Category Archives: Insults

1637: Church elders complain of dung-hurling

norwich
Norwich cathedral

In 1637, an order from Charles I required members of the Norwich municipal corporation to attend cathedral services, if they weren’t doing so already.

This order posed problems for the mayor and aldermen, who petitioned the king for an exemption from attending services in the city’s cathedral. Their “Humble Petition” cited “inconveniences thereof [that were] many and intolerable”. According to members of the corporation, their low seats in the cathedral were subject to gusts of freezing wind.

Not only that, the ordinary folk of Norwich, who were none too fond of the corporation, occupied the seats in the upper galleries. This gave them a vantage point for pelting city officials with anything they could find, from shoes to excreta:

“There be many seats over our heads and are oftentimes exposed to much danger… In the mayoralty of Mr Christopher Barrett a great Bible was let fall from above and hitting him upon the head, broke his spectacles… Some made water in the gallery on the aldermen’s heads and it dropped down into their wives’ seats… In October last Alderman Shipdham, somebody most beastly did conspurcate and shit upon his gown from the galleries above… some from the galleries let fall a shoe which narrowly missed the mayor’s head… another time one from the gallery did spit upon Alderman Barrett’s head…”

The king denied their request for exemption. It is not known if the Norwich elders followed the order and braved the masses in the cathedral.

Source: Tanner manuscripts, Bodleian Library; v.220, f.147. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1861: Abraham Lincoln’s hate mail

lincoln

Barely literate internet trolls may seem a recent phenomenon but only the medium is new. Ask Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States.

As can be imagined, Abe was less than popular with his constituents in the southern states. An expression of the president’s unpopularity can be found in this barely legible item of hate mail, sent to Lincoln by a Mr A G Frick in February 1861. Frick’s spelling, grammar and punctuation appear exactly as written:

“Sir,
Mr Abe Lincoln

if you don’t Resign we are going to put a spider in your dumpling and play the Devil with you you god or mighty god dam sunnde of a bith go to hell and buss my Ass suck my prick and call my Bolics your uncle Dick god dam a fool and goddam Abe Lincoln who would like you goddam you excuse me for using such hard words with you but you need it you are nothing but a goddam Black nigger

Yours, &c.
Mr A. G. Frick

[PS] Tennessee Missouri Kentucky Virginia N. Carolina and Arkansas is going to secede Glory be to god on high”

Source: Letter dated February 14th 1861, cited in Dear Mr Lincoln: Letters to the President, Harold Holzer (ed.), 1993. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1649: Scottish women smell of pottage, piss, pig turds

scotland
No many bonnie wee lassies in Scotland, a 1649 pamphlet claims

A Perfect Description of the People and Country of Scotland was first published in London in 1649 and reappeared in various forms over the next decade. Its authorship is open to question. Some historians attribute it to Oxford graduate and minor writer James Howell, better known for coining the phrase “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Others believe it was written by Anthony Weldon, a scheming courtier to Charles I.

Whoever was responsible for its creation, A Perfect Description is unabashed propaganda, filled with anti-Scottish jibes and stereotypes. The people of Scotland, it claims, are lazy and incompetent farmers; they would “rather go to taverns” than cultivate the land around them. They are also coarse and uncultured and will “stop their ears if you speak of a play”. They fornicate as a “pastime”, laugh at blasphemy and wink at murder.

The writer reserves particular acrimony for Scottish women, of whom it claims “there are none greater [fatter] in the whole world”. Further, they have appalling personal hygiene and make terrible wives:

“Their flesh abhors cleanliness, their breath commonly stinks of pottage, their linen of piss, their hands of pigs’ turds, their body of sweat [while] their splay feet never offend socks. To be chained in marriage with one of them [is] to be tied to a dead carcass and cast into a stinking ditch.”

Source: Source: Author unknown, A Perfect Description of the People and Country of Scotland, 1649. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1162: Plucking figs from mule genitals saves lives in Milan

Frederick I – not a man to be trifled with

Frederick I (1122-90) was a skilled military commander, cunning political strategist and charismatic leader. Known as “Barbarossa” because of his red beard, Frederick ruled as Duke of Swabia (1147), king of the German territories (1152) and Holy Roman Emperor (1155).

In the late 1150s, Frederick marched his army to northern Italy to suppress recalcitrant cities in Lombardy. During this campaign Frederick left his wife, Beatrice, in Milan. The Milanese treated her poorly, however, seizing Beatrice, placing her backwards on a mule and forcing her to ride out of the city.

Frederick was outraged by this gross insult but did not have to wait long for his revenge. In March 1162 his forces laid siege to Milan, which quickly capitulated. According to chroniclers like Giambattista Gelli, repeated here by Nathaniel Wanley, Frederick got his own back for the mule incident – and them some:

“The Emperor, justly incensed, urged the besieged [citizens] to yield, which they at last did… he received them with mercy upon this condition: that every person who desired to live should, with their teeth, take a fig out of the genitals of a [she] mule.”

According to two accounts, this bizarre ritual was carried out in Milan’s largest square. A few Milanese refused to participate in it and were duly beheaded – but most submitted. Frederick remained true to his word, sparing their lives, however for decades the incident was used to humiliate and insult the Milanese. The fig sign – an insulting medieval hand gesture – may well emanate from this event.

Source: Nathaniel Wanley, The Wonders of the Little World, or a General History of Man, 1678. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1766: Army captain suspended for a year for being insulted

Captain Benjamin Beilby, a British army officer with the 11th Foot Regiment on Minorca, was court martialed in September 1766. Beilby’s ‘crime’ was that he had been abused and insulted by another officer, Captain Robinson, but had done nothing about it. As a consequence, Beilby was charged with:

“..having received from Captain Robinson language unbecoming of the character of an officer and a gentleman, without taking proper notice of it.”

According to witnesses Robinson had been taunting and abusing Beilby for some time, on one occasion being heard to call out:

“Is that the way you march your guard, you shitten dirty fellow? Is that the way you make your men slope their arms, you dirty dog?”

Beilby’s toleration of these grievous slurs outraged his fellow officers, apparently more than the slurs themselves. Honour demanded the insulted party confront Robinson and challenge him to a duel – but Beilby had done nothing, bar write his abuser an angry letter.

Beilby was ostracised by his own colleagues, who refused to dine in the same mess as him. The court martial found Beilby guilty of neglect and he was suspended from duty for one year. When records of the court martial reached the Admiralty in London, however, it was immediately overturned. Captain Robinson was not court martialed or sanctioned for his insults.

Source: Court Martial Records, 71/50, September 1766. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

c.80AD: Theodorus’ mouth, bottom apparently indistinguishable

Nicarchus was a satiric poet who lived and worked in Greece in the 1st century. Little is known about Nicarchus: his birthplace and life history are not recorded and he was not mentioned by other writers. Not much of his poetry has survived either, just 38 epigrams and some satiric pieces.

Nicarchus’ epigrams suggest he was influenced by, and possibly a student of the better known Lucillius. But unlike Lucillius, the younger Nicarchus had a liking for invective and coarse terminology, something he shared with one of contemporaries, Martial. In one epigram Nicarchus tees off on an acquaintance named Theodorus, who obviously struggled with bad breath:

“Your mouth and your arse, Theodorus, smell exactly the same;
It would be a noteworthy achievement if men of science could distinguish them.
You really ought to write labels on which is your mouth and which is your arse
For now when you speak, I think you break wind.”

Source: Source: Nicarchus epigrams, book 11, Greek Anthology (1956 edition). Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1188: Irish kings are crowned in a bath of horse soup

Gerallt Gyrmo, or Gerald of Wales, was a prominent clergyman, theologian and diarist of the late 12th and early 13th centuries. Educated in England and France, Gerald became chaplain to Henry II in the mid-1180s. He also accompanied the future King John, then a teenager, on a tour of Ireland.

In his 1188 manuscript Topographica Hibernica, Gerald wrote at length about his experiences on the Emerald Isle. In keeping with English sentiments of the time, his views of Ireland and its people were almost wholly negative. He described the Irish as a race of “rude people… living like beasts”, “given to treachery more than any other nation”, “frightfully ugly”, “adulterous and incestuous” and “foully corrupted by perverse habits”.

Their only civilised talent, Gerald writes, is:

“..playing upon musical instruments, in which they are incomparably more skilful than any other nation I have ever seen… In their musical concerts they do not sing in unison like the inhabitants of other countries but in many different parts… who all at length unite with organic melody.”

One of the more fanciful accounts in Gerald’s work, not witnessed by him but recounted as fact, was a ceremony for crowning Irish kings:

“The whole people are gathered in one place, a white mare is led into the midst of them… he who is to be inaugurated… comes before the people on all fours… The mare being immediately killed and cut in pieces and boiled, a bath is prepared for [the king] from the broth. Sitting in this, he eats of the flesh which is brought to him, the people partaking of it also. He is also required to drink of the broth in which he is bathed, not drawing it in any vessel but lapping it with his mouth. These unrighteous rites being duly accomplished, his royal authority and dominion are ratified.”

Source: Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales), Topographica Hibernica, 1188. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1633: Women actors are “notorious whores”, writes Prynne

A contemporary drawing of William Prynne, right, apparently being reacquainted with his severed ears

William Prynne (1600-1669) was an English lawyer and writer, famous for his provocative and controversial essays. One of the most Puritan of the Puritans, Prynne was not afraid to take aim at popular figures, culture or conventions.

One of Prynne’s earliest and best known works was Histriomastix, a 1633 attack on just about anything considered fun. Historiomastix strongly criticised parties, masquerade balls, country fairs, mixed dancing, feast days, wakes, sports, even hairstyles and colourful stained-glass windows.

Much of this particular text, however, is a condemnation of theatrical performances and those responsible for them. Plays, Prynne claims are “the chief delight of the Devil”, wanton and immoral displays of debauchery filled with:

“…amorous smiles and wanton gestures, those lascivious complements, those lewd adulterous kisses and embracements, those lustful dalliances, those impudent, immodest painterly passages… they are the very schools of bawdery, real whoredoms, incests, adulteries, etc.”

As to those who regularly attend the theatre, they are:

“…adulterers, adulteresses, whoremasters, whores, bawds, panders, ruffians, roarers, drunkards, prodigals, cheaters, idle, infamous, base, profane, and godless persons.”

Histriomastix was especially severe on actors and actresses. The ranks of male actors, Prynne claimed, were filled with “Sodomites” who spent their time writing love letters and “chasing the tails” of “players boys”. As for actors of the opposite gender, Prynne offered a simple but biting four-word assessment:

“Women actors, notorious whores.”

This anti-thespian tirade soon got William Prynne into trouble. One woman who quite enjoyed masked balls, mixed dancing and the occasional acting role was Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I.

The queen had appeared in a speaking role in a prominent play not long after the publication of Histriomastix, and she took Prynne’s slurs personally. In 1634, Prynne was hauled before the star chamber, charged with seditious libel against the queen and others, and found guilty. He was fined £5000, stripped of his academic degrees, given two days in the pillory and sentenced to have the tops of his ears clipped off with shears.

If that wasn’t enough, hundreds of copies of Histriomastix were rounded up and burned before Prynne’s eyes as he languished in the pillory.

Source: William Prynne, Histriomastix, London, 1633. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1780: Mozart trolls his sister with fake diary entries

In August 1780, Wolfgang Mozart, then aged 24, happened upon his sister Maria Anna’s diary. Pretending to be her, he wrote the following entry:

“About shitting my humble self, an arse, a break, again an arse and finally a nose, in the church, staying at home due to the whistle in the arse, whistle not a bad tune for me in my arse. In the afternoon Katherine stopped by and also Mr Fox-tail, whom I afterwards licked in the arse. O, delicious arse!”

This was not the first time Mozart had written in his sister’s diary without her permission. In May 1775 Maria Anna mentioned attending a concert in the city hall, featuring a female singer. Beneath her entry, Wolfgang scrawled:

“Terrible arse!”

Source: Diary of Maria Anna Mozart, August 19th 1780; May 29th 1775. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1524: Spanish boy invites cartographers to chart his backside

In 1494, Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty of Tordesillas, effectively dividing the rest of the uncolonised world between them. But the treaty only covered the Atlantic hemisphere, so by the 1510s, Spanish and Portuguese explorers and colonists were again clashing, this time in Indonesia and the Philippines.

In 1524, both powers convened more treaty negotiations to divide the other side of the world. These meetings, held in the border towns of Badajoz and Elvas, were attended by some of the most notable diplomats, cartographers, astronomers and mathematicians of the age.

Leading the delegation from Lisbon was Diego Lopes de Sequeira, a prominent military leader and a former governor of Portuguese Goa. According to a contemporary report, Lopes and his advisors took a break from the negotiations and went walking along the banks of the Quadiana river. On the Spanish side of the river they saw:

“…a boy who stood keeping his mother’s clothes which she had washed… [The boy] demanded of them whether they were those men who were partitioning the world [on behalf of] the emperor. And as they answered ‘Yea’, he took up his shirt and showed them his bare arse, saying: ‘Come and draw your line through the middle [of this].’ This saying was afterward in every man’s mouth and laughed at in the town of Badajoz.”

The negotiations ended with the Treaty of Zaragoza which, in general terms, handed Portugal colonial rights over the Asian mainland, while Spain was given access to islands in the Pacific.

Source: Richard Eden, The Decades of the Newe Worlde, London, 1555. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.