1265: The first English “Commons” Parliament, consisting of representatives from the boroughs who had no formal Royal authorization, convenes in Westminster. The gathering lasted only through mid-February, but it established the legitimacy of a representative assembly as a viable and correct form of government. The expansion of governance in the Westminster Parliament began the process of transforming the British monarchy into the constitutional form we recognize today.
1419: King Henry V completes his re-conquest of Normandy as he accepts the surrender of Rouen.
1502: Portuguese explorer Gaspar de Lemos begins a formal survey of the lands around the magnificent harbor of Guanabara Bay. His work will lay the foundation for the establishment of Rio de Janeiro in 1565.
1506: The first contingent of Swiss Guards arrives in Vatican City to provide security for the Pope. Swiss mercenaries were legendary for their loyalty to their leadership and ferocious effectiveness in battle. Their appearance at the Holy See during the early rumblings of the Reformation was a perfectly logical extension of their long running mercenary role on the European military scene. They remain the core of the Vatican’s security forces to this day.
1579: Three northern provinces of the Spanish Netherlands sign the Union of Utrecht, pledging to help defend each other from Spanish suppression of Reformation elements in the Low Countries. By early summer, 8 more provinces and city-states attached themselves to the Utrecht group, forming the nucleus of an independent and Protestant Netherlands that would in 1581 declare themselves free from Spanish rule under the Act of Abjuration. The Union signed today put Great Britain into play as the guarantor of the Netherlands’ independence from Spain.
1649: Marking the beginning of the end of the long struggle between British monarchs and their increasingly assertive Parliaments, King Charles I is put on trial for “high crimes.”
1783: Over two years after Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown, the British government signs the Treaty of Paris, formally recognizing its former American colonies as independent states.
1793: On January 15th the National Assembly voted on the charges of France’s King Louis XVI : 693 found him guilty, 0 found him innocent, and 23 abstained. Given the overwhelming evidence of Louis’ collaboration with various foreign governments to invade France and put down the Revolution, the verdict was pretty much assured. What was not assured was what to do next. On the 16th a voice roll-call vote was held on the penalty, and the closeness of the vote underscores the drama of the final decision: 361 voted for immediate execution, 288 voted against execution, and 72 voted for death in principle, but with modifications and delays built into their vote. In the end, the King was formally stripped of all titles, and Citizen Louis Capet mounted the scaffold on this day. He gave a brief speech forgiving his executioners and praying that other citizens of France would be spared his fate. Then the drums rolled, Louis knelt into the stocks, and Madame Guillotine ended his life in a single stroke. It is no stretch to say that from that moment, this regicide “has loomed as a shadow over French history” (re: the Wikipedia entry). French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard noted “[the regicide] was the starting point of all French thought, the memory of which acts as a reminder that French modernity began under the sign of a crime.”
1806: Great Britain captures and occupies the Cape of Good Hope.
1807: Birth of Robert E. Lee (d.1870). You may have heard of him.
1830: Birth of French post-Impressionist painter Paul Cezanne (d.1906), whose work marks the transition from Impressionism to a more explicit emphasis on color, texture and line. The strength of his work allowed for the further devolution of representational painting into modern cubism and abstraction.
1832: Birth of belle epoch French painter Edouard Manet. Manet’s style of relatively rough brush-work on the subjects of everyday life marked the transition between the vivid realism of the early 19th century and the the Impressionist period.
1839: British East India Company captures (and occupies) the seaport of Aden, Yemen. We’ve noted before how Britain’s colonial possessions increasingly focused on ensuring safe passage between Great Britain’s home islands and its Indian markets. The Capetown grab in 1806 (above) secured the trans-African oceanic choke point, and now, possession of Aden on the Red Sea at the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula anticipated the opening of Suez Canal route.
1840: Captain Claude Wilkes, USN, completes his circumnavigation of Antarctica, claiming Wilkes Land for the United States.
1861: Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis resigns from the United States Senate.
1879: Birth of pioneering film producer D.W. Griffith.
1879: Final day of the two-day Battle of Rorke’s Drift in the Anglo-Zulu war. In this battle, 150 British soldiers ostensibly performing civil engineering functions (kind of a 19th Century “nation-building” exercise) held off multiple waves of over 4,000 Zulu warriors, with only a brief respite from the fighting during the darkness of night. The Zulu leaders halted their attacks after a brief feint just after dawn, leaving behind them nearly a thousand dead and wounded warriors. When the battle ended, the defenders had only 900 rounds of ammunition remaining from the 20,000 rounds stockpiled beforehand. Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded to the British defenders, the highest-ever number for a single battle.
1901: Death of Alexandrina Victoria of the House of Hanover, better remembered* for nearly 64 years as Her Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, and after 1876, Empress of India.
1911: The first Monte Carlo Road Rally takes place in the tiny Principality. The grueling route was designed to test improvements and performance features in automobiles, and over the years it became one of the signature events of international motor racing.
1917: Recently re-elected President Woodrow Wilson delivers a speech before the U.S. Senate in which, despite growing clamor for American entry into the Great War, he outlines his vision for a post-war world order. The address is remembered as the “Peace without Victory” speech. The first two paragraphs below are excerpts that lay out the rationale for what, at the peace conference at Versailles, would eventually become the League of Nations:
“I only take it for granted that mere terms of peace between the belligerents will not satisfy even the belligerents themselves. Mere agreements may not make peace secure. It will be absolutely necessary that a force be created as a guarantor of the permanency of the settlement so much greater than the force of any nation now engaged or any alliance hitherto formed or projected that no nation, no probable combination of nations could face or withstand it. If the peace presently to be made is to endure, it must be a peace made secure by the organized major force of mankind…
“…The question upon which the whole future peace and policy of the world depends is this: Is the present war a struggle for a just and secure peace, or only for a new balance of power? If it be only a struggle for a new balance of power, who will guarantee, who can guarantee the stable equilibrium of the new arrangement? Only a tranquil Europe can be a stable Europe. There must be, not a balance of power, but a community of power; not organized rivalries, but an organized common peace.”
He begins with a note that he has contacted the belligerents to ask them what it would take to achieve peace.
“They [that is, the belligerents] imply, first of all, that it must be a peace without victory. It is not pleasant to say this. I beg that I may be permitted to put my own interpretation upon it and that it may be understood that no other interpretation was in my thought. I am seeking only to face realities and to face them without soft concealments. Victory would mean peace forced upon the loser, a victor’s terms imposed upon the vanquished. It would be accepted in humiliation, under duress, at an intolerable sacrifice, and would leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter memory upon which terms of peace would rest, not permanently, but only as upon quicksand. Only a peace between equals can last. Only a peace the very principle of which is equality and a common participation in a common benefit. The right state of mind, the right feeling between nations, is as necessary for a lasting peace as is the just settlement of vexed questions of territory or of racial and national allegiance.”
Coming three years into the unprecedented and unrelenting bloodshed and carnage on the Western Front, it proved his predictions in the paragraph above. Germany was treated in fact as a vanquished nation by the Versailles Treaty, despite the fact that she never really surrendered. The armistice terms from November: everything just stopped where it was, based on Wilson’s proposition of peace without victory. Since then, with the exception of World War II, most U.S. war strategies have been designed around the peace-without-victory and peace-between-equals concept, and a derivative of it is in play in Afghanistan today.
1920: The U.S. Senate, after a blistering 55 days of debate and two separate votes, rejects ratification of the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations by 8 votes. Opposition to the Treaty was spearheaded by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, who framed his arguments in terms of “14 Reservations” that mirrored President Wilson’s 14 Points, around which the treaty was negotiated.
1921: Establishment of the First Turkish Constitution, the product of the vision and drive of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The constitution is built from 23 short articles, the core of which is that Turkish sovereignty belongs to the nation, not the Sultan. As the victorious Allies of the Great War dismembered the far-flung remains of the Ottoman Empire (ally of the Central Powers, you remember), Ataturk galvanized the core of Anatolian Turkey to stand up for its sovereign rights as an independent state, designed explicitly to be secular in order to negate all the negative influences of the old Moslem Caliphate, of which the Sultan was Caliph. Two years after adoption of the constitution, the Caliphate was formally ended; the Wikipedia entry puts the end very nicely: “Per the law of March 3, 1924, the last Ottoman Sultan, the last Caliph and all members of their imperial families had their citizenships revoked, were exiled forever from the new Republic and their descendants banned from ever setting foot in its territory. The same law also nationalized all the properties of the Imperial Crown without compensation.” You would be correct in that much of Turkey’s authoritarianism, including periodic military coups to restore the constitution, is a direct result of the Islamist elements of Turkish society recoiling at the thought of the former Caliphate functioning as a secular and constitutional republic. You would also be correct if you deduced that most of Turkey’s current Islamist tensions are a continuation of that line of thinking, exacerbated by the recent election of an avowedly Islamist majority into the legislature and Prime Ministership.
1924: Death of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as V.I. Lenin.
1941: Aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, having recently visited Germany to inspect its aviation industry and capabilities, testifies before Congress in favor of a neutrality treaty with the Nazi government. As with the former Edward VIII of England, Lindbergh believed the Nazi’s program of centralized economics and strident nationalism was a healthy and correct answer to the problems of society. As he more overtly exposed his Progressive views, he became increasingly distrusted by the US government and opinion makers in the popular press.
1945: An almost-defeated Germany begins a forced evacuation of its 1.8 million citizens from its lands in East Prussia (DLH 11/15). The evacuation was planned earlier by the General Staff with the understanding that East Prussia could not be defended against concentrated assault. The actual event was triggered by reports of Soviet atrocities as the Red Army plunged into its easternmost frontiers. As civilian panic set in, the orderly, planned evacuation turned into a general rout. The maritime portion of the evacuation used around a thousand vessels for nearly 15 weeks, transporting 350,000 soldiers and upwards of 800,000 civilian refugees to mainland Germany. One of the ships, the passenger liner SS Wilhelm Gustloff, was hit by three torpedoes from a Russian submarine and sank in less than 45 minutes, taking an estimated 7,000 lives to the bottom, the worst maritime disaster in history. After the armistice in May, the Soviets began their own forced expulsion of the remaining civilian Germans, resulting in even more misery, including an estimated 300,000 deaths from starvation and exposure. When trying to get your head around the scope of this event, it is important to understand that the numbers are highly speculative, and depending on the source, either inflated or deflated to reflect a particular political position. But for the territory known as East Prussia, the bottom line is this: a region whose German population was 2,200,000 in 1940, was reduced to 193,000 by May of 1945.
1950: Former State Department diplomat Alger Hiss is convicted of perjury. His communist fellow-travelers made him something of a cause célèbre, citing his persecution as proof of the evils of McCarthy-ism and the anti-Soviet side of the Cold War. Unfortunately for Hiss and his fellow-travelers, the Soviet files that have been released to date confirm his guilt.
1954: USS Nautilus (SSN-571) is launched in Groton, Connecticut by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. The modified “Guppy” class submarine was the first ship powered by nuclear energy. She went on to set a number of endurance records and set the stage for a revolution in submarine strategies worldwide.
1960 – The Bathyscaph Trieste descends to the deepest part of the ocean — the Marianas Trench, 36,000 feet down.
1961: Newly elected President John F. Kennedy gives his famous “ask not” inaugural address.
1968 – While operating in international waters in the Sea of Japan near the Korean coast, USS Pueblo (AGER 2) is seized by North Korean naval vessels. This is the first U.S. warship captured by an enemy since we were fighting the British. Commander Lloyd Bucher and his crew are imprisoned by the NORKs for nearly a year.
1970: The head of Navy Nuclear Power, Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, sends a blistering letter up the Navy chain of command, excoriating the concept of applying pseudo-engineering principles to clearly non-engineering processes. He presciently noted, “…it will add another monstrosity to our already vast administrative burden…”
1978: The last German-built Volkswagen Beetle rolls off the assembly line in Emdon. The Mexican line continues production through 2003. I learned to drive in a 1964 Beetle that my folks bought new from the Carlsen Brothers dealership in San Francisco. In high school, I completely re-built the engine at 135,000 miles, and then I drove it out to 225,000 and gave it to my brother, who put another 50,000 on it before it finally wheezed to a halt on Highway 101. Just a couple years ago, I drove a red one just like in the picture below as a rental car down in Cancun during a charter. It brought back memories…not much had changed- really- from our ’64 except for a few extra horsepower. Total production of the machine was 21,529,464.
1981: Thirty minutes into the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, Iran agrees to release the 52 American hostages it has held for 14 months.
1981: General Motors corporate refugee John DeLorean begins production of his spectacular stainless steel DMC-12 sports car in a new factory in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland.
1983: Death of Ham (Project Mercury) (b.1956), the chimp whose survival on a January 1961, Mercury capsule shot into space, paved the way for the manned program later in the year.
1989: Death of Spanish surrealist painterSalvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, Marquis of Dalí de Púbol, better known to the rest of us as Salvador Dali.