Have you ever fallen in love with something you knew was unhealthy for you? Whether your poison is burgers, whiskey, or cigarettes, you could sympathize with a medieval king who ignored doctors’ advice to eat lamprey flesh to death. King Henry, I made the terrible decision to keep eating the odd gooey fish despite being unwell every time he did, in what reads like a parable for not listening to medical advice. He was eventually killed by the meaty, fishy mound he picked to die on. In a blog article, author and Medieval historian Marc Morris explains the facts of the monarch’s unusual death, which he commemorated with a timely Tweet on the anniversary of King Henry I’s death (December 1, 1135).
“Doctor: If I were you, I wouldn’t eat any more lampreys,” Morris tweeted. “King Henry I: I believe our country’s citizens have had enough of experts.” Henry survived to seize the throne in 1100, despite being the youngest of William the Conqueror’s sons and possessing little in the way of survival instinct. However, the manner in which he succeeded his brother William Rufus appears to be a little shady.
According to legend, William Rufus was out hunting when the arrow of one Walter Tirel, who believed to have fled when he realized what he had done, pierced him. Some speculate that Tirel may have been acting on Henry’s orders in a successful assassination attempt that would have resulted in his assuming the throne.
King Henry, I began his reign, whether by obligation or by misdeed. Henry was a fan of lampreys, according to English historian Henry of Huntingdon. It may not appear to be the most appealing meal in the world, but it has a spherical mouth packed with razor-sharp teeth that it uses to adhere to and suck the blood of aquatic creatures.
They make up for their lack of beauty by being boneless, making them a simple fish to consume, Lamprey meat “doesn’t taste like fish at all, but the texture resemble slow-cooked beefsteak,” according to a diner at archeologist and founder of the Sea Lamprey Society Henri Roquas’ lamprey feast in 2015.
The meat was expensive during King Henry’s reign, so if you were going to binge on something, lamprey was a good choice. Unfortunately, the fish did not agree with the King’s stomach. “He ate lamprey meat, which always made him sick, even though he liked them,” Morris says. Henry of Huntingdon penned a letter. “When a doctor advised him not to consume the food, the monarch ignored the advice.
“‘We constantly seek for what is banned and crave for what is rejected,’ as the saying goes. As a result, this meal induced most damaging humour, as well as fiercely stimulating comparable symptoms, resulting in a lethal cold in his older body, as well as a sudden and severe convulsion. Nature retaliated by inducing an intense fever and extremely profuse perspiration to dissolve the irritation. But, after all, other means of resistance failed, the mighty monarch abdicated on December 1st, 1135, after a reign of 35 years and three months.”
If that traumatic narrative has not quite piqued your interest in lampreys, keep in mind that eating them in large amounts is still a risky lifestyle choice due to the way they collect mercury. Everything in moderation, they say.