Richard III’s body is brought back to Leicester. Artwork by Victor Ambrus
We all know the grim, but glorious way poor Richard met his death, his body maltreated at the callous behest of Henry Tudor – who was destined to die in his own bed. He isn’t listed in the link below, but his was not an easy death.
A lot of other monarchs died wretchedly too, as you’ll read – be warned though, Richard is reckoned guilty of all the usual ‘crimes’.
What about James IV, whose remains remain lost to this day? And, on the Continent, Charles the Bold, whose body could only be recognized by his long fingernails?
Charles the Bold wasn’t a king, though, but a Duke, so he wouldn’t fit the title, unless they changed it to “Monarchs who died a grisly death” or “Rulers who died a grisly death”.
There are, of course, many more monarchs that could be listed. Going further back into the history of England, when it wasn’t yet England, there’s Edward the Martyr , and there’s a bunch of other kings who died in battle (including Duncan I of Scotland, who was notably NOT murdered in his sleep as in Shakespeare, and Macbeth),,,
And there’s plenty more once you go outside of the British Isles. Including the most obvious/infamous cases such as as King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette’s executions by guillotine. In the medieval period, off the top of my head, Henri II died of a wound gotten in an accident during a joust at a tournament, and Henri III and Henri IV were both assassinated by religious fanatics (while the brothers and predecessors of Henri III, Francois II and Charles IX, both died very young of an illness).
In Russian history, there’s the infamous Dmitriy I, aka “Self-proclaimed Dmitriy” or “False Dmitriy”, who managed to became Emperor with Polish help, claiming to be the long-lost son of Ivan the Terrible (who was rumored to have been assassinated as a child by also rather infamous Boris Godunov), but was overthrown after just a few months, and killed publicly after an unsuccessful escape, at age 23. Other assassinated Russian Emperors include Peter III (Catherine the Great’s husband), Alexander II and, of course, Nicholas II and his entire family.
Speaking of Peter III, it was for a while, after his death, popular for people to claim to be him, even if they looked nothing like him: the leader of a Cossack rebellion Yemelyan Pugachev claimed to be him, and there was also an adventurer who managed to become the ruler of Montenegro in late 18th century by at first pretending to be Russian Emperor Peter III. In his case, most people quickly realized he had nothing to do with Peter, but just didn’t care. He’s known as “Emperor” Scepan Mali/Stephen the Little (since apparently Stefan was his real name), and was pretty popular and successful, but was assassinated by his barber in a plot most likely engineered by Ottoman Turks.
My own country has had some very notable assassinations of monarchs in the modern period – the assassination of King Alexander I of Serbia, the last king of the Obrenovic dynasty, and his wife Queen Draga, in May 1903, and the assassination of King Alexander I of Yugoslavia in Marseille in 1934, as well as the assassination of Prince Mihailo Obrenovic (the ruler of Serbia, that was before it became a kingdom) in 1868. There weren’t that many violent deaths of Serbian monarchs in the medieval period, which is really surprising considering the fact that monarchs from the Nemanjic dynasty (12th-14th century) constantly battled for the throne and overthrew each other – the one exception was King Stefan “Decanski”, who was overthrown and imprisoned by his own son, King and later Emperor Stefan Dushan “the Mighty”, and then strangled in prison. Though there has also been a lot of speculation that Dushan himself, after 15 years of highly successful rule, may have been poisoned, as he died very unexpectedly at age 47, just as he was planning to ally with the Pope and prepare a crusade against the increasingly more powerful Ottoman Turkish Empire.
There are probably many more murdered monarchs I can’t think of.
BTW, am I the only one who thinks that the death of Richard III wasn’t particularly “grisly” or terrible, but, in a way, pretty great? I mean, it’s bad to die young and violently, instead of old and in your sleep, after a long and fruitful life and having achieved all you wanted, but if you have to die young and violently, I’d definitely take a heroic death in battle, showing courage and boldness and fighting your enemies to the end, over an execution, an assassination you didn’t see coming, or a stupid death like that of Charles VIII of France (he hit his head on a door after playing tennis), let alone one of the genuinely horrible and gruesome executions/murders. He probably didn’t even have much time to feel pain or despair (unlike people who await an execution) as he was fighting to the end, surrounded by enemies, under adrenaline, and got killed by a blow to the head. It’s even glorious, as much as a death can be – even his enemies had to admire him for it.
This is an old article, BTW – I scrolled down to the comments and saw my own comment posted in April 2015. This is what I wrote:
“Well, a blade to the buttocks hardly counts as a way to die, when you are already dead. I’m pretty sure he didn’t care what they did to his body at this point, due to, you know, being very dead!
As for Henry VI, you mention that some “historians” say Richard murdered him as if it’s a likely fact, rather than utter bollocks, and part of Tudor propaganda (you know that is what More’s unpublished history was, don’t you?) to basically blame everything that happened during Wars of the Roses on Richard III, especially everything his elder brother Edward IV was responsible for as king (what with Edward being direct ancestor of the Tudor dynasty, and Richard being the guy Henry VII killed to win the throne). There is no evidence to link Richard specifically to Henry’s death, nothing in the contemporary sources, and the idea that king Edward didn’t have any henchmen to give the task to other than his 19-year old brother strikes me as pretty odd and unlikely. “
Yes, I’ve always heard that William I died from an ‘internal rupture’ caused by falling against his saddle-horn. Might not have been ‘grisly’ but was surely painful!
I agree about the ‘glory’ of Richard’s final moments. He was magnificent, right to the end. Henry Tudor was incapable of such valour.