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Top 10 Bizarre Deaths of the Middle Ages

10. Richard I, 1199

Richard I of England Source:By Adam Bishop - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Richard I of England.Photo credit

Cause of Death: Shot down by a boy who was holding a frying pan.

Richard had bankrupted England in 1199, thanks to the Third Crusade and the ransom payment for him after he was captured by the German Emperor. Richard found he needed vast amounts of money to fund his war campaigns in France, and found out they could not be gathered by taxing alone. Richard died while looking for money at Castle Chalus-Chabrol in France, which according to rumor, contained a pot of gold. During the siege of the castle, a young boy that was armed with a frying pan grabbed a crossbow and fired into a group of knights on horseback.

His bolt found its target in one of the shoulders of a knight; this knight was Richard the Lionheart. Richard died later as his wound turned gangrenous, though while lying on his deathbed he awarded his poverty-stricken killer one hundred shillings in the act of final chivalry. Despite this, the boy was later flayed alive on the orders of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard’s grieving mother, before a public hanging.

9. Martin of Aragon, 1410

e Martín I de Aragón Source:wikipedia/public domain
e Martín I de Aragón

Cause of Death: Indigestion and Uncontrollable Laughter.

During a feast in 1410, Martin, Count of Barcelona and King of Aragon, died in extremely bizarre circumstances. The people that were sitting with Martin described the death as being caused by a combination of both severe indigestions, which had been plaguing Martin in the days prior to the incident, and hysterical laughter, which caused him to collapse at the dinner table.

Efforts to save the King’s life proved futile. Contemporaries failed to report what it was that exactly made Martin laugh so uncontrollably, but it is assumed that his indigestion was caused by the eating of eels, a popular dish of the Middle Ages.

8. Arthur of Brittany, 1203

Arthur I of Brittany Source:Wikipedia/public domain
Arthur I of Brittany

Cause of Death: Allegedly stabbed to death in a drunken rage by King John.

Arthur of Brittany was the leader in a rebellion against King John in the early twelfth century. Arthur, still in his early teens, was John’s nephew and had a legitimate claim to the English throne. John wanted to discredit Arthur in order to secure it for himself. Once he was captured by John’s forces at Mirebeau Castle, Arthur was then imprisoned at Rouen Castle along with his rebel allies. There are many conflicting stories about what subsequently happened to Arthur, but one, in particular, seems very likely given by witness accounts. This states that John ordered that Arthur be castrated and blinded as punishment for his treason, but the jailer refused to commit the act.

The furious King John drank until all he could see was red rage and then proceeded to stab the sixteen-year-old to death in his cell. He then tied a large rock to  Arthur and dumped his body in the Seine River, where it was discovered later by fishermen and buried at Bec Abbey.

7. George Plantagenet, 1478

George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence Source:Wikipedia/public domain
George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence

Cause of Death: Drowned in a vat of Malmsey Wine

George Plantagenet was the brother of King Edward IV and King Richard III, and played a vital role in the War of the Roses before his death in 1478. After being convicted of treason for plotting against his brother, he was executed in the Tower of London. The usual method of execution at the time for nobles was beheading, but this was not how George Plantagenet was to be executed. Given his well-known reputation for alcoholism, George was drowned in a large vat of Malmsey Wine, his favorite beverage, at his own request.

His corpse was later transferred to the abbey in the same vat full of wine, before he was buried.

6. Pope Adrian IV, 1159

Pope Hadrian IV Source:Wikipedia/public domain
Pope Hadrian IV

Cause of Death: Choked on a fly in his wine.

Adrian IV (born Nicholas Breakspeare in 1100) reigned in the papal chair for five years until his death in 1159. He is thus far the only Englishman to ever occupy the position, interestingly enough. In the final months of his life, Adrian suffered from Quinsy, a form of Tonsillitis, which causes pus to build up in the mouth and throat. It is believed this is what contributed to his death.

When he took a sip of wine and began to choke on a fly that had been floating inside his goblet, the build-up of pus combined with the fly in his throat made for a deadly combination, which caused him to die within minutes.

5. Bela I of Hungary, 1063

Béla I Source:Wikipedia/public domain
Béla I

Cause of Death: Crushed by the canopy above his throne, which collapsed upon him

Bela I of Hungary was King for only a three-year period before his bizarre death in 1063. While sitting on his throne, the canopy above his throne collapsed on top of him causing instantaneous death. Those closest to him believed that the incident was more than a mere accident, but that it was actually a clever assassination attempt. Bela had numerous political enemies after he usurped the throne from King Andrew I of Hungary. Despite the suspicions, no proof that it was an assassination exists, and Bela was succeeded by Solomon of Hungary.

Bela’s sons later fled the country for fear of persecution by the new ruler.

4. Caliph Al-Musta’sim, 1258

Cause of Death: Rolled up in a rug and trampled by horses.

Caliph Al-Musta’sim of Baghdad was captured during the Mongol invasion of the Abbasid domain. He ruled from 1242 until his death sixteen years later at the hands of the Mongols. In February of 1258, the Mongols, led by Hulagu Khan, destroyed Baghdad and captured Al-Musta’sim alive. However, the Mongols feared executing Al-Musta’sim in the usual manner, which was usually beheading, due to a superstition that spilling royal blood would bring disaster upon them.

Instead, they had Al-Musta’sim rolled up in a rug and then he was repeatedly trampled by horses until he died. The process of the execution took over fifteen minutes before the Caliph finally died. Al-Musta’sim also had many sons, most of which were also executed in the same fashion.

3. Thomas Beckett, 1170

Thomas Becket Source:Wikipedia/Public domain
Thomas Becket

Cause of Death: Partially decapitated while resisting arrest.

Thomas Beckett was elected Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry II of England from 1162 until his death. After many disagreements with King Henry over the King’s tyrannical law reforms, Beckett found his life was in danger. The bloody and horrific climax to the feud occurred in December 1170, when four knights arrived at Canterbury Cathedral and ordered Beckett to surrender. When he wouldn’t surrender, one of the knights smashed the pommel of his sword on to Beckett’s head, which sent the poor man to his knees. Beckett then began to pray while the fatal blow was delivered. Another knight leaped forward and delivered a blow that sliced the top of Beckett’s head off just above the eyes.

The blow had so much power behind it that the sword shattered against the floor in pieces. A third knight then shoved his sword into Beckett’s head and scooped out the dead man’s brains, before smearing them on the floor and stating simply: “This fellow won’t be getting up again.”

2. Sigurd Eysteinsson, 892

Cause of Death: Infection of a wound received from a decapitated head

Sigurd the Mighty died in perhaps the most bizarre form of justice throughout history. Being a proud warrior (yeah right), Sigurd challenged one of his enemies, Mael Brigte the Tusk (nicknamed this because of his buckteeth), to a battle in which each man would bring only forty men. Sigurd decided he would bring eighty men instead, and because of this numerical advantage his men won the battle easily. In an act of arrogance, Sigurd tied the head of Mael Brigte to his horse.

Hilariously, while riding away from the battle, Mael Brigte’s famous buckteeth scratched Sigurd’s leg (HA!), causing a gangrenous infection which eventually claimed his life. Legend states that Mael’s ghost returned to embody his severed head to commit a final act of revenge upon Sigurd, for his treachery at the battle.

1. Edward II, 1327

Edward II Source:Wikipedia/public domain
Edward II

Cause of Death: Allegedly assassinated by having a red-hot poker thrust into his backside.

Edward II ruled for twenty years as King of England before his death in 1327. His reign was infamous, filled with disasters and was marred by political distrust and military failures. After his abdication, Edward’s political enemies decided they would not keep him alive.

While imprisoned at Berkeley Castle, a group of assassins held him down and forcibly inserted a red-hot iron poker directly into his rectum. His public funeral was held later that same year, confirming his death to the citizens of England. If you ever decide to visit Berkeley Castle, it is said that Edward’s screams of agony can sometimes be heard faintly through the walls.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News