Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Death in the lavatory

The glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against fate;
Death lays his icy hand on kings.

I knew King George II died in the lavatory but only learnt today that Catherine the Great, Evelyn Waugh and Elvis Presley also died in the loo and that King Edmund Ironside was said to have been stabbed to death in his privy (though the source is late). 

I checked on the net and Palgrave does not mention where Edmund Ironside's death took place, nor did any of my children's books about the English kings and queens.  The chronicler Geoffrey Gaimar tells us that Edmund Ironside was murdered on the privy by the sons of Eadric Streona. They used a crossbow positioned in the midden pit to fire into the King from below while he was crouching. It is said that the missile passed so far into his body that it could not be extracted. At Christmas 1017, King Canute ordered the execution of Eadric Streona immediately after Canute was beaten by Eadric at chess and a dispute had ensued over the rules of the game. This does sound like Sellars and Yeatman, I know. Asking for his life to be spared, Eadric pleaded that he had assassinated Ironside for Canute's benefit, something previously unknown to Canute, but Canute had Eadric executed on the spot anyway. It was not a successful Christmas party, by anyone's standards.

King George II died from an aortic dissection. According to Horace Walpole's memoirs, King George "rose as usual at six, and drank his chocolate; for all his actions were invariably methodic. A quarter after seven he went into a little closet. His German valet de chambre in waiting heard a noise, and running in, found the King dead on the floor." In falling he had cut his face.

As I know from Gibbon, whom I am currently reading, the Emperor Caracalla died when one of his personal guards stabbed him in the heart as he urinated on the side of  the road Gibbon describes his death thus:

He was attended by a body of cavalry: but having stopped on the road for some necessary occasion, his guards preserved a respectful distance, and Martialis, approaching his person under a presence of duty, stabbed him with a dagger. The bold assassin was instantly killed by a Scythian archer of the Imperial guard. Such was the end of a monster whose life disgraced human nature, and whose reign accused the patience of the Romans.
The Emperor Elagabolus is said, on the net, to have been murdered in the lavatory, although I do not know what evidence we have for this. Gibbon does not mention where the Praetorian Guard killed Elagabolus. 

King James I of Scotland is said to have also been stabbed while urinating but I do not think Scots kings matter very much. King Wenceslas III of Bohemia was murdered with a spear while sitting in the loo on August 4, 1306 but a Czech king also does not matter unless he is the famous Wenceslas who looked out on the feast of Stephen, a story invented, by the way, by the English writer of the hymn.[1]

Many have committed suicide in the bathroom including Judy Garland and someone I know is very famous called Lenny Bruce.

Sir Richard Burton, 
while disguised as an Arab and making the pilgrimage to Mecca, was seen urinating in the western way, i.e. standing, by an Arab boy. British public opinion always suspected Burton of murdering the witness but he insisted that he did not do so but persuaded the boy that he was not an imposter. Burton would have been killed had the fact that he was a Christian come to light. He had previously taken the drastic expedient of being circumcised. I wonder if England is still great enough to produce men like Burton. Or even men like Evelyn Waugh, come to that. 

[1] I have now bestirred myself to check and King Wenceslas III was not Good King Wenceslas - that was King Wenceslas I.


  1. Paul sometimes you leave me speechless:)where the heck you find all this info :)? Evgenios Skitsanos


  2. Death in lavatory is one of the surprising common things that silently connects different nations. Now, find a list (book) with the STD's of great rulers (kings, presidents ans so on) and be even more astonished :D

  3. Is this another apocryphal story about Canute?

  4. I happen to like King Canute, but apart from that, I understand that you're using an interesting anecdote, and I've got nothin. But when I read the excerpt, I just found it incredible that someone as sensible and magnanimous as Canute could be, would act like an Oriental despot.

  5. Now this is the kind of history lesson kids should get. Exam question2: List three leaders of state who died on the lavvy in 250 words.

    Love this blog!

  6. it was all so umimaginably long ago - Auden.

  7. Dodge thank you - please 'follow'this blog!

  8. Many demises are probably premeditated since the intended is in such a vulnerable position--at least those who didn't end it all themselves. It is also a dishonorable way to go, and an extreme insult.

    But it also gives new light to this running pun: "Do you have Prince Albert in the can?"

    Regrets but it was unresistable.
    Allen Quintana