Weird and Wealthy

Hermits For Hire - During the 18th Century, wealthy land-owners in England, Scotland, and Ireland began to find it fashionable to indulge in melancholy. Grottoes had become more popular as places to withdraw for meditation and reflection, thus small houses on these large properties called “hermitages” came into style, a place where someone could be alone and read a book and contemplate life. Eventually, it evolved into keeping a ‘Token Hermit’ or a ‘Garden Hermit’ in the garden, a symbol of the owner’s extravagance. They would find a person who was poor, or proposition an existing gardener, and offered for them to live at the hermitage. The hermit was made to dress up in a druid costume and refrain from cutting his hair or bathing himself for several years at a time. These old men would eventually grow long, white beards. As a hermit, they were left alone without any social interaction, but whenever the wealthy estate owners felt like visiting, they had to accept them into their house and entertain them and their guests. If someone was not rich enough to have a real hermit of their own, they would arrange the kitchen table and furniture to look as though someone was living in the hermitage or by the grotto as if the hermit had simply wandered off somewhere.

King Demands Fealty to Corpse – King Afonso IV of Portugal was a strong ruler, used to having his way in all things, though political intrigue would mar the last part of his reign. When his son and heir to the throne, Don Pedro (aka Peter I of Portugal), fell in love with his new wife’s lady-in-waiting, Inês Piras de Castro, Alfonso forbade the marriage. He claimed that, although Inês was aristocratic daughter of a prominent Galician family, that her ties to royalty were in fact illegitimate. Pedro carried on the relationship, even while Pedro’s first wife still lived, and for years after her death. Peter refused to marry any of the princesses his father suggested as a second wife; and the king refused to allow his son to marry Inês. Pedro was also giving Inês’s brothers, exiles from the Catillian court, important positions in Portugal, becoming his closest advisors. Afonso tried to end the relationship, but failed and had her confined in a monastery. Then, in January of 1355, Afonso sent three men to find Inês at the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha in Coimbra, where she was detained, and they decapitated her in front of one of her young children. Two years later Afonso died; Pedro became king and pursued his wife’s killers. Two were caught and brought before him, and he had their hearts ripped out – one from the front, the other from the back. Some sources say that after Peter became king of Portugal, he had Inês' body exhumed from her grave, then ordered the corpse dressed in a style appropriate to a queen and had her crowned. Pedro would force the entire court to swear allegiance to their new queen. With Pedro sitting next to her, all the nobility of Portugal would file past, lift her hand, and kiss it as a mark of their fealty.

Fragile Royalty - Princess Alexandra Of Bavaria was appointed abbess of the Royal Chapter for Ladies of Saint Anne, a religious community for noble ladies. She had an accomplished literary career but quickly became more noteworthy for a number of psychological eccentricities of which she suffered. She first had a fixation with cleanliness as well as only wearing white clothes, then in her early twenties, she developed a delusion that as a child, she had swallowed an entire grand piano made of glass which remained inside her body. She was deathly afraid that any sudden movement would shatter the instrument. She was said to walk sideways through doorways and corridors to avoid breaking. The Glass Delusion is thought to be a form of melancholy in which the sufferer believes they are made of glass. Alexandra is only representative of a rash of Glass Men that appeared throughout Europe between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. Tales of people afflicted with glass bones, glass heads, glass arms, and glass hearts abound in the medical and literary texts of the time. Another notable victim is King Charles VI of France. Charles VI ruled France during a time of great chaos, from 1380 to 1422. He suffered his first bout of madness in 1392, when he endured fever and convulsions and slaughtered four of his own knights, living the rest of his life plagued by insanity. His paranoia and violent rages made him dangerous and homicidal to anyone in his proximity. During his spells of madness, he often had to be restrained, and he gave up on his personal hygiene to the point that he had to be cut out of his clothes. He too began to believe that his body was made of glass. He faded in and out of this delusion, and it caused radical changes to his character. When he wasn’t in its grips, he was an outdoorsy athlete. When the glass delusion struck, he refused to move, sitting perfectly motionless for hours on end.

Whiskey and Cannibalism - James Jameson was the great-great-grandson of John Jameson, the founder of the famed Irish Whiskey company, and was the heir to the family fortune as well as an explorer. In 1888, he joined the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition across central Africa, led by renowned explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley. Varying accounts exist of the incident, from Jameson’s diary, his wife, and a translator on the trip, but what they all agree on is that by June, Jameson was in command of the rear column of the expedition at Ribakiba, a trading post deep in the Congo known for its cannibal population. According to the translator on the trip, Jameson began to express interest in seeing cannibalism firsthand. It was reported in affidavit that was published by the New York Times that, for the price of just six handkerchiefs, he purchased a 10-year-old girl who was taken to a known cannibal village and given to the tribe. The chiefs then said to their villagers, “This is a present from a white man, who wishes to see her eaten.” The girl was then stabbed, dissected, washed in the river, and eaten. Jameson documented their process and even drew sketches, later filling them in with watercolors and showing them to the tribal chiefs. When first hearing about the atrocity, Stanley expressed skepticism, but after speaking to the translator, he concluded that it was the truth. Jameson contested the incident in a letter as he was severely ill from a fever in Africa in 1890, never facing justice as shortly after the accusations of his misconduct made their way to the public, he died.