814 A.D.: Death of Charlemagne first to hold the title of Holy Roman Emperor. His conquest and rule over a continuous empire covering most of central and western Europe created, for the first time in the post-Roman era, the political conditions for what we now know as “Europe,” an entity, rather than the plethora of tribes and anarchy that followed the collapse of Roman rule.
1225: Birth of Thomas Aquinas (d.1274), who began his career as an Italian monk, but whose force of intellect and spiritual insights catapulted him to
1547: Death of the mercurial King Henry VIII (b.1491), leaving in his wake the
1627: Birth of Irish chemist Robert Boyle (d.1691). If you’ve ever had to pop your ears or burp in an airplane, it’s because of him. QUIZ! Why is it his fault? (Yes, you old-timers, you’ve seen this question before (be patient with me)).
1646: After a tumultuous reign that saw two vicious civil wars fought between his royalist army and armies of an increasingly assertive Parliament, King Charles I is beheaded for high treason. General Oliver Cromwell assumes a role as Lord Protector of the Realm.
1661: As part of the settlement leading to the restoration of the British monarchy, the two-years dead remains of Oliver Cromwell are exhumed and ritually executed for regicide, 12 years to the day from Charles I’s beheading at Cromwell’s instigation. After the ceremony, the mutilated corpse was tossed into a common pit grave, and his head was displayed on a pike outside Westminster until 1685. It changed hands several times
1759: Birth of Scottish poet laureate Robert Burns (d.1796).
1787: In the final battle of what today is an obscure incident, 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
1801: Birth of Horatia Nelson (d.1881), illegitimate daughter from the torrid and shockingly public affair between Royal Navy hero Horatio Lord Nelson and Mrs. Emma Hamilton, wife of the British Consul in Leghorn, Italy.
1813: First publication of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice.
1833: Birth of Charles “Chinese” Gordon (d.1885), one of the great British generals from the heyday of Victorian colonial expansion. He had a long and colorful career, which is reflected in his nickname, to say nothing of all the schools and roads named in his honor. And remember all the Islamist quacking about “the Mahdi” coming back after our invasion of Iraq? Gordon fought the guy himself in Sudan, and was killed by an onslaught of Mahdi forces on the steps of the palace in Khartoum.
1850: The Kentucky senator Henry Clay introduces on the floor of the U.S. Senate The Compromise of 1850, a complicated set of bills designed to diffuse the increasingly volatile issue of slavery in the new territories of the United States. The proximate trigger was the end of the Mexican War, which brought with it a huge acquisition of territory from the Mexican Cession, the status of which could not be adequately defined by the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (which set the slave-free line in the territories at N36-30). The 1850 plan was this: a) California is admitted as a free state; b) Texas is admitted as a slave state; c) Texas drops its claims for territories in New Mexico in exchange for Federal assumption of Lone Star debt (hmm- plus ca change, as they say); d) New Mexico and Utah territories are organized to permit popular sovereignty to decide slave or free status; e) the importation and sale of slaves is prohibited in the District of Columbia, although slave labor there remains legal; f) the Fugitive Slave Act is strengthened. The final portions of the Compromise passed in
1853: Birth of Jose Marti (d.1895). Remember Radio Marti, the Miami station that broadcast actual news and information a la Voice of America during the Reagan Administration? It was named after this Cuban nationalist who was unrelenting in working to extract Cuba from Spain’s sclerotic colonial rule.
1862: Launch of USS Monitor at the Brooklyn Navy yard in New York. We’ll be seeing more about her operational history in March, but a little-remarked side note in her history was the alacrity with which she was built: 120 days from the contract signature to launch. Granted, designer John Ericsson had the plans already in hand but it is still an amazing feat of
1890: Birth of Robert Stroud (d.1963), convicted of
1912: Birth of American artist Jackson Pollock (d.1956).
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.
1947: Death of Chicago mobster / businessman / politician / Ward Chairman / political mentor… Al Capone (b.1899).
1948: Death of Orville Wright.
1958: Lego Corporation patents its design for locking bricks. Seems to have been a decent design, given the thousands of Legos still in our attack.
1971: In Uganda, Colonel Idi Amin leads a coup d’état against Milton Obote, becoming president of that benighted land.
1986: Space Shuttle Challenger blows up 73 seconds into launch, killing all 7 astronauts aboard.