5 Phrases From the ‘British Monarch Causes of Death’ Wikipedia Page That Merit Closer Inspection

5 Phrases From the ‘British Monarch Causes of Death’ Wikipedia Page That Merit Closer Inspection

Being a British monarch isn’t all state dinners and ruthless colonialism. Wikipedia’s “List of Monarchs of the British Isles by Cause of Death” chronicles some bizarre deaths of opulence that the average peasant could only dream of…

‘Attempted to Escape His Assailants Through a Sewer’

James I was King of Scots from 1406 to 1437. Unfortunately for him, his uncle was a royal asshole. Kind of literally! James’ scheming uncle, the Earl of Atholl, was gunning for a promotion from Earl to King, and he convinced about 30 people to help him pull off the string of murders it would take to achieve it. While King James and Queen Joan were hanging out in a Scottish monastery, they were ambushed by this cabal of regicidal sycophants, and were trapped in their apartment. That’s when James “attempted to escape his assailants through a sewer.”

But he was hoisted by his own fancy-pants petard: He had recently ordered that very sewer closed off, because he was sick of his royal tennis balls bouncing into the shit pipe. He fled as far into the sewer as he could, but was caught by his assailants and murdered among his own royal dook. Queen Joan escaped, and ensured that their son became King, so his evil uncle’s plan never actually panned out.


Robert I had a particularly itchy reign from 1306 to 1329. His doctors at the time couldn’t pinpoint what exactly was wrong with his skin, and referred to it as an “unclean ailment.” For a long time, historians assumed that he’d died of leprosy, but experts have also chucked psoriasis, strokes, and yes, syphilis on the list of potential culprits.

A couple centuries later, King Henry VIII joined him in a possibly syphilitic demise. Henry had a bad jousting accident in 1536, which limited his movement and led to a decade of obesity, gout and ulcers. It’s thought that syphilis and/or diabetes were the final nail in his coffin.

Henry’s heir, Edward VI, may have contracted congenital syphilis — meaning he got it from his mother, who likely got it from ol’ Hank. To be fair, Wikipedia also lists tuberculosis and arsenic poisoning as possible causes of death.


A trifecta of hapless kings were also offed by their own faithful steeds. First was William the Conqueror, who fell off his horse during the Siege of Mantes in 1087. He took a saddle pommel to the tummy on the way down, which rearranged his guts into an ultimately fatal configuration. Then, in 1286, Alexander III was taking a midnight ride to try and reach his Queen in time for her birthday, when his horse lost its footing and he crashed into a rocky embankment. Finally, in 1702, William the Orange took a tumble that broke his collarbone, leading to a fatal case of pneumonia. Wikipedia concludes his section somewhat callously: “He was asthmatic.”


This is a word you’d expect to find on a list of famous horses — and indeed, a variation of the word appears 46 times in the “List of Equine Fatalities in the Grand National.” But there is one documented case of a real doctor putting down a real King like a 10-year-old guinea pig. It wasn’t during the middle ages, either; it happened in 1936, to Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather.

King George V had been in bad shape for a while, and his lead doctor, Bertrand Dawson, was a proponent of the “gentle growth of euthanasia.” On a particularly bad night, Dawson decided to speed the process along so that the King’s death could be reported in the morning news, rather than the “less appropriate evening journals.”

The King’s final words were a well-articulated “GOD DAMN YOU!” hurled at the nurse who zonked him out, before Dawson hit him with a lethal dose of cocaine.

‘A Surfeit of Lampreys’

Henry I, who reigned from 1100 to 1135, ate himself to death on vacation. While on a hunting trip in France, he dug into a whole fuckin’ mess of lampreys, a disgusting, slimy slug of a fish. His physician begged him to knock it off, but he was blowing off steam after a prolonged campaign to strengthen his family’s claim to the crown. There was just no stopping this guy from slurping down lampreys. As his doctor feared, he gave himself one of the worst cases of food poisoning in the history of humankind, and he died within a week.

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