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.