1093: Dedication of Winchester Cathedral, the home of King Arthur’s round table.
1199: Death of Richard Coeur-de-Lion. Richard I was King of England from 1189 until his death. He was the second king of the House of Plantagenet. He also ruled as Duke of Normandy, Aquitaine and Gascony, Lord of Cyprus, Count of Poitiers, Anjou, Maine, and Nantes, and was overlord of Brittany at various times during the same period.
1388: An army of Swiss soldiers, outnumbered 16:1, defeats a Hapsburg army of over 6,500 in the Battle of Nafels, an astounding rout by about 400 armed citizens of the cantonment of Glarus and a handful of knights from other parts of Swiss Confederation. The battle was the final act in the long-running conflict between the ever-expansionist Hapsburg Empire and the farmers and shop keepers of the central Alps. After this battle, the Swiss kept their independence and the Emperor decided to leave them alone.
1413: After five years of increasingly bitter fighting with the Welsh, the 27-year-old Henry of Monmouth is crowned King Henry V of England on the death of his father, Henry IV. The young king almost immediately turned his attentions to regaining historic landholdings in France against the Valois dynasty, to say nothing of living out a life that inspired William Shakespeare to some of his finest work.
1521: Continuing his exploration of the Philippine archipelago, Ferdinand Magellan lands on the island of Cebu.
1585: Departure from England of a five-ship fleet, organized and funded by Sir Walter Raleigh, to create a permanent English colony in the New World. The group eventually landed and set up camp on the shores of Roanoke Island on North Carolina’s Albemarle Sound. The little settlement maintained a tenuous toehold on the land; between conflict with the local Indian tribes, and lack of a viable means to sustain their need for food, the success of the enterprise was very much on the edge of maintaining viability. Raleigh commissioned his friend John White two years later to go back to Roanoke with a small fleet for re-supply and reinforcement, including 115 more colonists. When they arrived they found no one except a bleached out skeleton. White stayed long enough to help the new group get re-established, and promised to return with more supplies the following Spring. Multiple delays- war, piracy, hurricanes…the usual- intervened, and when he finally stepped ashore in August of 1590, not a trace of the new colony could be found. The only clue was the word “CROATOAN” carved into a tree, and the letters “CRO-” in another. The Lost Colony remains lost to this day, but it fuels a vibrant tourism economy down in the Outer Banks. After the English colonies actually did take hold up and down the coast, there were for years reports of blue-eyed Indians who inhabited the tidewater regions of North Carolina and Virginia colonies, providing some degree of explanation about the fate of the little colony.
1588: Birth of English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (d.1679). He is probably best known for his rather gloomy view of the human condition and the need for a powerful sovereign to maintain order. In his magnum opus, Leviathan (1651), Hobbes described life of an unconstrained individual in a state of nature as “…solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
1590: Death of Francis Walsingham, one of Elizabeth I’s key advisors and mentors. Walsingham developed the world’s first professional intelligence service, with agents, spies and couriers posted throughout Europe, but most prominently within the Spanish-Scottish nexus, wherein dwelt persistent and dangerous attempts to restore the Catholic Queen Mary to the throne of England.
1614: Virginia native Pocahontas marries British subject and Jamestown leader John Rolfe.
1621: After wintering over in Cape Cod Bay, Mayflower sets sail from Plymouth, Massachusetts on its return trip to England.
1730: Dedication of Shearith Israel– the first synagogue in NYC.
1792: President Washington issues the first presidential veto on a bill concerning apportionment of representatives between the several states.
1793: The ill-named Committee of Public Safety assumes executive control over the government of revolutionary France, four years into the turmoil we now recognize as the French Revolution. The Committee, under the leadership of Citizen Maximilian Robespierre, begins its work to suppress** counter-revolutionary activity, particularly of the Girondins, toxic enemies of Robespierre and his Jacobin faction. By July the Committee had reorganized itself to the task of physically eliminating all opposition, which led to la Terreur, (a.k.a., The Terror) during which the guillotine (“the National Razor”) lopped off nearly 40,000 French heads of various political persuasions. The public orgy of death accelerated itself into la Grande Terreur until it finally disposed of the chief terrorist of them all- Robespierre himself- in July of 1794.
1795: As part of the new French Republic’s emphasis on rationalization, the French National Assembly accepts the meter as the basic measure of length. This is not as simple as it sounds. The process began within a year after the revolution began and, perhaps- one might presume– had something to do with extricating France from the navigational dominance of Great Britain (a.k.a. L’Albion Perfide), who had already defined the Prime Meridian as the N-S line running through the naval observatory at Greenwich, and who had further defined the nautical mile as 2000 yards or 1 minute of latitude. In any event, France decided they needed a “rational” measure around three feet long. In 1790, the Assembly first defined it as the length of a pendulum with a half-period of one second. In 1791, they accepted the recommendation of the National Academy of Science which determined that there are 10,000,000 meters (10,000 kilometers) between the north pole and the equator along the meridian running through the center of Paris. So there! And it is all divisible by 10, not 12, like the perfidious English. Tant pis! The meter has gone through six further refinement since this date, the latest being 2002, when the International Committee of Weights and Measures declared it a “proper length.”
1820: Venus de Milo (b.130 BC) is discovered on the Greek island of Melos, and is promptly transported to Paris for public display at the Louvre.
1862: A year into the War Between the States, Union Major General U.S. Grant’s army meets Confederate General Albert Sidney-Johnston at the Battle of Shiloh, in western Tennessee. The two-day battle looked like a potential Confederate victory as the first night fell, but Union troops physically reinforced their position in a low spot near Pittsburgh Landing and were further reinforced in numbers by the arrival of MG Don Carlos Buell. The Union counter-attack the next morning overwhelmed the Confederates, killing General Johnston and forcing his deputy, P.G.T. Beauregard to withdraw before the slaughter became a complete rout. Shiloh was the bloodiest battle in the war to date, with over 13,000 Union and 11,000 Confederate casualties. Grant was highly criticized by the Union press for his performance on the first day, but was vindicated by President Lincoln, who, when flooded with calls for Grant’s sacking, declared: “I can’t spare this man. He fights.”
1865:Battle of Saylors Creek. Three days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee abandoned the defenses of Petersburg, the cavalry of Union General Phil Sheridan cut off his planned route to meet up with Joe Johnson at Danville. Marching without food, and with a promise from the Confederate Commissary General for 80,000 rations waiting for him in Farmville, Lee shifted direction and began moving his army due west. But Lee’s shift to the right was countered by a further swing of Sheridan’s cavalry, effectively surrounding and capturing in a short, sharp battle nearly a quarter of Lee’s army, including 8 general officers, and unknown to Lee, the Confederate commissary train itself. Although it was a Union victory, it came at a cost of nearly 1200 casualties. When Lee saw the remnants of the fight streaming along the road, he exclaimed out loud, “My God! Has the army dissolved?”
1867: The United States Senate ratifies the treaty with Russia, that purchases Alaska for $7,200,000, or approximately $0.02 per acre
1887: Anne Sullivan teaches the word “water” to Helen Keller.
1891: Death of P.T. Barnum (b.1810), the circus impresario, author of the famous quip: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
1896: The first modern Olympic Games opens in Athens.
1904: Great Britain and France sign a mostly secret Entente Cordial which, although structured around their spheres of influence in their global empires, actually signaled the end of over a century of near-continuous hostility and occasional war between the two countries. Of more pertinence, the treaty solidified the obligations of one another against potential hostilities with the burgeoning Central Powers: Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy, also treaty-bound by their own Triple Alliance. By 1907 Russia grew increasingly concerned over the conduct of the Central Powers, particularly Austria-Hungary in the Balkans, leading them to join with France and Britain to create the Triple Entente.
1913: Ratification of the 17th Amendment, specifying the direct election of Senators, a key political goal of the Progressive movement. Prior to this, Senators were appointed by state legislatures and represented the interests of the several States themselves, serving as a powerful check on Federal overreach.
1916: Two months into an increasing ineffective campaign to dislodge the French from their border fortresses at Verdun, German Field Marshall Falkenhayen initiates a third major surge against the French lines, with near-constant artillery bombardment and repeated infantry assaults back and forth across the battlefront.
1917: The Canadian Corps of the British Expeditionary Force opens its attack on Vimy Ridge, a German-controlled piece of high ground that dominated the northern area of the British Arras Offensive. The four day battle achieved its objectives against ferocious resistance.
1931: Fox Studios fires John Wayne from its list of in-house actors. No kidding, they actually fired JOHN WAYNE.
1933: Prohibition ends for the production and sale of 3.2% beer, eight months before final ratification of the 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th, which was one of the Progressive movement’s crown jewels for forcing people to live healthier lives. The smuggling, racketeering and criminality that accompanied Prohibition was, of course, an unintended consequence.
1940: Norwegian politician Vidkun Quisling seizes control of the Norwegian government as the Nazi invasion tightens its grip on the country. He forms a collaborationist, pro-Nazi puppet government, serving as Minister-President under the control of the Germans. After the war, he is convicted and executed for high treason. His name has become synonymous with “traitor” ever since.
1945: USN carrier aircraft from Task Force 58 under Admiral Marc Mitscher, attack and sink Imperial Japan’s largest and most powerful* battleship, IJN Yamato, during the opening stages of the Battle of Okinawa. In an operation called Ten-Go, Yamato and her task force of cruisers and destroyers were ordered into an intentional suicide defense of Okinawa, with the intent of blasting their way through the American invasion fleet, then running aground to function as a shore battery until they were finally destroyed by the Americans. American reconnaissance submarines spotted their departure through the Bungo Strait and reported their position and course up the command chain. 5th Fleet commander Admiral Raymond Spruance then ordered a U.S. battleship force to intercept the Japanese, but Mitscher mobilized and launched his aircraft before the battleships got within range. With no defensive air cover to oppose them, the Navy aircraft systematically attacked and destroyed the Japanese force, to the extent that the torpedo bombers could align their deliveries to only attack from Yamato’s port side, enhancing the probability of uncontrolled capsizing. After two hours of nearly constant attack, and suffering from flooding, fires and loss of propulsion, Yamato began her final rollover on the way down. And at that very moment, her forward magazine detonated with a gigantic mushroom cloud seen over a hundred miles away.
1955: Citing health reasons, the 80 year old Sir Winston Churchill resigns as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He remains a back-bencher in Parliament until 1964 and died in his home at age 90 in January, 1965.
1959: NASA announces the first corps of United States astronauts, seven test pilots from the Navy and Air Force, who will be at the pointy end, literally, of America’s first steps into outer space: Deke Slayton, Alan Shepherd, Wally Schirra, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Gordon Cooper, and Scott Carpenter
1962: Civilian test pilot Neil Armstrong takes the X-15 rocket plane to180,000 feet altitude.
1973: The American League of MLB begins using the “Designated Hitter” in actual baseball games.
1974: Opening day for the new World Trade Center twin towers in Manhattan.
1976: Death of movie mogul, aviation pioneer, industrialist and fabulously wealthy eccentric, Howard Hughes (b.1905).
1984: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (born Lou Alcindor) breaks Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time scoring record of 31,419 (31,421).
1991: Georgia, the home of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, declares its independence from the collapsing Soviet Union.