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Thursday 29 March 2012

Chronological Snobbery

I’ve got another letter in this month’s Fortean Times! This one touches on a favourite hobby horse of mine, “chronological snobbery” – the widespread belief that people of the past were intrinsically inferior to people of the present. An example of this is the smug assertion that “people were much smaller in the old days”, as discussed by Mat Coward in the 150th instalment of his Mythconceptions column (FT284, February 2012). One piece of evidence often put forward to support this is the short length of the four-poster beds you see in English Stately Homes (“Gosh, these people had all that wealth and power, yet they were shorter than I am!”). The fallacy of this, as my letter in FT287 points out, is that people used to sleep propped up on pillows against the headboard rather than lying flat. The picture sort of illustrates my point (I know the people in the bed aren’t sleeping, but it was the best I could find).

There was another sentence in my letter that didn’t make it into print: “People often point out that King Charles the First was a very short person, at just five foot four... but they neglect to mention that his grandmother, Mary Queen of Scots, was five foot eleven!”

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