Bela I of Hungary, 1063
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.
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.
Thomas Beckett, 1170
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.”
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.
Edward II, 1327
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.