ONE OF THE CONFUSING THINGS ABOUT HISTORY IS THAT ALMOST NOTHING WAS THE WAY YOU THINK IT WAS—OR WAS IT?
I’m a great believer in the study of history because I consider it helps enormously to explain people’s actions—and, besides, it is fascinating in itself because it is comprised of a seemingly endless series of stories. And telling stories is my profession.
Nonetheless, it is also a vastly confusing area of study because a great deal of the history we are taught formally is just plain wrong. It is molded to meet the prejudices and desires of those in power—frequently, despite the evidence. And so we end up with myth—and myth is a major tool in the manipulation of our way of life. Conveniently, it also negates facts. In effect, it makes evidence, of whatever type, irrelevant. It defies both logic and science. It is a gift to all politicians who are prepared to use it—and all too many are. They don’t just fly in the fact of the evidence; they positively soar in the fashion of Icarus (or so one one hopes). Icarus, you will recall, flew too close to the sun—and his wings melted. Gravity did the rest. Those were the early days of aviation.
But can one find out the truth? I doubt we can in a definitive, detailed sense; but I do believe we can get much closer to it by digging a little—both literally and metaphorically. Fortunately, there are a large number of dedicated historians out there who do an outstanding job separating myth from fact—and getting us closer to the truth. But far too few people read their books. To quote eminent historian, David McCullough, again: “Americans are historically illiterate.”
"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"
If evidence exists, but no one is prepared to listen to it, does it matter? Philosophy can be exhausting! Let me return to the business at hand.
I have been been prompted to think about all this because droit de seigneur—the right of the lord of the manor to take the virginity of the daughters of his peasants—crossed my mind. Writers are entitled to think about such things. I have assumed the custom to be true, but an article in Wikipedia states that there is no actual evidence—other than human nature to support it. Personally, I would back human nature every time.
Either way, the theme made for a terrific movie, The War Lord, which may well have inspired the castle siege which is such a major feature of my book, GAMES OF THE HANGMAN.
Do I know for sure? No I don’t. It’s history, you see.