring drunk on shore with the ship’s crew. Then, in a state of high intoxication, the prince and his entourage, numbering about 300 people, boarded the White Ship to make a nighttime crossing.

By then, king Henry had already sailed hours earlier. The drunk prince and his friends challenged the ship’s captain and crew to make a race of it and catch and bypass the king’s ship before it reached England. Captain and crew were confident of the White Ship’s speed, and so accepted. Furiously rowing, fueled by copious amounts of wine while being cheered and urged by the drunk prince and his friends, the equally drunk crew set a good pace. However, in their inebriated state, the crew failed to keep a good lookout, and mistakenly rowed into a hazardous stretch, where they struck a partially submerged rock. The White Ship was holed and quickly sank, and hundreds drowned, including the prince.

William was his royal father’s only legitimate male issue, and his early death led to a succession crisis. King Henry failed to sire another son, and so sought to designate his daughter, Matilda, as heir. His barons reluctantly agreed, but after Henry’s death in 1135, most barons backed his nephew, Stephen of Blois, when he claimed and seized the crown as the eldest male royal relative.

Stephen’s claim was challenged by Matilda, and the two plunged England into nearly two decades of civil war and chaos that came to be known as The Anarchy. It only ended after king Stephen agreed to designate Matilda’s son, Henry Plantagenet, as his heir. The latter ascended the throne as Henry II, following Stephen’s death in 1153, and founded the Plantagenet Dynasty which ruled England for centuries.

12 Royal Deaths that Took a Bizarre and Undignified Turn
Medieval illustration of Charles the Bad’s death. Morphosis.

Charles II of Navarre Was Burned in His Bed

Known as Charles the Bad, Charles II of Navarre (1332 – 1387) was a French aristocrat with extensive holdings. In 1349, he became king of Navarre, a small kingdom on the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain. He earned the nickname “the Bad” because of his bad faith dealings, betrayals, dishonesty, and double crosses as he attempted to enlarge his kingdom.

During the Hundred Years War, he schemed with the English to betray France, and was jailed by France’s king John II when his treason came to light. Charles escaped, and in 1357, began plotting with various French cabals, betraying nearly all. After John II’s death, his successor forced Charles to surrender most of his lands in France. Charles kept intriguing, however, and in 1378 evidence of new treachery was discovered. It emerged that Charles not only sought to again betray France to the English, but also to poison the French king. Charles was made to surrender nearly all his remaining French holdings.

Charles’ bad reputation was no better in Spain, where he allied with Peter the Cruel of Castile against Peter IV of Aragon in 1362. The following year, he switched sides and betrayed Castile, allying with Peter IV against Peter the Cruel. In 1378, Castilian armies invaded Navarre, forcing Charles to flee. Trusted by none and without allies, Charles had to sign a humiliating treaty that reduced him and his kingdom to Castilian puppets.

His undignified end came in 1387, when a doctor directed that he be swaddled from head to foot in linen cloth steeped in brandy or other spirits of wine to cure an illness. A serving woman was tasked with securing the swaddling cloth snugly around Charles’ body, by sewing it in place with yarn. One night, she forgot to bring scissors to snip off the excess yarn, so she resorted to a common alternative for thread cutting – using a candle’s flame to burn off a section of yarn. The alcohol-infused cloth caught on fire, and Charles the Bad, tightly swaddled in the burning linen, was unable to escape. He suffered horrific burns all over his body, and lingered for weeks in excruciating pain before he was finally relieved by death.

12 Royal Deaths that Took a Bizarre and Undignified Turn
Catherine the Great. History Channel.

Catherine the Great Died Like Elvis

Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great (1729 – 1796), was Tsarina, or empress, of Russia from 1762 until her death. A German born princess, she ascended the throne after she had her husband, Tsar Peter III, assassinated. She continued the westernization work begun by Tsar Peter the Great, and by the end of her reign, Russia had fully joined the mainstream of European political and cultural life. Her regal reign was not to be matched by a regal and dignified death.

She was born Sophie Friederike August von Anhalt-Zerbst into a minor German aristocratic family. At age 14, she was married to the grandson of Tsar Peter the Great and heir to the throne, Grand Duke Peter. The marriage proved a disaster, as Peter was extremely neurotic, mentally unstable, and probably impotent. The following 18 years were full of humiliations and disappointment.

She took a series of lovers, and strongly hinted that none of the children born during her marriage were Peter’s. When her husband became Tsar in 1761, he quickly alienated his court and nobles by making little effort to hide his contempt for Russia, and his preference for his native Germany. When he started making moves to rid himself of Catherine, she beat him to the punch, and joined a conspiracy which staged a military coup in 1762. Peter was seized and forced to abdicate, and 8 days later, was murdered.

Catherine was then crowned Empress, and ruled Russia for the next 34 years. During that period, the Russian Empire expanded rapidly with a combination of conquests and diplomacy. To the west, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was partitioned with Austria and Prussia, with Russia getting the lion’s share. To the south, successful wars against the Ottoman Turks led to the conquest and annexation of the Crimean Khanate. The territories of Novorossiya – the Russian speaking parts of today’s Ukraine – were colonized by Russians. Colonization also stretched far into the east, including Alaska and the foundation of Russian America. Domestically, she reformed the laws and administration of the Russian Empire, bringing them closer to contemporary European standards.

After a long and successful reign, her death came in an undignified manner. Rumors circulated that the insatiable Catherine had died after sustaining injuries from having sex with a horse. The truth was less scandalous, but embarrassing all the same for her imperial majesty. The empress had been feeling constipated, and during a heroic effort to force relief on the toilet, she overstrained herself and suffered a fatal stroke.

When her loud gruntings ceased, her maids waiting outside assumed that her majesty had finally found relief. They started getting nervous, however, as the minutes dragged on without Catherine emerging or summoning them. Eventually they delicately inquired if all was well. Hearing no answer, they took a peak, and found the Empress of All the Russias dead on the toilet.

12 Royal Deaths that Took a Bizarre and Undignified Turn
Crowned Prince Sado. Wikipedia.

Crown Prince Sado Was Locked in a Rice Chest

Crown Prince Sado (1735 – 1762) was the son of Korean king Yeongjo, and heir to the throne. He was the king’s second son, but the first one had died in 1728. For years, the king’s wives and concubines had given him only daughters, and he despaired of ever getting another male heir. When Sado finally arrived in 1735, he was met with great rejoicing. According to tradition, the infant was set up in his own palace with an army of maids and governesses and servants. However, his father took little part in raising and looking after his upbringing, so Sado was spoiled rotten and grew up doing what he liked.

When his father did stop by to visit, he was highly irritable, and grew angry at even trivial missteps by his son. Sado grew up oscillating between a great fear of his father, and a desperate need to please him. Pleasing the king was difficult, however, for his father was not given to displays of affection, and whenever the two met, the king was far more critical than affectionate. As a result, Sado grew up feeling unloved and resentful. Between those daddy issues, perceived lack of affection, lack of fatherly supervision, indulgence and flattery by courtiers, and other deep seated neuroses, something broke inside Sado and he grew up to become a monster.

He was a troubled young man, given to extremely violent and erratic mood swings. One day, he would behave with such decorum, dignity, and probity, so as to be all that his father had ever wanted in a son and heir. The next, he would undergo a transformation, and give free rein to violate outbursts during which he would turn rapist and murderer. Historians are unsure what exactly ailed him, but he was clearly mentally unstable, and many today think that he was schizophrenic.

Although alcohol was forbidden at court, the Crown Prince was given to downing heroic amounts of wine and spirits, and became a raging alcoholic. When a depressive mood fell upon him, murdering servants brought Sado relief, and on many a day, several dead bodies were carried out of the palace. He also enjoyed raping court ladies, and after murdering his concubine, he started sexually harassing his own sister. As a result, he became widely feared throughout the kingdom as a serial rapist, serial killer, and all around dangerous psychopath.

Eventually, his father had enough, and determined that he could not, in good conscience, inflict his criminally insane son upon the Korean people as their next king. On July 4th, 1762, Sado was summoned by his father, who ceremonially struck the floor with a sword and declared the crown prince deposed. Taboos prohibited the outright execution of the prince, so the king had Sado placed inside a heavy wooden chest used for storing grain, and locked him inside. There, the deposed prince was left to starve to death, which arrived 8 days later.

12 Royal Deaths that Took a Bizarre and Undignified Turn
John the Blind at the Battle of Crecy. Wikimedia.

John the Blind Charged Into Battle – While Blind

King John of Bohemia (1296 – 1346) gained the nickname John the Blind after losing his sight in 1336. He was a warrior of great renown, with a martial record of campaigning across Europe from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean. He became Count of Luxemburg in 1309, and when his father in law, the king of Bohemia, died without male heirs, John inherited that realm through his wife and became Bohemia’s king in 1310.

He was a son of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII, but when his father died in 1313, John was too young to inherit the crown. So he backed Louis the Bavarian, who became Emperor Louis IV in 1314. Despite that early support, John eventually fell out with Louis IV after the latter sided with England against France in the Hundred Years War.

As king of Bohemia, John fought against Hungary, Austria, England, and the Russians. He campaigned in the Tyrol and northern Italy, and enlarged his kingdom by conquering Silesia, parts of Lusatia, and most of Lombardy. He went blind from opthalmia in 1336 while crusading against the pagan Lithuanians. Although celebrated as a warrior, he was an unpopular ruler because of heavy taxation that he imposed to pay for his lavish expenses.

John was a great Francophile, having been raised and educated in Paris. He was French in his outlook and sympathies, even sending his own son to be educated in Paris rather than in his own Bohemian capital of Prague. At the start of the Hundred Years War, king Philip VI of France asked for help against England’s Edward III. Notwithstanding his blindness, John rushed to help, met the French king in Paris in August of 1346, and marched with him to fight the English.

The armies met at the Battle of Crecy, on August 26th, 1346. Such was John’s prestige that, despite being blind, he was placed in charge of the French vanguard and a big part of the French army. The excitement, sounds, and scent of the battle awakened the old war dog in him, and he desperately wanted to join in. So he ordered his knights to tie their horses to his and ride into battle. That way, he could deliver at least one stroke of his sword against the English, and satisfy his honor by physically participating in the fight.

His knights obeyed, and tied to their horses, the blind king rode into battle. It ended badly. John the Blind, being blind, was unable to gauge just how far he had gone, and plunged in too deep into the English ranks. He ended up getting cut off and enveloped by the enemy, and in the ensuing melee, the blind king and all of his retinue were slaughtered.