Wine immolation

King Charles II of Navarre died when, wrapped in alcohol-soaked linen, he caught on fire.

Charles II of Navarre
Medieval monk XV sec. / CC BY-SA

In yesterday’s post I threatened to do a whole series on pi. Well, I think I may also have to do one on the strange and theatrical deaths of European kings, because there have been a lot of them. Charles II of Navarre is a good place to begin.

The Hundred Years’ War was a bit of a mess all around. For starters, it ran for 116 years and at some point involved many of the major players of Western Europe: England and France, of course, but Burgundy, Scotland, Navarre, Genoa, Bohemia, Aragon, two sets of popes (the Roman and Avignon branches), and Joan of Arc. There were heroes and villains, saints and sinners, all around – but Charles II of Navarre was in a league of his own.

Charles was ostensibly on the side of the French, but he was not a fan of the French king (incidentally, his father-in-law). He had a tendency to mess with the French king – assassinating the French commander-in-chief, for example – and then open negotiations with the English as a way of getting the king to forgive him. At various times he: plotted a coup against said king, occupied Paris, released all the criminals in prison in Paris just to cause trouble, murdered a mercenary king with a poisoned pear (or maybe a fig), and had himself captured so that he could sit out an inconvenient war.

Anyway, fast forward to the end of Charles’ life, a sick, defeated, humiliated 54 year old. His doctor recommended that his limbs and body be wrapped in linen soaked in brandy or wine as a treatment. Somehow – a warm bed pan or a careless attendant – the linen caught fire. He was roasted alive in his bed.

Charles lived on in Europe as a cautionary tale: don’t keep your word and you too may end up cooked.

[Thanks to Gareth E. for suggesting this topic.]

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