1282: The last native Prince of Wales is killed by the forces of England’s Edward I at the Battle of Orewin Bridge, earning himself the distinctive title of Llywelyn the Last. After this battle and a brief mopping up period, Edward solemnly and systematically dismembered all of Llywelyn’s royal trappings, including his wife’s jewels and crown, melting them down and fashioning them into a set of English royal diadems and chalices. With the extinction of the Welsh line of succession, Edward then assumed the title Prince of Wales for the heir of the British throne.
1660: An actual woman- identity ambiguous between Margaret Hughes or Anne Marshall- appears on stage for the first time, in the role of Desdemona in Shakespeare’s Othello. Maybe you already knew this, but women’s roles before this date were played by men, in order to protect real women’s virtue. You can make your own value judgments here. Both women continued their stage careers for several decades after this day.
1703: The Great Storm… A powerful extra-tropical cyclone lashes the south of England for three days, toppling thousands of chimneys in London, peeling the lead-shingled roof off of Westminster Abbey, tearing scores of ships from their moorings and onto the rocks of the lee shore, where they and their crews were destroyed by the pounding surf, suffering a loss of over 1,500 seamen. One Royal Navy flagship, HMS Association, broke free at Harwich, on the east coast north of London, and was driven by the wind and wave across the North Sea all the way to Gothenburg, Sweden, before the crew could control the ship enough to turn around and make their way back to England. Over 4,000 trees were downed in the New Forest. The original Eddystone Lighthouse was swept from its treacherous rocks, killing all six in residence, including its builder, Henry Winstanley, who intentionally made a trip out to the light the day prior in order to confirm its strength during a storm. He learned. Note on dating: the storm began on November 27th, per the Old Style (OS) Julian calendar; the date revisions of the (NS) Gregorian calendar- under which we now live- puts the storm’s first day on the 7th December.
1725: Birth of Virginian George Mason (d.1792), a key intellectual partner of Patrick Henry, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, and a crucial voice of ensuring the rights of citizens during the development of a functioning, but limited republican government in the newly independent United States. Mason was the driving force for insisting on the inclusion of the Bill of Rights as integral to the Constitution.
1768: Publication in Edinburgh of the first edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, a systematic attempt to categorize and explain in English the world’s catalog of knowledge.
1787: The sovereign state of Delaware ratifies the new Constitution of the United States of America, the first of the Several States to do so.
1790: The United States Congress moves the capital of the country from New York City to Philadelphia.
1792: French King Louis XVI, jailed since August, is paraded through Paris before appearing before the National Convention to hear the charges of Treason Against the State levied against him. You already know how this is going to turn out, but one cannot overstate the drama of this particular day, as all the symbolism of the three year old Revolution and the eternal Monarchy meet this day under the cold reality of treason. The packed Parisian streets were silent as their king passed by, and as the charges were read to Citizen Louis Capet, not King Louis the Sixteenth, no-one could be in doubt that France had crossed a threshold from which it could not return.
1803: Birth of French composer Hector Berlioz (d.1869), a romanticist who pioneered the use of huge orchestras- upwards of 100 pieces (and once with over a thousand for Symphonie Fantistique).
1815: Death of Michel Ney, Marshall of France (b.1769), one of the brightest of Napoleon’s team of brilliant subordinate commanders, whose loyalty to France and its leadership not only drove him to his greatest battlefield victories, but also to his final political defeat and execution on this day. When one reads of Napoleon’s multiple victories across the continent, Ney is always in the thick of it. As a measure of France’s perpetual war with the other countries of Europe, ponder this: between 1787 and this day, 28 years on, Ney fought in 36 major named battles across six “Coalition” wars, the Peninsular War in Spain and the invasion of Russia. It was Ney who led the massive but ultimately unsuccessful cavalry charges at Waterloo against Wellington’s infantry squares, actually having five (!) horses killed from under him. After Napoleon’s final exile to St. Helena, Ney was arrested and charged with high treason. Although his lawyer tried to prove Ney was actually a Prussian by birth, Ney interrupted and sealed his fate by declaiming, “I am French, and I will remain French.” Guilty. The estimable Wikipedia notes that at his execution, he refused to wear a blindfold, and was permitted to give the order to fire, saying: “Soldiers, when I give the command to fire, fire straight at my heart. Wait for the order. It will be my last to you. I protest against my condemnation. I have fought a hundred battles for France, and not one against her … Soldiers, fire!” They obeyed, one last time.
1862: Just outside the little farming community of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, a substantial force of over 9,000 Union soldiers under the command of Brigadier General James Blunt squared off against some 11,000 Confederates under Major General Thomas Hindman in a short, sharp battle that saw the combined use of very accurate Union artillery fire against specific Confederate artillery batteries, followed by an infantry attack that was met by Confederate cavalry on one side and charging Rebel infantry on two other sides. The Federals retreated back towards their lines, where Union artillery was re-loaded with canister shot that devastated the Confederates. By nightfall, Union reinforcements began to arrive, and Hindman, recognizing his depleted ammunition supplies and exhausted troops could not withstand another similar day of battle, withdrew what remained of his forces towards Van Buren, Arkansas, essentially opening the door for the ultimate Union occupation and control of northwest Arkansas. Casualty count was 1,200 Union, 1,300 Confederate. With essentially no change in the opening positions, the battle was technically a draw, but in reality was a strategic victory for the Union. FYI- Prairie Grove is just a short drive from where I did some private Learjet flying out of Springdale, AR. The battlefield is very nicely preserved and easily walkable. It surprised me to find such a significant Civil War site so far from what we traditionally consider the center of the action here in the mid-Atlantic region. But control of this part of Arkansas played a crucial role in stabilizing the Western Theater of operations.
1865: The legislature of the former Confederate State of Georgia votes to approve the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, providing the final ratification of the end of slavery as the Supreme Law of the Land. An interesting epilogue of the ratification process: the State of Kentucky voted for ratification in 1976. The State of Mississippi approved it in 1995, but didn’t formally notify the Office of Federal Register until February, 2013 (correct). The laggards were still subject to its conditions anyway after Georgia sealed the ¾ of the Several States.
1869: Jesse James robs his first bank, a branch in Gallatin, Missouri.
1876: Birth of Fred Duesenberg (d.1932), the man whose engineered cars set a standard of luxury and performance.
1882: Birth of Firoello LaGuardia (d.1947), the fiery three-term mayor of NYC during the 30s and 40s. A “moderate Republican” with a strong populist bent, he made an early name for himself when he launched a largely successful crusade to throw organized crime bosses out of the city.
1904: President Theodore Roosevelt issues what he calls a “corollary” to the Monroe doctrine, stating that it was the policy of the United States to affirmatively intervene in the affairs of Latin American governments if they show themselves incapable or unstable in their governance. The policy underlay the next three decades of U.S. military intervention in the multiple “banana wars” throughout the Caribbean and Central America.
1912: The German Imperial War Council meets informally to talk through the tense military and diplomatic situation growing in Europe. Tensions were high over both the Balkans and ever-expanding “protectorate” –style colonialism along the North African coast, and Russia’s buildup of its “Great Military Program,” to say nothing of Britain’s overt concerns about Germany’s expanding High Seas Fleet and its traditional insistence on maintaining a balance of power on the Continent. Participants at this meeting included the Kaiser himself, his chiefs of the Army and Navy, and senior diplomats. The issue was the eventuality of war, and how to manage it to the advantage of Imperial Germany.
1914: In an action far from the primary theater of the Great War, the Royal Navy tracks down and destroys a German cruiser fleet that was in position to make a raid on British supply depot at Port Stanley in the Falklands. Despite near-parity of the opposing forces, casualties in the Battle of the Falkland Islands were amazingly lopsided, with nearly 1,900 German sailors killed, 215 captured and four warships and two transports sent to the bottom. The Royal Navy suffered 10 killed and 19 wounded with otherwise minor damage to their ships.
1917: In Halifax, Nova Scotia, a French ammunition ship, SS Mont-Blanc, suffers a slow-speed collision with an empty Norwegian freighter, SS Imo, and catches fire. The crew is unable to contain the blaze, and they abandon ship, leaving the ship to drift toward the Richmond district of the city. Twenty minutes later, the cargo detonates and completely flattens everything within a half mile of the ship, and creates havoc throughout the rest of the city. The explosion remains the largest non-nuclear detonation in history, estimated at 2.6 kilotons of TNT. Over 2000 Halifax residents die in the blast and its immediate aftermath.
1917: British Field Marshall Edmund Allenby, in a dramatic display of sensitivity and respect for the object of his conquest the day before yesterday, enters Jerusalem on foot to begin the Anglo-Allied occupation of the city. His declaration of martial law sets a high bar for cultural sensitivity in all the right ways (from the Wikipedia entry):
· “To the Inhabitants of Jerusalem the Blessed and the People Dwelling in Its Vicinity:
· The defeat inflicted upon the Turks by the troops under my command has resulted in the occupation of your city by my forces. I, therefore, here now proclaim it to be under martial law, under which form of administration it will remain so long as military considerations make necessary.
· However, lest any of you be alarmed by reason of your experience at the hands of the enemy who has retired, I hereby inform you that it is my desire that every person pursue his lawful business without fear of interruption.
· Furthermore, since your city is regarded with affection by the adherents of three of the great religions of mankind and its soil has been consecrated by the prayers and pilgrimages of multitudes of devout people of these three religions for many centuries, therefore, do I make it known to you that every sacred building, monument, holy spot, shrine, traditional site, endowment, pious bequest, or customary place of prayer of whatsoever form of the three religions will be maintained and protected according to the existing customs and beliefs of those to whose faith they are sacred.
· Guardians have been established at Bethlehem and on Rachel’s Tomb.. The tomb at Hebron has been placed under exclusive Moslem control.
· The hereditary custodians at the gates of the Holy Sepulchre have been requested to take up their accustomed duties in remembrance of the magnanimous act of the Caliph Omar, who protected that church.”
1921: The government of the United Kingdom and representatives of the nascent Republic of Ireland sign an agreement establishing the Irish Free State as a self-governing state within the British Commonwealth of Nations, and ending the shockingly vicious civil war that wracked the island for the last five years. The pact gives the counties of Ulster the right to opt out of the agreement, a right they immediately exercised in order to remain part of the United Kingdom.
1922: The Irish Free State is formally established per the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of the year prior. No surprise, the counties of Ulster exercise their legal option to not be a part of the Irish state.
1941: The Empire of Japan, intent on consolidating its hegemony over the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, launches a flawlessly planned and executed attack on the United States Navy’s Pacific Fleet moored in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Despite disparate indications that something was afoot, the attack comes as a complete surprise, and obliterates the main striking force of the Navy in a single stroke.
1941: In accordance with the terms of the Tripartite Pact with Japan, Germany and Italy declare war on the United States.
1949: As the Chinese Civil War collapses under pressure from the communists of Mao Tse-Tung, the Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-Sheck abandons Nanjing and sets up its “provisional capital” in Taipei, on the Chinese island of Taiwan.
1955: Death of the great shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Honus Wagner (b.1874), one of the first five players to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. He is also the featured player on the most valuable baseball card of all time, currently valued somewhere north of $2.8 million.
1956: Birth of Boston Celtic Larry Bird.
1972: Apollo 17 launches from the Kennedy Space Center. After cancellation of Apollo 18 for budgetary reasons, this flight becomes the United States’ final manned mission to the moon. NASA’s science community made a powerful and successful effort to re-arrange the crew flight assignments so that an actual geologist would make the trip to the moon’s surface, rather than another pilot trained in geology. Accordingly, the final crew became Flight Commander Gene Cernan, Command Module Pilot Ron Evans, and Lunar Module Pilot (and geologist) Harrison Schmidt. The planned landing area in the Tarus-Littrow Valley and the use of the lunar rover vehicle promised to return a wide variety of lunar rock and soil samples.
1972: Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmidt land in the Moon’s Tarus-Littrow Valley, to begin a three-day sojourn of geologic discovery that climaxes the Apollo program. Command Module pilot Richard Evans remained in orbit performing extensive survey and mapping tasks while his crewmates were on the surface. Apollo 17 became the last flight of the moon program with the earlier cancellation of the final two planned missions for budgetary reasons.
1980: Death of former Beatle John Lennon (b.1940), gunned down by a deranged fan on the sidewalk in front of his apartment in NYC.
2016: Death John Glenn (b.1921), Marine fighter pilot, test pilot, American astronaut, long-serving U.S. Senator from the State of Ohio and husband of Annie Glenn for 74 years. Remembering the tensions and triumphs of the Space Race, John Glenn represented the quintessence of what makes America great: brave, buoyant, confident and living life to its fullest.