The authors R. Gordon Wasson and Valentina Pavlovna Wasson spent a great deal of time and effort investigating why some cultures (such as the husband’s American culture) loathed wild mushrooms, while other cultures (such as the wive’s Slavic culture) adored them.
They spend a great deal of time telling the story of mushrooms through references in language and culture. In this selection, from their book Mushrooms, Russia, and History, they tell the story of how a meal of poisonous mushrooms change the course of history and threw the Hapsburg empress Maria Theresa into the spotlight.
Finally there was the case of the German Emperor Charles VI, father of Maria Theresa of Austria. He had been worried and run down. “On the 10th [of October] at night his complaint was increased by an indigestion, occasioned by a dish of mushrooms stewed in oil, of which he eat voraciously”. So wrote that admirable man Archdeacon William Coxe, the same whom we quoted earlier, in his History of the House of Austria. Ten days later, on October 20, while the doctors were still arguing about the diagnosis, he surprised them by dying.
The clinical details that Coxe supplies to us, including the patient’s sudden death, are compatible with poisoning by the deadly amanita. There were no allegations that the poisoning, if such it was, was deliberate. If fungi were the agent, he is the one modern personage thus killed. His end precipitated war and Voltaire declared that “a pot of mushrooms changed the history of Europe.”
Shortly thereafter, in violation of agreements with her father, leaders around Europe began invading Hapsburg lands under the idea that a woman could not inherit a throne. The War of Austrian Succession began.
The quote above is excerpted from the fantastic book Mushrooms, Russia, and History available here for purchase on Amazon (at quite an expensive price) or here (Volume 1 and Volume 2 both as PDF files)to be read free of charge. I strongly recommend this book for those with an interest in a discussion of Slavic culture with an emphasis on Russia and also with discussion of European and world culture in general.
Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time travelling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.