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11 Monarchs Crowned While They Were in Diapers

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Babies sure are cute. But do they make good world leaders? Here’s a peek at some of history’s youngest rulers and their reigns.

1. King Oyo (Toro Kingdom, Uganda)

In 1995, Oyo became the youngest monarch in the world. He was three years old. When the coronation ceremony began, the toddler slid off the throne, ran away, and hid in his mother’s lap. Nowadays, he sits more comfortably. He rules the Toro Kingdom, a southwestern patch of Uganda that 2 million people call home. The 20-year-old oversees a cabinet and is advised by Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni.

2. Emperor Puyi (China)

China’s last emperor was one of its youngest: In 1908, Puyi became emperor at two years old. When the crowning ceremony began, Puyi (standing next to his father) had to be carried to the throne by his father. The king-to-be was scared, and he kicked, clawed, and cried the entire time. When Puyi was six years old, a revolution erupted and the Chinese dynasty crumbled.

3. Pomare III (Tahiti)

Some babies shake rattles. Others shake up politics. Pomare III did both: he became King of Tahiti at 17 months. His mother acted as his regent, but the little king didn’t last. He died at the age of five from an unknown disease and was succeeded by his 14-year-old sister.

4. Henry VI (England)

Henry VI was the bouncing baby king of not one, but two countries. In 1422, an eight-month-old Henry became England’s youngest King. Two months later, he became France’s King. He didn’t keep the latter title for long. By 1429, Joan of Arc had helped the French take the country back. England eventually lost the Hundred Years’ War, and Henry literally went insane. When he recovered, the War of the Roses erupted, and Henry landed on the losing side again. When he was 43, Henry was locked away in the Tower of London, where he eventually died.

5. Sobhuza II (Swaziland)

Sobhuza II became King of Swaziland before he could take his first step: the tyke was crowned when he was four months old. He’d keep the job for 82 years. Sobhuza II saw Swaziland gain its independence from Britain in 1968. That same year, he helped write a constitution, which he ditched in 1973. He became an absolute ruler and left behind almost 70 wives when he died.

6. Emperor Shang of Han (China)

There you are. Standing in line at the supermarket, stuck behind that mother who incessantly babbles about her child. It’s the world’s most perfect baby, she says. It will become the next Einstein, she says. It’s a pooping prodigy, she says. Well, if you’re ever cornered at register number four, just shush her by saying, “Did you know Shang of Han became Emperor of China when he was barely 100 days old? He ruled an entire country before he had any teeth!” Sure, Shang ruled for only one year before his 12-year-old cousin took over, but his resume is still more impressive than that of any supermarket super-child.

7. Tsar Ivan VI (Russia)

When he was two months old, Ivan VI was crowned Tsar of Russia. And it was all downhill from there. Ivan and his regents held power for just one year before Elizaveta Petrovna deposed them in 1741. Ivan spent 20 years in solitary confinement, moving from fortress to fortress. When Ivan was 23, he was murdered by his jail guards.

8. Mary Queen of Scots

Mary’s reign was sandwiched between two baby Kings. Her father, James, was 17 months old when he was crowned King. Her son, also James, was 13 months old when he became the Scottish ruler. Mary, however, beat them both: She became Queen of Scotland when she was six days old. Unfortunately, she was forced to hand over the Scottish crown to her son when she was only 25.

9. John I of France

John I became King of France the day he was born (his father had died four months earlier, in July 1316). Unfortunately, John’s reign was one of the shortest in history: he died five days later. His Uncle Philip, who served as regent, took over the throne. Some suspect that Philip poisoned the infant king.

10. Alfonso XIII of Spain

Alfonso XIII was born May 17, 1886. That same day, he became Spain’s King. Despite having his entire childhood to practice, Alfonso never became a good ruler. During his reign, Spain lost its last colonies, it became overrun by a military dictator, and the monarchy dissolved. Alfonso abdicated his rights to the crown in 1941 after Francisco Franco assumed control.

11. Shah Shapur II (Sassanid Empire)

Legend has it that in year 309, Persian nobles placed a crown upon the belly of King Hormizd II’s widow. Inside was history’s first fetal king: Shah Shapur II. The in utero ruler was the ninth leader of the Sassanid Empire, a powerful Persian kingdom covering modern Iran. Shapur II ruled for 70 years. In the late 4th century, he successfully ousted Christianity from the Middle East.

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P.G. Wodehouse's Exile from England
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You don’t get more British than Jeeves and Wooster. The P.G. Wodehouse characters are practically synonymous with elevenses and Pimm’s. But in 1947, their creator left England for the U.S. and never looked back.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, better known as P.G., was living in northern France and working on his latest Jeeves and Wooster novel, Joy in the Morning, when the Nazis came knocking. They occupied his estate for a period of time before shipping him off to an internment camp in Germany, which he later said he found pretty pleasant:

“Everybody seems to think a German internment camp must be a sort of torture chamber. It was really perfectly normal and ordinary. The camp had an extraordinarily nice commander, and we did all sorts of things, you know. We played cricket, that sort of thing. Of course, I was writing all the time.”

Wodehouse was there for 11 months before being suddenly released to a hotel in Berlin where a man from the German foreign office named Werner Plack was waiting to meet him. Wodehouse was somewhat acquainted with Plack from a stint in Hollywood, so finding him waiting didn't seem out of the ordinary. Plack advised Wodehouse to use his time in the internment camp to his advantage, and suggested writing a radio series about his experiences to be broadcast in America.

As Plack probably suspected, Wodehouse’s natural writing style meant that his broadcasts were light-hearted affairs about playing cricket and writing novels, This didn’t sit too well with the British, who believed Wodehouse was trying to downplay the horrors of the war. The writer was shocked when MI5 subjected him to questioning about the “propaganda” he wrote for the Germans. "I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions," he told them in 1944. "I would like to conclude by saying that I never had any intention of assisting the enemy and that I have suffered a great deal of mental pain as the result of my action."

Wodehouse's contemporary George Orwell came to his aid, penning a 1945 an essay called “In Defense of P.G. Wodehouse." Sadly, it didn’t do much to sway public opinion. Though MI5 ultimately decided not to prosecute, it seemed that British citizens had already made up their minds, with some bookstores and libraries even removing all Wodehouse material from their shelves. Seeing the writing on the wall, the author and his wife packed up all of their belongings and moved to New York in 1947. They never went back to England.

But that’s not to say Wodehouse didn’t want to. In 1973, at the age of 91, he expressed interest in returning. “I’d certainly like to, but at my age it’s awfully difficult to get a move on. But I’d like to go back for a visit in the spring. They all seem to want me to go back. The trouble is that I’ve never flown. I suppose that would solve everything."

Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack before he could make the trip. But the author bore no ill will toward his native country. When The Paris Review interviewed Wodehouse in 1973, they asked if he resented the way he was treated by the English. “Oh, no, no, no. Nothing of that sort. The whole thing seems to have blown over now,” he said.  He was right—the Queen bestowed Wodehouse with a knighthood two months before his death, showing that all was forgiven.

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Mata Hari: Famous Spy or Creative Storyteller?
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Nearly everyone has heard of Mata Hari, one of the most cunning and seductive spies of all-time. Except that statement isn't entirely true. Cunning and seductive, yes. Spy? Probably not. 

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was the eldest daughter of a hat store owner who was quite wealthy thanks to some savvy oil investments.  When her mother died, her father remarried and shuffled his children off to various relatives. To escape, an 18-year-old Margaretha answered an ad in the paper that might have read something like this: "Dutch Colonial Army Captain Seeks Wife. Compatibility not important. Must not mind blatant infidelity or occasional beatings."

She had two children with Captain Rudolf MacLeod, but they did nothing to improve the marriage. He brazenly kept a mistress and a concubine; she moved in with another officer. Again, probably looking to escape her miserable existence, Margaretha spent her time in Java (where the family had relocated for Captain MacLeod's job) becoming part of the culture, learning all about the dance and even earning a dance name bestowed upon her by the locals—"Mata Hari," which meant "eye of the day" or "sun."

Her son died after being poisoned by an angry servant (so the MacLeods believed).

Margaretha divorced her husband, lost custody of her daughter and moved to Paris to start a new life for herself in 1903. Calling upon the dance skills she had learned in Java, the newly restyled Mata Hari became a performer, starting with the circus and eventually working her way up to exotic dancer. 

To make herself seem more mysterious and interesting, Mata Hari told people her mother was a Javanese princess who taught her everything she knew about the sacred religious dances she performed. The dances were almost entirely in the nude.

Thanks to her mostly-nude dancing and tantalizing background story, she was a hot commodity all over Europe. During WWI, this caught the attention of British Intelligence, who brought her in and demanded to know why she was constantly traipsing across the continent. Under interrogation, she apparently told them she was a spy for France—that she used her job as an exotic dancer to coerce German officers to give her information, which she then supplied back to French spymaster Georges Ladoux. No one could verify these claims and Mata Hari was released.

Not too long afterward, French intelligence intercepted messages that mentioned H-21, a spy who was performing remarkably well. Something in the messages reminded the French officers of Mata Hari's tale and they arrested her at her hotel in Paris on February 13, 1917, under suspicion of being a double agent.

Mata Hari repeatedly denied all involvement in any spying for either side. Her captors didn't believe her story, and perhaps wanting to make an example of her, sentenced her to death by firing squad. She was shot to death 100 years ago today, on October 15, 1917.

In 1985, one of her biographers convinced the French government to open their files on Mata Hari. He says the files contained not one shred of evidence that she was spying for anyone, let alone the enemy. Whether the story she originally told British intelligence was made up by them or by her to further her sophisticated and exotic background is anyone's guess. 

Or maybe she really was the ultimate spy and simply left no evidence in her wake.

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