WEIRD but TRUE Historical Facts by Jem Duducu
I am a big proponent of illuminating the areas of history that get little to no coverage. So, in my new book Slinkys and Snake Bombs: WEIRD but TRUE Historical Facts I have collected more than 150 strange and obscure tales from the past. Here are two examples edited for the blog. The first is the obvious, yet never discussed history of Canada during the American War of Independence, and the other is a collection of some very famous people from history and how they died.
Canada remained loyal to Britain during the American Revolution
You may read this and think "of course" in which case you are falling for that old trick of hindsight. Look at things this way, the key cities of Montreal and Quebec were seceded by the French in the 1760s at the end of the Seven Year War, fighting for the revolution started just a dozen years later. That isn't enough time to ensure loyalty of any colony and there were still definitely many people in those key cities who would rather not be “British”.
Then add to this mix that the French speakers of Canada should naturally be pro-French and France was America's main European supporter in the American Revolution. Put it like that and Canada should have erupted into revolution too. And yet it didn't.
This reveals two things about the realities of the revolution. Firstly, it is easy to think that everyone in the 13 colonies was a diehard rebel. They weren't, places like New York was a loyalist bastion throughout the war. At the end of the war about 100,000 newly "free" Americans moved to Canada to remain part of the British Empire. There may have also been practical motivations behind the choice to move, Canada was doing well, it was part of a growing empire with access to international trade. America by contrast would spend in the 1780s and 90s forced to ask for international loans and putting down riots over taxation of whisky (The Americans REALLY hated taxes).
However, the rebels recognised the potential to spread their revolution and so there was the rather forgotten invasion of Canada in 1775. This invasion reveals the second thing about the realities of the revolution, the rebels had very limited resources and at times were prone to bouts of optimism rather than military pragmatism. How many troops do you need to do the trick? The British in 1759 needed about 4,500 to take Quebec and that was just one city and one battle, so did the American rebels send two or three times that number? No, they sent two columns numbering less than 3,000 in total up into Canada...at the start of winter and Canada has famously harsh winters. The theory was that the attack would be unsuspected both in location and time of year they could sweep through any local militias before Britain could do anything about it.
To be fair to the rebels, they did achieve complete surprise and managed to overrun several towns and forts. Round one to the rebels but with cold weather coming in and no sign of a popular uprising in the air they needed to take Montreal and Quebec quickly to have any hope of holding onto their gains, and that was a tall order. Montreal was attacked in the most half-hearted of manners with just 97 men (admittedly the bulk were Canadians so there were a few dozen rebels in the country on the side of the Americans) being comfortably beaten by a mixture of a few British regulars and nearly 200 local militia at The Battle of Longue-Pointe, again showing most locals wanted nothing to do with this foolhardy attempt at revolution.
Quebec was a bigger affair but even then the Americans could only muster around 1,200 men for the attack on December 31st 1775 that the British army had previously needed around four times that number to succeed. To the rebels' credit they did breach the defences but that’s as good as it got for them it was an utter failure leading to about half the force either killed, wounded, or captured.
The failure to take either of the two key towns meant the Americans could not consolidate on their meagre successes. They were forced to retreat in freezing conditions back to the comparative safety of the colonies, more men died of the savage cold. And although peace would not be ratified between America and Britain until 1783, no further attempts were made to try and take Canada.
We all have to die of something
The more famous person, the more that’s written about them and not all of them had a “fitting” death. Here are just a few historical facts on them -
453 AD Attila the Hun, scourge of the Roman Empire and ruler of the Hunnic Empire died of a nosebleed on his wedding night with his new wife.
1135 Henry I of England loved Lamprey Eels. However, they made him constipated, and his doctors warned him about this. During a feast, he really went for the eels and had severe constipation. The doctors realised that this was a dangerous situation and gave him a powerful laxative to get him going, and he died from excessive secretions.
1190 Frederick Barbarossa Holy Roman Emperor falls off his horse into a small river in Anatolia and drowns. This was actually a key moment of the Third Crusade as he had the largest army and almost all of it went home before even getting to the Middle East.
1216 King John of England dies when during a feast he eats “a surfeit of peaches.” It’s unclear if this brought on a stroke or more “excessive secretions” but those peaches actually ended an ongoing civil war and potential invasion of England by France. A warning about taking the whole “five a day” thing too far.
1286 Alexander III of Scotland against the wishes of his courtiers rode off in a storm to spend a night with his new wife and rode his horse off a cliff in the middle of the night. This was to lead to civil war which, in turn, would lead to Edward I of England interfering in the politics of his northern neighbour.
1574 Selim II (also known as the sot – i.e. the drunk) Sultan of the Ottoman Emperor while drunk slips on a wet marble floor in Topkapi Palace in Istanbul and the blow to the head kills him.
So ignoble deaths can happen to anyone. If you enjoyed them, there are more than 150 other historical facts in the book.
Jem Duducu's book Slinkys and Snake Bombs: WEIRD but TRUE Historical Facts is available for purchase now.