FUN FACT: turns out that this is the 40th post to Plantagenet Lions, time flies when you’re ranting about long dead kings right?
Welcome ghoulish readers his week I’ll be taking a break from various holiday exploits to latch onto the dying trend that is-you guessed it-Halloween!
*Insert creepy organ music here*
Annoyingly enough, Past Saskia already covered the most haunted places in Britain (http://wp.me/p3WmQN-3L) so I’ve had to rack my (troubled) brain for another spooky idea to celebrate a holiday that I’m pretty certain is only really popular in the UK and the USA. After a whole five minutes of thinking/drinking tea inspiration finally struck and today I’m going to examine the best (worst) royal deaths. We Brits have had exploding kings, dead on the toilet kings, poisoned would be kings and even unfortunate *childish giggle* bottom related deaths. I’ll be covering murders, mishaps and general unpleasantness, some of which have led to hauntings others which haven’t. So sit back, check under the bed and get ready for yet another blog list!
1) An Explosive End: William I 1087
Big Billy I is pretty famous, in Ron Burgundy’s words he’s “kinda a big deal.” As the ‘titled’ father of the English monarchy, commissioner of some Tapestry and all round sourpuss it’s no surprise that he’s the first king we learn about at school in England. However, there is one rather unfortunate factoid about William that we all seem to remember and one that led to a very undignified end. To put it simply William gets the nickname ‘Big Billy’ because he was *ahem* pretty fat. Chroniclers mention that William was a big boned and broad child but, in his older age William began to pack on the pounds…a rich medieval diet will do that to you TRUST me! So yes William had a little bit of weight problem but don’t ask me, ask William of Malmesbury of the C12 most influential historians:
‘He was of just stature, ordinary corpulence, fierce countenance; his forehead was bare of hair; of such great strength of arm that it was often a matter of surprise, that no one was able to draw his bow, which himself could bend when his horse was in full gallop; he was majestic whether sitting or standing, although the protuberance of his belly deformed his royal person’
In the autumn of 1087, while sacking a town William was thrown of his horse, sustaining severe injuries to his abdomen. Ironically the horse injured itself standing on ashes caused by a fire that William’s army started, scholars of the time marked this as an act of God, punishment for William’s cruelty. He died at the convent of St. Gervais in the Norman capital Rouen, where a dying William gathered two of his three sons William and Henry. The eldest son Robert Curthose remained in the French court, his inheritance tied up in Normandy. Bizarrely William did not make his eldest Robert king, that title fell to the second and favourite son-who I’ll be talking about later SPOILER-William, overwhelmed by guilt, William pledged his treasure to the poor and also to the churches in the hopes this would redeem him, Seems alright so far right? Well it’s after William’s death that things get a little *ahem* gross.
After his tragic death on the 9th September William was taken to the Abbaye aux Hommes in his favourite city of Caen in Lower Normandy. This is where everything goes wrong. Firstly the sepulchre (a variation on the old French/Latin word for what you and I would call a tomb ) was too short to hold the King’s body as the stone mason had been a little lazy with his measurements. That’s pretty embarrassing huh? Well it gets worse. William’s funeral was interrupted on several occasions one of which was a disposed knight who was rather obviously, not best pleased with the king’s avaricious nature. However the worst-and most famous-foul fact is what happened to William’s body as it was bought into the abbaye, those with a weak stomach should probably look away. To put it simply: William was so fat and the body in such bad condition that it exploded…to put it in greater detail I’ll hand you over to the chronicler Orderic Vitalis:
“The swollen bowels burst, and an intolerable stench assailed the nostrils of the by-standers and the whole crowd.”
Now this disaster is purely down to the lazy mason I mentioned earlier, not content with finding option B for William’s tomb, the remaining monks desperately tried to stuff the bloated corpse into the too small sepulchre leading to aforementioned explosion. Unfortunately for poor William, this is not where the grizzly story ends as despite being dead and buried, his tomb was not left alone. During the chaos that was France in the 1700s/the revolution the body of William I was dug up in a protest against the French establishment, and in the earlier Wars of Religion his bones were scattered throughout Caen, tragically, all that remains of the original body is a thigh bone.
2) Family Values: William II 1100
William ‘Rufus’ II is best known for his red hair, bad temper and of course, his eventful and suspect death. Here on Plantagenet Lions I don’t like to point fingers with regards to unsolved murders but for this post I’m going to make an exception on several occasions, purists be damned. William II was William I’s favourite son for some unknown reason as he hasn’t got the best reputations. This could be and probably is down to how popular his successor Henry I was amongst the English. Henry I was not William’s son but his younger brother who inherited very little upon their father’s death. Now, William was not the sharpest sword in the rack and frequently got himself in a bother about well…just about anything! As a result he gained a fair few enemies in a relatively short reign. He was a problematic figure who spent heavily and produced no heirs legitimate or illegitimate which is a must for a medieval king, this of course has led to whispers of homosexuality (a claim later directed at Richard I and Edward II) which can’t really be proven but remains a popular rumour.
Come 1100 the English and more noticeably Henry, were getting sick of the country being plunged in continuous revolts by their flamboyant and hot tempered king who couldn’t even produce an heir. After several failed revolts William was finally stopped for good by an arrow to the lung on 2nd August in the New Forest. This is where I wade into a fair bit of controversy, because, even after 914 years we don’t know who killed William…most people have a pretty good idea but until somebody invents time travel we’re not going to know. The earliest account we have is from the good old Anglo-Saxon Chronicle who put forward the popular claim that William was “shot by an arrow by one of his own men.” This does seem pretty legit as William was instantly abandoned by his own men and found days later by a peasant. In the days that followed Henry secured the royal treasury at Winchester and rode to London where he was quickly crowned. Nobody complained, seriously this guy was not mourned and, most interestingly nobody questioned Henry. Many at the time was William’s death as an ‘act of God’ as punishment for his wicked ways and as he’d died with no heir it only made sense to crown his next of kin Henry who had coincidentally been in the very hunting party that William had been riding with on the date of the murder…so not suspicious at all right?Later chroniclers have pointed the finger at a nobleman and friend of Henry, Walter Tirel who was famous for his marksmanship, days after William’s death Tirel fled to France…but I’m not sure why it’s not like anyone was saddened by the death of William!
But this is all supposition, Henry directly benefited from William’s death but hunting accidents were pretty common in the 1100s so some do give the third Norman king the benefit of the doubt. I’m not so lenient and personally do think that the shrewd Henry knew exactly what would happen on 2nd August 1100.
3)He’s gone ‘Inseine’: Arthur of Brittany 1203
Not technically royalty, but I wanted a Plantagenet connection and, at one point this unfortunate little mite was a contender to the English throne! Now remember way back when in the early days of this blog I wrote a little post about a fella called Geoffrey Plantagenet…no not Papa Geoffrey…but Henry’s 4th son who , thanks to daddy dearest, became Duke of Brittany. This Geoffrey was the father to Arthur who would grow up to take his father’s place when he perished in a-I kid you not-jousting accident. So far so good right? It’s not until Richard I’s death in 1199 that things start to get a little hairy for Arthur who before had trundled along with very little fuss. After Richard’s death John succeeded to the English throne. As Richard’s younger brother and 5th son of Henry II, Johnny thought it only fair that he become king, something that had been supported by Richard and his mother Eleanor. Annoyingly enough, royal succession never seems to be that clear cut, I mentioned that Geoffrey was Henry’s 4th son, if he’d have lived it would be Geoffrey who inherited the throne not John and, by that logic the son of the 4th son outranks the 5th son all together. While that doesn’t seem entirely fair, it was law at the time and suddenly, an already unpopular John was facing strife from his troublesome nephew. The French nobles were fans of Arthur and preferred him to the petulant John who had already proven himself to be entirely untrustworthy. In true French style, King Philippe Augustus and his fellow nobles recognised Arthur’s rights to Anjou, Maine and Poitou i.e. the English lands in France. This rankled John who would go onto fight a series of petty battles with Phillipe until signing the Treaty of Le Goulet in 1200. This treaty included the claims of the English in France which included Normandy, Anjou and Arthur’s stomping ground of Brittany. Uh oh. The treaty led to Philippe’s abandonment of Arthur, his claims to the throne of England and a title in Brittany.
John 1-0 Arthur
At the time Arthur seemed more angry with Philippe, who he’d trusted, than John. Later that year Arthur fled to John for support and was welcomed with open arms…this happy families schtick never lasts long in the Plantagenet household. After all of 5 minutes, Arthur began to suspect his uncle of treachery and rather foolishly fled to the city of Angers before embarking on a campaign in Normandy which was supported by Philippe. Even more foolishly, Arthur besieged his granny Eleanor of Aquitaine at Mirebeau, where John quickly marched to, overpowering his inexperienced nephew with ease. This is when shit gets real guys. On the 1st August 1202, Arthur of Brittany is taken to John’s Chateau de Falaise in Normandy.
He never leaves.
Much like William II, we’ll never know what really happened to Arthur but the finger of blame is pointed rather directly at John who will not be the last dastardly uncle in history! What we do know is that Arthur was under John’s care and that after Philippe demanded to know the whereabouts of the young Arthur, John could provide no body, dead or alive. There are a couple of different theories about what happened to Arthur all of which are equally loopy. One, which is from the Margam annals-later embellished by Shakespeare-is particularly nasty. It is said that John charged Hubert du Burgh to act as Arthur’s gaoler ordering de Burgh and his men to mutilate the boy by castrating and blinding him, effectively eliminating him as a rival. De Burgh supposedly refused and John had no choice but to secretly move Arthur to Rouen where, in a drunken rage John disposed of his rival once and for all.
“After King John had captured Arthur and kept him alive in prison for some time, at length, in the castle of Rouen, after dinner on the Thursday before Easter, when he was drunk and possessed by the devil [‘ebrius et daemonio plenus’], he slew him with his own hand, and tying a heavy stone to the body cast it into the Seine. It was discovered by a fisherman in his net, and being dragged to the bank and recognized, was taken for secret burial, in fear of the tyrant, to the priory of Bec called Notre Dame de Pres.”
Like William II’s death it’s all guess work built on supposition and bitchy chroniclers, but it was no doubt that John was better off with Arthur gone. Whatever happened to Arthur, his disappearance was a PR nightmare for John who is now known as the first king to commit murder…a dubious honour if there ever was one.
4) Hot Stuff! Edward II 1327
Eddie II is another one of those ‘controversial’ where are they now kings, the type that suddenly vanish into the night or die in less than savoury circumstances. Edward’s reign has been coloured by scandal: from alleged homosexual affairs, a fractured marriage and treacherous barons, you’d be forgiven for thinking the guy had a cursed reign! For the most of it Edward had a miserable time on the throne so it only makes sense that he had a pretty miserable death…but we need to get some context before I describe the *ahem* supposed details.
You remember the homosexual love affair and fractured marriage I mentioned earlier on? Yes? Great, because those are two of the defining reasons Edward’s tenure on the throne went so sour so quickly. Edward was made king in 1307 with the death of his father Edward ‘the Hammerer of the Scots/Longshanks’ I. Edward I was an impossibly tall (hence the name Longshanks), cruel and intelligent king who waged war on the Scots with crushing consequences for our Northern neighbors…suck it Braveheart! Edward was tall and good looking but unfortunately that was all he inherited from his father: the new king was weak, easily led and by no means a strategist, perhaps this is why he only managed 20 years on the throne. In 1308 Edward married the young Isabella of France, the daughter of the French King Philip IV. The marriage was a desperate attempt to repair the forever poor relationship between the Plantagenet Kings and the Capetian dynasty but, if history has taught us anything, it is that these marriages of convenience, tend to go south. Enter Piers Gavestone. Piers had been around Edward longer than Isabella, formally joining the royal household in 1300 and sharing a very close friendship with the then Prince Edward.
Now, historians have suggested everything between besties, brothers and lovers and the truth is of course we’ll never know, however whatever the relationship between Piers and Edward was, it caused tensions in the royal marriage and more worryingly, within the courts of England and France. Edward made the mistake that many kings/queens make with supposed lovers, he gave Piers too much power and openly favoured him in court, unsurprisingly this made Piers rather arrogant and, when his hand was forced Edward begrudgingly exiled his favourite only to go back on this promise quickly. In 1311, Piers returned to English court which led to further outcry, culminating in the Ordinances of 1311 which gave the barons further power. Immediately, Piers was banished by the barons, enraging Edward who-in true King John style-revoked all the reforms promised, summoning his favourite back to court. A year later Piers was captured by the barons and unceremoniously executed which lead to years of unrest and armed confrontation, worsened by Edward’s continued failings in Scotland against Robert the Bruce. In 1314 the English suffered a crushing defeat against the Scots at the Battle of Bannockburn which caused economic disaster in England, which in turn led to a great famine, understandably complaints against Edward mounted.
The stability of Edward’s reign ebbed and flowed until 1325 when things finally came to a head and his own wife grew sick of him! Isabella the original ‘she-wolf’ had been sent to France to discuss a peace treaty but, at the last minute she disobeyed Edward and refused to sign it. Along with her lover Roger Mortimer *boo hiss* Isabella sailed to England to take the throne in the name of her son Edward (spoiler soon to be Edward III). Mortimer was a powerful baron who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1322 for leading a march against Edward, was ready to take revenege. With Isabella at his side, Mortimer launched an invasion and hostile takeover in 1326. Edward was quickly bested and fled to Wales before being captured by Mortimer’s men and formally deposed. With Edward out of the way Mortimer and Isabella took over on behalf of the young Edward III, spending vast amounts of money becoming hugely unpopular in the process.
Plots were made to free Edward so Mortimer had the deposed king moved to the remote Berkeley Castle…Edward was never seen again. On 23rd September Edward III was told his father had passed away in captivity on the night the 21st. Most historians are in agreement that this is the date on which Edward did die but the cause of death is hugely debated. Like most royal assassinations, Edward’s death greatly eased the political pressure on Mortimer’s new regime and it commonly accepted Mortimer had him murdered. But it is not the murder that has fascinated chroniclers and historians since 1327 but the method itself.
Most chroniclers of the period argue that despite records of fine goods being sent to Edward, he was treated terribly and tortured by his gaolers. Of course this could because chroniclers in the reign of Edward III sought to slander Mortimer who the new king despised, but it is in no doubt that Edward II died horribly. My favourite-and contested-account of Edward’s death is particularly grizzly and humiliating…so you know perfect for Halloween! Chronicler Geoffrey de Baker was one of the supporters of the popular account that Edward was murdered in the cruelest way imaginable: by a red hot poker inserted in his anus. Yep, you read that correctly. It is a certainly a colourful interpretation and an interesting insight into medieval attitudes to homosexuality but can we be really sure? Well no…but here is Geoffrey’s case for the poker theory:
• It was an effective method of murder that left no visible trace of assault
• It was a humiliating punishment for the rumours that Edward had been the passive partner in his relationship with Piers
• That it was a perfect example of Mortimer’s cruelty, Edward had supposedly died with a look of agony on his face
Yes, that’s a vivid account but there are so many problems with it that many assume Edward passed away due to ill treatment, (most likely) smothering or even depression triggered by his imprisonment. Either way, whatever you believe it’s a nasty way to go, and that’s why it deserves a special spot on this list!
4) Terror in the Tower: Edward V 1483
Ok so this is the biggie, probably the most controversial king on the list…so controversial and unproven that I considered not putting it on the list. Edward V is better known as one of the Princes in the Tower and, considering I see the entirety of Richard III’s reign as something of a horror show, I’m putting this on the list!
FYI those who disagree please don’t send my sweary messages talking about how wrong I am, wordpress puts it straight into spam so you’re wasting your time 🙂
Now that’s out of the way let’s talk Edward V, who is a prime example of just messy medieval politics can get. Firstly, while he is known as Edward V, he was never crowned spending his 86 day reign under the control of his Lord Protector Richard Duke of Gloucester, history’s most infamous uncle. At the time of his father Edward IV’s death, Edward was only 12 and considered too young to rule, enter Edward’s only surviving brother Richard. Supposedly, Edward IV named his brother Richard as Lord Protector-the will does not survive-and Richard happily stepped into the role.
On the 19 May 1483 Edward and later his younger brother Richard took up residence in the Tower of London, where NOTHING OMINOUS HAPPENED EVER…are you happy Richardians? Well I’m not so let’s continue shall we?
Initially, the English nobles had wanted to crown Edward and avoid any need for a Lord Protector as that had backfired spectacularly in the past (examples include Henry III, Edward III and later Edward VI) however, a previous king, Richard II, had been crowned at 10 with no formal Protector and look what happened there!
On 22 June it was formally declared that Edward IV had been betrothed to marry Lady Eleanor Butler before he married Elizabeth Woodville, and their clandestine marriage was once and for all declared null and void. The deceased George Duke of Clarence’s children had been barred from taking the throne due to George’s previous betrayal of his brother Edward IV, so the stage was set for Richard III. Days after the sermon Richard was named the rightful King of England.
Let’s formally mark this as the moment when shit starts to go down. Richard allowed the two (illegitimate) princes to stay in his care where, slowly but surely, they began to disappear from the public eye. It’s implied that the two princes were living in the inner apartments of the Tower until they vanished altogether. Slowly but surely people began to ask questions about just where the sons of Edward IV had gone. They may have been illegitimate but they were still the sons of Edward IV and Princes. Italian scholar Dominic Mancini resided in the court of Richard III and rather dubiously described the young Edward IV calling for a doctor every day where he acted:
“like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission of his sins by daily confession and penance, because he believed that death was facing him.”
Can we really see this as proof that Edward V suspected his uncle of treachery? I mean I wouldn’t be surprised if Edward was not 100% sold on the whole loving uncle act…Richard was only too happy to take the throne, neglecting to argue Edward’s case at all which must have rankled with the young king. Then again, it’s not like the Yorks were known for loyalty. Some historians have looked at the whole doctor theory as proof that Edward was in fact ill and not worried for his mortal soul.
The common belief then and now (if we look at common opinion polls) is that Richard III had the two boys murdered…and yes, rather obviously I do subscribe to the theory. I don’t think Richard did a King John and smothered the boys himself, but I do think he ordered it. Like Henry I, John I and Mortimer, Richard had everything to gain directly from the murder of the two boys. Richard was already king but the elimination of the princes would surely dispose of any future threats to a York claim. The Lancastrians seemed down and out so the only thing that truly threatened Richard were the boys. After all, we’ve seen those who had had previous claims to the throne removed still take it (see Henry II) so while the boys lived Richard’s claim was not safe. More obviously, it was Richard and Richard alone who had direct access to the princes.
Some have accused Henry Tudor and Margaret Beaufort of the murder, something I’m not so sure of as Henry was exiled in France desperately trying to raise an army, while Margaret was married to one of Richard’s supporters Lord Stanley. Whatever you believe, the two princes were never seen again and Richard handled the whole thing terribly. Like King John, Richard could provide no conclusive proof of the Princes’ whereabouts or the bodies themselves. Even more stupidly, he didn’t deny or admit to the murder, something that surely what have made matters less muddy. There is the theory that the later pretender to the Tudor throne Perkin Warbeck who Henry VII had executed, was actually Prince Richard returned to claim the throne. Pretenders to the throne are common in medieval and Renaissance history and more often than not they are exposed as frauds, so I’m not sold on Perkin…which has nothing to do with the fact Philippa Gregory supports the theory…
In 1647 workmen rebuilding the stairs in the Tower found bones belonging to two children buried there. The then king Charles II had the remains placed in Westminster Abbey in an urn with the names Edward and Richard subscribed. For some unknown reason despite huge leaps in technology, the bones haven’t been tested since the 1930s so England still remain in blissful ignorance.
5) Oops I did it again!: Mary Queen of Scots 1587
Now we couldn’t have a post about grizzly executions without mentioning one Tudor monarch could we? Those Tudors disposed of hundreds of enemies in their relatively short dynasty, but few are as unfortunate as Mary Queen of Scots who Elizabeth claimed to have executed by accident…Lizzie I love you, but really? Encountering pretenders and rival claimants to their thrones appears to be a common theme in every Tudor monarch from Henry VII to Elizabeth I…seriously those guys could not catch a break!
Mary Queen of Scots was something of an anomaly as she had a large following behind her. Under Mary I, England had reverted back to Catholicism after years of Edward VI’s rather puritanical reign. Despite promising her dying sister that, in exchange for the throne England would remain Catholic, Elizabeth didn’t follow through and England returned back to the Church of England, albeit a far more relaxed version of it. Elizabeth endorsed what historians call a ‘middle way’ a sort of nice in between of Catholicism and Protestantism, the masses became more ornate, echoing the Catholic tradition, the doctrine itself remaining entirely Protestant. This is essentially the same religious structure we have in England now. Anyway, onto Queen Mary…no not THAT one.
Mary was born in December 1542 to the Scottish Stuart monarch King James V, as the king’s sole legitimate heir it was Mary who would be heir to the Scottish throne, but James died when she was six days old and Scotland was ruled by regents.
FUN FACT: Mary Queen of Scots did not have a Scottish accent, she was more likely to have a French one as she grew up in the courts of France while Scotland was ruled by regents.
In 1558 Mary married the Dauphin of France, Francis which has been documented in the no way historically inaccurate show Reign. In 1559, Francis ascended to the French throne, Mary becoming Queen consort until his death in 1560. With no options in France, Mary returned to Scotland in 1561 where she lived for four years before marrying her first cousin Lord Darnley aka Henry Stuart. Mary’s presence in Scotland was a huge source of contention for her cousin Queen Elizabeth I.
Since the death of her mother Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth’s legitimacy had been questioned as her own father the bacon machine that was Henry VIII, had declared his marriage to Anne void. Now, the last of the Tudor children was facing opposition from the Catholic powerhouses that were Spain and France. France were the natural enemies of the English and their connections to Scotland caused tensions down south in England. Spain were far more problematic to Elizabeth, the King Philip had at one point been her (terrible) brother in law and even more bizarrely, had courted Elizabeth while his wife and her sister Mary I had been alive! Elizabeth rightly told Philip to bugger off and things had been uneasy with Spain since then. Worse still Spain had connections to the Holy Roman Empire and suddenly, Protestant England looked very vulnerable.
To the Catholics, Mary Queen of Scots represented the true heir to the English throne, after all she and Elizabeth were cousins and Mary was a good Catholic girl there to save England from a Protestant heretic. Oh boy. In 1567, Lord Darnley suddenly died, his marriage to Mary had been an unhappy one and she was instantly implicated in arranging her husband’s death. The scandal was gold dust to Elizabeth’s infamous Privy Council who were pushing their Queen to do away with Mary once and for all. In the space of a year things went from bad to worse for Mary, leading to a forced abdication of the Scottish throne, passing it to her infant son James. The problems began in the spring of 1567, when Mary was abducted by Lord Bothwell and imprisoned at Dunbar Castle, a month later they wed in a Protestant ceremony. As a result of the marriage, Bothwell’s status increased greatly as he became the Duke of Orkney. This of course meant the union was unpopular as there is nothing the British dislike more than a social climber. Worse still, Bothwell had been directly implicated in Darnley’s murder (keep up) and that made Mary look even guiltier. The Scottish reacted badly to the whole mess and in successfully imprisoned Mary in Loch after a disastrous protest in Edinburgh where she was denounced as an adulterer.
In 1568 Mary fled Loch Leven with the help of the castle owner’s brother George Douglas. Her meagre army of 6,000 was defeated Battle of Langside and Mary travelled down south where she expected Elizabeth to help her regain her throne. No such luck. Elizabeth was a naturally suspicious woman and had immediately reason to not trust Mary, launching an inquisition into Mary’s involvement in Darnley’s murder. In July 1568, Elizabeth displayed her mistrust openly by having Mary moved to Bolton Castle and away from London.
At the trial, held in York and Westminster, several letters between Botham and Mary were presented as proof of guilt. They documented love sonnets, two marriage contracts all of which were supposedly found in a foot long silver casket with the initials of King Francis. Sadly the original letters were destroyed in the 1580s, probably by Mary’s son James and the restored copies are more likely than not based on fakes. Needless to say the English, who were keen to prosecute Mary, took the highly dubious letters as proof but Elizabeth overruled them, deciding the trial neither proved or disregarded anything. This the first in a long cases of Elizabeth giving her cousin the benefit of the doubt as she didn’t want blood on her hands.
Throughout the 1570s Mary was moved from house to house under Elizabeth’s watchful eye but still plots to overthrow the Tudor monarch, with Mary at its centre were continuously exposed. The Privy Council pressured Elizabeth to get rid of her troublesome cousin and eliminate a very real Catholic threat in England but Elizabeth, not wanting to give her cousin the title of ‘martyr’ refused. However, by 1586 the Privy Council, namely head spy Francis Walsingham, had had enough of Mary and managed to outwit her once and for all. The Babington Plot, the nth plot to depose Elizabeth comprised of a series of letters between Anthony Babington and Mary herself. Walsingham being the slyest fox to ever fox successfully arranged for said letters to be smuggled out of the Mary’s current home of Chartley, for Walsingham to decipher. Babington’s letters exposed Mary’s sanction for an assassination of Elizabeth and she was put on trial for treason. She was not allowed to review the letters or any other evidence or have access to legal counsel. Unsurprisingly, Mary denied the charges levied against her imploring that her triers should:
“Look to your consciences and remember that the theatre of the whole world is wider than the kingdom of England”
Mary went onto argue that as an anointed foreign queen, despite her lengthy stay in England, she was not an English subject and therefore not able to commit treason. Passionate stuff but it wasn’t enough. Mary was found guilty and sentenced to death on 25 October with only one commissioner showing any form of dissent. This should have been the final nail in the coffin, the prompting Elizabeth needed to sign that death certificate…but she still hesitated, deeply wary of killing an anointed monarch, and a Catholic one at that. Buckling under pressure from her Privy Council Elizabeth finally signed the death warrant on 1 February 1587. It was to be carried out on her demand and hers alone…yeah that didn’t happen. On the 3rd, 10 members of Elizabeth’s council met in secret and pushed the sentence through immediately.
Four days later Mary was executed at Fotheringhay in what must be one of the most long and drawn out death sentences in British History. She died with dignity, something that Elizabeth had feared, for in death Mary was transformed from a political problem into a romanticised Catholic martyr, the Tudor equivalent of Thomas Becket really. Mary’s last words were:
“In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum”
Which translates into: Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Here comes the Halloween part, much like William I’s funeral this was not a pretty death. Mary was not beheaded with a single strike. The first blow missed her neck and struck the back of her head. The second blow severed the neck, except for a small bit of sinew which the executioner cut through using the axe. When deed was done the executioner held the head up and exclaimed: “God save the Queen.” At that moment, the auburn hair in his hand was revealed to be a wig, the head falling to the ground, revealing that Mary had grey hair that had been cut short…hardly foxy lady ambassadors would have us believe. A small dog owned by Mary, is said to have been hiding among her skirts, and after the beheading, it refused to be parted from its owner’s body. The pup stayed by her side, covered in blood, until it was forcibly taken away and washed.
And that I fear, is probably that. I did consider including George II-who died on the toilet-in this blog but it stood out from all the other rather grizzly deaths mentioned above. So what do you guys think? Who have I willfully ignored? Which dead monarch would you dress up as? Personally I favour a zombie Richard the Lionheart complete with ketchup blood!
Over and Out and Happy Halloween!