Welcome back to the weirdest stories from European history, plucked from textbooks and memoirs and great lectures. If you ever sat in history class, bored out of your mind with dates and facts, you’re not alone. But there’s more to history than that! Last time, we covered stories like Lichtenstein’s army returning from war with one more man than they left with, and how a Russian Emperor was so obsessed with looking modern that he forced his courtiers to cut off their beards. Well, it seems there’s no end to the crazy historical stories, so sit tight. There’s six more!
1. 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.
2. The Court Martial of the Rat
There have been some insane rulers in European history, and a lot of them have done some really strange things. At the top of the list is Russian Czar Peter III. At the age of twenty five, he found that two of his toy soldiers had their heads chewed. In a fit of rage, he caught the rat he thought was responsible, built a tiny gallows for it, and ordered a military hearing, stating that the rat had broke ‘military law’. The rat was given a proper court martial and sentenced to be hung by the neck until dead.
3. The Ridiculous Size of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles is, undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful palaces in all of Europe. The only trouble is that the French nobility who built it in the 17th century got a bit too carried away. In, fact, the palace is so big that it was entirely impractical to live in. Sure, it had over 350 living units, but everything was spaced so far apart that food would be cold by the time it reached the royal family from the kitchen. Louis XIV forced all of his nobility to move in with him in the palace. It housed the entirety of the French court. That’s a lot of people that needed to pee, and people being people, most of the time, the nearest bathroom was just too far away and they would ended up peeing in alcoves and behind curtains. It just goes to show that some palaces fit for a king really can get too big and elaborate.
4. Lord Byron and Skull Cup
The English Romantic Poets were known for being a little bit strange. One of the weirdest out of the lot was Lord Byron. Oh, this isn’t about his alleged incest with his half-sister. This is about a curious and slightly disturbing find that another poet at the time: Nathaniel Hawthorne, made when he visited Lord Byron’s home in the 1850s, about a generation after Byron’s death. The housekeeper allegedly opened up a cabinet, and he found inside a cup with an inverted skull as the bowl. Byron said later that his gardener had found it, and Byron had wanted it as a drinking cup and had it sent to town to be polished.
5. Chocolate or Poop?
Chocolate, like coffee, had a bit of a rough start in Europe. It was absolutely revered by the Aztecs. They worshiped the god of cocoa, made a drink from it (it wasn’t a sweet one, like we would think of), and served it to their emperors. But when Columbus brought the small bean back from South America to present to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand… well… the little almond-like item didn’t receive very much attention.
It continued to be a weird thing that a lot of people didn’t understand, even after Cortez suggested that it be blended with sugar. In fact, in 1579, when a group of English buccaneers captured a Spanish vessel, they found its cargo hold full of cocoa beans. Well, unfortunately, they didn’t know that this ship was filled with God’s gift to mankind. The sailors assumed that the hold was full of mouse poop and burned the thing. It was a sad, sad day for the history of chocolate.
6. The Practicality of Tall Armies.
Last on the list of peculiar moments in European History, but not the least at all: Prussian Emperor Frederick I. He was known to be a strange man, often wandering around Prussian court in ragged clothes and beating people he didn’t like with his walking stick. But that wasn’t the biggest of his eccentricity. Our Frederick had an obsession with tall soldiers. He created a special unit in his army called “The Giant Guard of Potsdam”, consisting of men that were no less than six or seven feet tall. He recruited from wherever he could, paying fathers for their sons and even receiving tall soldiers as diplomatic gifts. And when all else failed… it really proved beneficial to be the emperor of Prussia, because he’d just kidnap them. According to one story, he kidnapped a priest mid-sermon!
History textbooks are great and all, but they always only provide the most basic of facts. History isn’t made up of facts and dates, it’s made up of people living their lives, doing crazy things that only people can. We’re a weird species, and we make mistakes, but out of those mistakes and strange obsessions and quirks come some of the best stories.