1498: French king dies in squalor after bumping head


french king
France’s Charles VIII

Charles VIII (1470-1498) was a French king of the late 15th century. The eldest son of the conniving, reclusive and unpopular Louis XI, 13-year-old Charles became king in August 1483. Contemporary chroniclers described the young prince as pleasant and likeable (he was later dubbed “Charles the Affable”). But a few more critical writers suggested he was too flighty, impatient and ambitious to make a wise monarch. Charles was also physically ungainly, an attribute that may have contributed to his death. According to the court official and chronicler Philippe de Commines, Charles died in his 28th year – after bumping his head while rushing to watch a game of tennis:

“On April 7th, being the eve of Palm Sunday, [he] took his queen by the hand and led her out of the chamber to a place where she had never been before, to see others play at jeu de paume [real tennis] in the castle ditch. They entered into the Haquelebac Gallery… known as the nastiest corner of the castle, crumbling at its entrance, and everyone did piss there that would. The king, though not a tall man, knocked his head [on the door frame] as he entered.”

After spending some time watching the tennis and chatting to courtiers, Charles apparently collapsed. According to Commines, the king was attended by physicians who insisted he not be moved. Instead, the ailing monarch was laid on a makeshift bed made of timber slats, where he spent his final hours of life:

“It was around two [PM] when he collapsed and he lay motionless until eleven at night… The king was laid upon a crude bed and he never left it until he died, which was nine hours later… Thus died that great and powerful monarch, in a sordid and filthy place.”

Charles VIII died without issue, having lost three infant sons and a daughter to illness in the previous four years. The French throne passed to his cousin Louis of Orleans, who became Louis XII and ruled for 17 years. As was customary for the time, the new king also married Charles’ 21-year-old widow, Anne of Brittany.


Source: The Memoirs of Philip de Commines, Lord of Argenton, vol. 2, 1497-1501. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1248: Priests warned for drinking, sex and “ball games”


Eudes Clement was a prominent French cleric in the early 13th century. Eudes was born into a prominent family in Normandy sometime in the 1190s. He entered the clergy in his late teens and later become the abbot of Saint-Denis. Eudes also became a close friend and advisor to Louis IX, after he purportedly saved the king from a deadly illness by hauling the corpses of saints out of their tombs. In 1245 Eudes was ordained as archbishop of Rouen, a diocese in Normandy known for its corruption and lack of discipline among both the higher and lower clergy. Eudes spent several months travelling across the diocese, carrying out surprise visits on its parishes and monasteries and keeping a register of transgressions. The nuns at St Armand de Rouen came in for strong criticism from Eudes. According to his register they sang hymns and prayers “with too much haste and jumbling of the words”; they received wine in unequal amounts; and they slept in their underwear rather than their habits.

More serious clerical misbehaviour was uncovered at Ouville, where Eudes found that:

“…the prior wanders about when he ought to stay in the cloister… he is a drunk and of such shameful drunkenness that… he sometimes sleeps out in the fields… he is sexually active and his conduct with a certain woman of Grainville and the lady of Routot are matters of scandal…”

At Jumieges the archbishop found two monks, both named William, guilty of committing sodomy with each other; he ordered their removal to separate monasteries. A number of other monks were placed on notice and threatened with expulsion if they transgressed again. Brother Geoffrey of Ouville was one of these given a ‘last chance’; he had fathered a son with the wife of Walter of Ecaquelon. William of Cailleville was placed on notice for his frequent drunkenness. The parish priest at Ermenouville was warned for having sexual relations with a local woman. Another cleric:

“…the priest of Saint Vaast de Dieppedale confessed that he was guilty of playing ball games in public, and that in this game one of the players had been injured… he swore before us that if he was found to have acted thus again, his parish would be resigned from that time on.”

Source: Register of Eudes, Archbishop of Rouen, ent. July 1248, September 1248, January 1249. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1642: Mob plays football with Catholic priest’s head


Hugh Greene, also known as Ferdinand Brooks, was a victim of anti-Catholic persecution during the English Civil War. Greene was born in London to Anglican parents but converted to Catholicism after his graduation from Cambridge. After studying in France, Greene became a parish priest in Dorset. In 1642 Charles I banished all Catholic priests from England. Greene complied with the king’s order but was held up and missed the deadline by several days; he was arrested trying to board a ship in Lyme Regis. Greene was imprisoned for several months, committed to trial on charges of high treason and sent for execution. The sentence was carried out in Dorchester in August 1642. According to the written testimony of an eyewitness, Elizabeth Willoughby, Greene was hanged to the point of unconsciousness, then messily quartered:

“The man that was to quarter him was a timorous, unskilful man, by trade a barber, and his name was Barefoot… he was so long dismembering him that [Greene] came to his perfect senses and sat upright and took Barefoot by the hand… then did this butcher cut his belly on both sides… Whilst [Greene] was calling upon Jesus, the butcher did pull a piece of his liver out instead of his heart, tumbling his guts out every way to see if his heart were not amongst them…”

This barbarous ordeal went on for more than a half-hour, with Greene either praying devoutly or screaming in agony. According to Willoughby, Greene only expired after his throat was cut and his head was hacked off with a cleaver. His heart was eventually removed and thrown into a fire, before it was snatched up and stolen by a local woman. As for the priest’s severed head:

“An ungodly multitude, from ten o’clock in the morning till four in the afternoon, stayed on the hill and sported themselves at football with his head [then] put sticks in his eyes, ears, nose and mouth and buried it near to the body.”

Source: Letter from Elizabeth Willoughby, Dorchester, June 20th 1643. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1280: Man killed in Newcastle football match


In the late 13th century, a man is killed during a game of football in Newcastle-upon-Tyne:

“Henry, son of William de Ellington, while playing at ball [football] at Ulkham on Trinity Sunday with David le Keu and many others… ran against David and received an accidental wound from David’s knife, of which he died on the following Friday. They were both running to the ball and ran against each other, and the knife hanging from David’s belt stuck out so that the point through the sheath struck against Henry’s belly… Henry was wounded right through the sheath and died by misadventure.”

Source: Calendar of Inquisitions, September 15th 1280. Cited in a volume dated 1916. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.