Elizabeth of Austria and the curse of the royal tomb

elizabeth austria
(public domain)

Elizabeth of Austria was born around 1436 as the daughter of Albert II of Germany, Archduke of Austria, and his wife Elizabeth of Luxembourg. Although Elizabeth’s overall health was considered to be good, a 1973 study of her remains showed that she most likely had spinal tuberculosis at a young age. This led to a visibly deformed skeleton.

On 10 February 1454, Elizabeth married King Casimir IV of Poland, and she was crowned Queen consort of Poland. It was a happy marriage, and she often accompanied her husbands on his travels. They would go on to have 13 children together, though not all would live to adulthood. Upon the death of her childless brother, Elizabeth pressed her claim to thrones of Bohemia, and Hungary. However, Hungarian and Bohemian nobles believed their monarchy to be elective and elected another in her place. Elizabeth continued to press her claim, which eventually led to a war between two of her sons. In the end, her eldest son was installed as King of Hungary, although Elizabeth would have preferred her other son.

Elizabeth was widowed on 7 June 1492. She was not politically active during this time and preferred to live in Kraków with her youngest daughters. She fell ill some time and 1505 and died on 30 August 1505. She was buried in Wawel Cathedral next to her husband.

In 1973, a team of scientists was given permission by the Cardinal Karol Wojtyła (who later became Pope John Paul II) to open the tomb and examine the remains. The tomb was opened on 13 April 1973 in the presence of twelve researchers. They found a wooden coffin that was heavily rotten and what was left of the remains. Within days, four of the twelve scientists were dead. Not much later, that number was up to ten. Only two people survived, including Dr Bolesław Smyk. Dr Smyk managed to identify fungi that had been in the tomb, after having taken samples, including from the King’s knee. He identified the species Aspergillus flavus, Penicillium rubrum and Penicillium rugulosum, which are known to produce aflatoxins that can be deadly when in contact with skin and inhaled into the lungs. 

Read more about the opening of the tomb here (in Polish).



About Moniek Bloks 2745 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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