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Anne Marie Bouchard

King Edward IV and Foxglove Poisoning

There have been many different theories concerning the death of King Edward IV, one of which is death by Foxglove poisoning; I am going to point out why that is not a viable option.

Before really delving into this article it is important to understand Foxglove.
Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, also known as Dead Man’s Bells or Witches Gloves, in folk magic was used to protect the home or created into a black dye to draw black lines on the floor to keep evil spirits out. Those familiar with folk magic and herbs would have knowledge of foxglove.

As for its medical use, it was very dangerous to use internally. Unfortunately, the correct dosage varies in every case, due to its poisonous properties its administration by anyone other than an experienced herbalist or doctor would be dangerous. Anyone else using it with ill effect could be accused of Witchcraft.

The practical medical use at the time was external; foxglove leaves in poultices or compresses could calm headaches, reduce tumors and lessen inflammation. By means of mottling of the blossoms and adding boiled wine you could make a liquid for cleansing old sores and ulcers.

The Digitalis that is used by today’s cardiac patients is derived from Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea).
** What I am saying here is *if*, you are going to consider this possibility, which I believe holds no water, you need to understand the facts of Foxglove.

There are several different contemporary accounts of Edwards’s health at the time of his death but nothing that would support the foxglove poisoning theory. If it was done over a long period of time to cause heart failure the first thing noted would have been loss of weight / appetite and listlessness. That has never been suggested. If it was done in one dose, which would have been more likely, the symptoms would have been; gastrointestinal symptoms, delirium with headache, visual disturbances, and hallucinations. The lack of any of those specific symptoms makes it clear that this is not a feasible concept.

There is one more issue that stands out to me, the one of Witchcraft. The use of foxglove under those circumstances if discovered would have screamed Witchcraft. In a time when things like that were taken so seriously and had previously been raised in connection with the Wydeville women, I don’t believe there is even the slightest chance that anyone would have considered it. I think this is just one more theory for people wanting to believe there was foul play.

Anne Marie Bouchard

January 2015

Foxglove - Digitalis purpurea