316 A.D.: Consecration of Old Saint Peter’s Basilica in the outskirts of Rome. The building was a classical Romanesque structure, heavily timbered, and built over the tomb of the relatively recently martyred Apostle Peter (who was crucified upside down).
1095: The First Crusade: In response to a request from the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I, Pope Urban II convenes the Council of Clermont, in the French city of that name. For the next week, over 300 prelates and nobles from across France review the state of play within the Catholic Church, and more importantly, the request from Alexius for military assistance to help eject the Seljuk Turks from Byzantine Anatolia. You will recall that the Byzantine Empire was explicitly Christian and was, in fact, the last surviving remnant of the Eastern Roman Empire. During the Council, the arguments in favor of assisting against the Turks quickly evolved into what was seen as a God-directed desire to re-capture the Holy City of Jerusalem from the Muslims who had controlled it for the previous 350 years. The council will end on the 27th with Urban II’s famous speech calling for a Crusade. We’ll talk more about it later…it will be worth our efforts to take some DLH time to think through the Crusades, since despite the passage of a thousand years since their inception, they very much remain in the realm of Current Events for our Islamist adversaries.
1307: Traditional date when Swiss patriot William Tell refused to bow down to the hat of Hermann Gessler, one of the functionaries of the Hapsburg Empire who was trying to cow the Swiss confederation into submission. Arrested for this disrespect, Gessler promised Tell his freedom if he could shoot an apple off his (Tell’s) son Walter’s head. With Walter tied to a stake, Tell drew out two bolts to his crossbow, and successfully split the apple. When Gessler asked why he drew two arrows instead of one, Tell replied defiantly that if he failed his shot at his son, the next one would be into the heart of Gessler himself. Tell remains a potent symbol of resistance to capricious authority, and has been the subject of numerous plays and books on the nature of freedom and patriotism.
1421: The Saint Elizabeth’s Day Flood inundates a huge section of Zeeland and Holland as the storm-driven Zuider Zee breaks through several dykes and floods the surrounding lands. Casualty estimates range from 2000, to 10,000, and the ruined villages and farmlands in the flooded polders remained underwater for decades. Most of the flooding concentrated in the areas of Dordrecht and North Brabant.
1703: Death of The Man in the Iron Mask, held in a variety of French prisons under the supervision of Cardinal Richelieu during the reign of Louis XIV. His identity has never been confirmed, and the conditions of his 34 years in somewhat stately captivity created a cottage industry of novels, plays and monographs attempting to deduce his identity and his supposed crimes. The most famous version of the story is by Alexander Dumas, who included it as the unifying theme of the final part of his Three Musketeers trilogy.
1626: After 120 years of construction (begun in 1506) the new Basilica of Saint Peter is consecrated in Rome’s Vatican City, replacing the crumbling 1300 year old original basilica. The complications of its design and construction, being built over and around the original while leaving key sections of it in place, set the scope and scale of this project above and beyond anything that had been planned before. In the end, it is a magnificent piece of work, host to some of the most beautiful and famous artwork in the world, to say nothing of the staggering Christian heritage resident within its walls and catacombs. It was also breathtakingly expensive, and the “creative financing” it took to complete its construction set the stage for a train of corruption and abuses that led to the Protestant Reformation.
1739: Ships of the Royal Navy descend on and capture the Spanish fortress city of Porto Bello in Panama. The lopsided battle was hailed as a great victory in England, and served as the first step of revenge in the War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-1748) between Spain and Great Britain. The war was eventually subsumed by the larger War of Austrian Succession, but I really like the name of the original.
1789: New Jersey becomes the first state to ratify the Bill of Rights.
1820: The Nantucket whaling ship Essex, on station in the South Pacific, is repeatedly rammed by an enraged sperm whale and sinks. The story of the sinking and the subsequent survival of members of the crew was part of Melville’s inspiration for Moby-Dick.
1855: Scottish explorer and missionary David Livingstone becomes the first European to see Victoria Falls. He becomes “lost” a decade and a half later.
1863: President Abraham Lincoln, presiding over the dedication of a new national cemetery where are buried the Union dead from the great battle of four months prior, delivers his Gettysburg Address.
1865: Mark Twain publishes in the New York Saturday Press the short story that put him on the map: The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.
1869: Inauguration of commercial shipping traffic through the Suez Canal.
1871: The National Rifle Association is chartered by the State of New York.
1887: Birth of Bernard Montgomery (d.1976), British Field Marshal during the Second World War, hero of El Alamein, Sicily, Normandy, and the British drive against the German army across the northern tier of Europe.
1916: Commander of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in Flanders, Field Marshall Douglas Haig, orders a halt to the First Battle of the Somme, which began, you’ll recall, on July 1st, “when the barrage lifts…” The four and a half months since of nearly continuous combat yielded for the combined Anglo-French force a total of six miles over the ground, without having gained any of the originally planned objectives, at a cost of over 146,000 dead and just under 624,000 wounded. For their part, the Germans lost 164,000 dead and 465,000 wounded defending their earlier gains.
1928: Walt Disney releases his third animated short, Steamboat Willie, which combines synchronized sound with the dancing images of his soon-to-be famous mouse.
1933: After sixteen years of increasingly futile opposition* to the entrenchment and bureaucratization of the Bolsheviks into Russian society and government, the United States finally recognizes the Soviet Union. The intelligentsia in the United States had been lobbying for this recognition for years, epitomized by muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens visiting Russia in 1921 and coming back gushing, “I have seen the future and it works.” Pretty much a test case for Stalin’s amusement at the “useful idiots” in the Western press. Steffens recanted his enthusiasm as the New Deal took hold in the States.
1947: Great Britain’s Princess Elizabeth weds Phillip Mountbatten.
1955: First publication of William F. Buckley’s National Review magazine, in which the erudite conservative Yale graduate declaimed that his (and his magazine’s) purpose was to “Stand athwart history, yelling ‘Stop!’” The institutional Left- which constituted most of post-WWII academia and media- almost always framed their arguments on the basis of the inevitability of history showing they were right. Buckley initiated the “not so fast” movement that continues to this day.
1961: President John F. Kennedy, signs off on his order of two days ago, assigning 18,000 U.S. Army advisors to South Vietnam.
1969: Apollo 12– lightning strike from last week’s launch so scrambled up the telemetry from the rocket and onboard systems that the crew had to perform an obscure procedure, practiced only once in the year before the mission, that provided alternate power to the telemetry encoder. The quick thinking of the flight director at KSC and Alan Bean’s memory on the procedure allowed the flight not to abort. They continued into a parking orbit and performed a thorough systems checkout before igniting the Saturn Upper Stage for the trans-lunar injection (TLI) burn. The lunar landing occurred on this day. When the diminutive Pete Conrad climbed out of the LEM on to the surface of the moon, he exclaimed those immortal words: “Whoopie! Man- that may have been a small step for Neil, but that’s a long one for me!” The landing site was chosen to be close to a Surveyor III probe that touched down on the surface two years earlier. Automated systems guided the LEM with near-perfect precision, but Conrad chose to move their touchdown point about 600 feet short because the intended touchdown point looked too rough. Conrad and Bean spent over 31 hours on the surface and made two excursions outside the LEM.
1977: Egyptian President Anwar Sadat becomes the first Arab leader to visit the State of Israel, making an unprecedented speech to the Israeli Knesset, calling for peace between Israel and its neighbors. For this act of grace and strength, he was assassinated by the Muslim Brotherhood.