18th Century, People

Mozart’s Death

“I thank my god for graciously granting me the opportunity of learning that death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness.” 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791)

The genius composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died on the fifth of December in his house in Vienna, Rauhensteingasse 8, following 15 miserable days of illness. On November 20th, during a fever epidemic, Mozart unexpectectly took ill – developing a high fever, headache,  sweats and severe swelling and pain in his hands and legs. He was only 35 years old when he passed away. Below you can see a timeline I made of Mozart’s last weeks (short and brief):


 Mozart’s sudden death quickly engendered rumors suggesting murdur, more specifically, poisoning. The cause of death was recorded as “severe miliary fever,” a vague description. Since his death, there have been countless theories as to what constituted severe miliary fever. An autopsy was never performed on Mozart.

The Medical Bag states the following:

“Without a corpse or autopsy report, all we have to go on today to determine the cause of Mozart’s death are eyewitness accounts of his symptoms and final hours. He unexpectedly took ill with a high fever, headaches, sweats, and dramatic swelling and pain in his hands and legs. By the 14th day, his swelling had increased to the extent that his entire body took on blimp-like proportions. Accompanying the swelling were nausea,  vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain, a rash, and an overpowering stench. He was extremely irritable to the point where he banished his beloved pet canary from his bedroom. Just 15 days after the onset of his illness, Mozart went into convulsions,  lapsed into a coma, and died.

His 7-year-old son, Karl,  noted that a few days before Mozart died his entire body became so swollen that the smallest movement was almost impossible. He also noted that there was an awful stench, which after death made an autopsy impossible. It was also observed that upon death the corpse did not become stiff and limbs were able to be bent, which is often the case when someone is poisoned. “

The death of Mozart is still food for speculations and theories, with for example the Daily Mail posting an article in 2011, claiming Mozart died because of lack of sunlight. (See it here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2015305/Mozart-died-35-didnt-sun.html)

Two years before that, in 2009, Bloomberg posted an article claiming Mozart died of strep throat (See it here: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aNPHGekzv2SU).

According to Dr. William J. Dawson, one investigator counted 118 different theories regarding the composer’s death that have been posited over the centuries. Dr. Dawson grouped the theories into four main categories: infection, renal disease with associated complications, poisoning, and cardiac disease.

Dr. Dawson believes that Mozart’s death was almost certainly hastened by the very treatment meant to restore his health: bloodletting.

“Mozart had a 2-week history of what sounds like a very febrile, painful illness that caused his joints to swell,” said Dr. Dawson. “But personally, I think acute hemorrhagic shock from being bled was the proximate cause of death.”

The composer may have lost as much as 2 liters of blood per week.


The poisoning theory. 

In his last years, Antonio Salieri (rivaling composer), suffered from sinelity and and allegedly claimed that he had poisoned Mozart. This tale reached others, including Beethoven. Constanze, fanned the rumour’s flame by endorsing it; she also believed that Salieri had plotted against her husband. This rumour was denied by many of Mozart’s closest associates including his personal physician who reported that Wolfgang had died of the fever.

In fact, Salieri and Mozart actually respected each other as musicians during Mozart’s lifetime. Salieri recognized Mozart’s gifts as a musician and envied them, while Mozart envied Salieri for how he found so much favor with the authorities (the monarchy).

The following clip from the 1997 movie Amadeus shows the death of Mozart, but in contrast to reality Mozart is buried and sewed into a linen sack. General practice was to place up to 4 to 5 adults and 2 children in a common pit. The practice gave rise to the notion that Mozart died a pauper in obscurity, which was not the case.

For books and more click picture below:


Here’s a wonderful video from Haley Rempel giving a Two-Minute Talk about the Death of Mozart.












Middle Ages, Symbols and Art

First Blog Post: the Tudor Rose

“Nor hold thou no other flower in such dainty

As the fresh Rose, of colour red and white;”

The Thistle and the Rose (The Thrissel and the Rois) William Dunbar, August 1503 in honor of the wedding between King James IV of Scotland to Princess Margaret Tudor of England. 

The Tudor Rose is the symbol of the alliance between House of York (symbolized by a white rose) and the House of Lancaster (symbolized by a red rose). Both houses were branches of the Plantagenet royal house who could trace their descent from King Edward III (1312 – 1377). It is credited to the Tudor dynasty for combining those two and creating what we know now as The Tudor Rose.


Historians disagree on the Red Rose of Lancaster. Some say it was originally a symbol of Henry’s great-grandfather John of Gaunt, while others insist that it was assumed to the House of Lancaster by Henry VII only after the wars were over.

The actual symbolism behind the White Rose of York had religious connotations as it represents the Virgin Mary, who was often called the Mystical Rose of Heaven. In Christian liturgical symbolism, white is the symbol of light, typifing innocence and purity, joy and glory. The origins of the emblem are said to go back to Edmund of Langley in the fourteenth century. 

It was the 22 of August 1485 when Henry VII (who was blood-tied to House Lancaster)  though outnumbered, ended the “Wars of the Roses” after taking the crown of England from Richard III in battle, becoming Henry VII King of England. He spend two more years afterwards wiping out other claiments to the throne. The “Wars of the Roses” is a civil war in England that lasted from 1455 until 1487. Historians still debate the true extent of the impact on medieval English life, and some revisionists, such as the Oxford historian K.B. McFarlane, suggest that the conflicts during this period have been radically overstated, and that there were in fact, no “Wars of the Roses” at all. It is notable that they did not produce widespread destruction and economic recession. Many places were largely unaffected by the wars. 

Here is a fun clip by the great Horrible Histories with a War of Roses Report: 

During the wars, many of the inns and hostels in the Yorkshire countryside (and elswehere) had roses carved in the ceilings panels and beams of the bar room. This had nothing to do with the white rose of the House of York but with the term “Under-the-rose” or in Latin “Sub-Rosa”. Warlike matters and espionage issues discussed “under the rose” were treated as being very sensitive and not to be repeated to others under pain of death. 


In January 1486 Henry VII married Elizabeth of York, bringing the houses historically together. The marriage was one of political brilliance: their children would have Yorkist and Lancastrian blood, owning united claim to the throne from both their mother as well as their father’s side. It was then that the Tudor Rose first made it appearance. During the medieval war, neither parties cared much about roses or flowers. They were not part of the official coat of arms. Instead, servants wore emblems of the flowers on their liveries (servant uniforms). It was only during his wedding that Henry VII adopted the bicoulored Tudor Rose as a badge, cleverly making use of the fact that during this time, signs and symbols spoke louder than words. During his reign, Henry VIII had the “Round Table” at Winchester Castle – then belived to be genuine – repainted. The new paint scheme included a Tudor rose in the centre.  

The rose symbols were first brought to promincence by William Shakespeare in his play Henry VI part 1. He wrote a scene set in the gardens of the Temple Church, where a number of noblemen and a lawyer pick red or white roses to show their loyalty to the Lancastrian or Yorkist faction respectively. However, it was not until the later 18th century that historians began the acknowledge the symbolic reconciliation of the Tudor Rose. That in turn causes Sir Walter Scott to refer to the conflict as “The Wars of the Roses” in his historical novel Anne of Geierstein. 

Books and more (click on picture for information):

 Henry VII         wars of the roses            elizabethofyork

Still intrigued? Here’s a documentary about the Wars of the Roses: