Ah, tennis – the word conjures images of long, hot summer days, tall glasses of something chilled, strawberries and cream. The excitement of the Wimbledon finals – will a Brit woman make it this year… might Andy M win? But beware, the much-loved game can have deadly consequences! Tennis – it’s not all fun and games you know!
Louis X of France, aka Louis the Quarreller, was the first royal to build indoor tennis courts – a feature that spread to royal palaces all over Europe. On June 1316, after an exhausting game of tennis, he drank a large quantity of cooled wine and subsequently died of either pneumonia or pleurisy – although there was also some suspicion he’d been poisoned. Two Spanish monarchs are also said to have died after taking large draughts of cold water following a hard game of tennis – Henry 1, King of Castile in 1217, and Philip The Fair, in 1506.
2. Head case
In 1498, after striking his head on the lintel above the doorway of a poorly-maintained tennis court, France’s Charles VIII, or as he was also known Charles the Affable, fell into a coma. He was dead within hours.
3. Literary loss
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, or Montaigne, as he was better known – one of the most influential writers of Renaissance France – recounts the death of his brother Arnaud… ‘playing at tennis, [he] received a blow with a ball, that hit him a little above the right eare, without appearance of any contusion, bruse, or hurt, and never sitting or resting upon it, died within six houres after of an Apoplexie’.
4. Royal flush
On 21 February 1437, assassins, led by Sir Robert Graham, got into the monastery of the Friars Preachers at Perth, intent on killing James I of Scotland. Alerted by a scuffle on the staircase to his chambers, James, the Queen and several Ladies-in-Waiting fled. James pulled up a floorboard and lowered himself into the cesspit beneath the lavatory, hoping to escape via the main drain, which ran beneath the tennis court. However, it had been sealed off only three days earlier, on his orders, to prevent the loss of tennis balls. He hid while the assassins searched the room and, once they’d left, he called to the Ladies to pull him out. Unfortunately, one slipped and fell into the hole with him. The commotion alerted the assailants, who raced back and stabbed him to death.
5. Oh, b*lls!
In 1460, young John Stanley, grandson of Sir John Stanley, Lord of Elford Manor, Staffordshire, died after being struck on the temple by a tennis ball. His tomb at St Peter’s Church, Elford, features his effigy in stone – a ball in his left hand, the right pointing to his head. An inscription in Latin reads Ubi dolor, ibi digitus (I’m pointing to where it hurts.)
6. Horrid Henry
On 2 May 1536, Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn was watching tennis at the Whitehall court, when a messenger arrived summoning her to the Privy Council. She was arrested on charges of adultery and witchcraft, convicted and imprisoned in the Tower of London, before being executed on 19 May. Having orchestrated the Queen’s demise, Henry himself enjoyed a game of tennis while his wife was beheaded. He hadn’t organised a coffin or even a funeral for her. Anne was buried in an old arrow chest, in an unmarked grave, in the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula.
7. Tummy trouble
The death of Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1751 was said to have been the result of an internal infection, after he’d been hit in the stomach by a ball. Accounts differ as to whether it was a cricket or a tennis ball, though the art historian, writer and politician Horace Walpole blamed tennis. Sadly, it seems the monarch was less than popular and not much lamented.
8. Money can’t buy you…
In May 1927, American millionaire Payne Whitney fell ill during a game of tennis at his Gold Coast mansion in Long Island. Twenty-five minutes later, he was dead. Doctors said the cause of death was acute indigestion. Whitney’s estate was the largest recorded up to that time – around $180,000,000. He left much of that to charities, institutions and organisations.