Powdered Skull Was Supposed To Cure a King

It was no loss to the accumulative good looks of humanity that the English king died in his bed in 1685. But it’s doubtful that his doctors were much more handsome; and even then, ingesting the powdered skull of unburied, dead men is not something I’d wish on my worst enemy. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In 1685, the English king, Charles II, died of malaria. (Supposedly.) It’s just as likely that the attempted cure killed him.

In order to provide a diagnosis, a full liter (approximately 12.5 % of the king’s total blood) was drained. It was followed by medications aimed at rinsing the king’s innards and getting him to throw up. If he was ailing in the morning, he was suffering by nightfall.

It was followed by bezoar, a stone found in the gastrointestinal system of goats. When that failed to cure him, he was given the powdered skull of a man who’d never been buried. (Whatever good that’s supposed to do for you.)

The doctors were confounded when he was still sick on the third day.

Finally, as the king was close to dead, a doctor figured that it was malaria. He was given the dried bark of the South American cinchona tree, rich in quinine – a substance that’s poisonous to malaria parasites. But by then, it was too late. The king didn’t survive the night.

These were the finest doctor available in the 17th century. They drew on the best medical knowledge of the time.

Yet it’s just as likely that their attempted cure killed the English king as the malaria he was finally diagnosed with.

So the next time you find your doctor incompetent, be thankful it is not one of Charles II’s court doctors that’s treating you. Then you’d probably be leaving in a coffin.

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