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Whoops: In 1387, King Charles II of Navarre was burned alive by accident

Goran Blazeski

It has been proven on many occasions that being a king in Europe was a dangerous sort of business. From threats, coups, and assassinations to various other plots, being a royal head of state was not all glitz and glamour. No king was guaranteed a peaceful demise and a number of them died in a violent manner, but there are also those who secured themselves a place in history books by dying in some of the most bizarre ways possible. King Charles II of Navarre most certainly holds a very special place among European royals when it comes to dying in a peculiar way. According to several different accounts, among which is that of English writer and historian Francis Blagdon, Charles was accidentally burned alive. But before revealing the details of his death, let’s have a closer look at his reign.

To obtain a clearer picture of King Charles, nicknamed “Charles the Bad” for his brutal repression of a rebellion in the kingdom of Navarre, it’s necessary to dive deeper into history. His mother, Queen Joan II of Navarre, the only surviving child of King Louis X and Margaret of Burgundy, was denied the crown by her uncle, King Philip V, who contested her claim, citing doubts over her paternity and upholding that, according to French legal tradition, women were excluded from the royal succession.

The French lords gave their support to Philip and soon elected him King of France and King of Navarre.

Joan as depicted in her book of hours

Joan as depicted in her book of hours

However, in 1322, when King Philip V died, things changed dramatically. His brother, Charles IV, took the throne in France, but he lacked the support of the lords from Navarre, who declared Joan the rightful monarch of Navarre.

In the fourth year of her reign, Queen Joan II of Navarre gave birth to a healthy boy named Charles. The little boy would go on to become King Charles II of Navarre, one of the most notorious rulers in recorded history and most probably the only one to be accidentally burned alive.

Charles was only 17 years old when his mother died, and he was declared king. Starting from the first day of his reign, King Charles dedicated himself to vengeance against the French crown for the unjust treatment his mother received in the past.

His notorious career began when he married Joan of Valois, the daughter of the then-king of France, John II, also known as “John the Good.” Charles most probably hoped that this union would prevent possible conflicts and bolster his power in France, but sadly, he was wrong. According to Deborah A. Fraioli’s book Joan of Arc and the Hundred Years War“Trouble broke out in January 1354, when the king’s favorite, the constable Charles of Spain, was ruthlessly murdered in Normandy, and Charles of Navarre calmly accepted the responsibility.”

Upon realizing that King John was preparing to seize him, Charles headed to Avignon to ask help from the Pope. There, he met Henry, the English duke of Lancaster, and promised him support in a joint campaign against the French. However Charles changed sides once again in 1355, making peace with King John and repeating his oath of loyalty to France.

Charles II of Navarre

Charles II of Navarre

The next year, King John finally took his revenge. Together with a group of supporters, he arrested Charles of Navarre. However, John was soon defeated and captured by the English at the Battle of Poitiers in September 1356, and in 1357 Charles was sprung from the prison in the castle of Arleux, gaining immediate popularity in Amiens and Paris, and beginning a series of treacherous dealings with every party in France.

In 1358, during a social upheaval that began in in Paris, he slaughtered many peasants near Montdidier, and in June 1358 suppressed the uprising. In the following period, Charles continued simultaneously playing games behind the scenes with the kings of both France and England until his return to Navarre in 1361.

It is said that he made several attempts to assassinate King Charles V (John II’s son and successor) and took part in various plots against the French king. He never achieved his goals, and despite everything he did, Charles always managed to avoid the consequences of most of his heinous acts and intrigues.

John the Good, King of France, ordering the arrest of Charles the Bad, King of Navarre

John the Good, King of France, ordering the arrest of Charles the Bad, King of Navarre

Charles died on January 1, 1387, and his particularly horrific death became famous throughout Europe mostly because it was considered by many as divine justice. As the story goes, when Charles became ill, his physician ordered for him to be wrapped head-to-toe in brandy-soaked cloths.

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When the nurse finished the wrapping, she reportedly wanted to cut off the excess fabric, but she didn’t want to use scissors since she was afraid that she might hurt the king. So she used a candle to burn off the end–which, of course, set fire to the whole cloth. The poor nurse could do nothing to save her king, who was overcome by the flames. Some reports say she ran away.

Charles the Bad’s tragic end was to burn to death in his palace.