On my Facebook page, I occasionally post a “Historical Fact of the Day”–generally the one interesting thing I’ve discovered in eight or ten hours of hard historical slog. It occurs to me that some of my Gentle Readers might not be on Facebook (if you can imagine such a thing), so every once in a while I’ll post a digest here. Like this short collection of last week’s Historical Facts…
In 1697, Peter the Great left Russia to visit Europe. He travelled incognito, under the name Peter Mikhailov. Incognito, that is, with two hundred courtiers, trumpeters, surgeons, soldiers, and court dwarves. Oh, and he was six foot eight.
—Peter the Great: A Biography, Lindsey Hughes
In 1115, King Koloman of Hungary, blinded both his brother Almos and his brother’s 5-year-old son Bela. This, he thought, would guarantee the right of his own son Stephen to the throne. The year after, he died and Stephen became king; but he died childless in 1131. His cousin Bela then inherited and ruled perfectly well for ten years as Bela the Blind. (His wife did help him out quite a lot.)
—Ritual and Politics, Zbigniew Dalewski
Roger II, Norman Count of Sicily/southern Italy, got himself crowned actual king in 1130 by Pope Anacletus II (himself facing a papal rival and needing Norman military backup). “While Roger welcomed the formal approval of a pope…his own views are perhaps best expressed in a famous mosaic in Palermo…[which] shows Roger receiving the crown from Christ himself.” Good to have that straight.
—The Normans, Marjorie Chibnall
In 1103, Bohemond of Antioch escaped the hostile Byzantine emperor by spreading rumors of his death and then leaving in a coffin: “In order that the corpse might be in a state of rare putrefaction, they cut the throat of a cock and put that in the coffin with him. By the fourth or fifth day, the horrible stench was obvious to anyone who could smell.” Seasickness isn’t in it.
—The Alexiad, Anna Comnena