Death is a messy situation. Emotions are high. With the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the UK went into 12 days of national mourning. Mourning and doing it in such a public light must be difficult. Often when we think of mourning the image of the Victorian widow in all black may conjure in our minds. Certainly, Queen Victoria's funeral in 1901 broke records at the time with its size and having the most European royalty in one place. But looking back in time many royal funerals didn’t exactly go to plan. Death is messy, and not just emotionally.
The fastest royal funeral is a record supposedly attributed to William the Conqueror. He became king in 1066 after invading England and winning the battle of Hastings. With his new life of luxury and age, the King put on weight. In 1087 while fighting in France William the Conqueror was thrown from his horse and died when the pommel of his saddle was driven into his gut. Due to not being well-liked his room was looted and the body was left unattended before burial. When the King’s body reached the abbey for burial it was several days later. During the funeral when the body was lowered down into the hole it wouldn’t fit. William the conqueror was too large and tall and as the gravediggers forced the body down it ruptured flinging fluid, gas, and rotting organs at the mourners. The funeral was then wrapped up as fast as possible.
Henry I was the son of William the conqueror. His funeral in 1135 didn’t go much better. Henry I died after a short illness, although many sources say he died because he ate an eel. Something his doctors advised him against. Henry’s Body was wrapped in animal hides and covered in salt but still by the time of his funeral black gruesome fluid was spilling from the body. The noxious substance was said to have caused the death of some of the attendants to the body.
From one Henry to another, Henry VIII funeral in 1547 didn’t exactly go to plan either. While transporting Henry VIII’s body to Windsor, the funeral party stopped overnight at Syon House. There are many rumours and speculations about what happened to the King’s body that night. The most unlikely being that Henry’s body was partially mauled by a dog. The next more likely was that Henry’s body was leaking out of the coffin and being licked by dogs. Thirdly it was rumoured that his body had exploded inside his coffin due to the build-up of gas.
Elizabeth I was the daughter of Henry VIII and it was remarked that her body underwent a similar fate. Elizabeth died in 1603 after 45 years on the throne. The Queen made it clear that she did not want her body disembowelled and embalmed after death as was customary, but her wishes were ignored. Her body was placed in a lead-lined wooden coffin. While the coffin was being watched over there were reports of a load crack as Elizabeth I body was pushed from the coffin. The force from the rotting gas was said to splinter the wood and lead lining of the coffin.
Today death is sanitised and behind closed curtains. But, as we have learnt today, that wasn’t always the case.
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