What if the founder of the University of Naples liked to check if a soul could be seen escaping a dying person’s body, or imprisoned children to see if they would develop a ‘natural’ language?

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Part of a portrait of Emperor Frederick II from the ‘Manfred manuscript’ (taken from the Vatican Library), of a work written by the emperor himself, called De Arte Venandi cum Avibus; ‘The Art of Hunting with Birds’.

Curiosity has been a thing of all ages. Whenever humanity was confronted with a phenomenon it did not understand, people laboured to search for an answer. For some, such common answers as Aristotle’s gods creating the motions of the universe just weren’t good enough. Aristotle deserves a mention specifically because he was one of the ancient thinkers whose thought permeated the medieval period, even to the point of becoming incorporated into Christianity’s understanding of the world.

Emperor Frederick II was an eccentric figure in his own time. Thrice excommunicated, sceptical of elements of religious (Catholic) doctrine, and a reconqueror of…


A religious sceptic, excommunicated thrice, the ‘predecessor to the Antichrist, and confined to Dante’s sixth region of Hell (where he supposedly burns in a tomb), Frederick II was ever the controversial figure

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A 19th century depiction of Emperor Frederick II by Philipp Veit.

Quarrels between kings, emperors, and popes are tales as old as time itself — at least for as long as Christianity has existed in case of the latter subject. It is a problem only recently resolved, and it could happen only because both kings, emperors (which disappeared in Europe, admittedly), and popes could no longer count on having more or less absolute power in their lands. In fact, the pope really doesn’t have any lands anymore — Vatican City is a far cry from the historical Papal States, which stretched across perhaps about one-fifth of Italy at certain points.

(A…


When a blind girl was born to a future queen, a then-unknown faith healer immediately offered her services.

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Margaretha ‘Greet’ Hofmans, 1894–1968.

World history is filled with groups that sought to seize power through unethical and unconventional means. Many of the individuals these groups were composed of didn’t shy away from ideological warfare and indoctrination to isolate people so that all help offered from the outside world was rendered ineffective. Those that lived through World War II would be intricately familiar with such tactics, as these paired with violence and intimidation were favoured by Nazis and Communists alike. But they are unique in the sense that they’ve made little if any use of religion to get to the top.

The figure of…


What if you had a second-class ticket but you craved something more luxurious?

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Image of Titanic’s smoke room from the game ‘Titanic: Honor & Glory’, taken from: https://www.deviantart.com/titanichonorandglory/art/Titanic-s-First-Class-Smoke-Room-3-419792752

The Titanic is the gift that keeps on giving, at least for those enthusiasts who find themselves fascinated with this magnificent ship many decades after the sinking, and who were never there that fateful night in April of 1912. Considering third-class was already more luxurious than many of those who held tickets to it were used to in their usual living conditions, you may wonder why a man who held a second-class ticket thought he could trick the ship’s crew into getting him a free upgrade to the White Star Line’s finest example of high society entertainment.

Brian Lavery, a…


Or how Baldassare Cossa wrecked the pontifical name ‘John’ for 600 years before someone dared to take his ‘John XXIII’ again

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A contemporary image by Ulrich Richental from the ‘Konstanzer Konzilschronik’ — the Chronicle of the Council of Constance

Baldassare Cossa graduated with more optimism than most when he said he was going ‘to be Pope’. This is all made even more extreme by the knowledge that Baldassare Cossa, born c. 1370, grew up in a time following the Avignon Papacy. There was, after all, a reason why this period was also referred to as the ‘Babylonian Captivity’. When in 1378 this succession of popes in France ended, worse followed instantaneously.

Prelude: Schisms abound

If you’ve ever heard of schisms in Christianity, it is likely you’ve heard of this one. Before the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, this was the period…


The Palazzo della Cancelleria was built for a cardinal from 1489–1513, and is now still a property of the Holy See

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An 18th century engraving of the Palazzo della Cancelleria, by Giuseppe Vasi.

Cardinal Raffaele Riario was clearly a forward-thinking man when he had one of the earliest examples of a Renaissance palace built in Rome. In a rather unfortunate twist (for him) within five years after its completion, it was seized by an equally enthusiastic proponent of the Italian Renaissance, namely Medici pope Leo X. He justified this move by considering the cardinal’s post under his uncle Pope Sixtus IV’s papacy.

Sixtus IV, of Sistine Chapel-fame, was a subject of the famous Pazzi conspiracy, whereof famous Florentine artists (such as Leonardo da Vinci himself) had been making art at the Medici’s behest…


A physician, medical chemist, and an alchemist — Paul Luther found success much exceeding that of his mine-worker grandfather.

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A contemporary engraving of Paul Luther.

The fortune of the Luthers was turned by Martin Luther’s amazing success as a Reformer. Though initially it seemed to spell the Augustinian monk’s death sentence, time proved that his ardent rhetoric was attractive to people across the common social boundaries between the aristocracy, the clergy, the burghers, and the peasantry classes. Although the protection Luther enjoyed from some of the greatest German princes would not carry on for his family after his death, his only son (to survive infancy) would continue his father’s legacy in a way some may not have expected.

The Reformer’s death and its aftermath

Martin Luther died in 1546. Paul, at…


He shunned comforts, wealth, and later came to knight a king.

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The Battle of Garigliano (1503), painted by Philippoteaux in the 19th century,

Seigneur de Bayard embodied the Arthurian ideal of chivalry more than most other men of his era. He won his fame due to standing alone defending a bridge during a battle, and until his dying breath, other men respected him regardless of his modest way of life.

Born around 1476, Pierre Terrail was a descendant of a noble family whose heads had always fallen in combat. Of his contemporaries, he preferred his given nickname of ‘the good knight’ (le bon chevalier), but history would call him ‘the knight without fear and beyond reproach’ (le chevalier sans peur et sans reproche).


Giulia Gonzaga had been marked out as a prize for the harem of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, and Hayreddin Barbarossa would stop at nothing to claim her for his master.

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On the night of 7–8 August 1534, the young widow Giulia Gonzaga escaped in the company of a single knight while the Ottoman corsair Barbarossa besieged her city in search of her. He had been ordered to do so after the Grand Visier of the empire had heard of her beauty and sought to capture her to be taken to the sultan in Istanbul, though Giulia herself was much more than a simple object to satisfy a man’s desire. …


Carel Fabritius, of ‘The Goldfinch’-fame, died when with the ‘Delft Thunderclap’ on October 12th, 1654, a gunpowder store exploded and destroyed much of the city, killing over a hundred and injuring thousands.

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Carel Fabritius’s self-portrait of 1654, aged 32 in the year in which he died.

The city of Delft had been an important site for the rebellion for over half a century. From the 1580s onward, it housed not only leaders of the Dutch Revolt but also stores of gunpowder within its walls for use against the Spanish army. Carel Fabritius, like his master Rembrandt van Rijn, grew up in a country torn by this conflict, and both found unlikely opportunities for men with modest means among the citizens of the young Dutch Republic.

War left the world ripe with trade in places where it otherwise wouldn’t have found the same success, such as with…

Laura / L.E. van Altfeldt

🇳🇱 | Stuck in the sixteenth century, I write of history and occasionally sprinkle life with a little fantasy.

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