Old-time historians weren't above sexing up their accounts with a little bit of what experts call "bullshit." Legend becomes fact, real accomplishments get exaggerated for propaganda purposes (no, George Washington never chopped down that cherry tree.) But when it comes to Joan of Arc, the parts of her life that historians all agree on are so remarkable that it doesn't seem to need all that much exaggeration. She won over her chief critic at Orleans through a sudden gust of wind on the battlefield, for instance, and one way or the other she reversed nearly a century of French defeats in one year despite no military training whatsoever.
So given all that she was accomplishing, it doesn't seem that strange that a prophecy started gaining traction around France stating, "As France had been lost by a woman, it would be saved by a woman." What is strange, however, is that the prophecy was already hugely popular in France long before Joan of Arc ever wandered off into the woods and started taking requests from angels to set English armies on fire.
There was always some asshole angel in the back who would request Free Bird.
The background on that is that when Joan was 8 years old, France's Queen Isabeau of Bavaria signed a treaty with England that essentially handed the French throne to the English king. Naturally, French citizens were less than excited about gifting their country to the same people who had been stabbing their ancestors to death for decades, and so they started to cling to this prophecy claiming that a woman would save them.
Where it Gets Really Weird:
After Joan of Arc's track record of reunifying France, that prediction couldn't sound any more made-up in hindsight. But guess who most historians attribute it to?
That would be Merlin the wizard, from Arthurian Legend. Attributing anything to a fictional wizard sounds like an open-and-shut case that it probably didn't exist, but the prophecy is mentioned repeatedly through the transcripts of Joan of Arc's trial and in a ballad written by Christine de Pisan while Joan of Arc was still alive. Each mentions Merlin's prophecy as if it was something everybody already knew about.
"Seriously. One more person yells 'Free Bird' and I'm gonna start cutting until I run out of faces."
Okay, you might think, maybe Joan just heard the prophecy as a child and tried to fulfill it. You'd be wrong. Joan of Arc claimed a lot of seemingly preposterous things during her trials, but she always dismissed the idea that she was the woman from the prophecy. So we're left with a strikingly prescient divination from a fictional English wizard foretelling the downfall of England, and the only person who doesn't believe it is the girl making it all happen.
The fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 is widely considered one of the most consequential moments in world history. In fact, most historians credit that moment as the end of the Middle Ages. Like a bunch of lushes getting kicked out of a bar late at night, all the Byzantines fled the city after it fell and wandered to other European hotspots before sobering up and getting to work on the Renaissance. Suffice it to say, the collapse of Constantinople helped shape the rest of history.
Naturally, that kind of colossal event deserves some fanfare on a biblical level, so it is fitting that the fall of the city coincided perfectly with a partial lunar eclipse. While this may not sound that exciting, it was kind of a big deal for everyone who saw it because of a long-standing prophecy that said, "Constantinople would always endure provided that the moon, in its full circle, did not give a sign in the sky."
"I'm telling you, I think it's trying to tell us something."
Since the moon was an important symbol of Constantinople going back to its founding a whopping 1,123 years earlier, seeing it disappear during the most important siege of the century was a pretty terrifying coincidence for everyone who lived inside its walls. And yet even with a blacked-out moon, the Byzantines fended off the incoming attackers for a little while. It took the hand of God to sweep through the city to really let everyone know that prophecy wasn't fucking around.
Where it Gets Really Weird:
According to the terrified accounts of what happened after the eclipse, the skies opened up and, for the next week, the city was besieged with "whirlwinds and terrible storms," "thunder and lightning with clouds, and a violent rain with severe hail," and "drops huge and red, similar in size and appearance to a bull's eye, fell as tears."
They must have cut that verse.
What sounds more like hyperbole than a detailed account actually has some credibility behind it. According to the California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory , these made-up-sounding phenomena may have been the result of a massive volcano -- one so huge that, even though it happened in the South Pacific, it caused apocalyptic weather-weirdness halfway around the globe. So what at first seems like a staggering coincidence feels a little more like God saying, "Alright, everyone get the hell out before I drop an asteroid on this nonsense."
Jacopo della Quercia is on Twitter. Follow him! It might coincidentally give you powers, or something.
For more things that will make you shit bricks, check out 6 Random Coincidences That Created The Modern World and 6 Ironic Coincidences Behind the Scenes of Famous Movies.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 3 Science Fictions We Really Just Built.
And stop by LinkSTORM to see which columnist is actually three other columnists that can't stand each other.
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