Heave writer Adam Cowden has a lot of stuff that he’s written for Cracked that didn’t get in, but nevertheless should be seen by the masses. We’ll be picking up some of it. Today, he’d like to teach you about people with a legitimate reason to be upset about February 14th.
1) Henry IV
Just a few days ago, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he will step down from his position as bishop of the Holy See, citing worries that his increasing age and waning energy will render him unfit to carry out his duties. In light of this news, it’s nice to look back on simpler times when the Pope was less like a wise, gentle grandfather and more like Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars, hell-bent on enforcing his absolute power no matter how deep his facial wrinkles.
Shortly after the turn of the first millennium, Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor, found himself embroiled in a bitter dispute with the pope that was known as the “investiture controversy.” The controversy revolved around the right of kings to appoint bishops and other clergy in the land under their sovereignty. The controversy came to head by February 14, 1076, when Pope Gregory IV excommunicated Henry IV. This might not have been a huge deal for a ruler today, but it was for the “Holy Roman Emperor.”
This conflict, at the time, was seen as the ultimate power struggle; the question to be decided was whether the Holy Roman Emperor, the divinely appointed pinnacle of political authority, or the Pope, the living successor to Saint Peter and head of the Church, could be made to bend. The question was decided swiftly and effectively; seeing the excommunication as a chance to regain powers they had lost to the Emperor, Henry’s rivals used to incident to legitimize their support for his deposition. Henry was forced to travel to the Pope’s residence in Canossa, this birthing the expression “going to Canossa” for individuals seeking forgiveness.
In a scene worthy of Garry Marshall’s 2010 Valentine’s Day rom-com, Henry famously stood three days barefoot in the snow (wearing a hair-shirt, according to some accounts) outside the pope’s residence begging to be admitted. If that isn’t devotion, I don’t know what is.
2) Richard II
Valentine’s Day is usually second only to Halloween in the “stuffing your face with chocolate department,” but not so for King Richard II of England.
If you’re a big Shakespeare buff…you’re probably still not all too familiar with the story of Richard II’s reign. Anyone who has themselves convinced that Shakespeare’s histories are still viable form of entertainment in an age when shit like this just pops up on your newsfeed. Let me try to break it down for you: Richard II ascended to the throne when he was only 10 years old, succeeding his grandfather Edward III. His reign was pockmarked by conflicts with Parliament, and despite his allegedly courageous role in personally calming a mob during the Peasants Revolt of 1831, managed to make more than a few enemies towards the end of his 23 year reign. In February of 1399, things were actually looking pretty good for Richard, who had just gotten married to a rich French babe and had managed to organize a government that was friendly to his interests. By “organize a government friendly to his interest,” I of course mean “executed the shit out of all of enemies.”
By Valentine’s Day of the following year, however, he was locked and wasting away in Pontefract castle, having been deposed by the previously exiled Henry of Bolingbroke. What happened? Basically, towards the end of his reign, Richard went a little bit bat-shit. Richard’s last two years, which are sometimes referred to as “Richard’s tyranny,” were characterized by forced loans, arbitrary arrests, and lots o‘ heads rolling. Richard’s cousin Henry of Bolingbroke, whom Richard had previously exiled, decided to take matters into his own hands and return to lead a revolt against Richard while he was away leading a campaign in Ireland. Stranded, Richard watched as one by one the nobles he had harassed for the past two years deserted him, and was ultimately forced to resign. Taken to Pontefract Castle and imprisoned, he starved to death on February 14. Perhaps if he had been a little nicer to his subjects, he would have received enough tiny chalk heart candies to hold him over until the next year.
3) James Cook
Not content with having made his name as a British navel hero and explorer of uncharted lands, Cook set about trying to find the “Northwest Passage,” the existence of which proved to be (almost) as mythical as the clitoris.
After a 1779 expedition proved unsuccessful, he piloted his ships (somewhat prematurely named Resolution and Discovery) back to Hawaii. At first, Cook and his crew were welcomed by the natives and given gifts of exotic fruits and leis and stuff. When a storm forced them to return back to the islands shortly after trying to leave, however, they met with unexpected hostility. When it appeared as though the islanders had stolen some of the crew’s provisions, Cook led a small parter ashore to resolve the matter. In the resulting skirmish, Cook was (literally) stabbed in the back. Reportedly, this was the first time in recorded history that a deep male voice from the heavens shouted “BETRAYAL.”
The islanders, saddened by his death, “honored” him by separating his bones and searing his flesh off. Apparently, in Hawaii this sort of ceremony is second only to the hula dance as the ultimate expression of love.
4) Elisha Gray
As the popular, textbook version of the story goes, inventors Elisha Gray and Alexander Bell both filed for a patent on the telephone on Valentine’s Day, 1876. Fortuitously, Bell arrived only a few hours before Gray, thus ensuring him the right to be named inventor of the new device.
In reality, the story is more convoluted and even more heartbreaking for Gray. Gray actually had filed for a “caveat,” which was like a pre-patent. Records show that Gray had actually brought his caveat application to the office a few hours before Bell, but since the filing fee was Bell’s application was entered on the cash blotter first, it originally appeared that Bell had arrived first. Inexplicably, Bell was awarded the patent, but since that time, evidence has surfaced to suggest that Bell actually stole the fundamental idea behind his invention from Gray’s caveat and bribed the patent examiner to award him the patent rights in court, which he was allegedly shown illegally. Though the matter of who really invented the telephone is still hotly debated by historians, and although Bell’s biographer and great grandson Edwin Grosvenor angrily denies claims that Bell stole Gray’s idea, it appears clear to many that Alexander Bell plagiarized his most famous invention.
After Gray’s death, a note was discovered among his belongings that read, “”The history of the telephone will never be fully written…. It is partly hidden away … and partly lying on the hearts and consciences of a few whose lips are sealed — some in death and others by a golden clasp whose grip is even tighter.” He further added between tear stains, “And Alexander Graham Bell is totally a giant asshole. I should never, ever have trusted him. Ever.”
5) Everyone in Prague (and Dresden, 1945)
The Valentine’s Day bombing of Dresden is a well known, hellish event that was much worse than anything you’re likely to experience this February 14. An almost equally destructive accidental “whoops” bombing of Prague that occurred on the same day in Prague, however, is often overlooked. Due to a navigational error, the 40 bombers of the American 398th Bombardment Group, who had set out to join the attack on Dresden, ended up bombing the Czech capital of Prague.
Here’s where things get really messed up. Aside from the fact that the bombing claimed 701 lives and 93 buildings, the event was made even more tragic by the fact that the lead pilot in the group was a Czech citizen. Yes, piloting the lead ship was Harold Van Opdorp, who had grown up in Prague and later fled to America to escape the encroaching Nazi power. That’s like…growing up in Prague and then fleeing to America to escape the Nazis, only to realize that you just accidentally bombed Prague instead of Dresden. There’s really no other way to describe the bitter irony of this Valentine’s Day, and I can only assume that the Czech Republic leads the world in beer consumption per capita in part due to their inability to wash this from their memory.
The moral of the story? Next time you find yourself curled up on the couch with a bottle of wine and The Notebook on Valentine’s Day (don’t act like you haven’t been there too, guys), remember Harold Van Opdorp, who has roughly a 10,000 times better excuse than you for drinking to forget.
6) Salman Rushdie
Quick – what’s more terrifying than a crazy, vengeful ex-girlfriend on Valentine’s Day? How about finding out that you’ve had a bounty placed on your head by a crazy, vengeful tyrant? No, I’m not talking about Han Solo and Jabba the Hut – I’m talking about Salman Rushdie and Ayatollah Khomeini (whose name actually sort of sounds like it could have fit in well in George Lucas‘ universe).
The bounty placed on Rushdie’s head was made all the more terrifying by the fact that it was not just a few hunters who would be after his head, but rather a whole faction of the world’s largest religion whose followers number somewhere around 200 million. On Valentine’s Day of 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s “spiritual leader” who was also considered by Shia Muslims worldwide to be an important and authoritative scholar in religious matters, issued a fatwa (authoritative teaching) on Tehran radio that declared that Muslims were not only encouraged but obliged to kill Rushdie on sight.
The death of Ayatollah Khomeini later in the same year did little to quiet the call for Rushdie’s head on a platter. Rushdie was forced to live in hiding for an excruciating nine years that he has described as a “nightmare” for he and his family. As if the fear of eternal damnation was not a strong enough incentive for the Ayatollah’s followers to carry out the edict, religious foundations in Iran later set aside a bounty for Rushdie’s head that is currently set at $3.3 million. Be honest – did you just find yourself thinking of all the creative ways you could spend that enormous hunk of lettuce? It’s likely that many Shia Muslims probably did too – especially since they believed that after spending it, they were likely to receive a hero’s welcome upon their entrance into heaven. We can only assume that the Rushdie, however, was forced to spend the windfall of money that resulted from the publicity explosion on lots of NES games and a crap-load of magazine subscriptions.
Today, Rushdie again lives in the open. He has said that he still receives a sort of Valentine’s Day card every February 14 from Iran reminding him of their sworn oath to kill him, which just provides support for the old adage that hate and love are close relatives. Touching, really.