History. or Tall Story? THE MYTHS THAT WON'T DIE

The Mirror (London, England), April 10, 2014 | Go to article overview

History. or Tall Story? THE MYTHS THAT WON'T DIE


Byline: MELISSA THOMPSON

So Offa's Dyke wasn't King Offa's after all. The long earthwork along the Welsh border may now be renamed after carbon-dating showed it was there a full 200 years before the 8th century monarch was born.

"This is a tremendously exciting discovery which means we must re-think some of our assumptions," said Paul Belford, director of the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust.

But it's certainly not the first time that history has been rewritten...

Admiral Nelson's eye patch.

That Admiral Horatio Nelson wore an eye-patch is a myth that started in the mid-19th century. But the late historian Dr Colin White found two documents proving that although Nelson was blind in his right eye, there was no need for a patch because he was not disfigured. Artists used it as a symbol of his blindness. He did add a peak to his admiral's hat - to protect his good eye from the sun.

Napoleon's height

Napoleon Bonaparte, right, went down in history as a small man with a big attitude problem. We even called it Napoleon Syndrome. But his reputed height of 5ft2in was a miscalculation in converting from one measurement system to another. Properly converted to British inches, Napoleon was 5ft 61/2ins - about average during his lifetime in the 18th and 19th centuries or even a little taller than the norm.

An arrow in the eye killed King Harold

It happened at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Everyone knows that. But no matter what the Bayeux Tapestry shows, it was a soldier alongside the king who actually got the fatal arrow through his eye and that sticky end became confused with the monarch's.

Morale was low on the battlefield so Harold lifted up the visor on his armour to reassure his soldiers that he was still alive. Then he was butchered by Norman knights. His body was recognisable only by tattoos when presented to William the Conqueror.

Witches burnt at the stake

Burning at the stake was one of many painful ways to despatch those convicted of witchcraft in Europe. It has long been believed to have been the method used at the notorious trials in Salem, Massachusetts. In fact all of those found guilty in 1692 were hanged, except one who was crushed.

Vikings wearing horned helmets

Such helmets are historical fact but they were never worn by Vikings. The myth began when they were used as stage props at a 1876 performance of Wagner's opera The Valkyrie. The Vikings used horns to eat, drink and communicate - but they didn't wear them.

"Let them eat cake" said Marie Antoinette

Told that her peasant subjects had no bread, King Louis XVI's wife supposedly said: "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche."

Firstly, "brioche" is not cake - it's another type of bread. …

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History. or Tall Story? THE MYTHS THAT WON'T DIE
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