Episode 97 - Freemasons in Comedy Breasts (Coups Week)
• Robert, Whales
• Ryan, "fel rhech mewn pot jam" which literally translates as "Like a fart in a jam jar"
• We had a chat with Amy about a PHD
• Turtalie, there were 3 Colonel Sanders’s in the Civil War
• Hinstogram; thanks for the great feedback
• Elly Heney If you guys gave me a shout out I would do a victory lap of my local supermarket wearing only a placard reading "Vitruvius is a boring shithead". With photographic evidence. Also, Merry Christmas.
So it turns out coups aren’t particularly amusing. I couldn’t find any inherently funny coups from the annals of history, no usurpation of power by a collection of conniving nobles with flatulence.
No parliaments being stormed by heavily armed Jimmy Saville impersonators. “Now then, now then, now then, we’re seizing power, er-er-er-er-er…, lovely, lovely, little King here wrote to me asking if I could come along and execute him, we’ll Jim is here to fix it for you.”
No Emperors being murdered by Laurel and Hardy, “et tu Stan?” (I know Caesar wasn’t and Emperor by the way). “That’s another fine assassination we’ve gotten ourselves into!”
I think it’s worth defining coup, because if you use a loose definition, pretty much every transfer of power through the medieval period was a coup. It’s basically a rapid, significant, forced transfer of power. So not a revolution, that’s the same thing but over a prolonged period, it’s not an invasion, that implies a foreign power being involved, it’s not a succession dispute, that suggests that the parties involved were always in the running for power, so the change of power isn’t significant.
I ended up deciding to research a king who’s ended with a rather sneaky coup, because the story is interesting and it’s from a period of history that we haven’t discussed before in this podcast, so it’s a bit different. I’m going to talk about the Visigoth King Wamba, more specifically, King Wamba V, also known as Wamba number 5.
A little bit of the Visigoths sacking Rome
A little bit of Atilla the Hun finding a new home
A little bit of the Vandals in North Africa
A little bit of the Alans joining them there
A little bit of Ostrogoths controlling Italy
A little bit of Angles, Saxons and Jutes in the North Sea
Edward Gibbon suck my balls.
The bit about Wamba V? That’s not historically accurate, King Wamba was the one and only Wamba, and he wasn’t a fish, a fish called Wamba, he was a man. Okay, that’s everything I’ve got for his name.
There’s also a character from Sir Walter Scott’s book Ivanhoe called Wamba; he’s a court jester.
Before I tell you about the coups that ended King Wamba’s reign, we’d better do history. Who was the Visigoths?
So we’re talking about a tricky period in European history here. This is the decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire and the rise of the Byzantine Empire and a number of Germanic kingdoms. In the 5th century AD, the Roman Empire came under a huge pressure from Germanic tribes on its Eastern European border, so think of the area of Europe beyond an imaginary line drawn from the North Sea to the Baltic. The reasons for this pressure are manifold and much debated. Regardless, the Germanic tribes ended up pushing into Roman territory. The Goths, who evolved into the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, ended up migrating down from Scandinavia to the area known as Dacia, so an area of land east of the Black Sea, around modern day Romania. During the late 4th century, when the Goths split into Visigoths and Ostrogoths, both tribes were pressed by the Huns and Alans in the East, the Alans were particularly ferocious, but not as terrible as the Trevors and the Nigels. The Visigoths asked Rome if they could settle within the boundaries of the Empire, once given permission, the Visigoths quite quickly went pillaging and raiding, the Romans also gave them quite a hard time and expected them to pay for being in the Empire. It was basically a relationship where neither party was trying too hard to make it work. The Visigoths ended up in revolt, they fought a Roman army in 378 at the Battle of Adrianople and gave the Romans a good hiding, killing the Emperor Valens in the process.
Despite this victory, the Romans managed to keep the Visigoths stuck next to the Black Sea. In return for the land, they were expected to hold the Roman frontier. Anyway, in 395, Alaric becomes the leader of the Visigoths, he fights as a general for Rome for a bit, and then also fights against Rome. Eventually, he gets a bit fed up with the Romans and marches the Visigoths through Greece, through the Balkans, into Italy and sacks Rome in 410. The Visigoths then settle in Southern Gaul for a while before ending up in Spain in 415. The Visigoth Kingdom at its largest spread from Spain through to Gaul. They lost most of Gaul to the Franks in 507 and they lasted a further 200 years until the Muslims/Umayyads turned up in 711.
Wamba was king of the Visigoths from 672 to 680. His predecessor was Recceswinth. When he died, everyone stood around asking “who wants to be king then?” Nobody raised their hand, but everyone pointed at Wamba. Wamba looked away sheepishly, picked up an ornament from mantelpiece and pretended to examine it whilst whistled to himself awkwardly. “Oh, what? Me?”
Wamba tried his hardest to not become king, pointing out that he was too old for all this riding around leading armies into battle, it was a young man’s game. Wamba was apparently quite old. Anyway, eventually Wamba gave in and became King, largely because another nobleman said do it or I’ll kill you. During his coronation, a bee buzzed around his head and then pissed off. Apparently this was a good omen.
Things started well for Wamba, he put down a rebellion in the north of the Kingdom when a governor of Nimes revolted. The man who Wamba sent to defeat him joined him, so Wamba had to sort both of them out, which he did. After that, he defeated some Saracens on the south coast.
Fast forward, to the end of Wamba’s reign and a fantastically sneaky coup. There are two main conspirators, a young nobleman called Ervig in the Visigoth Court who was desirous of power and a chap called Julian of Toledo, the bishop of Toledo, a religious man with aspirations himself.
Wamba appears to have been a pretty good king. He’d been successful on the battlefield, as I mentioned and in doing so he’s strengthened the position of the Visigoth crown, he’d also overseen civil building works, particularly in Toledo. However, it is likely that he got on the wrong side of the bishops. For one, he expected all men in the Kingdom to fight if they were needed, including religious men and nobles. King Wamba felt that the Visigoths had become soft and lost their warlike streak that had helped them create a kingdom. He thought they’d become a big bunch of softy-woftys. Nothing unusual there through history. Marauding hard nuts see the civilisation in Europe, think, that looks nice, I’ll have that. They pinch it, enjoy it, get fat and lazy and then the next wave of marauding hard nuts turn up. You gotta stay hungry Sam!
Wamba also intervened in ecclesiastical affairs in other areas.
On October 14th 680, Wamba fell ill. As it turns out, Ervig spiked Wamba’s drink with a herb called spartus, in a plot that probably involved Julian the Bishop of Toledo. Wamba became very drowsy, lost his memory and was just generally acting in a way not befitting of a King. It appeared that he was on his death bed. The bells rang throughout Toledo. His bishops and loyal nobles came to his bedside, with Julian at the fore, and it was decided that he should receive penance to ready him for death. Apparently Wamba wished to die dressed like a monk to improve his chances of getting into heaven.
“Hello everyone, I’m Saint Peter, and I’ll be processing your heaven applications today, so please line up, come forward one at a time and speak clearly and we’ll get through as many of you as we can!”
“But Sir, my friend here, died eating superglue, he can’t talk.”
“And my mate’s face got blown off!”
The unconscious king was taken to the Praetorian Basilica of Peter and Paul, he had his head shaved and was dressed in a monks robe. As he was taken back to his residence in Toledo, he started to come around, still groggy, and was encouraged to sign a document handing over power to Ervig, and to do so very quickly.
Within a week, Wamba had fully recovered and found out that he’d been done like a kipper. Not only had he signed the documents, not only had Ervig been crowned, but according to Visigoth law, Wamba could no longer be king because of the act of penance. In addition, the act of penance could not be performed twice, so Wamba needed to steer clear of naughty behaviour so going back to being a king wasn’t a good idea.
A few months later at the 12th Council of Toledo, Ervig was formally recognised as King. For his part in the plot, Julian did well. At this same council, the diocese of Toledo, his diocese, was made the primary one in Spain. Julian also forced Ervig to push through a number of laws making life very difficult for Jews, because Julian seemed to have it in for Jews big-time.
So Wamba and retired to a monastery where he lived for the rest of his days. It’s unclear whether he was happy with this. He never really wanted to be king anyway, and apparently was quite an old codger at this point, on the other hand, he had been stitched right up! I reckon he was pissed off that he was no longer in a big castle eating the finest venison and drinking booze to his heart’s content.
Now a little aside to finish regarding Saint Giles, the patron saint of cripples, and apparently, breast-feeding, cancer, anything else to do with being sick, and Edinburgh. He is usually pictured with a deer too. Why am I mentioning him? Well, it’s because apparently one day King Wamba was out hunting in the woods of Southern Gaul. He came across a deer and pursued the deer into a cave where poor old Saint Giles was praying merrily. As it turns out, Giles was living in this cave off deer milk, presumably willingly given. Wamba didn’t know that Giles was there and shot an arrow at the deer. The arrow missed and hit Giles in the leg, causing a permanent disability. Wamba had his doctors sort Giles out and he offered to build a monastery as an apology, but Giles refused. Instead, Wamba founded a monastery in Giles’s name. Giles later became one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, a crack commando unit sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Vatican underground. Today, still wanted by the government they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them....maybe you can hire Fourteen Holy Helpers.
In comes a limping St Giles smoking a big cigar
Yes, these Holy Helpers are apparently really good ones. Their intercession is supposed to be particularly effective. If Saints were medical interventions to combat COVID, these guys would be the vaccines, the other Saints are just beetroot juice, or mistletoe essence, or apple cider vinegar.