21 Common Historical "Facts" That Are Straight Up Just Not Facts At All...Like, They're Literally False

·9 min read

Recently, Reddit user u/throwaway0006891 asked, "History buffs, what is a commonly held misconception that drives you up the wall every time you hear it?" And y'all, I have learned so much from this thread.

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Here are some of the most interesting myths that are just not true!

1.That the majority of colonists wanted independence from Great Britain when the Revolutionary War began.

signing of the declaration of independence

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In fact, the percentage of colonists who supported the war was closer to 45% — and often below that.

battle in the revolutionary war
Dea Picture Library / De Agostini via Getty Images

One-third of the colonists actually fought for the British.

battle in revolutionary war with redcoats labeled "some colonists"

And many would constantly switch sides based on who was winning.

Franklin McMahon/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

2.That Paul Revere shouted "The British are coming!" during his midnight ride.

Paul Revere's ride illustrated

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GraphicaArtis / Getty Images

Revere actually said, "The Regulars are coming out!" To say the "British" were coming would've been confusing for colonists who considered themselves British.

Paul Revere on his house labeled "actually saying 'the regulars are coming out'"

Plus, while Revere did wake and warn many households, he did not shout through the streets as stories suggest.

Interim Archives / Getty Images

Though he was definitely a patriot, he was also just a paid messenger and submitted a bill for the ride.

picture of Paul Revere labeled "venmo requesting you <3 <3 <3"
Hulton Archive / Getty Images

And he was not the only rider. After he reached Lexington, he was joined by William Dawes, who had arrived to deliver the same news. They met a doctor named Samuel Prescott on the way to Concord who decided to help them — he was the only one to actually finish the ride and reach Concord before fighting began.

concord battle

Revere was captured (and later released) while Dawes managed to escape the soldiers chasing him but lost his horse and could not complete the journey.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

3.That Lincoln owned slaves.

Lincoln
Stock Montage / Getty Images

This one's pretty simple: He did not. However, 12 US presidents did own slaves in their lifetimes, including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.

slave quarters atJefferson's estate
Authenticated News / Getty Images

Zachary Taylor was the last US president to have slaves while he was in the White House, and the last former slave owner to become president was Ulysses S. Grant.

Zachary Taylor
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However, Lincoln's vice president, Andrew Johnson – who succeeded Lincoln — had owned slaves in Tennessee and asked Lincoln to leave the state out of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Andrew Johnson
Photoquest / Getty Images

4.That Louis-Michel le Peletier cast the deciding vote for Louis XVI's execution.

Henry's execution
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images / Getty Images

While it's true that the vote to immediately execute the king was 361 — a majority by 1 — the vote actually reported was 387 in favor of execution versus 334 not in favor.

Henry's trial

This is because 26 people also voted for execution but asked to have another vote on whether or not the execution should be deferred. This had already been voted on and rejected, so these votes were also counted toward the 361 majority. In addition, of those 334 not in favor, many voted for execution but with other conditions.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

However, it was rumored that Louis-Michel le Peletier had cast the deciding vote, leading to his assassination the day before King Louis was executed.

Louis-Michel
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5.That Marie Antoinette said, "Let them eat cake."

Marie

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Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Not only would this have been uncharacteristic for the queen (according to her biographer Lady Antonia Fraser), but that phrase had already been around and attributed to other sources before Marie.

Marie
ine Art Images/Heritage Images / Getty Images

Jacques Rousseau had written a very similar phrase, saying a "great princess" had said the words, years before it was attributed to Marie — when Marie was only 10. Thus, she couldn't possibly have originated the phrase.

Jacques Rousseau
Print Collector / Getty Images

6.That Napoleon was short.

Napoleon portrait

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VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images

Napoleon was actually a bit above 5'5", which was pretty average for the time.

Napoleon on a horse
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The idea that Napoleon was short came mostly from British cartoonist James Gillray, who started illustrating Napoleon as very short, and other cartoonists followed suit.

Napoleon being depicted in a comic as short

Napoleon would later say Gillray “did more than all the armies of Europe to bring me down.”

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7.That medieval peasants ate potatoes.

peasants farming

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he Print Collector/Heritage Images via Getty Images

Potatoes are native to the Americas. They were not brought to Europe until the mid-1500s, meaning no one in Europe ate them before then.

sweet potatoes
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8.Also, that tomatoes were eaten in Italy prior to the 1500s.

drawing of people at a table
Nastasic / Getty Images

Tomatoes were not brought to Europe until the discovery of the Americas, meaning no tomatoes in Italian food. No pizza, no red pasta sauce, no caprese salads.

pizza with sauce
Aleksandr Zubkov / Getty Images

9.That medieval people all wore brown.

herder in colorful dress

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Duncan1890 / Getty Images

They actually had a number of natural dyes that were often used and could produce many colors, including reds, blues, yellows, and greens.

man dyeing cloth naturally
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10.And that corsets were essentially torture devices.

a woman in a corset
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Corsets were not actually for drastically decreasing waist size. They mostly provided bust support and, yes, a flattering shape and a smooth line for fabric to lay over.

a corset

They were not all that uncomfortable, and women could work in them. They did not constantly cause women to faint, and there were certain types for different types of work.

Dea / De Agostini via Getty Images

Tight-lacing was an optional trend that started around the 1840s.

Paramount Pictures

And no one had their ribs surgically removed so they could fit their corsets better.

woman in corset

Surgery was not safe enough back then to consider.

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11.That rulers and lords could invoke prima nocta and sleep with any woman under their leadership in Scotland — particularly on their wedding night.

lord being carried by serfs labeled "could not actually demand to sleep with whoever he wanted"

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Fine Art Images/Heritage Images / Getty Images

There is no proof or record of this ever happening, despite it coming up often in pop culture.

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12.That the storming of the Bastille freed hundreds of political prisoners.

illustration of the storming of the bastille

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Stefano Bianchetti/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

They actually only freed seven prisoners.

illustration of the storming of the bastille
Culture Club / Getty Images

13.That Rosa Parks was just an older woman who didn't want to leave her seat.

Rosa being arrested

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Underwood Archives / Getty Images

14.And relatedly — that Parks was sitting in a "Whites Only" section of the bus.

Rosa Parks on a bus

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Don Cravens / Getty Images

First of all, Rosa was not tired nor old — she was 42. She was also a longtime NAACP member and activist, and had worked to raise funds for a previous woman who had been arrested for not giving up her seat on a bus, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin.

Claudette Colvin
Dudley M. Brooks/The Washington Post via Getty Images

But although Parks knew the NAACP needed a lead plaintiff in their case to end the Jim Crow law, the act of protest was not planned.

Rosa Parks' mugshot

This photo was her second arrest, as she helped organize the bus boycott.

Universal History Archive / Getty Images

As for where she was sitting — Parks was sitting in a middle section that was first come, first serve. She was asked to move for a single white passenger — the three Black passengers in her row obliged, meaning the man had a spot to sit. However, the driver still demanded that she move.

Rosa Parks in 1999

This was a driver she had met before and disliked — Parks said in her autobiography that she wouldn't have even ridden his bus that day if she'd noticed he'd been driving.

William Philpott / Getty Images

15.Civil rights leaders used nonviolence because they believed in loving their neighbor and meeting hate with love.

Martin Luther King waving during his "I have a dream" speech

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Central Press / Getty Images

While of course individuals may have believed this, the strategy as a whole was tactical. Nonviolence was effective because it provided a stark contrast to the violence of segregationists, and when these images were spread throughout the country, it was very clear who the "bad guys" were in the situation because the segregationists were the only ones inflicting the violence.

firefighters spraying Black protestors with a hose

Civil rights leaders hoped that media coverage would show Northerners how badly Black people were treated in the South.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

16.That people in the Middle Ages thought the Earth was flat.

man standing on a flat earth

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We Are / Getty Images

Actually, most people in the Middle Ages knew the Earth was round. Ancient Greeks (specifically Eratosthenes) had deduced this many years prior.

Eratosthenes drawing
De Agostini Picture Library / De Agostini via Getty Images

17.That Queen Victoria said, "We are not amused," to a risqué story that was told.

Queen Victoria

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National Galleries Of Scotland / Getty Images

Queen Victoria actually had a purported great sense of humor and apparently told her granddaughter she never said this.

Queen Victoria
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18.That Germany invaded Russia in the winter.

the germans in russia in winter in world war ii

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In fact, they invaded in June. The invasion lasted longer than hoped for, and they were stuck there in the winter, leading to many of the difficulties you have likely heard of them experiencing.

the germans invading russia in world war ii
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19.That Neanderthals were unintelligent.

a neanderthal recreation

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There's no evidence to suggest that Neanderthals were dumber than homo sapiens. They had just as advanced tools and were able to hunt and communicate just as well.

a neanderthal recreation
Cristina Arias/Cover / Getty Images

20.That Shah Jahan had the hands of the workers who made the Taj Mahal cut off so they could never recreate something similar.

Shah Jahan

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Legend also tells that their eyes were gouged out. But though you may hear this on a tour of the site, there is no evidence to suggest that either of these legends are true.

the taj mahal
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21.And finally...that AD means after death.

CBS

Suggested by u/Evincer1968

It actually means Anno Domini, which translates to "in the year of our lord" in Latin.

Oct. 15, 2021, at 14:03 PM