Your cheeky guide to the dynasty

Bears, Stairs, and Tuberculosis


Maybe it’s because Halloween is drawing close (and has been since July, if you like craft stores) but I am morbidly enchanted by the song “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” by Train, a fixture on radio stations in my area. I hadn’t paid much attention to the lyrics, but last night it came on in the car and when my 10-year-old daughter started belting out all the words I finally realized just what was going on!

Here’s the story: Girl breaks up with guy. Guy runs into friends from time to time who ask how girlfriend is doing and where she is. Too embarassed to admit he’s been dumped, guy instead tells them she’s dead, making up different scenarios for different friends. It’s like the pop-music version of Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies.

“She was caught in a mudslide / Eaten by a lion / Got run over by a crappy purple Scion / Help me, help me, I’m no good at goodbyes! / And ways to say you died.”

Factor in the mariachi band in the background, and that the melody sounds awfully Phantom-of-the-Opera-y, and you’ve got a delightfully disturbing ditty.

When we read about the Tudor period, it seems like everyone and their illegitimate offspring is dying of consumption (tuberculosis). We know some particularly gory details about Edward VI’s final days with this dreadful disease. When your nails are dropping off, your skin is blue, and you’re coughing up a stinky black substance, all the codpieces and ermine cloaks in the world are not going to distract from that.

Monarchs and others in power were always in danger of assassination. Then there were mysterious accidents, such as Robert Dudley’s wife, Amy Robsart, who took a fatal spill down a flight of stairs.

Have a look at this BBC article for ten unusual accidental deaths discovered in 16th-century coroners’ reports. Maypole injuries, mad cows, bear attacks, even “testicles crushed in a Christmas game.” Honestly!


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