Monday, January 4, 2016

The Death of King Charles II by Katherine Pym

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 Last time, I mentioned King Charles II's death and how nasty it was. Happy New Year to you with this macabre tidbit. May 2016 treat you better than 1685 bestowed upon the poor king.

King Charles II, Older but Healthier
First, a little about him…

After his father was beheaded, King Charles II went into exile where he learned to keep his own counsel. He loved sex. Prompted by others, his revenge extended to only a few of the regicides, but he took no joy in it.

Charles took a long time to come to a state decision. He’d put it off with a wave of his hand, and play with one of his women. He loved spaniels, and several romped in his private chambers, soiling the floors so that no one could walk across the room in a straight line.

Even though he reigned in a Protestant country, while on the run in 1651 after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester, Charles was protected at their peril by Roman Catholics. For a few hours, Charles hid in a priest hole, very snug and claustrophobic, while Parliament men searched for him. By the end of his trek through England and into exile, Charles had gained a high regard for Catholics and Catholicism.

But I digress.

While Charles reigned, he did not confide in many. He was considered an enigma by both his contemporaries and those who study him. He had a kind heart. His nature made people comfortable. They confided in him, wanted to be near him. But when Charles wanted to be alone, or was tired of the subject, he’d pull out his watch. Those who knew of this would quickly state their business, for soon their king would walk away.

Charles loved reading (not political or religious). He brought great strides to the theatre sector, and he enjoyed science. In 1660, he approved a charter for The Royal Society. The group of great minds, Isaac Newton for one, met at Gresham College in London City. Experiments took place there, including draining the veins of a dog into the veins of another dog. The results amazed those curious people.

So, we come to his death…

Physician's Tool
‘He fell sick of a tertian fever’, but the official cause of death was: Uremia (per—“a condition resulting from the retention in the blood of constituents normally excreted in the urine.”), chronic nephritis and syphilis.

On the evening of February 1, 1685, Charles went to bed with a sore foot. By early morning, he was very ill with fever. His physician (Sir Edmund King) tended to his foot while a barber shaved his head. Suddenly, the king suffered apoplexy. His physician immediately withdrew sixteen ounces of blood.

Sir Edmund took a big risk, and could have been charged with treason. The protocol was to get permission from the Privy Council prior to a bloodletting the monarch.

For several days, Charles was tormented by his physicians. As a private man this must have been difficult. Surrounded by more physicians than could gain his bed, they attempted to remove the ‘toxic humours’ that penetrated his body.

17th c - Hooke's Microscope
17th c - Hooke's Microscope
He was bled and purged. Cantharides plasters were stuck to his bald pate, which caused blistering. They attached plasters of spurge to his feet, then red-hot irons to his skin. Besides the large number of physicians crowding his bed, His Royal Highness’ bedchamber was filled to the walls with spectators (family members and state officials).

They gave the poor king “enemas of rock salt and syrup of buckthorn, and ‘orange infusion of metals in white wine’. The king was treated with a horrific cabinet of potions: white hellebore root; Peruvian bark; white vitriol of peony water; distillation of cowslip flowers; sal ammoniac; julep of black cherry water (an antispasmodic); bezoar stone from the stomach of a goat. He was forced to drink boiled spirits from a human skull.”

After days of this, he apologized for taking so long to die, then added, “I have suffered much more than you can imagine.”

Finally, on February 6, 1685 “the exhausted king, his body raw and aching with the burns and inflammation caused by his treatment, was given heart tonics, to no avail. He lapsed into a coma and died at noon on February 7.”

His death is considered by historians as “iatrogenic regicide”.

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I give thanks to:

Royal Poxes & Potions, The Lives of Court Physicians, Surgeons & Apothecaries, by Raymond Lamont-Brown.

Wiki-commons public domain