1187: After three weeks of siege the Saracen warlord Saladin captures Jerusalem, ending 88 years of Crusader rule over the Holy City. Saladin permitted the option of an orderly departure of its citizens, or a hefty dhimmi tax. Thirty days after the fall, Jerusalem’s gates were opened and the vast majority of the city left under Saladin’s guarantee of safe passage for Antioch and other Christian strongholds along the Levant coast.
1226: Death of the monk Francis of Assisi (b.1181), who renounced a life of wealth and soldiering in favor of a life of pious poverty and prayer. His Franciscan Order grew to be one of the most influential in Europe, with its ministry structured on the simple precept: “To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps,” the injunction being drawn from Francis’ reading of Matthew 10:9. The current Bishop of Rome took Francis’ name when he ascended to the papacy in 2013.
1535: French explorer Jacques Cartier lays claim to the area now known as Montreal, Canada.
1535: Publication of the Coverdale Bible, the first English printing of the complete 66 canonical books plus the Apocrypha. Translator Miles Coverdale used William Tyndales’s New Testament translations, in addition to Tyndale’s translation of the book of Jonah. The rest of the Old Testament he translated himself from German texts and the Latin Vulgate.
1553: On the death of her half-brother Edward VI, Mary I of England, the legitimate offspring of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, is crowned Queen of England. Despite her father’s serial marriages and semi-Protestant breakaway from the Roman Catholic Church, she remained a lifelong Catholic, and within months or her coronation initiated a violent Catholic Restoration across the country that swept up many of the most notable men in the realm. The numbers of imprisonments and executions conducted under her hand earned her the lasting nickname of “Bloody Mary,” a reputation made worse by the glories of her half-sister Elizabeth I, who assumed the throne after Mary’s death in 1558. Despite her dark reputation, she is notable for being the first woman to successfully assume the throne of England, paving the way for Elizabeth’s succession.
1574: Six years into what would become the Eighty Years War (also known as the Dutch War of Independence) a flat-bottomed fleet of boats and ships, collected and led by Prince William the Silent of the House of Orange, and manned by the Watergeuzen(known in English as the “Sea Beggars,” a name that grew from an earlier gathering of Dutch nobles who pledged to each other the defense of the Netherlands against the continuing deprivations of the Spanish Crown.), lifts the Siege of Leiden, and saves the university city from certain desolation from the hand of the Spanish Duke of Alva. The dynastic ebbs and flows of the 16th and 17th Centuries provide much fodder for our lingering cultural sense of what is good and what is not. It always struck me as odd that the 17 provinces of the Netherlands were under Spanish rule, unless you remember that Spain was, itself, ruled by princes from the Austrian House of Hapsburg, who schemed long enough to see their dynasty completely surround their arch-enemy, France. The economic power of this region provided an unusually lucrative income for the Spanish throne, and they took great pains to keep it under the Spanish thumb, both politically and economically. William of Orange tapped into the stirrings of Dutch nationalism and led a rebellion against Spanish rule that would eventually lead to the independence of the Netherlands in 1648, but that’s another story. Siege of Leiden: this strategically located city was a hotbed of independent thinking and support for the rebellion, and Alva was especially ruthless in his attempts to beat them down. The city’s outstanding defensive dispositions- walls and moats- protected it from Alva’s first investment a couple years earlier, and again during this siege. But the city’s situation also made them terribly isolated from William’s relieving force. William finally sent a carrier pigeon into the city, telling them to hang on for three more months, at which point he would arrive by boat with a relieving force. To do so, he broke the dykes between the North Sea and Leiden, and systematically sailed his fleet across the flooded polderland, driving Alva’s forces from the field and relieving the city, eventually unloading tons of herring and white bread for the starving citizens. The event remains a Big Deal in the Dutch psyche, and includes those odd little bits that you sometimes wonder about. For example, if Dutch children are bad at Christmastime, they are threatened with being fed to the Black Prince (Alva always wore black), or they are threatened with being sent off to Spain, which would have been a terrifying proposition in 1574. The day is celebrated today with meals of herring and white bread, and a carrot & onion stew called “Hutspot,” which was actually a Spanish meal, abandoned hot by the defending army at the sudden appearance of the rising waters that carried in the Watergeuzen.
1780: Death of British spy John Andre (b.1750), hanged by the neck until dead. he was closely aligned with Benedict Arnold’s plan to turn over West Point to the British. Although he proclaimed his innocence of espionage, his plea was undone by having the plans for West Point tucked into his socks, which did not go over well with the military tribunal who sentenced him. Everyone associated with him between his arrest and his hanging agreed that he remained the consummate gentleman, facing death like a true soldier, despite not being allowed a soldierly death by firing squad.
1795: The young French general (age 26 ) Napoleon Bonaparte, fresh from suppressing counter-revolutionary insurrection down in Toulon, arrives in Paris to suppress an even more dangerous insurrection that physically threatens the National Convention. He orders several batteries of artillery into position in the streets of the capital to protect the Tuilieries Palace. The cannons are not loaded with normal cannonballs, but with thousands of small pellets, making them the equivalent of giant shotguns. Bonaparte’s artillery mows down over 1,400 royalists, tidily ending the revolt. His actions today quickly became known as the “whiff of grapeshot…”
1861: Birth of the great American artist Fredric Remington (d.1909) whose eye for our Western heritage was unparalleled.
1871: Birth of Nobel Laureate Cordell Hull (d.1955), who carries the distinction of being the nation’s longest-serving Secretary of State- 11 years- during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. He is credited with being the “Father of the United Nations,” a role for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945. On the morning of December 7th, 1941, when he received word about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor at the very moment two Japanese diplomats were in his anteroom awaiting an audience regarding continuing negotiations. What happened next is deliciously described in the Wikipedia:
“Roosevelt advised him not to tell them about the raid but ‘to receive them formally and coolly bow them out’. After he had glanced at their copy of the fourteen-part message [Japan’s declaration that negotiations were at an end], Hull’s anger burst forth. ‘In all my fifty years of public service,’ he told the astonished diplomats, ‘I have never seen such a document that was more crowded with infamous falsehood and distortion.’ Nomura and Kurusu, who had not been told of the attack, bowed themselves out in an embarrassed fluster. A department official overheard Hull muttering under his breath as the door closed, ‘Scoundrels and piss-ants.’”
1789: President George Washington signs the first Thanksgiving Day proclamation.
1863: President Abraham Lincoln signs a proclamation designating the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.
1883: First continuous run of the Orient Express which set the standard for luxury travel between Paris and Istanbul.
1884: Under the tutelage of Commodore Stephen Luce, the United States Naval War College is established in Newport, Rhode Island. The school nurtured among its first faculty Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, one of the most brilliant intellects ever to don a Navy uniform, and developer of the seminal theory of naval warfare that holds naval fleets as the key to controlling events ashore. A “Mahanian Navy” is one comprised primarily of capital ships that can duke it out on the high seas with other capital ships, after which they can turn their attention to the land campaign, if necessary.
1889: American inventor Thomas Edison publicly displays his motion picture device for the first time.
1890: Encouraged by Galen Clark and John Muir, and building on the Yosemite Grant signed by President Lincoln, Congress establishes Yosemite National Park, a spectacular glacial valley and wilderness area in the central Sierra Nevada range that defines the National Park system to this day.
1892: Death of British Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson (b.1809).
1904: Death of Austrian chemist Carl Bayer (b.1847). He patented version of salicylic acid, just guessing.
1908: Sale of the first Model T Ford, marketed for the unheard of price of $850.00, when most automobiles of the day cost well over $2,000. Henry Ford was determined to build a machine that virtually anyone could afford- including his factory workers. Between the initial start-up in 1908 and the end of the run in 1927, the Ford Motor Company built over 15,000,000 of them, a record only recently surpassed by the air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle.
1908: The government of Austria-Hungary annexes Bosnia and Herzegovina into their polyglot empire.
1919: President Woodrow Wilson suffers a massive stroke that paralyzes the left side of his body, rendering him essentially incapacitated for the remainder of his Presidency. His wife Edith completely controlled his schedule and access to anyone outside the immediate White House circle, particularly the Vice President, the entire Cabinet, and visiting Members of Congress. After several months, she arranged for journalist Louis Sibold to write a false account of his health. Toward the end of his term, he would be wheeled into the Cabinet Room, where he would preside but only make the most perfunctory remarks.
1921: Birth of North American Aviation test pilot Scott Crossfield (d.2006), who alternated with fellow test pilot Chuck Yeager in setting altitude and speed records in increasingly spectacular and dangerous test aircraft during the 1950s. He was the first to reach Mach 2.0. He was intimately involved in the design and test flights of the X-15 rocket plane, flying the machine 14 times to verify systems and procedures, without making any record-breaking flights himself. His own X-15 records are Mach 2.97, and an altitude of 91,800 feet.
1927: Opening night for The Jazz Singer, starring the versatile Al Jolson. The movie was the first commercial presentation of a “talkie” where sound and music were synchronized with the visual images on the screen.
1928: The Soviet Union announces its first Five Year Plan, setting production quotas, prices, distribution plans and work assignments for the entire country.
1935: Fascist Italy, governed by Benito Mussolini, opens its invasion of Abyssinia, an eight month conflict that ended with the region’s annexation into the Italian Empire as Italian East Africa. The glory days were brief, as the colonies were stripped away from Italy by the Allies of World War II, and later granted independence as Ethiopia and Somalia.
1949: Chinese warlord Mao Tse Tung proclaims the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.
1950: First installment of the Peanuts cartoon strip, written and drawn by Charles Schultz.
1955: First television broadcast of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club.
1957: The Soviet Union successfully launches Sputnik 1 into orbit, creating a little beep heard ‘round the world. You youngsters may find it hard to believe, but that little ball of aluminum turned the United States inside out until we launched a little satellite of our own. Part of the angst was the realization that the Russians had the rocket technology to lob a bomb across the planet at us, and we had nothing in return.
1957: First broadcast of Leave it to Beaver. The program ran 234 episodes, up through 1963. [“With Tony Dow, Barbara Billingsley, Hugh Beaumont… and Jerry Mathers, as The Beaver”]
1962: Navy Commander Wally Schirra blasts into orbit aboard Sigma-7 the fifth flight of the Mercury space program. The six-orbit mission lasted a little over 9 hours. The Sigma-7 mission was distinctive from the engineering perspective as it tested the suitability of spacecraft systems for progressively longer duration missions. The tests did not make for much drama (other than the fact of orbiting in space), as Schirra spent much of the mission doing essentially nothing, either permitting the spacecraft automated flight controls to maintain its positioning, or shutting down the system entirely for hours at a time, and then seeing what happened when it was re-engaged. It provided proof-of-concept for the remaining Mercury flight (22 orbits) and the much more ambitious planning for the Gemini program. Schirra was the only one of the original astronauts to fly on all three of the United States’ original space programs.
1973: Opening guns in the Yom Kippur War, with coordinated Egyptian and Syrian attacks across the Suez Canal into Israeli-occupied Sanai Peninsula and Golan Heights respectively. Catching the Israeli Defense Forces off-guard on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, both Arab armies made significant territorial gains during the first three days of the fighting. Three weeks later (10/25), with the Israelis having crossed the Suez Canal themselves to completely encircle the Egyptian Third Army and advancing within artillery range of Cairo, and in the northern fight having recovered all the ground initially lost to Syria and then expanded their hold to the entirety of the high ground within sight of Damascus, all parties accepted a brokered ceasefire that ended the war.
1979: As the first step in implementation of the Carter-Torrijos Panama Canal Treaty, the United States formally released its sovereignty over the Canal Zone, changing its status to a tenant of the Panamanian government.
1981: Death of Anwar Sadat (b.1918), President of Egypt, at the hand of a core of Army officers egged on by an Islamist fatwa issued by Omar Abdel-Rhaman, a.k.a. “The Blind Sheikh” who also was also convicted for the first attack on the World Trade Center. Sadat’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel negated in Islamist’s eyes any gains he made by launching the 1973 Yom Kippur War against the Jewish state.
1990: The final day of existence for the soviet-style German Democratic Republic.
2001: NATO confirms Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty for the first and only time. You remember that Article 5 is the core of the treaty, stating that an attack on one is an attack on all. Although it was designed to counter a Soviet attack on Western Europe, it was actually the United States who invoked it after 9/11. Germany responded right away by deploying NATO AWACS to U.S. airspace, and the rest of the European allies did their bit by supporting our engagement in Afghanistan.