Historical story

Why was the English king chopped up and cooked?

The mortal remains of the English ruler Henry V of Lancaster were boiled until the flesh and fat were separated from the bones. Contrary to appearances, it was not about preparing the body for an act of cannibalism, nor about a fancy (and macabre) way to show dislike of the king. On the contrary…

Henry V Lancaster is sometimes called by the English the last great warrior among medieval kings. He was the eldest son of Henry IV and his first wife, Maria Bohun. He sat on the throne on March 21, 1413 (the coronation took place two weeks later) after the premature death of his father, who suffered from an unequivocally unknown disease. Historians argue over whether it was leprosy, syphilis, or maybe epilepsy.

Corpse boiled in wine and vinegar

However, the newly appointed king was in rather good health. So much so that he set out - successfully - to conquer France. After numerous perturbations, including one of the most important battles of the Hundred Years 'War (at Agincourt), he managed to maneuver the mad French ruler Charles VI into signing the peace treaty in Troyes, under which Henry was to become Charles' successor. He also won a partner, because he was married to the daughter of the erstwhile rival, Katarzyna.

Henry V is the protagonist of the movie "The King" produced by Netflix

Soon the English monarch could enjoy the triumphs on the continent and family happiness. He returned to his homeland for a short time. He last visited her at the beginning of 1421, but after a few months he had to return to France, leaving his pregnant wife behind.

He was only in good health for a while. In the summer of 1422 he suddenly fell ill. His condition was deteriorating very quickly. After all, just two months before his father-in-law died, Henry V died at Vincennes Castle. Apparently, before he gave up his ghost, he still managed to say :"If God had let me live to old age and end the war with France, I would have won the Holy Land" . The Creator, however, was not so kind - on August 31, at the age of only 35, the English ruler closed his eyes forever.

Given the level of medieval medicine (and the notorious lack of hygiene), this was not really surprising. From a contemporary point of view, what is shocking is what was done to his mortal remains after the king's death. Jennifer Woodward reports:

The body was treated with the mos teutonicus technique: was quartered, then boiled in wine and vinegar until fat and muscle separate from the bones.

What happened to the body of Henry V? ​​

Usually, when someone of noble birth died abroad, only bones were returned to England, while soft tissues were buried on the spot. However, in Henry's case, both the skeleton and the rest of his body were sealed in a lead chest with lots of aromatic spices, and then transported back to their homeland for burial at Westminster Abbey.

A gruesome funeral ritual

All because Henry was unlucky enough to die far from his native England - and at the end of a hot summer. In such circumstances, there was no question of traditional transportation of the body. And since there was no embalmer on the spot, it was decided to use (you have to admit) a rather macabre method.

Interestingly, the mos teutonics ritual was by no means particularly rare. In the era of the crusades, it was necessary to invent some method of securing the corpse in field conditions - after all, it was not acceptable for the noble births to be buried in the territory of dissenters.

On the other hand, transporting the bodies as a whole was not only burdensome (and in some cases even impossible), but also extremely unhygienic. And although medieval people were at odds with the latter, they were deterred from similar expeditions by even dubious aromatic qualities ... So sometimes it was necessary to resort to final measures.

Death of Louis IX during the Seventh Crusade.

For example, the mortal remains of King Louis IX, who died in Tunis in 1270 during the last Crusade, were treated in this way. However, the mos teutonics method was favored primarily by the German rulers - the English and French preferred embalming, which was less controversial. Another thing is that - as the story of Henry V shows - after their death, they didn't have much to say about it.


  1. E.A.R. Brown, Authority, the Family, and the Dead in Late Medieval France, "French Historical Studies", Duke University Press 16/1990, pp. 803-832.
  2. E.A.R. Brown, Death and the Human Body in the Late Middle Ages:The Legislation of Boniface VIII on the division of the Corpse, "Viator", UCLA:Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, XII / 1981, pp. 223–270.
  3. J. Woodward, The Theater of Death:The Ritual Management of Royal Funerals in Renaissance England, 1570-1625, Boydell &Brewer Ltd 1997.