Johann Sebastian Bach's Christmas Oratorio lay in musical archives for over 100 years. They were rediscovered around 1850. And music historians were amazed and dismayed: Bach had composed and used important parts of it before and plagiarized earlier compositions into the work. The originals, however, had very different texts, and these were not at all for Christmas or any liturgical use.
Christians love to put up a Christmas tree before the 25th of December. Many think of it as traditional. Depending on how narrow minded one is, the tradition is either not very old, or rather older than one imagines. The Christmas tree has a history. It was promoted, demoted, forbidden and it developed to its modern form through many stages. Some of its Christian symbolism has even been completely lost.
The Fluela Pass in the Canton of Grisons in Switzerland connects Davos to Susch in the Lower Engadin Valley. The pass is open only in summer. In winter, it is highly exposed to avalanches from the surrounding mountains. And make no mistake; travelers have been caught in snow storms on that pass in August.
Painters are used to dealing in colors but Ambroise Louis Garneray lived a more colorful life than most painters. To add even more color, he published various articles and books on his biography which were even more colorful than the reality. Meet the painter mentioned in Moby Dick and The War For All Oceans.
Corsica was once independent. It was a kingdom before becoming a republic and then a kingdom again. The whole affair has to be classified as highly unsuccessful as most of Europe just ignored it. The first king was German and spent nine months on the island; the second king was British and never set foot on Corsica. In between the two was a general turned president; he then turned prime minister for the last act.
The day of Saint Sylvester is the 31st of December, New Year’s Eve. In French and in German usage, the saint's name is synonymous with New Year’s Eve, party, booze, and fireworks. The village of St Silvester in Switzerland was named after the church dedicated to him. There, his day starts off with an old tradition dating back more than 400 years.
The Chateau Talbot winery in the Saint Julien region of Bordeaux prides itself on its wines. It is also proud of its long history and purported link to Sir John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, and Constable of France under King Henry VI of England and (at least in Henry's exalted opinion) of France.
In 1919, the Dowager Empress of Russia, Maria Feodorovna, was evacuated on a British ship from the Crimea peninsula. A new book tells the story of this evacuation based on the diaries of passengers and crew on that ship. The book captures one of those time capsules created by extraordinary events and presents them in a microcosm contained on one ship.
The Leibniz Library in Hanover has published the results of three years’ research into a golden letter held in the library’s strong room for 250 years. It had been sent by King Alaungpaya of Burma to King George II of the United Kingdom in 1756. Instead of answering it, the latter put it in his curiosity cabinet in Hanover.
When flying was all new and shiny, it was also a pilot's paradise. There were no permits to get and no exams to pass; you just got into your flying machine and took off. But paradise ended when the snake crept in; the snake was called officialdom and took the form of an international body which started to issue permits and organize exams.
The FIS Alpine Ski World Championships have been running for over 80 years. There were a few curious instances in that time. They include time differences between winners and runners up of almost 30 seconds, the championship that never was, one without snow, and the man who became women’s world champion.
A Roman road has been uncovered in Puddletown Forest in Dorset. While the existence of a road had been a well-known fact, so far it had been so well hidden by the forest that it could't be located. The harvesting of a planting of Norway spruce firs by the Forestry Commission brought a considerable stretch of it to light, though.
Until 1918, German nobles didn't have any family names; these only came into existence by act of parliament when the German Republic was created. Instead, the noble families were recognized as being part of ‘Houses’, and the tradition persists. Among them, the House of Welf or Guelph is looking back on over 1,000 years of history.
The title of Monaco's ruler Prince Albert II is Prince of Monaco, and the conundrum starts there. The prince also styles himself Duke of Valentinois, just one of many French titles the Grimaldi family lays claim to. There lies the second conundrum. The Prince and other family members are addressed as His (or Her) Serene Highness, and that’s a third conundrum.
Princess Antoinette of Monaco was born as the first child of Princess Charlotte of Monaco and was the older sister of Prince Rainier III of Monaco. In her time, she was good for quite a few scandals. Highly eccentric, she was also well beloved by the citizens of Monaco. She took two turns at being First Lady of the Principality of Monaco and was president of its animal welfare charity SPA.
The history of the Mediterranean Sea is the history of naval development and armament. Ships played an important part in the Persian Wars of the Greek city states against the Persian Empire as well as in the Peloponnese War between Sparta and Athens and their allies. The Punic Wars of the Romans saw a lot of naval action as well as their in-house squabbles leading up to Octavian taking power as Emperor Augustus.
When Emperor Otto I went looking for a wife for his son, he wanted it to be a political statement. As the first Emperor from German stock, he was looking for acknowledgement by the other half of the Roman Empire. A princess of the house of Byzantium it had to be and nothing less. Once that goal was achieved, the newcomers went out of their way to show how much they appreciated the gesture.
During World War II, the Principality Monaco was a neutral state. It was fiercely contested by Germany and Italy who had mutually opposing and exclusive ideas as to its future. Prince Louis II had been brought up in Germany and was a general in the French army. He played his connections for all they were worth in trying to keep the country afloat.
The Duchess of Windsor was a footnote in history. Despite that fact, publishers keep on inundating the market with books about her. This one looked interesting from the outside but proved one very, very long disappointment inside. Author Hugo Vickers produced the ultimate guide on how not to invent a conspiracy theory.
Prince William got a bevy of titles as a gift from Queen Elizabeth II for his marriage to Catherine (or Kate) Middleton. Real titles come with quite a baggage of history, some quite recent, some more ancient. So William was saddled with the Duchy of Cambridge in England, the Earldom of Strathearn in Scotland, and the Barony of Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland.
Shakespeare gives the famous description of "Bohemia, a desert country by the sea" in his play A Winter’s Tale. Bohemia today is part of the Czech Republic and one of the greenest and most beautiful holidaying regions in Central Europe. But there was system to the madness of Shakespeare's description.
There are Princes and Princesses, and then there are Princes and Princesses. Some are Royal or more, some are not. The problem lies in geography. Depending on where the title came from, the title of Prince does not mean the same thing. The puzzle can be solved given some knowledge of geography and history, and quite some of the muddle derived from translating foreign titles into English.
The content of this article is aimed mainly at readers not living in the United Kingdom, but also to some living here. Succession rights seem to be something very puzzling if you haven't grown up with them. I have compiled some information here as to succession rights and some other puzzling facts pertaining to the Queen and her heirs.
Before paper was commonly used to write on, papyrus and parchment were the writing materials of choice. When texts fell out of favor or use, the base material was too precious to throw away. Instead, it was recycled. The recycling means that many texts that might have ended up in a landfill may still be accessible to us today.
The Swiss Army Knife was an invention of the 19th century, but it only gained a wider audience after World War II, when PX stores of the United States Army started selling it. They also gave it its name. Saying goes in Switzerland that you are not truly Swiss if you don’t have a Swiss Army Knife with you at all times.
Many people claim to have unearthed secrets from the near past. Some of those secrets were never a secret; most are nothing more than conspiracy theories. It was therefore nice to find a book about a secret war that really was carefully kept under wraps. At the least, for various reasons, it escaped wider scrutiny so far.
Hermann Goering was the number two in Nazi Germany after Adolf Hitler. Apart from being an arch Nazi, he was an avid if incompetent collector of art stolen at his behest all over Europe. But sometimes he bought art and paid for it with equally stolen money. One of the pictures he bought was a forgery. It was so cunningly falsified it almost cost its creator his head after the war.
The Acropolis has become the byword for Athens, though every Greek city sported an acropolis, an upper town. The Athenian Acropolis was built and destroyed several times during its 7,500 years of history and it found many uses. What sticks in the mind, though, is the moment when the Venetians blew it up.
Roman numerals are still used today (you'd know that if you would stay to the end of a movie). And they are numerals, not Roman numbers. If the Romans had used different numbers from what we use today, we would have the hell of a time converting them to our numeric system. Roman numbers, in fact, don't exist, scrap the term and start using Roman numerals correctly.
Johan de Witt was Grand Pensionary of Holland, an office with powers similar to that of a Prime Minister cum Foreign Secretary combined. He led the country during the first stadtholder-less time from 1650 to 1672 when Republicans saw their chance to get more power for themselves personally at the expense of the House of Orange.
Shi Hu Jilong called himself Emperor of China; a charming affectation that expressed his ambition of once ruling all of China. To further this ambition, he not only depopulated whole cities, he also gave lavish parties. To impress his guests, he put up a lavish display and served only the best at his table. Tale of his banquets survived; his ambition died with him.