Did you know Leonardo da Vinci was illegitimate?

His father was Piero da Vinci, a respected Florentine notary. His mother was likely a young peasant woman named Catarina. Leonardo was raised by his father's family, although due to his illegitimacy, he could never join the family profession and become a notary (bastards were barred from joining the notarys' guild). Which is just as well -- the world is richer for Leonardo getting the chance to try everything he wished, advancing so many fields in the process.

Let's Learn About Mexico!

The birthplace of plant domestication in the Americas. The first New World country to gain independence from the Spanish Empire. The eleventh-largest country in the world, by population. Like the United States, Russia, and China, this is a country that any informed citizen should have at least a basic knowledge about.

Thank The Algonquian For Pecan Pie

Native Americans and First Nations people, who spoke a language of the Algonquian group, were the first to meet English explorers in North America. So many words from these languages entered English:

  • caribou (“snow-shoveler”)
  • chipmunk (“red squirrel”)
  • moccasin
  • moose
  • muskrat
  • opossum (“white dog”)
  • pecan (“nut”)
  • powwow (“to dream, to have a vision”)
  • raccoon, skunk (“to urinate” + “fox”)
  • woodchuck

Indonesia's History Gazes Back At You

These faces represent ordinary people who lived in Indonesia a few centuries ago. Most represent men and women who lived in the Majapahit kingdom (circa 1293 CE –early 1500s), centered in East Java. A mighty kingdom, grown rich from trade through the area in spices, the Majapahit kingdom brought its citizens to a new level of material prosperity. Most Majapahit terra-cotta heads, including the first two in the image gallery, are found detached from their bodies, which seem to survive only rarely. The sole “complete” figure is assembled from a head and body that did not originally belong together.

Courtesy of the Sackler Gallery

What Is A Hobgoblin?

It means "an object that inspires superstitious dread or apprehension." Shakespeare's Puck, from his play A Midsummer Night's Dream, is described as a hobgoblin. "Puck" itself is associated with the mischevious and supernatural. The Welsh have the pwca, the Irish the púca, both potentially harmful or helpful depending on their whim. Early Anglo-Saxons named many places in southern England "puc" -- like Pucehole, Pucanwylle, and Pokshudde -- if they suspected it could be home to evil spirits.

A New Take On The Old Borgias

Modern historical research suggests that Pope Alexander IV -- the famous Borgia pope -- was not in fact the father of Cesare, Juan, Lucrezia, and Joffre Borgia. Which goes against centuries of received knowledge.

A Royal First

Mary, Queen of Scots went into public a few days after her husband’s murder to play golf. Many people were upset -- she was playing a game and her husband had just been murdered! So they wrote about it, in their diaries and to each other. Making Mary, Queen of Scots the first recorded woman to golf in Scotland. And since they invented it, that makes her the first recorded woman to play golf anywhere, I would think.

Europeans Divided Up Australia Before They Even Discovered It

In the 1500s three provinces, Beach, Maletur, and Lucach, were added to Australia. Note that the Europeans talking about Australia had not yet discovered it. Australia was a concept, a possibility, and somehow it already had named provinces. The names were corruptions of real places in Southeast Asia that were mentioned in Marco Polo's book. Later European readers mistakenly placed them south of Java, over 1,000 miles wrong. And from there, the myth took on a life of its own.

The most important of the three was Beach, which appeared on many maps with the enticing title provincial aurifera, or “gold-bearing land." Sailors often referred to the continent of Australia as "Beach."

Maletur was given the title scatens aromaibus, or a region overflowing with spices. Lucach was said as late as 1601 to have received an embassy from Java. These three places were believed to exist in Europe during the 1500s. In fact, in 1545 Spain even appointed a governor of the nonexistent Beach – a certain Pedro Sancho de la Hoz, who was one of the conquistadors of Chile.

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    HISTORICAL NON-FICTION

    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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