Many “whodunnit” have ended with a murderer killing a king or queen with poison. However, real poisoners exist in real life too, and some of them almost get away with it. Here are ten times that poisoners fooled the public into believing that his Highness was only suffering from a mild case of the flu.
Related: 10 Poisonings With Extraordinarily Common Household Items
10 Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I is probably one of the most famous royals to have fallen prey to disease and poison. And unfortunately for her, it was her own fault.
You see, in 1562, the queen had a case of smallpox. While she was recovering from the disease, it left several scars on her face. Like many women, the queen turned to makeup as a solution to her beauty problems.
The bad thing is that the makeup that the queen used to cover her face was a white powder called Venetian wax. Although there is nothing wrong with powdering your nose from time to time, this particular powder contains lead, a chemical that is poisonous to the human body.
To make matters worse, the queen paired her poisonous foundation with a red lipstick made from mercury! Like lead, mercury is a highly toxic substance that can cause all sorts of physical ailments.
It is not surprising then that, over time, the queen’s health began to decline. She became irritable and experienced deep facial skin lesions, depression, and memory loss. Although historians cannot say for sure what ultimately killed her, one of the suspected causes of her is cancer, caused by lead poisoning, and depression, caused by mercury.
9 Diana of Poitiers
Diane de Poitiers is not royal, but she certainly moved around in the royal courts. Diane de Poitiers was the mistress of King Henry II and, considering that she was 20 years older than him, she seemed to have had some insecurities about her age.
To combat her aging woes, Diane came up with a solution: drinkable gold. Drinkable gold was a popular anti-aging serum in France at the time and was made by liquefying gold chloride and diethyl ether. So both women and men would drink the whey to stay young and healthy forever.
However, as with so many options, the serum did not work. In fact, he made her quite sick. It is believed that it eventually led to her death, as gold poisoning is fatal. Furthermore, mercury was used in the elixir, which may also have contributed to the poor lady’s unfortunate death.
8 Elizabeth Princess of Naples
Isabel de Aragón was princess of Naples from the end of the 15th century to the beginning of the 16th century. Although she lived to be over 50 years old, she could have lived much longer if it weren’t for the fact that she got sick.
Isabella was chronically ill, constantly suffering from nasty fevers and unidentifiable general illnesses. In fact, she was so ill in general that she eventually died from inflammation of the body. At that time, many people thought that she was just sick; however, it seems something more sinister was going on: poison.
In the past, mercury was a common remedy for all kinds of health problems, whether it was a simple itch or something more serious. With Isabella constantly taking mercury to heal her health, she eventually ended up poisoning herself. The more mercury she took, the worse she felt, which ultimately led to her death.
7 Alexander III of Macedon
Alexander III of Macedon, better known as Alexander the Great, died in June 323 BC. Despite the fact that he died so many years ago, his death has been quite controversial.
Some historians believe that he suffered from an autoimmune disorder that caused his death. Others believe that he may have died of alcohol poisoning. Still, others attribute his death to a nasty case of typhoid or malaria.
However, one strong theory is that Alexander the Great died from Veratrum poisoning. Veratrum poisoning causes muscle weakness, nausea, vomiting and stomach pain, all of which Alexander the Great experienced for 12 excruciating days until his death.
The jury is still out on whether Alexander died of an actual illness or was actually the victim of poisoning. And considering he died so many years ago, we may never know for sure.
6 Emperor Zhongzong of Tang
They say you should always watch your back, and for royalty, that couldn’t be more true. Unfortunately for Emperor Zhongzong of Tang, it seems that no one gave him this advice.
Emperor Zhongzong ruled China during the Tang dynasty, though he was never exactly a great ruler. In fact, he often left real power over his empire in the hands of his consort Empress Wei.
Unfortunately, it seemed that Empress Wei was not satisfied with being just a consort and wanted all the power as regent. One night at dinner, she slipped him a poisoned cake, which Emperor Zhongzong happily ate. Soon after, the emperor fell quite ill and was suddenly found dead soon after.
Although courtiers claimed the emperor’s death was due to sudden illness, historians have speculated that foul play may have been involved. It is up to you to decide whether you believe Empress Wei was innocent or not.
5 Henry VII of Luxembourg
We often hear about King Henry of England, but it’s not that often that we hear about King Henry of Luxembourg. Still, when it comes to poison masquerading as disease, Henry VII of Luxembourg, Holy Roman Emperor, is worth mentioning.
In the early 1300s, a nasty attack of anthrax swept through the king’s court, killing his horses and leaving numerous courtiers sick or worse. King Henry himself succumbed to the terrible disease and developed nasty black sores all over his body.
Although the sores did not kill him, they certainly left him in a lot of pain. To cure the sores, his doctors prescribed arsenic to combat them. To the delight of the king, the medicine worked!
What he didn’t know is that while the arsenic was killing the harmful anthrax bacteria, it was also killing the king. Slowly but surely, the king began to succumb to arsenic poisoning, growing sicker and sicker as his life continued. Eventually, the king died, and when historians recovered his body, they found his bones laden with the harmful chemical.
4 Napoleon Bonaparte
While some kings were killed due to foul play, others were simply unlucky. The small but mighty leader Napoleon Bonaparte may be someone who fell into the latter category.
Although Napoleon is widely known as a fearless leader and a strong military man, towards the end of his life he became weak and infirm. He began to struggle with severe stomach pain and digestive problems and eventually died of stomach cancer.
Now, while there are plenty of people who just get sick and die of cancer, in the case of Napoleon, it seems the true cause of death wasn’t that simple. You see, Napoleon’s favorite color was green, and he had the walls painted a beautiful bright green shade known as Scheele’s Green.
Unfortunately for him, Scheele’s green was made with arsenic, which, as you may have guessed, can cause stomach cancer, among other ailments. After taking a close look at his autopsy, it appears that arsenic may have been linked to the cause of death and that it was an unintentional poisoning that killed the young leader after all.
3 qin shi huang
Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor of China, and from the beginning, he was obsessed with living forever. As with many Taoists and Chinese feng-shui followers, the Emperor turned to alchemy.
There were several Chinese alchemists in his time who were preparing the so-called elixirs of life, which are said to bring the drinker eternal youth. And, with much glee, Qin Shi Huang began to drink these elixirs himself. Unfortunately for him, the main ingredient in these elixirs was mercury.
One day in particular, the emperor took several pills from an alchemist that promised eternal life. The pills contained a lethal dose of mercury and the ruler fell seriously ill. The next morning, the emperor was dead. The irony is that in his quest for eternal life, Qin Shi Huang ended up bringing himself closer to death than himself.
2 Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor
Charles VI was Holy Roman Emperor from 1711 and also claimed the throne of Austria. Like so many involuntary kings, Carlos VI fell thanks to poison.
As the story goes, Charles VI was served a plate of mushrooms stewed in oil at dinner, which was reputedly one of his favorite dishes. Imagine his dismay then, when after eating his abundant meal, the king fell very ill.
The poor king suffered from an unknown disease for ten days, and his doctors tried to treat his mysterious illness. However, no matter what the doctors did, the king eventually succumbed to his illness.
Although it was probably an accident, years later, historians discovered that the mushrooms the king actually ate were death hat mushrooms. Easily confused with common edible mushrooms, these mushrooms are highly toxic and cause liver failure. And so it seems that poor Charles VI died of toxic fungus rather than a nasty case of gastroenteritis.
1 Cangrande della Scala
Cangrande della Scala is a little-known nobleman from Italy. The cardinal was entering Verona after a long-awaited defeat of the nobles in the city of Treviso when he became seriously ill.
Barely four days after his grand entrance into the city, the cardinal was dead. At the time, doctors said that Cangrande della Scala had died after falling ill from drinking from a contaminated well.
However, years later, after his body was exhumed, historians believe a different cause of death was at stake. It appears that the cardinal actually died from digitalis poisoning, a nasty poison that is made mostly from foxglove. Although the cardinal could have ingested the substance accidentally, it is much more likely that someone slipped it into his drink at some point, leaving him dead from poisoning.
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