Corpus more regio curatum. When a king dies: Medieval post-mortem care of the body.


The present study deals with how the bodies of deceased medieval kings and other significant persons were treated after death. The body of a monarch still represented royal majesty, which, according to the beliefs of the time, had been entrusted to him by God himself. Because royal majesty was seen as immortal, complex rites of passage were necessary for the burial of kings. One element of such rites throughout the whole Middle Ages was the preservation of the body of a deceased monarch through conservation methods and embalming, at the least enough to endure the forthcoming extensive funeral ceremonies. Embalming a body after death was originally only a privilege of kings. It began to spread around Europe throughout the 11th and 12th centuries, when the radius of engagement elites expanded as monarchs set off on far away military expeditions, crusades or long-distance pilgrimages. At the end of the High Middle Ages, roughly from the 14th century, embalming became not only a practical matter, but also a social privilege and a matter of prestige. In addition to kings and popes, the bodies of princes, bishops and members of the highest aristocracy were also embalmed. This study discusses individual types of embalming and conservation techniques as well as the funeral rituals carried out for social elites.