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.
1287: A dyke ruptures on the North Sea approaches near Texel, creating a flood that completely submerges the marshes and lakes of the north-central Netherlands. Friesland province is particularly hard hit, with scores of towns and cities demolished, and over 50,000 deaths punctuating the dramatic destruction. The inundation is so vast that an entirely new body of water takes shape, the Zuiderzee, that itself shapes the spectacular growth of Amsterdam, formerly a small inland town on a bend in the Amstel River. The Saint Lucia Flood still lives in the collective memory of our Dutch friends, who are never far from the water that can destroy them again. .
1466: Death of the great Renaissance sculptor, Donatello (b.1386). He was one of the earliest of the Renaissance masters to embrace and perfect a free-form naturalism in his statuary, and is also noted for his effective use of visual rhythm and perspective in his bas-relief works.
1476: Death of the Bohemian prince Vlad III (b.1431), known more often by his nickname, “The Impaler” than for the virtues of his governance. Here’s a little tidbit: he actually was known as “Dracula,” meaning “son of the dragon,” in reference to his father’s position in the Christian Order of the Dragon. The order took root to protect Europe’s Christian populations during the period of the Ottoman conquest into Eastern Europe, and like father, like son, he took his role seriously, hence the moniker.
1545: Opening prayers at the Council of Trent, called by Pope Paul III in response to the very real and increasingly virulent calls for administrative and spiritual reform within the Roman Catholic Church. The proximate trigger for the Council was the steady growth of the Protestant Reformation, which expanded dramatically with the 1517 publication of Luther’s 95 Theses. The political and spiritual arguments of the Reformation forced the Roman Curia to confront and answer a number of serious and sometimes threatening criticisms to its hitherto iron-clad rule over European Christianity. The Council lasted for 18 years, and created new administrative controls over the Church, and more importantly, confirmed and clarified Roman Catholicism’s core beliefs and traditions. The Council’s edicts remained essentially untouched until the First Vatican Council in 1870, and with modifications only at the margins, they remain central to Roman Catholic teachings to this day.
1577: Nearly a month after seeking shelter in Cornwall from battering storms, Sir Francis Drake sets out again from Plymouth with a fleet of four ships on a voyage of plunder, exploration, discovery and mapping that would eventually take them completely around the globe.
1724: Birth of Samuel Hood (d.1816), a great English admiral in his own right with a sterling 55 year career at sea. He is probably best remembered as Horatio Nelson’s mentor, beginning from the time when Nelson was a young frigate commander in the Caribbean in 1782.
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.
1775: Birth of Royal Navy sea-dog Thomas Cochrane (d.1860), one of the bright lights in the final generation of naval officers who served in the Age of Fighting Sail straddling the turn of the 19th Century. Cochrane held command of three RN ships during Great Britain’s nearly continuous wars with France, where he ranged up and down the French coast wreaking havoc with unwavering dignity and professionalism.
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)- and dramatic musical themes that you immediately recognize. Take the 4th movement of his Symphonie Fantistique, for example (dyatttat-dahhh, de daahh, dyumptpee-dum-te dumptee dump-dumm)…
1806: Birth of Stand Waite (d.1871), tribal Chief of the Cherokee nation in Georgia, colonel of Confederate cavalry during the Civil War, and the only Indian to be made general officer on either side of the war. Waite’s forces remained effective and active in Arkansas and east Texas throughout the war. With his surrender after a battle in the Indian Territory in late June 1865, he became the last* Confederate leader to surrender his forces to the Union.
1862: The Union gunship USS Cairo, operating in a mine-clearing operation on the Yazoo River just upstream from Vicksburg, Mississippi, is struck by two electrically detonated mines and sinks in thirty feet of muddy water. Although there are two huge holes in the bow, the entire crew escapes, and within a few years the ship is completely silted in and forgotten. Re-discovered in 1958, she is finally raised and put on display on the Mississippi shoreline near Vicksburg.
1862: Demonstrating the essence of his phenomenal lack of imagination, General Ambrose Burnside orders the Union Army of the Potomac to cross the Rappahannock River at the Battle of Fredericksburg and make a frontal assault across a mile of open ground against elevated and fortified Confederate positions on Marye’s Heights just south of town. When darkness fell, the Confederate positions were un-moved, and the field below the heights was littered with Union dead and wounded, punctuated by the groans of the latter, writhing in agony throughout the cold winter night. The Union slaughter is the most lopsided in the entire course of the war, 12,653 (1,284 killed) to the Confederate 5,377 (608 killed). Richmond papers are jubilant. Washington DC is wracked with disgust at both Burnside and Lincoln. Burnside is cashiered from command a month later, but he will twice re-appear- prominently- as the war grinds on.
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, the 5’0” dynamo made an early name for himself when he launched a largely successful crusade to throw organized crime bosses out of the city. He milked federal largesse to build roads, subways, airports, city buildings and on and on.
1901: British inventor Guglielmo Marconi, working from a receiving station on Signal Hill in Saint Johns, Newfoundland, positively receives the first trans-Atlantic radio signal, broadcast from a sister station in southern England. The experiment was not an unqualified success, however, and it took years of continuous technical improvements, patent fights and corporate battles with undersea cable operators before the wireless became the critical communications tool we know today. Marconi won the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on harnessing the electromagnetic spectrum for radio.
1903: First attempt by the Wright Brothers to get their powered airplane off the ground. Wilbur Wright won the honor of the coin toss, but failed to get airborne when his machine caught a gust of wind and dug the wingtip into the sand, forcing repairs that ended flying attempts for the next couple days
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.”
1937: Japanese warplanes bomb and strafe the American gunboat USS Panay, sending her to the bottom of the Yangtze River in China at Nanking. Three US sailors died and 45 were wounded in the attack. Although the Japanese government apologized and paid indemnity, the incident did nothing to improve US-Japanese relations during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The Panay was part of the US Asiatic Squadron that was on patrol along the Chinese coast and up the major rivers to protect American lives and interests. Steve McQueen’s movie The Sand Pebbles (1966) portrays some of the life of the Navy’s old “China Hands” for whom Panaywas a part.
1937: Japanese forces finally expel defending the defending Chinese army from the port city of Nanking, and immediately commence an orgy of destruction over the next week that reduces the city and its population to mere subsistence. The terror quickly became known as The Rape of Nanking, and was one of the particular causes of the increasing friction between the Japanese Empire and the United States.
1939: The army of Finland defeats the Soviet Red Army at the Battle of Tolvajarvi, part of the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union, fought on the fringes of the larger European war.
1941: Cascading war declarations continue as a direct result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The United Kingdom declares war on Bulgaria; Hungary and Romania declare war on the United States; India declares war on Japan. It is now a world war de jure and de facto.
1941: In accordance with the terms of the Tripartite Pact with Japan, Germany and Italy declare war on the United States. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill breathes a sigh of relief.
1941: Continuing the “civilized” world’s descent into World War, Hungary and Romania declare war on the United States.
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.