Growing up, I was subjected to many lies — the lie about the existence of tooth fairy, how Einstein failed at Maths, and Newton’s ‘Eureka!’ moment when he discovered gravity after an apple fell on his head. Among all the untrue facts I was told, the alteration of historical facts hurt the most — because they changed the way I look at the world now.
Let’s have a look at some of the historical facts, that were mostly untrue.
#1: “Richard III was a hunchback” — No, he wasn't.
William Shakespeare gave the world some of the most thoughtful historical plays — one of them was Richard III. In this play, Shakespeare portrayed Richard III as one of the biggest badass villains, who wanted more power and wanted to become the next King of England. Apart from being a power-thirsty, jealous villain Richard III was also shown to be a hunchback. Shakespeare famously called him someone who “seem a saint, but mostly played devil”.
This fictional account by Shakespeare on Richard III of England was influenced by fabricated historical pieces written by a rival dynasty, Tudors who killed Richard III in the Battle of Bosworth and took his throne. Regardless, Richard III was known to be a just and competent King among his people.
However, there are no accounts of the King being actually a hunchback. When his remains were found in 2012 at a parking lot, it was discovered that though the King was not actually a hunchback, his spine was a little curved. He could have possibly suffered from scoliosis.
#2: “Lincoln fought the Civil War to end slavery” — No, he didn’t.
There is no denying that the Civil War was successful in ending the centuries-long practice of slavery. However, ending this practice was not its goal. Abraham Lincoln declared war on the Confederate states not to abolish slavery but to stop them from breaking away from the Union.
The South did not like the federal laws that disallowed the movements of their slaves in the North. They wanted to break from the Union to free themselves from the restrictions imposed on them and their slave trade. Though Lincoln was against the practice of slavery, abolishing the trade was not the only thing he had in mind. In his letter to the New York Tribune in 1862, Lincoln wrote,
“If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the coloured race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.
I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty, and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.”
So when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation three years into the war, in1863, it gave the war another reason to fight for — to abolish slavery. This means the Civil War started to stop the nation from breaking apart, and the abolition of slavery was a positive outcome of the war.
#3: “Van Gogh cut off his own ear” — No, he didn't.
Its often believed that Vincent van Gogh cut off his left ear with a razor blade in an episode of madness and gifted it to a French prostitute. His moment of rage came out of a fight between him and his fellow artist, Paul Gauguin. However, that’s not the case.
In 2009, a couple of German historians wrote a book, Pact of Silence, in which they discussed this incident. They mentioned that it wasn’t van Gogh who cut off his own ear; his friend Gauguin did it instead. As per the book, both these friends had a falling out in 1888, and van Gogh became very upset over his friend leaving him and going back to Paris. His sadness pushed him into a very aggressive attack of acute intermittent porphyria, a metabolic disease. The authors suggest that van Gogh was already suffering from this disease.
When van Gogh became uncontrollable because of his attack, Gauguin pulled out his knife and chopped off van Gogh’s ear to save himself. This could have been a deliberate attempt or could have been an attempt to save himself. Regardless, as per the book, this story was invented to keep van Gogh’s friend safe, even if it made him appear crazy in front of people.
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