10 Mysteries Surrounding Royal Children

Post 7857

10 Mysteries Surrounding Royal Children



History is littered with mysterious deaths, lives, and legends of royal kids. Some questions are buried too deeply in time to be solved and will remain tantalizing enigmas. But in other cases, modern technology and ancient graves are finally beginning to reveal some long-awaited answers.

10Marie Antoinette’s Missing Son


Photo via Wikipedia

For about 200 years, no one could say what happened to the son of Marie Antoinette, queen of France. The eight-year-old uncrowned king was called Louis XVII. He was locked up in the Temple prison in Paris during the French Revolution, an event that resulted in both of parents losing their heads to the guillotine. Two years later, legend has it that he was reportedly smuggled from the prison. A deceased body of a lookalike was put in his place. Since prison conditions were harrowing and he was also being physically abused, there was no surprise when the news of the prince’s death reached the public on June 8, 1795.

Nearly 100 people have since come forward claiming to be the missing king and rightful ruler of France, but their stories were tabled when DNA tests in 2000 performed on a preserved heart unmasked them as pretenders. The organ came from the child who had died in the prison, kept as a macabre souvenir by the doctor who performed the autopsy. When compared to genetic material grafted from locks of Marie Antoinette’s hair, the heart was a match. This disproved the popular story about little Louis escaping with the help of staff who took pity on him. The child king tragically succumbed in prison, fatally sick with tuberculosis, alone and nameless for two centuries.

The heart was buried with full royal honors near his parents’ grave. More than 2,000 people, including European royalty, attended the funeral.


9The Pharaoh’s Firstborn Son

9Amun-her Khepeshef

Photo credit: Merlin-UK

Several historians have a name for the pharaoh’s heir who died during the biblical plague that smote Egypt’s firstborns: Amun-her Khepeshef. Going one step farther, respected Egyptologist Kent Weeks now believes that he has found Amun-her in the flesh. Well, in the bones.

Weeks was working at a mammoth funerary complex in Egypt when his team made what could be a historic discovery. Like a scene from a movie, they found many burial rooms decorated with artistic scenes and inscriptions depicting the lives of Ramses II and his sons. Ramses is the most nominated pharaoh by biblical scholars for the position of “bad guy” in the book of Exodus. The most telling of the finds were canopic jars bearing the name of Amun-her Khepeshef and possibly his organs. There were also four bodies in a pit near the entrance to the tomb, all male. One of the skeletons was arranged in a royal posture and had a badly broken skull. Facial reconstruction of the murdered 3,000-year-old body showed that he had the trademark pointy features of Ramses II’s family.

Amun-her was a military general, and the skull damage is consistent with a mace injury. However, the mystery remains. Is the body the fabled biblical firstborn or one of Ramses II’s other sons? DNA testing isn’t possible at this point in time due to the degraded condition of the tissue. Either way, Amun-her died before his father when he was in his late forties or early fifties.

8Paul I Of Russia


Photo credit: Dr.bykov

Russia’s Catherine the Great gave birth to her heir, Paul, in 1754. Since Catherine’s husband, Peter III, was more interested in playing with toy soldiers and his mistress, it’s possible that the infant was the illegitimate bastard of Sergei Saltykov, a military officer who might have been Catherine’s lover. Either way, she wasn’t an affectionate mother. Young Paul’s parents despised each other. The marriage troubles eventually reached a deadly standoff. Paul was only eight years old when Peter III, the man he thought of as his father, was poisoned. This left him convinced in his later years that his mother was plotting to murder him, too.

However, while his suspicions about murderous schemes were correct, Paul was focusing on the wrong enemy. Catherine the Great felt her son would make an incompetent tsar, but her way of dealing with it was to groom his son Alexander as her heir instead. Unfortunately for Catherine, a stroke felled her before she could make it official, and Paul took the throne.

Catherine’s fears were not unfounded; Paul was indeed a neurotic and useless leader. His death is as much a whodunit as his paternity. He was strangled with a scarf. The mystery surrounds his son, Alexander, who might have been in cahoots with the assassins. The young Grand Duke Alexander had attended a dinner earlier that night with his father, but he had eaten almost nothing and appeared uncomfortable. One of the killers also visited his rooms while the rest of the assassins finished off the tsar.


7Prince Arthur


Photo via Wikipedia

In 1486, an English prince was born and named after the fabled King Arthur of Camelot. When the Prince Arthur of Wales was barely 15 years old, he was placed in an arranged marriage with Catharine of Aragon, daughter of Spanish monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand. The union, meant to strengthen the alliance between Spain and England, didn’t last long. Five months after the wedding, Prince Arthur died from a “sweating sickness,” a mystery affliction that hasn’t been solved to this day.

The teenager, who’d been frail for most of his short life, lived with his new bride at Ludlow Castle near the Welsh border. Their home was inexplicably far away from the prince’s London doctors. His wife and several other people in the area also contracted the unknown epidemic, which some theorize to be tuberculosis or more likely a hantavirus. Catherine survived.

In 2002, archaeologists found Arthur’s tomb under the limestone floor of Worcester Cathedral and hope to one day use non-invasive techniques to determine what killed the heir to the throne. His widow married Arthur’s younger brother, who eventually became Henry VIII. She was one of the few wives to survive his nasty spouse-killing habit.



Menelik was the son King Solomon fathered with the Queen of Sheba. If the Ethiopians are to be believed, he’s also the reason why no tourist today can have his or her photo taken with the Ark of the Covenant.

The founding myth for Ethiopia tells how Menelik was raised by his mother in her kingdom but as a grown man eventually met with his father in Jerusalem. When Solomon offered Menelik the opportunity to become his officially recognized heir and rule after his death, the grateful royal offspring decided to make off with the Ark of the Covenant instead.

Despite the fact that the Queen of Sheba is mentioned in both the Bible and the Quran, her existence—let alone her son’s—remains largely unproven. Menelik is said to have learned his father’s religion and brought Judaism to his people, a religion still practiced in Ethiopia today. What remains an interesting mystery to most is serious business for one monk in Aksum, where the Ark of the Covenant allegedly remains under his lifelong protection in the holiest sanctuary of Ethiopia. Thousands of years prevent anyone from finding or publishing proof of King Menelik’s life, but for someone who maybe never existed, he had a remarkable influence on one country’s identity, history, and religion.

5Victoria’s Secret Grandchild


Photo credit: Vianelli Brothers

While it’s never been proven, a persistent rumor surrounds one of Queen Victoria’s daughters, Princess Louise. Historical notes on Louise are known for describing her beauty, rebellious disposition, and rumored love affairs. Biographer Lucinda Hawksley believes that the princess had an illegitimate son with one of the servants, a man called Walter Stirling.

Stirling was the private tutor of Louise’s younger brother, and his dismissal after only four months on the job and subsequent treatment by the royal family was not exactly standard. Stirling never worked for them again, but he continued to be paid an allowance. The baby was purportedly a boy called Henry, born in 1866 or 1867 when Louise was in her late teens. He was given no birth certificate and was quickly adopted by another royal staff member, Sir Frederick Locock, Queen Victoria’s gynecologist.

While no one has yet proven whether or not the story is real, the descendants of Sir Frederick Locock and his family sure are. The Locock family has been lobbying for DNA tests since 2004—without success.


4The House Of Royal Children


In the mid-19th century, Henry Rhind, a Scottish Egyptologist, was excavating at Thebes when he found an ancient mass burial. The bodies all belonged to Egyptian princesses. Not a lot is known about them, and an inscription that gives them the collective title of the “House of Royal Children” opens a mystery that might not be solved for a long time.

Nobody is really sure what sort of institution the House of Royal Children was—only that it was populated by palace women and girls of royal blood and that something wiped them out. Many of the names recorded in the tomb are recognizable, such as Tiaa, the sister of Pharaoh Amenhotep III who most likely ruled the mysterious female-only residence. Other familiar names paint a picture of three generations living together, and there is a big chance that they also died together.

For so many princesses from one pharaoh’s reign to be buried in the same place hints that they were interred as a group and not individually over a period of time. Inscriptions mention the deaths of an embalmer and possibly some of the women’s servants during the same time. If the reason was some sort of infectious disease, it is likely that the House of Royal Children was physically demolished to prevent its spread—at the cost of an interesting piece Egyptian culture.

3Saint Dmitry


Photo via Wikipedia

When it comes to the crown princes of Russia, two of them always steal the show. The hemophilic Alexei Romanov was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918. The equally unfortunate Ivan was murdered by his own father, Tsar Ivan the Terrible. Shortly after the tsar fatally clobbered his son, his wife gave birth to another boy. When the infant Dmitry was two years old, his father died. Dmitry’s older half brother ascended the throne and became Tsar Feodor I. At the same time, the toddler was exiled to the small town of Uglich.

The sickly Tsar Feodor I wasn’t expected to produce an heir, so Dmitry became the Tsarevich. But in 1591, the nine-year-old crown prince met his end under mysterious circumstances. Officially, he had a knife in his hand, suffered a seizure, and stabbed himself in the neck by accident. Considering the dangerous political environment he lived in and an official death investigation full of irregularities, it’s equally plausible that he was knocked out by an ambitious throne seeker.

One legend holds that he was killed on the orders of Boris Godunov, who eventually became the tsar. Dmitry’s mother also accused Godunov of the killing. The boy’s death will probably never be solved, but despite his short life, he is not forgotten. In 1606, 15 years after his death, Dmitry was declared a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church.

2Little Caesar


Photo credit: Boston Public Library

The son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra only lived for 17 years—officially. He was born in the year 47 BC, three years before Caesar’s murder. During that time, the toddler ruled over Egypt together with Cleopatra. Depending on the source, the little pharaoh may or may not have been acknowledged by Caesar as his son.

Caesarion, or “Litte Caesar” as he was sometimes called, was the king of Egypt, but for some mysterious reason, his name was smudged from all official documents after he turned 10. One theory is that Cleopatra wanted to continue her dynasty through the twins she later bore with Marc Antony, but this remains unproven.

When Caesarion was a teenager, he became a pawn in a deadly power struggle between Marc Antony and a nephew of Julius Caesar, Octavian. Marc Antony and Octavian shared the rule of Rome, but each wanted full power. Antony tried to tout the boy as the more worthy to rule as Caesar’s supposed son, which no doubt made Octavian determined to kill the young pharaoh.

Tensions came to a climax, and when Octavian crushed Antony’s army, which was financed by Cleopatra, both she and Antony committed suicide. Her son had already fled Egypt, and what happened next is hazy. Stories differ. Caesarion may have been murdered on his way to Ethiopia. He could have been strangled after he was lured back to Egypt by the Romans. Maybe he escaped. His body was never found. Whatever the case, the young king was gone when Octavian became the sole ruler of Egypt and Rome.

1The Missing Romanovs


Photo via Wikipedia

One of the most intriguing royal puzzles was always that of Anastasia, one of two Romanov siblings missing from the mass grave that contained their slaughtered family’s remains. In 2007, another grave was unearthed about 70 meters (230 ft) from the first.

The find was shocking. It revealed the brutalized remains of two murdered children. One was a boy in his early teens and the other a girl between the ages of 17 and 24. Forty-four bone fragments and some teeth were recovered, all badly burnt and shattered. Due to the close proximity to the grave site of the tsar and his family, tests were performed to see if the skeletons were the two imperial children who had never been found. Three different genetic tests were used to reach absolute certainty. When those results came back, they ended one of the world’s greatest mysteries and the claims of Anastasia pretenders everywhere. They were the missing Tsarevich Alexei Romanov and one of his sisters.

But questions still remain. Why they were buried in a separate grave cannot be explained, and then there’s the elusive identity of the sister found with Alexei. Was it Maria or Anastasia? Anthropologists don’t agree. One thing is certain though: All the bodies of the Romanov girls are now accounted for, which means that Anastasia didn’t survive her family’s execution in 1918. Whichever grave was hers, she died on the same terrible night that brought an end to the 304-year-old Romanov dynasty.

10 Overlooked Facts About The Spanish Reconquest

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10 Overlooked Facts About The Spanish Reconquest



The Spanish Reconquest, also known as the “Reconquista,” is one of the most pivotal aspects of European history. The Christian attempt to recapture Spain from Muslim rule spanned centuries and was rarely a consistent effort. Owing to squabbles between the various Christian kingdoms as well as successful campaigns undertaken by the Muslim rulers of al-Andalus (the Arabic name for Iberia), the Reconquista lasted from the eighth century AD until the late 15th century.

Most writers will date the end of the Reconquest at January 2, 1492, for on that day, the final redoubt of Muslim power, Granada, fell to the allied Christian forces of King Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella I. Following this triumph, an emboldened Spain ventured forth into the New World. Along with Portugal, another mostly Christian nation that experienced Muslim rule for centuries, the Spanish crown established a global empire that peaked in the 16th century.

As with most history, the usual story about the Reconquest is too neat. For starters, Spanish Muslims continued to exist after 1492, and their eventual expulsion from Spain was due to the rebellions that followed the successful conclusion of the Reconquista. Furthermore, the Reconquest involved many more players than just the Christian kingdoms of Spain. The protracted war touched France, Portugal, North Africa, and the various ethnic minorities of Western Europe. The full story of the Reconquest is rarely told. This list hopes to shed some light on the war’s darker corners.

10Spain Was An Invasion Magnet Before the Reconquest

Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre became famous for arguing a sort of novel theory in defense of colonialism. According to Freyre, the Portuguese were better imperialists and colonizers than other Europeans because of their history of miscegenation. Called “Lustrotropicalism,” Freyre’s theory essentially claims that because Portuguese people are an amalgam of Iberian, Celtic, Roman, and Berber bloodlines, they are more willing to interbreed with their colonial subjects, be they Native Brazilians, Chinese, or Africans. As a result, the long-lasting Portuguese Empire successfully created a sort of “racial democracy,” whereby ethnic and racial identity was allowed to flourish so long as a shared sense of Portuguese culture remained.

This theory has been scrutinized and criticized since its first publication, but Freyre is undoubtedly right that Portugal and Spain have seen their fair share of population mixing. Spain, for instance, once sported both Phoenician and Greek colonies. Even the Etruscans of Italy founded merchant colonies in ancient Iberia. The Spanish port city of Cadiz has a history that is especially tied to non-Iberian outsiders, for the city itself was founded by Phoenician traders from the city of Tyre. During the Second Punic War, the modern Spanish city of Cartagena was known as New Carthage and was the capital of Carthaginian-controlled Iberia.

Before the beginning of the Reconquest, Spain, which had long been a source of horses, fighting men, and generals for the Roman Empire, experienced several invasions from the Germanic tribes of Central and Northern Europe. During the early fifth century AD, Vandal, Alan, Suebi, and Asding raiders took control of large swaths of Spain. By the mid-fifth century, the Vandals, under kings Gunderic and Gaiseric, established themselves as the chief rulers of Iberia and North Africa. When the first Muslim armies invaded Spain, the force that opposed them was primarily composed of Visigothic Christians, the Germanic rulers of both Spain and Portugal.


9The Battle That Kick-Started The Reconquest

Pelayo Statue

Photo credit: Tony Rotondas

The Battle of Covadonga is controversial among historians. Some label it as nothing more than a minor skirmish, while others have called it the most important Christian success in Spain during the eighth century. Whatever the case, the Battle of Covadonga certainly helped to change the tide of the Muslim takeover of Spain, even if that change was small.

In the summer of 722 AD, a small band of Visigothic nobles led by Pelagius had fled to the Bay of Biscay, a mountainous and rainy region that was known for its stubborn independence. There, the Visigoths combined forces with local Iberian and Celtic fighters in order to repel a much larger Umayyad army. From their cave headquarters, which they called Santa Maria, the Christians, who numbered somewhere around 300 men, squared off against a Muslim force numbering somewhere between 25,000 and 180,000.

For their part, the Umayyad Moors were not terribly interested in occupying Northern Spain. However, given that Pelagius (sometimes spelled as Pelayo) and his men refused to pay the jiyza, the tax on non-Muslims, the Umayyad generals Munuza and Al Qama sought to rid themselves of the last Christian thorn in their sides. According to most Christian accounts of the battle, after Pelagius refused an offer to peacefully surrender, the best Muslim fighters were sent into the valley as shock troops. From their cave hideout, the Christians rushed into the valley with the element of surprise in their favor. Depending on the source, the Muslim losses were either disastrous or hardly worth noting.

Following his victory, peasants in and around the Bay of Biscay took up arms and began to attack the retreating Muslims. With Pelagius as their leader, they established the Kingdom of Asturias, the first Christian kingdom in Muslim-dominated Iberia. After a larger Muslim force failed to capture Asturias a few years later, Pelagius and the subsequent kings of Asturias began to capture parts of northern Spain and Portugal, such as Galicia, Leon, and Castile.

8The Frankish War With The Basque

Battle of Roncescvalles

Photo credit: Marie Therese Ross

During the early years of the Muslim conquest of Spain, the chief power in Europe was France. Prior to capturing what was then called Gaul, the Franks had been feared border guards for the Western Roman Empire. They were also noted for their piracy. All told, the Franks were a fearsome force of Germanic “barbarians” who successfully captured Gaul in the late fifth century following the collapse of Rome. Amazingly, despite being a minority in a country mostly composed of Gallo-Roman citizens, the Franks managed to maintain power for centuries. In fact, it was the Franks who saved Christian Europe from further Arab Muslim conquest with Charles Martel’s victory at Tours in 732, and it was also the Frankish Merovingian Kingdom and the Carolingian Empire that saved Greco-Roman culture from disappearing during the so-called Dark Ages.

By the eighth century, Frankish power was expanding drastically under the brilliant leadership of Charlemagne. As Frankish power consolidated to the east, Charlemagne sought to achieve Frankish success in the west, namely in Spain. While Christian and Muslim armies battled for territory, Charlemagne received an offer from Sulaiman Ibn al-Arabi, the Muslim governor of Barcelona. Fearing that his city might fall into the hands of the Christian Spanish, al-Arabi offered Charlemagne an alliance. For agreeing to protect Barcelona against any Christian invasion, Charlemagne was promised territory in Spain.

Accordingly, in 777 AD, an army led by Charlemagne crossed the Pyrenees Mountains and quickly captured the city of Pamplona. Next, the Franks captured Zaragoza but met with stiff resistance from that city’s Muslim governor. Ultimately, Charlemagne abandoned Zaragoza after receiving a fortune in gold. When a Saxon rebellion began to cause trouble, Charlemagne decided to return to France. But before reaching the Pyrenees, Charlemagne destroyed Pamplona’s defenses so that the city could never be used as a base for future attacks into Frankish territory.

In August 778, Charlemagne’s army had become a long, vulnerable train. As such, Roland, the prefect of Breton March and one of Charlemagne’s best generals, was given the task of securing the army’s rear guard. On August 15, Roland’s force came under attack. Their enemies were Basque irregulars who sought revenge for Charlemagne’s assault on Pamplona, which was one of the most important centers of Basque power in Spain. The Basque attack, which became known as the Battle of Roncesvalles, was a disaster for the Franks. However, the incredible courage shown by Roland and his men inspired the epic poem “The Song of Roland,” the oldest major work of French literature. In the poem, instead of fighting Basque guerrillas, Roland and his men are set upon by Muslim fighters from Spain.


7The Birth Of A Separate Catalonia

Despite the Basque victory at Roncesvalles and Charlemagne’s earlier alliance with al-Arabi, he still sought a buffer zone between his Christian kingdom and the Muslims of Spain. So, in the late eighth century, the Franks returned to Spain. First, Charlemagne’s army ended the Muslim occupation of Southern France and thereby created the March of Septimania. Next, Charlemagne attempted to retake Zaragoza but failed. Then, in 801, Charlemagne netted a major prize when his army successfully occupied the important city of Barcelona. From there, the Franks conquered most of Catalonia and established it as the Spanish March—a reinforced buffer state designed to stop Muslim armies from reaching France.

For two centuries, the Spanish March was ruled by Frankish or local counts appointed by Charlemagne’s court. This lasted until 985, when a Moorish force under the leadership of Al-Mansour managed to sack Barcelona. Incensed that he had received zero assistance from the Carolingian army, Count Borrell II declared the state of Catalonia independent of Frankish rule. Even before this declaration, Catalonia had enjoyed widespread autonomy, which in turn allowed a separate identity to form. Arguably, the roots of Catalan independence formed at this time.

6The Granada Massacre Of 1066

Granada Massacre of 1066

It has long been a common conceit that during Muslim rule in Spain, Iberian Jews experienced a cultural “golden age.” Especially under the independent Emirate of Cordoba, Sephardic Jews enjoyed an almost idyllic existence on an island of religious tolerance surrounded by a sea of Christian intolerance. While there may be kernels of truth to this, for the most part, Spanish Jews were not entirely appreciated by their Muslim superiors.

More broadly speaking, Islamic Spain was no more tolerant or open-minded than Christian Europe. Underneath the Umayyads, the Emirate of Cordoba, and the Almoravids, books deemed blasphemous were publicly burned and their authors imprisoned and executed. Likewise, although Christians and Jews could attain high positions in the government, they were always considered second-class citizens and were forced to pay the jiyza if they did not convert to Islam. Indeed, many jihadist terrorists today uphold Islamic Spain not as a beacon of multicultural hope, but as a perfect example of a country ruled by Islamic fundamentalism.

No action highlights the false myth of an enlightened Spain under Muslim rule like the Granada Massacre of 1066. On December 30, 1066, an estimated 4,000 Jews were killed by a Arab mob in the important Andalusian city of Granada. What sparked this violence has long been debated, but a general consensus claims that the Jews of Granada were the unfortunate scapegoats in a sociopolitical conflict between the North African Arabs and the Berbers. As was the case in most of the Islamic world, Arabs in Islamic Spain were considered a privileged class. The Berbers, many of whom belonged to Islamic sects that were considered “heretical” by the Sunni Arabs, therefore often struck out against what they believed were anti-Berber political policies.

While it’s just as likely that a popular anti-Semitic poem by Abu Ishaq of Elvira gave breath to the pogrom, the massacre ended with the gruesomecrucifixion of Joseph ibn Naghrela, the Jewish vizier to the Berber king of Granada.

5The Involvement Of The Knights Templar

Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa

Although the Knights Templar were primarily a French military order led by and composed of French knights, other orders from different European kingdoms existed as well. One force led by a Portuguese master knight named Gomes Ramires fought alongside the Christian kingdoms of Aragon, Portugal, Navarre, and Castile during the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. The battle, which is considered one of the more important battles of the entire Reconquista, was a massive success for the Christian alliance.

The origins of the battle start with a failed truce between Alfonso VIII of Castile and Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur. By 1209, after a series of military setbacks, Pope Innocent III was encouraging Spanish Christians to continue on with the reconquest of Spain. Exploiting the weakness of Muhammad al-Nasir, Abu Yusuf’s son and successor, Castile and its allies captured the cities of Jaen and Murcia and founded the town of Moya in 1210. Pedro II of Aragon also captured the cities of Adamuz, Sertella, and Castellfabib.

In order to stop further Christian success, especially in the Muslim province of Valencia, al-Nasir began a siege of Toledo, the capital city of Castile. Although this siege failed, Al-Nasir still managed to capture the castle of Salvatierra. The next spring, when Al-Nasir launched a second siege of Toledo, the Pope called for a crusade, which attracted knights from France, Navarre, Portugal, Leon, and other kingdoms.

In July 1212, approximately 100,000 Christian soldiers, including Templars, faced off against approximately 120,00 Almohad troops, most of whom were North African Berbers. As in the Battle of Covadonga, the Christian forces used the element of surprise to their advantage and slaughtered their Muslim foes in a valley just northwest of Jaen.

Although most of the Templars had returned to France and Portugal by this point, their small contribution to the battle helped Alfonso VIII to capture the cities of Baeza and Ubeda. Furthermore, by 1233, Almohad control over Spain was no more due to internal feuding in North Africa.


4The Conquest Of Ceuta

Battle of Cueta

Photo credit: HombreDHojalata

The Spanish Reconquista involved much more than just Spain. As already noted, France played an important role in the centuries of warfare between Spanish Christians and Muslims. The Kingdom of Portugal was likewise a key mover and shaker in the recapture of the Iberian Peninsula. In 1415, the Portuguese king John I brought the war beyond Spain’s borders when he led an expedition to the North African port of Ceuta, which was then controlled by the Marinid Empire, a Berber dynasty which controlled much of modern-day Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.

Along with Henry the Navigator, some 200 Portuguese ships containing about 20,000 men landed at Ceuta and caught the city’s defenders off guard. The battle was incredibly lopsided, and Portuguese control over Ceuta was quickly established. Following their success at Ceuta, the Portuguese crown decided to capture the islands of Madeira, Porto Santo, the Azores, and Cape Verde soon thereafter.

By the 1460s, the Kingdom of Portugal had established trading outposts in West Africa. Unfortunately for Portugal, due to large-scale Spanish immigration, Ceuta sided with the Crown of Spain during the Portuguese Restoration War. Eventually, King Carlos II of Spain was awarded the colony by King Alfonso VI of Portugal in 1668. Since then, Ceuta has remained a troubled possession that has been frequently fought over.

3The Aborted Plot Against King Alfonso X

Alfonso X

Photo via Wikimedia

By the mid-13th century, the war for Spain was clearly being won by the Christians. The western edge of North Africa was bitterly divided between the Almohads and the Marinids, which helped to weaken the fighting abilities of the Muslim kingdoms in Spain. The only kingdom strong enough to repeatedly resist Christian advances was the Kingdom of Granada in the thoroughly Muslim province of Andalusia. However, even Granada needed to keep the sea lanes open to North Africa in order to guarantee its survival. When King Alfonso X of Castile threatened to capture and occupy the Straits of Gibraltar, Mohammad I ibn Nasr, the founder of the Nasrid dynasty in the Kingdom of Granada, decided to fight.

Specifically, Mohammad I decided to use subterfuge in order to keep the Castilian crown from gaining a strong foothold in Southern Spain. Along with Ibn Hud, the Muslim ruler of Murcia and a vassal of Castile, Mohammad I readied a revolt among all Castilian Muslims. Sometime in 1264, the Muslim inhabitants of Seville were supposed to capture Alfonso X, but they failed to do so because the king was not in the city when the revolt erupted. Nevertheless, in May 1264, a full-fledged Muslim revolt against Castilian rule was underway and was bolstered by the addition of 3,000 Almohad warriors from Morocco.

The revolt managed to successfully capture several Andalusian cities until Alfonso X decided to act. Along with his Aragonese allies, Alfonso X’s Castilian army captured and annexed Murcia. Although a future revolt in 1272 forced the Castilian crown to concede some autonomy to Granada, Alfonso X’s successes in 1264 helped to secure much of Southern Spain for future Christian conquest.

In 1309, the Kingdom of Castile won Gibraltar for the first time after a siege. Then, in 1497, the North African port of Melilla was conquered by King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella.

2The Rise Of Castile And Aragon

Castile Flag

Photo credit: drini

Although many countries have regionalistic divisions, few are as deeply divided as Spain. In modern Catalonia, the separatist position is especially strong, with one poll in 2014 indicating that 80 percent of Catalans prefer independence. While a large portion of this sentiment is based on economics (Catalonia is Spain’s richest region, and some feel that it has to constantly bail out underperforming provinces), an even greater chunk stems from Spain’s long history of regional autonomy. Like Catalonia, Spain’s Basque region is likewise a hotbed of separatism. Interestingly, during the Reconquista, many of today’s Spanish provinces ruled separately as independent kingdoms. As such, cultural and linguistic differences between Spanish regions deepened.

That being said, the age of the Reconquista also saw the first steps toward Spanish unification. The main drivers of this push were the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. For the latter, independence came after breaking awayfrom the Kingdom of Navarre and pushing the region’s sizable Muslim population further south. During the medieval period, Aragon became a major European empire that stretched from Spain to Greece.

While Aragon expanded eastward, the Kingdom of Castile (later the Crown of Castile) remained the most active proselytizer of the Reconquista. Through marriage and conquest, Castile became the most powerful Christian state in Europe by the 16th century. To this day, the influence of Castilian power during the Reconquista can be seen in the fact that the Castilian dialect of Spanish is the standard form of Spanish used by television stations and newspapers to this day.

1The Last Muslim Revolts

Capture of Granada

The capture of Granada in 1492 certainly ended the offensive phase of the Reconquista, but the establishment of a fully Christian Spain was far from complete. Pursued by the Spanish Inquisition, a policy of forced conversions was adopted. Jews and Muslims were converted en masse, sometimes willingly but more often by force. The Muslims of Spain became Moriscos, or “Little Moors,” who outwardly practiced Christianity.

Despite this sweeping campaign of religious pacification, many Spanish rulers continued to distrust their formerly Jewish and Muslim neighbors. Even though most Spanish Moriscos outside of Andalusia couldn’t speak Arabic and had few solid attachments to the larger Muslim world, the rulers of Castile, Aragon, and the other Christian kingdoms continued to question their loyalty. Making all of this worse was the fact that by the 16th century, Catholic Spain had two major enemies in Europe—the Protestants and the Ottoman Empire, who could find ways to support a Morisco rebellion if they decided to do so.

Beginning in 1499, the Muslims of Granada openly rebelled against Christian rule. While the city itself was easily reconquered, the Andalusian countryside remained in rebellion until the forced baptisms of 1501. Over 60 years later, the Moriscos of Granada revolted again after the inquisitor Pedro de Deza forbade the use of Andalusian Arabic in public and private and required all Moriscos to speak only Castilian Spanish.

Beginning in the Albaycin neighborhood of Granada in 1568 and spreading to the mountains of Alpujarras, this second rebellion was far bloodier than its predecessor. It was also far more frightening to the Christian Spanish, for the revolt’s leader, a Morisco named Aben Humeya, was not only related to the former emirs of Cordoba, but also publicly renounced Christianity and sought the return of Muslim rule in the South. More troubling still, while the rebellion had its roots in Morisco discontent, its was economically supported by Algiers and the Ottoman Turks.

By 1570, the war had become a guerrilla campaign of international proportions. A year later, Christian forces led by Don Juan of Austria had killed the remaining rebels, expelled all Moriscos from Granada, and encouraged Christians to settle in the newly abandoned mountain villages.

10 Intriguing Finds Uncovered By Stormy Weather

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10 Intriguing Finds Uncovered By Stormy Weather



Sometimes, the stripping forces of nature remind us how much incredible stuff is still out there. Whether artifacts are deeply under sand or sea or sitting shallow, wild weather can reveal them in one powerful sweep. On occasion, storms raze the landscape and unmask rare, bizarre, or historical finds, saving archaeologists and fossil hunters a lot of time and funds.

10World War II Fat


Photo credit: Scottish Natural Heritage via LiveScience

For decades, lard from a World War II shipwreck has appeared on the beach after heavy storms at St. Cyrus, Scotland. Most recently, four chunks washed up, still retaining the barrel shapes of their long-gone wooden kegs.

The odd war relics started appearing during World War II after a merchant ship was bombed and sunk nearby. It’s believed that the wreck systematically breaks up with each storm, releasing a little bit more of its fatty cargo.

Locals are well familiar with the sight and claim that the fat is good enough to use despite being crusted with barnacles. The large lumps were a godsend during the war when lard was unavailable to most people.


9Baile Sear


Photo credit: The Megalithic Portal

In 2005, a violent storm hit Scotland. Tragically, it killed five members of the same family on Benbecula, but it also swept clean ruins that had been hiding for 2,000 years. Residents have always accepted that there was something old on the shores of Baile Sear, but the cobbles and sand obscured the remains too much to allow identification.

After the storm, people were stunned to find the structures just standing there on the beach. Fearing that the unknown beach ruins might get destroyed in another powerful storm, archaeologists moved in quickly. They identified the site as two roundhouses belonging to the Iron Age.

8Alabama Shipwreck


Photo credit: The Huffington Post

Revealed bit by bit by three different hurricanes, an Alabama ship hull was finally picked clean when Hurricane Isaac hit the coast. With sad-looking bare ribs, the remaining skeleton doesn’t look like much.

However, there are two mysteries swirling around the sagging ship. The first is her identity. Local historians believe that she is a World War I schooner named the Rachel. Others believe that she’s an unknown vessel from before the Civil War.

But if she is the Rachel, then a second mystery can be considered. What exactly was her cargo? She was built to carry lumber, but she operated during Prohibition.

Constructed during the war, the three-mast, 45-meter-long (150 ft) wooden ship was destroyed during a stormy voyage in 1923. Her crew burned her onshore after the cargo (rumored to be illegal booze) was removed.


7The Connacht Storms


Photo credit: The Irish Times

Storms mauled the Irish coastline of Connacht in 2014, resulting in an archaeological tragedy with a silver lining. Valuable historical treasures were damaged or lost while intriguing new ones were unearthed. Two graveyards, which are part of a medieval monastery found in the 1990s, creepily came to the surface. Other discoveries included sunken houses from the 18th and 19th centuries and a 6,000-year-old Neolithic bog.

In this case, however, nature also took away. Middens are shell heaps that are basically ancient kitchen waste. They give us clues about what our ancestors ate and what their lifestyles were like. All the coastal midden deposits from Galway Bay to Dog’s Bay were lost, including the most ancient site dating back to the late Mesolithic period.

6World War II Bombs


Photo credit: Daily Mail

In 2014, unusually heavy storms in the UK caused the flooding of the Thames. It also revealed a sinister scene when tides and winds uncovered the location of 244 World War II bombs. Many of them still live, they littered the one location where travel guides tell you to go and have fun—the beach.

Some were German, and others were from British training sessions. Buried for a long time, the bombs started appearing around mid-December when the weather went werewolf. Nearly every day, phone calls alerted the Royal Navy’s Southern Dive Unit of the discovery of another bomb.

The unit safely disposed of the shells, but there could still be many out there. The previous year, another 108 were removed from British beaches for the public’s safety. The really chilling part is that the longer they remain live under the sand, the more unstable these literal time bombs become.

5Mystery Mill


Photo credit: wistv.com

A historical piece of South Carolina’s past came to light after floods ravaged Richland County. State archaeologists fell out of the woodwork to examine timber beams and steel nails discovered after the waters withdrew. The discovery is exciting because these are the first real clues to emerge at a known archaeological site.

Until the centuries-old wood was found, the creek was believed to be the location of Garner’s Mill. But the mill is a hazy part of the county’s past. Experts don’t know what it produced, and the early 18th-century community to which it belonged is also a mystery.

The 1-ton beams were uncovered after violent flooding forced them from their resting place under the soil. As to their purpose, they could have been a plank road, one that led as far as Winnsboro or to a long-gone bridge.


4Valuable Ichthyosaur


Photo credit: BBC News

Christmas in Dorset offered a rare gift to fossil hunters. The bones of an ichthyosaur uncovered during a coastal storm in 2014 proved to be exceptional. Depending on how you view it, the ichthyosaur can be adorable or scary.

Reaching a size of 1.5 meters (5 ft), it resembled a dolphin but was actually a predatory marine reptile. Complete remains for this species aren’t common, so this discovery turned into a five-star moment when it became clear that the skeleton was only missing a part of its snout.

But professional fossil hunters realized that the ichthyosaur was in danger of being lost because another powerful storm was approaching. Since fossils need to be painstakingly removed over a period of days or weeks, the eight-hour excavation was almost like emergency surgery. Shortly before the storm was due, the 200-million-year-old predator was lifted to safety.

3The Galway Finds


Photo credit: The Irish Times

After storms lashed the Irish coastline of Galway, a haunting landscape rose from antiquity. Around 7,500 years ago, waters rose so fast that they killed off a large forest of oak, pine, and birch trees. The recent weather revealed the petrified tree stumps, some of which were almost a century old when they died.

A massive blanket of peat—once organic matter from the forest floor—was also revealed. Then a resident found a wooden artifact about 1.5 meters (5 ft) by 1 meter (3 ft) under the peat.

Once examined, it was identified as an oak trackway dating back as far as 4,500 years ago. It was also tantalizing proof that a Neolithic or Bronze Age people lived in the forest before Galway Bay was even formed. This might even be older than the Corlea trackway, an Iron Age construction and the largest of its kind ever found in Europe.

2Underwater Forest


A short distance off the coast of Alabama sits a time capsule. Under oxygen-free sea sediments, a primeval forest has been preserved for a cool 50,000 years. Hurricane Katrina shifted the sands and revealed the stumps of a vast bald cypress landscape.

The remains are truly massive and so well-preserved that one can smell the fresh cypress sap when cutting them. Some trunks are 2 meters (7 ft) wide and hold thousands of years of growth rings. These are invaluable to researchers because they contain thousands of years of weather history for the Gulf of Mexico.

The submerged forest’s wildlife is also somewhat different than it used to be. Fish, crustaceans, and sea anemones are abundant. It is feared that the pristine state of the trees won’t last, not even as long as a few years. Since the forest became an artificial reef, marine life is slowly destroying the wood with its burrowing.

1The Tree Teenager


Photo credit: history.com

After a coastal storm toppled a 215-year-old tree in Ireland, its roots weregripping the skeleton of a murdered medieval teenager. By chance, someone had planted the beech tree on the grave around 1800 and it grew down into the youth’s remains. When the tree crashed, the root system tore off the top half of the body and lifted it from the grave while the rest remained behind.

The bones tell quite a story. Between 17 and 20 years old, the young man ate well enough to have belonged to the upper crust. Yet he already had spinal disease from performing physical labor since a very young age.

He attempted but failed to fight off a violent death. Two nicks to his ribs fit with knife stabs. The strongest evidence that a blade caused the teen’s death was a clear stab wound to his left hand, as if he was trying to ward off his attacker.

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