Saladin

Saladin, or صلاح الدين يوسف بن أيوب as his mother called him, was as nice as you can get while still killing people (if you asked Sir Walter Scott, at least). He once bought back a baby lost by a Frankish woman with money from his own pocket. He only massacred civilians in response to his enemies doing the same, which is what is called chivalry.

Saladin was born in 1137 in what is now Tikrit, Iraq, but raised in Damascus. Growing up, he was more interested in religion than the military, but you’d be surprised how well the two complement each other. He fought both Christians and Muslims in the Middle East, depending on who needed the most correction. (Part of his religious correction included who would be the ruler of the known world. It was him.)

Saladin was soon recognized as Sultan of Egypt and Syria, and set to kicking about the Crusaders around Palestine properly. They harassed each other’s pilgrims, besieged each other’s cities, and executed each other’s commanders (War) until Saladin captured Jerusalem and shocked all by allowing poor Frank civilians to leave without paying the ransom they couldn’t have afforded.

Richard I of England later arrived, executing 3000 Muslim men, women, and children in the siege of Acre, for which Saladin declared “there was not a more noble Christian lord” than he, subsequently killing thousands of Frank prisoners. Richard responded that Saladin was clearly the greatest leader in the Muslim world. Mutual respect is worth something, just not lives.

Saladin died in 1193 of a fever. He was a generous man, saying “the most miserable rulers are those whose purses are fat and their people thin.” This is why he died without enough money to pay for his own funeral. He didn’t think you could take it with you and didn’t try.

The life of Saladin tells us that chivalry is all relative.

Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I was famous for her non-disastrous rule over England. Born in 1533 as yet another non-male heir to Henry VIII, Elizabeth’s status proved a problem to herself and others. When she was fourteen, the first of many suitors tried to secure the throne for themselves by getting into her proverbial pants. He lost his head. Some relatives took to the throne between her father’s death and her ascension, but were without male issue. (It’s difficult to produce a male heir after you’re dead, by all accounts.) Elizabeth became queen at twenty-five.

One of the first orders of business for Elizabeth was to sort out what religion she (and by extension, everyone else) was. She took her father’s excuse for a divorce and turned it into an organized faith. As head of the new Protestant Church of England, historians have praised her for not killing all of the Catholics.

During her reign, Elizabeth was expected to marry Lord Robert Dudley, Philip II of Spain, Archduke Charles of Austria, Duke Henry of Anjou, and Duke Francis of Alençon, among others. Some made the best of the situation by depicting her as a virgin goddess. This would have surprised her lovers. On occasion she would address all her people as “her husbands”, which wasn’t seen as inappropriate.

Elizabeth proved England’s military might by having a storm sink the invading Spanish Armada. Otherwise, her Dutch expedition floundered and she lacked control over Protestant actions in France. She oversaw the slaughter of women and children during the campaign in the “rude and barbarous nation” of Ireland, though, which is a success of sorts.

As the years went on, Elizabeth went from “most eligible bachelorette” to “least fooling anybody with that make-up”. She was half-bald and scarred with smallpox, which didn’t hide well except for in portraits. Her courtiers still praised her beauty, but when you start preferring dark rooms to light, you probably know something is up.

Elizabeth I’s reign was alright, I guess. She played it safe, and most of the hallmarks of the “Elizabethan Era” weren’t her responsibility. Some people can be pleased just by not becoming Spanish.

Hatepshut

Hatepshut was so wild over monuments that she put her name on all of them. She was the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Ancient Egypt, and liked to be called king just so no one thought she was joking around.  Born 1508 BC, she was married to her half-brother Thutmose II to strengthen his legitimacy, being twice as royal as him.  As is so often the case, this arrangement ended in a mysterious death, and Hatepshut became pharaoh.

Egypt was still struggling out a the mess left by the Hyksos, a group of foreign rulers, and pharaohs like the Thutmoses hadn’t helped much.  Hatepshut sent an expedition to the land of Punt, bringing back important trade goods such as myrrh trees and Puntites.  More importantly, Egypt was still looking pretty shabby, and Hatepshut set out on a beautification project.

Hatepshut produced so many statues that most Western museums have managed to steal something of hers.  Don’t let the beards fool you; they were probably just for show.  Kings had beards and Hatepshut was king so Hatepshut had to have a beard.  We still get to see her feminine side in some candid statuary.

Hatepshut spent about twenty years having temples and obelisks and sundries built with inscriptions describing how super she was.  It wasn’t abnormal for pharaohs to applaud themselves on their monuments; she just had more writing material.  By the time she died, she’d linked herself to most major gods and goddesses and left little space for anyone else to inscribe anything.

Thutmose II’s son Thutmose III tried his best to chisel Hatepshut off of her monuments after he ascended to the throne, but he didn’t do a very good job, leaving obvious Hatepshut-shaped holes in their place.  If you see one of these holes, you’ll know at least two people who’ll have been there.