325AD: Convocation of the First Council of Nicea, one of the earliest attempts to define and formalize Christian church doctrine. It was ordered by Roman emperor Constantine I as a result of a number of competing heresies that were confusing the core truths of Christianity across the empire. 1800 bishops were invited, and anywhere from 250-318 attended. They worked through and resolved a number of significant issues, including the nature of the deity of Christ, condemnation of certain heresies, setting the process for dating Easter, and creating the first draft of what we know now as the Nicean Creed.
337AD: Death of Constantine the Great, the first Roman emperor to embrace Christianity. He aggressively set about un-doing the persecutions carried out by his predecessor, Diocletian. In particular, he issued the Edict of Milan in 313, declaring religious tolerance throughout the Empire as the law of the land. He also rebuilt the ancient Turkish city of Byzantium, re-naming it Constantinople and making it the capital of the eastern portion of the Empire, a position it maintained for another thousand years.
1471: Birth of German artist Albrecht Durer (d.1528), a man of extraordinary artistic and intellectual talent. Best known for his woodcuts, he also worked in oils and pencil. He was deeply engaged in the intellectual unrest of the early Reformation period, but remained loyal to the Roman Catholic church to his death.
1499: Catherine of Aragon- the same Spanish royalty whom we keep reading about throughout the year- is married by proxy to Arthur, Prince of Wales, son of English King Henry VII. She is 14. He is 13. They have been legally betrothed* for ten years already, the Tudors of England and the Trastamaras of Aragon & Castile reasoning that a marriage of their two families would provide a solid diplomatic bulwark against the territorial claims on both countries by the Valois dynasty of France.
1506: Death of Christopher Columbus, in Valladolid, Spain, thus beginning another adventure regarding his movements around the world. He was initially buried in Valladolid, and then was moved to a monastery in Seville. At the request of his son Diego, who had been governor of Hispaniola, his remains were then moved back across the sea to Santo Domingo. When the French took over the island in 1795, the remains were moved to Havana, and then after the Spanish-American War in 1898, they were moved again to the cathedral in Seville, where they remain today (we think). The Dominican Republic maintains a huge memorial tomb they call the Faro a Colon (Columbus Lighthouse) in which is buried a small lead box, discovered in Santo Domingo in 1877, inscribed with “Don Christopher Columbus” and containing bone fragments and a bullet. Recent DNA sampling between the bones and Columbus’ descendants is inconclusive.
1536: Death of Anne Boleyn (b.1501), Queen Consort of King Henry VIII, beheaded after conviction on charges of adultery, high treason and incest.
1568: Queen Elizabeth I of England orders the arrest of Mary, Queen of Scots.
1618: The Second Defenestration of Prague– that’s an “official” title- precipitates conditions that trigger the Thirty Years’ War. The first defenestration occurred in the summer of 1419, when a Bohemian priest named Jan Zelivsky led a procession of communicants past the city hall in protest of growing inequality between the peasantry and the nobility and high priests of the Church. From the third story window of the town council, someone threw a large rock at Zelivsky. This enraged the crowd, and a group of them seized the hall, surged up the stairway and threw the judge, the burgomaster, and thirteen others out the window, where they either died from the fall or were killed by the mob below. Not surprisingly, this event triggered a war- The Hussite Wars- that lasted until 1436. The second defenestration was the result of a dispute over land ownership and the authority of the state, but was in reality a proxy for the long-simmering Catholic-Protestant schism that roiled central Europe for nearly a hundred years. A group of Protestant landowners bribed their way into the Prague Castle, but found only four Regents and their secretary meeting. Intent on making the “traditional” Bohemian point of order, they threw two of the Regents and the secretary out the third floor window. They landed in a large manure pile, and all three of them survived. Catholic propagandists declared that this was clearly the work of angels and that God was on the Catholic’s side; to the Protestant propagandists this proved that the Catholics were in league with horse dung. In any event, this affair became the catalyst for the 30 year cataclysm that followed.
1701: Scottish-American privateer Captain William Kidd is hanged by the neck until dead after his conviction for murder and piracy in a London court. His corpse is put into a gibbet on the Execution Dock, where it remains on display for thirty years as a warning to other potential pirates. Kidd’s story is the basis for many tales of buried treasure and other themes from the “golden age” of piracy. There remains to this day something of a cottage industry engaged in clearing his name by establishing his bone fides as an authorized privateer, betrayed by his sponsors in England.
1795: Birth of Baltimore businessman and philanthropist Johns Hopkins (d.1873). One of the all-time wealthiest men in the United States, Hopkins was a keen businessman, parlaying a dry goods business into enough capital that he could invest in the nascent railroad industry, most notably the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, whose smashing success sealed his fortune. Fortunately for the rest of us, Hopkins left a huge endowment to the university and medical school that now bears his name, to say nothing of the rest of his artistic and cultural legacies.
1802: Napoleon Bonaparte initiates the French Legion of Honor award. It is the France’s highest decoration, available for military and civilians who exhibit extraordinary courage or accomplishment in the performance of their duties. It is specifically designed to not confer a title of nobility- the Revolution did away with all that- nor is it infused with any sense of religious legitimacy- the Revolution did away with all that, too. It is explicitly secular (using a 5-pointed star instead of a stylized cross) and based solely on merit, available to all, regardless of birth. The Legion remains active to this day as a functional body of the government, with the President as its head.
1802(b): Napoleon Bonaparte, acting as First Secretary of the French Directory, re-establishes slavery in French colonies, where it had previously been repealed in 1794 by an early decree of the French Revolution. Many of the colonies, particularly in Saint-Domingue (Haiti), rebel violently at this move. France’s inability to suppress the slave revolt there convinced Napoleon that he could no longer hold onto his American possessions, leading to his eventual decision to sell all of Louisiana to the United States a year later.
1845: The Franklin Expedition– Under the leadership of Arctic explorer John Franklin, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror depart the River Thames with 134 men on what they hope will be a conclusive discovery and transit of the elusive Northwest Passage. They are never heard from again. Their disappearance captures the imagination and curiosity of Great Britain, and multiple rescue and recovery expeditions are launched to find out what happened. Eventually, bits and pieces of evidence are found, including the emaciated and partially cannibalized corpses of several expedition members. The ships remain unlocated for over 150 years, although the documents recovered in earlier searches confirm they had proceeded well into the icy archipelago of northern Canada before they were completely iced in. In 2005, Canada launched a “Franklin 150” expedition using highly technical sensing equipment to search for the ships, in part to solve the historical puzzle and in part to affirm Canadian sovereignty claims in the high north. The search paid off in September, 2014, when Canadian PM Stephen Harper confirmed that the teams had discovered and conclusively identified the wreckage of Terror in the Queen Maude Gulf off the Adelaide Peninsula.
1873: San Francisco tailor Levi Strauss patents a rugged style of denim trouser, fastened with copper rivets.
1878: Birth of Glenn Curtiss (d.1930), motorcycle builder and racer, aviation pioneer, and competitor of the Wright Brothers. Barred by the threat of patent infringement of the Wright’s wing warping principles and mechanism, Curtiss invented the aileron as a means of roll control in his airplanes. The Navy was an early purchaser of his machines, which were used for the first launches and recoveries from Navy ships. He died in 1930. Gene Ely used a Curtiss pusher to make the first flight from a ship, USS Birmingham, in Hampton Roads harbor in November, 1910.
1879: Birth in Danville, Virginia of Nancy Langhorne (d.1964), who rose socially and politically to become The Right Honorable Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor. On the accession of her husband Waldorf Astor to the House of Lords, she ran for election for his Commons seat and won, becoming the first woman to be seated in that chamber. She was an exceptionally vocal MP, particularly during the buildup to the Second World War. After a tumultuous period of scathing critiques of just about everyone in the political spectrum, she retired in 1945, but remained in the public eye as something of a curmudgeon until her death. She is especially remembered for her acerbic wit. No-one was immune. A few quotes pulled from the estimable Wikipedia: “I married beneath me. All women do.” “One reason why I don’t drink is because I wish to know when I am having a good time.” “We women talk too much, but even then we don’t tell half what we know.”
1881: Birth of Mustafa Kemel Ataturk (d.1938), the First President of the Turkish Republic. General-Pasha of the Ottoman army during the Great War, he was in command of the Turkish forces that held the ANZAC invasion of Gallipoli (DLH 4/25) to nothing more than a toehold until they withdrew under fire nine months later. He then commanded Ottoman armies both in the Levant and on the northern reaches of Anatolia against the Russians. After the war, he served as Aide-de-Camp in the Sublime Porte during the Allied occupation of Constantinople and Izmir as the British and French worked to divide up the outer reaches of the Ottoman Empire. By June of 1919, he had had enough of external meddling, and began a two-pronged Army revolt- both militarily and politically- that eventually led to the establishment in October, 1923 of the explicitly secular Turkish state as we know it today, or at least as we knew it until the current demi-Islamist party got voted into power a few years back. Ataturk is constitutionally the only person who will ever be permitted to assume that title, which means, “Father of Turkey.”
1897: Birth of Phoenix native Frank Luke (d.1918). World War I American fighter Ace and Medal of Honor winner, he was second only to the great Eddie Rickenbacker for the number of confirmed kills by an American pilot. Luke’s fearlessness and airmanship led him to focus on destroying German observation balloons, and earned him the moniker of “The Balloon Buster.” One would think that diving a screaming fighter in towards a huge, immobile gasbag would not be much of a challenge, but one would be gravely mistaken in that assumption: the balloons were not only surrounded by dozens of pre-loaded light artillery pieces aiming straight up, each one of their ascents was also covered by a flight of German fighter planes flying high cover overhead. Luke and his wingman perfected the technique of diving out of the sun and making repeated passes at the balloon until its hydrogen finally burst into flames and plunged to earth. His total count was 14 balloons and 4 aeroplanes, all shot down in the course of only 10 sorties over 8 days. Rickenbacker himself called Luke the “…the most daring aviator and the greatest fighter pilot of the entire war.” Luke Air Force Base in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale is named for him.
1906: The Wright Brothers receive U.S. Patent number 821,393 for their “flying machine.” The patent is the result of the Wright’s extensive testing and refinement of aircraft control mechanisms on their basic 1903 design, and was indicative of their decision to leave the bicycle business and make a go of it in the nascent field of commercial aviation. This is the same patent I mentioned the other day that led Glenn Curtis and others to create work-arounds that would avoid patent infringement issues, although the patent fights between them would continue for years.
1921: The US Congress passes the Emergency Quota Act, limiting legal immigration to a small percentage of the current nationalities then residing in the country. The act effectively shut off the flow of immigrants who were streaming into the country from southern Europe and the Balkans.
1927: With pressure building from competitors, Charles Lindbergh takes off from Roosevelt Field in Long Island in his heavily laden, custom-built Ryan aircraft, the Spirit of St. Louis, in an attempt to become the first to fly solo across the Atlantic, New York to Paris. After only a few hours of fitful sleep last night, he carries a thermos of coffee and two sandwiches into the drippy New York sky. The country holds its collective breath to see if the young daredevil will make it…The takeoff after getting airborne, he remained in ground effect for a painfully long time, starting his climb just soon enough to miss by a matter of feet the power lines and trees at the end of the field. Thirty-three and a half hours after his perilous launch from Roosevelt Field, Charles Lindbergh lands in Le Brouget Airport in Paris. Although he expected some level of fame for his accomplishment, the public acclaim that followed him made him one of the 20th century’s first media superstars. As National Geographic put it, “he took off as an unknown boy from rural Minnesota and landed 33 1/2 hours later as the most famous man on earth… and sent the world into an unprecedented frenzy.” When he was sighted in the morning crossing the coast of Ireland the news was immediately broadcast worldwide. Over 150,000 Parisians worked their way to his arrival airport to witness the historic event. He reached Paris in the gathering darkness, and spent several minutes circling the Eiffel Tower to get his bearings, during which time the crowds broke through the police lines protecting the landing area, creating a situation that Lindbergh called the most dangerous part of the entire flight. The crowds that surged around his machine as he rolled out cut swaths of fabric off the fuselage for souvenirs, and despite his fatigue he was forced into event after event with both French and American luminaries.
1932: Amelia Earhart takes off from Newfoundland, en route to Ireland, in an attempt to become the first solo female to cross the Atlantic. After a 14 hour flight through turbulence, icing and un-forecast winds, bad weather finally forces Amelia Earhart down into a farmer’s field near Derry, Ireland, and into history as the first woman to solo across the Atlantic. Although only two locals witnessed her touchdown, the media quickly picked up the story and “Lady Lindy” became the next media sensation. Her Lockheed Vega is on display in the National Air and Space Museum.
1934: After a four-year spree of robbery and murder, Bonnie Parker (b.1910) and Clyde Barrow (b.1909) are gunned down by a posse in rural Black Lake, Louisiana.
1940: The first prisoners arrive at the new concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland.
1941: German paratroopers invade Crete. The Brits evacuate to fight another day.
1946: Birth of Cher.
1947: President Harry S. Truman signs into law an economic assistance act for Greece and Turkey that will become the foundation for the Truman Doctrine on controlling the spread of Communism.
1964: President Lyndon Baines Johnson announces the Great Society legislative program, in which he promises to “eliminate poverty and racial injustice in America.”