Historical story

Death in British. Bizarre Accidents in 16th Century Coroners' Reports

Last updated:2022-07-25

Do you think we live in dangerous times? That at every step you can run into a car, die of lung cancer or a fire in the electrical system? In the past it was not easier, as evidenced by the notes of coroners from 16th century England. And it is by no means the unfortunate incidents of the wives of the then king, Henry VIII, losing their heads.

Let's skip Anna Boleyn and Katarzyna Howard, because they were women from the upper classes. They lived as befits the aristocracy and died in a way that appealed to the imagination. But what happened to ordinary people who were just terribly unlucky? Oxford University lecturer Dr. Steven Gunn has examined a pile of coroners' reports from the Tudor era. Some of the 16th century cases would have deserved a Darwin Award like nothing…

Killer bears. The fact that in modern times teddy bears were a popular attraction, both at courts and at fairs, you already know thanks to the article by Ola Zaprutko. It was no different in the British Isles. Some bears danced and performed tricks, others took part in bloody fights to the death. The great lords, including Henry VIII Tudor himself, even had private arenas and special pits for bears.

As you can predict, sometimes something went wrong and the teddy bear managed to escape. Thus, in 1563, at Birling, Kent, a bear freed himself from captivity by a Lord Bergavenna and killed the widow Agnes Rapte. Another lady of the same name - Agnes Owen - was killed in her own bed when a runaway bear broke into her home in Herefordshire at night. It took place in 1565.

Don't upset the teddy bear ... or he will eat you!

Accidents at the shooting range . Do you think firearms are a dangerous invention and it would be best to go back to good old bows? Contrary to appearances, it would not help much. Steven Gunn found 56 deaths in shooting-range accidents in coroners' reports. Sometimes a spectator stood too close, sometimes a player at the wrong moment went to pick up his shots.

On top of that, there were cases of sheer stupidity. In June 1556, Thomas Curteys of Bildeston took his hat off his head and challenged another archer, proposing that he should hit the headgear with an arrow. Well, for what happened later, no one got an award…

From the bow ... to my own head. Yes, such a case also happened, although it's hard to believe that it is possible. A man named Henry Pert from Welbeck drew his bow tight, wanting, of course, to shoot it into the air. The arrow, however, jammed, so the man turned his bow towards him. Guess for yourself what happened a few seconds later. My hint is that Henry gave up his ghost the next day.

Killer bullets . In the case of bows and archers, at least everyone knew better than to get too close. Firearms, meanwhile, tasted of novelty to death. In 1519, the first fatal accident with the use of small arms was recorded in Great Britain - a woman from Welton, apparently not knowing what pistols were, walked straight under the bullets of French bookbinder practitioner Peter Frenchman. Puzzling that the roar of the shots did not make her think…

Death while baking bread. Today, baking anything is a really risky occupation. After all, we use gas, electricity ... But how could you go about it with a lethal effect in the 16th century? On January 29, 1558, old Miss Elizabeth Beneth was baking bread in the kitchen of her friend, widow Matilda Nanfan of Birtsmorton, when she realized that she was missing cabbage leaves (to put under the loaves). She went to collect them over a nearby moat. On the spot, she leaned against the fence surrounding the moat, it collapsed and the woman fell into a puddle and drowned.

Killer cows. Have you thought so far that cows are honest, heavy creatures? Robert Calf is unlikely to agree with this opinion. On a March day in 1557, he was just crossing a field when a cow of William Cheills attacked him. In short, the unfortunate man did not survive the encounter with the horns of a British mug.

One would not want to fall into such a sewage pit ... and it is full (photo:Emillie, license CC ASA 3.0).

Better not to wash anymore . Contrary to appearances, the 16th-century British were not dirty at all. It's just that home bathrooms have not been invented yet, so simple people get confused in ponds, pools and rivers. As it happens in life, sometimes someone slips, and sometimes they step too deep into the water. Thomas Staple of Biddenden drowned on June 2, 1558, scrubbing in the pool of a Mr. Mayne. That same summer, John Joplyn and George Lee drowned washing themselves in the rivers flowing through Cambridge and Leicaster. How lucky it is to have bathtubs and showers in our day!

Dangerous walls. Of course, on the walls and under the walls, life was lost mainly during sieges. However, they could also do a lot of damage on a daily basis. On April 26, 1558, Thomas Alsopp of Coventry was standing by the city wall when, on the other side, someone inadvertently knocked over a decorative pole around which a dance party was taking place. A pole hit a wall, a brick fell from the wall, and half of Thomas's brain turned to pulp.

At the very end of the cesspool. Modern toilets are characterized by the fact that it is difficult to drown in them (unless you are a goldfish). In the past, however, public toilets were placed over deep sewage pits. On June 2, 1523, a drunk Cambridge baker was pissing quietly when he suddenly staggered and fell backwards - straight into the cloaca. Result? A really dirty death.


Sean Coughlan, 10 strange ways Tudors died , "BBC", June 14, 2011.