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Acta Neurochir (Wien). 2015 Jan;157(1):145-9. doi: 10.1007/s00701-014-2280-9. Epub 2014 Nov 25.

The death of Henry II, King of France (1519-1559). From myth to medical and historical fact.

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Department of Neurosurgery, Sainte-Anne Hospital, Paris, France.


On 30 June 1559, Henry II, King of France, was mortally wounded in the head by a lance during a jousting match. Despite the best efforts of his physicians, Ambroise Paré and Andreas Vesalius, King Henry died 11 days later. This article, based on previously unpublished evidence, aims at examining the historical account of his death against modern medical practice to establish the probable cause of the king's death. We also discuss what treatments the doctors in the sixteenth century may have had to offer. Historical accounts of the joust provide details of the incident including the position of the visor of the king's helmet. Descriptions of the wood fragments removed from the right orbit by Italian observers and a new translation of the autopsy by Andreas Vesalius allow an accurate description of the actual injury. Our research counters previous theories and concludes that Henry II was the victim of craniofacial trauma involving the right eye and that he died from periorbital cellulitis caused by a retained foreign body in the wound, complicated by a left interhemispheric empyema preceded by a traumatic interhemispheric haematoma. It would appear that the royal court doctors advocated a wait-and-see strategy, with little actual input from Ambroise Paré or Andreas Vesalius, with a clearly regrettable outcome.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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