Tuesday, 21 April 2015

5 Historical Facts That Aren't Facts - Part Two

5 Historical Facts That Aren't Facts - Part Two
It's surprising how many myths and legends become known as fact, and how many of the facts were just made up hundreds of years after the event. Sometimes because of the Chinese Whispers syndrome, and, as more often is the case, someone just wanted to make the story more interesting and fun. Yesterday's post covered five of them, and below are another five historical "facts" that simply aren't true.

1. Lady Godiva rode through the streets of Coventry naked on horseback. The myth goes, Lady Godiva wanted her husband, the Earl of Mercia, to abolish taxes. He basically said sure, if you ride bare back, and bare everything else, through the streets of Coventry, bare completely nekkid. So she did. And he kept to his word and abolished the taxes. The townsfolk rejoiced. And then rejoiced again when they found out about the tax relief. Unfortunately, not true. The basic story didn't appear until a few hundred years after Lady Godiva died. And then for the next five hundred was embellished and exaggerated. In fact, Lady Godiva actually owned Coventry at the time, not her husband, and it was pretty much mostly farmland, not the thriving city we know today. And the people of Coventry didn't pay any taxes back then, so there would be no need for Lady Godiva's naked horse ride.
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2. "We who are about to die, salute you," was not a common phrase recited by Roman Gladiators before their fights to the death. For starters, most gladiatorial battles were not to the death. Secondly, there is only one recorded instance of it being said, before a large staged naval battle on a specially constructed artificial pool, when the group of criminals they had rounded up spoke them to the Emperor Claudius. They were pardoned at the time. A little bit of flattery goes a long way.
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3. Those found guilty of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials were burned at the stake. Back in 1692 and 1693 in Salem, everybody and their aunt were witches. Even that nice old lady who lived in the woods in the house made of candy. There were trials and a few tribulations, and plenty of witches found guilty of witchy things. However, none were burned with steaks, medium or rare. And none were burned whilst tied to a stake. Fifteen died in prison waiting to be executed or tried, nineteen were hanged and one was pressed to death. There were plenty of witches burned at the stake in Europe back in the 16th century, but not Salem.
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4. There was widespread panic when Orson Welles' radio adaption of The War of The Worlds was transmitted. Not many listened to the show as it was broadcast, and the few isolated reports of incidents of panic were merely exaggerated by newspapers the next day to sell more papers, and to discredit radio as a competitor for advertising. Orson Welles and the radio broadcaster both embraced the myth and expanded and exaggerated it further over the years.
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5. This one I found very amusing, but it's just a myth.

Transcript of a radio conversation between a United States naval ship and the Canadians off the coast of Newfoundland.

Americans: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.
Canadians: Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees South to avoid a collision.
Americans: This is the Captain of the US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.
Canadians: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course.
Americans: This is the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln, the second largest ship in the United States Atlantic fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers and numerous support vessels. I demand that YOU change your course 15 degrees north, that's one five degrees north, or countermeasures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship.
Canadians: This is a lighthouse. Your call.

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1 comment:

Cathleen Townsend said...

Interesting post. I'd thought the Roman gladiator salute was more widespread.