Die By the Sword: These 6 Medieval Murders Changed the Course of History
Die By the Sword: These 6 Medieval Murders Changed the Course of History

Die By the Sword: These 6 Medieval Murders Changed the Course of History

Lindsay Stidham - March 30, 2017

Balance of power is a very fragile thing indeed. Murder of royalty or a famous writer helped write history in Europe for hundreds of years. Here’s a look at 6 medieval crimes that had a profound impact on the future of Europe.

Die By the Sword: These 6 Medieval Murders Changed the Course of History

1. The Murder of Charles the Good

Charles was born in Denmark, but after his father was murdered, his mother fled to Flanders. His mother eventually married an Italian duke, leaving Charles in Flanders under the care of his grandparents. Charles fought in the crusades and was offered a crown of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, but refused it for reasons unknown.

Charles became the Count of Flanders after his cousin passed away and designated him as his successor. As count, Charles expelled Jews from Flanders and blamed them for a famine in his region.

He also distributed bread to the poor and took action to reduce the price gouging of grains. This directly affected the Erembald family (who were overpricing grains for financial gain), who then plotted his murder.

On the morning of March 2, 1127, Charles was murdered while he was knelt in prayer. A group of knights attacked him with swords. The brutal murder sparked public outrage and a civil war that long upset the balance of power in Europe. William Clito was then appointed by the King of France as the next Count of Flanders, an area that was fought over by France and England for many years to come.

Die By the Sword: These 6 Medieval Murders Changed the Course of History
Geoffrey Chaucer. Code Pen

2. The Murder of Geoffrey Chaucer

Chaucer is widely considered to be one of the best poets of the Middle Ages, born in London in 1343. He was the first poet to be buried at Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey in October 1400. He’s best known for The Canterbury Tales, and is often thought to have helped popularize English as a language through his writing.

Chaucer was well-appreciated during his time. Therefore he was given several appointments by royalty that afforded him a very comfortable life. It’s unclear exactly how and when Chaucer died, as a tomb was not erected in his honor until one hundred years after his death. You can now visit Chaucer at the south transept of Westminster Abbey in Poet’s Corner.

That said, there’s new speculation that he was indeed murdered. It is rumored he was killed because his writings suggested heresy about King Richard II. Had Chaucer lived, he was a popular enough writer who could have helped to de-throne the king.

Some people also suggest there would’ve been manuscripts and more writings left behind if he had an illness or some idea suggesting his end was imminent. That said, history may as well have been different had the most famous poet of his era lived longer to write more manuscripts, poems, and voice more concerns about the country’s leadership.

Die By the Sword: These 6 Medieval Murders Changed the Course of History
John the Fearless. Ohio State University

3. The Assassination of John the Fearless

John the Fearless was Duke of Burgundy from 1404 to 1419. Louis of Orléans and John the Fearless were open rivals as the King was demented and both men desperately wanted to fill the power void left by the ill king. The two made open threats against each other until their uncle made them vow to stop.

A few days later, however, John had Louis assassinated in the streets. He was able to get favor with the King again, saying that Louis was killed for cheating on his wife. The King absolved John for this, but the rest of his life was not easy.

With a mentally ill King still in control of France, England’s Henry tried to take control of the country. John also wanted power but sided with France for fear of losing his popularity with the common people.

With civil unrest remaining, John and his army took control of Paris. John made himself the protector of the King. Dauphin Charles, who controlled other regions in France, called a meeting to merge power with John and try to give France more strength against England. At this meeting, John was assassinated by Charles’ men. Charles claims that he was unaware of his men’s intentions and he never paid for the assassination. The murder of John the Fearless launched France into what’s now known as The Hundred Years’ War.

Die By the Sword: These 6 Medieval Murders Changed the Course of History

4. The Murderous Queen Isabella?

Queen Isabella was often referred to as the “she-wolf” of France, and for good reason. Isabella did not like the company her husband Edward kept, nor did she like his attitude of oppression. When her marriage reached a breaking point in 1325, she began an affair with Roger Mortimer and the two planned to kill Edward.

Edward’s actual death is hotly contested by historians, and there are many theories. Some say Isabella killed Edward herself with a hot poker. Others say he died of ill health while being held in captivity. Others still say that Isabella ordered him to be killed.

Isabella certainly had a lot to gain by offing Edward – she could be with her lover, and gain Edward’s Kingdom (which she eventually did). Regardless, after his death, the face of the country changed forever. Isabella loved to spend money and acquire land.

Isabella’s acquisition of massive wealth along with shady foreign dealings launched the country into major civil unrest. Eventually, she was deposed by her son, Edward in 1330. Although Edward also kept his mother’s pockets well-lined, Isabella did have to turn over much of the land she acquired while in power. When Mortimer passed, also in 1330, Isabella suffered fits of madness. Whether she killed her first husband or not, the world may never know.

Die By the Sword: These 6 Medieval Murders Changed the Course of History
Richard I. ThoughtCo

5. The Murder of Richard I

Richard I loved war. He also realized war cost a lot of money and he couldn’t raise it all through taxes…so he went looking for a pot of gold at the Castle Chalus-Chabrol in France. When Richard attempted to seize the castle he was shot by a bow and arrow. Richard congratulated the boy who shot him on his aim.

Days later in April of 1199, Richard died of wounds that turned gangrenous at the age of 41. Although he gave the boy a reward, the boy was still later hanged for the murder. Had Richard survived, how much land would he have conquered? Would Europe’s borders have been much different? How many more lives would be lost to war?

Richard was also a Christian crusader who spread an anti-Jewish message. His sexuality was also widely questioned by historians and he did not produce any heirs to the throne.

This caused him to be succeeded by his brother John. The French territories did not accept John as King, and this resulted at the beginning of the dissolution of the Angevin Empire.

Die By the Sword: These 6 Medieval Murders Changed the Course of History
Arthur of Brittany. Eon images

6. The Stabbing of Arthur of Brittany

Arthur of Brittany, born in 1187, led the rebellion against King John even though he was really still just a boy. He was the King’s nephew and wanted the throne for himself. He was captured by John’s forces and put in Rouen Castle in captivity. It’s unclear exactly what happened to him next, except that he was definitely murdered.

It is rumored that John ordered him castrated and blinded, but that his captors didn’t have the stomach for that kind of violence. When John received word of this, he got very drunk and stabbed Arthur dead himself.

Arthur’s body was eventually discovered dumped in the Seine River by a fisherman in 1203. He was just sixteen years old. Arthur was given a secret burial so that John would not find out. Arthur’s death influenced none other than William Shakespeare and his play “King John,” published in 1623.

Arthur’s death also caused his sister to remain imprisoned for the rest of her life so that she could not succeed him. Arthur was instead succeeded by his half-sister, Alix of Thouars, who never actually got to control much of her inheritance in large part due to King John.