21 Common Historical "Facts" That Are Straight Up Just Not Facts At All...Like, They're Literally False
If you're a flat-earther, you're dumber than the ancient Greeks.
Recently, Reddit user u/throwaway0006891 asked, "History buffs, what is a commonly held misconception that drives you up the wall every time you hear it?" And y'all, I have learned so much from this thread.
Here are some of the most interesting myths that are just not true!
1. That the majority of colonists wanted independence from Great Britain when the Revolutionary War began.
In fact, the percentage of colonists who supported the war was closer to 45% — and often below that.
2. That Paul Revere shouted "The British are coming!" during his midnight ride.
Though he was definitely a patriot, he was also just a paid messenger and submitted a bill for the ride.
And he was not the only rider. After he reached Lexington, he was joined by William Dawes, who had arrived to deliver the same news. They met a doctor named Samuel Prescott on the way to Concord who decided to help them — he was the only one to actually finish the ride and reach Concord before fighting began.
3. That Lincoln owned slaves.
Zachary Taylor was the last US president to have slaves while he was in the White House, and the last former slave owner to become president was Ulysses S. Grant.
However, Lincoln's vice president, Andrew Johnson – who succeeded Lincoln — had owned slaves in Tennessee and asked Lincoln to leave the state out of the Emancipation Proclamation.
4. That Louis-Michel le Peletier cast the deciding vote for Louis XVI's execution.
While it's true that the vote to immediately execute the king was 361 — a majority by 1 — the vote actually reported was 387 in favor of execution versus 334 not in favor.
However, it was rumored that Louis-Michel le Peletier had cast the deciding vote, leading to his assassination the day before King Louis was executed.
5. That Marie Antoinette said, "Let them eat cake."
Not only would this have been uncharacteristic for the queen (according to her biographer Lady Antonia Fraser), but that phrase had already been around and attributed to other sources before Marie.
Jacques Rousseau had written a very similar phrase, saying a "great princess" had said the words, years before it was attributed to Marie — when Marie was only 10. Thus, she couldn't possibly have originated the phrase.
6. That Napoleon was short.
The idea that Napoleon was short came mostly from British cartoonist James Gillray, who started illustrating Napoleon as very short, and other cartoonists followed suit.
7. That medieval peasants ate potatoes.
Potatoes are native to the Americas. They were not brought to Europe until the mid-1500s, meaning no one in Europe ate them before then.
8. Also, that tomatoes were eaten in Italy prior to the 1500s.
Tomatoes were not brought to Europe until the discovery of the Americas, meaning no tomatoes in Italian food. No pizza, no red pasta sauce, no caprese salads.
9. That medieval people all wore brown.
They actually had a number of natural dyes that were often used and could produce many colors, including reds, blues, yellows, and greens.
10. And that corsets were essentially torture devices.
Corsets were not actually for drastically decreasing waist size. They mostly provided bust support and, yes, a flattering shape and a smooth line for fabric to lay over.
11. That rulers and lords could invoke prima nocta and sleep with any woman under their leadership in Scotland — particularly on their wedding night.
12. That the storming of the Bastille freed hundreds of political prisoners.
13. That Rosa Parks was just an older woman who didn't want to leave her seat.
14. And relatedly — that Parks was sitting in a "Whites Only" section of the bus.
First of all, Rosa was not tired nor old — she was 42. She was also a longtime NAACP member and activist, and had worked to raise funds for a previous woman who had been arrested for not giving up her seat on a bus, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin.
But although Parks knew the NAACP needed a lead plaintiff in their case to end the Jim Crow law, the act of protest was not planned.
As for where she was sitting — Parks was sitting in a middle section that was first come, first serve. She was asked to move for a single white passenger — the three Black passengers in her row obliged, meaning the man had a spot to sit. However, the driver still demanded that she move.
15. Civil rights leaders used nonviolence because they believed in loving their neighbor and meeting hate with love.
While of course individuals may have believed this, the strategy as a whole was tactical. Nonviolence was effective because it provided a stark contrast to the violence of segregationists, and when these images were spread throughout the country, it was very clear who the "bad guys" were in the situation because the segregationists were the only ones inflicting the violence.
16. That people in the Middle Ages thought the Earth was flat.
17. That Queen Victoria said, "We are not amused," to a risqué story that was told.
Queen Victoria actually had a purported great sense of humor and apparently told her granddaughter she never said this.
18. That Germany invaded Russia in the winter.
In fact, they invaded in June. The invasion lasted longer than hoped for, and they were stuck there in the winter, leading to many of the difficulties you have likely heard of them experiencing.
19. That Neanderthals were unintelligent.
There's no evidence to suggest that Neanderthals were dumber than homo sapiens. They had just as advanced tools and were able to hunt and communicate just as well.
20. That Shah Jahan had the hands of the workers who made the Taj Mahal cut off so they could never recreate something similar.
Legend also tells that their eyes were gouged out. But though you may hear this on a tour of the site, there is no evidence to suggest that either of these legends are true.
21. And finally...that AD means after death.
It actually means Anno Domini, which translates to "in the year of our lord" in Latin.
Correction: A prior version of this post said that Andrew Jackson succeeded Lincoln, when in actuality it was Andrew Johnson. The name and photo have been updated. My sincerest apologies to each and every one of my history teachers, and also my history buff dad, who texted me to tell me about my mistake.