Friday 24 October 2014

The Fungi that Felled an Emperor

Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor (Vienna, Austria, 1st October 1685 - Vienna, Austria, 20th October 1740)

Emperor Charles VI by Martin van Meytens
Emperor Charles VI by Martin van Meytens
Newly returned from Europe with a brace of tales of medicine, it it with no small sense of excitement that I welcome Dr Dillingham to the salon. Over a hearty meal that happily, does not feature mushrooms, he shared with me the story of the fungi that felled an emperor and it is my privilege to share that with you today, in the week of the anniversary of Charles IV's death.

On 10th October 1740, Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV had really had his fill of problems. Beset by   political intrigue, territorial disputes and possible financial ruin, fate decided that what he really needed to top it all was a nasty cold. Out of sorts and with the worries of the world piling on his shoulders, Charles decided to take the advice of the old wives' tale of "feed a cold, starve a fever," and set out to assuage his hunger, hopefully, battle the illness.

Accordingly, he dined royally on a meal of mushrooms stewed in Catalan oil, one of his favourite dishes. Unfortunately, the seemingly innocent mushrooms were anything but and, quite by accident, the Holy Roman Emperor had filled his belly with deadly death cap mushrooms.

The Death Scene of the Emperor Charles VI from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. 40, 1870
The Death Scene of the Emperor Charles VI from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. 40, 1870

Within hours Charles fell into a terrible sickness and his doctors were summoned yet found themselves unable to diagnose or treat their patient. For ten long days the unfortunate man lingered on in digestive agony and, at a loss as to what else could be done, his advisers had him taken to rest in the Favourite Palace in Vienna. It was here that Charles IV died, leading to a succession crisis that would engulf his lands and House for almost a decade.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

Pen and Sword
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)


Sarah Waldock said...

THAT was deliberate; you can't mistake death caps for anything else, both by shape and by the fact that they bleed blue when cut into.

Catherine Curzon said...

That does sound most suspicious!

Grymm said...

Half a cap can be enough to kill an adult so all it would take would be one misidentified 'shroom and' goodnight Vienna' literally. The toxins are unaffected by cooking and potentially so virulent that these days the advise against keeping them in the same basket with fungi you intend on eating.

Catherine Curzon said...

One to be avoided, it seems!