Royal Pain: 6 Strange Ailments of Famous Rulers
Not only was Richard III affected by a severe scoliosis -- a curvature of the spine -- he was also infested with parasitic worms that grew up to a foot in length.
William Shakespeare immortalized him as a manipulative hunchback with a withered arm and club foot who stopped at nothing to gain control of England, which he ruled from 1483-1485. He was the last English monarch to die in battle, putting an end to the Plantagenet Dynasty and the War of the Roses.
Found in an ignominious burial under a Leicester car park, the king’s remains have now showed the presence of multiple roundworm eggs (Ascaris lumbricoides) in the soil around his pelvis, where his intestines would have been.
Worm-infested Richard III wasn't an isolated case. Many other powerful rulers have suffered from embarrassing, common ailments.
Claudius (10 B.C.-54 A.D.), the Roman emperor who conquered Britain, had a variety of physical ailments. Rumored to have suffered a serious disease at birth, he was hard of hearing, stuttered and walked with a limp. Known as the "emperor with the shaking head," he had a permanently runny nose.
He might also had a propensity to meteorism, or flatulence. Indeed, he was so worried about the dangers of retaining flatus that, according to Roman historian Suetonius, he "planned an edict to legitimize the breaking of wind at table, either silently or noisily."
Charles V (1500-1558), Holy Roman Emperor and the first king of Spain as Charles I, ruled one of the largest empires in world history. But he could not eat in public due to a deformity known as Habsburg jaw, which was produced by his family's long history of inbreeding.
As many of the Habsburgs of Austria, he had an enlarged lower jaw and hare-lips. The deformity made him struggle to eat his food properly -- a task he preferred to face in private.
Don Filippino suffered from rickets. University of Pisa
The children of the wealthy and powerful Medicis, the family that dominated the Florentine Renaissance, suffered from rickets -- a disorder which today is among the most frequent childhood diseases in developing countries.
Scientists who exhumed the remains of several members of the clan, which ruled Florence and Tuscany from 1434 to 1737, also analyzed nine child skeletons, including that of Filippo (1577-1582), the seventh child of Francesco I and Giovanna of Austria, also known as Don Filippino.
Six out of nine showed the classic signs of rickets, such as curved arms and bow legs -- a consequence of trying to crawl or walk on pathologically soft bones.
The disease originated from the Medicis’ desire to protect their offspring, raising them according to the highest social standards for their times. This included prolonged breast-feeding, little sunlight exposition and heavily swaddling the infants, leaving very little skin exposed.
The Elizabethan era combined the flourishing of English drama, international expansion and naval triumph. Yet Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), the “Virgin Queen” or “Good Queen Bess,” had very yellow and unequal teeth, with many of them missing.
Indeed, she was plagued by toothache -- but refused to have her decayed teeth taken out.
“This decision condemned her to years of intermittent pain from toothache, gum disease and resultant neuralgia in the face and neck,” British writer Alison Weir wrote in her book "Elizabeth, the Queen."
Suffering from panic attacks, she also had a varicose ulcer on her leg, which took years to heal.
Louis XIV (1638-1715), also known as Louis the Great or the Sun King, boasted the longest reign in European history and a long list of ailments.
The most famous was an anal fistula, caused by prolonged periods of horse-riding.
Aggravated by recurrent attacks of gout and fever, hardly helped by laxatives, the fistula was treated without anesthesia with an especially designed "royally curved" scalpel.
Following the successful operation, many celebrations were held to celebrate the king’s bravery and the surgeon’s skills.
According to some scholars, hemorrhoids were Napoleon's Waterloo, causing torment that distracted and weakened him during the dramatic battle that brought an end to the Napoleonic era of European history.
Emperor of France from 1804-1815, Bonaparte suffered from painful thrombosed piles from his late 20s onward. The malady added to other uncomfortable ailments such as a nasty neuro-dermatitis. Indeed, he celebrated his 21st birthday with terrible body rashes.