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An Honest Bed: The Scene of Life and Death in Late Medieval England.


Death bed of Richard Whittington…London 1442-1443.


A link to an interesting article covering all things about the medieval bed including childbed, deathbed and much, much  more …



It’s a wonder anyone survived medieval battles….!


The title above says it all. Go to this article and see what I mean. With such weapons being wielded on all sides, how on earth did anything—man or horse—emerge still standing? I don’t think we should be in any doubt at all that by going to battle, all men knew they were putting their lives at a very real risk indeed.

Unless, like Henry VII, they always skulked around at the back, well protected (Bosworth), or indeed arrived too late to take part anyway (Stoke Field or Blackheath). There was nothing brave about him.


UPDATED POST ON A Medieval Potpourri


Henry VII on his deathbed : Wriothesley’s Heraldic Collection Vol 1 Book of Funerals.



Unknown artist’s impression of Tudor being crowned in the aftermath of Bosworth..

It must have seemed surreal to him as he wandered through the dead kings apartments at Westminster that had now, overnight, become his.



Bust of Henry VII : National Portrait Gallery

He had some worrying times with bothersome pretenders to the throne popping up with annoying regularity as well as various uprisings. Whether he was plagued by his conscience we do not  know although Margaret was prone to bursts of weeping at times when she should have been happy which must have been very tedious  for those around her.

However moving on from that , what actually did see Henry off?     His health seems to have gone into a decline when he reached his 30s.   His eyes began to trouble him and he tried various eye lotions and eye  baths  made of fennel water,  rosewater and celandine ” to make bright the sight” but to no avail ..his teeth were a source of trouble with Polydore Vergil describing him as having ‘teeth few, poor and blackish’ (1).  His eye problems must have caused him dismay as he like nothing more than to pour over his account books to see where the pennies were going and how much he was amassing. He was predeceased by his wife, whom it is said he was fond of, and four children including his oldest son and  heir,  Arthur,  but fortunately for him,  if not the country and the Roman Catholic Church he had a surviving spare.


Henry VII death mask: Westminster Abbey


In his interesting book, The Death of Kings, Clifford Brewer writes   “Henry had developed a chronic cough which was particularly severe in springtime.  The  condition became progressively more severe and associated with loss of weight and a general wasting . In 1507 and 1508  Henry’s spring cough become more troublesome.  He  is described as having become troubled with a tissic,  or cough,  he also suffered from mild gout.  In his Life of Henry the VII , Bacon writes ‘ in the two and 20th year of his reign in 1507 he began to be troubled with a gout but the defluxation  taking also unto his breast wasted his lungs so that thrice in a year in a kind of return and especially in the spring he had great fits and labours of the tissick’.   This suggests that Henry suffered from chronic fibroid phthisis ( chronic tuberculosis infection)  which became more and more active with  resultant wasting and debility.  This  is found in several of the members of the Tudor line…Henry made a great effort to attend divine service on Easter Day 1509 but he was exhausted and retired to his palace at Richmond where he died on 21 April  from chronic pulmonary tuberculosis (2)”




According to Holinshed Chronicle “….he was so wasted with his long malady that nature could no longer  sustain his life and so he departed out of this world the two and 20th of April’.

Thomas Penn in his biography of Henry, The Winter King, describes Henry as ‘unable to eat and struggling for breath,  Henry’s mind was fixated on the hereafter …on Easter Sunday 8th April,  emaciated and in intense pain he staggered into his privy closet, where he dropped to his knees and crawled  to receive the sacrament… later as Henry lay amid mounds of pillows,  cushions and bolsters,  throat rattling,  gasping for breath,  he mumbled again and again that  ‘ if it please God to send him life they should find him a very changed man’.  Henry  made an exemplary  death,  eyes fixed intensely on the crucifix held out before him,  lifting his head up feebly  towards it,  reaching out and enfolding in his thin arms,  kissing it fervently,  beating it repeatedly upon his chest.   Fisher said that Henry’s promises took a very specific form.  If he lived, Henry promised a true reformation of all them that were officers and ministers of his laws (3)’.  However,  as they say , man makes plans and the gods laugh and Henry did not survive to bring about the changes he  was so eager on his death bed to make.  He had left it too late.


Richmond Palace, Wynguerde c.1558-62 

And so Henry Tudor shuffled off this mortal coil..the King is dead, long live the King..and so begun the reign of his son..Henry VIII..and that dear reader is another story.





  1. The Death of Kings, p110 Clifford Brewer.
  2. ibid p110.111
  3. Winter King Thomas Penn p339



UPDATED POST AT A Medieval Potpourri


Henry VIII, known as the Hamilton Portrait and once owned by the Duke of Hamilton, this portrait used to be at  Holyroodhouse.  Philip Mould.

The deaths of all three Tudor kings were protracted and wretched.  Whether this was down to Karma, bad luck (or good luck depending on what way you look at it) or just the lamentable medical treatments available at the time,  I know not.  Perhaps a combination of all three.  But I want to concentrate here on the death of Henry VIII.



‘The Death of Kings’ by Clifford Brewer T.D. F.R.C.S is an interesting read and covers the death of Henry in detail.   The title is self explanatory, the book being a ‘medical history of the Kings and Queens of England’.   I have drawn heavily on the book for the information I quote here concerning Henry VIII, who by strange coincidence died on the 28th January being the date on which his father Henry Tudor was born.

Henry, long since grown corpulent, was becoming a burden to himself and of late lame by reason of a violent ulcer in his leg, the inflammation whereof cast him into a lingering fever, which little by little decayed his spirits.  He at length begun to feel the inevitable necessity of death. Goodwin Annales of England.

Henry’s symptoms are too numerous to detail here and death must have come as somewhat of a relief to him after much suffering.  The actual cause of death is still debated as is did he suffer from syphilis.  Brewer points out there is no proof either way and that although , if he had,  it could explain some of the ‘happenings in his reign’ there are points which contradict this.  For example there is no evidence that his long term mistress Bessie Blount suffered from syphilis which she surely would have contracted from him (neither did  their son Henry Fitzroy ever show signs of congenital syphilis).      The same can be said of Mary Boleyn or any of his wives.


This is believed to be a bust of Henry as a child.  What a mischievous little chap he was, the little stinker…..

He is recorded as having suffered from a bout of malaria with recurrences throughout his life although these did not seem to incapacitate him too much.  Indeed he seems to have enjoyed  robust health engaging in ‘strenuous exercise and indulged in many jousts and tournaments both on foot and on horse. He did how ever have two lucky escapes both of which could have been fatal.  One was a jousting accident where his brother-in-law, the Duke  Suffolk’s lance shattered his helm and he was very lucky not to be blinded or even killed’.  Then in 1525 whilst  trying  to vault a very wide ditch using a pole, the pole broke and he was thrown headfirst into the mud where,   unable either to get up or even breath,  his life was  saved by a footman.  .


Henry in his prime…a portrait by Joos van Cleve c1530-1535

This jousting injury might account for the belated development of several symptoms.   Henry was to alter in appearance and put on a considerable amount of  weight,  ‘his face become moonlike,  burying his small eyes in a puffy face and accentuating  his small mouth’.  After the execution of Anne Boleyn,  Henry became even more prone to fits of temper and instability.  His  great increase in weight made it difficult for him to take exercise. Henry also developed an ulcer on his leg and  Brewer speculates that this ulcer,  which was very offensive,  ‘and a trial to his attendants’  could have been either a varicose ulcer or the result of an injury received whilst jousting which damaged the bone leading to osteitis.   This could have led to further complications – amyloid disease in which a waxy  material is laid down in the liver, kidneys and elsewhere.  Not a pretty picture.  Poor Henry.

Henry,  as he got older,  became subject of violent attacks of temper and periods of loss of memory.   On leaving London on one occasion he ordered all the prisoners in Tower to be executed.   His character become more and more unstable and by 1546 Henry had become  grossly overweight,  his legs so swollen,  due to severe oedema,  that he was unable to walk and he was moved from place to place by means of lifting apparatus.


Henry towards the end of his life showing the  abnormality on the side of his nose which might indicate a gamma that had healed with Cornelis Metsys line engraving 1545.

‘Towards the end of January 1547 he begun to suffer from periods of partial unconsciousness alternating with periods of alertness.  He was probably passing into a uraemia coma.  Realising he was dying he sent for  Cranmer but by he time he arrived he had lost the ability to speak.  Grasping Cranmer’s hand in his,  he pressed it when asked if he  repented his sins.    This was taken as Henry’s repentance and he ‘died in grace’ ‘ …ummm I don’t think it quite works like that!  .  However, his huge and offensive body was transferred, with some difficulty,  into his coffin.  He was then taken to Windsor to be laid to rest beside Jane Seymour.  However that is not the end of the story for it is said that his coffin burst a leak and the church was filled with a ‘most obnoxious odour’.  And so Henry passed ignobly from this life and  into history and the short reign of his son Edward Vl commenced.    As it transpired Edward’s death was to be perhaps  even more awful that that of his father.   But that dear reader is another story.


Henry’s coffin in the vault he shares with Jane Seymour and King Charles I, St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

Here is also a link to a an interesting video.

William the B … er, Conqueror

This piece, by Marc Morris in History Extra, describes the events that followed the previous usurpation from France. A lot more violent, indeed, than the early reign of the first “Tudor”, although his son and grandchildren changed that ..The Death of Harold at the Battle of Hastings, 1066.

Malmsey Wine – A Poem

Pic of a glass of Malmsey Wine


Don’t cry my son, it’s just a graze
I know what can bring you cheer
You’ll love the taste, so sweet, so fine
Better than beer – Malmsey wine
Malmsey wine, fine and sweet
Malmsey wine, you I seek
Malmsey wine, heal the pain
Malmsey wine: oblivion
I know you’re sad, your wife is dead
What can I do to help?
A glimpse of heaven, taste divine
To give you comfort, Malmsey wine
Malmsey wine, fine and sweet
Malmsey wine, you I seek
Malmsey wine, heal the pain
Malmsey wine: oblivion
Your anger is just, life so unfair
You go too far, you must beware
A new use now they will find
A path to death, Malmsey wine
Malmsey wine, fine and sweet
Malmsey wine, you I seek
Malmsey wine, heal the pain
Malmsey wine: oblivion





Image: By inspector_81 (originally posted to Flickr as IMG_1381) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Signs of the Times (2)

As a follow-up from my previous post about Richard’s handwriting, I thought I might consider the writing of a few others of his time period. Please bear in mind again, that this is just for fun and I am not a professional handwriting analyst. Also, there are only a few examples of the handwriting of some of these people that I was able to find (if you have access to any others, please let me know).

Firstly, let us consider the writing of the King and Queen for most of Richard’s life: Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.

Ed IV sigHere is Edward’s signature, when he was the Earl of March, so he must have been younger than eighteen. Just look at the HUGE lower zone, which represents physical material and sexual needs and appetites. Need I say more? OK, then! It indicates an inability to stay within the sexual boundaries of his times. This is also indicated by the phallic symbols present in the ends of the letters ‘M’ and ‘h’. I’m not sure what the dots next to the ‘M’ mean, but the curved shape under the ‘r’ and ‘c’ makes me think he was a ‘boob’ man! Also, note the proliferation of ‘X’s, which could mean a preoccupation or concern about death, which most people must have had in those days. The little ‘logo’ type thingy after the name puts me in mind of a musical stave, which might suggest a love of music. The signature is bold and clear, showing confidence and possibly arrogance and leans to the right which shows sociability and openness.

Here is one of his later signatures with a bit of other handwriting which I have been advised reads ‘votre (abbreviated) bon cousin’. Anyway, you can see that his lower zone overlaps the line underneath, which shows his lack of keeping within the normal bounds when it comes to sex. However, the lower curl of the ‘y’s are not that well defined. I’m not sure how old he was when he wrote this, but his libido looks to be less than before. The slope of the writing is erratic, suggesting a mercurial nature and the communication letters are also erratic, some carefully rounded and closed and others open – a lot of the letters are not clearly formed, showing deceit and hiding aspects of oneself. Death is still present in the ‘E’ and the ‘IV’

 Edward IV sig

Here are some abbreviated signatures of Edward, representing E R (for Edwardus Rex). The first one is interesting because of the heart shape underneath the first letter – was he in love when he wrote this one? Or it could also be seen as a shield or coat of arms which may have been his preoccupation then.

In the second example, see how his signature is practically one big ‘X’ and is sloping backwards. Crossing through your own signature is a sign of despair. He seems to have been having a bout of depression at this time and the backwards sloping letters show he wants to be left alone to work it out. The phallic symbols are still there though!

Compare it with the third one. Look how the letters are upright and flowing, much less angular and more elegant. This suggests a high intellectual capacity (the prominent upper zone), great self-control (upright letters) and artistic nature with a gentle side (the flowing elegant style). The third one is Richard’s. You can see an ‘x’ there too, but it integrates into the whole more smoothly and doesn’t look like a crossing out. Death was ever-present in those times. A second interpretation of the proliferation of ‘x’s in general could be the influence of religion in Mediaeval times. 


Ed IV sig


Ed IV sig


Richard III sig

Elizabeth’s signature is interesting. There is a much reduced upper zone, suggesting she was not very intellectual. Even the ‘e’ is not capitalised reducing it to a middle zone letter, and see the ‘t’ and ‘b’ do not reach any further than the middle zone. So she has an over-emphasised middle zone. This shows a concern with everyday things, the here and now, including material possessions, nice clothes, jewels, outward appearance. She is emotionally focused on herself. However, she does also have quite a libido – see the phallic symbols? She crosses boundaries when it comes to sex and has strong sexual desires. And I don’t know about you, but when I look at that twiddly underline with the signature, it looks like a crown to me!

.Eliz Woodville sig

Finally let us consider the signature of George, Duke of Clarence. I have found two samples – unfortunately I do not know when they were written:


Clarence sig


Clarence sigYou can see that number one is much more angular and spiky than number two. The sharp angles suggest anger or agitation, whereas George was much calmer and more peaceful when he wrote number two. Both signatures are quite legible which shows that he was not deceptive – he may have changed sides a few times, but he didn’t keep it secret for long, he openly showed his hand. He could be a good communicator when he wanted to be. Like Elizabeth’s signature George’s middle zone is the most prominent and shows his preoccupation with himself and his immediate needs, his material possessions and outward show. He likes to be the centre of attention. There are no lower zone letters but the upper zone ones are quite well formed which suggests he was quite clever also. They tend to lean towards the right, which shows he lets his emotions show.

I hope you enjoyed this. Please give your comments or your own suggestions for interpretations below and I will do another post on some other WOTR characters in a while.

More Cairo antics

Another example:

Someone wrote to suggest that Richard’s final charge at “Tudor”, in which he killed Mr. William Brandon (“Tudor”‘s standard bearer) and unhorsed Sir John Cheney, was a sign of cowardice. Never mind that thosee paid by the first two “Tudors” to lie about him admitted that the King died “fighting manfully” ….. “in the thickest press of his enemies”. This has to be the most hilarious case of denialism so far.

Unless, of course, you know differently.

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