735AD: Death of The Venerable Bede (b.672), English historian and theologian, whose many scholarly works include the first comprehensive history of the British Isles, titled Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People).
1332: Birth of Ibn Khaldun (d.1406), the great Arab polymath whose theory of business cycles and the rise and fall of nations remains foundational to any serious sociological study.
1431: In the final act from her February trial, Joan of Arc is burned at the stake for heresy. In the years that follow her execution, the French peasantry attribute scores of miracles to her and she is eventually canonized as Saint Jean d’Arc.
1453: After a 53-day siege by the Moslem armies of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, the Byzantine capital of Constantinople falls to the Turks, closing the final chapter of the 1,500 years of the Roman Empire, and decisively ending the existence of Christianity in its Anatolian heartland. Ironically, the seeds of the defeat were planted by the massive depredations of the 4th Crusade some 200 years prior, when the city underwent another siege and sacking from its erstwhile Christian allies. The Ottoman Empire established this day remained a potent threat to Europe for nearly 500 years, until it was finally dismantled by the victorious Allies at the conclusion of the Great War.
1541: Death of French religious reformer John Calvin (b.1509), one of the key figures of the Protestant Reformation, whose insights and writings on Christian doctrine remain the foundation of the Presbyterian and other Reformed churches. Much of his work occurred in Geneva, where his church became a center for a group of English dissidents under John Knox, among other groups dealing with the intellectual and religious ferment of the time.
1588: The Spanish Armada, a fleet of 130 ships loaded with over 30,000 men, sets sail from Lisbon enroute to the English Channel on a mission to invade Britain, de-throne Elizabeth I, and restore a Catholic monarchy on the island. Under King Philip II, Spain was the unquestioned superpower of its day, having grown rich exploiting the gold and silver of the New World. For its part, England had recently welcomed back the explorer and privateer Francis Drake from his Spanish-bashing circumnavigation, and between him and Sir Walter Raleigh (with an assist from the weather), the Armada was not long for the world.
1672: Birth of Peter the Great (d.1725).
1703: After capturing a Swedish fort further up the Neva River, and determined to drag sclerotic Russian leadership and society into the mainstream of the Western European world, Tsar Peter I (The Great) commissions the city of Saint Petersburg as he lays the foundation stone of the Peter and Paul Fortress on Zyachay (Hare) Island in the Neva delta. He names the new city after his patron saint, and sets in motion a development process that brings in the finest Western European architects and planners to essentially create- tabula rasa- the northernmost, and most beautiful capital city in Europe.
1759: In the opening battle of the French and Indian War, the Virginia Militia, under the leadership of 22 year old Lieutenant Colonel George Washington, defeats a French surveying party in western Pennsylvania.
1819: Birth of American poet Julia Ward Howe (d.1910), who wrote the lyrics to The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
1863: The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the nation’s first all-black regiment, leaves Boston to begin fighting for the Union.
1866: Death of General Winfield Scott, USA (b.1786). The old warhorse, also known as “Old Fuss and Feathers” served his country over the course of a 47 year active duty career, commanding forces in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Blackhawk War, the Second Seminole War, and for a short time after the opening guns, the War Between the States. He served 20 years as Commanding General of the United States Army (equivalent to the current Army Chief of Staff). He became a national hero after the Mexican campaign, which led to an unsuccessful run for the Presidency as a Whig in 1852. More important from his service in Mexico was his role in leading and training an entire generation of Army officers who would go on to distinguish themselves on both sides of the Civil War.
1911: Roy Harroun wins the inaugural Indianapolis 500 mile race, driving his Marmon Wasp at an average speed of 74.6 mph. As a point of reference, last Sunday’s (5/26) winner, French driver Simon Pagenaud, finished with an average speed of 175.794 mph; he also won the pole position with a speed of 229.992, still not up to the pace of Arie Luyendyk’s record-smashing 236.986 in 1996. Last year’s winner Will Power qualified started and finished 5th this year, averaging 175.766 mph.
1913: A peace treaty is signed ending the First Balkan War. The conflict aligned Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece against the Ottoman Turks in a successful attempt to separate Macedonia and Albania from Turkish control. A second Balkan war began a month later with Russian support. In response to Austrian moves designed to counter Russian influence in the region, Serbia increased its agitation against Germanic rule in favor of a pan-Slavism promoted by Russia. Strategic cooperation treaties begin to align the Great Powers into blocs. Serbia’s strategic planning for a third Balkan war looked to the summer of 1914 for its beginning.
1927: In Dearborn, Michigan, last day of production of the Ford Model T, as equipment on the assembly line is changed out to produce the new Model A. The Model T was the first car to be mass-produced, beginning in 1908. With over 15,000,000 produced, it was the best-selling car in the world until surpassed by the Volkswagen Beetle in 1972. Interestingly, as part of its centenary celebrations in 2003, Ford produced six new Model Ts using long-warehoused original components and other parts made from original drawings.
1932:The Bonus March: a group of unemployed World War I veterans converges on Washington, DC to demand early payment of a promised bonus for their service in the Great War. The payment of Army bonuses was long established to make up for the difference in what a soldier earned in service and what he would have earned as a civilian. A 1924 law set the rates for the recently returned veterans, but for payments due of over $50, it was in the form of a note that would not come due for 20 years, in this case 1945. Over 3.6 million service certificates were issued based on this law. The financial hardship of Depression triggered an increasing number of calls for early payment of the bonuses, and as the issue gained traction in the press, more and more veterans came to Washington to back up the demands. As the veterans arrived, some with their families, they ended up creating in the low land area near the Anacostia River a plywood shantytown that became known as “Hooverville.” The group also became known as the Bonus Army as its protests grew more forceful.
1940: Completely overrun by the Wehrmacht, the Belgian King Leopold III capitulates to the Germans after 18 days of bitter fighting. Rather than fleeing to lead the government-in-exile, he remains in Belgium under house arrest for five years, including a forced deportation into Germany in 1944. The split between the king and his government remained bitter, even after the war ended, leading to his abdication in 1951 in favor of his son Baudouin, who reigned until his death in 1993.
1941: Three days after obliterating HMS Hood and making her way into the North Atlantic, the German battleship Bismarck is crippled by a torpedo shot from an ancient Fairey Swordfish biplane from HMS Ark Royal, allowing the British battleships King George V and Rodney and their escorts to close the German vessel and open fire. A fierce gun duel rages for nearly two hours, after which Bismarck sinks from the combined effects of gunfire and intentional scuttling. 111 survivors are rescued by the British ships before leaving the area from a U-boat threat. The wreck of the Bismarck was discovered and documented in June of 1989 by Robert Ballard.
1953: New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay become the first men to reach the summit of Mount Everest, 29,029 feet above sea level.
1967: After two years of PLO attacks and a continuing buildup of conventional forces along Israel’s border, King Hussein of Jordan and Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt sign a joint defense agreement. At the signing, Nasser was characteristically blunt: “Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight.”
1971: Death of Audie Murphy (b.1924), the most decorated U.S. soldier in history. Awards include: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star (2), Legion of Merit, Bronze Star (2), Purple Heart (3), French Legion of Honor, French Croix de Guerre (2), Belgian Croix de guerre (2). At 5’5” and 110 pounds, he was rejected for service by the Navy and Marines. The Army initially slated him for cooking school, but he insisted on going into the infantry.
1980: John Paul II makes the first papal visit to France since 1814.
1987: 19-year-old German pilot Mathias Rust flies a Cessna 172 unscathed through hundreds of miles of Soviet air defenses and lands the machine in Moscow’s Red Square. The Soviets are not amused.