Your RDA of Irony

Monday Miscellany

October 12, 1492:  The Great Cultural Exchange

Christopher Columbus offered this introduction to the New World: “Hi, we’re here to trade small pox for syphilis.”

October 12, 1216:  The Further Misadventures of King John

On this day in 1216, King John lost the crown jewels in a flood. John was fleeing from his nobles; they seemed a bit upset after he reneged on the Magna Carta. The barons had decided to oust the little weasel and invited the French crown prince Louis (what else) to be king of England.

In his flight from the realm of England’s Louis I, John took a route along the eastern coast. Unfortunately, he had not quite mastered the concept of incoming tides. In an estuary known as the Wash, John’s baggage train was washed away.

John had an obvious talent for losing. Understandably the least favorite child of Eleanor of Aquitaine, John also had lost Normandy to the French, and his power to the barons. He would have lost the throne, too but for his rare instance of decisive initiative. He dropped dead. The death was suitably ridiculous: a surfeit of peaches and ale. Yet, it effectively ended the rebellion.

(The barons realized that John’s heir, his nine year-old son Henry, would make a much more malleable king than an adult French prince. In return for the barons’ allegiance, the regency of Henry III un-reneged the Magna Carta.)

Yet, for all of John’s losing, he could keep a woman. John and Isabelle d’Angouleme had an unique courtship. Upon seeing the beautiful twelve-year-old, John was so obsessed that he kidnapped her and coerced her into marriage.

For some reason, John never quite trusted her. He suspected that she was having an affair with a young noble, so the King arranged a surprise for his queen. She found the murdered noble hanging in her bedchamber.

Queen Elizabeth is a descendant of this happy union.

  1. Hal Gordon says:

    Eugene — The poet Richard Wilbur had a different view of The Great Cultural Exchange. I quote:

    Columbus and his men they say,
    Conveyed the virus hither
    Whereby my features rot away
    And vital powers wither;
    Yet had they not traversed the seas
    And come infected back,
    Why, think of all the luxuries
    That modern life would lack!

    All bitter things conduce to sweet,
    As this example shows:
    Without the little spirochete
    We’d have no chocolate to eat,
    Nor would tobacco’s fragrance greet
    The European nose.

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Dear Hal,

      Poet Wilbur had a muse named Voltaire. Good Doctor Pangloss discussed this cultural exchange in the best of all possible worlds. The doctor’s nose had rotted away from syphilis but he thought that a small price to pay for the pleasures of chocolate.


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