Joanna's Reviews > The Death of Kings: A Medical History of the Kings and Queens of England

The Death of Kings by Clifford Brewer
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's review
Jan 09, 2012

bookshelves: historical-nonfiction, death-and-dying

It's an enjoyable and fascinating read about the (often grisly) deaths of England's rulers from Edward the Confessor to Queen Victoria, surprisingly written by a surgeon rather than a historian. I really have a problem, though, with the author's attempts to diagnose the various ailments that brought these rulers to their deathbeds. From a historian's perspective, it really doesn't make sense to apply modern diagnoses and labels to historical ailments, particularly when the types of sources he draws from - so far (I'm on Richard I), primarily chronicles - really aren't meant to be medical in nature. To say that the Plantagenets were manic-depressive, for instance, is really missing the point. This is a modern label that has no connection to medieval experience. If we are to really understand medieval life and death, we have to focus on how medieval people perceived and diagnosed their own medical conditions; manic depression would mean absolutely nothing to them. Still, I'll keep reading; it is rather interesting to see how each ruler met his or her end when presented in the words of their contemporaries - not a modern surgeon.
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