Month of Macabre: Review: The Death of Kings

41N668D85RLIn honor of October, the creepiest month of them all, I’m doing a month-long blog post series called A Month of Macabre. If you have a blog post idea, let me know in the comments. Now. Enjoy the first post in this series. Muahahaha…

I picked up a copy of The Death of Kings: A Medical History of the Kings and Queens of England by Clifford Brewer last year while visiting Westminster Abbey in London. (Appropriate, I know.)

This book features 41 chapters, each one focusing on an English monarch, beginning with Edward the Confessor (1019-1066) and ending with Queen Victoria (1819-1901).

I wish the book continued on to include the medical histories of Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII and George VI. Thankfully their causes of death aren’t hard to find. (Also, I realize how creepy that sounds. Jeez.)

Each chapter gives a vague outline of the monarch’s health history, the biology of their various illnesses, treatments they received, first person accounts and descriptions of their illnesses as recorded by royal physicians and final cause of death-what the physicians of the time ruled the death as and what the author, surgeon Clifford Brewer, believes it to be based on symptoms. Also includes intimate descriptions of final moments from the handful of monarchs not killed by natural causes.

If I learned anything from this book, it’s that bloodletting was used for every illness imaginable. This method was used during the Middle Ages, all the way up to the later chapters in the 1800s. Seriously, did bloodletting ever work? What made physicians keep doing that? Someone, at some point, must have felt better after having been cut open by a physician and for hundreds of years, that continued to be their go-to treatment.

I don’t get it. But anyway.

The book also includes a list of where each monarch is buried, a chapter on the pattern of diseases and an introductory chapter on the process of announcing a monarch’s death and switching to their heir. Very interesting stuff.

This book was great. A bit dry, but I’ve always been a sucker for gory details. If you’re interested in health, biology, history and don’t mind a bit of bloodshed, I highly recommend picking up this.


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jillianne hamilton headshotJillianne Hamilton is an author, history enthusiast, book lover and graphic designer. Her debut novel, Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, was shortlisted for the 2016 Prince Edward Island Book Award. She is currently working on her first non-fiction book. She lives in Charlottetown on Canada's beautiful east coast.
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