"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."
William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part II
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Shi Huang-Ti was the first emperor of a united China and founder of the Chin dynasty. Were he a European ruler, he would likely be considered great. The Chinese, however, have given him a negative reputation because of his ruthlessness, massive conscription of labour, wars, harsh laws, and burning of books in 213 B.C.
In 213 B.C., the Chinese emperor Shi Huang-Ti ordered all of China's books to be burnt, except for a few on subjects such as medicine and agriculture. He ordered the burning because several of these writings were used to criticize the emperor, and also because Shi Huang-Ti styled himself as the "First Emperor," with whom history should begin. A large amount of valuable works were lost; only through the efforts of a few brave teachers did any of China's earlier literature survive. It was not safe to bring the surviving books from their hiding place for nearly 150 years afterward.
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Queen Boadicea is believed to be buried on a site now covered by the number 10 platform of King's Cross Station.
It is said that Vitellus, Emperor of Rome briefly in 69 A.D., spent over £1,200 a day on food alone. He was capable of downing 1,000 oysters a day as well as vast quantities of other delicacies. After a short reign he was deposed by the Roman citizens, driven to revolt by the excesses of their emperor, and his body was dumped in the River Tiber.
Commodus (161–192), who was emperor of Rome between 180 and 192, fought and won 1,031 battles in the gladiatorial arena.
"Old King Cole" was a real person. Coel was a fourth-century British prince who is said to be the father of St. Helen, who was the mother of Roman emperor Constantine. Coel appreciated music, which may be why the nursery rhyme makes mention of "his fiddlers three".
Sunday first became a day of rest in the year 321. Roman emperor Constantine chose Sunday to please both Christians (the day of the resurrection) and pagans (many of whom worshipped one of the sun-gods of the empire).
In 695, Leontius, the leader of a group of rebellious citizens of Constantinople, seized the emperor, Justinian II, and had Justinian's nose cut off in the belief that, being disfigured, Justinian would never again attempt to regain the throne. Three years later, in 698, Leontius was himself overthrown by troops under General Tiberius, who became Emperor Tiberius III, and who then cut off Leontius' nose. Seven years after that, Justinian II then retook the throne and publicly humiliated and executed both Leontius and Tiberius III. (source)
Canute (also spelled Knut), King of England (1016–1035) and of Denmark and Norway for most of that time, is well-known for having ordered the tide to retreat. However, he did not do so because he believed that he could actually stop it. He did it to demonstrate to sycophants that he was not omnipotent.
Richard the Lion-Hearted took up cannibalism before the Crusades.
Charlemagne collected berets.
William the Conqueror always insisted that he had not come to England as a foreign invader. He argued that, as a close relative of the English royal family, cousin to Edward the Confessor (King of England 1042-1066), he had been promised the crown. The Norman Conquest thus became, in his eyes, simply a case of the rightful King of England making good his claim to the throne. (source)
Queen Berengaria of England, the wife of Richard the Lion-Hearted, never set foot on English soil. Berengaria, who was the daughter of King Sancho VI of Navarre, married Richard in Cyprus in 1191 while Richard was on a Crusade. She spent most of her eight-year reign in Italy and France. (source)
The largest king's ransom in history was raised by Richard I the Lion-Hearted to obtain his release from Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI in 1194. The English people had to pay nearly 150,000 marks to free their king. (source)
King Richard the Lion-Hearted of England spent only six months of his ten-year reign in England, being there only briefly in 1189 and 1194. Much of his reign was spent either on the Third Crusade or in France. (source)
When King John ascended the English throne in 1199, he gave one of the most fantastic Christmas parties recorded. 200 gallons of various wines, 400 oxen, 1,000 capons, 1,000 eels and 200 lampreys were devoured by his hungry guests.
The Magna Carta was not signed by King John in 1215. The monarch could not write his name and granted the Magna Carta by placing his seal on it. (source)
King Jean I (or John I) of France became king at birth (November 15, 1316), but died five days later. (source)
King John II of France was captured by the English at the battle of Poiters in 1356 and was taken hostage. His gaol, such as it was, was London's Savoy Palace, and he enjoyed fine food, hunting, and horseback outings, as well as a busy social schedule. By 1360, England and France agreed on a ransom of 3 million gold crowns, and three of John's sons were retained as hostages in England while John went back to France to raise the cash. In spite of the burdensome taxes he imposed, he couldn't raise the required capital. So, when one of his sons escaped from custody, John returned to England to replace him and honour his commitment. He died there in 1364.
The Ming Emperor Hung Wu (1368-98) has been called the harshest and most unreasonable tyrant in all of Chinese history. He had so many people executed that, midway through his reign, government officials got into the custom of saying their last goodbyes to their families if they were required at a morning audience and of exchanging congratulations with fellow officials if they survived until evening. (source)
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Akbar, third Moghul Emperor of India (1556–1605), was not only a brilliant general and ferocious fighter, but also imported rare plants and grasses, grafted trees, crossbred doves, maintained zoological notebooks, commissioned translations of Aristotle and other Greek philosophers, wrote letters to the Pope and to two Spanish kings, and initiated the first Anglo-Indian diplomatic relationship when he corresponded with Queen Elizabeth I. (source)
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The fourth Moghul Emperor, Jahangir, who ruled from 1605 to 1627, had a harem of 300 royal wives, 5,000 additional women, and 1,000 young men. His stables contained 12,000 elephants, 10,000 oxen, 2,000 camels, 3,000 deer, 4,000 dogs, 100 tame lions, 500 buffalo, and 10,000 carrier pigeons. (source)
The Taj Mahal in Agra, one of the world's most beautiful buildings, was built by the Moghul emperor Shah Jahan (1627–1659) as a mausoleum for one of his wives, Mumtaz Mahal, who, on her deathbed in 1631, extracted a promise from her husband to take care of her children and to build a suitable monument for her. Masons from northern India, calligraphers from Baghdad and Shiraz, and various specialists from all around the Muslim world designed and supervised building activities as well as planning the garden. The work was coordinated by Ustad Isa from Lahore. (source)
King Christina of Sweden (all Swedish monarchs were given the title of King regardless of gender; only the spouse of a monarch would be called Queen) was so terrified of fleas that she ordered the construction of a tiny 10 centimetre long cannon so that she could fire miniature cannonballs at the fleas that infested the royal bedchamber. It is not known whether she ever managed to hit any. (source)
The first six Moghul Emperors of India ruled in an unbroken succession from father to son for nearly 200 years, from 1526 to 1707, a remarkable feat considering that there was no tradition of primogeniture and there was often a bloody contest for the throne.
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King Louis XIV of France hated washing. He took only three baths during his lifetime (1638–1715). (source)
King Peter II of Yugoslavia is the only European monarch to be buried in the United States. He became king at the age of 11 in 1934, when his father, Alexander I, was assassinated. His uncle, Prince Paul, ruled Yugoslavia as regent for all of his reign except for the last ten days (after Paul signed an agreement with Hitler and Mussolini in March 1941). After World War II, Tito set up shop in Yugoslavia, leaving Peter without a kingdom. He died in Denver, Colorado on November 4, 1970 and is buried at the Serbian Church monastery in Libertyville, Illinois.
Pharaoh Pepi II of Egypt, who reigned from around 2294 B.C. to about 2220 B.C., had the longest known reign of any monarch (74 years). Other long-reigning monarchs are: King Alfonso I of Portugal (1112–1185, 73 years), King Louis XIV of France (1643–1715, 72 years), and Prince John II of Liechtenstein (1858–1929, 71 years). (source)
Queen Victoria survived seven assassination attempts during her reign.
King Alexandros I of Greece (1917–1920) died from blood poisoning after being bitten by his pet monkey. (source)
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