Showing posts with label silly things in history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label silly things in history. Show all posts

Thursday, July 13, 2017

George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence. Died as He Lived

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George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence
George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence was a noted soldier and schemer. He had fought with distinction in the War of Roses, but not always for his brother the King. George aided Richard the 'Kingmaker' Earl of Warwick in an attempt to destabilize Edward after his unpopular marriage. The plot was put down, and George was forgiven, but the King never quite forgot.

Now, what you have to understand about the court of George's brother, Edward IV, was that it was a complete and total disaster. The court was split into two major factions- the supporters of the Wydvilles--the family of the queen, and everyone who hated them.

They Wydville's were new nobility, having obtained their positions entirely from the fact that Elizabeth Wydville married the King. Despite their complete lack of experience in political matters, the Wydville's turned out to be incredibly good at politics, much to the dismay of the old nobility. Using their influence over the King, they managed to obtain almost complete control over Wales, as well as Edward's heir. They were fabulously wealthy, and were getting wealthier with every post, marriage, and wardship they managed to acquire.

Now, George was aligned with the faction opposing the Wydvilles. He didn't like the queen, not even a little bit. He disliked her so much that he tried to pin the death of his wife on her, as well as accuse her of witchcraft. He was, obviously, unsuccessful, and only succeeding in pissing off the Queen. They had a bit of a back-and-forth, where the collateral damage could be measure in lives, until finally George snapped. He stood before the council one day, and denounced not only the Queen, but his brother the King. His claims were of the treasonous and destabilizing sort, and so he was promptly thrown in prison. He was taken before Parliament, and found guilty in a trial that wasn't entirely legal, and sentenced to death.

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George represented in a window at Cardiff Castle
As you might imagine, Edward IV was finding it a bit difficult to condemn his brother to death, and he put off signing to execution order for several days, until his counselors finally pressured him into signing it. Before the act was carried out though, their mother, Cecily Neville stepped in. She made two requests of Edward, both of which he granted. The first being that George be executed privately, and the second that George not be beheaded, but allowed to choose his own method of execution.

George had often joked that he wanted to die by being drowned in a barrel of wine. George was known for being a heavy drinker, and if he requested this method, or if Edward remembered his jokes and decided on the method of execution, this is how George died. On February 18, 1478, George was drowned in a 'butt' or barrel, of malmsey wine.

The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir
Encyclopedia Britannica
English Monarchs

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Gnoming for Sport and Profit

'Gnoming' or 'The Traveling Gnome Prank' is when you steal someone's garden gnome, then send them pictures of said gnome from various exotic location. Gnoming started in the seventies, and continues to this day usually as a more or less innocuous prank.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing and outdoorThe first roaming gnomes were fellows by the names of Harry and Charlie. They traveled with human Henry Sunderland to Antarctica in 1977. Charlie was sent down to a research station by the south pole, where he survived a fire, and became a mascot for the researchers there. Upon returning to civilization Sunderland published the photographs of his garden guardian friends, and so a craze began.

After that 'gnoming' became something of a prank. Miscreants would steal garden gnomes from unsuspecting owners, then send the owners pictures of where the gnomes had gone. Many gnomes went on grand world tours with their new friends, and became partial inspiration for the 2001 French film Amelie, which made its way to Broadway in March.

What's more, gnoming became inspiration for a multi-million dollar ad campaign run by Travelocity in the early 2000s. A friendly looking gnome with a big red hat and an English accent promoted to travel company with his testimonials from exotic locales.

Image result for travelocity gnomeGnoming is, for the most part, a lighthearted prank, but some people take it very seriously. There are several organizations, The Garden Gnome Liberation Front being the most popular, dedicated to freeing the clay creatures from their lives of garden ornamenting. These groups steal hundreds of gnomes, often depositing them in forests, or occasionally in large groups in public places. There was also a staged mass gnome suicide in 1998, which I cannot fathom the purpose of.

Gnoming is, essentially, one of the most ridiculous pranks around. It's more or less harmless, even if it is technically against the law.

Christchurch City Library
Daily Mail
The Mirror

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Austria vs. Austria-i.e. The Big Screw Up of 1788

So it's 1788 and, big surprise, Europe is at war. It's Russia/Austria versus the Ottoman Empire, and Austria is only a very reluctant participant. In fact, the only reason Austria is at war at all is because Austria is afraid of Russia, and the Ottomans pissed off Catherine the Great, so there they are.

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Catherine the Great, not a woman you want to anger
The Austrian army is waiting for the Ottomans near the town of Karansebes, and as you can imagine, the Austrians aren't super happy to be traipsing around the countryside, so it's no surprise when a group of scouts buy a large amount of alcohol off a nearby band of Roma people.  The scouts took their booze back to camp, and started having a good time. They were getting a bit rowdy around the fire when a group of foot soldiers came over, and asked if they too could have some alcohol. The scouts, who obviously failed kindergarten, refused to share. The foot soldiers weren't too pleased, and resorted to fisticuffs.

Simple fisticuffs soon turned into a full on brawl. We've got groups of angry Austrians, some of them drunk, hundreds of miles from home, fighting an enemy they have no good reason to be fighting, and, dammit, they just want to get (more) drunk. Tempers are high, and soon the guns come out.

Men are shooting at each other. The scouts with the booze have erected fortifications, and the camp is in total mayhem when some bright fellow yelled that the Turks were attacking. That's when real pandemonium breaks out. Those in command are trying to organize the men, but the soldiers were drawn from all over the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and they speak dozens of languages. Some of the orders sound like people shouting 'Allah, Allah', which only drives the frenzy.
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The fighting goes on for hours until the Austrian generals manage to sound a general retreat, leaving some 10,000 men dead on the field. Two hours later the, very confused I'm sure, Ottomans took Karansebes without a fight.

There is debate about the validity of this tale, given that the incident wasn't written about until some 40 years later, but friendly fire does happen, and accidentally killing 10k of your own men, and then retreating from yourself isn't exactly something that the generals want to write home to the emperor about.

Unfortunately for the poor Austrians, the Austro-Turkish war would drag on for another three years, and neither side would come out on top.  The battle of Karansebes is an amusing anecdote, but like most fighting, it was a pointless waste of life in a pointless war.

Today I Found Out

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Four Times Switzerland Accidentally Invaded Lichtenstein

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Vaduz Castle

Switzerland is known for being a neutral country-- for staying out of it, and being a safe haven from the rest of the world's warfare. You may think that the Swiss are just nice, like the Canadians of Europe, but after reading about the four times that this inoffensive nation has invaded its tiny neighbor Lichtenstein, I'm beginning to think that the Swiss are neutral because their army is remarkably incompetent.

And yes, you read that correctly. Switzerland has invaded Lichtenstein, not once, not twice, not three times, but FOUR times. Now, admittedly, the Swiss-Lichtenstein border is undefended and largely unmonitored, but crossing into another country is a big deal, especially if you're an army.


To start off the international incidents, in 1968 the Swiss army accidentally attacked a ski resort at Malburn with grenades. Thankfully, no one was hurt.


December 5, 1985 the Swiss were doing some routine missile exercises. It was a dark and stormy night, and their missiles were of poor quality, so they had some pretty good excuses when one of their missiles accidentally landed in Lichtenstein's Bannwald Forest. The missile caused a forest fire, sparking tension with the heavily forested principality. This was the only time with the Lichtenstein Government got a bit testy. The Swiss had to shell out several million Swiss Francs.


In 1992 five soldiers were sent on a training mission to erect a tower in the remote and mountainous town of Triesenberg. The idea was that they would be able to observe planes flying over the Rhine valley from this location. Unfortunately, someone higher up forgot that Triesenberg isn't part of Switzerland. So imagine the surprise of the Swiss when the next door neighbors of the house they had commandeered as a command center came over to politely inquire what the hell they thought they were doing. Embarrassed, the Swiss quickly went back to where they came from.  No damage was done to the property, so the Lichtenstein government wasn't too upset when they got the news.


March 1, 2007 the Swiss army was doing a night training exercise near the Swiss-Lichtenstein border. Now, this border is unguarded, and things can get a bit confusing when mountains are concerned, so is it really surprising that 170 Swiss soldiers accidentally wandered into the small principality in the dark? They were about a mile in before realized they were in the wrong country, and high-tailed it back to Switzerland. The Swiss government informed Lichtenstein the next day, and offered an apology.

An apology Lichtenstein took very well. The Lichtenstein government is quoted as having said "It's not like they invaded with attack helicopters." and "These things happen."

So far, Lichtenstein has been remarkably gracious about the Swiss repeatedly blundering over their borders, though that may be because Lichtenstein has no standing army of its own, and relies on Switzerland for protection. However, in Switzerland these incidents are routinely held up as examples of why Switzerland should disband its army.