When we think of British monarchs throughout history, we picture a reserved ruler with a stiff upper lip and a certain sense of dignity. Queen Elizabeth II is a perfect example of this image, with her tempered smiles and polite waves.

And while most of these dignified rulers may be immortalized in the history books, they were not immortal in real life. In fact, as history shows us, all-powerful kings have not only died, but they’ve died in all sorts of really embarrassing ways…

1. Henry VIII: Everyone knows him as the monarch who loved a good wedding (or six). But in his prime, the man was an avid sportsman and considered to be quite dashing. Towards the end of his life, however, that was… not the case.

He weighed over 400 pounds and suffered from a leeching leg ulcer, bed sores, and all manner of other ailments. His coffin was lined with lead, but that did not prevent his corpse from bursting and leaking out kingly juices onto the streets.

2. George II: This polarizing monarch had a taste for the finer things in life, with his favorite indulgences being beautiful women and hot chocolate — and who can fault him for loving either one?

Sadly, it must be said that in the end, he died the way he lived, with 30 known mistresses and severe constipation. Part of his heart exploded from all that exertion while he sat on the toilet.

Flickr / Chris Kelly

3. George V: In 1936, this king was dying slowly from pulmonary failure. When the end was near, his doctor killed him by injecting him with cocaine and morphine. But what was his reason for offing the leader of the nation when he did?

It was all about timing: If the king died in the morning, his death would feature in the morning papers, not the evening ones. The doctor figured the story breaking at that time of day would be more appropriate.

4. James II: This Scottish king wanted to impress his lady love with a circus-like display of his cannons. He stood way too close to them and commanded his men to fire — you can probably see where this is going…

It turns out that James was no circus performer. His thigh was cut in half by a cannon ball and he bled out immediately. That’s what happens when you try to show off your big guns all in the name of impressing a girl.

5. Alexander III: One night in 1286, the Scottish king insisted on making a solo trek in the middle of a storm to visit his wife, Yolande, after spending some time away from her. This was not a good idea.

Unfortunately for all parties involved, Alexander never got to make any grand, romantic gesture. Along the way, he was thrown from his horse and instantly killed in what was a rather bland way for such a noble man to go out.

6. William II: While out hunting with a group of friends, this son of William The Conquer was accidentally shot and killed by a companion who clearly needed to work on his aim. But then, that companion ran off.

Historic UK

The king’s other compatriots followed the panicked shooter, who fled back to the castle. Meanwhile, everyone forgot about the dead king William, who spent several days rotting outside until his friends came back for him.

7. John: His greatest contribution to history was signing the Magna Carta in 1215. This revolutionary document held him accountable to English law and guaranteed certain protections for his subjects.

This might have been a major cultural contribution, but perhaps his second greatest achievement was eating a barrel of peaches while lost in the woods and defecating himself to death.

8. James I: At first glance, King James I’s death seems incredibly noble — he died after being attacked by a bevy of stab-happy assassins in a sewer. But a little research makes his death slightly more cringe inducing.

He planned to escape through the feces-filled sewer but forgot that he earlier ordered workers to seal it off. With no escape, he died down there in his pajamas because of his own orders.


9. King Henry I: This monarch had an adventurous appetite, something only royalty could afford in medieval times. This was also the weakness that brought him down.

One meal, he ate an unimaginable number of lampreys — a type of blood-sucking eel straight out of your nightmares — and died of food poisoning soon after. Go figure.

10. William the Conquer: William’s nickname didn’t come out of nowhere. He conquered all sorts of things, including the Saxon people. But it appears his military brilliance only worked on other human beings…

While on the battlefield, his horse stopped abruptly, jamming the king’s innards against his saddle and rupturing his guts. Yes, he was murdered by his horse. We can only hope the horse didn’t get off lightly!

Hearing about the deaths of these historical figures is one thing, but really picturing it is something else entirely. Death masks are wax or plastic casts made of a person’s face following their death. They typically serve as a memento for loved ones, but they also give us a little insight into the past.

1. German composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven lived from 1770 to 1827.  He was an important figure in the transition from classical and Romantic eras of Western music. He died at the age of 56, presumably from liver damage from heavy alcohol consumption.


2. Famed political and military figure who rose to fame during the French revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte lived from 1769 to 1821. He also led successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars. It is presumed that he died from gastric cancer at the age of 51.


3. Oliver Cromwell, who prior to becoming known as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, was an English political and military figure who lived between 1599 and 1658. It is believed that he died from septicemia at the age of 59 following a urinary infection.


4. American actor James Dean’s name has become synonymous with the Golden Age of Hollywood films. While he appeared older, the cultural icon only lived from 1931 to 1955. He was tragically involved in a fatal car crash and died from his injuries when he was just 24 years old.


5. First Earl of Beaconsfield, KG, PC, FRS, Benjamin Disraeli lived from 1804 to 1881. The famous British politician served two terms as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He died when he was 76 years old from a battle with severe bronchitis. 


6. While Benjamin Franklin had many professions during his lifetime, he is, perhaps, best known as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He lived from 1706 to 1790. He passed away at the age of 84 years old from a fight with pleurisy.


7. The former and last titled King of Prussia, Frederick the Great lived between 1712 and 1786. He holds the title for the longest reign of any Hohenzollern (1740-1786) at 46 years. His cause of death was never officially ruled, though, he lived to be 74 years old. 


8. Eighteenth President of the United States and commanding general Ulysses S. Grant lived from 1822 to 1885. He is also known for having led the Union Army to a victory over the Confederates in the American Civil War. He died from a battle with throat cancer when he was 63.


9. After taking the crown in August 1485, Henry VII was the King of England and the first monarch of the House of Tudor until his death, though, he had many other titles during his lifetime. He lived from 1457 to 1509.  He died from a battle with tuberculosis when he was 52 years old.


10. A high-ranking German Nazi official, as well as one of many architects of the Holocaust during World War II, Reinhard Heydrich lived between the years of 1904 and 1942. He died from severe wounds suffered during a bomb attack when he was 38.


11. One of many leading members of the Nazi Party of Nazi Germany Heinrich Himmler lived between the years of 1900 and 1945. He killed himself with a dose of cyanide poisoning when he was just 44 years old. His death mask is practically unrecognizable, too.


12. English writer Samuel Johnson, also known as Dr. Johnson, lived between the years of 1709 and 1784. He was a renowned essayist, editor, biographer, poet, literary critic, and moralist during his lifetime. He died from heart failure when he was 75.


13. An Australian bushranger that was actually of Irish decent, Ned Kelly lived between the years of 1855 and 1880. He has become one of Australia’s most famous figures in history. Kelly was killed during an execution by hanging when he was a mere 25 years old.


14. Commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War from 1862 to 1865, Robert E. Lee lived between 1807 and 1870. Following a stroke, he lost his life to a bout of pneumonia in Lexington, Virginia when he was 63 years old. 


15. Russian communist revolutionary, political theorist, and politician Vladimir Lenin lived between the years of 1870 and 1924. It is presumed that he died from a battle with the sexually transmitted disease syphilis when he was just 53 years old.


16. German composer, priest, monk, and professor of theology, Martin Luther lived between the years of 1483 and 1546. He was an important figure in Protestant reformation and suffered an apoplectic stroke when he was 62 years old, resulting in his death.


17. First Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté KB Horatio Nelson lived from 1758 to 1805. Additionally, he served as a British flag officer in the Royal Navy. He died from wounds inflicted by a gunshot while participating in battle when he was 47 years old.


18. English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and one of the most influential scientists in history, Isaac Newton lived from 1642 to 1727. He was also one of the most prominent figures in scientific revolution. He died from a kidney stone when he was 84 years old.


19. French politician and lawyer Maximilien Robespierre lived between the years 1758 and 1794. He is, perhaps, best known as one of the most influential people from the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. He was executed by beheading when he was 36.


20. During World War II, Erwin Rommel was field marshal in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany. He is typically best known as “Desert Fox” and lived between the years of 1891 and 1944.  He was forced to commit suicide by cyanide poisoning when he was 52 years old.


21. Twenty-sixth president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt lived between 1858 and 1919. He was also known as a soldier, an author, an explorer, a statesman, and a naturalist. He died from a blood clot in one of his lungs when he was 60 years old.


22. Businessman, author, and American soldier William T. Sherman lived between the years of 1820 and 1891. He was famously known as General of the Union Army during the American Civil War. His cause of death is unknown, though, he was 71 years old.


23. Perhaps, best known for the beautiful operas which he solely wrote, German composer, polemicist, and theater director Richard Wagner lived between the years of 1813 and 1883. He died from heart failure when he was 69.


24. A field marshal and leading military figure of Britain during the 19th century, Arthur Wellesley, also known as the Duke of Wellington lived between the years of 1769 and 1852. Following a stroke, he had a bout of epilepsy which ultimately resulted in his death at 83 years old.


25.  As the 28th President of the United States of America, Woodrow Wilson lived between the years of 1856 and 1924. He was also known to people as an academic and a politician. Following a stroke, he =died from heart failure when he was 67 years old.