For more than 500 years, the whereabouts of King Richard III of England, who was killed in the one of the last battles of the War of the Roses, were unknown. A skeleton was dug up in a parking lot in Leicester late last year, and last month, archeologists confirmed the centuries-old corpse belonged to the king. Death wasn’t the end for Richard, as experts study his remains and historians argue where they should finally be put to rest. It wasn’t over for these historical figures either, as told in great detail by Bess Lovejoy in “Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses,” out March 12. These men’s unfortunate corpses were hacked, stolen, transported across oceans and even stuffed into a trunk and used as a chair.
After the former French emperor died in exile 1821 in Great Britain, 20 years would pass before his body returned to its home country. What happened next is the result of an autopsy that took one too many liberties. The doctor had allegedly removed the emperor’s genitals, and they joined some of Napoleon’s other belongings in a collection that was later auctioned in London in 1916. In 1927, the organ went on display at the Museum of French Art in New York City. It changed several collectors’ hands until the 1970s, when it was purchased by an American urologist, who kept it in a suitcase underneath his bed until he died in 2007 and his daughter inherited it.
After his assassination, the 16th president was embalmed and placed in an elaborate marble tomb in Springfield, Illinois. On election night, 1876, a group of counterfeiters attempted to steal the corpse, planning to hold it for ransom to force the release of famous engraver Benjamin Boyd, who had been pinched for forging $50 bills. Their scheme was interrupted by the Secret Service, which coincidentally Lincoln had created the day he was shot. The late president’s coffin was moved underneath the tomb, resurfacing once more in 1901, when workers sealed it in a steel cage and block of concrete. According to a young boy who, along with a small group of Illinois officials, snuck a peek at the politician one last time, Lincoln was perfectly preserved.