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PeteMC
07-25-2017, 09:19 PM
Another weird and gross question for my pseudo-Tudor fantasy if you'd be so kind: what are the options for preserving a corpse?

It's secondary world fantasy but very low magic so in the setting I'm limited to the available materials of the time. In a nutshell, the queen has been assassinated and the head of the secret police needs to cover that up until the succession has been assured so has arranged for the body to be hidden and all witnesses have been disappeared, but he'll need a body of some sort for the state funeral.

Dignity is not a requirement - there's no refrigeration of any sort, although it's only early spring and we have deep dungeons where I suppose the air temperature is going to be cooler than on the streets. I'm wondering if pickling in a barrel of brandy might be viable? I seem to remember reading somewhere that's what happened to Nelson's body, but I don't know if that's apocryphal or not or what state the corpse would be in when it came out.

The funeral will be roughly one month after the death. I know if I have to I can go closed casket with some random corpse in the coffin instead of the queen if I have to but that's not ideal for my story, so any help or better ideas would be gratefully received as always!

AW Admin
07-25-2017, 09:27 PM
Barrel
Bog

S.v. bog bodies and bog butter; alternatively salt and an air tight container.

PeteMC
07-25-2017, 09:41 PM
Aha, I thought you'd know :)

There's no boggy terrain anywhere near the capital sadly but a good barrel of salt would work - any idea how much decay there would be after a month or so in the barrel, assuming the body could be got into it within a few hours of death?

AW Admin
07-25-2017, 09:46 PM
Aha, I thought you'd know :)

There's no boggy terrain anywhere near the capital sadly but a good barrel of salt would work - any idea how much decay there would be after a month or so in the barrel, assuming the body could be got into it within a few hours of death?

None. There will be discoloration. You would want the body to be entirely surrounded by salt, and kept as dry as possible.

Bodies trapped in salt mines for centuries (inadvertently) have been astonishingly well-preserved.

PeteMC
07-25-2017, 09:49 PM
You're a star, many thanks Lisa!

Thomas Vail
07-25-2017, 10:42 PM
None. There will be discoloration. You would want the body to be entirely surrounded by salt, and kept as dry as possible.

Bodies trapped in salt mines for centuries (inadvertently) have been astonishingly well-preserved.
Mummified, but well preserved.

Twick
07-25-2017, 10:55 PM
Alcohol is also useful. As you can see from any number of dusty biology class exibits, virtually no decay occurs.

MaeZe
07-26-2017, 03:08 AM
Found you a perfect resource: Human body preservation – old and new techniques (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/joa.12160/full)

benbenberi
07-26-2017, 05:08 PM
Do you need to have the actual body on display?

French royal funerals of the later medieval period included public display of the body. Because there was often a long delay between death & funeral (kings didn't always die near where they were to be buried, & appropriate ceremonies took time to organize) & embalming methods were imperfect, this led to some unsightly results in the 14-15c, & by the 16c the body was kept discreetly out of the public eye and a funeral effigy was displayed instead, wearing the state robes & jewelry & treated in public as though it were the living king until the actual funeral rite. I believe in the 16c the standard time between the death of a king of France and the funeral was 40 days.

This came to be seen as a performance of the political theory of the King's Two Bodies, i.e. that a king has 2 bodies, the fleshly one that is corrupt and mortal, the body politic that is perfect and eternal. The corpse of a king was just the dead body of a man, and even the best embalming could only slow the inevitable process of decay, but the lifelike effigy represented the constant vitality of kingship that never decayed but continued in full vigor as it passed from one monarch to another. The King is dead, long live the King! In the 16c the 40-day gap between death and funeral was considered to be a formal interregnum, with the next king's reign beginning only when the old king was buried (and his effigy retired), but by the 17c the new reign was held to start immediately on the death of the old king and the effigy, no longer a political symbol, was retained only for display -- because funerals got only more elaborate over time, and no one wanted to look at a 40-day corpse no matter how well embalmed.

be frank
07-26-2017, 05:17 PM
Man, I love this place. :)

PeteMC
07-26-2017, 05:35 PM
Do you need to have the actual body on display?

French royal funerals of the later medieval period included public display of the body. Because there was often a long delay between death & funeral (kings didn't always die near where they were to be buried, & appropriate ceremonies took time to organize) & embalming methods were imperfect, this led to some unsightly results in the 14-15c, & by the 16c the body was kept discreetly out of the public eye and a funeral effigy was displayed instead, wearing the state robes & jewelry & treated in public as though it were the living king until the actual funeral rite. I believe in the 16c the standard time between the death of a king of France and the funeral was 40 days.

This came to be seen as a performance of the political theory of the King's Two Bodies, i.e. that a king has 2 bodies, the fleshly one that is corrupt and mortal, the body politic that is perfect and eternal. The corpse of a king was just the dead body of a man, and even the best embalming could only slow the inevitable process of decay, but the lifelike effigy represented the constant vitality of kingship that never decayed but continued in full vigor as it passed from one monarch to another. The King is dead, long live the King! In the 16c the 40-day gap between death and funeral was considered to be a formal interregnum, with the next king's reign beginning only when the old king was buried (and his effigy retired), but by the 17c the new reign was held to start immediately on the death of the old king and the effigy, no longer a political symbol, was retained only for display -- because funerals got only more elaborate over time, and no one wanted to look at a 40-day corpse no matter how well embalmed.

Oh that's excellent, thank you!

M Louise
07-26-2017, 06:01 PM
The appeal of the ghoulish! The early forms of embalming were crude, you just removed the viscera and then filled the cavities with sawdust and tar. Slathered unguents all over the flesh of the corpse to ward off odours for as long as possible. Later on, arterial injections of alcohol and arsenic were used to preserve the flesh and skin.

If you stuck a corpse in a barrel filled with alcohol, as was done on ships bringing bodies home from war or death in foreign colonies, the risk was that they would explode, which is what happened to Virginia Woolf's ancestor James Pattie. He drank himself to death in India and was stored in a cask of rum to preserve his corpse on the sea journey home. His grieving widow had the cask placed in the passage outside her cabin. There was an explosion one night, she rushed out to see her husband's corpse bursting out of his temporary tomb. She went mad and died raving.

It gets worse. The cask was repaired and nailed shut. Some thirsty sailors bored a hole in the cask and got drunk on the rum. The rum poured out of the hole and caught alight on an exposed candle flame. The fire spread and as the drunken sailors were trying to extinguish the flames, the ship ran aground on rocks and blew up. The corpse of James Pattie was cremated rather than pickled or given a decent burial back in England. William Dalrymple insists this story is not apocryphal.