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6 Famous Things From History That Didn't Actually Exist

#3. The First "End of the World" Scare

Let's give credit where credit is due. Maybe we spent the turn of the millennium freaking out over our computers and hoarding bottled water and canned goods and mechanical can openers, but at least we didn't go nuts like some people. After all, as the news media tells us, these millennial freakouts happen every thousand years. You may have heard during the Y2K panic that back in the year 999, the Christian faithful were so sure that Jesus was returning that they prayed obsessively, forgave debts, gave all their possessions away, pardoned criminals, and stopped tending their fields. Some even flocked to Jerusalem in anticipation of the return of Christ.


With all this hype, we'll be lucky if it isn't a bigger disappointment than the Star Wars prequels.

So while a few crazies today obsessively prepare for the apocalypse, we're not exactly shutting everything down in a blind panic as a society. Not like those dipshits back then.

The Reality:

European Christians were too busy with the day-to-day business of not starving to death to get caught up in an apocalypse-prepping panic. For one thing, they could barely agree on which year it was, so it's kind of hard to get worked up over the next round number on the calendar when you thought the fatal day had already passed a few years ago. For another, these people were always anticipating the return of Christ. It was kind of their thing, ever since John scribbled down some incoherent ramblings about horsemen of the apocalypse and a whore of Babylon.


His motivation is lost to time.

Which is why historians have been dismissing the notion of widespread panic at the last turn of the millennium for more than a hundred years now. No one went crazy. No one flocked to Jerusalem. People just went about their ordinary business of being dirty and hungry, maybe with an occasional look to the sky, just in case.

What's really interesting is how the rumors of collective millennial shit-losing got started in the first place. The stories actually began in 1605 when a Catholic cardinal mentioned the panic in his history of the church. Protestants later used the stories as evidence of how unenlightened and superstitious Catholics were. Finally, a politically motivated 19th century French historian embellished the accounts as a final indictment against the church. By the time he was done with the first millennial scare, a retroactive mass hysteria had seized all of religious Europe. We almost wish we could be here in a thousand years to see what our ancestors have to say about our handling of the year 2000.

Getty
"It's probably a good thing the robo-syphilis outbreak of 2016 killed most of 'em."

#2. The House of Tudor

Even if you're not the world's biggest Anglophile, you probably know about Henry VIII, aka "That king who kept beheading his wives because they wouldn't give him a son."


"Kings don't pay no alimony."

The story there is that his dad was Henry Tudor when he took over the throne of England, and in order for the Tudor name to continue, Henry VIII needed boys, not girls, to keep the lineage alive. Henry's wife Catherine delivered a daughter and some not-living boys before her womb dried out altogether, so Hank moved heaven and hell to divorce her for a new wife, causing a massive upheaval at the time. Anything to keep the Tudor monarchy going, right?

Eventually, Henry's daughter Queen Elizabeth I died childless and the Stuart era began. Too bad for the legendary family known as the Tudors. The whole drama makes for a pretty good soap opera.


Everyone in this picture looks so fancy, you can almost forget that their lives were one long chain of chronic diarrhea.

The Reality:

You know how no one who lived in the Dark Ages actually thought of themselves as living through the Dark Ages? The phrase was invented by later historians as a nice way to break up that bit of history from the years before and the years after. It's the same thing with the idea of a "House of Tudor" or "Tudor England."

For one thing, the first Tudor king wasn't too crazy about throwing his last name around because he came from humble origins. Apparently, "Tudor" was like the "Jim Bob" of the day. After scouring contemporary documents, one historian found one single lonely mention of the word "Tudor," and that was in a poem written after Elizabeth's death.

Getty
She was mistakenly killed by a vampire hunter.

The point being, subjects living under Elizabeth's or Mary's or Henry's reign wouldn't have been nearly as concerned about whose house was named what -- they were probably more concerned about whether or not Bloody Mary was going to execute them for Protestantism. In fact, when Elizabeth died, the country was relieved that there was a quick succession that didn't involve an invasion or revolt. If they were lamenting the end of the Tudor era, they didn't let it show. Unfortunately, all of this means that we're not going to get to take reruns of The Tudors very seriously anymore.

#1. The Female Pope

If you've never heard the story of "Pope Joan," we feel sorry for you, because it's awesome. For instance, if your initial reaction to hearing the name was "I didn't know they let women be pope at all," well, that's the point -- they don't. This is the story of a woman who pulled off the con of a millennium.


Despite the handicap of a right arm that started well below her waistline.

In the ninth century, a German woman named Joan started studying at a monastery, claiming to be a man. Covered from head to toe in junk-hiding monk clothes like everyone else, no one suspected that she wasn't a dude. Then she made her way to Rome, where she became a secretary to a cardinal. And when the pope died, according to one 12th century chronicler, Joan was deemed the best person for the job.

For two whole years she pulled off the charade, until the day came when she gave birth in the street during a procession.


To a toddler, apparently.

The story gets fuzzy from there. While still trailing afterbirth, Joan died or was stoned by the crowd or was dragged from the tail of a horse, a worthy punishment for being a religious leader with a vagina.

For centuries after, papal processions avoided the street where Joan plopped out a Pope Jr. A statue was erected to commemorate the story. Her face showed up on ancient Roman tarot cards and statues in cathedrals. For years, each papal candidate was forced to sit on the sedes stercoraria, a special throne with a hole cut in the seat ... so cardinals could reach up underneath to confirm there were balls a-danglin'. Like this:

Popes and the Papacy
"While I'm down here, how about the ol' stroke-and-wiggle?"

Someone even made a whole movie about Pope Joan's story, shockingly not starring Tilda Swindon or Glenn Close.

Aaaaand, it's bullshit.

The Reality:

Unfortunately, Pope Joan's story has some birth-canal-sized plot holes. Like the year of Pope Joan's coronation, 855. That can't be right, because Leo IV was immediately replaced by Benedict III in 855. Unless she was actually John VIII, who reigned from 872 until 882, except that fully penised guy had his own backstory and sad demise. There really are no empty spots in the church's history where a theoretical mystery pope could have stepped in.

Penn Provenance
Or squatted down.

The most damaging evidence against Pope Joan is the fact that there are no contemporary references or relics that support her existence -- no commissioned paintings of a suspiciously feminine pope or papal panties or anything.

As for the reason the church avoided that street where she allegedly gave birth, it was because it was too narrow for the pope's entourage. And the statue erected on the spot had actually always been there -- it was a pagan goddess later attributed to Pope Joan. And as for the part everyone wishes were true -- that every pope has to go through a laborious scrotum-groping ritual -- we have to disappoint you once again. It was a conclusion people came to when they saw the hole in the sedes stercoraria, which is really a ceremonial toilet.

Franco Origlia / Getty
His Holy Taco Poops are too good for regular porcelain.

Maybe that's the real story here -- that somebody who at one time was considered an expert looked at a chair with a hole in it and instead of thinking "toilet" thought "This must be the pope's nut-grabbing chair." We've got to say, we kind of like how that guy's mind worked.



When Paige Turner isn't writing about dicks on the Internet, she's ... writing about dicks elsewhere. Matt Martin is currently in training to become a novel editor. Send him a PM if you're interested in hiring him for some cheap freelance work.



For more ways your school is full of a bunch of liars, check out 6 Ridiculous History Myths (You Probably Think Are True) and 5 Fictional Stories You Were Taught in History Class.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 5 'Are You Afraid of the Dark?' Shows With Adult Messages.

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