1199: While making an un-guarded walking tour around castle Chalus-Chabroi, which he was besieging, Richard Coeur-de-Lion, King of England and hero of the Third Crusade, is struck in the neck by a crossbow bolt fired from the ramparts. His wound quickly turned gangrenous, and he died on April 6th. Immediately after the shooting his men captured the assailant, who turned out to be a young boy whose father and two brothers were killed during the siege. Richard forgave the boy and gave him 100 shillings to begin his life again. The king’s chivalry did not last past April 7th, however. In a retaliatory orgy of medieval brutality, the notorious mercenary Captain Mercadier re-captured the boy and had him flailed alive and hanged for regicide. After his death, Richard’s brain was buried at Charray Abbey in Poitou, his heart in Rouen, his entrails in the chapel of Chulus-Chabroi, and the remainder of his mortal remains at the feet of his father’s tomb at Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou.
1306: Robert the Bruce, after years of political maneuvering with fellow Scottish lords, multiple wars with England’s Edward Longshanks, alliances and betrayals against William Wallace, is crowned King of Scotland.
1513: Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon discovers Florida.
1533(a): King Henry VIII divorces his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, widowed wife of Henry’s older brother, Arthur.
1533: Thomas Cranmer is made Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer worked the previous five years as part of the ecclesiastical legal team that developed the justification for Henry’s eventual divorce from Catherine of Aragon. The Boleyn family lobbied hard in favor of Cranmer’s accession to Canterbury to ensure his role in sanctifying their daughter Anne as Henry’s bride. Cranmer’s position, as head of the English Church, and his kindred intellectual-spiritual relationship with Erasmus and other key reformers, put him in the thick of changes to church doctrine that remain to this day, including the widely used Book of Common Prayer. Cranmer was caught on the wrong side of the Catholic restoration that began after the death of Henry during the short reign of his son Edward VI. He was tried for treason under a papal court and sentenced to death under English law. In the months prior to his scheduled death, he published six recantations of his “heresies.” At the pulpit on the day of his execution, he opened with a prayer and an exhortation to obey the king and queen, but he ended his sermon totally unexpectedly, deviating from the prepared script. He forcefully renounced the recantations that he had written or signed with his own hand since his degradation, and as such, he stated his hand would be punished by being burnt first. He then proclaimed, “And as for the pope, I refuse him, as Christ’s enemy, and Antichrist with all his false doctrine.” Crown bailiffs pulled him from the pulpit and took him to where his colleagues Latimer and Ridley had been burnt six months before. As the flames drew around him, he fulfilled his promise by placing his right hand into the heart of the fire. His dying words were, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit… I see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”
1584: Sir Walter Raleigh is granted a royal patent to colonize Virginia.
1634: The first settlers arrive in Maryland, an English colony established by George Calvert, the Lord Baltimore, as a haven for Catholics in the New World.
1773: Birth of Nathaniel Bowditch (d.1838), American mathematician and navigator, whose books on celestial navigation remain the standard to this day.
1775: In his continuing pursuit of effective colonial management, King George III endorses the New England Restricting Act. In a nod to colonial “self-rule” the act removes direct taxation to support the British military presence in New England, and replaces it with a billing invoice to for New Englanders to pay. It further stipulates that the New England colonies may only conduct commercial trade with England and adds a provision that will, as of July 20th, prohibit New Englanders from fishing in North Atlantic waters. The colonies did not accept the Act.
1794: Congress authorizes the construction of six frigates, one of which, USS Constitution, is still afloat and in good sailing condition. Their expense caused critics to question the need for a “Six-Ship Navy.”
1807: The British Parliament abolishes the slave trade. Slavery per se remained legal, but there was now for the British Empire no further commerce in human beings.
1814: Death of Dr. Joseph Ignace Guillotin (b.1738) who was, ironically, a long-time foe of capital punishment. Dr Guillotin, as a member of the new French National Assembly in 1791, introduced a six-point legislative package he thought would rationalize the justice system and lead to the eventual end of executions. Only one part of his reform plan was adopted, with the result that the machine now bearing his slightly modified name- guillotine– was quickly designed and built to administer a fast and painless death to anyone, regardless of age, sex or wealth. The machine thus embodied the Revolution’s rational concepts of equality and humanity. In the hands of the revolutionary French government, it eventually killed over 15,000 people between 1792 and the close of the French Revolution in 1799, and remained in regular- although less vigorous- use through 1930.
1836: Birth of brewer Frederick Pabst (d.1904), known for making the best beer ever, Pabst Blue Ribbon.
1847: After a 20 day siege, General Winfield Scott captures the Mexican port city of Veracruz. The battle was the first large-scale amphibious assault in American arms, and to a certain extent was what we would now call a “combined arms” joint operation, using both military and naval forces simultaneously. Scott’s systematic planning and execution skills established uncompromising standards for military operations, standards that were seen again fourteen years later during the War Between the States under the leadership of the scores of junior officers who learned their trade under Old Fuss ‘n Feathers himself during the Veracruz campaign and the subsequent march to Mexico City.
1848: An ice jam blocks Niagara Falls for 30 hours.
1853: Birth of painter Vincent van Gogh (d.1890).
1865: The Siege of Petersburg– Confederate forces temporarily overrun the Union’s Fort Stedman rampart along the southeastern perimeter of the siege line. The next three weeks will bring the War Between the States to its dramatic conclusion.
1865: In the opening move of the last great campaign of the Civil War, General Grant orders Phil Sheridan’s cavalry to sweep around the southwestern flanks of the Petersburg siege line to block Lee’s expected retreat toward his remaining rail supply line in Lynchburg. A short, sharp fight at Lewis Farm forced the initial turning of the larger Confederate flank.
1866: President Andrew Johnson vetoes a civil rights bill. After his impeachment, Congress sends the same legislation to the States to become the 14thAmendment to the Constitution. It would be an interesting thought experiment to consider how the interaction between the Several States and the federal government would have developed had the eventual 14th Amendment been put on the books simply as a federal statute. You would be right that this is a counter-factual line of reasoning, but on the other hand, much mischief has derived from the 14th in the last 50 or so years.
1867: Secretary of State William Seward signs a treaty with Russia purchasing the Alaska territory for $7,200,000.00, or about $.02 per acre.
1874: Birth of Robert Frost (d.1963), American poet laureate. His most famous poem and my personal favorite is the deceptively simple, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.” The 86 year old Frost read from the podium at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in January, 1961, the temperature barely cracking 20 degrees.
1879: Birth of photographer Edward Steichen (d.1973). By profession an artist and curator, Steichen applied his artistic sensibilities to the relatively new medium of the camera and soon became the photographer of choice for American high society.
1886: John Pemberton brews his first batch of Coca Cola in Atlanta, Georgia.
1899: Birth of August Anheuser Busch Jr. (d.1989), brewer known for his beechwood aged ale beers.
1902: Death of Cecil Rhodes (b.1853), the Briton who founded the DeBeers diamond mines, and whose name still defines the peak of scholarship. The fertile country north of South Africa was for decades named for him, although today it is divided between Zambia and Robert Mugabe’s basket case of socialist irresponsibility, Zimbabwe. Rhodes was a lifelong proponent of the virtues of British colonialism: “Remember that you are an Englishman, and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life.”
1911: The U.S. Army formally adopts the M1911 .45 ACP as its standard sidearm. The pistol was designed around two primary requirements: 1) to be self-loading, and; 2) to use a heavy enough projectile to stop the charge of a highly agitated and drugged-up Moro tribesman the Army had been fighting for the last twelve years.
1912: The first of 3,020 Japanese cherry trees are planted on the north bank of the Potomac River near the planned site of the Jefferson memorial.
1917: Birth of Man O’War (d.1947), often considered the greatest race horse of the 20th century, with a W-L record of 20-1-0, the single loss being a second place deriving from a particularly poor start. Man o’War’s grandson, Seabiscuit, carried on his legacy into the 1940s.
1918: Birth of Walmart founder Sam Walton (d.1992).
1923: Death of Sarah Bernhardt (b.1844), Over the course of a long stage and screen career, “The Divine Sarah” defined the term “drama queen.” Mark Twain described her thusly: “There are five kinds of actresses: bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses— and then there is Sarah Bernhardt.”
1928: Birth of James Lovell, one of the second group of astronauts. “The New Nine,” selected for the US space program. He flew on Gemini 7 (first orbital rendezvous), commanded Gemini 12 (rendezvous, docking and three spacewalks from spacecraft to spacecraft, was Command Module Pilot for the dramatic flight of Apollo 8 (first to leave Earth’s gravitational field and fist to orbit the Moon), and commanded the even more dramatic but ill-fated Apollo 13 (Service Module explosion, trans-lunar return via Lunar Module as a lifeboat).
1939: The Spanish Civil War ends when Madrid falls to Generalissimo Francisco Franco.
1945: Last launch of the Nazi V-2 ballistic missile. Under development since late 1942, its first launch in combat occurred on 6 September 1944. More than 1,100 missiles were fired in the next six months, killing over 2700 Britons. Captured V-2 parts and engineers formed the core of the space programs for both the United States and Soviet Union for the next 25 years. It remains the core technology for the widely deployed SCUD ballistic missile.
1951: Julius and Ethel Rosenburg are found guilty of espionage- giving nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. They are both executed by electric chair at Sing-Sing prison two years later. Their two sons, aged 6 and 10, are adopted by family friends under assumed names.
1964: The strongest earthquake in American history strikes Alaska at 8.4 on the Richter scale. A 100 foot tsunami devastates coastal towns all around the Gulf of Alaska.
1969: John Lennon and Yoko Ono perform a “Bed-in For Peace”on their honeymoon in the Amsterdam Hilton.
1969: Death of Dwight D. Eisenhower (b.1890), USMA class of 1915.
1971: Three years after the fact, Army 1st Lieutenant William Calley is convicted of murder in the My Lai massacre.
1977: A KLM 747 collides with a Pan Am 747 on the foggy runway at Tenerife, Canary Islands killing 583 souls. It remains the single worst disaster in aviation history.
1979: Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat, Israeli Prime Minister Meacham Begin and U.S. President Jimmy Carter sign the Camp David Accords, the first formal peace treaty between Israel and an Arab state since the Jewish state’s founding in 1948.
1979: A series of serious but solvable water system malfunctions, combined with human error, act to prematurely shut down the cooling system in Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island reactor, raising internal core temperatures to over 3000 degrees and releasing a moderate amount of radioactive steam into the atmosphere. No one dies, although some workers inside the plant are exposed to “unhealthy” levels of radiation. The ensuing public hysteria generally halts the construction of new nuclear power plants in the United States to this day.
1981: John Hinkley shoots President Ronald Reagan and three others in his entourage in Washington D.C. A .22 calibre bullet buried itself to within an inch of his heart, but Reagan’s confidence and sense of humor carried the day. To his wife Nancy, “Honey, I forgot to duck.” To the doctors who were about to operate, “Please tell me you are all Republicans.” And as he came out of anesthesia, a note to his aides: “All in all, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.” Hinkley is eventually found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (NGRI) and remained mostly confined to a mental institution just up the road from here, although in late 2016 the court granted him a bit more freedom to leave the hospital campus, with many conditions. On June 15th 2022 Hinkley was formally released.