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Henri II (1519-59)

Historically, as the representative of a nation, it was essential that a monarch remain strong and healthy. In 1559 Henri II of France was injured at a jousting tournament when a lance splintered, went into his eye and shot upwards into his brain, causing a subdural haemorrhage (a build-up of blood between the inner and outer membranes covering the brain). Although he was badly injured, the king managed to get to his chambers, where all of his physicians gathered in the hope of curing him.

Initially, his surgeons cleaned the splinters out his eye, purged him with rhubarb and other purgatives, and bled him - as was the practice of the day - of 12 ounces (34 centilitres) of blood. The king's injuries were so serious that many famous physicians were sent for, including Andreas Vesalius. While the courtiers waited for Vesalius to arrive, the physicians who were at the king's bedside made several experiments, including thrusting the lance through the eye sockets of four decapitated criminals in the hope of discovering the extent of the king's injuries. When Vesalius arrived five days later, he used the brain of a cadaver to view the same type of injury. Ambroise Paré, the famous French surgeon, was also consulted on the king's condition.

Despite the presence of the most famous surgeons in Europe, and their best efforts to save him, the king died nine days after receiving his injury.

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M A Faria, 'The death of Henry II of France', Journal of Neurosurgery, 77/6 (December 1992), pp 964-969

C D O'Malley and J B De C M Saunders, `The “Relation” of Andreas Vesalius on the death of Henry II of France', Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 3 (Spring 1948), pp 197-213

G Martin, `The death of Henry II of France: a sporting death and post-mortem', Australian and New Zealand Journal of Surgery, 71/5 (May 2001), pp 318-320