Welcome to the third part in our list of history's most common myths. Let's start with one of the most famous documents in British history. . .
12. King John signed the Magna Carta
The Magna Carta (Great Charter) is known as a landmark in history, limiting the power of the King of England and sowing the seeds of democracy. Paintings show King John reluctantly signing the Magna Carta in a meadow at Runnymede in 1215. Fair enough, except for one thing. As well as being a rogue, John was probably illiterate. As anyone could see from looking at one of the four original Magna Cartas in existence, he simply provided the royal seal. No signature required.
11. Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes and tobacco to England
Sir Walter Raleigh - explorer, courtier, privateer - Is one of greatest myth figures ever to come from England. Virtually every reason for his fame is untrue. Was he handsome? According to written accounts, he was no oil painting - though somehow he charmed Queen Elizabeth I, and had a reputation as a ladies’ man. Did he lay his cloak across a puddle so that the Queen could step on it? No, that was pure fiction. Most importantly, 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 (for whom nicotine is named) introduced tobacco to France in 1560. Tobacco spread to England from France, not the New World.
10. Magellan circumnavigated the world
Everyone knows two things about Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. One, he was the first man to circumnavigate the world; and two, during this historic trip, he was killed by natives in the Philippines. Of course, those two things tend to contradict each other. Magellan only made it half-way around the world, leaving it to his second-in-command, Juan Sebastian Elcano, to complete the circumnavigation.
9. Nero fiddled while Rome burned
We all know the story of mad Emperor Nero starting the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, then fiddling while the city burned. However, this would have been impossible. For one thing, the violin wouldn't be invented for another 1,600 years. OK, some versions of the story suggest that he played a lute or a lyre - but then, scholars place the emperor in his villa at Antium, 30 miles away, when the fire began. Though he was innocent of this disaster, however, there is much evidence to show that he was ruthless and depraved.
In our next chapter, we take William Shakespeare and Thomas Edison down a few pegs, to show that even some of the greats might have been mortals after all. . .
Mark (Noivedya) Juddery is a writer and journalist based in Australia. A member of the Sri Chinmoy Centre , he is inspired by personal meditation and spirituality in his growing number of creative activities. He can be contacted via his website: http://www.markjuddery.com/