Tuesday, April 7, 2015

F: by Figs (26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary)

Some conspiracy theories survive for long centuries. The death of King Mátyás, undoubtedly the most famous king in Hungarian history, is one of those cases.

Mátyás (the little brother of Hunyadi László who was beheaded, remember?) was a Renaissance king in all senses of the word. He ruled well, defended the country against the Turks, built an amazing library in Buda, and also imprisoned Vlad Tepes (Dracula) on the side. Even though he was probably not as great a person as later sources made him out to be, he became the hero of countless folktales - people remember him as "Mátyás the Just." Most stories tell about his adventures as he went among the people disguised as a beggar or a student (not much of a difference at the time) and dispensed some true trickster justice to help the poor and take the nobility down a notch. When he died, in 1490, the saying went up: "Mátyás is dead, Justice is dead."

But how did he die?

According to the most popular historical legend, he was killed with poisoned figs. He had some kind of an illness that made him drowsy and tired all the time; some people claim that was the sign of someone slowly poisoning the king. We know from the chronicles that he ate some figs the day before his death, and he became upset because  they tasted funny. Soon after he succumbed to great pains.
Most people blame the Italians. The figs were brought from Ancona. Mátyás had an Italian wife, Beatrice, and they brought him a new Italian doctor short before he died. The chronicle also states that when the king was lying on his deathbed Beatrice was making him drink some "life-giving" potion (I would have been suspicious of that too). It didn't seem to help. It was a popular idea after his death to blame the queen, but not much evidence supported it.
Other historians claim he died of a stroke, or some other natural cause. Some say that eating rotten figs can lead to great stomach pains and eventually to stroke if someone is already predisposed. We'll probably never know for sure. But once again, the death (and life) of King Mátyás is a story most Hungarians are familiar with.
(I remember there was a colorful picture book illustration of his death in one of my elementary school history books. The king was lying in bed, and a lady in a beautiful green Renaissance dress was making him drink from a tiny bottle. There was a plate of figs on the bedside table.)

23 comments:

  1. That painting sounds like a horror movie set. "Here, dear... enjoy. Taste." And all the while the audience knows and is screaming "DON'T. DO. IT!"

    Alex Hurst, A Fantasy Author in Kyoto
    A-Z Blogging in April Participant

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is why being royalty isn't always great. An awful lot of those early rulers had a premature, swift and/or painful exit. Elle @ Erratic Project Junkie

    ReplyDelete
  3. Some of the commoners probably didn't fare so well either, but we don't know about them.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Maybe the potion wasn't enough and the figs were the nail in the coffin!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I am reminded of August's death in I Claudius :) Doesn't sound like a nice way to go, then again poisoning isn't I understand.
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Yesterday on A to Z it was an Italian doctor melting out brains, now an Italian wife with a malfunctioning life-elixir. Remind me not to buy medicine from Italy.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Your history lessons sound so much more exciting than ours. Would love to see that painting.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wow. I'm having flashbacks to the Korean drama Rooftop Prince. There was a storyline similar to this in that show. What a sad way to go. So now I want to know, did drac get out of prison after the king died?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Poisoned figs? Oh, that sucks!

    ReplyDelete
  10. At first I thought he ate himself to death - that have happened to other kings. Gluttony is a deadly sin. But poison - must be a sneaky one providing it...

    ReplyDelete
  11. I'm loving your A-to-Z series this year, Csenge! It's gory, even a tad morbid--what's not to love, right? :D But what makes it brilliant is your flair for storytelling. And your humor is exquisite.
    Guilie @ Quiet Laughter

    ReplyDelete
  12. Interesting theme to begin with. Glad I stopped by to read this story about death by Figs. Never heard of it before. Will surely check out your other posts too :)
    You are welcome to check out my A-Z posts here: sundarivenkatraman.blogspot.in

    ReplyDelete
  13. Clearly, it was the doctor. I like to imagine a guild of assassins posing as medical men in order to get close to the nobility. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  14. Do kings get hazardous duty pay? :-)

    ReplyDelete
  15. Well, it's an important fact Queen Beatrice was the wife of the next Hungarian King, Vladislaud II. That's make her a little suspicious. :)
    But King Vladislaus was trickier than Beatrice. He asked the archbishop, who did the marriage ceremony, to make a canonical mistake. After the ceremony the marriage wans't consummated, and Vladislaus has never meet with Beatrice without witnesses. Finally the Pope granted Vladislaus' divorce application, and the former Queen had to leave Hungary. She had gone to Naples, but later her dynasty has fallen, and Beatrice died poorly and alone.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Why oh why they did not have someone to taste their food...

    ReplyDelete
  17. Beatrice sounds very suspicious. "Life-giving" potion! She was probably younger than him and had a lover. Just a theory. Maui Jungalow

    ReplyDelete
  18. What's up with that family? two weird deaths on a row?! I wonder if Beatrice was innocent and wrongly accused all along? that would be sad.
    "Haneen/I Will Never Give you Up (302)"

    ReplyDelete
  19. OK. This is like the strangest and most original theme I've seen on A to Z. I'll be back for more ideas, lol.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I've heard of figs poisoning dogs and cats but never humans. Very interesting!

    ReplyDelete