Tragic or Mysterious Deaths of Monarchs
Whether it’s murder, illness or mysterious deaths, there have been many monarchs in England, Scotland and France who died before their time. The list that is compiled here is surely missing some names and will be added to in the future as I come across more. These are in no particular order and the only consort I included in this was Henry, Lord Darnley because of the scandal that followed his death.
The killing of a monarch is called regicide. Here is a definition: (Latin regis “of king” + cida “killer” or cidium “killing”) is the deliberate killing of a monarch. In a narrower sense, in the British tradition, it refers to the execution of a king after a trial.
Edmund I (of England) – Reigned: 27 October 939 – 26 May 946. Murdered (stabbed in the stomach) at a party/feast in his own hall at Pucklechurch (South Gloucestershire) by Leofa, an exiled thief.
Sources: The Official Website of British Monarchy, NNDB, Wikipedia, Early British Kingdoms
Richard II – Handed over his crown to Henry Bolingbrook, and was imprisoned in Pontefract Castle. The official version is that he went on hunger strike, but it’s likely he was purposely starved to death – or murdered by the order of Henry IV…we’ll never know.
Sources: BBC, Royal Family History, Wikipedia, Kings and Queens of Great Britain, by David Soud (pg. 109,116),
Edward II - A deposed monarch who was confined in Berkeley castle. Edward II was murdered on 21st September, 1327, probably on the orders of the regent, Roger Mortimer, with the collusion of Queen Isabella, who was Mortimer’s mistress. In the village of Berkeley tales were told of hideous screams emanating from the castle, but it was many years before the truth was known. Edward had been killed ‘with a hoot brooche (hot meat-roasting spit) put through the secret place posterior’.
Sources: History Today, Wikipedia, Kings and Queens of Great Britain, by David Soud (pg. 95)
Henry IV - When he became older he began to suffer from poor health and a skin disease – some say it may have been a form of leprosy and others say it could have been psoriasis, or possibly syphilis.
It was predicted that Henry would die in Jerusalem. Henry took this to mean that he would die on crusade. In reality, he died in the Jerusalem Chamber in the abbot’s house of Westminster Abbey, on 20 March 1413 during a legislative session.
Sources: Kings and Queens of Great Britain, by David Soud (pg. 117), Luminarium, Wikipedia
Edward V - Imprisoned in the Tower of London along with his younger brother Richard, Duke of York; the date and cause of death of both Princes in the Tower remain a mystery. Some say Richard III had them killed and other say it was Henry VII. I’m not sure we will ever know. Bones believed to belong to the two princes were found beneath a staircase during excavations in the Tower in 1674.
Sources: Kings and Queens of Great Britain, by David Soud (pg. 142), BBC, Historic UK, English Monarchs, Richard III Society
King John Lackland – Succumbed to dysentery.
Sources: Kings and Queens of Great Britain, by David Soud (pg. 81), Wikipedia
Henry V – Died suddenly on 31 August 1422 in France, apparently from dysentery, perhaps toxic megacolon, which he had contracted during the siege of Meaux.
Sources: Kings and Queens of Great Britain, by David Soud (pg. 123), History, The Official Website of the British Monarchy, Wikipedia
Henry, Lord Darnley – The husband of Mary Queen of Scots, was found strangled after an explosion at Kirk o Field, on February 10, 1567. His body and that of his valet were discovered in the orchard.Upon further examination, the bodies had no signs of injuries that could be associated with the explosion, so the blast was not considered to have killed Darnley. It was determined that the two men were killed by strangulation, believed to have taken place after the explosion. (However, modern medicine recognizes that internal injuries can kill explosion victims with no sign of injury.)
Sources: Kings and Queens of Great Britain, by David Soud (pg. 179), British Heritage, Wikipedia, about Scotland, National Archives
Mary, Queen of Scots - Given Mary’s lineage and her religion (Catholic), she became the focus of plots to assassinate England’s Queen Elizabeth I. Many Catholics in England wanted Mary on the throne to bring back their “true” religion. Mary’s correspondences with Anthony Babington were uncovered by Elizabeth’s spymaster in 1586, Mary was brought to trial and found guilty of treason and beheaded at Fotheringay Castle, Northamptonshire.
Sources: Mary, Queen of Scots, The Last Days of Mary, Queen of Scots, Kings and Queens of Great Britain, by David Soud (pg. 178, 179), Wikipedia, English History, The Official Website of the British Monarchy, Biography
Henry VI – Was murdered quietly on 27th May 1471 in the Tower of London. Some sources credit the three sons of York (Edward IV, Duke of Clarence & Richard III) with the murder – the suspect(s) was certainly very near the throne, if not occupying it.
Sources: Kings and Queens of Great Britain, by David Soud (pg. 128), Wikipedia, Richard III Society, The Official Website of the British Monarchy, English Monarchs
Charles I of England - Found guilty of high treason by 59 commissioners and was beheaded.
“At about 2:00 p.m., Charles put his head on the block after saying a prayer and signalled the executioner when he was ready by stretching out his hands; he was then beheaded with one clean stroke. According to observer Philip Henry, a moan “as I never heard before and desire I may never hear again” rose from the assembled crowd, some of whom then dipped their handkerchiefs in the king’s blood as a memento.” – Wikipedia
Sources: BBC, History, Kings and Queens of Great Britain, David Soud (pg. 195)
Henry III of France - On 1 August 1589 a young friar, Jacques Clément, carrying false papers, was granted access to deliver important documents to the king. Clément,gave the king a bundle of papers and stated that he had a secret message to deliver. The king allowed Clément to come closer – when he did the king leaned forward to hear the whispered message when Clément who plunged a knife into his abdomen. Clément was then killed on the spot by the guards.
Sources: Wikiepedia, History Today
James I – Was assassinated on 21 February, 1437, in the monastery of the Friars Preachers at Perth.
“A general council was held in Atholl’s heartland in Perth on 4 February 1437 and crucially for the conspirators, the king and queen had remained in the town at their lodgings in the Blackfriars monastery. In the evening of 20 February 1437 the king and queen were in their rooms and separated from most of their servants.Atholl’s grandson and heir Robert Stewart, the king’s chamberlain, allowed his co-conspirators—thought to number about thirty—led by Robert Graham and the Chambers brothers access to the building. James was alerted to the men’s presence giving the king time to hide in a sewer tunnel but with its exit recently blocked off to prevent tennis balls getting lost, James was trapped and killed.” – Wikipedia
Sources: Wikipedia, Royal Family History
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