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Strange


Strange quirks of history

THE LAST RITES OF QUEEN CATHERINE

Like every good Italian, Queen Catherine de’ Medici was superstitious. She frequently sought to have her fortune told by her personal seer, Nostradamus, and her astrologist, Ruggieri. “When will I die?” “I do not know when you will die, but what I do know is that you will die near Saint Germain.”  It was a…

The Fontanelle cemetery and the skulls that grant wishes

Ciro Palladino is a taxi-driver in Naples. He also happens to be an extraordinarily erudite man. He is familiar with every historic monument in the city, every legend, every story, and every noble family. He is the most unusual guide I have ever met, and it was he who introduced me to the skulls of…

San Gennaro

One of France’s most fervent opponents during the Revolution was Maria Carolina of Austria. The wife of Ferdinand, King of Naples, known as « Il Re Nasone »  or « king big-nose », she was a sophisticated and cultivated woman with strong political convictions. She hated the revolutionaries who had killed her sister, Marie-Antoinette. When General Championnet’s revolutionary army…

The Iron Mask

I’ve heard the stories about the Iron Mask ever since my adolescence. Being an admirer of historical mysteries, I set off researching the subject. I have never been convinced of the importance of this mystery, or why it is such a mystery at all. During the reign of Louis XIV, there was a prisoner in…

The Train that Didn’t Exist

I met Mademoiselle Saint Léger during one of my visits to the ravishing and charming Doneraile Court in Ireland. She was a descendant of the former owners and belonged to one of the oldest Norman families who had come to England with William the Conqueror. One of her most famous ancestors, an extremely handsome man, was a close…

The Antique Dealer from Munich

For many years, during my annual visit to the Festival of Music in Salzburg, I noticed an older woman in attendance. Unmistakably rich and disagreeable, everyone seemed to avoid her. I didn’t pay much attention until one summer when she was absent. I inquired about her. She had died. It was then that I learned…

The Fiery Reflection

My friend John Nicholas, one of the leading ghost experts in Ireland, told me the following story. One day, in the 1930’s, a family was walking through the grounds around their chateau, one of the most beautiful in Ireland. A great lawn stretched out in front of the home, in the middle of which was a…

The Prophetic Chaplain of King Louis XI

The reign of Louis XI was dominated by his struggles against the Duke of Burgundy, his cousin. King Louis’ thoughts and preoccupations revolved entirely around France; how can he unite the disparate provinces under his scepter and create a state of order in the country that would meet the needs of his people? His cousin,…

Peter the Cruel

My half-Spanish grandmother always scolded me for referring to our ancestor, the King of Castile, as Peter the Cruel. “His name is Peter the Just,” she would correct me, preferring the qualifier attributed to him by the Jews and Muslims he had always protected. Whether Peter was Cruel or Just, he loved the city of…

The Court of Rudolph II and Rabbi Loew

When speaking of magic and magicians, we must look to 16th century Prague. Emperor Rudolph II, the nephew of Charles V, had chosen Prague from amongst all the capitals of his kingdoms to be his residence. At the time, Prague was still a medieval city. The famous Charles IV Bridge that spans the Moldau, covered…