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  • Siân Dallas

An Exploding Corpse, and other things...

When I was at school I loved History, but we were always taught it in an extremely ‘bitty’ fashion. So one term it would be the Industrial Revolution, and the next the Vietnam War. The only context we’d tend to get would be a few bullet points on a page in a text book. What I’ve started to realise over the last few years, is that my general knowledge of British history from 1066 to the present day was nowhere near as water-tight as I might have thought. The medieval kings were a blur until the Tudors, then it all got a bit fuzzy again until Queen Victoria. The fact that I didn’t know which king was on the throne during the American War of Independence or how Scotland came to be a part of the United Kingdom suddenly felt like an embarrassing weakness, and I was determined to do something about it.


On a long car journey when I was about ten, my older sister taught me a rhyme which goes through all the kings and queens of England in order, and begins, ‘Willy, Willy, Harry, Ste, Harry, Dick, John, Harry 3…” Having this up my sleeve has come in handy in many pub quizzes or just in general when trying to take an educated guess at when something occurred in history, but in reality, I was just parroting the names. How much about them did I actually know?


I’ve now started focusing on the monarchs themselves and the key events that took place during their reigns, and I find that I can’t stop telling people ‘interesting facts’ about various kings and queens. My husband has complained that he never felt so well informed, but I know he's secretly storing up these new pieces of information so that he has them at the ready for the next conversation he has with his father. That’s the thing about learning – we really want to share it, especially when it’s slightly scandalous or surprising.

No authentic portrait of William the Conqueror has been found, but he is known to have been exceedingly strong and to have had a 'guttural voice'.


For example, did you know that there were rumours during her reign that Elizabeth I was in fact a man? It was thought by some that the real Elizabeth had died as a young child, and her terrified governess had tried to hide the secret from Henry VIII by smuggling in a red-headed boy who resembled the young princess. This ‘boy’ replacement was thought to be the real reason why Elizabeth never married or had children. Or did you know that William the Conqueror was known to many as ‘the Bastard’ on account of his being both illegitimate and just generally a bit unpleasant? To add insult to injury, during his funeral, William’s body was so fat and swollen that it burst when the monks tried to squeeze him into his stone sarcophagus. The stench was apparently so vile that everyone desperately fled the building, and two unfortunate monks were later sent back in to tidy things up. The mind boggles, but it’s also a story you never forget.


I was recently having lunch with a friend who works at a London law firm, and she was despairing that she ‘never learned anything new’, instead her brain was occupied exclusively by legal contracts. What I’m trying to do in my work with Apricity is offer a counterbalance to this. We have recently started a series of lunchtime workshops on History, with the aim of providing a bit of light relief from the (occasionally) monochrome world of work. If – like me – you would love to learn something new then get in touch. You never know what worlds you might discover on your lunch break.


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