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The Battle of San Juan de Ulúa. September 24, 1568.

The Battle of San Juan de Ulúa was a battle between English privateers and Spanish forces at San Juan de Ulúa (in modern Veracruz, Mexico). It marked the end of the campaign carried out by an English flotilla of six ships that had systematically conducted what the Spanish considered to be illegal trade in the Caribbean Sea, including the slave trade, at times imposing it by force. Subsequent to the beginning of the Age of Discovery and the European exploration of the New World it was determined that in order to minimize potential conflict between the two major naval powers of the world at the time, Spain and Portugal, that a demarcation line between the two spheres of influence would be necessary. In the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, dividing the New World into Spanish and Portuguese zones w...

The Conviction of de Rais. September 15, 1440.

Even if there had been nothing else unusual about the Breton nobleman Gilles de Rais (1404–40), his outstanding career as a soldier in the Hundred Years’ War and as a comrade in arms of Joan of Arc would have been enough to guarantee his place in history. Today, though, those achievements can only be seen in the shadow of the secret life he led as the perpetrator of more than a hundred gruesome child murders, a rampage which made him arguably the first serial killer in recorded history. The early life of Gilles de Rais was marked by tragedy. Both his parents died about 1415: his father, Guy de Laval, was killed in a hunting accident that de Rais may have witnessed, and his mother, Marie de Craon, died of an unknown cause. He was raised by his maternal grandfather, Jean de Craon. As a young...

Fourth and final Catiline Oration. December 5, 63 BC.

The Catiline or Catilinarian Orations is a set of speeches to the Roman Senate given by Marcus Tullius Cicero, one of the year’s consuls, accusing a Senator, Lucius Sergius Catilina (Catiline), of leading a plot to overthrow the Roman government. Some modern historians, and ancient sources such as Sallust, suggest that Catiline was a more complex and sympathetic character than Cicero’s writings declare, and that Cicero, a career politician, was heavily influenced by a desire to establish decisively a lasting reputation as a great Roman patriot and statesman. Most accounts of the events come from Cicero himself. This is one of the best, if not the very best, documented events surviving from the ancient world, and has set the stage for classic political struggles pitting state se...

The Gunpowder Plot. November 5, 1604.

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605, often called the Gunpowder Treason Plot or the Jesuit Treason, was a failed assassination attempt against King James I by a group of provincial English Catholics led by Robert Catesby. The plan was to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament on 5 November 1605, as the prelude to a popular revolt in the Midlands during which James’s nine-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Stuart, was to be installed as the Catholic head of state. Catesby may have embarked on the scheme after hopes of securing greater religious tolerance under King James had faded, leaving many English Catholics disappointed. Fawkes, one of the fellow plotters, who had 10 years of military experience fighting in the Spanish Netherlands in the failed suppression of the Dutc...

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