753BC: Traditional date of the founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus, orphaned brothers, suckled by a she-wolf.
303 A.D.: Death of George of Lydda, who became revered as Saint George, patron saint of ten countries (we’re most familiar with England), no fewer than 19 cities (including Moscow, Russia), and numerous professions, most notably soldiers. Son of a Roman proconsul and his Palestinian wife, both Christians, George was a successful Roman soldier until ordered by the Emperor Diocletian to renounce his Christian faith and make sacrifice to the pagan gods. He refused, and the example of his bravery during the subsequent torture and execution provided strength for a host of subsequent Christian conversions, most notably the Empress herself and a pagan priest of the court. His association with slaying the dragon stems from a legend where he came upon a dragon who made a nest over the water supply of the city of Silene. The citizens have to dislodge the beast draw water, so every day they offer a sacrifice of a sheep, or if none is available, a maiden. George appears as the maiden is about to be sacrificed; he gets between the dragon and the damsel and slays the beast, saving her life ending the dragon’s hold on the city. The grateful citizens abandon their paganism and embrace Christianity. The Union Jack of the UK is designed around the Cross of St. George- the red cross on a white field, with St. Andrew’s cross (white X on blue field) and the Cross of St. Patrick (narrow red X on a white field).
33 A.D.: In an unusual epilogue from last Friday’s execution, an earthquake in the pre-dawn hours apparently dislodged the seals on the tomb of the late itinerant rabbi Jesus of Nazareth. Despite reports that the body is missing while the burial shroud remained in place, and widespread rumors from his former followers that he was physically witnessed walking and eating with them, government security forces assured the local population that everything was under control and nothing further will come of the event.
1519: Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes lands with a small army on the Mexican mainland near present-day Veracruz. To help motivate his men for the task of conquest ahead, he orders his ships scuttled. They are looking for glory and gold, and when they eventually reach the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, they find it.
1529: Signing of the Treaty of Saragossa, which plays out as the third diplomatic act between Spain and Portugal, dividing the world into their “legal” spheres of influence and colonization. Portugal, you’ll recall, had a long history of seaborne exploration into the southern Atlantic and along the coast of Africa, working to find an oceanic path eastwards to the Spice Islands (then called the Moluccas, later the Dutch East Indies, now called Indonesia). Spain focused on the direct route westward, and after Columbus’ discoveries in 1492, both countries realized that some means was needed to assign sovereignty to future discoveries and colonial outposts. First Act: In May of 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued a papal bull Inter Caetera, which defined the Line of Demarcation as a pole-to-pole meridian located halfway between the Cape Verde Islands (Portuguese) and the easternmost islands claimed by Columbus (Spanish). Second Act: The Treaty of Tordesillas, signed in June of 1494, cleaned up some of the ambiguity of the papal bull regarding pre-existing Spanish and Portuguese settlements on the “wrong” sides of the Line. It also moved the line a hundred miles or so westward, which magically gave Portugal a substantial toe-hold in South America, which they parlayed into the massive colony of Brazil. The meridian of Tordesillas did not- alas- extend all the way around the earth, and between Magellan’s (Spanish) claim on the Philippines and Portugal’s claims on the Moluccas, the need for an antipodal line of demarcation resulted in today’s treaty.
1558: At age 16, Mary, Queen of Scots, marries the Dauphin of France. This is the first of three marriages for the Catholic monarch who, you will recall, created no end of intrigue and real and implied threat to the (Protestant) English throne of her cousin Elizabeth I. The dynastic wheelings and dealings around her would make your head hurt, so I won’t bother you with it all. Suffice it to say, despite her execution at age 45, in the end her son James VI of Scotland also became King James I of England, punctuating the extinction of the Tudor line when Elizabeth died.
1564: Birth of William Shakespeare (d.1616). He was somebody that wrote something.
1574: Death of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, one of the leading lights and great patrons of the Italian Renaissance in Florence.
1599: Birth of Oliver Cromwell (d.1658), alternately remembered as: a) Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of Great Britain, Scotland and Ireland, or; b) Regicide for overseeing the execution of King Charles I.
1731: Death of Daniel Defoe (b.1659), novelist is best known for his tale of the castaway, Robinson Crusoe.
1792: Three years into the French Revolution, Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle composes La Marseillaise, the new national anthem of the French Republic.
1836: Battle of San Jacinto. Led by Sam Houston, the Army of Texas completely surprises and routs the Mexican army of General Santa Ana, who is also Mexican President. The short, sharp fight opens with the Texas army screaming from the woods adjacent to the Mexican camp with cries of “Remember the Alamo!” and, “Remember Goliad!” 18 minutes later, the fight is over, with over 700 Mexicans dead and what remains of Santa Ana’s army completely shattered and fleeing into the countryside. Santa Ana himself is captured, and Houston negotiates a complete Mexican withdrawal from Texas. Although Mexico does not recognize it until 1848, Santa Ana’s defeat effectively marks the beginning of Texas as an independent republic.
1856: Birth of Henri Philippe Petain (d.1951), Marshal of France during the Great War and hero of the 9-month long Battle of Verdun in 1916, where he is credited with the inspirational quote: “Ils ne passeront pas!” (They shall not pass!”). Petain’s reputation took a dive in June, 1940 when the old war horse refused to countenance continued resistance to the German onslaught across the northern tier of France. He signed an armistice with the Germans and was elected to head the collaborationist French government, headquartered in Vichy. His latent Fascist instincts took over* as he set about abolishing what he considered the republican excesses and weaknesses of the Third Republic, which he believed led to the failure of the French army to halt the German’s Blitzkrieg at the Maginot Line. [Photos: The Savior of Verdun (1916); A German meeting of a different order (1940)] Note: in the film classic,Casablanca (1942), there is a scene early in the movie of a thief being chased through a marketplace You may recall, as the scene plays out, the camera lingers on a decaying wall, on which is painted a memorial** to Petain and his famous quote. Two years into the bloodletting and betrayal of the Second World War, Petain and his Vichy government were particular objects of scorn, made more visceral by the shocking reversals of his earlier words and actions as the Nazi juggernaut continued apace.
1861: Birth of General Edmund Allenby (d.1936). The British general fought in the Boer War, and at the outbreak of the Great War, fought on the Western Front. In June of 1917 he took command of the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) which fought the Ottoman Turks from Cairo in a campaign to dislodge them from their Middle Eastern empire. Allenby was the key supporter of Colonel T.E. Lawrence’s efforts with the Arabs in Sinai and the upper Arabian Peninsula. As Turkish resistance crumbled, Allenby specifically targeted the capture of Jerusalem as his key strategic goal, which he accomplished in December of 1917. Out of respect to the spiritual significance of the city, he and his staff entered through the Jaffa gate on foot, a display that paid huge dividends as he set about un-doing several centuries of Turkish domination.
1870: Birth of Vladimir Lenin (d.1924).
1874: Birth of Gugliemo Marconi (d.1937), Italian-born inventor and recipient of the Nobel Prize in physics for his studies of electromagnetic radiation. Marconi migrated to Great Britain and founded the radio manufacturing (now electronics) company that still bears his name.
1889: The Oklahoma Land Rush, staged at high noon, opened the former Indian Territory for free settlement. Within hours, over 10,000 people coalesced in one spot and founded Oklahoma City.
1898: Two months after the sinking of USS Maine, and one day after Congress declared war on Spain, the US Navy begins a blockade of Cuba.
1910: Death of Samuel L. Clemens (b.1835), a.k.a. Mark Twain, rumors of whose death are no longer greatly exaggerated. Interestingly, he prophesied a year earlier:“I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.”
1912: First publication of Pravda (“Truth”) as the official organ of the Russian Communist Party.
1915: Opening assault on Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula by a British Commonwealth force, primarily troops from Australia and New Zealand- “ANZACs” who took ferocious casualties during the course of the futile nine month campaign. The assault was the brainchild of First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill (the same), who believed the Central Powers could be defeated through the “soft underbelly” of their putative ally, the Ottoman Empire, also widely known as “The Sick Man of Europe.” After the initial landings, the Turks proved themselves not so sick after all, eventually forcing an ANZAC withdrawal under fire in January, 1916. The battle is credited with awakening the nationalist impulses of Australia and New Zealand, and is celebrated in those countries as ANZAC Day.
1916(a): The Easter Rising, a revolt against British rule in Ireland, begins in Dublin. The bombings and shootings are coordinated by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, precursors to the Irish Republican Army.
1916(b): British explorer Ernest Shackleton and a crew of 5 depart in an open lifeboat from Elephant Island, Antarctica, on a rescue mission for the crew of their ice-bound ship Endurance. They row and sail across 800 miles of the stormy Southern Ocean in a feat of astounding seamanship, navigation and endurance, landing safely on the southern shore of South Georgia Island. Knowing there is a whaling station on the north shore, Shackleton and one other man hike across the island to alert the station. They spend only three days recovering, and then lead a volunteer expedition back around the island by ship to pick up the rest of their party. Only days later, they take another volunteer party back to Elephant Island where all of the remaining Endurance crew is rescued from their survival huts (built from their overturned lifeboats). The entire story of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition reads like an adventure novel, except it is true, and Ernest Shackleton’s skills as planner and leader are at the center of it all. There were no fatalities.
1917: Birth of Dorian Leigh (d.2008) in the1940s and’50s, defined glamour photography and is called the first “supermodel.”
1917: Birth of the First Lady of Song and the Queen of Jazz, Ella Fitzgerald
1918: Death of Baron Manfred von Richthofen (b.1892), a.k.a. “The Red Baron.” The German fighter ace amassed 80 confirmed kills of Allied aircraft, leading his Jagdstaffel 2 to consistent successes not by dramatic acrobatics, but by disciplined tactics and superb marksmanship. The RAF credited his shoot down this day to Canadian Captain Roy Brown, but much controversy surrounds this decision: Richthofen was killed by a single .303 bullet through his chest (shot with an upward trajectory) and he landed his Fokker Dreidecker virtually undamaged in a French field. After recovering his body, the British squadron gave him a funeral with full military honors.
1947: Death of Willa Cather (b.1873), American author of frontier life on the Great Plains. Her most popular novels include O Pioneers, My Antonia andThe Song of the Lark.
1960: Brazilia, a completely artificial city carved out of the jungle, is commissioned as the new capital of Brazil, replacing Rio de Janero.
1970: The first “Earth Day.”
1986: Death of Wallis Simpson (b.1896), the American divorcee at the center of the British constitutional crisis of 1936, which led to King Edward VI’s abdication of the British throne so he could marry “the woman I love.” His brother, now suddenly King George VI, made him Duke of Windsor and Mrs. Simpson became the Duchess of Windsor, but without being styled “her royal highness.” The high-profile couple promptly moved to Paris
1989: End of the first week of a student-led mourning period over the death of reformer Hu Yaobang, who earlier resigned in protest from the Chinese Central Committee in January. On this day, over 10,000 students poured into Tienanmen Square to not only mourn, but to protest the lack of reform promised by the government. The protests would continue to grow, but remained peaceful until early June, when the communist government began its crackdown.
1994: Death of Richard Nixon (b.1913).
1995: Death of Ginger Rogers (b. 1911), the actress and dancer of whom it was said, “She did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels.”
2000: Federal Agents, actually dressed and acting as “jack-booted thugs,” seize at gunpoint* six year old Elian Gonzalez from his relative’s home in Miami and return him to the Worker’s Paradise in communist Cuba. Remember: this was in the United States of America. Thank you, Janet Reno, Attorney-General of the United States