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Uploaded:2015-11-03
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In which John Green discusses the hanging of monkeys in Hartlepool during the Napoleonic Wars, and the very strange afterlife of a single, possibly French, probably fictional monkey.

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Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday. So today I want to tell you an amazing story about a monkey who was hanged for treason and then many years later in a round about way kind of became the leader of the people who had executed him.

But first I have to tell you how I learned this story. So Hank, as you know Nerdfighteria and I sponsor a fourth tier fan-owned English soccer club called AFC Wimbledon. We're the back of shorts sponsor; our logo occupies that liminal space between buttock and thigh.

And not to brag or anything, but AFC Wimbledon have won three straight games, including most recently a two-nil defeat of Hartlepool. So I was reading up on the game and I came across an odd headline, Hank: Don's Down Monkey Hangers. This lead me to Wikipedia and you know, Hank, usually when you fall down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, nothing good comes from it, but occasionally, monkey hangers!

So, Hank, journey back with me, if you will, to the early 19th century. The French Revolution which promised democracy and freedom and equality has failed spectacularly, as revolutions often do. And in the end, all they've done is replace a despot named Louis with a despot named Napoleon. To celebrate his success within France, Napoleon Bonaparte decides to start a 13 year long conflict, aptly known as the Napoleonic Wars, in which he conquers and then eventually loses most of Europe, except, of course, he never conquers Great Britain and he also never conquers Russia because you cannot invade Russia in the winter unless you're the Mongols.

So OK, the story goes, and sadly it is probably just a story, that during the Napoleonic Wars, a French warship sank just off the coast of Hartlepool, which I should mention, I guess, is a city in the north-east of England. Of course like a lot of British place names - Sunderland, Snodland, Braintree - Hartlepool sounds like a place where hobbits live but in fact is a real city of, like, 93,000 citizens.

Right, so this French warship sinks right off the coast and the only survivor of the wreck is a monkey wearing a French Army uniform. Now the good people of Hartlepool, living as they do in the far north-east of England, have never seen either a French person or a monkey so they naturally assume that this monkey is a French spy. An impromptu trial is held on the beach, the monkey is found guilty of treason and hanged.

Now what probably actually happened is that an old folk song was adapted to history but whatever! The people of Hartlepool have embraced this monkey hanging business unreservedly! In fact, Hank, since 1999 the mascot of Hartlepool's football team has been a monkey named H'Angus. Get it, Angus is a name and then H'Angus is a pun on monkey hanging.

But it gets weirder. In 2002 the guy inside the H'Angus the monkey costume was named Stuart Drummond and mostly as a publicity stunt the team supported Stuart Drummond's run for mayor. The only campaign promise he ever made was "free bananas for all schoolchildren". There were also lots of real politicians running: Labour, Conservative, all the standard UK parties, but Stuart H'Angus the monkey won! And then, despite never getting those bananas to school children, he was elected again in 2005 and again in 2009! To summarize, Hank, a city in England hung a monkey who became a mascot who became the mayor.

I guess there are really two lessons in this for me, Hank. The first is embrace your history even if it's bananas. Ha, I made a pun. And the second lesson for me is that we are always in the middle of history. Like, Hank, imagine that you're that monkey, things could not really have gone worse. You're conscripted into the French Army, you're sent to sea which is not the ideal place for monkeys to be, you're forced to wear this ridiculous French Army outfit, and then to top it all off you're hung by a bunch of Hartlepudlians.

If you're that monkey you're probably thinking "Puh, this is abut as bad as it could have gone." But there was this whole future the monkey couldn't possibly have known about as indeed there is a future that all of us can't possibly know about. And in that future this monkey becomes a weird symbol of the community that hanged him and then gets its ass kicked by AFC Wimbledon. So I guess it is kind of a sad story now that I think about it. But we are in the middle of history and there's something encouraging about that to me. I mean, maybe we could make things better for that monkey, probably not at this point but, you know, I don't know. I remain weirdly optimistic.

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.