100BC: Birth of Julius Caesar (d.44BC), of the Roman Republic.
988: Traditional date of the founding of Dublin, Ireland.
1040: Lady Godiva makes her famous ride through Coventry to protest an onerous tax levied by her husband.
1099: After four years of intrigue, violence, betrayal, death, war, negotiations, prayer and fervor, the First Crusade enters Jerusalem as a conquering army. The ensuing slaughter of Saracens and Jews on the Temple Mount was such that contemporary witnesses wrote that the knights rode in blood up to their stirrups. The full story is violent and complex, at its core, a counter-offensive against years of Muslim aggression against not only Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land, but territorial aggression in Europe that spread across the Pyrenees in the west and to the gates of Vienna in the east.
1191: The Saracen garrison at Acre surrenders to Conrad of Montferral, ending a two year siege of the city- a key waypoint on the Third Crusade.
1536: Death of Erasmus of Rotterdam (b.1466), best known as the first and greatest humanist thinker, biblical translator, and author of nearly 30 percent of the books circulating in the early 16th century. Ironically, despite being a devout Catholic, his incisive sense of logic and belief in human free-will decisions made him one of the an early intellectual “fathers” of the Protestant Reformation.
1543: King Henry VIII marries his sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr, who not only survived him but also survived three other husbands, thus becoming the most married queen in English history.
1606: Birth of Rembrandt van Rijn (d.1669). The Dutch painter was one of those rare artists who was both a commercial and critical success in his own lifetime. The “van Rijn” part of his name means “…of the Rhine” (river), a branch of which wends its way past his house in his hometown of Leiden.
1690: Battle of the Boyne and the Battle of Aughram. The battles cemented the permanence of the Protestant British throne against the then-constant threat of a Catholic restoration. Protestant King William of Orange was in alliance with the Pope, who was at the time in opposition to the territorial expansion of His Most Catholic Majesty Louis (l’Etat, c’est moi!) XIV of France, the Low Countries being a particular target of French interest.
1778: As evidence of his support- heavily lobbied by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson- of the newly declared United States of America, Louis XVI of France declares war on the United Kingdom. The war costs him big money, which he finances through heavy borrowing. The financial strain plays directly into the crisis that caused him to convene the Estates General in 1789.
1789: The French National Assembly, which on the 17th of June formed itself out of an uneasy alliance between the 3rd and 2nd Estates of the Estates Generale, almost immediately became embroiled with both the Crown and the 1st Estate over its legitimate authority. Banned from the Estates venue, on the 20th of June it met on a tennis court and took The Tennis Court Oath, which committed the Assembly not to adjourn until it had created a new national constitution. By this day, the Crown had moderated its demands on the group, and they, in turn, re-designated themselves the National Constituent Assembly, and assumed unto themselves sole legislative authority, an assertion not yet universally agreed upon. It did, however, provide a viable venue for the continued transformation- to full revolution– of the French government.
1789: Three days after Louis XVI dismissed his long-time Finance Minister, Jacques Necker; the news got into Paris early on the 12th, causing immediate consternation from the various mobs* who were continually gathered on the grounds of Palais Royale and other venues. They grew deeply concerned that the Royal troops gathering in Versailles from their border outposts would be used to suppress the mobs (i.e., themselves) and take over the National Assembly. Further, most of the “Royal” troops on station in Paris proper were Swiss and German mercenaries, the result of the king and his advisors being uneasy with entrusting the capital city to native French troops of uncertain loyalty. General riots broke out all around the city on the 12th with virtually no reaction from the army or police. On the 13th, with further fears growing of an impending attack, the mob was then incited by Camille Desmoulins, a Masonic agitator, who mounted onto a table, pistol in hand and exclaimed: “Citizens! There is no time to lose- the dismissal of Necker is the knell of Saint Bartholomew for the patriots! This very night all the Swiss and German battalions will leave the Champ de Mars to massacre us all; one resource is left: to arms!” The mob roared its approval and surged to the massive arsenal of Saint-Lazaire and stole hundreds of muskets, pistols, and barrels of powder. Early in the morning of the 14th, 500 or so of the more energized among them appeared before the gates of the medieval-era Bastille prison, which held only seven prisoners but also contained a large cache of weapons and ammunition. After fruitless negotiations with the warden, the mob finally attacked. The ensuing one-sided battle killed 98 of the attackers to one of the prison guards. But recognizing the inevitable, the warden, Governor de Launay, surrendered the facility around 3:00 in the afternoon. The mob then bundled him back to the square at Palais Royale, where they jostled him around as they tried to determine his fate. Exasperated, he finally cried out “Enough! Let me die!” and he kicked a baker named Dulait in the groin. The enraged mob then began stabbing him and sawed off his head, which they mounted on a pike and paraded through the streets. As evening closed in, the mobs established barricades in the streets to protect themselves from an expected counterattack. In the end, the Fall of the Bastille had zero military effect, but because of the symbolism of a royal facility falling to the citizens of the country, it became the touchstone for the entire French Revolution and is celebrated today as the National Holiday, Bastille Day.
1793: Death of Jean-Paul Marat (b.1743), a member of the French National Assembly and the ruling Directorate. A member of the Jacobin faction who favored radical implementation of revolutionary principles, he was a particular opponent of the Girondan faction, who were looking more for major reform than actual revolution. Marat was afflicted with a withering skin disease that caused him to spend most of his days in a therapeutic bath. On this day, he was called upon by Charlotte Corday, who claimed to have evidence of Girondan movements outside of Paris. As she finished making her case, Marat exclaimed, “Their heads will fall in ten days!” at which point Corday pulled a knife from her corset and plunged it into Marat’s chest, severing his aorta. Executed by guillotine on the 17th, she never denied her guilt: “I killed one man to save 10,000!” The Directory decided to make Marat a martyr to the Revolution, and commissioned Jean Louis David to assist in burnishing his image.
1798: President John Adams signs into law the fourth of four bills collectively known as the Alien and Sedition Acts, passed in response to a high level of Francophile agitation against the Quasi-War with that country. The Sedition Act signed today made it a federal offense to write, publish or utter a false or malicious statement against the United States government. Thomas Jefferson was particularly vocal against the law, a dispute which cause a deep breach in their friendship. This law, although it had an expiration date of the last day of Adams’ term, was eventually overturned based on a 10thAmendment ruling on Congress overstepping its enumerated powers, rather than a more predictable First Amendment argument.
1799: In the Egyptian village of Rosetta (a.k.a. Rashid), French Captain Pierre-Francois Bouchard finds a portion of an ancient stele, with inscriptions in three languages: Egyptian hieroglyphics, Egyptian Deotic script, and ancient Greek. The common inscriptions, written in honor of the 13-year-old Ptolemy V, provided the first viable translations of hieroglyphics. When the British army defeated the French in Egypt in 1801, they assumed possession of the Rosetta Stone as part of the Treaty of Alexandria. It was immediately put on display in the British Museum, where it remains to this day.
1804: Death of former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton (b.1755), the victim of a duel with the sitting Vice President, Aaron Burr.
1815: Four weeks after his decisive loss at Waterloo, Napoleon Bonaparte surrenders himself aboard HMS Bellerophon, which immediately transports him and a small retinue into permanent exile on the tiny island of Saint Helena, deep in the South Atlantic.
1853: Commodore Mathew Perry, USN, sets foot in Araga, Japan and begins his first negotiations to open that country to outside trade interests, i.e., the United States.
1870: Georgia becomes the final former Confederate state readmitted to the Union.
1943: Battle of Prokhorovka, the primary armor engagement of the two-month-long Battle of Kursk, which began on the 9th as a German attempt to perform a double-pincer encirclement of the Soviet bulge resulting from the German’s earlier withdrawal from Stalingrad. Kursk was the last offensive operation executed by the Wehrmacht on their eastern front; any further activity was halted by Hitler as a result of yesterday’s Allied invasion of Sicily. The eight-hour battle pitted 494 German tanks against 593 Soviet T-34 tanks plus 37 pieces of self-propelled artillery, creating the largest armored battle in history. The Soviets were able to stall the German offensive and save their over-extended forces, but they could not exploit the action to prevent a continued orderly German withdrawal.
1846: Congress authorizes the retrocession to Virginia of District of Columbia lands south of the Potomac River. This is the location of the Pentagon.
1854: Birth of George Eastman (d.1932), inventor of roll film in 1884 and film transparencies, the foundation of the motion picture industry. He founded the Eastman Kodak company in 1892, establishing mass-produced film and standardized photo equipment that brought photography out of the expensive laboratories of the dry plate process and into the hands of the general public. In his later years Eastman was a notable philanthropist, donating over $100 million to a variety of charities and foundations.
1856: Birth of Nikola Tesla (d.1943), Serbian-American inventor whose work with electricity and magnetism was well ahead of his time.
1863: New York Draft Riots– The first day of the Union Draft. July thirteenth saw the draft’s second lottery drawing, and it wasn’t complete before a mob of over 500 Irish immigrant laborers converged on the building where the drawing was underway and began shattering windows with paving stones, eventually setting the building ablaze. NYC’s police were inadequate to quell the riot and it ended up spreading uptown. Over the next three days over 120 civilians were killed, scores of buildings destroyed, and the riots degenerated into a near-pogrom against the city’s black population, against whom the Irish competed for the low-paying entry jobs.
1868: Final ratification of the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing full citizenship to former slaves.
1870: Death of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren (b.1809), Chief of the Navy Bureau of Ordnance, and inventor of a number of advanced muzzle-loading naval artillery pieces. His legacy includes the Naval Test range on the Potomac River which bears his name.
1896: Rising to the podium of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, former Congressman William Jennings Bryan delivers the defining speech of his lifetime, and possibly of the entire post-Reconstruction period: The Cross of Gold, an electrifying comparison of the lives of working men and farmers against the lives of elite city dwellers and market speculators. The comparison leveled the ongoing debate on monetary policy, which had been tightly regulated at a 16:1 ratio of silver to gold coinage, with gold being the standard of exchange between all the major economies. By Bryan’s lights, the tight standard left the common man without the means to provide for his family, let alone expand his own farm or business. Bryan forcefully advocated for free silver to break the cities’ stranglehold on rural America, concluding with the words, “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” Standing at the podium with arms outstretched, the convention delegates sat in stunned silence for what seemed like an eternity, remaining silent as he stepped off the platform and returned to his seat. The convention then suddenly erupted into chaos and Bryan was hoisted to the shoulders of the crowd and paraded around the convention floor. The next day’s voting reflected the delegates’ continuing enthusiasm, and Bryan swept the Democrat’s nomination for president, eventually losing to William McKinley in November.
1923: Official dedication of the HOLLYWOOD sign, up on the hill above the Los Angeles suburb. Yes, it originally said “Hollywoodland”.
1925: Opening day of the ACLU-initiated trial against young biology teacher John T. Scopes, in Dayton, Tennessee. Media circus to follow. The case was sensationalized primarily because of the presence of the two most famous lawyers in the country, three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryant for the prosecution, and Clarence Darrow for Scopes. The climax came when the two lawyers agreed to cross-examine each other on the issues surrounding the teaching of evolution.
1940: First major Luftwaffe assault in what would become known as the Battle of Britain.
1943: Opening guns of Operation HUSKEY, the Allied invasion of Sicily. During this campaign Lieutenant General George S. Patton cements his reputation as “Old Blood and Guts” as he sweeps wide of his assigned lanes and captures not only Palermo at the western end of the island, but beats British Field Marshall Montgomery to Messina in the east.
1944: After three weeks of intense fighting, Saipan Island in the Marinas is declared taken. The final days of the assault included the Japanese staging a suicidal Bonzai charge that overwhelmed the combined Army and Marines units in their path, but resulted in over 4,500 Japanese deaths, many of whom were already-wounded personnel dragooned into the desperate charge. Saipan was also where Japanese civilian suicides were first ordered en masse. The island became a major US Army Air Corps bomber base for attacks on the Japanese homeland.
1955: Volkswagen introduces the Karmann-Ghia. The car eventually becomes a display in New York’s Museum of Modern Art and remains in production until 1974.
1958: A military coup, led by Major General Abdul Karim el Qasim, overthrows the Iraqi monarchy, killing the young king and his uncle the crown prince. Qasim himself is overthrown in a 1963 coup led by the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party.
1960: Death of Joy Gresham, (b.1915), former socialist author, best known for her Christian conversion and marriage to British author C.S. Lewis, who chronicled her suffering and death from cancer in the book, A Grief Observed.
1962: Launch of TELSTAR, the world’s first active, direct-relay communications satellite.
1962: The United States conducts the STARFISH high-altitude nuclear test program. This burst was one of five conducted in outer space during the FISHBOWL series of tests. STARFISH was a 1.4 megaton W49 warhead carried by a Thor rocket to an apogee of 680 miles. The Mk.4 re-entry vehicle was detonated at 250 miles and produced an electromagnetic pulse that forced virtually all of the instrumentation off the scale, in addition to creating an orbital radiation belt and an aurora visible for hours after the burst.
1985: French intelligence agents (DGSE) bomb and sink the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbor, New Zealand.