Top 10 Unusual Deaths During The Middle Ages

Top 10 Unusual Deaths During The Middle Ages

From the Dark Ages to the dawn of the Renaissance, the Middle Ages, often referred to as medieval times, were an era of profound transformation and historical intrigue. Death was an everyday part of life, often resulting from war, famine, disease, or other common causes. Yet, a few incidents stand out as some of the strangest deaths in history. These tales tell us that the Middle Ages were not just an era of knights and castles but also of the most peculiar fatalities. Here are ten of the weirdest deaths in history that took place during this fascinating era.

The Wine Cellar Tragedy

In 1327, Charles IV of France met his untimely death by being inebriated and deciding to sleep in a cold wine cellar. His drunk and cold state quickly led to hypothermia, causing his death. Although seemingly absurd, this strange incident serves as a reminder of the weird causes of death that are often overlooked in the annals of history.

King John’s Gluttonous Feast

Famed as the villain in the Robin Hood stories, King John of England’s death in 1216 is a bizarre tale. He allegedly died of a “surfeit of peaches and cider,” essentially from eating too much. His overindulgence led to a fatal case of dysentery, an ignoble end for a controversial monarch.

The Deathly Embrace of a Balcony

The Italian nobleman, Cangrande Della Scala, died in 1329 after drinking from a polluted spring. However, the most peculiar fact about his death was the circumstances surrounding it. Della Scala was on his balcony when he was overwhelmed by a violent bout of vomiting, causing him to fall off the balcony and die.

The Dancing Plague

One of the strangest and most macabre events during medieval times was the Dancing Plague of 1518. Hundreds of people in Strasbourg, Alsace (modern-day France), started dancing uncontrollably and kept at it for days, leading to exhaustion, heart attacks, and eventual death. The cause is still a subject of debate among historians and medical experts.

The Unsinkable Viking

Sigurd Eysteinsson, a Viking Earl, won a battle in Scotland in 892, only to die from a bizarre cause. After decapitating his enemy, Máel Brigte, he tied the head to his horse’s saddle as a trophy. But the head’s teeth grazed his leg as he rode, leading to a fatal infection. This ranks among the weirdest deaths in history, mixing victory and irony in equal measure.

The King and His Beard

In 1087, King Philip I of France died after his beard caught on fire. While at a banquet, he reportedly leaned too close to a candle, setting his long beard ablaze. His subsequent injuries led to his demise, making for one of the strangest tales of royal misfortune.

The Cow Incident

In 945, King Edmund I of England was attending a feast when he saw a notorious criminal named Leofa in the crowd. In the ensuing altercation, Leofa wounded Edmund fatally. But here’s the unusual part: earlier that day, a prophecy foretold that a cow would kill the king, and it turned out that “cow” was the Old English term for a rogue warrior like Leofa. The weirdness of this death lies in its eerie prediction.

Death by Feather Pillow

One of the most mysterious medieval deaths was that of Henry I, King of England, who reportedly died from eating too many lampreys in 1135, leading to a severe case of food poisoning. Still, there were also rumors that he was actually smothered with a feather pillow by his wife, Adeliza. Although not confirmed, it remains a chillingly odd speculation.

Death by Turtle

Aeschylus, the famous ancient Greek playwright, wasn’t exactly a medieval figure, but his death was so bizarre that it deserves mention. In 455 BC, an eagle, mistaking his bald head for a rock, dropped a turtle on it, leading to his immediate death. This unanticipated event surely qualifies as one of the most unusual fatalities.

The Fatal Prayer

In 1410, Martin of Aragon died from a fit of laughter. The king suffered from indigestion and called his jester to lift his spirits. The jester’s joke about a “praying mantis” was so amusing to the king that he laughed to death.

These tales of medieval times‘ death are not only intriguing but also offer a glimpse into the vast array of odd and often unexplained phenomena that characterized this period. They certainly lend a new perspective to the term “strange but true,” and remind us that history can sometimes be as weird as it is fascinating.

What Were Common Medieval Causes of Death?

Death was an omnipresent part of life in the Middle Ages, and a wide variety of causes could trigger it. The overall life expectancy was significantly lower than today, averaging around 30 to 40 years, with many dying in childhood. Here are some of the most common causes of death during this period:

Warfare: The Middle Ages were marked by a multitude of battles, conflicts, and wars. From the Viking invasions to the Hundred Years’ War, many lost their lives on the battlefield due to direct violence or ensuing disease and starvation.

Famine: Recurring periods of starvation resulted in malnutrition, making the population vulnerable to diseases and decreasing overall life expectancy. Bad weather, pests, and ineffective farming techniques often led to poor harvests and food shortages.

Disease: The lack of medical knowledge and sanitation standards contributed to the spread of various diseases. The Black Death, also known as the Bubonic Plague, was the most devastating pandemic, wiping out an estimated 75-200 million people in the 14th century. Other common diseases included smallpox, dysentery, and tuberculosis.

Childbirth: For women, childbirth was a dangerous event. Lack of hygiene, limited knowledge about childbirth, and the absence of effective treatments for complications led to high maternal and infant mortality rates.

Work-related accidents: In the medieval period, safety regulations were non-existent. Accidents in agriculture, construction, and other physically demanding jobs were frequent, often leading to severe injuries or death.

Infections: Without antibiotics and proper medical care, what we now consider minor injuries or diseases could turn deadly. A simple cut could lead to a fatal infection, and a common cold could turn into pneumonia.

The Middle Ages were a period of high mortality rates, where death could result from numerous factors. Although the causes of death were common and often brutal, they led to significant developments in medicine, sanitation, and societal structures, which have shaped the modern world.

Medieval Burial Practices

Medieval burial practices were deeply tied to the religious beliefs of the period. Christianity, the dominant religion in Europe during the Middle Ages, significantly influenced these practices, and the rites associated with death and the afterlife were taken very seriously.

Upon death, a person’s body would be prepared for burial by washing and dressing it, typically in a shroud. The body was then laid out for viewing, known as the ‘wake,’ allowing family and friends to pay their respects.

The funeral would often include a procession led by a priest, carrying the body to the church for a Mass. The Mass of the Dead, or Requiem, would be performed, with prayers said for the soul’s safe passage to the afterlife.

Graveyards were usually adjacent to the church, and the body was buried in consecrated ground. It was common practice to bury people according to their social status, with those of higher rank buried closer to the church. In some cases, wealthy or prominent individuals were buried inside the church.

Gravestones or crosses marked the grave’s location, and memorial masses might be held on the anniversary of the person’s death. These practices reflected the deep-rooted belief in life after death and the sanctity of the soul.


In conclusion, the Middle Ages, often viewed as a dark and brutal time, were undoubtedly characterized by high mortality rates. From the most common causes of death, like warfare, disease, and famine, to the strange and unusual fatalities that befall some individuals, it was a time when life was precarious and often cut short unexpectedly.

The medieval burial practices highlight the deep religious beliefs of the time, emphasizing the sanctity of the soul and its journey to the afterlife. These customs, entrenched in community and faith, offered solace amidst death’s pervasive presence.

Despite the harsh realities of life and the strangeness of some of these death tales, they have shaped our understanding of history, contributing to a vibrant tapestry of human experience. Studying these facets of the Middle Ages enables us to appreciate humanity’s progress over the centuries. It gives us a unique perspective on a time that has fundamentally shaped the modern world.

Whether common or strange, these historical deaths and practices remind us of the fragility and unpredictability of life, driving home the fact that the Middle Ages were not merely an era of knights and castles but also of the authentic, often harsh, human experience.