Historical Misconceptions Part III

Now we are on our THIRD installment of historical misconceptions, we have come to realise that we have been lied to a lot. As history is a confusingly cloudy place packed to the brim with interpretation, we wont go pointing my fingers at anyone in particular.


But now we are adults it’s important to make things right and dispel a few myths we’ve been clinging on to. We wont lie, the one about Pocahontas has particularly changed me…

Medieval Europeans Believed The Earth Was Flat

columbus image

Source: Top10List

The majority of us have grown up believing Christopher Columbus found it difficult to rally support for his voyages because of the common belief that the Earth was flat. In fact, from the time of the ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, it was widely acknowledged amongst European intellectuals that the earth was spherical. Columbus’s difficulties arose because the East Indies were much farther than he, or anyone, realised.

Albert Einstein Failed Mathematics In School

einstein image

Source: zeondessinateur

This one makes for a great story, but sadly, it is utter rubbish. Einstein was a brilliant mind. He even said that “I never failed in mathematics… Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus.” Obviously Einstein did not fail mathematics in school, however this misconception arose because Einstein did fail the entrance exam into the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School on his first attempt in 1895. But don’t go judging him just yet, first off, no one’s perfect, and secondly, he was two years younger than his fellow students at the time and scored exceedingly well in the mathematics and science sections.

People Were Burned At The Stake During The Salem Witchcraft Trials

salem image

Source: Wikipedia

Up until researching for this article, we totally believed this one too. However, during the Salem witch trials of 1692 not a single person was burned at the stake. This doesn’t mean nothing gruesome happened though, a total of 19 people were hanged, one man was crushed to death, and one (four year old, Dorcas Good) died while imprisoned. Brutal.

Pocahontas Was A Grown Woman When She Saved John Smith

pocahontas image

Source: Wikipedia

In fact, she was actually TWELVE. Obviously this misconception comes from the popular Disney film, where Pocahontas is quite clearly not a child. 

Born in 1595 Pocahontas (born Matoaka, known as Amonute, and later known as Rebecca Rolfe) was a Virginia Indian notable for her association with the colonial settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. Pocahontas was the daughter of the chief, Powhatan. In a well-known historical anecdote, she is said to have saved the life of an Indian captive, Englishman John Smith, in 1607 by placing her head upon his own when her father raised his war club to execute him.

William Wallace Was Called Brave Heart

wallace image

Source: DailyRecord

Again, we have Hollywood to thank for this one. The Scottish freedom fighter, played by Mel Gibson in the epic 1995 kilt fest, Wallace was never called by the title of Brave Heart unlike the movie suggests. He also didn’t wear a kilt or blue face-paint into battles, his wife was called Marian not Murron and he never married in secrecy to prevent his wife’s virginity being taken away by the English and their vile primae noctis principle (which was probably never a thing in the first place!).

The person who donned the name “Brave Heart” was actually Scotland’s eventual king and Wallace’s contemporary, Robert the 17th Bruce. However, he only acquired this nickname after his death when his heart was carried by a trusted general in a box around his neck into battle.

The Emancipation Proclamation Freed American Slaves

abraham image

Source: Telegraph

The Emancipation Proclamation, issued in 1863 as an Executive Order by President Abraham Lincoln, freed the enslaved peoples in the 10 rebelling states of the Confederacy and ordered the army of the Union to treat all the slaves they encountered as freed peoples (not U.S. citizens, mind you). Enslaved people in the five allied states of the Union that practiced slavery were not affected.

Thus the President freed people he technically has no authority over.

Freedom actually came in 1865 with the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution which officially abolished slavery in The United States.

However, the 1863 proclamation did encourage enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy to join the Union forces, especially once the Union army occupied their territory. The immediate impacts of the Proclamation are unclear — some slaves rejoiced, some Union soldiers deserted in protest, but for most people the war marched on with no change. Its importance is actually symbolic: the Emancipation Proclamation meant that Lincoln did not just want to end the war and reunite the nation, he wanted the nation to emerge from the conflict without slavery. Right on Lincoln.

King John Signed The Magna Carta

magna image

Source: The Guardian 

The issue here is not so much that King John refused to sign, it’s more like King John was illiterate and couldn’t sign! John was a total rogue and as the document included just the royal seal it is most likely that he couldn’t read or write. Not that King John had any intention of sticking to the document anyhow…

This myth has formulated because painting show him reluctantly signing the Magna Carta in a meadow at Runnymede in 1215.

Walter Raleigh Introduced Potatoes And Tobacco To England

walter image

Image: Historical Honey & Wikipedia

A lot of hype surrounded Sir Walter Raleigh in the 16th Century and beyond. An explorer, courtier, privateer, handsome ladies’ man… some true, the majority total fabrication.

Most significantly he didn’t return from his visit to the New World (America) with England’s first potatoes and tobacco. Though Raleigh is said to have introduced potatoes in 1586, they were first grown in Italy in 1585, and quickly spread throughout Europe (even across the English Channel). Also, though people all over Europe blame Sir Walter for their cigarette addictions, Jean Nicot (hence the name) introduced tobacco to France in 1560. Tobacco spread to England from France, not the New World.

Read Historical Misconceptions Part 1

Read Historical Misconceptions Part 2

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