Friday, October 16, 2009

The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody

So you think you know all there is to know about people like Nero and Cleopatra, Lady Godiva and Lucrezia Borgia?

How terribly, terribly wrong you are.

For here are the immortals of history in a delightful new light, irreverently stripped of the aura of time and revealed (in none of their glory) as the human beings they really were - the foolish, fallible, fascinating, famous, so very much our own common ancestors. (from the back cover...)

Interested in history as I am, this book immediately caught my attention. My Mum said I could borrow it, she was quite pleased that I had discovered it on her bookshelf, and she was eager for me to read it. What a Mum!

Now that I'm finished with it (regrettably), I'm afraid that I will never look at a famous person the same again. And that may be a good thing. Below are some quotes from some of the different characters that get roasted by this smart-alec author Will Cuppy.

Queen Elizabeth had a quick temper because her endocrine balance was all upset. She hated dentists, long sermons, Lettice Knollys, and the Countess of Shrewsbury. She liked presents, flattery, dancing, swearing, prevaricating, bear-baiting, succory pottage, ale, beer, and the Masters of the Horse. p168

Henry VIII was married six times and was called the Defender of the Faith or Old Pudding-Face. He was passionately fond of sweets. He would also eat roast bustard, barbecued porpoises, quince preserves, and boiled carp.
Either you like Henry VIII or you don't. He has been much criticized for beheading two of his wives. In a way, he has only himself to blame. Any man who beheads two of his wives must expect a little talk. He shouldn't have done it, but you know how things are. As a matter of fact, Henry merely let the law take its course, but some people feel that a really thoughtful husband would have done something about it.Besides, he let some of them live, for those were the days of chivalry, when knighthood was in flower. p 161

William [the Conqueror] was born in 1027 or 1028 and showed early signs of his future greatness. He was a manly little fellow, always fighting and wrangling and knocking the other children down. After his father died near Jerusalem, he became more independent and took to putting out people's eyes. He also spread a little poison around where it would do the most good. p154-155

Frederick the Great was the founder of what used to be modern Germany. When he was a little old man he had a hook nose. He wore old uniforms covered with snuff and said very funny but very nasty things to his neighbors.
Frederick the Great died in 1786, at the age of seventy-four, alone but for a single servant and his faithful dogs, whom he loved better than human beings, because, as he said, "they were never ungrateful, and remained true to their friends." Besides, they couldn't see through him. pg 151, 152

Catherine the Great had been in Russia eighteen years and was getting into a rut. But look what happened. The Empress Elizabeth died of her cherry brandy, and Peter succeeded her as Peter III. Six months later Catherine dethroned and imprisoned him and had herself proclaimed Empress, with the aid of Gregory Orlov and his brothers. In the excitement the Russians forgot that she was a total outsider with no rights to the crown, so there they were with a German lady ruling them, somewhat to their surprise.
It was pretty sad about Peter. A few days after his arrest he died suddenly at Ropsha while Alexis Orlov and some friends of the Empress were with him. Catherine announced that he died of hemorrhoidal colic, and people who went to the funeral wondered why, in taht case, the large bandage was tied around his neck. And that, gentle reader, is what comes of playing with dolls at the wrong time. At first glance the pastime may seem as safe as the next one. It just doesn't work out in actual practice. pg 141-143

Peter [the Great] became Tsar in 1682, when he was only ten. He spent the next few years playing practical jokes. He was very fond of wit and humor, such as knocking out people's teeth with a pickax and blowing their heads off with fireworks. He knew what the public wanted.
Meanwhile, Russia was run by Peter's half-sister, Sophia. Sophia was very homely and believed in the women's rights movement. She tried to have Peter murdered, and he imprisoned her so that she could think it over.
One Thursday morning Peter suddenly decided to reform Russia and give it all the advantages of Western civilization. This was afterwards called Black Thursday. He thought that the more morons talked to about this the more he would know, so he went abroad. pg 131-132

Louis XIV was born rather suddenly in 1638. His parents... were married for twenty-two years without having a baby. Because of the long delay, the infant was called Louis Dieu-Donne, or Louis the God-Given. He was afterwards known as Louis le Roi Soleil, or Louis the Show-Off. Extremely dull as a child, he gradually developed this characteristic into a system. In later life he knew a good deal about a wide range of subjects but nothing definite about any one subject.
Some scholars explain Louis's dullness by his royal position, kings being more or less out of touch, but this would hardly account for the symptoms. Others say he was deliberately kept in a state of ignorance by his teachers when he was a boy. No professors, however, could have turned out so perfect a job unless the pupil showed a natural aptitude of no mean order. They would have slipped up somewhere. Sometimes Louis showed a brief glimmer of intelligence. Then everything would return to normal again. pg 112-113

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