The 9 Strangest Deaths of the Renaissance And Early Modern Eras

List of odd deaths that happened during the Renaissance, including some of the rumors and legends behind them. This list includes stories of people dying from laughter, a ruler who died due to shyness about using the restroom, and a man who was beaten to death with his own artificial limb.

"The Renaissance" is a term used to refer to a broad cultural movement that swept across Europe from the 14th through the 17th century, as well as the period in European History that divides the Late Middle Ages from the beginnings of the modern era. Through the term is most typically used to refer to the Renaissance in Italy - which includes a number of the most famous writers, thinkers, and artists of the period - the Renaissance itself spread to a number of European nations, including Scandinavia, The Netherlands, England, France, Hungary, and Russia.

Need more? Check out the most unusual murders of other eras such as the odd deaths during the Middle Ages and the bizarre deaths from the 21st century.

  • Sir Arthur Aston was a professional soldier and royalist who fought on behalf of King Charles I in the English Civil War of 1642. (A Catholic, Sir Arthur was initially rejected from the King's service before desperation and the convincing of Prince Rupert of the Rhine convinced Charles to bring him on board.)

    In 1644, Sir Arthur - then serving as the Governor of Oxford - fell off a horse and lost his leg. Afterwards, he wore a wooden leg. (This will become important later.) He was relieved of duty and received a sizable pension from Charles. Then, in 1648, he found himself serving the Earl of Ormonde as Governor of the Irish port city of Drogheda.

    When Oliver Cromwell's forces attacked Drogheda the following year (during what is known as the "Wars of the Three Kingdoms"), Sir Arthur was captured... and was beaten to death with his own wooden leg, which Cromwell's soldiers apparently believed was filled with gold coins. (Wouldn't that have made walking difficult?)
  • François Vatel
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Theories and alternative variations surround the strange case of Francois Vatel's suicide. What is known with some amount of certainty is this: Vatel was the Maître d'hôtel (translated: "master of the house") for the French general and nobleman Louis II de Bourbon, Prince de Condé. In 1671, Vatel was tasked with hosting an extravagant banquet at the Chateau de Chantilly in honor of a visit from King Louis XIV. In preparation for the event, Vatel is credited with inventing "Chantilly Creme," a sweet whipped cream with a light vanilla flavor.

    What actually happened during the banquet is a matter of some debate. According to a letter written by one of the guests - Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de Sévigné - Vatel, a notorious perfectionist, became distraught over the fish course being delayed in the kitchen, along with other small mishaps and human errors. He then killed himself with his sword. Because, seriously... late fish... what else was he supposed to do? (In this version of the story, he's often discovered by an aide who was running to tell him the fish was finally ready to serve.)

    Many other versions of the story have floated around. In the 2000 film Vatel, screenwriters Jeanne Labrune and Tom Stoppard suggest that Vatel - a sophisticated man whose birth into a lower-class family keeps him from ever joining aristocratic society - killed himself because he secretly loved the King's latest romantic conquest.
  • György Dózsa
    Photo: Robert Townson / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    György Dózsa was a Hungarian soldier-of-fortune (from Transylvania!) who had gained some amount of notoriety for his efforts in battle against the Ottoman Empire. When Pope Leo X authorized a crusade against the Ottomans in 1514, Dózsa was selected to staff up an army, which he did by training peasants, students, monks, and priests to fight.

    Unfortunately for Dózsa, this plan had some disadvantages. Mainly that the peasants, now that they had weapons and military training, decided to use them against their old landlords, setting fire to manor houses and castles and killing thousands via cruel means like crucifixion. Even after Leo X revoked permission for a Crusade, and the King ordered the peasantry to return to their homes, Dózsa continued seizing castles and villages.

    He was eventually captured in what is now Timişoara, Romania, and condemned to death. His punishment? To be burned with a smoldering iron throne, crown, and sceptre, designed to mock his supposed kingly ambitions. Plus, he was skinned alive with hot pliers, and his surviving followers were forced to eat bits of his flesh. Also, his brother Gergely was killed in front of him. Even by Crusades standards, this is a tough way to go.
  • Emperor Nasir ud-din Muhammad Humayun ruled the Mughal Empire (present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of India) from 1530-1540, and again from 1555-1556. He had lost control of his kingdom in the interim, before gaining it back with the help of the Persians.

    On January 27, 1556, less than a year after regaining control of his entire kingdom, Humayun was descending the staircase from his library with his arms full of books. Upon hearing the nearby mosque's call to prayer (known as "adhan"), Humayun kneeled as he always would. Unfortunately, on this occasion, he caught his foot on his robe, which sent him tumbling down the stairs. He hit his head on the stone ground, and died three days later from his injuries. He was succeeded by his 13-year-old son, Akbar.