Game of Allergens

On June 13, 1483, just two months after the death of his brother King Henry IV and a few weeks before his own accession to the English throne, Richard III, then Duke of Gloucester and Lord Protector of the Realm, survived an evil curse.

The curse came from Lord William Hastings, a man who had served as Lord Chamberlain to Henry IV (basically the Ned Stark to his Robert Baratheon). I’m not going to try to puzzle out the mess that was the struggle for the English throne toward the end of the Middle Ages because either 1. You, dear reader, know far more about it than I can pretend to in the space of a blog post and will just find errors that you’ll feel compelled to tell me about or 2. Like me, you just assume that whoever had dragons and a proper attitude toward an invading zombie horde eventually came out on top.

Described by his detractors as a hunch-backed and deformed troll-ish sort of a man, Richard III was probably just a normal-ish looking guy. Unless you gave him strawberries. By Unknown, British School – Royal Collection of the United Kingdom, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

But it seems that Hastings was just the sort of man to try to put the pieces together and he may have suspected that when Richard sought to declare his deceased brother’s marriage illegal and therefore his own nephew illegitimate, that Richard might have just wanted the throne for himself.

So, logically, when Hastings next arrived for a council meeting, he cursed the pretender to the throne. Shortly after the Lord Chamberlain’s arrival, Richard’s health began to suffer. His lips swelled. His face and limbs grew red and puffy. He became short of breath.

What today we might recognize as an allergic reaction to the fresh strawberries Sir Thomas More tells us Richard ate for breakfast, Richard identified as a curse. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that casting a potentially deadly curse on the Lord Protector of the Realm might result in a beheading.

I suspect I’m allergic to dragons. Fortunately the current dragon count is pretty low. photo credit: SnoShuu Dragon via photopin (license)

That’s exactly what became of Lord Hastings, a man who might have otherwise caused a crimp in Richard’s plans to rule. The would-be king wasn’t taking any chances. Many contemporary writers (at least the ones that didn’t seem to like Richard much) suggested he murdered his young nephews as well.

There’s some speculation that perhaps Richard knew of his own allergy to strawberries and ate them anyway so he could pretend to have been cursed by Lord Hastings and justify ordering his death. Other historians argue that given the general belief in curses and ignorance of allergens at the time, Richard, perhaps already feeling a little paranoid in the course of his plotting, probably thought he really had been cursed.

I tend to believe the second scenario is more likely because of several good reasons explained by more informed historians (of the variety that would be sure to let me know about my mistakes when discussing the fall of the House of York).

First, fruit didn’t travel much in 1483 and so it was extremely seasonal, giving strawberries a pretty narrow window of availability in the English court. Richard wouldn’t have had a lot of opportunity to observe his own symptoms. Second, food allergies can be kind of like that, showing up unannounced after years of laying low. Third, a person would have to be pretty crazy to willingly inflict an uncomfortable allergic reaction on themselves. And finally, his successor, the usurper Henry VII probably had dragons anyway.*

No throne is worth intentionally exposing yourself to a known allergen. But maybe it’s worth a curse or two? If you have dragons.

It’s the third point I want to discuss further because over the last week or so, some of my nearest and dearest have been cursed. Here in Missouri we are experiencing some of the highest mold and ragweed pollen counts we’ve seen in some time. That means that here in my household we have been experiencing some of the itchiest eyes, scratchiest throats, sneeziest noses, and achiest sinuses that we’ve seen in some time.

Catch them at the right moment, and my nearest and dearest might even suggest that having their heads lopped off might be more comfortable than the curse these allergens have brought upon them. This is definitely not a condition they would wish upon themselves, regardless of their aspirations to any thrones. Right about now, they’re kind of hoping that winter is coming. As long as someone steps up with a couple of dragons to take on the zombie horde.

*No historians I came across actually suggested that Henry VII had dragons. Also, if you ever do stumble across a legitimate historian that references dragons, you should probably ask a few follow-up questions.


22 thoughts on “Game of Allergens

  1. My son’s dog is highly allergic to grasses, pollen, etc. (go figure!). He’s currently on antibiotics (all the scratching causes infection), a canine allergy medication, eye drops, and ear cream. Not only are seasonal allergies driving everyone in his house crazy, the old bank account is taking a hit too.

    1. Oh my. I’ve never heard of a dog suffering from seasonal allergies. It’s been terrible this fall and the typical medicines just haven’t been as effective as usual. Even my eyes have been itchy and I usually don’t have any problems.

  2. “you just assume that whoever had dragons and a proper attitude toward an invading zombie hoard eventually came out on top”- hahahaha yes- I was definitely thinking this 😉 JK- loved this post- so interesting!

  3. I’m 2 mos. past an 8-month seige of what 4 dermatologists said was eczema. Won’t bore you with the details, except to say that said derms could not 1) tell me what caused it, or 2) how to stop it. Finally had to consult my local shaman (just kidding) to get relief.
    I won’t assert (since you’re, um, quite close to the medical profession) that I have a food allergy, but my conditon flares up whenever I conveniently forget and wolf down ice cream. The variety of ointments offered me by the dermatologists only delayed healing, which was finally accomplished by a) improving my diet, and b) purging my system.
    Richard III probably would’ve been better off if he’d simply eaten his parsnips and abstained from strong drink.

  4. margolynndill

    There was a lot of great history in this post and even a Game of Thrones reference, BUT! I must say I am so happy I read this because I have been sneezing up a storm, and thanks to the Practical Historian, I now know why! 🙂

  5. Luckily, I don’t suffer from allergies, but I can imagine that they feel like a curse. To be suffering when nature is at its best, most vibrant, and most beautiful, has always seemed a cruel trick to me.

  6. Other than a severe reaction to dragons, my many allergies seem to be of the food variety. I hadn’t noticed a high rate of outside irritants, but maybe that’s because I don’t go outside. Last time I did (last Friday) I got bitten by something nasty and itched to distraction. I needed some ground dragon toenail for a plaster, but like you said, dragons are scarce, and sometimes the cure is worse than the malady.

  7. Pingback: A Recycled Anniversary – Author Sarah Angleton

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