I was idly flicking through a travel brochure for Switzerland this morning, for no other reason other than I found it in a book I was looking for, masquerading as a bookmark.
Within it were photographs of wonderful countryside, beautiful lakes and William bloody Tell.
This supposed hero of the late thirteenth century, did not exist. He did not shoot an apple off his son’s head. He did not help the Swiss establish their independence from Austria. And he did not insult an Austrian official named Gessler, as no Austrian official ever went by that name.
The whole story, every last riveting detail, is a load of bollocks, the creation of an inventive (and anonymous) Swiss patriot in the late fifteenth century.
Why do the Swiss believe it’s all true? Why did they build a chapel over the spot where Tell supposedly had lived? Why for centuries did Swiss citizens make an annual pilgrimage to the place where Tell allegedly evaded his Austrian captors?
Because they wanted to.
It is a similar story with the Americans and Plymouth Rock. The Pilgrims didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. The story’s apocryphal. But when you’re building a new nation and you start getting a little giddy, as Americans did in the nineteenth century when the Plymouth Rock story took hold, you tend to start making up stuff about yourselves and it quickly becomes part of the nations psyche.
Hmm, there might be a book in this.