Bizarre Stories from European History (Part 1)
History, man: it’s a collection of random dates, bland facts, and long names that all blend into one gray canvass of boredom. Or is it? To be honest, a lot of times, the history textbooks you have to read in school have it all wrong. There’s so much more to history than meets the eye. It’s the story of the human race, and we’re pretty ridiculous creatures. There are hundreds of hilarious and bizarre stories that school textbooks leave out. Here’s just a few of them.
1. The Coffee Conundrum
The modern world wouldn’t be possible without coffee. The dark beverage fuels the day to day lives of parents, teachers, artists, writers, CEOs, and pretty much anyone else you could name. We start the day with it, and it’s hard to imagine a time when people thought it was the ‘bitter invention of satan’ (of course, that was before Starbucks).
It came to Europe from the Middle East around the 17th century. At first, people didn’t know what to make of the dark beverage. But coffee always wins. Slowly, the allure of caffiene overcame the initial suspicions of witchcraft and sorcery, and coffee shops: places to discuss philosophy and science and all the new ideas floating around the world popped up. People thought it was wonderful, they thought they would never have to sleep again. It replaced beer and wine as a breakfast drink and people began to enjoy the daily buzz, used it to improve their work.
Some people didn’t approve. The Swedish government tried to ban coffee in 1746, and Frederick the Great of Prussia thought beer was better, so he issued a manifesto in an attempt to stop coffee’s interference with beer-drinking.
Despite coffee’s lukewarm reception, the accusations of sorcery, and the attempts to ban it, it’s still a pretty great drink. And people have been consuming it for centuries as the beverage of thinkers and artists. It’s become an inseparable part of the modern life.
2. The Reverse-Reverse War
Sometimes history isn’t only amusing, it’s flat-out hilarious. Around 1866, the humble country of Lichtenstein had a very humble army of 80 men. The Lichtenstein army invaded Italy in 1866. Italy didn’t put up much of a fight. In fact, their cause was considered so just and admirable that they lost none of their men, and an Italian supporter joined the cause! And so, the army returned to their home country after the battle with one extra person than they’d left with.
3. The Papal Debate
Okay, so the real name of this time in history was the “Western Schism”– and get this: there were three men all declaring themselves pope at once. Yep, you heard me right. After the old pope, pope Gregory XI died in 1378, there was a power vacuum in the Catholic church. The Romans rioted. On April 8, the church elected Urban VI. Well, unfortunately that wasn’t the best decision. He was a pretty bad pope, prone to fits of anger. The church soon decided that they’d made a mistake and moved their entire headquarters away from him, from Rome to another city. There, they elected an entirely new pope (even though Urban was still reigning), named Clement VII. This ended up dividing the Catholic Church into two cardinal camps for a short period of history. Later, a council was called to resolve the two factions, but both popes balked at the last minute– and both cardinal colleges abandoned their popes!
In the end, several generations later, a council was called in 1414. The popes that were rival to the Roman pope resigned, and the Roman line of popes is now recognized as the official line. Crazy, right?
4. Beards Begone! (Sorry, Russian Hipsters)
It’s the 1700s, and Russia is going through some turbulent changes. Czar Peter the Great had decided that his country was backward compared to the rest of Europe. He’d spent his early life traveling all over the world to see what the rest of it was like, and his conclusion was that Russia was sorely lacking. He was quite an ambitious man. He brought European technology to Russia, boosting the economy in an unprecedented way. He moved the capitol of Russia to St. Petersburg (named after himself, of course!), and reformed education in Russia to be secular. But that’s not all he did. Apparently, boosting Russia’s economy, moving the capitol, and reforming the education system to be more western wasn’t enough. People had to look western, too.
He went about it in a way that most of us would call a bit harsh. Peter the Great literally ran around court insisting that his nobles get rid of their long Russian beards. Why? Because they didn’t look European, and Europe was the height of modernity. He went so far as to personally chop off their beards and bits of their clothes, and created a “beard tax”. So, if you wanted a beard, you literally had to pay for it. It was a hard time for the hipsters.
5. The Glorious Revolution
English history is weird, man. The revolution of 1688 is no exception. It all started with James II. James II was a devout Catholic, something the protestant population of England didn’t really fancy. England had fought long and hard to establish protestantism firmly in the country, and the idea of a Catholic king who might force everyone to be Catholic was simply intolerable. James II clashed with parliament again and again on matters of religion and politics, and, eventually, in the 1680s, Parliament wrote to Mary I and her husband, William of Orange, and asked them to come and take the throne from James. What resulted was a bloodless coup. Literally, all William of Orange had to do was swoop in from the Netherlands and plant his royal butt on the throne of England. James II was so frightened of being beheaded that he and his family fled England without a word. And so, parliament was able to change the head of government quietly, virtually overnight. This was probably the most British thing that ever happened.
These are just a few of the crazy things that happened in European history. There are so many more interesting little anecdotes tucked away in journals and newspaper articles from the 1800s, and in memoirs and letters. You just have to know where to look!