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9 Excessive Weddings To Which We Weren't Invited

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There's lots to consider when planning a wedding: dresses, cakes, bands, halls...all of which can add up to a hefty bill for the parents of the bride (or, in some cultures, the groom). But perhaps those bellyaching about the substantial hit their bank account is about to take should pause to consider some of history's most outrageously lavish weddings. Suddenly dropping a few grand on a one-wear gown doesn't seem so bad, does it?

1. Attila the Hun and Ildico (453 CE)

Attila the Hun, perennial barbarian bad boy, was apparently also a perennial playboy. Leader of the Huns, Attila somehow found time to marry 12 women and father an unknown number of children. Never able to quite get enough, Attila still might have wanted to hold off on the last wife. On his last wedding night, in 453 CE, the royalty of every nation under Hun dominion, from the Rhine to the Volga, were in attendance, and thousands of gallons of booze and whole herds of sheep were brought in to slake their appetites. No ordinary nuptials, the drinking and feasting were to last for days, but on the morning after taking his 16-year-old bride to bed, the 50-something warlord was found dead. Whether his death was caused by poison, overdrinking, or just too much fun in the sack, the world will probably never know.

2. Margaret of York and Charles the Bold (1468)

Despite the protests of France's Louis XI, who was fearful of an alliance between the English and the Burgundians, Margaret of York was engaged to Charles the Bold, aka the duke of Burgundy. And in spite of the king's objection, the crazy cats decided to go forth with said ceremony and party like it was 1469. Extravagant even by the standards of European royal weddings, the blessed event was accompanied by a tournament in which the most famous knights in Europe bludgeoned one another for days. And Margaret's crown, covered in pearls and diamonds, was so valuable that it's now on display in the treasury of Aachen Cathedral. Of course, the pre-ceremony celebrations were equally grand. The nuptials themselves were preceded by parades through the streets of Bruges, a pageant reenacted every year during (coincidentally enough) the tourist season. Sadly, Margaret's subsequent life was a little less like a fairy tale: she lived to see the death of her husband in battle (1477) against the French and the overthrow of both Burgundy as an independent duchy (1482) and of her own family across the Channel (1485).

3. Prince Rainier of Monaco and Grace Kelly (1956)

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Billed as "the wedding of the century," the union between the prince of Monaco (whose family is actually descended from Genoese pirates) and the Hollywood star was the talk of the civilized world for much of the mid-1950s. Rainier gave his bride a 10-carat diamond ring, and his subjects gave their new princess diamond earrings and a necklace to match and, for no particular reason, a Rolls-Royce. Of grace-kelly-stamp.jpgcourse, the gown was no joke, either, as Grace's dress was designed by an Oscar winner, Helen Rose. The couple had two wedding ceremonies "“ a private civil ceremony in the Riviera principality's throne room and a public religious ceremony in Monaco Cathedral. Over 600 of the world's rich and famous attended the reception, including Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, and Ava Gardner. Tragically, Princess Grace was killed in 1982 in a car accident. Interestingly, commemorative U.S. postage stamps were issued in her honor, but they gave her name only as "Grace Kelly." Why? Because U.S. law bans the placement of foreign monarchs on its postage stamps.

4. Muhammad and Salama of Dubai (1981)

Things can be rough when you're constantly trying to "keep up with the Joneses," or the Hamids, as the case may be. Arab weddings are often such bank-breakers that Arab economists frequently bemoan the size and expense that have become culturally expected. But that didn't stop Rashid bin Sayid al-Maktoum, sheikh of Dubai, in planning his son Muhammad's 1981 wedding to Princess Salama. Lasting a mere seven days (seven!), the wedding was held in a stadium built expressly to host the festivities. Twenty thousand guests attended, and the bill came in at just over $44 million.

5. The Mittal Affair (2004)

mittal.jpgIn possibly the most luxurious wedding in history, Vanisha Mittal, daughter of Anglo-Indian steel tycoon Laxmi Mittal, married Amit Bhatia, an investment banker who literally cashed in. The wedding, held in June 2004 in a chateau in France, lasted six days and was reported to have cost over $90 million (yes, that's U.S. dollars). The guest roster included some of Bollywood's brightest stars and some of Europe's deepest pockets. Among the expenditures: $520,000 for a performance by pop diva Kylie Minogue, who performed for a half hour. That's almost $300 per second.

[Those first five were excerpted from our book, mental_floss presents: Forbidden Knowledge.]

Four More Elaborate Weddings We Did Not Attend

dianawedding.jpgPrince Charles & Diana Spencer: On July 29, 1981, over 600,000 people packed the streets of London to catch a glimpse of the new royal couple. According to the BBC, "The bride's nerves showed briefly when she mixed up the Prince's names "“ calling him Philip Charles Arthur George, rather than Charles Philip. Charles, 32, in the full dress uniform of a naval commander, slightly muddled his vows too, referring to "thy goods" rather than "my worldly goods." We should forgive their nervousness. The wedding was seen by over 750 million viewers worldwide, making it the most-watched program in history.

• Star Jones & Al Reynolds. In 2004, the former View co-host set (unofficial) records in both the shameless wedding product placement and bridezilla categories. Jones shilled for several companies in exchange for free stuff, including invitations, bridesmaids' gowns and tuxedos. Continental was the official wedding of the Jones-Reynolds nuptials. After the ceremony, Star scolded her co-hosts on air: "I could not believe that my cohost [Joy Behar], not only did she bring a camera, but had the audacity to pull it out to take my picture."

• Paul McCartney & Heather Mills. In 2002, the former Beatle married model-turned-activist Heather Mills in Monaghan, Ireland. The ceremony featured the song "Heather," written by McCartney for his new bride. The Indian-themed party featured dancers in authentic Indian dress, fireworks and a vegetarian feast. The estimated cost was $3 million. Far more liza.jpgexpensive: not signing a pre-nup beforehand.

• Liza Minnelli & David Gest. Forbes rated this couple's $3.5 million bash the most expensive celebrity wedding. The ceremony featured Best Man Michael Jackson, Maid of Honor Elizabeth Taylor, and a performance by Tony Bennett. From Forbes: "Guests feasted on a 12-tier wedding cake and received personalized favors encased in satin candy boxes embossed 'Liza and David 4 Ever.' (The pair divorced the next year.)"

We also didn't attend any of the elaborate White House weddings, famous TV weddings, memorable movie weddings or the "November Rain" ceremony, which we still don't understand. (It's been 15 years -- has anyone figured out what that video means yet?) But as we mentioned last Wednesday, this is the wedding we most regret missing.

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Where Did The Easter Bunny Come From?
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Getty Images

The Easter Bunny is an anthropomorphic, egg-laying rabbit who sneaks into homes the night before Easter to deliver baskets full of colored eggs, toys and chocolate. A wise man once told me that all religions are beautiful and all religions are wacko, but even if you allow for miracles, angels, and pancake Jesus, the Easter Bunny really comes out of left field.

If you go way back, though, the Easter Bunny starts to make a little sense. Spring is the season of rebirth and renewal. Plants return to life after winter dormancy and many animals mate and procreate. Many pagan cultures held spring festivals to celebrate this renewal of life and promote fertility. One of these festivals was in honor of Eostre or Eastre, the goddess of dawn, spring and fertility near and dear to the hearts of the pagans in Northern Europe. Eostre was closely linked to the hare and the egg, both symbols of fertility.

As Christianity spread, it was common for missionaries to practice some good salesmanship by placing pagan ideas and rituals within the context of the Christian faith and turning pagan festivals into Christian holidays (e.g. Christmas). The Eostre festival occurred around the same time as the Christians' celebration of Christ's resurrection, so the two celebrations became one, and with the kind of blending that was going on among the cultures, it would seem only natural that the pagans would bring the hare and egg images with them into their new faith (the hare later became the more common rabbit).

The pagans hung on to the rabbit and eventually it became a part of Christian celebration. We don't know exactly when, but it's first mentioned in German writings from the 1600s. The Germans converted the pagan rabbit image into Oschter Haws, a rabbit that was believed to lay a nest of colored eggs as gifts for good children. (A poll of my Twitter followers reveals that 81% of the people who replied believe the Easter Bunny to be male, based mostly on depictions where it's wearing a bowtie. The male pregnancy and egg-laying mammal aspects are either side effects of trying to lump the rabbit and egg symbols together, or rabbits were just more awesome back then.)

Oschter Haws came to America with Pennsylvania Dutch settlers in the 1700s, and evolved into the Easter Bunny as it became entrenched in American culture. Over time the bunny started bringing chocolate and toys in addition to eggs (the chocolate rabbit began with the Germans, too, when they started making Oschter Haws pastries in the 1800s).

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The Easter Bunny also went with European settlers to Australia—as did actual bunnies. These rabbits, fertile as they are, got a little out of control, so the Aussies regard them as serious pests. The destruction they've caused to habitats is responsible for the major decline of some native animals and causes millions of dollars worth of damage to crops. It is, perhaps, not a great idea to use an invasive species as a symbol for a religious holiday, so Australia has been pushing the Easter Bilby (above, on the right), an endangered marsupial that kind of looks like a bunny if you squint. According to some of our Australian readers, the Easter Bunny is not in danger of going extinct.

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Gregor Smith, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The Men Behind Your Favorite Liquors
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Gregor Smith, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It's hard to walk down the aisle of a liquor store without running across a bottle bearing someone's name. We put them in our cocktails, but how well do we know them? Here's some biographical detail on the men behind your favorite tipples.

1. Captain Morgan

FromSandToGlass, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The Captain wasn't always just the choice of sorority girls looking to blend spiced rum with Diet Coke; in the 17th century he was a feared privateer. Not only did the Welsh pirate marry his own cousin, he ran risky missions for the governor of Jamaica, including capturing some Spanish prisoners in Cuba and sacking Port-au-Prince in Haiti. He then plundered the Cuban coast before holding for ransom the entire city of Portobelo, Panama. He later looted and burned Panama City, but his pillaging career came to an end when Spain and England signed a peace treaty in 1671. Instead of getting in trouble for his high-seas antics, Morgan received knighthood and became the lieutenant governor of Jamaica.

2. Johnnie Walker

Kevin Chang, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Walker, the name behind the world's most popular brand of Scotch whisky, was born in 1805 in Ayrshire, Scotland. When his father died in 1819, Johnnie inherited a trust of a little over 400 pounds, which the trustees invested in a grocery store. Walker grew to become a very successful grocer in the town of Kilmarnock and even sold a whisky, Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky. Johnnie's son Alexander was the one who actually turned the family into famous whisky men, though. Alexander had spent time in Glasgow learning how to blend teas, but he eventually returned to Kilmarnock to take over the grocery from his father. Alexander turned his blending expertise to whisky, and came up with "Old Highland Whisky," which later became Johnnie Walker Black Label.

3. Jack Daniel

LeeRoyal, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Jasper Newton "Jack" Daniel of Tennessee whiskey fame was the descendant of Welsh settlers who came to the United States in the early 19th century. He was born in 1846 or 1850 and was one of 13 children. By 1866 he was distilling whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Unfortunately for the distiller, he had a bit of a temper. One morning in 1911 Daniel showed up for work early and couldn't get his safe open. He flew off the handle and kicked the offending strongbox. The kick was so ferocious that Daniel injured his toe, which then became infected. The infection soon became the blood poisoning that killed the whiskey mogul.

Curious about why your bottle of J.D. also has Lem Motlow listed as the distillery's proprietor? Daniel's own busy life of distilling and safe-kicking kept him from ever finding a wife and siring an heir, so in 1907 he gave the distillery to his beloved nephew Lem Motlow, who had come to work for him as a bookkeeper.

4. Jose Cuervo

Shane R, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 1758, Jose Antonio de Cuervo received a land grant from the King of Spain to start an agave farm in the Jalisco region of Mexico. Jose used his agave plants to make mescal, a popular Mexican liquor. In 1795, King Carlos IV gave the land grant to Cuervo's descendant Jose Maria Guadalupe de Cuervo. Carlos IV also granted the Cuervo family the first license to commercially make tequila, so they built a larger factory on the existing land. The family started packaging their wares in individual bottles in 1880, and in 1900 the booze started going by the brand name Jose Cuervo. The brand is still under the leadership of the original Jose Cuervo's family; current boss Juan-Domingo Beckmann is the sixth generation of Cuervo ancestors to run the company.

5. Jim Beam

Jim Beam, the namesake of the world's best-selling bourbon whiskey, didn't actually start the distillery that now bears his name. His great-grandfather Jacob Beam opened the distillery in 1788 and started selling his first barrels of whiskey in 1795. In those days, the whiskey went by the less-catchy moniker of "Old Tub." Jacob Beam handed down the distillery to his son David Beam, who in turn passed it along to his son David M. Beam, who eventually handed the operation off to his son, Colonel James Beauregard Beam, in 1894. Although he was only 30 years old when he took over the family business, Jim Beam ran the distillery until Prohibition shut him down. Following repeal in 1933, Jim quickly built a distillery and began resurrecting the Old Tub brand, but he also added something new to the company's portfolio: a bourbon simply called Jim Beam.

6. Tanqueray

Adrian Scottow, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

When he was a young boy, Charles Tanqueray's path through life seemed pretty clear. He was the product of three straight generations of Bedfordshire clergymen, so it must have seemed natural to assume that he would take up the cloth himself. Wrong. Instead, he started distilling gin in 1830 in a little plant in London's Bloomsbury district. By 1847, he was shipping his gin to colonies around the British Empire, where many plantation owners and troops had developed a taste for Tanqueray and tonic.

7. Campari

Michael, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Gaspare Campari found his calling quickly. By the time he was 14, he had risen to become a master drink mixer in Turin, and in this capacity he started dabbling with a recipe for an aperitif. When he eventually settled on the perfect mixture, his concoction had over 60 ingredients. In 1860, he founded Gruppo Campari to make his trademark bitters in Milan. Like Colonel Sanders' spice blend, the recipe for Campari is a closely guarded secret supposedly known by only the acting Gruppo Campari chairman, who works with a tiny group of employees to make the concentrate with which alcohol and water are infused to get Campari. The drink is still made from Gaspare Campari's recipe, though, which includes quinine, orange peel, rhubarb, and countless other flavorings.

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