10 Can We Trust History?


Here I want to make one simple point. Always think carefully before you believe the things you are told. This is just one reason why.

Whenever you read a book about history always remember it was the “the winners” of the time who had it written down. So we get to read only the version they wanted us to read. So we have to be careful when we read and decide what really happened.

As an example let’s take a look at Charles I who was on the throne from 1625-1649 at which point he had his head cut off by Oliver Cromwell.
Have you ever noticed that our kings, queens and rich people from history had their portraits painted in days when there were no cameras and they all look so healthy? We know their diet was awful, particularly in winter. There were no fridges or freezers and no tinned food. We also know they had terrible skin conditions due to a variety of factors, not least of which was the popularity of putting poisonous lead powder on their faces to make them look pure white in colour.
So let’s consider what it was like to be a famous artist at that time, Anthony van Dyck.
The example (shown below) is by van Dyck and everybody should take a long hard look at it and put themselves in the shoes of the artist who was asked by Charles I to make him look royally glorious, whilst sitting on the back of a magnificent white horse.
Unfortunately, Charles was short for a man (just over 5ft or 1.63m) so it was an extremely difficult task for this gifted artist. The size of the horse naturally made the king look small, which of course he was! The painter had two thoughts. Firstly, upsetting the king is not a good idea. Secondly, if he could do a good job in making the king look like a well-built and inspirational leader then he would get even more famous people wanting him to paint them. So now t
ake a look at the painting and bear in mind the artist has not been told to “tell the truth” but simply to make the king look magnificent and proud.
In this particular case the artist decided the answer was to make the horse’s head look impossibly small and hopefully do it in such a way that people did not notice. So, now take another look. Have you ever seen a horse with such a small head? I know I haven’t. BUT the deception works, as Charles does not look insignificant, which compared to this wonderful animal, we know he certainly was!
Now consider all other such portraits of history with skin complexion in particular being a real problem. Just marvel at how history has been “fiddled” by the artists of the day who all wanted to please the rich people by hiding any sores, boils and warts on an individual’s face.


It is worth noting that after Charles I had his head chopped by Oliver Cromwell for a short time history changed. Oliver Cromwell became world famous for being the only known famous person of the day to ask an artist to paint him “warts and all”, which he then did. It would be a good idea to look up this painting and play “Spot The Wart”. In that one fact, we can see the difference between the Roundheads of Cromwell and The Cavaliers of Charles I.

A second, larger painting of Charles I is next . This time Charles I is simply standing. BUT – take particular notice of the artist’s latest “trick” to make him look tall and proud. Notice how impossibly thick and large is the arm that is facing the front of the painting compared to his “normal” second arm in the background. This makes him look tall and proud whilst standing next to another magnificent horse, which (guess what?) just happens to be bowing down its head to make it look smaller.



In fact millions of people over the centuries have looked at these paintings and not noticed the artist’s tricks. Van Dyck felt very proud of this. We certainly know Charles I was happy because he kept van Dyck as a painter.
Below is another example (by Van Dyck) of Charles I on a stallion whilst making the king look big. By now you will know how it is done.



Finally, to prove that Van Dyck was very good at what he did, included below is a painting he was later asked to do of Louis XIV of France who was exactly the same height as Charles I of England. The same “trick” is used.

Louis XIV


Where does this take us? The answer is simple. We must never judge any situation or (most importantly) any one person too quickly. There is usually far more going on that we need to know. So we must learn to tread carefully through life in case we are fooled into thinking the wrong thing about something or someone.

Finally, you might like to know that some very famous artists made a lot of money by being able to fool us into thinking the wrong thing. It seems people really can be that gullible. I do hope you won’t be like that. One of the most famous was Max Escher. If you look at the picture below and move on without taking a second look he believed he had won a little battle in making you think the impossible is somehow normal. Take a look at this one called “The Waterfall”.


After a second look you should be able to see something different. Please just remember one thing, people too are always worth a second look.