Crusader King Died Because He Refused to Eat His Greens
A French sleuth may have solved the mystery of the death of France's famed King Louis IX, better known as Saint Louis. He was the last of the crusader kings and it was believed that he died of plague attempting to recover the Holy Land for Christianity, but scientists now claim he died refusing to eat his greens.
King Louis IX was the French hero-warrior-king who spearheaded both the Seventh and Eighth Crusades. Recorded as having fed beggars from his table, in Egypt in 1249, Louis was captured and ransomed by Cairo's Mamluk rulers but went on to return the ‘Crown of Thorns’ and part of the ‘True Cross’ of Christ to Paris; hence, a real “hero-warrior-king”.
The new findings of an international team of researchers published in The new scientific report in the Journal of Stomatology, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery suggest that while crusaders were in Tunisia in 1270 during the Eighth Crusade, while the local food contained “lots of vitamin-C”, the crusaders’ fatally stuck to their traditional “meat-heavy diet” which is believed to have brought about the demise of Saint Louis.
The team of scientists was led by French forensic pathologist Philippe Charlier, better known by his Twitter name “Dr Trop Tard” (doctor too late), famed for having studied the heart of Richard the Lionheart and his sleuthing also confirming a jawbone held in Moscow actually belonged to Adolf Hitler. Dr. Charlier believes Louis fell prey to “scurvy” caused by a lack of vitamin C in his diet.
Saint Louis IX by El Greco (public domain)
Tracking the Ancient Disease of Scurvy
A jawbone believed to have belonged to Louis had been held in a reliquary at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris and using Carbon14 dating, the scientists confirmed that it was indeed the king’s jaw. The damage on the jawbone matched the somewhat brutal historical reports of Saint Louis “Spitting out bits of his gums,” which according to the team is consistent with “What we see on his mandible" the French pathologist told AFP.
An examination of the bone made it evident that Saint Louis suffered from scurvy, "which attacks the gums and then the bone”, according to Dr. Charlier and an article discussing the study in PHSY.org quoted Dr. Charlier as saying “His diet wasn't very balanced” and he added, “He [Louis] put himself through all manner of penances, and fasting. Nor was the crusade as well prepared as it should have been… They did not take water with them or fruit and vegetables.”
An article in The Local discusses contemporary accounts of the siege made by the king's friend Jean de Joinville which describes grown men howling like “women in labour... as barbers (doctors) had to cut (away) the dead tissue to allow them to chew their meat.” It is believed that as the crusaders besieged Tunis in the summer of 1270 “As much as a sixth of the French army may have perished” from this painful and generally fatal disease that was the blight of sailors since sailing began right up to the turn of the 19th century.
The crusaders were ill-prepared and did not take supplies of fruit and vegetables with them. Credit: vukkostic / Adobe Stock
The Deathly Legacy of Scurvy
An article published on Science History informs that it was not only in ancient times that scurvy wreaked havoc among soldiers and sailors – it also appeared among members of the Arctic explorations of the 1820s and miners during the 1848–1850 American Gold Rush, not to mention in soldiers during the Crimean War.
The disease also penetrated prisons, refugee camps, and prisoners of war in the 20th century and it remerged in the babies of wealthy Americans and European families in the early 1900s when over pasteurizing (heating) cow’s milk destroyed the vitamin C.
After 200,000 years of evolving, nobody in our species had worked out why fresh fruit and especially cabbage effectively prevented scurvy and while we can criticize our predecessors for not realizing what today appears obvious, the Science History report said science and history are “Rarely as straightforward as hindsight makes them seem, and the story of vitamins is no exception”.
The discovery of vitamins was not a “eureka” moment, but a long slow and often painful process, which began with the recognition then acceptance of the idea that nutritional-deficiency diseases actually existed. This required the installation of what were at the time radical concepts: that diet directly effects health and that sicknesses are caused not only through food contamination but in the substances missing from our diets.
An Atlas Obscura article claims that between 1500-1800 AD “An estimated two million sailors died of scurvy” and it wasn’t until 1927 that the cause and cure were finally discovered by Hungarian biochemist Szent-Györgyi (who won the 1937 Nobel Prize for Medicine) but it wasn’t until 1932 that conclusive proof of ascorbic acid’s efficiency was provided.
Top image: Medieval King Louis IX refused to eat his greens. Credit: diter / Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie