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 Arab polymath whose theory of business cycles and the rise and fall of nations remains a foundational text for sociological study.
1431: In the final act from her February trial, Joan of Arc is this day 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.
1521: Concluding the process of the Imperial Diet that began in mid-April, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V issues the Edict of Worms, formally declaring Martin Luther a heretic and outlaw, subject to arrest and punishment. The edict reads in part: “For this reason we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favor the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, whereupon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work.” Disregarding prior negotiations that promised safe passage, Luther’s friend and mentor Prince Frederick III, Elector of Saxony captured him enroute to his home and spirited him away to safe haven in Wartburg Castle, where he began work on his German translation of the Bible. The Edict was temporarily suspended in 1526 but was put back in force in 1529. Although it was never enforced against Luther himself, it was used as justification for arrests of Lutheran agitators in the Low Countries under Charles’ direct control.
1541: Death of French religious reformer John Calvin, 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 defeated.
1896: In Moscow, the thirty year old Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov is crowned Czar Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias
1896(a): In New York, James Dow publishes his first index of key industrial stocks, 12 companies with an index value of 40.94.
1738: The English colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland sign a peace treaty, ending Cresap’s War, also known as the Conojocular War. The boundary dispute arose out of an imprecise description of Pennsylvania’s southern boundary in its 1681 charter- or more exactly, a very precise description based on incorrect geography: the start point was the town of New Castle, Delaware, and from thence “…a circle drawn at twelve miles distance from New Castle Northward and Westward unto the beginning of the fortieth degree of Northern Latitude, and then by a straight Line Westward..” Without going into gory detail, the dispute reared up in 1730 when Maryland began to enforce its territorial claims after ten years of settlements and counter-settlements by Pennsylvanians in the lands west of the Susquehanna River. The flash point became dueling ferry services established by the two colonies. In 1730 two Pennsylvanians attacked the Maryland ferry run by Thomas Cresap. No-one was injured, but Cresap began a harassment campaign against Pennsylvania settlers, eventually leading sporadic violence against both parties, and ultimately to the militias of both colonies marching across each others’ claims. King George II ordered the Royal Committee for Plantation Affairs to settle the dispute, and the agreement was signed on May 25th. The territorial definition was conclusively settled after the 1767 survey completed by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon.
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.
1787: The Constitutional Convention, under the leadership of General George Washington, convenes in Philadelphia to write a new governing document to replace the inadequate Articles of Confederation.
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.
1907: Birth of John Wayne
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.
1914: Bosnian Serb anarchist Gavrillo Princip leaves Belgrade on a conspiratorially secret 10 day journey to Sarajevo.
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.
1937: Opening Day of the Golden Gate Bridge, linking San Francisco with my actual hometown in Marin County.
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.
1940: Opening of the 9-day Battle of Dunkirk, where British and other Allied forces were surrounded on the French beach by two German armies which swept across the Low Countries and burst out of the “un-passable” Ardennes Forest to overwhelm the defenses of France. Inexplicably, rather than destroying or capturing the fleeing forces, Hitler ordered a ceasefire that lasted three days, during which the British were able to establish a defensible perimeter and set conditions for a somewhat orderly evacuation under fire, which rained down primarily from the Luftwaffe. The eventual evacuation of 338,226 men via a flotilla of “the little ships of Dunkirk” became the stuff of legend, and the nucleus of the army that would return to the Continent at Normandy four years later.
1961: President John F. Kennedy gives his famous speech committing the United States to land a man on the moon and bring him safely back by the end of the decade.
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, 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
1972: President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Leonoid Brezhnev sign the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The landmark agreement limited the parties to a single fixed site (Moscow and Grand Forks, ND) and for practical purposes enshrined Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) as a viable basis for the relationship of the two nuclear superpowers. The United States withdrew from the treaty in December, 2002, per the provision requiring six months notice.
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.