Historical impostors: false kings, princes, kings

Since ancient times, adventurers of all stripes have tried to impersonate someone else in order to use a big name for the sake of fame and fortune. Some raised uprisings to achieve their goal, others acted more subtly, but few people sought wealth and power.

The emergence of a self-styled contender for power required a combination of three factors. First, power was to be concentrated in the hands of one ruler, usually a monarch. Secondly, the state had to be big enough - it is difficult to impersonate someone whom every dog ​​knows by sight. And thirdly, the "original" must die so that there remains a chance of his "miraculous salvation."


Attempts to impersonate someone else were undertaken in ancient times. The first impostors appeared in Babylon and Persia. Repeatedly dubious characters passed themselves off as relatives and descendants of tsars. Some of them even achieved short-term success, but still this was more the exception than the rule. For example, in 522 BC. NS. in Babylonia, a revolt arose against the Persians.

It was headed by the alleged son of the last Babylonian king Nabonidus, who died with his entire family after the invasion of the Persians under very mysterious circumstances. A man who called himself Nebuchadnezzar III stirred up the whole of Babylonia, raised a mutiny, but could not resist the army of the Persian ruler Darius I. He defeated the rebel army, and impaled the self-proclaimed king.


In ancient Greece, the small size of the city-states made it difficult for impostors to roam. This continued until the time of Alexander the Great. After the death of the great commander, his associates began to carve up the lands they had seized. One of them, Ptolemy, chose Egypt. There, in order to strengthen his right to power, he declared that his mother was the mistress of Philip the Great, Alexander's father. Someone doubted, someone believed, but a certain portrait resemblance, judging by the sculptures and bas-reliefs, was true.

In Rome, unlike Greece, there were all the prerequisites for the flourishing of imposture: firstly, power was concentrated in the hands of the emperor, secondly, the empire was huge, and thirdly, the rulers often died so that their death was difficult to confirm. These circumstances came together in 68, when, after a military riot, Emperor Nero committed suicide. The first impostor, who declared himself a miraculously escaped emperor, appeared in the same year in Greece. This is no coincidence: the Greeks sincerely mourned the death of Nero, who granted them strong tax breaks. The Greeks easily believed in the miraculous salvation of the emperor. False Nero even managed to win over some of the soldiers stationed in Greece to his side, but Roman agents managed to convince several of the impostor's companions that the emperor was not the real one, and those, insulted in the best of feelings, killed him.

The second impostor, posing as Nero, went to Parthia, whose king at the time was very dissatisfied with the policies of Rome. Historians wrote that the second false Nero was very similar to the depictions of the late emperor, and played the cithara as well as the real Nero. The Parthian king, in order to annoy Rome, was going to support the impostor. However, the Imperial ambassadors presented overwhelming evidence that "Nero" was a swindler named Terentius Maximus. To avoid an even greater diplomatic scandal, the Parthian king executed the adventurer.


The third impostor appeared twenty years later, and the least information about him has been preserved. Only the Roman historian Suetonius briefly mentions that someone posing as Nero again tried to incite the Parthians into a conflict with Rome. The matter was settled in the same way as last time.

In the Middle Ages, imposture became much more common. So, in 1175 in Norway, the priest Sverrir declared himself the son of King Sigurd II, who had died twenty years earlier. At first, he was supported by only seventy supporters. In less than a year, Sverrir transformed his "band of robbers" into a real army that successfully fought the army of King Magnus V. Four years later, the troops of the former priest were victorious.

The ruler of Norway was forced to divide the country, giving half of it to Sverrir. Peace lasted only until 1181, when Magnus's soldiers treacherously attacked the former priest's possessions. A new war began, during which Sverrir defeated his opponent. On June 15, 1184, Sverrir Sigurdsson unified all of Norway and became its sovereign king.

Many impostors also appeared in medieval France. On November 15, 1315, the newborn John I was declared her king, who died five days later and remained in the chronicles as John I the Posthumous. This convenient material has attracted more than one adventurer. Thirty years later, several people of dubious origin declared at once that they were “miraculously surviving” John. By that time, no one was up to the resurrected kings, and most of these adventurers died in dungeons.

Not everyone posed as crowned heads. In 1436, a woman appeared in Lorraine who claimed that she was the real Joan of Arc, that someone else was burned at the stake instead. She was recognized by her associates and even relatives of the Maid of Orleans, she married a wealthy nobleman and began to be called Jeanne des Armoise. The alarmed Inquisition claimed that she was an impostor, and during one of the interrogations in 1440 from des Armoise they drew a confession that she had taken the name d'Arc. This did not in any way affect the honor and respect that "Jeanne des Armoise, Virgin of France" enjoyed for many years until her death. Who this woman really was, historians still argue.

In England, in difficult times, its own impostors also appeared. The enemies of Henry VII, using the popular story of the two princes imprisoned in the Tower, faked the appearance of one of them "miraculously escaped". Young Lambert Simnel from Oxford in 1487, on the orders of the opponents of the king, impersonated Edward Warwick. They even managed to crown him in Dublin under the name of Edward VI, but in the first major battle the rebels were defeated, and the impostor was captured. Heinrich realized that the ten-year-old boy was just a pawn in someone else's game, saved his life and appointed him a personal lackey. The king more than once joked that he was served by the one who was crowned by the Irish.

Another impostor posed as Richard Shrewsbury, the second prince of the Tower, and appeared in 1490 in Burgundy. Flemish Perkin Warbeck sought support from the rulers of France and the Holy Roman Empire, but except for the King of Scotland, no one agreed to give him military assistance. As a result, the troops of the impostor were defeated, and he himself was captured and sent to the Tower, where, possibly, he met with the prince whom he claimed to be. Soon there was a denunciation that Warbeck was preparing to escape and wanted to set fire to the Tower. To avoid this, at the end of November 1499, the false Richard was hanged.


In 1578, something happened in Portugal, even unusual at that time. King Sebastian I, who imagined himself the hero of a chivalric romance, decided to free Morocco from Muslims and annex it to Portugal. There, in a battle with the Moors, the 24-year-old king died, and his body was buried somewhere in the desert. With his death, the royal dynasty ended, and Portugal fell into dependence on Spain.

The common people believed that the king survived, that in the darkest hour for the country he would return and save everyone. Doubtful persons could not but take advantage of this legend. Over the next 60 years, as many as four impostors arose, claiming that they were the miraculously surviving Sebastians. They all ended badly: three were executed, and the fourth, somehow persuaded the court to show leniency. He was sent by a rower to the galleys, from where he escaped safely. The lesson did him good, and he never got involved in such adventures again. This story became so famous that when the Pope was informed about the appearance in distant Russia of "the miraculously escaped Tsarevich Dmitry", the pontiff put a resolution on the report: "This will be another Portuguese king" ...

It would seem that with the invention of printing and the appearance of newspapers, the number of impostors should decrease - after all, portraits of rulers began to be published in mass circulation. However, it turned out quite differently. In modern times, the number of those who tried to impersonate kings, emperors and other monarchs only increased ...


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