King Slayers: Charles VIII Knocking on Death’s Door

220px-Charles_VIII_Ecole_Francaise_16th_century_Musee_de_Conde_Chantilly

He certainly does look “Affable”

It almost seems like it’s a prerequisite to be both a French King and histrionic in death. I mean, when hunting accidents, executions, and bizarre gangrene infected limbs make-up the brunt of the company, it seems a bit cliche to just up and die of natural causes.

Part of the reason I’ve been interested in focusing on this series is because I’m still baffled by the completely mundane or stupid way these Royal Dudes have gone so far. And that’s largely due to the idea that royalty is somehow above us, an assumption fostered by the Will of God in declaring a divine right to rule (or, of course, all the people in charge want you to believe). I have plans to get into the Divine Right of Kings or the Mandate of Heaven someday on this blog, but for the basics–as a concept, it was an idea that a King was granted earthly powers through God in the same way as religious prophets/leaders were. The idea existed in Western and Eastern civilizations and it wasn’t that hard to stomach since the tradition of a mortal being imbued with special powers was no stranger to mythology. The fact that you had some kind of godly figure sitting on the throne accepted by large swaths of the population isn’t that questionable either, since you could take a quick search on Twitter and learn that people will believe just about anything if it means their leader is infallible and preferential in some way…

800px-Karl_VIII._empfaengt_Franz_von_Paola_in_Amboise

See?!

But for this next king, Charles VIII, it’s really hard to reconcile how anyone could find this guy anything other than divinely stupid in the way in which he chose to leave his mortal coils. And as it was so lovingly put in indignant bafflement:

And so the greatest king of the world is dead to the most ugly and dirty place of his court. Admittedly, this filthy place was too unworthy of this great and illustrious king and his fortune.Pierre de Brantôme, 16th century French Historian [1]

If you’ve been following along with my blog, I’ve already turned the embarrassing way he met his end into a punchline. But for those who are new, come on in (but please, watch your head) and listen to the tale.

Charles VIII wasn’t exactly the first choice to take over France after his father’s death. The state of France was looking pretty solid up to this point. His father, Louis XI, had spent his reigning years as a cunning bastard, mopping up territory for France and putting an end to the Hundred Year’s War. To have a 13-year old take over in his place who was, by contemporary accounts, kinda dumb, all of the hard work of his reign could quickly come undone. Therefore, Louis XI wished for his daughter Anne to act as regent instead. [2]

Anne_Beaujeu

No kingdom is gonna mess with her!

Anne was kind of a badass. Since her father wasn’t exactly pleasant while conniving his plans, some of the kingdom was still a bit sore at his family and so Anne was forced to squish some open rebellion while in charge during what was known as the “Mad War”. She also positioned herself as an early Clarisse Renaldi (Queen of Genovia, come on you guys!) when it came to certain finesse in manners among the aristocracy, namely, that you should probably use a piece of fabric to wipe your nose instead of your hand. I’m also assuming she invented the princess wave but citation needed. All in all, France was in great shape under her leadership and if it wasn’t for her assistance in the Battle of Bosworth, Henry Tudor might not have managed to win England and Jonathan Ryes Meyers would have been out a job.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, however, and Charles VIII was finally ready to take his throne. After also taking his father-in-law’s wife Anne of Brittany as well (and pissing off those incestuous Hapsburg’s to boot), he soon sought to take Italian territories for added good measure and marched all up in the Papal States too. I detailed a bit of the politics of this in my post on the Borgia family, but needless to say, Charles VIII did find some comfort in overtaking Naples for awhile. This pissed off the Italian Papal States enough to league up like this was ancient Greece and Charles was some marauding Persian though, and after plenty of bloodshed, Charles was eventually forced to return back to France with nothing to show for it. Except a considerable amount of national debt, of course. [4]

Pietro_Perugino_painting_the_portrait_of_the_king_Charles_VIII_of_France_(circa_1496)

There’s a certain irony here that this painting is on a ceiling…

It was while residing at home and licking his wounds before undertaking another foray into campaigning in the Italian Peninsula, that Charles VIII’s story reaches its inevitable crescendo. Lumbering about in the throes of excitement over a game of proto-tennis out in his court, Charles VIII was so eager to catch the match that while running outside to go see it, he struck his head on the low archway of a gallery like a dolt. Possibly muttering an unfazed “herp derp”, he stumbled to the game as if he hadn’t just broke his skull and caused the internal bleeding that was about to give him a nasty stroke later that night. [3] Needless to say, he died an embarrassing death at the heir-less age of 27. Way to go, bruh.

Cause of Death: Tennis by Fatal Door Lintel

(Also, Charles VIII wasn’t even the first French King to die this way. Louis III did it first, chasing after a girl on horseback with the intent of raping her. Though you could say that Karma was the clear murderer in that scenario rather than lintels.)

Fact Check it, yo!

[1Germa-Romann, Hélène. “EXEMPLAIRE ET SINGULIÈRE, LA MORT DU ROI (DE CHARLES VIII À LOUIS XIII).” Bibliothèque D’Humanisme Et Renaissance, vol. 60, no. 3, 1998, pp. 673–706. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20678425.

[2] Joni M. Hand, Women, Manuscripts and Identity in Northern Europe, 1350-1550, (Ashgate Publishing, 2013), 24

[3] BÜHLER, CURT F., and ROBERT H. BOWERS. “A MEDICAL MANUSCRIPT PRESENTED TO CHARLES VIII OF FRANCE.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, vol. 11, no. 1, 1942, pp. 69–86. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/44440691.

[4Du Haut-Jussé, Barthélemy-A. Pocquet. “LES DÉBUTS DU GOUVERNEMENT DE CHARLES VIII EN BRETAGNE.” Bibliothèque De l’École Des Chartes, vol. 115, 1957, pp. 138–155. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/42959342.

[5Rorimer, James J. “The Glorification of Charles VIII.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 12, no. 10, 1954, pp. 281–299. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3257546.

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A Touch of Classical Wisdom VIII

Works and Days

That man is best who sees the truth himself;

Good too is he who listens to wise counsel.

But who is neither wise himself nor willing 

To ponder wisdom is not worth a straw. 

-Hesiod, Works & Days c. 700 BC [1]

Fact Check it, Yo!

[1] Hesiod, ‘Works & Days‘, 700 BC. Whittingham, C., Woodfall, G., Davison, T., Baldwin, R., Payne, T., & Robinson, G. (1810). English translations, from ancient and modern poems,. London

King Slayers – That Nosebleed Attila the Hun

 

Mulan Huns

Legit still terrified of the Huns from Mulan. They didn’t call them the “scourge of God” for nothing!

I’ve been unintentionally focused on Roman history lately so we’re going to go in on one of the few successful outside threats to the stability of the Roman Empire and the colossally embarrassing reason that saw to the collective sigh of relief by the general populous that had nothing to do with Legionaries but everything to do with a ridiculous amount of bloodshed. So if anyone has a problem with more Roman things, ya’ll can just steppe off, okay? >crickets< Hunny, that was a joke.

If you’re like me, you’ve grown up knowing that the Huns were terrible menaces that could only be defeated by being sung into a man by Donny Osmond. Perhaps because there was a huge wall protecting China named Fa Mulan, the Huns decided the gettin’ was good somewhere else and started off a chain reaction of marauding nomadic assholery by descending upon the Roman Empire in its last legs of life in 4th & 5th century AD. The Romans didn’t know what was happening, or where these demonic barbarians came from–it probably didn’t help that other bands of groups joined in on the fun including the Goths, Alans, Scythians, and anyone else who could rock a ferocious blood-soaked beard. When the Huns and their warband associates began hammering away at Roman territory, the empire found itself stretched thin without a large enough force to defend against attacks along its borders. Rome capitulated some territory and even employed various groups of them as mercenaries to help defend against the Zerg Rush of barbarians. All in all, it seemed a confusing mess of splintered groups with different leaders fighting each other back and forth as long as everyone was well fed and paid while the Roman emperors nervously wringed their hands hoping nobody would depose them since they had been dropping like flies faster than a Hogwarts Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at this point. [1]

Leoattila-Raphael

Attila the Hun meeting Pope Leo I and also probably demanding the papacy too because why not.

It wasn’t until Attila that the Huns became a unified empire. Most historians assume he murdered the crap out of his brother Bleda before taking the reigns and charging all over the eastern half of the Roman empire in an assault that horse-whipped the once mighty Rome into paying off the Huns with an annual tribute of 2100 pounds of gold to let up a little bit, geez Louise. [2]

This wasn’t nearly enough for the insatiable Atilla, however, when Honoria, the sister of the Western Roman Emperor, sent him the Classical equivalent to a booty text in the form of a ring and offer of betrothal, and Atilla demanded half of the empire as his dowry proving he was pretty ballsy, if nothing else. He used the opportunity to justify an invasion, sacking and razing the roof all over the place. [3(Somebody remind me to do a write up of Honoria some day because she was pretty wild herself)

Attila

Swoon daddy OG

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out with Honoria, and Attila the Hun eventually took another wife culminating in a raging night of drunken revelry in celebration. And like George R.R. Martin himself wrote it, it was this night that Attila the Hun met his end.

He had given himself up to excessive joy at his wedding, and as he lay on his back, heavy with wine and sleep, a rush of superfluous blood, which would ordinarily have flowed from his nose, streamed in deadly course down his throat and killed him, since it was hindered in the usual passages. Thus did drunkenness put a disgraceful end to a king renowned in war.

Jordanes, the Gothic History [4]

A nosebleed?! I suppose, if you’re a subscriber to anime tropes being a thing that actually happens in real-life, perhaps Atilla was a bit too pleased to see his new wife. Most probably, something more akin to a hemorrhage caused by internal bleeding due to excessive drinking was the cause, but I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. 

Naturally, the Huns were super upset by this sudden death, and after they ripped out their hair and clawed at their faces, they went to work burying their great king in his riches and killing everyone who helped because why stop being dramatic now. This tactic seemed to work, however, because we still have no idea where he is today. [4]

It wasn’t long after Attila’s death that the Hunnic Empire collapsed. Turns out, it’s pretty tough to keep a bunch of bloodthirsty warriors in line. And Rome didn’t have that long to neener neener about it either. On September 4th, 476 AD, barely 25 years later, a different barbarian king, Odoacer, deposed the last Roman Emperor and declared himself king of Italy, effectively ending the western half of the empire.

Cole_Thomas_The_Course_of_Empire_Destruction_1836

Welp.

 

Cause of Death: giphy

 

Fact Check it, yo!

Secondary:

[1] Heather, P. (1995). The Huns and the End of the Roman Empire in Western Europe. The English Historical Review, 110(435), 4-41. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/573374

[3] Bury, J. (1919). Justa Grata Honoria. The Journal of Roman Studies, 9, 1-13. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/295986

Primary source:

[2] Priscus, Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum. Priscus at the Court of Attila. Retrieved from: http://faculty.georgetown.edu/jod/texts/priscus.html

 

[4] Jordanes, The Gothic History Retrieved from: https://archive.org/stream/gothichistoryofj00jorduoft/gothichistoryofj00jorduoft_djvu.txt

King Slayers – King Henry I of England Loves Pie

HenryI

My perfect date is March 14th. It’s not too hot and not too cold, all you need is a little pie.

 

Let me preface this by saying, I’m related to this buffoon. And if you say that this explains a lot, how dare you! * My 29th great-grandfather Henry I of England was the fourth son of great grand pappy William the Conqueror who most folks might remember from European history as the man who made Britain by stealing it away from those pesky Anglo-Saxons who were having a ball of a time with Vikings and their descendants (William among them) for the past 500 or so years.

If you’re wondering how a 4th son in the royal line managed to become King, that’d be because he had a few brothers to get through first. After the death of their father William, the title of the kingship passed to his third son, William II. His eldest son Robert Curthose was consistently a rebellious little prick and was originally supposed to be disinherited altogether, but William the Conqueror bequeathed him the Duchy of Normandy instead. It couldn’t pass to the second son Richard, who died in a hunting accident (This happens a lot. Maybe royalty shouldn’t hunt so much). And after everything had been divvied up, the will basically read “And none for Gretchen Weiners, bye!” and Henry I was left with nothing.

Meanwhile, Robert’s younger brothers, William and
Henry, had taken umbrage at his pretensions and at the rash
demands which he had made upon their father, and they were
strongly supporting the king against him. While in this frame
of mind they paid Robert a visit at his lodgings. Going into an
upper room, they began dicing ‘ as soldiers will ‘; and presently
doubtless after there had been drinking they started a row
and threw down water upon their host and his companions who
were on the floor below. Robert was not unnaturally enraged at
this insult, and with the support of his comrades he rushed in
upon the offenders, and a wild scuffle ensued, which was only
terminated by the timely arrival of the king, who, upon hearing
the clamor, came in haste from his lodgings and put a stop to the
quarrel by his royal presence. [1]

Charles Wendell David, Robert Curthose: Duke of Normany on the prank that caused Robert’s first rebellion. Basically, he had a whole chamber pot of water dumped on his head by his younger brothers and wasn’t having any of it going forward.

Most likely fuming at the slight and ostensibly aware that his older brothers now had titles and armies over him, Henry I purchased a swath of land and began building himself forces to aid him in the coming wars against his brothers over the Kingship. Especially now that daddy was out of the way and unavailable to break-up their quarreling.

Years of infighting ensued until Henry I emerged victorious over his brothers. Henry I beat Robert in battle and kept him locked up in perpetuity and as for the short-lived King William II, he perished in another one of those “accidental” hunting incidents.

Robert Curthose Defeated

Psst. Robert, I have a dungeon cell ready for you with 500 chamber pots. Get it? Get it?! They’re your favorite!

Once becoming king, Henry I spent most of his 35 year reign doing a bang up job at it, extending the reach of England, strengthening the government’s role in judiciary quibbles, and other awesome Kingly things. Except for the job of banging out an heir, apparently.

He did have one son, William the Aetheling and heir apparent, who was 17 and had been recently married, all the makings of a soon to be king naturally. Except, William and a large number of other nobles (around 200) decided to have a beach party rager not unlike an episode of Laguna Beach. Drunk out of their minds, they boarded The White Ship with the intent of crossing the English Channel, which the heavily inebriated captain suggested they could do well before the King did if they kicked it into high gear, and soon they were off sailing at high speed, having waved off priests who had intended to bless their safe passing because what could possibly go wrong on a pleasant night of drunken revelry such as this? The White Ship shattered upon a rock at the mouth of the harbor moments later, sinking Henry I’s future prospects with it. [2]

White Ship

Kids Making Good Decisions since 1120 AD!

Henry I was kind of screwed at this point. He spent the next 10+ years trying to sire a new heir to no avail and plan out a contingency plan for his legacy (which, lol, this is British history we all know how well that will turn out). We can only imagine that the happiest times of his life then at this point, was probably related to dinner time. Medieval meals were pretty much only something to write home about if you were part of the aristocracy, and that’d be for either good or bad reasons. Because for every sugar sculpture, there was probably a batshit insane eel pie to go along with it. Which just so happened to be Henry I’s favorite dish. (WHY ARE MY BLOOD RELATIONS SO DISGUSTING)

laynzmc

On a November night in 1135, Henry I requested copious amounts of lamprey (eeeeel) pie, which is basically this disgusting sounding concoction of crusty baked eel fish things in a wine and spice syrup and excuse me, I’m gagging. Apparently, he ate so many of these nasty things that he fell incredibly ill. Within days, the king had succumbed to what the chronicles called a “surfeit of Lampreys”. Whatever the hell truly caused his death (some modern scholars contend the culprit to certainly be food poisoning at the least) [3], his corpse was so wretched following his death, that “the body was cut all over with knives and copiously sprinkled with salt and wrapped in oxhides to stop the strong pervasive stench, which was already causing the deaths of those who watched over it.” [2] Basically, for the love of all that is right and holy, do not put pineapple on your pizza and DO NOT EAT EEL PIES.

 

Cause of Death: BEING DISGUSTING

 

 

Fact check it, yo!

[1] David, C. W. (1920). Robert Curthose, duke of Normandy, by Charles Wendell David, .. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

[2] Jones, D. (2014). The Plantagenets: the warrior kings and queens who made England. New York: Penguin Books.

[3] Crofton, I. (2014). A Curious History of Food and Drink. New York: Quercus.

*  On my relation, I did some extensive genealogy research with Ancestry.com on my mother’s French side and was able to track our family back to the Plantagenet’s by way of the Windsor line. I claim a slew of Viking kings, William the Conqueror, Henry I, and his daughter Empress Matilda as direct descendants. We start to deviate from there off with Matilda’s son William Plantagenet’s daughter marrying a Windsor. That line breaks somewhere in the 16th century and we start getting a bit more normal with each generation. But hey, if anyone is in touch with William and Harry, I’d be amenable to a wedding invitation! Welcome to the family, Meghan!

King Slayers – Emperor Caracalla and the Case of the Full Bladder

Emperor Caracalla

Seriously, bruh? Couldn’t wait until I was finished?!

 

Emperor Caracalla falls among a long line of dickish Roman Emperors who, if anyone recalls his name at all, will be forever remembered in infamy for good ol’ fashioned tyranny and the pathetic way in which he met his end.

But this same emperor made many mistakes because of the obstinacy with which he clung to his own opinions; for he wished not only to know everything but to be the only one to know anything, and he desired not only to have all power but to be the only one to have power. Hench he asked no one’s advice and was jealous of those who had any useful knowledge. He never loved anyone, but he hated all who excelled in anything, most of all those whom he pretended to love most; and he destroyed many of them in one way or another. [1]

-Cassisus Dio. On Caracalla but without the context, could easily be confused for a different modern leader of today.

Following the reign of his father Septimius Severus, the dude who JK Rowling probably named Snape after, Caracalla began a joint rule with his brother Geta in 211 AD until he had him murdered because he just didn’t like to share or settle differences in a reasonable manner because what Roman Emperor needs to possess sound judgment? But even before this moment, Caracalla had already started his laundry list of assholery that began with the exile and murder of his wife, whom sources aren’t entirely sure why he hated so much (and keep in mind divorce in Rome at this time was quite common), and her father for being responsible for half of her gene pool. [2] To make matters worse, after Caracalla had his younger brother gutted in the arms of their own mother, he went on to order a damnatio memoriae which attempted to erase his name and memory from public record and history. Anyone who had a problem with the murder or even spoke Geta’s name out loud was rounded up and murdered. All in all, an estimated 20,000 people were killed over an affair that could have probably been solved with a nice family chat over wine. [3] So clearly, Caracalla was a fun guy to be around.

When the Egyptian population was touched by Caracalla’s heavy handed politics, they rebelled by their sense of humor of making Caracalla the object of their satire. Jokes and puns were devised on his account, to which Caracalla was not a ready audience… [3]

Robert Morgan, History of the Coptic Orthodox People and the Church of Egypt.

(In response, Caracalla tricked the City of Alexandria into a display of extended respect by promising to pick from the city’s youth to back fill the employ of his legions. When the candidates had eagerly gathered to await their choosing, Caracalla ordered his soldiers to slaughter the entire crowd.)

Baths of Caracalla

I wonder how many people peed in these.

Not everything he did was entirely shitty, however. He built baths in Rome which are essentially the ancient equivalent of a YMCA, paid his military handsomely, and issued the edict of Constitutio Antoniniana which gave all freed men living in the borders of the empire Roman citizenship. [4] There were some exceptions of course, but this was a big deal because at this time Rome was at the height of its expanse, with only a small percentage of the population enjoying all of the benefits of being a true Roman, which included protection from being crucified as capital punishment.

 

Roman Empire 117AD

This is only one hundred years before Caracalla. That’s a whole lot of taxes.

But like all things in Carcalla’s life, when he was spurned, his immediate response was to kill things. So when he offered a marriage alliance between himself and the daughter of a Parthian king in an attempt to gain more territory for Rome but was rejected, he responded by launching a military campaign to take it by force with bloodshed. [1]

It was on one of these campaigns when Caracalla couldn’t resist the urge to urinate. Stopping off the side of the road to relieve himself, a disgruntled soldier unhappy by his lack of promotion approached him unnoticed. Apparently not even giving the emperor a chance to finish, the soldier stabbed Caracalla in the back shoulder until he fell dead, but hopefully not on his newly relinquished stream. [5]

Cause of Death: Inopportune bathroom break

 

Fact Check it, yo!

 

[1] Cassius Dio, Roman History; Epitome of Book LXVIII. Via URL: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cassius_Dio/78*.html

[2] Dorothy King’s PhDiva. (n.d.). Retrieved January 05, 2018, from http://phdiva.blogspot.com/2011/11/damnatio-memoriae-geta.html

[3] MORGAN, R. (2016). HISTORY OF THE COPTIC ORTHODOX PEOPLE AND THE CHURCH OF EGYPT. S.l.: FRIESENPRESS. URL: Google Books

[4] Benario, H. (1954). The Dediticii of the Constitutio Antoniniana. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, 85, 188-196. URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/283475?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

[5] Herodian, History of the Roman Emperor Since the Death of Marcus Aurelius; Murder of Caracalla. Via URL: http://www.livius.org/sources/content/herodian-s-roman-history/herodian-4.13/?

King Slayers

when-he-flashes-genuine-smile

The OG “Kingslayer”

I have always been fascinated by the powerful and the famous, the elites of the world that seem so far above the rest of us peons and yet are still vulnerable to mortal causality. Kings and queens throughout history have sometimes been thought divine, their rule designated by Gods or scripture, or have been so well respected by their subjects, they’ve been idolized and loved from afar, untouchable by the mere conflicts of men.

So who would dare slay a King?

This series will explore my favorite ends to some of histories most famous rulers, the Kings and Queens who’ve shaped history and the unfortunate bookends that finished off their legacy. Some of them have died valiantly in combat, some have been betrayed by their closest allies. And some, even found creative (and embarrassing) ways to meet their ends. Nosebleeds, anyone?

And yes, I still intend on exploring history’s incestuous couplings. But since HBO just announced that Game of Thrones will officially be returning some time in 2019, I figure I have some time.

I’ll be updating this post with links to new entries, so bookmark this one if you want a master list for easy access!

 

Kings Who Met Embarrassing Ends

Emperor Caracalla

Henry I of England

Attila the Hun