1066: This week marks the 18th recorded perihelion passage of Halley’s comet.
1199: While making an un-guarded walking tour around castle Chalus-Chabroi, which he was besieging, Richard Coeur-de-Lion, King of England and hero of the Third Crusade, is struck in the neck by a crossbow bolt fired from the ramparts. His wound quickly turned gangrenous, and he died on April 6th. Immediately after the shooting his men captured the assailant, who turned out to be a young boy whose father and two brothers were killed during the siege. As a final act of chivalry, Richard forgave the boy and gave him 100 shillings to begin his life again. The king’s chivalry did not last past April 7th, however; in a retaliatory orgy of medieval brutality, the notorious mercenary Captain Mercadier re-captured the boy and had him flailed alive and hanged for regicide. After his death, Richard’s brain was buried at Charray Abbey in Poitou, his heart in Rouen, his entrails in the chapel of Chulus-Chabroi, and the remainder of his mortal remains at the feet of his father’s tomb at Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou.
1306: Robert the Bruce, after years of political maneuvering with fellow Scottish lords, multiple wars with England’s Edward Longshanks, alliances and betrayals against William Wallace, is crowned King of Scotland.
1584: Sir Walter Raleigh is granted a royal patent to colonize Virginia.
1603: Death of Queen Elizabeth I (b.1533), after 44 years on the English throne. The daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, she oversees the first flowering of the British Empire. Prominent figures during her reign include Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, and William Shakespeare. She became known as the Virgin Queen due to her insistence that marriage politics not dilute her authority as sovereign: “I am married to England…” Her immediate successor, Scotland’s James VI, becomes James I of the newly designated United Kingdom. Their combined legacies include the beginning of the end of Spanish dominance of the New World, establishing the colonies of Virginia (get it?), Jamestown, Ulster Plantation, and that peerless standard of the English language, the King James Bible (“The Authorized Edition”).
1622: The first of the Powhattan Massacres at Jamestown. 347 settlers are slain, a full third of the colony’s population.
1634: The first settlers arrive in Maryland, an English colony established by George Calvert, the Lord Baltimore, as a haven for Catholics in the New World.
1765: In an attempt to raise money to protect the vast territories recently gained by from the Seven Years’ War (French and Indian War), Parliament authorizes the Stamp Act. The legislation is not well-received by the American colonies.
1765: Following on the heels of the Stamp Act, Parliament passes the Quartering Act which requires the American colonies to house and feed the British soldiers sent over to keep order. Like the Stamp Act, this law is not received well in the colonies.
1773: Birth of Nathaniel Bowditch (d.1838), American mathematician and navigator, whose books on celestial navigation remain the standard to this day.
1775: In a speech before the Virginia House of Burgesses, Patrick Henry gives voice to the greatest quote from the American Revolution: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
1806: Meriwether Lewis and William Clark reach the Pacific coast at the mouth of the Columbia River. From their journal, “Ocean in view- oh the joy!”
1807: The British Parliament abolishes the slave trade. Slavery per se remained legal, but there was now for the British Empire no further commerce in human beings.
1820: Death of naval hero Stephen Decatur (b.1779), killed in a duel with disgraced Commodore James Barron. The duel grew out of festering discontent from a court-martial that faulted Barron for his actions in surrendering his ship, USS Chesapeake, after a short action with HMS Leopard off the coast of Norfolk in June of 1807. The British captain refused Barron’s surrender and boarded Chesapeake to look for deserters from the Royal Navy. He took four crewmen off the ship, one of whom was hanged, the other three sentenced to 500 lashes. The incident inflamed Americans over both the high-handedness of the British, and also the apparent fecklessness of Barron, who only got off one shot before he surrendered. At the subsequent court-martial, Barron was convicted of not preparing his ship in advance for possible action and was suspended for 5 years without pay. Captain John Rodgers was the president of the court-martial, and Decatur was a member. When Barron finally returned to duty, he remained controversial and was greatly criticized. Decatur, once a former subordinate, was one of the most vocal critics. Barron finally challenged him to a duel with pistols, which they fought on March 22, 1820 at Bladensburg Dueling Field in Bladensburg, Maryland. After his suspension, Barron remained in the Navy on shore duty, becoming the Navy’s senior officer in 1839. He died right here in Norfolk, Virginia on April 21, 1851.
1865: The Siege of Petersburg– Confederate forces temporarily overrun the Union’s Fort Stedman along the southeastern perimeter of the siege line. The next three weeks will bring the War Between the States to its dramatic conclusion.
1874: Birth of illusionist and escape artist, Harry Houdini.
1902: Death of Cecil Rhodes (b.1853), the great Briton who founded the DeBeers diamond mines, and whose name still defines the peak of scholarship. The fertile country north of South Africa was for decades named for him, although today it is divided between Zambia and Robert Mugabe’s basket case of socialist irresponsibility, Zimbabwe. Rhodes was a lifelong proponent of the virtues of British colonialism: “Remember that you are an Englishman, and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life.”
1903: The Wright brothers patent their airplane, specifically the wing-warping control mechanism.
1912: Birth of German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun.
1928: Birth of James Lovell, one of the second group of astronauts selected for the US space program. He flew on Gemini 7 (first orbital rendezvous), commanded Gemini 12 (rendezvous, docking and three spacewalks from spacecraft to spacecraft, was Command Module Pilot for the dramatic flight of Apollo 8 (first to leave Earth’s gravitational field fist to orbit the Moon), and commanded the even more dramatic but ill-fated Apollo 13 (Service Module explosion, trans-lunar return via Lunar Module as a lifeboat).
1944: 76 Allied officers escape from Stalag Luft 3 (The Great Escape).
1947: President Harry Truman, in a move to prove he is not soft on communism, orders sweeping loyalty investigations on all federal employees.
1958: Private Elvis Presley is inducted into the Army.
1979: Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat, Israeli Prime Minister Meacham Begin and U.S. President Jimmy Carter sign the Camp David Accords, the first formal peace treaty between Israel and an Arab state since the Jewish state’s founding in 1948.
1983: Death of Barney Clark, 112 days after becoming the world’s first artificial heart recipient. The operation was performed at the University of Utah with Dr. Robert Jarvik’s 7th model of the mechanical heart, powered by external compressed air.
1989: The tanker Exxon Valdez runs aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, releasing over 11,000,000 gallons of crude oil and contaminating over 1,300 miles of Alaskan coastline. The ship is later repaired and re-named Sea River Mediterranean and worked the Atlantic basin, being prohibited from calling in Alaska. On this date in 2012, she was sold for scrap; no little intentional irony in the selection of the closing date, I’m sure.
1999: First night of NATO bombing in the Yugoslavia campaign.