41 A.D. : Roman Emperor Gaius Caesar (Caligula) is assassinated by members of his Praetorian Guard. Nephew of the great Tiberius Caesar, Caligula’s five-year reign quickly degenerated into an orgy of violence and sexual perversion. The Senate conspirators believed that removing him would allow for reinstatement of the Republic, but the army was so incensed by the murder that they spirited away Caligula’s uncle Claudius, rallying the troops to support the imperial throne against the Senate.
1506: The first contingent of Swiss Guards arrives in Vatican City to provide security for the Pope. Swiss mercenaries were legendary for their loyalty to their leadership and ferocious effectiveness in battle. Their appearance at the Holy See during the early rumblings of the Reformation was a perfectly logical extension of their long-running mercenary role on the European military scene. They remain the core of the Vatican’s security forces to this day.
1564: Pope Pius IV issues the decree Benedictus Deus, ratifying the findings of the long-running Council of Trent. The Council was first seated in 1545 to begin a process of answering the practical and theological issues raised by the burgeoning Protestant movement, in particular the aggressive growth of Lutheranism in Germany, much of which was co-opted and exacerbated by the political struggles between Rome and the Empire. Over its eighteen years, the Council of Trent conducted three major sessions and issued numerous canons and decrees, the vast majority of which remain in force to this day. While confirming some level of reform from the more egregious practices of the Church (i.e. indulgences), its primary products clarified and confirmed the beliefs and historical practices of Roman Catholicism, providing a stable catechism of faith for over three hundred years. The next ecumenical council after Trent took place in June 1868 at the First Vatican Council. The Second Vatican Council of 1962-65 is the most recent convocation of this stature.
1579: Three northern provinces of the Spanish Netherlands sign the Union of Utrecht, pledging to help defend each other from Spanish suppression of Reformation elements in the Low Countries. By early summer, 8 more provinces and city-states attached themselves to the Utrecht group, forming the nucleus of an independent and Protestant Netherlands that would in 1581 declare themselves free from Spanish rule under the Act of Abjuration. The Union signed today put Great Britain into play as the guarantor of the Netherlands’ independence from Spain.
1759: Birth of Scottish poet laureate Robert Burns (d.1796). One of Robert Burns’s best-known poems is the mock-heroic “Tam o’ Shanter,” published in 1791. He is also well known for his contribution to over three hundred songs that celebrate love, friendship, work, and drink with often hilarious and tender sympathy, such as “Auld Lang Syne.”
1787: An unauthorized militia aligned with Massachusetts farmer Daniel Shays conduct a short, sharp battle with the legitimate Massachusetts Militia at the Springfield Armory. Four of Shays’ men are killed, twenty are wounded, and the rebels flee north, totally disbanded. Shays’ Rebellion grew out of attempts to collect debts left over from the Revolution. European investors were putting the squeeze on Boston business owners, demanding payment in specie. The businessmen, in turn made the same demands on their debtors, mostly small freehold farmers in the central part of the state. The collections quickly descended into complete seizures of properties, including houses of the farmers, who felt helpless to resist. Finally, in August of 1786, Bunker Hill veteran Daniel Shays had had enough, and under the rubric of revolution, organized his first band of militia to force the issue at the Springfield courthouse. The situation festered through the Fall and Winter, leading to the climactic battle this week, where the Massachusetts militia, without authorization, drew weapons and ammunition from the Federal Arsenal to prevent Shays’ group from expropriating it first. The threat of further actions of this nature underscored the fundamental weakness of the Articles of Confederation, and spurred calls for a constitutional convention to draft a more effective form of national government, which we now know as the Constitution.
1793: After France’s King Louis XVI was paraded through the streets of Paris to stand trial for treason, on January 15th the National Assembly voted on the charges: 693 found him guilty, 0 found him innocent, and 23 abstained. Given the overwhelming evidence of Louis’ collaboration with various foreign governments to invade France and put down the Revolution, the verdict was pretty much assured. What was not assured was what to do next. On the 16th a voice roll-call vote was held on the penalty, and the closeness of the vote underscores the drama of the final decision: 361 voted for immediate execution, 288 voted against execution, and 72 voted for death in principle, but with modifications and delays built into their vote. In the end, the King was formally stripped of all titles, and Citizen Louis Capet mounted the scaffold on this week. He gave a brief speech forgiving his executioners and praying that other citizens of France would be spared his fate. The Guillotine ended his life.
1832: Birth of belle epoch French painter Edouard Manet (d.1883), not to be confused with his fellow Frenchman, the Impressionist Claude Monet. Manet’s style of relatively rough brush-work on the subjects of everyday life marked the transition between the vivid realism of the early 19th century and the free-floating forms and moods of the Impressionist period.
1848: James W. Marshall finds gold at Sutter’s Mill near Coloma, California, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. News of the discovery triggered a massive Gold Rush, bringing over 300,000 prospective miners to the Golden State.
1861: Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis resigns from the United States Senate.
1879: Final day of the two-day Battle of Rorke’s Drift in the Anglo-Zulu war. In this battle, 150 British soldiers ostensibly performing civil engineering functions (kind of a 19th Century “nation-building” exercise) held off multiple waves of over 4,000 Zulu warriors, with only a brief respite from the fighting during the darkness of night. The Zulu leaders halted their attacks after a brief feint just after dawn, leaving behind them nearly a thousand dead and wounded warriors. When the battle ended, the defenders had only 900 rounds of ammunition remaining from the 20,000 rounds stockpiled beforehand. Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded to the British defenders, the highest-ever number for a single battle.
1880: Birth of Douglas MacArthur (d.1964), American General, Medal of Honor recipient, Army Chief of Staff, Governor of the Philippines, chief executive of occupied Japan; a leader whose impact on the 20th Century rightly earned him the title “American Caesar” in the definitive biography by William Manchester.
1887: Proving that the 2011 Australian floods were not unique, 18.3 inches of rain falls on Brisbane, Australia this day.
1887: Birth of Marc Mitscher (d.1947), American Admiral who led his carrier strike groups through wide-ranging and brutally effective campaigns against Japan’s South Pacific empire. He earned particular distinction when, after ordering a follow-on strike late in the day after the Marianas Turkey Shoot, he subsequently ordered his carriers to brightly illuminate their ships and the skies around them in order that his returning fighters could find and land aboard their carriers in the dark. Early in his aviation career, Mitscher piloted the NC-1 flying boat in the Navy’s first attempt to cross the Atlantic by air. He and the NC-1 made it as far as the Azores, while NC-4 continued on to Portugal to complete the mission. The hazards of the mission cannot be overstated, and for his role in it, Mitscher was awarded the Navy Cross.
1901: Death of Alexandrina Victoria of the House of Hanover, better remembered for nearly 64 years as Her Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, and after 1876, Empress of India. (b.1819)
1911: The first Monte Carlo Road Rally takes place in the tiny Principality. The grueling route was designed to test improvements and performance features in automobiles, and over the years it became one of the signature events of international motor racing.
1919: The delegates meeting at the Paris Peace Conference in Versailles approve a motion to develop a League of Nations, based on President Wilson’s 14 Points.
1924: Opening day in Chamonix, France of the first Winter Olympics.
1924: Death of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as V.I. Lenin (b.1870).
1924: The Russian city of Petrograd(St. Petersburg), is re-named Leningrad by the Soviet government in honor of Leinin who died two days before.
1941: Aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, having recently visited Germany to inspect its aviation industry and capabilities, testifies before Congress in favor of a neutrality treaty with the Nazi government. As with the former Edward VIII of England, Lindbergh believed the Nazi’s program of centralized economics and strident nationalism was a healthy and correct answer to the problems of society. As he more overtly exposed his Progressive views, he became increasingly distrusted by the US government and opinion makers in the popular press.
1950: Former State Department diplomat Alger Hiss is convicted of perjury. His communist (I mean, Progressive) fellow travelers made him something of a cause célèbre, citing his persecution as proof of the evils of McCarthyism and the anti-Soviet side of the Cold War. Unfortunately for Hiss the Soviet files that have been released to date confirm everything.
1954: USS Nautilus (SSN-571) is launched in Groton, Connecticut by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. The modified “Guppy” class submarine was the first ship powered by nuclear energy. She went on to set a number of endurance records and set the stage for a revolution in submarine strategies worldwide.
1960 – The Bathyscaph Trieste descends to the deepest part of the ocean — the Marianas Trench, 36,000 feet down.
1965: Death of Sir Winston Churchill (b.1874), one of the greatest Britons of all time. A prolific author on top of all his other pursuits, he remains one of the most quotable characters in history.
1968 – While operating in international waters in the Sea of Japan near the Korean coast, USS Pueblo (AGER 2) is seized by North Korean naval vessels. This is the first U.S. warship captured by an enemy since we were fighting the British. Commander Lloyd Bucher and his crew are imprisoned by the NORKs for nearly a year.
1971: In Uganda, Colonel Idi Amin (1925-2003) leads a coup d’état against Milton Obote, becoming president.
1981: General Motors corporate refugee John DeLorean begins production of his stainless steel DMC-12 sports car in a new factory in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland. Two years, DeLorean’s arrest, and 8,975 cars later, DeLorean Motor Company went under.
1989: Death of Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, Marquis of Dalí de Púbol, better known to the rest of us as Salvador Dali (b.1904).
2005: Death of President Nixon’s long-serving secretary, Rose Mary Woods (b.1917). During the Watergate hearings, she achieved notoriety, if not fame, for her tortured depiction of how a crucial section of the secretly recorded Oval Office tapes was “inadvertently” erased.