Image via Unsplash.com- Mike Kennealy

The King That Tried To Execute A Prisoner With Coffee

Once considered by some to be poison, a zealous monarch believed that freshly brewed java could be used to kill a man

Andrew Martin
4 min readOct 24, 2021

--

In many cases, things that have become common staples of our everyday life were once regarded with suspicion and even fear until they proved to be safe and beneficial. Such was the case with coffee, which was seen as so dangerous by some in the past that a king attempted to use it as an experimental method of execution. Not only did the plan fail spectacularly, but both the king and the physicians assigned to carry out the death sentence by java all passed away long before the prisoner.

Coffee has been one of the most popular beverages on earth for many years. Served both hot and cold, it has fueled countless people over time with invigorating caffeine. The first coffee that most resembles what is consumed today first appeared in 15th century Yemen and then slowly spread to Northern Africa, the Middle East and then Europe.

Sweden first saw the arrival of coffee around 1674 but it failed to gain much of a foothold over the next one hundred years or so until wealthy patrons began making it popular. This was despite official beliefs that the beverage was dangerous and promoted negative impacts on health. A royal edict was issued in 1746, decrying the “misuse and excesses” of both tea and coffee. Coffee was even banned for a time, which was more perfunctory than anything else, as people continued to consume it.

In particular, King Gustav III of Sweden (ruled 1771–1792) detested coffee and believed it was an emergent danger to his subjects. He was completely against the wide-spread adoption of the beverage and desired to prove any negative health effects that he believed were in abundance. If his subjects wouldn’t obey royal decrees, what would they do if he could furnish cold hard evidence that showed he was right? He decided a medical experiment would be the perfect way to achieve his goal, and the ideal subjects were prisoners awaiting death sentences.

Gustav tapped two physicians with the task of conducting the experiment. Their subjects were a pair of identical twins, who had both been sentenced to death by beheading for murder but had…

--

--

Andrew Martin

Dabbler in history, investing & writing. Master’s degree in baseball history. Passionate about history, diversity, culture, sports, investing and crypto.