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7 historical facts that seem too incredible to be true

7 historical facts that seem too incredible to be true Historical facts that seem too incredible to be true (collage: RBC-Ukraine)

In the history of the world, events sometimes occur that seem so incredible that they raise doubts about their veracity. However, more often than not, these facts turn out to be true, expanding our understanding of the past.
RBC-Ukraine tells about incredible historical facts that turned out to be true.

The following sources were used in the preparation of the material: ITVX, Smithsonian Magazine, Medium, Wired.

A piece of Queen Victoria's wedding cake has been kept as a relic for almost 200 years

On February 10, 1840, the great Queen Victoria of England married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. At the wedding celebration, the happy newlyweds were presented with a magnificent wedding cake weighing about 136 kilograms.

This magnificent three-tiered cake was decorated with miniature figures of the bride and groom made of refined sugar, which was expensive at the time. The cake was soaked in aromatic booze and saturated with the flavors of lemon, elderberry, sugar, and dried fruit.

However, there was a problem: the bride was on a diet, and the guests were not very hungry. As a result, no one was in a hurry to eat a cake weighing more than a center. After the ceremony, Victoria ordered it to be cut into pieces, packed in tin boxes, and distributed to friends, acquaintances, and just random passersby.

However, not all recipients of these pieces were ready to eat them. After all, it was a gift from Her Majesty. Many people kept the slices as memorabilia, and some of them are still kept as heirlooms in the Royal Trust collection.

Even today, pieces of Victoria's wedding cake remain an object of desire for antique collectors. For example, in 2016, one small piece was sold at auction for £1500 (about $2000).

Interestingly, due to the high alcohol content of Victoria's cake, it is still edible, at least in theory.

7 historical facts that seem too incredible to be true

A piece of Queen Victoria's 200-year-old wedding cake (photo: ITVX)

The winner of the 1904 Olympic Marathon was carried to the finish line

On August 30, 1904, the city of St. Louis, USA, hosted athletics competitions organized with great difficulty.

Thirty-two athletes started the 40-kilometer marathon, but only 14 of them managed to reach the finish line. The road for the race was poor, not closed to cars, and passing cars raised clouds of dust.

Several participants felt their lives were endangered by the dust, which caused internal bleeding and lung damage, while others faced 32 degrees Celsius heat and dehydration.

The first to finish was American runner Frederick Lortz, who was eventually picked up by a car during the race. However, despite this, he decided to reach the finish line on his own, which caused mixed reactions, and after acknowledging the help, he was disqualified for six months.

7 historical facts that seem too incredible to be true

Runners are accompanied by judges in a car (photo: Missouri History Museum)

The second to finish was the British Thomas Hicks, who was recognized as the real winner. Although Hicks, as was the case with runners in those days, was doping. He was accompanied by several coaches who poured cognac and rat poison into his mouth along the way. At the time, strychnine was believed to have a tonic effect and to be incredibly useful.

By the time Hicks got to the finish line, he was hallucinating and could barely move, poisoned by alcohol and strychnine. The coaches literally carried him, holding his shoulders, and the athlete kicked his feet in the air, thinking he was still running.

7 historical facts that seem too incredible to be true

Thomas Hicks with his coaches (photo: Smithsonian Magazine)

Americans developed pigeon-guided bombs

In the 1940s, the United States created many new models of bombs and missiles, but their accuracy left much to be desired. The military was looking for a way to make these projectiles guided, but the electronics of the time were not sufficiently developed for this task.

At this time, behavioral psychologist Berres Skinner proposed an alternative approach: to use living beings as an onboard missile control system. His idea was to train specially trained carrier pigeons to guide missiles to their targets.

The military found this concept strange but intriguing. Skinner was given a budget and engineers to implement the project. Together, they developed a design in which pigeons sat in front of a camera with screens. When they spotted the silhouette of a target on the screen, they had to peck. This would activate mechanisms to change the trajectory of the projectile.

The pigeons were trained using the operant conditioning method, where successful attempts were rewarded with grain.

The Pigeon project was active from 1940 to 1944, then resumed in 1948 under the name Orcon, but by 1953 it was finally discontinued due to the development of compact electronic control systems, depriving the pigeons of their role.

7 historical facts that seem too incredible to be true

A training apparatus for training tactical war pigeons (photo: National Museum of American History)

The Dutch ate their prime minister

In 1653, in the Netherlands, Johan de Witt, a renowned lawyer, financier, and mathematician, became the great pensioner of the United Provinces, comparable to the prime ministers of Holland and Zealand at the time.

During his twenty years in office, de Witt achieved impressive success: he defended the country's independence in two wars with England, concluded favorable peace agreements, and improved the financial situation of the state.

7 historical facts that seem too incredible to be true

Portrait of Johan de Witt (photo: Wikimedia)

He was so popular with the Dutch that he was re-elected as the Grand Pensioner for 20 years in a row. However, in 1672, King Louis XIV of France invaded the United Provinces with England, which led to serious problems for the country.

This year became known as the Year of Disasters, and the people began to blame de Witt for this event. He was deposed from power and sentenced to exile, and his brother Cornelis was arrested and accused of conspiracy.

On August 20, Johan de Witt went to the prison to say goodbye to his brother before his exile. However, the crowd began to beat them, and both brothers were brutally murdered, their bodies horribly mutilated and eaten. The unfinished remains were left hanging until the birds ate them down to the skeletons.

7 historical facts that seem too incredible to be true

The bodies of Johan and Cornelis on the gallows (photo: Wikimedia)

The son of the Roman emperor Claudius accidentally killed himself with a pear

Claudius successfully ruled the empire, building roads, aqueducts, and canals, and rebuilding the Roman economy after the unrest under Caligula. Although his predecessor had caused discontent, Claudius was a fairly normal ruler. He had a son from his first wife, whom he planned to marry to the daughter of the Praetorian guard commander to strengthen his relationship with the military.

However, the son's death during a banquet changed the course of events. It happened when the boy choked on a pear, which suddenly led to his death. The historian Suetonius noted this incident, emphasizing the importance of caution when handling food.

7 historical facts that seem too incredible to be true

Emperor Claudius (photo: Wikimedia)

Marie Antoinette apologized to her executioner

There is a well-known phrase attributed to the French Queen Marie Antoinette in response to reports of starving people: "If they have no bread, let them eat cakes!". However, there is no evidence that she actually said these words.

Her last words before her execution, however, are authentically recorded. Marie Antoinette was executed by guillotine on October 16, 1793, at 12:15 pm. As she was climbing the scaffold, she accidentally stepped on the executioner's foot and said: "Forgive me, monsieur. I did not do it on purpose."

This is a perfect manifestation of the education and dignity of a true lady.

7 historical facts that seem too incredible to be true

The execution of Marie Antoinette (photo: Public Domain)

Animals were brought to trial in medieval Europe

In the Middle Ages, criminals were never treated with much ceremony. Neither gender, nor age, nor physical condition, nor even biological appearance caused Themis any special concern.

If the law was violated not by a person but by an animal, bird, or even an insect, European courts at that time still held hearings. The accused were appointed lawyers, witnesses were allowed to be called, and their sounds or growls were recorded in the protocols, in accordance with the rules of jurisprudence.

Most often, the defendants were pigs, who could attack and even maim unattended babies. Such killers were subjected to severe judgment.

For example, in 1386, in the city of Falaise in France, a pig gnawed on the face and arm of an infant named Jean le Maud, which led to his death. After a nine-day investigation, the accused was cut off its paw and face, recreating the injuries inflicted on the victim. Then the pig was dressed in human clothes and hung from the gallows.

Another interesting trial took place in 1394 in Mortain, Normandy. Before being hanged, the pig was dragged through the streets to the shouts of the crowd. This happened because of an aggravating circumstance: the pig ate a child on Friday, the day of fasting.

The courts in medieval Switzerland were not limited to pigs. In 1474, a rooster was sentenced to death in the city of Basel. According to his mistress, he allegedly denied God, became a sorcerer, contacted Satan, and laid an egg without a yolk. According to local beliefs, this could have led to the appearance of a basilisk, a creature capable of turning people to stone.

The defendant admitted his guilt and was executed at the stake, and the egg was destroyed to prevent the possible appearance of the monster.

Other animals were also tried: locusts for destroying crops, rats for eating large quantities of grain, etc. For example, in 1451, a leech trial was held in Lausanne, and an unusual sentence was handed down: they were ordered to leave the city's outskirts. The leeches disobeyed, and the local bishop excommunicated them.

7 historical facts that seem too incredible to be true

A sow and her pigs are on trial for killing a child (photo: Wikimedia)