1282: The last native Prince of Wales is killed by the forces of England’s Edward I at the Battle of Orewin Bridge, earning himself the distinctive title of Llywelyn the Last. After this battle and a brief mopping-up period, Edward solemnly and systematically dismembered all of Llywelyn’s royal trappings, including his wife’s jewels and crown, melting them down and fashioning them into a set of English royal diadems and chalices. With the extinction of the Welsh line of succession, Edward then assumed the title Prince of Wales as the heir to the British throne.
1287: A dyke ruptures on the North Sea approaches near Texel, creating a flood that completely submerges the marshes and lakes of the north-central Netherlands. Friesland, with scores of towns and cities demolished, and over 50,000 deaths punctuating the dramatic destruction. An entirely new body of water takes shape, the Zuiderzee, which itself shapes the growth of Amsterdam, formerly a small inland town on a bend in the Amstel River.
1466: Death of the great Renaissance sculptor, Donatello (b.1386). He was one of the earliest of the Renaissance masters to embrace and perfect a free-form naturalism in his statuary and is also noted for his effective use of visual rhythm and perspective in his bas-relief works.
1476: Death of the Bohemian prince Vlad III (b.1431), known as, “The Impaler”. He was known as “Dracula,” meaning “son of the dragon,” about his father’s position in the Christian Order of the Dragon. The order took root to protect Europe’s Christian populations during the period of the Ottoman Moslem conquest into Eastern Europe and he took his role seriously, hence the moniker. He was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s gothic novel Dracula (1897).
1545: Opening prayers at the Council of Trent, called by Pope Paul III in response to the very real and increasingly virulent calls for administrative and spiritual reform within the Roman Catholic Church. A response to the growth of the Protestant Reformation, which expanded dramatically after the 1517 publication of Luther’s 95 Theses. The political and spiritual arguments of the Reformation forced the Roman Curia to confront and answer several serious and sometimes threatening criticisms of its iron-clad rule over European Christianity. The Council lasted for 18 years and created new administrative controls over the Church, and more importantly, confirmed and clarified Roman Catholicism’s core beliefs and traditions. The Council’s edicts remained essentially untouched until the First Vatican Council in 1870, and with modifications only at the margins, they remain central to Roman Catholic teachings.
1520: Confirming his principled opposition to what he identified as the un-Biblical rule of the Pope, Augustinian monk Martin Luther publicly burns the Papal Bull Exsurge Domine, in which Pope Leo X demands from Luther a recantation of 41 “errors of the faith” derived from his 95 theses published three years earlier. As he burned his copy of the bull, Luther is reported to have said, “Because you have confounded the truth of God, today the Lord confounds you. Into the fire with you!”
1577: Nearly a month after seeking shelter in Cornwall from battering storms, Sir Francis Drake sets out again from Plymouth with a fleet of four ships on a voyage of plunder, exploration, discovery, and mapping that would eventually take them completely around the globe.
1724: Birth of Samuel Hood (d.1816), one of the great English admirals from the age of fighting sail, with a sterling 55-year career at sea. He is probably best remembered as Horatio Nelson’s mentor, beginning from the time when Nelson was a young frigate commander in the Caribbean in 1782. We also remember him having been part, under Admiral Thomas Graves, of the Battle of the Virginia Capes.
1725: Birth of Virginian George Mason (d.1792), a key intellectual partner of Patrick Henry, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson, and a crucial voice of ensuring the rights of citizens during the development of a functioning, but limited republican government in the newly independent United States. Mason was the driving force for insisting on the inclusion of the Bill of Rights as integral to the Constitution.
1745: Birth of John Jay (d.1829), first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
1775: Birth of Royal Navy sea dog Thomas Cochrane (d.1860), one of the bright lights in the final generation of naval officers who served in the Age of Fighting Sail at the turn of the 19th Century. Cochrane held command of three RN ships during Great Britain’s nearly continuous wars with France, where he ranged up and down the French coast wreaking havoc all while maintaining an air of dignity and professionalism.
1792: French King Louis XVI, jailed since August, is paraded through Paris before appearing before the National Convention to hear the charges of Treason Against the State levied against him. The packed Parisian streets were silent as their king passed by.
1799: Death of George Washington (b.1732).
1806: Birth of Stand Waite (d.1871), tribal Chief of the Cherokee nation in Georgia, colonel of Confederate cavalry during the Civil War, and the only Indian to be made general officer on either side of the war. Waite’s forces remained effective and active in Arkansas and east Texas throughout the war. With his surrender after a battle in the Indian Territory in late June 1865, he became the last Confederate leader to surrender his forces to the Union. Note: That is, the last LAND force commander. Captain James Waddell of CSS Alabama bears the honor of being the last-last Confederate to surrender, and he did it with the British, not the Yankees.
1830: Birth of poet Emily Dickinson (d.1886). Her poetry was finally cataloged and published under her own name after her death. “I heard a fly buzz- when I died…”
1861: Death of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coberg & Gotha (b.1819), consort of Britain’s Queen Victoria, from cancer at age 42. The shock of his death plunged the Queen into a depression that very nearly caused a constitutional crisis.
1862: The Union gunship USS Cairo, operating in a mine-clearing operation on the Yazoo River just upstream from Vicksburg, Mississippi, is struck by two electrically detonated mines and sinks in thirty feet of muddy water. Although there are two huge holes in the bow, the entire crew escapes, and within a few years, the ship is completely silted in and forgotten. Re-discovered in 1958, she is finally raised and put on display on the Mississippi shoreline near Vicksburg.
1862: General Ambrose Burnside orders the Union Army of the Potomac to cross the Rappahannock River at the Battle of Fredericksburg and make a frontal assault across a mile of open ground against elevated and fortified Confederate positions on Marye’s Heights just south of town. When darkness fell, the Confederate positions were unmoved, and the field below the heights was littered with Union dead and wounded. The Union slaughter is the most lopsided in the entire course of the war, with 12,653 (1,284 killed) to the Confederate 5,377 (608 killed). Richmond papers are jubilant. Washington DC is wracked with disgust at both Burnside and Lincoln. Burnside is cashiered from command a month later, but he will twice re-appear later in the war.
1864: Four weeks after setting out from the ruins of Atlanta with an army made up solely of fighting men (i.e., no supply train), Union General William Sherman arrives at the perimeter defenses of Savannah, having left a massive swath of destruction in his wake.
1882: Birth of Firoello LaGuardia (d.1947), the three-term mayor of NYC during the 30s and 40s. A “moderate Republican” with a strong populist bent, he made an early name for himself when he launched a largely successful crusade to throw organized crime bosses out of the city. He used federal fund to build roads, subways, airports, city buildings and more.
1898: The Treaty of Paris formally ends the United States’ ten-month-long “Splendid Little War” with Spain, ceding to the U.S. control of the islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam. Spain also cedes control over the Philippines for a payment of $20 million. Despite the popularity of the war with the public at large, Senate ratification was not a foregone conclusion, with much-principled argument about how a constitutional republic of enumerated powers could become an imperial power over non-citizens in distant lands. The debate came to a final vote in February 1899, and passed 57-27, one vote more than the 2/3 majority needed for ratification.
1901: British inventor Guglielmo Marconi, working from a receiving station on Signal Hill in Saint Johns, Newfoundland, positively receives the first trans-Atlantic radio signal, broadcast from a sister station in southern England. The experiment was not an unqualified success, however, and it took years of continuous technical improvements, patent fights, and corporate battles with undersea cable operators before wireless became the critical communications tool we know today. Marconi won the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on harnessing the electromagnetic spectrum for radio.
1903: First attempt by the Wright Brothers to get their powered airplane off the ground. Wilbur Wright won the honor of the coin toss but failed to get airborne when the machine caught a gust of wind and dug the wingtip into the sand, forcing repairs that ended flying attempts for the next couple days.
1915: Birth of American singer Frank Sinatra (d.1998).
1917: After six months as commander in chief of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, Field Marshall Edmund Allenby reached the climax of his campaign against the Ottoman Turks by defeating them in a series of short, sharp engagements that led to the Turks’ surrender and evacuation of Jerusalem. Although fighting continued northward into the Levant and Syria, Jerusalem itself remained the crown jewel of the British-Allied conquest of Ottoman lands in the Middle East.
1925: Birth of the American (genius) song-and-dance man and comedian, Dick Van Dyke.
1936: King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland signs the Instrument of Abdication, with which he plunged the nation into a constitutional crisis to marry Mrs. Wallis Simpson, “the woman I love,” recently divorced from her American husband. The two move out into the world as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
1937: Japanese warplanes bomb and strafe the American gunboat USS Panay, sending her to the bottom of the Yangtze River in China at Nanking. Three US sailors died and 45 were wounded in the attack. Although the Japanese government apologized and paid indemnity, the incident did nothing to improve US-Japanese relations during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The Panay was part of the US Asiatic Squadron that was on patrol along the Chinese coast and up the major rivers to protect American lives and interests.
1937: Japanese forces finally expel the defending Chinese army from the port city of Nanking, and immediately commence an orgy of destruction over the next week that reduces the city and its population to mere subsistence. The terror quickly became known as The Rape of Nanking, and was one of the particular causes of the increasing friction between the Japanese Empire and the United States.
1939: The army of Finland defeats the Soviet Red Army at the Battle of Tolvajarvi, part of the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union, fought on the fringes of the larger European war.
1941: Japanese torpedo bombers attack and sink the Royal Navy battleships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse off the coast of Malaysia. The loss of the two ships sends an existential shock to Great Britain not unlike what happened to the United States just three days earlier at Pearl Harbor.
1941: The Japanese army lands on Mindanao to begin the conquest of the Philippines.
1941: By the terms of the Tripartite Pact with Japan, Germany and Italy declare war on the United States. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill breathes a sigh of relief.
1941: As a direct result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor last week. The United Kingdom declared war on Bulgaria; Hungary and Romania declared war on the United States; India declared war on Japan. It is now a world war de jure and de facto.
1941: Hungary and Romania declare war on the United States.
1948: Birth of guitarist Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, formerly of Steely Dan and the Dooby Brothers.
1961: Tanganyika, the East African territory peeled from Germany at the Treaty of Versailles and given as a mandate to Great Britain, becomes an independent member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Within three years, it will ally with Zanzibar to become the modern state of Tanzania.
1965: A huge fireball streaks across six states (first visible near Detroit) late in the afternoon, and SOMETHING- (queue up the creepy music)- in the shape of a huge acorn crashes into the woods near Kecksburg, Pennsylvania. Suddenly, the little town is swarming with Army troops and anonymous men in dark suits. The official answer was: “It was a meteorite,” or “It was part of the Soviet Cosmos 96 satellite that crashed in Canada earlier in the day,” or…maybe it was nothing at all, nothing to worry about. You can find more on The Kecksburg UFO Incident here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kecksburg_UFO_incident
1972: Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmidt land in the Moon’s Tarus-Littrow Valley, to begin a three-day sojourn of geologic discovery that climaxes the Apollo program. Command Module pilot Richard Evans remained in orbit performing extensive survey and mapping tasks while his crewmates were on the surface. Apollo 17 became the last flight of the moon program with the earlier cancellation of the final two planned missions for budgetary reasons.