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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Going Out With a Bang- Henry VIII and William the Conqueror

     We have all heard the term "Go out with a bang" right? Well if there were ever any great men in the history of Western Civilization that took this literally they are William the Conqueror and Henry VIII. And while we tend to think of that phrase in a positive way, I can assure you there were very few present that found it a pleasant experience.

    So how did they go out with a bang? Well it is important to note that William died in the 11th century AD and Henry passed in the 16th century. Back then when a person kicked the ye olde bucket, no one would preserve or embalm the body. And if you understand what happens with decomposition, you would know that as the bacteria in the human body get working to break it down, they produce gases that cause bloating.

   William the Conqueror died while in France on campaign in 1087, some 20 years after leaving that nation to conquer England(still the last man to do so). When the King died in a France, many of his attendants(who were English) left to attend to their own affairs. The body sat for some time in the heat of the summer before local clergy had it transported to another town for burial. By then the king had started to bloat. William had grown rather portly in his later years so they had built a large sarcophagus for the deceased monarch. However, when the monks tried to fit the body in it during the funeral ceremony...it would not fit. It had bloated too much. Not knowing what else to do, the monks tried to force the body in far enough where they could at the very least cover it with the lid. When they did so, the body literally exploded open covering the monks with a vile mess of putrefied bodily fluids, flesh, and excrement. The intense smell quickly permeated the room and caused the mourners to flee. In that time it was thought bad air is what carried diseases such as the plague. So the horrible smell sent them into a panic so bad that there was apparently looting.
 
William the Conqueror in life

Williams tombstone, located in Caen France where he was buried post explosion by some poor unfortunate bastard who had to deal with the stench

 

     Fast forward a few centuries and we come to Henry VIII. The monarch who was more feared and hated than loved by the time he passed. He had led England through a transformative and traumatic period through his often erratic and tyrannical policies. He too had grown rather large in his old age due to a poor diet and inactivity from a leg wound that refused to heal for over a decade. He literally gained 24 inches in his waist in his final years because he ate an estimated 5 to 6 thousand calories a day. It was almost two weeks after his death that a funeral was actually done. A large lead sarcophagus was made for the king and he was put in it for the long procession to his place of burial. A mass was said for the king one evening and the next day the funeral procession was to finish its last leg of the journey. In the morning the procession was greeted by a visually damaged sarcophagus and a terribly foul odor. The king had exploded with such a fury during the night, the coffin was warped and burst at the seams.  The king was leaking out all over the floor. Special metal smiths were brought in and paid very well( likely also at sword point) to solder it back together so the burial could happen.   

  
The last known depiction of Henry VIII. You can see him holding a walking stick he used to get around due to his bad leg which was made worse by his ballooning waistline.

Henry was not particularly loved at the time of his death...so his wishes for burial were ignored. It was not until the 19th century that we was given a proper burial for a monarch. William the IV had him re-interred and the tombstone made. You can see he shares a tomb with his dead child he had with Anne Boleyn, his great love Jane Seymour(died during childbirth), and King Charles I (distant relative) who was deposed and executed by Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell tossed him in the same hole without much fan fare either.

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