Horrible Histories: 40 horrible facts

We celebrate five glorious years of Horrible Histories with 40 frankly fantastic facts, but can you spot the one fake?

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STUPID DEATHS

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1. Earl Sigurd the Mighty, Viking ruler of Orkney, cut off an enemy’s head and hung it as a trophy from his horse’s saddle. Unfortunately, while riding, Sigurd grazed his leg on the severed head’s teeth, and died of the resulting infection.

2. An ancient Greek boxer was so jealous of his rival, Theagenes of Thasos, that he attacked a statue of the sporting hero so he could feel what it was like to beat him. Sadly, he hit the statue a bit too hard and it toppled over, crushing him to death.

3. Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus had an illness that made his body swell up with water. To try to sweat it off, he buried himself in a steaming pile of warm animal poo, but then overheated and died of dehydration.

4. Georgian aristocrat Maria, Countess of Coventry, loved lead-based make-up, but the toxic metal made her skin fall off. Now ugly, she used even more make-up to hide her scars, and eventually died at the age of 27 looking like an old woman.

5. In 1926 famous daredevil Bobby Leach, who had survived going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, accidentally slipped on an orange peel, broke his leg, and died of the resulting gangrene.

6. Famous 17th-century French playwright Moliere collapsed on stage while acting in his play The Imaginary Invalid – he was playing a hypochondriac.

7. In 1912, Austrian tailor Franz Reichelt tried to test his new invention, the wearable coat-parachute, by jumping off the Eiffel Tower… but he’d forgotten to include the weight of the coat in his calculations, and plummeted to his death.

8. In 1871, American lawyer Clement Vallandigham was trying to prove that a man had accidentally shot himself, and had not been murdered, when he accidentally shot himself while demonstrating his theory. He died of his wounds, but won the case.

ROTTEN RULERS

9. Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Pepi II had an ingenious technique for keeping flies away – he smeared honey on nearby slaves so the flies would annoy them instead!

10. Ivan the Terrible, the 16th-century Russian tsar, was a horrible man who once dressed an archbishop in bear furs and then had him hunted to death by a pack of ferocious dogs.

11. Due to the build-up of gases in his stomach, the obese William the Conqueror exploded at his funeral, covering the monks of Caen Abbey in his rotten guts.

12. At the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, Emperor Napoleon of France couldn’t sit on his horse to watch the battle because he had painful haemorrhoids.

13. Incan Emperor Pachacuti allegedly made bone-flutes and skin-drums from the bodies of his conquered enemies. He also wore necklaces made of their teeth.

14. King Henry II had a jester called Roland le Farter whose only job was to entertain the king at Christmas by performing one jump, one whistle and one fart!

15. When King Henry VIII got old and fat he became paranoid about people plotting to kill him. On one occasion he had the door to his bedroom bricked up at night so no one could get in.

16. Teenage Roman Emperor Elagabalus loved playing pranks on people, hiding wild lions in guests’ bedrooms, catapulting snakes into the crowds at the arena, and even inventing an early type of whoopee cushion.

MISERABLE MEDICINE

17. Egyptian baldness cures included a paste mixed from the animal fat from lions, hippos, crocodiles, cats, snakes and ibexes. Grey hair was dyed with putrid donkey liver marinated in oil.

18. When people’s teeth fell out, Georgian dentists tried to replace them with teeth taken from dead soldiers on battlefields, or they yanked them out of the mouths of poor children.

19. Ancient Greek “father of medicine” Hippocrates diagnosed his patients by drinking their wee and tasting their ear wax and bogies.

20. Ancient Romans believed epilepsy could be cured by drinking gladiator blood.

21. On Georgian pirate ships there were rarely any qualified doctors, so if a limb needed amputating it was sawn off by the carpenter, because he was the only one with a saw!

22. During the Great Plague people believed the disease could be cured by plucking a live chicken and strapping its bottom to any sores.

23. Stone Age people with migraines or mental illness had a hole drilled into their skulls. It was called trepanning, and most people survived!

24. Ancient Egyptian doctors usually specialised in a single field. Proctologists were known as “shepherds of the backside”.

TERRIBLE TOILETS

25. Human poo mixed with honey was used by Tudor dentists to remove rotten teeth. 26 Romans gargled human urine as a form of mouthwash to freshen their breath.

27. They also sat together on communal toilets and wiped their bottoms with a sponge on a stick, which was handed around between strangers.

28. At the Siege of Chateau Gaillard in 1203, some soldiers snuck into the castle by climbing up through the toilet chute.

29. German theologian Martin Luther had such bad constipation that he wrote letters to his friends describing his bowel movements.

30. The Incans washed their hair and shaved their legs in a shampoo made of human wee.

31. Alchemists in the Middle Ages believed they could make gold from horse poo mixed with 200 rotten chicken eggs and some vinegar.

32. Egyptian medicine used 16 different types of poo in its ingredients, including fly droppings, crocodile dung, and human waste. A cure for a burn was to smear the skin in manure.

AWFUL ANIMALS

33. Incans used to sacrifice hundreds of llamas every month to their gods. They used the llama toenail clippings to make bracelets.

34. Greased goose-grabbing was a bizarre Georgian sport where people rode quickly on horseback and tried to rip the head off a live, greased-up goose hung upside down from a tree.

35. In the Georgian era, the Highland Games had an event that involved a competition to rip the four legs off a dead cow. The winner won a fat sheep as a prize.

36. Before Romans went into battle they would consult sacred chickens to see if the gods were on their side – if the chickens ate food, it was a good day for battle. They also looked for clues about the future in sheep livers.

37. During the Middle Ages, German crusader Emicho of the Rhineland allowed his army to follow a Holy Goat and a Holy Goose hoping the animals would lead to the Holy Land; they didn’t.

38. At the Battle of Pelusium in 525 BC, the Persians held up live cats, and pictures of cats, to stop Egyptians from shooting arrows. Cats were sacred to Egyptians, who didn’t dare hurt them.

39. In 1786, a cow was elected to be an MP in the House of Commons in protest against the king.

40. Tudor con artists sold to customers live chickens that looked plump and juicy, but actually they had sewn up the chicken bottoms so they were just filled with poo.

And the fake fact?

Horrible Histories is on Monday – Friday at 4:30pm on CBBC

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The new Horrible Histories magazine is out on 30 May, priced £2.99