Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Completely Unremarkable Future King

Frederick, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of George II and heir to the throne, but apart from that, he was not particularly remarkable for anything. One commentator astutely gave him the following epithet:--

‘Here lies Fred
Who was alive and is dead.
There is no more to be said.’

Frederick was, however, noteworthy for the unusual manner of his death. He died in 1751 of septicemia poisoning after being hit on the head by a cricket ball. A classic case of play stopped reign!
Other unusual British royal deaths:

William III died after a fall from his horse, which stumbled on a molehill.

King John died of eating too many peaches and cider.

Edward II was murdered by having a rhino horn inserted up his rectum.

Henry I died of food poisoning after eating too many lampreys (eels).

George I died sitting on the toilet.

George II died sitting on the toilet.

William I's body exploded when placed in the coffin

Alexander III of Scotland rode his horse off a cliff while rushing home to his young bride
Margret, Queen of the Scots died of seasickness after a journey from Norway, to claim her kingdom.

George, Duke of Clarence was drowned in a barrel of malmsey wine.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Mystery of the "Mad King" of Bavaria

King Ludwig II of the German Kingdom of Bavaria was gay, wildly eccentric and built fairytale castles that today rate as Germany's leading tourist attractions – but more than a century ago "Mad King" Ludwig II of Bavaria was declared insane, deposed and three days later his corpse was found floating in a lake south of Munich.

The real cause of King Ludwig's death has been a mystery ever since his body, together with that of his psychiatrist, was dragged from Lake Starnberg on 13 June, 1886. But the official version, which holds that he committed suicide by drowning, has never been completely refuted.

It has been 126 years since the king's death and new evidence has surfaced which suggests that the King was murdered. The details are convincing enough to increase calls for the House of Wittelsbach, King Ludwig's family, to allow his body to be exhumed from its tomb in St Michael's Church in Munich to enable a new and conclusive post-mortem examination to be conducted.

The most intriguing new material to support the murder theory has come from a 60-year-old Munich banker called Detlev Utermöhle. In a sworn affidavit issued earlier this month, Mr Utermöhle recalled a scene from his childhood which he insists he remembers vividly.

As a 10-year-old, he and his mother were invited for afternoon coffee and cakes by a Countess Josephine von Wrba-Kaunitz, who looked after some of the Wittelsbach family's assets. Mr Utermöhle recalled how the countess gathered her guests, telling them in a hushed tone: "Now you will find out the truth about Ludwig's death without his family knowing. I will show you all the coat he wore on the day he died." The countess opened a chest and pulled out a grey coat. Mr Utermöhle insists in his statement that he saw "two bullet holes in its back" and says his mother, who has since died, left him a written account of what they saw.
Unfortunately  the king's coat was lost in a fire at Countess Wrba-Kaunitz's home in 1973 in which both she and her husband perished. However his claims were supported by Siegfried Wichmann, a Bavarian art historian and specialist in 19th-century painting, who published a hitherto unseen photograph of a portrait of the king painted only hours after his death.

The portrait shows what Mr Wichmann says is blood oozing from the corner of Ludwig's mouth. "King Ludwig cannot have drowned. This is blood from the lungs and there is no water in it," Mr Wichmann insisted.

The official version holds that the Bavarian government was driven to depose the reclusive Ludwig because he was squandering vast sums of money on bizarre building projects that were driving his kingdom to ruin.

Bernhard von Gudden, his psychiatrist, diagnosed him as suffering from "paranoia" – a condition which today would be classified as schizophrenia. Ludwig was deprived of his crown and, according to the official version, he reacted by drowning himself in Lake Starnberg in a fit of paranoid hystaria.

Murder theorists counter with recent medical evidence which suggests that the king was, in fact, suffering from a form of meningitis and was far from insane. They say fishermen reported hearing shots at the time of Ludwig's death and claim that his opponents in the Bavarian government hired assassins to kill him as he was trying to flee across the lake. They say that Von Gudden, who was also found dead in the lake, was shot because he was a witness.

To date, the Wittelsbach family has dismissed all murder theories and refused point blank to have the king's body exhumed. The latest attempt to persuade them to change their minds comes from the Berlin historian and author, Peter Glowasz, who wants to employ Swiss scientists to examine the corpse by giving it a computer tomography. He insists that while the procedure would not touch the body, it would show up any gunshot wounds.
The site where the King's body was discovered int he lake.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Unsolved Murder of Lord Darnley

Mary, Queen of Scots, was barely one week old when she succeeded to the throne in 1542. The murder 25 years later of Henry Lord Darnley, her consort and the father of the infant who would become King James I of England and James VI of Scotland, remains one of history's most notorious unsolved crimes. On a Sunday morning in February 1567 Darnley lay sleeping on the upper floor of an Edinburgh house known as Kirk o' Field. For weeks he had rested there, convalescing from either smallpox or syphilis. Across the city Queen Mary and the baby prince were safely ensconced at Holyrood House. Unknown to Darnley and perhaps unknown to Mary, miscreants had for some time been packing the cellars of Kirk o' Field with enough gunpowder to blow the structure to smithereens. Around two am the building exploded, a blast heard and felt throughout Edinburgh.
According to Scottish historian Magnus Magnusson, nothing was left of the building, but in an adjoining garden beside a pear tree, townsmen found Darnley's nightgown-clad corpse. Curiously, he appeared not to have been killed by the explosion but by strangulation. Magnusson speculates that Darnley had tried to escape just before the blast but had been intercepted by his murderer before he could flee.
Complying with royal protocol, Queen Mary observed 40 days of official mourning for her husband. But rumors circulated that Mary's widow weeds were woven discordantly with threads of insincerity. With Darnley's death she had, in fact, become a widow for the second time. If her two-year marriage to Darnley had been brief, so too was her earlier marriage to the Dauphin of France, a union that lasted two and a half years before the Dauphin, who had become King Francis II upon his father's death in 1559, died at age 16 from complications of an ear infection.
Mary was 18 when she returned to her homeland from France, her youthfulness belying the royal ambition that consumed her. If, when shipped off to France some years earlier, she had been nothing more than an innocent political pawn in the game of royal power grabbing, she returned with her own shrewd agenda for Scotland.
Predictably, the religious issue of Mary being a Catholic in a Protestant kingdom became an obstacle in Mary's reign, and she recognized immediately that in order to avoid rebellion she would reconcile the interests of her Catholic and Protestant nobles. Though she continued to practice her Catholic religion privately, she scrupulously showed no favors to her fellow Catholics. She did not ratify the Reformation Act of 1560, but she made no attempt to revoke it.
Following her return, the royal court was once again, according to Magnusson, the focus of the cultural life of the kingdom, 'a glittering, cosmopolitan Renaissance court in the style of … Mary's French in-laws. It was crowded with scholars, poets, artists, and musicians. There was much dancing and merry-making, much playing of billiards, cards and dice late into the night, and much riding and hunting during the day.' Magnusson imparts, too, that Mary's life was not all frivolous. She read poetry, history, and theology in several languages. And like most noble women of her time, she busied herself with embroidery and played the lute and the virginal.
For a time Queen Mary seemed in control of her realm, circumspection and intelligence consistently informing her royal decisions. Yet when it was time to remarry she made a costly mistake in her choice of a mate, settling on her first cousin Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, son of the formidable Earl of Lennox. Both Mary and Darnley were great-grandchildren of Henry VII of England, and they both had Tudor and Stuart blood in their veins. Darnley, indeed, was close in line to the thrones of both England and Scotland.
It was not only, however, his impeccable royal lineage that made him attractive to Mary; she had fallen in love. Sir Walter Scott gives us a realistic portrait of the object of Mary's affection:
Young Darnley was remarkably tall and handsome, perfect in all external and showy accomplishments, but unhappily destitute of sagacity, prudence, steadiness of character, and exhibiting only doubtful courage, though extremely violent in his passions.
Time would prove to Mary that Darnley's beauty and courtly accomplishments were only skin deep. At the core he was, vain, weak, indolent, selfish, arrogant, vindictive and irremediably spoiled.' In addition, he was a Lennox, a family with countless enemies both in Scotland and England.
Against the advice of her nobles and in spite of Queen Elizabeth's expressed displeasure, Mary wed Darnley in July 1565. But as predicted, the bridegroom's dissolute lifestyle soon angered her, causing her, of course, to second guess her decision. Most nights he roamed the streets of Edinburgh with low-life companions in search of women. He failed to participate in the business of the royal court.
Less than a year after the wedding, Darnley, unhinged by immature jealousy, became involved in the murder of David Rizzio, his wife's private secretary. Rizzio had come to Scotland from Italy some years previously on a diplomatic mission but remained at the Scottish court as a lute player, singer, and subsequently, as Mary's assistant. The more outraged Mary became over her husband's stupidity and lewd behavior, the more she looked to Rizzio for consolation. At the time she and Rizzio were close, many Scottish Protestant lords were discontent with Mary's rule. Some of the nobles claimed that Rizzio was a secret agent of the Pope and had usurped their proper places beside the Queen. They easily cajoled the gullible Darnley into believing that Mary and Rizzio were sexual partners, an accusation that historians have found implausible. (At the time, Mary was six months pregnant with Darnley's child.) They persuaded him to take part in a plot to murder the Italian.
On the night of Saturday, 9th March 1566, Rizzio was dragged screaming from Queen Mary's side at her supper table in Holyrood House and stabbed some 56 times before life drained from his struggling limbs. It is unclear whether Darnley himself did the dragging or the stabbing or whether one of his henchmen performed the actual slaughter.
Amazingly, Mary forgave–or at least pretended to forgive–Darnley and cleverly managed to sever him from the group of treasonous nobles who had masterminded the Rizzio assassination. With Rizzio still fresh in the minds of the court, another threat to Darnley's fragile self-esteem soon took centre stage. James Hepburn, fourth Earl of Bothwell (a committed Protestant himself), rushed to Mary's aid in putting down a rebellion of Protestant conspirators.
Bothwell was Lord Admiral of Scotland, and although he possessed a reputation for bravery, he was also known to be lecherous, brutal, and power hungry. Mary regarded him as her savior, and he quickly became her most trusted advisor.
By the time Mary gave birth to Lord Darnley's son in June 1566, her husband had backslid into a life of debauchery, neglecting his royal duties and displaying a sullen resentment towards Mary's relationship with Bothwell. His disappearance from court prompted talk of a possible annulment of the royal marriage. But when the Queen learned he was seriously ill in Glasgow, she travelled to his bedside and later arranged for a horse-litter to carry him back to Edinburgh to convalesce at Kirk o' Field. For months Mary had spoken of her husband with nothing but contempt, and the gesture was out of character.
While there is no definite answer to the question of who murdered Lord Darnley, most historians agree that Bothwell–with or without Mary's complicity–concocted the plot. A house explosion, which gave the crime such flagrant overtones and which scandalized all of Europe, was significant; a disintegrated building would cover tracks, making it impossible to prove anything. To be sure there was no direct evidence establishing Bothwell as the murderer, but for those associated with the royal court it was only too easy to guess. Bothwell was a ruthless opportunist aiming at nothing less than the kingship of Scotland.

Typical of the era, the events following Darnley's murder were dramatic, ruthless, and bloody. Bothwell kidnapped, raped (so Mary claimed), and married the Queen. Predictably, within days of the wedding Mary was reduced to suicidal despair by Bothwell's abuse. Yet her willingness to marry Bothwell was not as absurd as it might seem. In spite of all she had been through, Mary remained politically astute. In the political power game playing out around her, she needed a strong ally to protect her from rebellious noblemen. Indeed, Bothwell notwithstanding, less than a year after Darnley's death the Scottish lords forced Mary to abdicate and flee to England. For the next two decades she was held prisoner by Queen Elizabeth I and finally executed in England at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587.