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Top 10 Strangest Deaths in the Middle Ages

strange medieval deaths

You may have heard how medieval rulers have been killed in battle or died from an assassin’s blade. But did you know about the king who died from uncontrollable laughing or the emperor who was dragged 16 miles through a forest by a deer? Check out our list of the top ten strangest deaths from the Middle Ages!


1. Gruffydd ap Llywelyn (d.1244)

The son of a Welsh prince, Gruffydd was being held as hostage in the Tower of London when he tried to escape by lowering himself down in a rope. However the rope broke, and Gruffydd fell 90 feet to his death.


2. Zeno, Byzantine Emperor (d.491)

Some accounts state that the emperor fell unconscious after drinking heavily. His wife Empress Ariadne declared Zeno dead, had him placed in a sarcophagus and refused to allow anyone to open it when they heard his calls for help.

3. Philip, son of Louis VI of France (d.1131)

The brash son of the French king was riding with friends through the streets of Paris when a pig jumped in front of his horse causing it to the trip. Philip was thrown off and landing “so dreadfully fractured his limbs that he died on the day following.”

4. Pope Adrian IV (d.1159)

This English Pope suffered from a form of tonsillitis that caused puss to build up in his mouth. According to one account, he took a sip of wine and began to choke on a fly, which had been floating inside his goblet. Combined with the puss in his throat, the Pontiff died within minutes.

Photo by Marshall Astor

5. Sigurd Eysteinsson, Earl of Orkney (d.892)

After defeating and killing Mael Brigte the Tusk in battle, Earl Sigurd strapped his severed head to his saddle and rode back home. As he was riding, Mael Brigte’s teeth cut into his leg and the wound became infected, leading to Sigurd’s death.

6. Henry II, Count of Champagne (d.1197)

The Crusade leader was watching his troops gather from his palace in Acre when, in the words of one chronicle, “He was leaning on the railings of a window and looking down. The railings gave way, and he fell to the ground. His dwarf, frightened and distressed, fell out too and landed on top of him. It was said that if the dwarf had not fallen on him he would perhaps not have died so soon.”

7. Henry I, King of England

After a day of hunting, the English king decided, against his doctor’s advice, to dine a plate of lamprey eels. That night he fell ill and soon died.


8. Basil I, Byzantine Emperor (d.886)

The 75-year old Emperor was out hunting when his belt was caught in the antlers of a deer, and he was allegedly dragged 16 miles through the woods. He was saved by an attendant who cut him loose with a knife, but he suspected the attendant of trying to assassinate him and had the man executed shortly before he himself died.

9. George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence (d.1478)

The erratic brother of King Edward IV was found guilty of treason by and ordered to be executed. According to some reports, he asked to be drowned in a large vat of Malmsey Wine, his favourite beverage.

10. Martin the Humane, King of Aragon and Sicily (d.1410)

Martin was suffering from indigestion on account of eating an entire goose when his jester entered the king’s bedroom. Martin asked him where he had been, the jester replied “Out of the next vineyard, where I saw a young deer hanging by his tail from a tree, as if someone had so punished him for stealing figs.” The king started laughing uncontrollably until he fell over and died.



Some other strange deaths from the Middle Ages:

Was the White Ship disaster mass murder?

Diseases and causes of death among the Popes

A forgotten plague: making sense of dancing mania


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