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09 January 2006

Which historical lunatic are you?

Born in England sometime in the second decade of the nineteenth century, you carved a notable business career, in South Africa and later San Francisco, until an entry into the rice market wiped out your fortune in 1854. After this, you became quite different. The first sign of this came on September 17, 1859, when you expressed your dissatisfaction with the political situation in America by declaring yourself Norton I, Emperor of the USA. You remained as such, unchallenged, for twenty-one years.

Within a month you had decreed the dissolution of Congress. When this was largely ignored, you summoned all interested parties to discuss the matter in a music hall, and then summoned the army to quell the rebellious leaders in Washington. This did not work. Magnanimously, you decreed (eventually) that Congress could remain for the time being. However, you disbanded both major political parties in 1869, as well as instituting a fine of $25 for using the abominable nickname "Frisco" for your home city.

Your days consisted of parading around your domain - the San Francisco streets - in a uniform of royal blue with gold epaulettes. This was set off by a beaver hat and umbrella. You dispensed philosophy and inspected the state of sidewalks and the police with equal aplomb. You were a great ally of the maligned Chinese of the city, and once dispersed a riot by standing between the Chinese and their would-be assailants and reciting the Lord's Prayer quietly, head bowed.

Once arrested, you were swiftly pardoned by the Police Chief with all apologies, after which all policemen were ordered to salute you on the street. Your renown grew. Proprietors of respectable establishments fixed brass plaques to their walls proclaiming your patronage; musical and theatrical performances invariably reserved seats for you and your two dogs. (As an aside, you were a good friend of Mark Twain, who wrote an epitaph for one of your faithful hounds, Bummer.) The Census of 1870 listed your occupation as "Emperor".

The Board of Supervisors of San Francisco, upon noticing the slightly delapidated state of your attire, replaced it at their own expense. You responded graciously by granting a patent of nobility to each member. Your death, collapsing on the street on January 8, 1880, made front page news under the headline "Le Roi est Mort". Aside from what you had on your person, your possessions amounted to a single sovereign, a collection of walking sticks, an old sabre, your correspondence with Queen Victoria and 1,098,235 shares of stock in a worthless gold mine. Your funeral cortege was of 30,000 people and over two miles long.

The burial was marked by a total eclipse of the sun.

1 comment:

  1. You are Charles VI of France, also known as Charles the Mad or Charles the Well-Beloved!

    A fine, amiable and dreamy young man, skilled in horsemanship and archery, you were also from a long line of dribbling madmen. King at 12 and quickly married to your sweetheart, Bavarian Princess Isabeau, you enjoyed many happy months together before either of you could speak anything of the other's language. However, after illness you became a tad unstable. When a raving lunatic ran up to your entourage spouting an incoherent prophecy of doom, you were unsettled enough to slaughter four of your best men when a page dropped a lance. Your hair and nails fell out. At a royal masquerade, you and your courtiers dressed as wild men, ending in tragedy when four of them accidentally caught fire and burned to death. You were saved by the timely intervention of the Duchess of Berry's underskirts.

    This brought on another bout of sickness, which surgeons countered by drilling holes in your skull. The following months saw you suffer an exorcism, beg your friends to kill you, go into hyperactive fits of gaiety, run through your rooms to the point of exhaustion, hide from imaginary assassins, claim your name was Georges, deny that you were King and fail to recognise your family. You smashed furniture and wet yourself at regular intervals. Passing briefly into erratic genius, you believed yourself to be made of glass and demanded iron rods in your attire to prevent you breaking.

    In 1405 you stopped bathing, shaving or changing your clothes. This went on until several men were hired to blacken their faces, hide, jump out and shout "boo!", upon which you resumed basic hygiene. Despite this, your wife continued sleeping with you until 1407, when she hired a young beauty, Odette de Champdivers, to take her place. Isabeau then consoled herself, as it were, with your brother. Her lovers followed thick and fast while you became a pawn of your court, until you had her latest beau strangled and drowned.

    A severe fever was fended off with oranges and pomegranates in vast quantities, but you succumbed again in 1422 and died. Your disease was most likely hereditary. Unfortunately, you had anywhere up to eleven children, who variously went on to develop capriciousness, great cruelty, insecurity, paranoia, revulsion towards food and, in one case, a phobia of bridges.

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