These days, Europe’s kings and queens are cozy anachronisms, trotted out on ceremonial occasions and largely ignored for the rest of the year. But for 1,000 years, the royal families of Europe murdered and feuded ruthlessly in search of absolute power. Assassinations were common, and many a medieval tyrant ended his days failing to fend off a sudden knife thrust.
10 – Eric V Of Denmark
In 1286, a mysterious group of apparent Franciscan monks rode into the village of Finderup. They were heading for the barn where King Eric V of Denmark and his entourage were sleeping after a hunting expedition in the local woods. As the hunters snoozed, the murderous monks silently entered the barn and stabbed the king to death.
In the ensuing confusion, the assassins ditched their monk costumes and made a clean getaway. King Eric was an unpopular tyrant who had plenty of enemies, and it was unclear who had ordered the murder. In an atmosphere of paranoia, the Danes quickly convicted nobleman Stig Andersen Hvide, who hated Eric for sleeping with his wife.
No evidence linked Hvide to the killing, and he refused to submit to such a ruling. Instead, he fled to the island of Hjelm and became a pirate, raiding and looting the coast of Denmark until his death seven years later.
9 – Alboin
Alboin was king of the Lombards and one of the most powerful and remarkable figures of sixth-century Europe. It was he who led the Lombards south into Italy, conquering the north of the country.
No one could stand against Alboin on the battlefield. But his savagery eventually backfired on him. Early in his reign, he killed King Cunimund of the Gepids and turned his skull into a drinking cup. Then he forcibly married Cunimund’s daughter, Rosemund. During one drunken feast in June 572, he invited Rosemund to “drink happily with her father” and made her sip wine from the skull cup.
This was a step too far, and Rosemund immediately began plotting his murder. She disguised herself as a servant and seduced Alboin’s bodyguard, Peredeo. She then revealed her true identity and threatened to tell Alboin about the affair unless Peredeo killed him. Knowing that Alboin would surely have him executed, Peredeo agreed and hacked the king to death in his bedchamber, completing Rosemund’s revenge.
8 – Andrew Of Hungary
When King Robert of Naples died in 1343, the throne passed to his teenage granddaughter, Joanna. She was married to her cousin, Prince Andrew of Hungary, and the expectation was that he would rule Naples in her name. But Joanna was a ruthlessly determined young woman who insisted that she was queen and Andrew merely her husband.
A bitter political struggle soon broke out between the couple. The people of Naples supported Joanna, despising Andrew as a foreigner who surrounded himself with other Hungarians. Before long, the prince was writing to his mother that he feared for his life.
In 1344, Andrew was undressing for bed when armed men burst into the room, beat him severely, and then hung him from a balcony. When the noose failed to strangle him immediately, some of the assassins swung from his legs to speed things up. The plan was apparently to hide his body, but Andrew’s childhood nurse heard the murder and raised the alarm. Joanna declared her innocence, claiming that she had been asleep in the next room the whole time.
7 – Joanna Of Naples
The assassination of her husband backfired on Joanna. Andrew’s Hungarian relatives immediately invaded Naples, bent on revenge. However, Joanna was a formidable adversary, and she eventually regained her kingdom.
As it turned out, the Hungarians were merely biding their time. In 1380, they enthusiastically backed Joanna’s distant relative, Charles of Durazzo, who had been granted the throne by one of the Church’s two feuding popes. Charles successfully invaded Naples and captured Joanna.
But Joanna had one last trick up her sleeve. Before she was captured, she announced that she was adopting Prince Louis of France and making him her successor. The delighted Louis raised a huge French army to free his new mother, but she was assassinated in 1382 by Charles before the French could get to her.
Most accounts say that her Hungarian killers strangled her, just as Andrew had been strangled. However, Prince Louis’s wife, Marie, wrote that she was actually smothered with a feather mattress, to avoid leaving marks on her body.
6 – Charles Of Durazzo
After murdering Joanna, Charles of Durazzo became king of Naples. (Louis of France helped out by dropping dead of disease.) Since grabbing a kingdom from his female relative had worked out so well the first time, he decided to give it another go when Louis of Hungary died, and his daughter, Mary, took the throne.
Charles invaded Hungary and successfully displaced Mary. But he had severely underestimated Mary’s mother, the fearsome Elizabeth of Bosnia. She had already firmly secured Poland for her older daughter, Jadwiga, and now she was determined to do the same for Mary in Hungary.
Pretending to welcome Charles, Elizabeth won his trust and was actually with him in Buda Castle when her assassin stuck a hatchet in his neck in 1386. The act effectively secured the Hungarian throne for Mary, although Elizabeth wasn’t around to see it: Charles’s wife had her strangled in revenge.