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 for the heir of 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 province is particularly hard hit, with scores of towns and cities demolished, and over 50,000 deaths punctuating the dramatic destruction. The inundation is so vast that an entirely new body of water takes shape, the Zuiderzee, that itself shapes the spectacular 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 more often by his nickname, “The Impaler” than for the virtues of his governance. Here’s a little tidbit: he actually was known as “Dracula,” meaning “son of the dragon,” in reference to 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 conquest into Eastern Europe, and like father, like son, he took his role seriously, hence the moniker. He was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s gothic novel Dracula (1897).
1485: Birth of Catherine of Aragon (d.1536), best known as queen consort to England’s Henry VIII, but also widely regarded by contemporaries as a keen intellect and powerful voice for the education of women. She also became the first female Ambassador in history, acting as such for her father, Ferdinand II, at the English Court when his Ambassador died in office.
1497: Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama leads his small fleet of exploration around the Cape of Good Hope, becoming the first European to sail into the Indian Ocean. The fleet eventually makes its way to India’s west coast, and back again to Portugal, providing that country with a secure route to the riches of the Spice Trade without having to traverse either the pirate-infested Mediterranean or the corruption and danger of the overland crossing through Arabia. De Gama’s opening creates a generation-long trade monopoly which makes Portugal rich. His systematic exploration and the immediate economic consequences of his work make him widely regarded as one of the greatest captains of the great age of exploration.
1503: Birth of Nostradamus (d.1566). French apothecary named Michel de Nostredame, whose medical training led to further studies of astrology and eventually the occult. He began writing a series of quatrains that he billed as predictions, collected and published in an annual almanac under the Latinized version of his French name.
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. The proximate trigger for the Council was the steady 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 a number of serious and sometimes threatening criticisms to its hitherto 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 to this day.
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.
1653: Four years after executing King Charles I and declaring England a Commonwealth, the British Parliament formally invests General Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector of the Realm. The Parliament was ready to crown him king, but having used his army to defeat a king, and the Parliament to justify his executing a king, he prudently believed that his assuming a new kingship for himself would be a step too far. He did, however, designate his son, Richard, as heir to the Protectorate.
1707: First belch of the most recent eruption of Japan’s beautiful Mount Fuji. Note: after the 2011 Fukishima earthquake, a number of organizations created mathematical models to speculate on the potential for Fuji re-awakening. One model in particular generated a huge number representing an increase of pressure in the magma chamber since this 1707 eruption. Additionally, some recently discovered faults and active fumaroles would seem to indicate the mountain may again be stirring, but there is no way to measure the actual pressure inside the mountain.
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 State Supreme Court.
1773: After months of frustration and anger over Parliament’s insistence on their need and their right to tax the American colonies, a group of between 30 to 130 (the count varies with the telling) Sons of Liberty, in Boston, under the leadership of Samuel Adams, adjourn from a raucous meeting in Faneuil Hall, don elaborate disguises as Mohawk Indians and proceed down to Griffin’s Wharf, where lay the embargoed tea ships, Dartmouth, Eleanor and Beaver. The tax on tea, known as the Townshend Duty, created similar standoffs in New York, Philadelphia and Charleston, but in those colonies, the governors yielded to force majeure inherent in the Sons of Liberty’s latent violence, and ordered the tea ships back to England. In Boston, though, the governor was determined to not yield to what he considered an unruly and unreasonable mob. The “Indians” boarded the ships and systematically, over the course of three hours, dumped all 342 chests of (very expensive) tea into the waters of Boston Harbor:
1) It electrified not only Boston, but the rest of the colonies as well, in that American citizens, using symbolism unique to the Americas, openly defied legitimate colonial and royal authority in support of what they claimed were their “constitutional rights” under English law;
2) In Great Britain, the wanton destruction of property hardened political opinion against the upstart colonies, even among nominal supporters of American ambitions and their radical political thinking.
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 straddling 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 with unwavering dignity and professionalism.
1775: Birth of English author Jane Austin (d.1817).
1791: The Virginia General Assembly ratifies the Bill of Rights, providing the ¾ majority of the Several States, thus making the first ten Amendments part of the Supreme Law of the Land.
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. All the symbolism of the three year old Revolution and the eternal Monarchy meet this day under the reality of treason. The packed Parisian streets were silent as their king passed by, and as the charges were read to Citizen Louis Capet, not King Louis the Sixteenth, no-one could be in doubt that France had crossed a threshold from which it could not return.
1799: Death of George Washington (b.1732).
1803: Birth of French composer Hector Berlioz (d.1869), a romanticist who pioneered the use of huge orchestras- upwards of 100 pieces (and once with over a thousand)- and dramatic musical themes.
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.
1811: The first two out of four massive earthquakes that rattle the center of the continent at New Madrid, Missouri.
1832: Birth of Gustav Eiffel (d.1923), the French engineer best known for his namesake tower. That 1889 structure publicly culminated an engineering career that had already made him famous for his innovative use of relatively light gauge iron in trusses and construction, including designing the trusses such that they were integral to the “look” of the structures, rather than remaining invisible as supporting elements. Eiffel’s extensive studies of wind loading on fixed structures brought him into the Statue of Liberty project, providing crucial design criteria for the interior framework supporting the copper-sheeted exterior. He also designed a family of transportable pre-fabricated bridge trusses for use in remote areas, with sizes ranging from footbridges to railroads trestles. Eiffel’s post-structural engineering career focused on aerodynamics and meteorology, for which he was awarded the Smithsonian’s Langley medal for his wind-tunnel work of the forces of lift and drag.
1861: Death of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coberg & Gotha (b.1819), consort of Britain’s Queen Victoria, from cancer at age 42.
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. By nightfall, the Confederate positions were un-moved, and the field below the heights was littered with Union dead and wounded, punctuated by the groans of the latter, writhing in agony throughout the cold winter night. The Union slaughter is the most lopsided in the entire course of the war, 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- prominently- as the war grinds on.
1864: Two weeks after his stunning defeat at the Battle of Franklin, Confederate General John Bell Hood positions himself for an even more futile engagement against Nashville itself. The two-day Battle of Nashville opens after Hood sent two of his crucial units out from their dug-in positions onto raids designed to draw Union forces out from the robust defenses they built around Nashville over the course of the last two years. Union Major General George Thomas bides his time, and on this day sorties shatter Hood’s Army of Tennessee in a multi-pronged, multi-phased hammer blow against Hood’s depleted forces, eliminating it as an effective fighting force. Hood and the remains of his army moved back to Tupelo, Mississippi, where he resigned his commission in January, 1865.
1867: Birth of Amy Carmichael (d.1951), British missionary to India, who sacrificed everything to live out a life of Christian-inspired caring for the destitute of that benighted country.
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, the 5’0” dynamo made an early name for himself when he launched a largely successful crusade to throw organized crime bosses out of the city. He milked federal largesse to build roads, subways, airports, city buildings.
1890: Death of Sitting Bull (b.1831), key leader of the Lakota Sioux coalition that destroyed the US 7th Cavalry at the 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn.
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 the 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 his machine caught a gust of wind and dug the wingtip into the sand, forcing repairs that ended flying attempts for the next couple days.
1907: The Great White Fleet, 16 U.S. battleships, along with their escorts and supply ships, depart from Naval Station Norfolk on a planned cruise around the world. President Theodore Roosevelt orders the deployment as a demonstration of the United States’ new status as a world naval power, and to emphasize the point, all of the hulls are painted a gleaming white, so that no one will miss their size or import. One of the apocryphal stories that go along with the sailing is that Congress was ill-disposed to spend the money for such a massive public relations undertaking, and only authorized half of the amount Roosevelt requested. No problem; the President ordered the fleet to proceed to Japan, and to wait there for Congress to fund their way back to the States.
1914: The Serbian army re-captures Belgrade from the “invading” Austro-Hungarian army. The Austrian army’s presence in Belgrade could just as easily be seen as a policing effort inside the legitimate empire of the Dual Monarchy.
1914: German battleships bombard English seaports of Hartlepool and Scarborough.
1915: Birth of singer\actor Frank Sinatra (d.1998).
1917: After six months as commander in chief of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, Field Marshall Edmund Allenby reaches the climax of his campaign against the Ottoman Turks by defeating them in a series of short, sharp engagements that lead 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.
1917: A week after the meeting between Imperial German government and the revolutionary Bolshevik government of Russia, a formal armistice is announced between the two powers. The cease-fire will eventually lead to Russia accepting the separate Treaty of Brest-Litovsk next March.
1917: British Field Marshall Edmund Allenby enters Jerusalem on foot to begin the Anglo-Allied occupation of the city. (from the Wikipedia entry):
“To the Inhabitants of Jerusalem the Blessed and the People Dwelling in Its Vicinity: The defeat inflicted upon the Turks by the troops under my command has resulted in the occupation of your city by my forces. I, therefore, here now proclaim it to be under martial law, under which form of administration it will remain so long as military considerations make necessary. However, lest any of you be alarmed by reason of your experience at the hands of the enemy who has retired, I hereby inform you that it is my desire that every person pursue his lawful business without fear of interruption. Furthermore, since your city is regarded with affection by the adherents of three of the great religions of mankind and its soil has been consecrated by the prayers and pilgrimages of multitudes of devout people of these three religions for many centuries, therefore, do I make it known to you that every sacred building, monument, holy spot, shrine, traditional site, endowment, pious bequest, or customary place of prayer of whatsoever form of the three religions will be maintained and protected according to the existing customs and beliefs of those to whose faith they are sacred. Guardians have been established at Bethlehem and on Rachel’s Tomb.. The tomb at Hebron has been placed under exclusive Moslem control. The hereditary custodians at the gates of the Holy Sepulchre have been requested to take up their accustomed duties in remembrance of the magnanimous act of the Caliph Omar, who protected that church.”
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 total 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.
1939: Premier screening of Gone With the Wind, at the Loews Grand Theater in Atlanta.
1941: Cascading war declarations continue as a direct result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The United Kingdom declares war on Bulgaria; Hungary and Romania declare war on the United States; India declares war on Japan. It is now a world war de jure and de facto.
1941: Continuing the descent into World War, Hungary and Romania declare war on the United States.
1944: The German Whermacht opens up a 90 minute artillery barrage across an 80 mile front on the western edges of the Ardennes Forest against a thinly manned sector of the Allied front. Allied leadership anticipates this artillery assault only as part of a tactical retrograde holding action, but the German army follows the barrage with a massive attack by seven armored and 13 infantry divisions, confronting 6 American infantry divisions that were knocked on their heels into a fighting retreat towards the Belgian city of Bastogne. The sudden and dramatic change in the lines of contact quickly yields the nickname Battle of the Bulge, as the Allies transition their up-to-now unstoppable juggernaut into a desperate defense and re-alignment of forces in order to break the German advances before they completely penetrate the Allied line.
1945: General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, acting as the head of the occupation of Japan, formally orders the abolition of Shinto as the state religion of Japan. You’ll recall that part of this declaration necessitated the Emperor publicly renouncing his status as a deity. The famous picture of MacArthur & Hirohito standing side by side was specifically orchestrated by MacArthur to demonstrate his professional contempt for the old concept of the Emperor, all the while recognizing Hirohito’s crucial symbolic role in leading the shattered nation into the American-dominated future.
1948: Birth of guitarist Jeff 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 form an alliance with Zanzibar to become the modern state of Tanzania.