The royal houses of Europe have had a bloody history. From battles to coups and assassinations, kings and queens have suffered deaths ranging from the serene to the ridiculous. After all, death is central to the idea of monarchy: new kings and queens can ascend the throne only after their predecessors have died. Monarchy itself is built on the condition of death.
But that does not mean all royal deaths are dignified. Many kings and queens have gone gently into that dark night thanks to respectable illnesses. Others have been victims of political struggles. Still others have not been so lucky in death, and they exemplify some of the stupidest ways royals have died. Like royals who had terrible portraits, bizarre obsessions, or were just plain weird, these dumb royal deaths prove that, at the end of the day, people who sit on thrones and wear ancient crowns are just as mortal as those over whom they claim authority. Some of the dumbest ways royals have died also happen to be some of the most entertaining.
King William I of England was a Norman duke who led the last successful invasion of England in 1066, thus ending Anglo-Saxon rule and ushering in a period of elite Norman dominance. He crushed Anglo-Saxon resistance to William's French style of rule and erected stark and oppressive castles to demonstrate Norman might. To his friends, he was known as William the Conqueror. To his enemies, he was William the Bastard.
Though William is still known as the "conqueror," death would ultimately conquer him. In 1087, William was doing what he loved best: leading men into battle, sitting astride a horse. The horse bucked in the heat of battle, and William was thrown forward into the saddle's pommel, rupturing his organs. Six weeks passed before William finally died on September 9, 1087.
But the conqueror's body would undergo further indignities. As monks prepared his body for burial in Caen, they had to stuff William's over-large body into a small sarcophagus. In pushing the body into the box, William's bowels burst, unleashing a sickening smell throughout the building.Was this a silly way to go?
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William Adelin was the oldest male heir of his father King Henry I of England, so the future of the English monarchy rested on his shoulders. He would die senselessly before ever getting the chance to take up that responsibility.
On November 25, 1120, the royal family was heading back to England from Normandy. The king had gone ahead in his own ship. William Adelin, his illegitimate half-sister Matilda, and their half-brother stayed behind and planned to return in a separate vessel, the White Ship, the fastest ship in the fleet. But by the time the ship set sail, the crew and most of the passengers were rip-roaring drunk, and the revelry only continued onboard the vessel.
When the prince drunkenly urged the captain to catch up with Henry's ship and beat the old man back to England, disaster ensued: the ship slammed into a rock and began to sink. Though William Adelin made it into a lifeboat, he heroically turned back to save his sister. However, other survivors of the shipwreck scrambled to get into his boat, pulling William under and drowning him.
The king lost three children that night and was heartbroken. Henry had no choice but to make his other, legitimate daughter Matilda his heir. Though a civil war would break out challenging her legitimacy as a female ruler, her son—also named Henry—would eventually ascend the throne as Henry II of England and bring stability to a fractured monarchy.Was this a silly way to go?
As the head of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles VI was one of the most powerful individuals in the world during his reign. But power did not make him immortal. In October 1740, Charles died suddenly after eating what may have been poisonous mushrooms.
His death led to major warfare throughout Europe and its colonies: though he named his daughter Maria Theresa as his heir, she would be forced to defend her inheritance when rivals refused to recognize the succession of a woman to the Austrian throne.Was this a silly way to go?
Henry II of France inherited one of the most powerful thrones in Europe when he was crowned king in 1547 at the age of 28. He was an active king and loved a good joust. In June 1559, Henry participated in a jousting tournament against a young Scotsman, the Count of Montgomery.
As the two riders rushed at each other, Montgomery's lance went through Henry's eye and punctured his brain. He suffered for weeks and finally died on July 10, 1559, at age 40.Was this a silly way to go?