9 Legendary Dragons From Around The World

A dragon sand sculpture in Yokohama, Japan
A dragon sand sculpture in Yokohama, Japan
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

From Asia to Europe, South America to Africa—and even the United States—stories about dragons pervade mythology. Some of these dragons are said to bring luck, while others feast on humans; some protect water, while others steal it. In a few of these stories, dragons can even talk. Here's a selection of dragon tales from across the globe.

1. NINKI NANKA // GAMBIA

In Gambia and other parts of West Africa, the Ninki Nanka (sometimes translated as "Dragon Devil") is believed to live in swampy areas. The beast is said to be over 150 feet long and very fierce, with a face like a horse, a crest of skin on its head, and mirror-like scales. Many say that if you see the Ninki Nanka, you will die within a few weeks. Parents sometimes reportedly tell their misbehaving kids that they're going to send them to the swamp, where the Ninki Nanka will take them if they don’t starting acting properly.

2. MESTER SNOOR WORM // THE ORKNEY ISLANDS, SCOTLAND

Mester Snoor Worm was a sea dragon of the Orkney Islands who was said to wake up every Saturday at sunrise, open his giant mouth, and yawn nine times. Then he would set out to procure seven virgins to eat for breakfast. As an old fable says: "Although he was a venomous beast, he had a dainty taste." An accompanying legend describes how an old wizard said the land could be saved from the dragon's appetites for good if the beast ate the king's daughter. Fortunately, a hero showed up to slay the dragon and save the princess, and the dragon's falling teeth turned into the Orkney, Shetland, and Faroe Islands, while its body turned into Iceland.

3. SNALLYGASTER // UNITED STATES

The snallygaster lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Maryland, especially Frederick County. Its name is derived from the German words schnelle geeschter, meaning "quick spirit," and the myths around it are thought to have begun with German immigrants who settled in the area starting in the 1700s (perhaps helped along by some clever newspaper editors in the 1920s and 1930s). The snallygaster is said to be half-bird and half-reptile, with a metal beak, and swoops down from the sky to carry off victims and suck their blood. It has a werewolf-like arch enemy named the Dwayyo, and the two are said to have ferocious mythical battles.

4. XIUHCOATL // PRE-COLUMBIAN MEXICO

A stone statue of Xiuhcoatl at an Aztec site
A stone statue of Xiuhcoatl at an Aztec site in Tenayuca, Mexico
Maunus, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In Aztec mythology, Xiuhcoatl was a flaming serpent associated with turquoise, drought, and the fire god Xiuhtecuhtli. He was said to have been used by the god Huitzilopochtli to behead his sister Coyolxauhqui, in a triumph of light over darkness. He was a national and political symbol for the Aztecs, and ancient incense burners have been discovered carved in his image.

5. MINOKAWA // PHILIPPINES

Minokawa is a bird-dragon who shows up in Filipino mythology. The creature is said to be as big as an island and has sharp feathers like swords and mirrors for eyes. It lives in the sky near the eastern horizon, and once swallowed the moon, causing people on Earth to scream and cry. Minokawa was so curious about the strange noises they were making it opened its mouth in surprise, whereupon the moon jumped out and escaped. After that, the moon was afraid of Minokawa, and so hid from the dragon inside a series of holes in the horizon. Minokawa generally gets blamed for eclipses, when humans need to make as much noise as possible so that the beast will drop the moon.

6. VRITRA // INDIA

In the Vedic religion of early India, Vritra is a serpentine dragon and the animalistic representation of drought. In some versions, he hoards the waters and the rains. He is also the enemy of Indra, the King of Heaven, who heroically destroys him and his “deceiving forces” after Vritra blocks the courses of the rivers. When Vritra battles Indra and swallows him, Indra uses his sword to slice the monster open from inside his stomach. Vrirtra is sometimes also blamed for stealing cows.

7. THE WAWEL DRAGON // POLAND

A Wawel dragon sculpture outside the Dragon's Cave in Poland
Jennifer Boyer, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The Wawel Dragon, a.k.a. the Dragon of Wawel Hill, terrorized ancient Kraków, Poland. He inhabited Smocza Jama (“dragon’s den”), a limestone river cave on the banks of the Vistula, which flows below the hill where Wawel Castle sits. He was said to poison the air with his breath and devour both humans and cattle, until one day when a local hero fed him a lamb filled with sulfur—which made him so thirsty that he drank river water until he exploded. A stylized, fire-breathing metal statue of the Wawel Dragon is a tourist attraction in Kraków, and the dragon itself is a symbol of the city.

8. PEUCHEN // CHILE

In the Mapuche and Chilote cultures of Chile, a shapeshifting dragon called the Peuchen is widely feared and revered. The Peuchen takes the form of a huge flying snake most of the time, but can camouflage itself to look like other creatures while trying to suck the blood of various animals (generally sheep). This dragon makes high-pierced whistling sounds and can paralyze its victims with its gaze. It can only be killed by a machi (a medicine woman). The word peuchen is also the Chilean word for the common vampire bat, and some folks believe the bat is the basis of this myth. Other cryptozoologists think the peuchen is a local version of the chupacabra.

9. MO’O // HAWAII

The ancient Hawaiians believed that long black lizard- or dragon-like creatures called moʻo lived in pools, caves, and ponds, and were aggressive guardians of freshwater sources. They were said to be omniscient and able to control the weather, as well as morph into seductive women or mermaids. When slain, their bodies became a part of the landscape—for example, the cinder cone Puʻu Olaʻi and Molokini crater are said to be chopped-up pieces of an unfortunate moʻo who crossed the volcano goddess, Pele. Meanwhile, Molokaʻi’s Kamalo Ridge is said to display a gray outline of Kapulei, a male moʻo who pledged to watch over the area in life and in death.

40 Strange Wedding Gifts Given to Royals

AdrianHancu/iStock Editorial via Getty Images Plus
AdrianHancu/iStock Editorial via Getty Images Plus

Although many royal couples, including the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, shy away from traditional wedding gifts and instead ask for charitable donations to be made in their names, that still doesn't stop the barrage of often fairly bizarre and random non-registry gifts sent by well-wishers (royals—they're just like us!).

Looking back through the history books, it seems that giving unusual wedding presents to royal newlyweds is nothing new. Below are 40 strange wedding gifts given to several happy royal couples, dating all the way back to ancient Egypt.

1. A tandem bike

Prince William and Kate Middleton exchange vows in 2011.
Dominic Lipinski, WPA Pool/Getty Images

When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge—then Prince William and Kate Middleton—married in 2011, the then-Mayor of London (and current prime minister) Boris Johnson gifted the couple a tandem bike in the style of the city's then-relatively new bike-share program. "I look forward to seeing the newlyweds on tandem wheels as they start their new life in Anglesey," Johnson told a crowd in Trafalgar Square on the day. Not a bad gift for the sporty couple, but no one has seen them out riding it.

2. A cocker spaniel

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge pose for a photograph with their son, Prince George of Cambridge, and Lupo, the couple's cocker spaniel.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge pose for a photograph with their son, Prince George of Cambridge, and Lupo, the couple's cocker spaniel.
Michael Middleton, WPA Pool/Getty Images

Like Harry and Meghan, William and Kate had requested that donations be made to a charitable fund bearing their names—among the organizations they sent contributions to were the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary, an anti-bullying campaign, and the Zoological Society of London. Nevertheless, Kate's brother, James, couldn't resist giving the happy couple a black cocker spaniel puppy, Lupo, who is now a beloved member of the family.

3. A Land Rover

Prince William and Kate Middleton drive away from Buckingham Palace on their wedding day.
Christopher Furlong, Getty Images

One physical gift that Wills and Kate received that went straight to charity was a Land Rover Defender 110 Utility Wagon. Prince William—who is the patron of the Mountain Rescue England and Wales organization—wrote the names of 50 different mountain rescue teams from across the country on slips of paper and asked Prince Harry to pick one out at random. The car was ultimately awarded to a team based in Patterdale in the English Lake District.

4. A kayak

Prince Carl Philip of Sweden and his wife Princess Sofia ride in a carriage on their wedding day.
Ian Gavan, Getty Images

Prince Carl Philip of Sweden and his wife Sofia Hellqvist (now Princess Sofia) are well known for their love of the outdoors, and were gifted a two-seater kayak by the Swedish government on behalf of the people of Sweden for their wedding in 2015. Naturally, they also received their very own nature reserve in Värmland, the region in which they are the Duke and Duchess, in which to try it out.

5. A tennis court

Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark after their wedding in 2004.
ODD ANDERSEN, AFP/Getty Images

When Crown Prince Frederik and Mary of Denmark wed in 2004, the Danish municipality of Sønderborg gave the couple a tennis court and pavilion at Gråsten Castle, the summer residence of the Danish royals.

6. A poem

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, formerly Camilla Parker Bowles stand during the Service of Prayer and Dedication at Windsor Castle in 2005.
CHRIS ISON, AFP/Getty Images

Tradition dictates that the British Poet Laureate pen a new poem to celebrate each royal wedding, which led Andrew Motion to write "Spring Wedding" in 2005 to celebrate the marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles (now the Duchess of Cornwall). The poem was met with mixed reviews: Given the couple's history, some thought lines mentioning "winter-wreckage" and "the heart which slips" weren't quite appropriate.

7. A giant jigsaw puzzle of the bride and groom

Princess of Asturias Letizia Ortiz and Spanish Crown Prince Felipe of Bourbon at their wedding in 2004.
ODD ANDERSEN, AFP/Getty Images

When Felipe, Prince of Asturias (now King Felipe VI of Spain) married Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano in 2004, the people of the Asturian capital Oviedo sent them a gigantic jigsaw puzzle depicting their portrait. It was assembled by visitors to a local shopping mall.

8. A "stop smoking" course

Norwegian Crown Prince Haakon and Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby leave the Oslo Cathedral August 25, 2001 after their wedding.
Anthony Harvey, Getty Images

When Crown Prince Haakon, heir to throne of Norway, married Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby in Oslo in 2001, one of the gifts reportedly sent to the couple was a course on how to quit smoking, intended to curb the bride's smoking habit.

9. A private Whitney Houston concert

Brunei's royal weddings have a ceremony that takes place in the Throne Chamber of the Istana Nurul Iman palace.
Brunei's royal weddings have a ceremony that takes place in the Throne Chamber of the Istana Nurul Iman palace.
Bernard Spragg NZ, Flickr // Public Domain

When the eldest daughter of the Sultan of Brunei, Princess Rashidah, married Pengiran Anak Abdul Rahim Pengiran Kemaludin in 1996, her uncle Prince Jefri Bolkiah hired Whitney Houston to perform as a gift for the happy couple. According to some accounts, Houston was paid $1 million for the gig—but others claim the notoriously profligate Prince Jefri handed Houston a blank check and asked her to fill out whatever figure she felt she was worth: a cool $7 million.

10. A song by Elton John

Rumor has it that when the UK's Prince Andrew, Duke of York, married Sarah Ferguson in 1986, Elton John wrote a song especially for the occasion. As a longtime friend of the royal family, John had also performed at Andrew's 21st birthday in 1981 and at his bachelor party.

11. One ton of peat

Lady Diana, Princess of Wales with Prince Charles of Wales at their wedding at St Paul Cathedral in London in July 1981
STR/AFP/Getty Images

When Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, they received a number of traditional gifts, including paintings, jewelry, a four poster bed, and an art deco Cartier clock. Charles's interest in agriculture was picked up on by a local village council in Somerset, in southwest England, who opted to send the prince one ton of high-quality peat for use on his Gloucestershire estate.

12. A "really lovely rug"

Anne, the Princess Royal and Mark Phillips pose on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in London, UK, after their wedding in November 1973.
Fox Photos, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth II's daughter, married Captain Mark Philips in 1973, the members of the British Cabinet all pitched in and bought the couple a rug. Like many office-pooled gifts, every member of the Cabinet contributed an equal share—which private papers later revealed to be just £10.53 each. The princess wrote each member a personal note thanking them "most warmly" for "a really lovely rug." When it was revealed that President Nixon and the U.S. government had sent the couple a solid crystal bowl and four gold candlesticks, Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister Sir Robert Armstrong wryly commented, "This makes an old Persian rug look pretty crumby."

13. A 147-foot yacht (that you can holiday on today)

U.S. actress Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco during their wedding ceremony in Monaco.
AFP, Getty Images

Shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis—future husband of Jackie Kennedy—gave Prince Rainier of Monaco and Princess Grace (a.k.a. Hollywood actress Grace Kelly) a 147-foot yacht, the Arion, as a wedding present in 1956. They honeymooned on it off the coast of Corsica and Sardinia; it's now a luxury floating hotel operating in the Galapagos Islands.

14. The ingredients for a wedding cake

The Princess Elizabeth of England and Philip The Duke of Edinburgh pose on their wedding day in November 1947 in Buckingham Palace.
AFP, Getty Images

Wartime rationing was still in place in Great Britain when Princess Elizabeth, now Queen Elizabeth II, married Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, now Prince Philip, in 1947. To get around the food shortages, the Australian Girl Guides Association chose to gift the couple the ingredients they would need for their wedding cake.

15. A box of apples

Queen Elizabeth II (in coach) and her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh are cheered by the crowd after their wedding ceremony, on November 20, 1947, on their road to Buckingham Palace, London.
AFP, Getty Images

Rationing didn't stop the British public from giving Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip presents either. In addition to a box of home-grown apples, the royal couple were also sent 500 tins of pineapple, two dozen handbags, 12 bottles of sloe gin, and 131 pairs of nylon stockings.

16. A hand-spun lace tray cover (that looked like a loin cloth)

Members of the British Royal family and guests pose around Princess Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth II) and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
STR, AFP/Getty Images

Elizabeth's wedding was just two months before 78-year-old Mahatma Gandhi's death, and the famed activist sent the couple an Indian lace tray cover that he wove himself. Reportedly, Elizabeth's grandmother, Queen Mary, thought it was a loin cloth.

17. A nationwide amnesty

In the late 19th century, the Imperial Chinese government celebrated the wedding of two members of its ruling Qing Dynasty by enacting a 20-day nationwide amnesty in their honor, during which no one would be punished for any crime. On the day of the wedding itself, the entire population of the Empire was mandated to wear red and green clothing.

18. A half-ton wheel of cheese

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on their return from the marriage service at St James's Palace, London in 1840.
Engraved by S Reynolds after F Lock, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840, one of the couple's wedding gifts was one of the largest wheels of cheese in British history. Measuring more than 9 feet across, weighing in at more than 1000 pounds, and made from the milk of 750 cows, the cheese was prepared for the occasion by villages in Somerset. And befitting the happy occasion, a cheesy song was written as well:

“The Pennard men then built a cheese
The like was never seen!
’Twas made, and press’d, and fit to please
Our gracious lady Queen!
And wedded to her royal love
May blessings on her fall,
And Pennard cheese at dinner prove
The best thing—after all!”

19. A mini chateau

The funerary monuments (not the graves) of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette at the Basilica of Saint Denis, France.
The funerary monuments (not the graves) of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette at the Basilica of Saint Denis, France.

When 15-year-old Dauphin Louis-Auguste (later Louis XVI) of France married 14-year-old Marie Antoinette in 1770, he gave her Le Petit Trianon, a three-story miniature chateau set in the grounds of the palace of Versailles, as a wedding present. "This pleasure house is yours," he reportedly told her. In the uneasy first years of their marriage, the future queen spent much of her time at Trianon, and though Louis would join her for dinner, he never spent the night there (which likely contributed to their not consummating the marriage for seven years).

20. An opera

William IV, Prince of Orange, his wife, Anne of Hanover, and their children Carolina and William V.
William IV, Prince of Orange, his wife, Anne of Hanover, and their children Carolina and William V.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When Prince William of Orange (later William IV) married Anne of Hanover in 1734, the composer George Frederic Handel composed Parnasso in festa, a three-part Italian serenata, to mark the occasion. Handel also composed a wedding anthem for the bride; though he disliked serving as a music teacher, he had made an exception for her when she was a child, calling her a "flower of princesses."

21. A feast made entirely of sugar (and a sugar replica of the groom)

King Henry IV of France and Queen Marie de'Medici
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

When King Henry IV of France married Marie de'Medici in 1600, he presented her with a grand Florentine banquet of fish and roast meats—at least at first glance. Turns out, the feast was made entirely from sugar. The groom perhaps took the European love of sugar a bit too far. Their ceremony was a wedding-by-proxy; in his stead, Henry sent a near life-size sugar replica of himself riding a horse.

22. A gold cup designed by Hans Holbein

King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour
National Portrait Gallery of London, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When Henry VIII married his third wife, Jane Seymour, in 1536 (just 11 days after Anne Boleyn was beheaded), he gave her a solid gold drinking cup designed by German Renaissance master Hans Holbein as a wedding present (Holbein was the court artist; many of the most famous portraits done of the Tudors were by Holbein). Alas, all that remains of Queen Jane's gift is a sketch of it: Charles I pawned the cup in 1625 and had it melted down four years later.

23. A book of French romances and an essay on warfare

Detail of the illuminated miniature on the presentation page of the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, showing the donor, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, presenting the book as a gift to Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI.
Detail of the illuminated miniature on the presentation page of the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, showing the donor, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, presenting the book as a gift to Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When Margaret of Anjou married Henry VI of England in 1445, John Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbury, who had accompanied her on her journey from Normandy to London, presented her with a book of illuminated French poems, folktales, romances, and political treatises. The Talbot Shrewsbury Book, as it's now known, also contains a complete list of statutes governing the Order of the Garter, and several lengthy treatises on warfare, husbandry, and hunting. It was likely perfect bedtime reading for the ambitious new queen of England, especially considering that she often had to rule in Henry's place.

24. Three leopards

Eleanor of Provence and King Henry III of England.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

King Henry III is credited with establishing much of the royal menagerie that used to be housed at the Tower of London. In 1235, to mark his betrothal to Eleanor of Provence, he was given three leopards (or possibly lions) to add to his collection by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II.

25. An entire town

"King Solomon with his wives at table," by Anton Koburger, 1491.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

According to the biblical 1st Book of Kings, when King Solomon married the daughter of the Egyptian pharaoh sometime in the mid-10th century BCE, the pharaoh conquered the Canaanite town of Gezer in the Judean Mountains, massacred its people, and gifted it to his daughter as a dowry.

26. A pair of koalas

When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle married in May 2018, they requested that in lieu of gifts, friends and family donate to one of seven handpicked charities, including an HIV charity, a coastal ecology charity, and a fund for children who have lost parents in military service. That, however, didn’t stop a handful of well-wishers from doing both—among them, the regional assembly of New South Wales. In addition to making a donation to a local conservation charity in their honor, premier of New South Wales Gladys Berejiklian had two baby koalas at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney named after the couple “as a gift from the people of New South Wales.”

27. A bespoke James Bond-style cigarette lighter

French president Emmanuel Macron also broke the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s embargo on personal gifts, and presented the couple with a bespoke gift set from ST Dupont’s 007 collection, including two engraved James Bond-style pens and a matching cigarette lighter. The gift had precedent, though: When the future Queen Elizabeth II married Prince Philip in 1947, the royal couple were gifted a Dupont travel case by then French president Vincent Auriol, and the tradition has been maintained ever since.

28. A one-ton Indian bull

Of all the gifts the Duke and Duchess of Sussex received in 2018, however, perhaps the most unique was news that PETA had adopted a one-ton malnourished Indian bullock on their behalf. Named Merry (an amalgam of Harry and Meghan, of course), the bull now sees out its days in an animal sanctuary in Maharashtra.

29. A pair of solid silver kiwis

When Princess Margaret, Elizabeth II’s younger sister, married society photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones in 1960, many Commonwealth countries sent wedding presents as a sign of their best wishes. Among them were two solid silver kiwis—one nestling an egg between its legs—that were presented to the couple on behalf of the people of New Zealand. In 2006, four years after Margaret’s death, the models were auctioned off for charity in London; despite an early estimate of less than $1000, they eventually sold for £36,000—which would be the equivalent of more than £51,000, or about $66,000 today.

30. An empty plot of land (on a private Caribbean island)

After their wedding, Princess Margaret and her new husband—now officially the Earl of Snowden—spent their honeymoon on a six-week Caribbean cruise aboard the Royal yacht Britannia. During that time, the British socialite and aristocrat Colin Tennant (whose wife, Anne Coke, was Margaret’s lady-in-waiting) gifted the couple a plot of land on Mustique, the 2-square-mile private island in the Grenadines that he had purchased just two years earlier. Margaret later developed the plot into a private villa called Les Jolies Eaux—“The Beautiful Waters”—where you can now spend the week (if you have a spare $21,000).

31. Two soufflé dishes

When Princess Mary, the Princess Royal—only daughter of George V, and Elizabeth II’s aunt—married Viscount Lascelles in 1922, she gifted her husband a pair of antique soufflé dishes. Princess Mary, incidentally, put most of her collection of wedding gifts on display at Buckingham Palace, and used the proceeds the exhibition raised to purchase Foxlease Hall, the headquarters of the Girl Guide Association.

32. A seat in the royal box

When the Russian princess Irina Romanov married her sweetheart Felix Yusupov in February 1914, Tsar Nicholas II reportedly asked his new son-in-law what he would like as a wedding gift. Yusupov requested a seat in the Imperial box in the Marinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.

33. A bag of 29 uncut diamonds

While Felix took his seat in the Tsar’s box at the theater, Princess Irina was given a pouch of 29 uncut diamonds, each weighing between three and seven carats. These—plus the countless other precious stones the couple were gifted as wedding presents—helped maintain them financially during their life in exile after the Russian Revolution in 1917.

34. A diamond-encrusted fan

Besides her own mini-chateau, another lavish (but slightly more practical) wedding present Marie Antoinette received from Louis XVI was a diamond-encrusted fan, presented to Marie on her wedding day along with an ornate cabinet full of jewels and gemstones.

35. A quaich

When King James VI of Scotland married Anne of Denmark in 1589, he presented her with a traditional Scottish quaich—a type of shallow, dual-handled drinking bowl. Quaichs have been a traditional wedding gifts in Scotland ever since.

36. Five notebooks (including one that belonged to the husband's ex-wife)

Henry VIII went on to marry his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, just three weeks after his fourth marriage (to Anne of Cleves) was annulled in July 1540. As a wedding gift, he presented Catherine with a set of five miniature jewel-encrusted notebooks, or “girdle-books." Unfortunately, arranging a wedding in less than a month apparently doesn’t leave much for checking little things, like whether or not you and your ex-wife’s initials are still embossed on the wedding present you’ve just given to your new spouse. Yes, one of the books in Catherine’s collection had the letters “H.” and “I.” in black enamel on the front cover, suggesting the book had probably originally been a gift from Henry for Jane Seymour (I standing in for J in the Tudor-period alphabet). Alas, re-gifting her his dead wife’s possessions wasn’t even the worst thing Henry did to poor Catherine: Their marriage lasted just a little over a year, and in February 1542—on a trumped up charge of adultery with her distant cousin, Thomas Culpepper—Catherine was executed at the age of 19.

37. A small wooden chest engraved with knotted thistles

In 2014, a fairly unassuming oak chest owned by an amateur furniture collector from Aberdeen, Scotland, was actually found to be a priceless 500-year-old royal heirloom. The chest’s unusual engravings—featuring a lover’s-knot made of entwined thistles—matched those in the Book of Hours of James IV of Scotland, a devotional prayer book published to mark James’s marriage to Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of the Henry VII of England (and the older sister of Henry VIII). Their so-called “Thistle and the Rose” marriage in August 1503 united the Tudor and Stuart dynasties after decades of conflict, and the chest was apparently commissioned as a wedding gift to mark the occasion.

38. An orange tree

According to legend, to celebrate the marriage of Louis XII of France to his second wife, Anne, the Duchess of Brittany, the Spanish queen Leonora of Castile gifted the couple an orange tree in 1499, which the king had planted in the gardens of his palace in Paris. The tree’s fruit—thought to be an early cultivar of either blood or navel oranges—proved immensely popular, and were soon being grown and sold all across Paris and beyond.

39. A personalized book of psalms.

It’s fair to say that Edward II and Queen Isabella of France didn’t have the easiest of marriages. After all, few healthy marriages tend to involve the husband being embroiled in romantic relationships with his male courtiers, and the wife being questionably implicated in her husband's gruesome murder. But despite those ups and downs, Edward and Isabella did at least keep up appearances by lavishing a great many expensive gifts on one another. Royal records show that Edward showered his young wife in gemstones and jewelry throughout their marriage; had her carriage fitted with extra cushions during her pregnancies; and, in return, Isabella continued to send the king gifts and letters, even after his deposition and eventual imprisonment in the 1320s.

Of all the presents the couple gave each other, however, perhaps the most remarkable is an illuminated books of psalms that Edward apparently gifted Isabella on their wedding in 1308. The book, known as the Isabella Psalter, depicts the queen in various biblical and religious scenes throughout its 280 highly decorated pages.

40. The deposed Emperor of Cyprus

Richard the Lionheart—a.k.a. the 12th century English king Richard I—spent so much time reconquering the Holy Land, that barely six months of his 42-year reign was actually spent in England. (It’s even unclear, for that matter, whether he ever found time to learn to speak English.) Richard’s preoccupation with the Crusades also meant that, for their wedding day to go ahead, his young wife-to-be, Berengaria of Navarre, was compelled to meet him halfway: In 1191, she sailed from her home in northeast Spain and caught up with Richard on the island of Cyprus. There, the couple—who had never met before—were finally wed in a tiny chapel in Limassol.

Before Richard continued on his Crusade, however, he had just enough time to depose the tyrannical self-styled “Emperor” of Cyprus, Isaac Comnenos, and claim the island for England. According to tradition, having promised Isaac that he would not imprison him in irons, Richard had the emperor wrapped in gold and silver chains instead—and then presented him to his new queen as a rather unorthodox wedding gift.

8 Surprising Facts About James Stewart

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

For a good portion of the 20th century, actor James Maitland “Jimmy” Stewart (1908-1997) was one of Hollywood’s most popular leading men. Stewart, who was often called upon to embody characters who exhibited a strong moral center, won acclaim for films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Vertigo (1958), and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). In all, he made more than 80 movies. Take a look at some things you might not know about Stewart’s personal and professional lives.

1. Jimmy Stewart had a degree in architecture.

Acting was not James Stewart’s only area of expertise. Growing up in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where his father owned a hardware store, Stewart had an artistic bent with an interest in music and earned his way into his father’s alma mater, Princeton University. There, he received a degree in architecture in 1932. But pursuing that career seemed tenuous, as the country was in the midst of the Great Depression. Instead, Stewart decided to follow his interest in acting, joining a theater group in Falmouth, Massachusetts after graduating and rooming with fellow aspiring actor Henry Fonda. After a brief turn on Broadway, he landed a contract with MGM for motion picture work. His film debut, as a cub reporter in The Murder Man, was released in 1935.

2. Jimmy Stewart gorged himself on food so he could serve the country in World War II.

Colonel James Stewart leaves Southampton on board the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth, bound for home in 1945.
Express/Getty Images

Stewart was already established in Hollywood when the United States began preparing to enter World War II. After the draft was introduced in 1940, Stewart received notice that he was number 310 out of a pool of 900,000 annual citizens selected for service. The problem? Stewart was six foot, three inches and a trim 138 pounds—five pounds under the minimum weight for enlistment. So he went home, ate everything he could, and came back to weigh in again. It worked, and Stewart joined the Army Air Corps, later known as the Air Force.

3. Jimmy Stewart demanded to see combat in the war.

Thanks to his interest in aviation, Stewart was already a pilot when he went to war; he received additional flight training but wound up being sidelined for two years stateside even though he kept insisting he be sent overseas to fight. (He filmed a recruitment short film, Winning Your Wings, in 1942, which was screened in theaters in the hopes it could drive enlistment.) Finally, in November 1943, he was dispatched to England, where he participated in more than 20 combat missions over Germany. His accomplishments earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf clusters, among other honors, making him the most decorated actor to participate in the conflict. After the war ended, he returned to a welcome reception in his hometown of Indiana, Pennsylvania, where his father had decorated the courthouse to recognize his son’s service. His next major film role was It’s a Wonderful Life.

4. Jimmy Stewart kept his Oscar in a very unusual place.

After winning an Academy Award for The Philadelphia Story in 1940, Stewart heard from his father, Alex Stewart. “I hear you won some kind of award,” he told his son. “What was it, a plaque or something?” The elder Stewart suggested he bring it back home to display in the hardware store. The actor did as suggested, and the Oscar remained there for 25 years.

5. Jimmy Stewart starred in two television shows.

Actor James Stewart is pictured in uniform
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

After a long career in film through the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, Stewart turned to television. In 1971, he played a college anthropology professor in The Jimmy Stewart Show. The series failed to find an audience, however, so was short-lived. He tried again with Hawkins in 1973, playing a defense lawyer, but that show was also canceled. (Stewart also performed in commercials, including spots for Firestone tires and Campbell’s Soup.)

6. Jimmy Stewart hated one version of It’s a Wonderful Life.

While Stewart had just as much affection for It’s a Wonderful Life as audiences, one alternate version of the film annoyed him. In 1987, he sent a letter to Congress protesting the practice of colorizing It's a Wonderful Life and other films on the premise that it violated what directors like Frank Capra had intended. He described the tinted version as “a bath of Easter egg dye.” Putting a character named Violet in violet-colored costumes, he wrote, was “the kind of obvious visual pun that Frank Capra never would have considered.” Stewart later lobbied against the practice in person.

7. Jimmy Stewart published a book of poetry.

In 1989, Stewart authored Jimmy Stewart and His Poems, a slim volume collecting several of the actor’s verses. Stewart also included anecdotes about how each one was composed. His best known might be “Beau,” about his late dog, which Stewart read to Johnny Carson during a Tonight Show appearance in 1981. By the end, both Stewart and Carson were teary-eyed.

8. Jimmy Stewart has a statue in his hometown.

For Stewart’s 75th birthday in 1983, his hometown of Indiana, Pennsylvania honored him with a 9-foot-tall bronze statue. Unfortunately, the statue wasn’t totally ready in time for Stewart’s visit, so they presented him with the fiberglass version instead. The bronze statue currently stands in front of the county courthouse, while the fiberglass version was moved into the nearby Jimmy Stewart Museum.

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