….Things that Never Were

A Tudor who Never Was

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In 1931, Anthony Hall (1898-1947), a former Shropshire police inspector wrote a letter to Britain’s King George V., saying he had a better claim to the throne than King George V., since, he wrote, he claimed his ancestry back to Thomas Hall, a “bastard son” of Henry VIII. Tall, polite and always impeccably dressed, Anthony Hall charmed the working class. His populist ideas, such as plans to scrap taxes, pay off the national debt, build thousands of police stations and set up a Ministry of Pleasure to “revive the ancient merry times” drew up to 800 people, united under a banner: “A New King, A New Country”. His other (more ridiculous) promises include plans to rebuild Tudor style homes and to popularize portrait painting. Buckingham Palace unsuccessfully tried to declare him insane. Later, he was shortly arrested for using “quarrelsome and scandalous language”. Hall died in 1947 leaving no male heirs, thus effectively ending the ‘Tudor dynasty’.

 

An Emperor who Never Was

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Hall tried to claim the English throne, but an English Jew named Joshua Abraham Norton went a step further and claimed the non-existent throne of the United States. Unhinged by financial ruin, Joshua Norton turned up in California with an ill-fitting naval uniform with tarnished gold braid and a sabre. Storming into the California Legislature, he proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States, and later, Protector of Mexico. ‘The Emperor’ made a point of appearing at all public functions, where he was received with honor. The best restaurants dined him and his dogs for free. He attended in a front row seat all sessions of the Legislature at Sacramento. Banks cashed his modest, worthless checks and people took his imperial banknotes bearing 7% interest, which he promised to redeem in 1880. That year Norton I died. Ten thousand San Franciscans attended his funeral. In 1934, he was reburied under a tombstone that vaunted: NORTON I, EMPEROR OF THE UNITED STATES AND PROTECTOR OF MEXICO

 

The Land that Never Was

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In 1817, a Scottish man Gregor MacGregor, captured Amelia Island, Florida from the Spanish and began his crusade against Spain in the Caribbeans. Returning to London as a hero, MacGregor published a guidebook supposedly written by one Captain Thomas Strangeways. In the book was a description of the Territory of Poyais, a tiny nation on the Bay of Honduras, fertile with untapped resources of gold and silver. In 1822, MacGregor raised a loan with the total of £200,000 in behalf of the Poyais government and also started selling land rights. When wanna-be settlers arrived in South America, they only found an untouched jungle. Under the harsh conditions, 180 of the 250 settlers perished. However, survivors refused to believe that noble-looking MacGregor (now self-styled Sir Gregor) was the main culprit. They blamed Sir Gregor’s advisers and publicists for spreading the false information, and the ‘colonists’ at Poyais for abandoning the colony. Meanwhile, MacGregor had absconded for Paris where he published a new constitution of Poyais declaring himself as the head of state. The French were less gullible and they publicly denounced him. A lonely broken man, “Poyais humbug” failed to reclaim his earlier successes and died unlamented in Venezuela in 1845.

 

The Man who Never Was

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At 4:30 in the morning of April 30th 1943, the corpse of ‘Major Martin’ began his only battle. Secretly buried at sea from the British submarine Seraph, Martin was the strangest hero of W.W. II—a principle actor in a plan named Operation Mincemeat to convince the Germans that the Allied attack on Europe would take place on Sardinia, not Sicily. Major Martin never existed–British Intelligence officials, faced with the problem of finding a suitable corpse, selected a soldier who had died from pneumonia, for an autopsy would reveal water in the lungs and seem to prove that the victim had drowned. On his body were a bank overdraft of pound 80, a photograph of his supposed fiancee, a £53 bill for an engagement ring, and torn tickets for a London show. Because the corpse looked “too hopelessly dead,” another “double” was photographed for the identity card. Most importantly of all, Martin carried a letter personally signed by Lord Mountbatten which ended with a simple pun designed to trick the Germans into believing the Allied assault would be on Sardinia: “Let me have him [Martin] back, please, as soon as the assault is over. He might bring some sardines with him–they are on points here!” The Germans discovered the body and sent the letter to Hitler himself. Days later British Intelligence learned that the Germans had begun sending large reinforcements to Sardinia. When the Allies invaded Sicily, Field Marshal Rommel said that the failure of the German defenses was “a result of a diplomatic courier’s body being washed up off Spain.”

 

The Donation that Never Was

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A ninth-century manuscript residing in Bibliothèque Nationale Paris, named “Constitutum domini Constantini imperatoris” is better known as the Donation of Constantine. It was believed to have been issued by the fourth century Roman Emperor Constantine I, granting the Popes of the Roman Catholic Church dominion over lands in Judea, Greece, Asia, Thrace, Africa, as well as the city of Rome, with Italy and the entire Western Roman Empire. The text claims that the Donation was Constantine’s gift to Sylvester for instructing him in the Christian faith, baptizing him and miraculously curing him of leprosy. The document is now believed to be a forgery made by Pope Stephen II to persuade Carolingian King Pepin the Short to donate his lands in Italy. The impact of this fictitious document was undeniable—these lands would become the Papal States and would become the basis of the Papacy’s secular power for the next eleven centuries.

 

The Sale that Never Was

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One of the greatest con men in history, Victor Lustig (above rightmost, seen leaving prison) had his finest hour in trying to sell the Eiffel Tower. It was 1925. France was recovering from the First World War. In a Parisian newspaper, Lustig saw an article discussing the problems the city was encountering in maintaining the Eiffel Tower. Posing as an anonymous government official high up in the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs, Lustig summoned six important scrap metal merchants to a meeting at one of the top hotels in Paris, where he explained that the city could not afford to maintain the Eiffel Tower and so wanted to sell it for scrap – although everything had to be kept utterly secret to avoid a public outcry. Lustig even gave the merchants a full tour of the Tower, enabling them to see it all at first hand, before inviting their secret bids the following day. He even took bribes from Andre Poisson, who ‘won’ the bid. Embarrassed, Poisson could never bring himself to go to the police. Lustig returned to the city a month later and attempted the same trick with six more scrap metal merchants. This time, however, the police were informed. Eventually, Lustig was arrested in the US for counterfeiting and died in jail in 1947.

 

The Fortune that Never Was

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In 1881, Therese Humbert received a letter from an American millionaire Robert Henry Crawford, whose life she saved two years ago. The letter stated that Crawford had died and made her a beneficiary in his will. The will said that Therese was to look after the family fortune, which was locked in a safe, until her younger sister, Marie, was old enough to marry one of Crawford’s two nephews. In fact, there were no American millionaire named Crawford and Therese created the entire hoax. The story of the inheritance enabled Therese and her husband to obtain loans and improve their lifestyle. The larger loans were raised to cover the interest on the original loans and for 20 years, the Humberts were lived in luxury atop their pyramid scheme. By 1902, financiers realized that the amount of the inheritance would not be enough to cover all the loans. Calls were made for the safe to be opened. When it was opened, the authorities found a brick and an English halfpenny, but by this time the Humberts had disappeared. They were arrested in Madrid in December, 1902. Infamous trial (above) ensued. Therese was jailed for five years and her two brothers, who had played the fictitious nephews of the non-existent Robert Crawford, were sentenced to two and three years each.

 

The War that Never Was

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Berwick was historically a royal burgh on the Scottish border. Traditionally, it was regarded as a special, separate entity, and some proclamations referred to “England, Scotland and the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed”. It was claimed that in the Declaration of the War against Russia in 1853, Queen Victoria supposedly signed as “Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, Ireland, Berwick-upon-Tweed and all British Dominions”. However, when the Treaty of Paris (1856) was signed to conclude the war, “Berwick-upon-Tweed” was left out. This meant that one of Britain’s smallest towns was officially at war with one of the world’s mightiest powers for over a century. An investigation in 1970 disputed the story: although Berwick was not mentioned in the Treaty of Paris, it was not mentioned in the declaration of war either. However, only four years earlier, in 1966, a Soviet official waited upon the Mayor of Berwick and town councillors to sign a peace treaty. The mayor quipped: “Please tell the Russian people that they can sleep peacefully in their beds.”

 

The Country that Never Was

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The killing of many thousands of Ibo tribesman in Northern Nigeria in 1966 plunged the country into the civil war. Home to around 8,500 Ibos, South Eastern region of Biafra declared itself to be independent (and it remained independent for three years). Biafra’s ‘President’, Oxford-educated Lieut. Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu, then 34, tapped a medical officer Albert Nwazu Okonkwo to lead the province of Benin. As Nigerian forces were to retake the province, Okonkwo declared the independence of the Republic of Benin at 07:00 on 19 September 1967. The republic lasted a little more than a day. On 20 September 1967, it was terminated as Nigerian forces recaptured the province. It was not recognised, not even by its “parent” country, Biafra, mainly because of the brevity of its existence.

 

The Book that never was

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English explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton was a man who never shied away from sex and sexuality. He translated The Book of One Thousand and One Nights and the Kama Sutra into English. He frequented brothels on his expeditions. Burton also translated The Perfumed Garden, a seminal work of erotic literature, but his translation was incomplete, apparently because the latter chapters concerned homosexuality and pederasty. When Burton died towards the end of 1890, he was working on a new translation of the original manuscript, which included the exised chapter. This translation was never published as Burton’s religious wife Isabel burned the manuscript soon after his death—despite being offered six thousand guineas for it. She regarded the burned manuscript as his “magnum opus,” and she said she was acting to protect her husband’s reputation, and imagined she was instructed to burn the manuscript by his spirit.

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