This Week In History

Queen Elizabeth. 15 January, 1559.

Elizabeth I was Queen of England and Ireland until her death on 24 March 1603. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the last of the five monarchs of the House of Tudor. Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, his second wife, who was executed two-and-a-half years after Elizabeth’s birth. Anne’s marriage to Henry VIII was annulled, and Elizabeth was declared illegitimate. Her half-brother, Edward VI, ruled until his death in 1553, bequeathing the crown to Lady Jane Grey and ignoring the claims of his two half-sisters, Elizabeth and the Roman Catholic Mary, in spite of statute law to the contrary. Edward’s will was set aside and Mary became queen, deposing Lady Jane Grey. During Mary’s reign, Elizabeth was imp...

The Order of the Golden Fleece. January 10, 1430.

The Order of the Golden Fleece (Spanish: Orden del Toisón de Oro, German: Orden vom Goldenen Vlies) is a Roman Catholic order of chivalry founded in Bruges by the Burgundian duke Philip the Good in 1430, to celebrate his marriage to the Portuguese princess Isabella. Today, two branches of the Order exist, namely the Spanish and the Austrian Fleece; the current grand masters are Felipe VI, King of Spain, and Karl von Habsburg, grandson of Emperor Charles I of Austria, respectively. Having had only 1,200 recipients ever since its establishment, the Spanish Order of the Golden Fleece has been referred to as the most prestigious and exclusive order of chivalry in the world, both historically and contemporaneously. Unlike any other distinction, the Golden Fleece is only granted for life, meanin...

The Adoration of the Magi. January 6.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact ...

A Christmas Carol. December 25.

By mid-1843 Dickens began to suffer from financial problems. Sales of Martin Chuzzlewit were falling off, and his wife, Catherine, was pregnant with their fifth child. Matters worsened when Chapman & Hall, his publishers, threatened to reduce his monthly income by £50 if sales dropped further. He began A Christmas Carol in October 1843. Michael Slater, Dickens’s biographer, describes the book as being “written at white heat”; it was completed in six weeks, the final pages being written in early December. He built much of the work in his head while taking night-time walks of 15 to 20 miles (24 to 32 km) around London. Dickens’s sister-in-law wrote how he “wept, and laughed, and wept again, and excited himself in a most extraordinary manner, in composition&#...

December 17, 217 B.C. Saturnalia.

Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honour of the god Saturn, held on 17 December of the Julian calendar and later expanded with festivities through to 23 December. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, in the Roman Forum, and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves. A common custom was the election of a “King of the Saturnalia“, who would give orders to people and preside over the merrymaking. This custom derived in the Middle Ages into the Lord of Misrule in England– known in Scotland as the Abbot of Unreason and in France as the Prince des Sots – that was an officer appo...

December 10, 1041. The love of Zoe.

Zoë Porphyrogenita reigned as Byzantine Empress alongside her sister Theodora from 10 April 1042 to June 1050. She was also enthroned as empress consort to a series of co-rulers between 1028 and 1042. Zoë was born to a nominal co-emperor, Constantine VIII, but lived a life of relative obscurity until the age of 47. Her uncle Basil II then died, leaving the Byzantine throne entirely to her father. As he had no sons, Constantine hoped to continue the dynasty by marrying off one of his daughters and determined that the ruling house would be continued by one of them being married to an appropriate aristocrat. Romanos Argyros, the urban prefect of Constantinople, was the next to be considered as a match, after considering Constantine Dalassenos “too strong and difficult to manipulate”. Theodora...

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...

Saint Paul´s Cathedral. December 2, 1697.

In the Great Fire of London of 1666, Old St Paul’s was gutted. While it might have been possible to reconstruct it, a decision was taken to build a new cathedral in a modern style. This course of action had been proposed even before the fire. The task of designing a replacement structure was officially assigned to Sir Christopher Wren on 30 July 1669. He had previously been put in charge of the rebuilding of churches to replace those lost in the Great Fire. More than 50 City churches are attributable to Wren. Concurrent with designing St Paul’s, Wren was engaged in the production of his five Tracts on Architecture. Wren had begun advising on the repair of the Old St Paul’s in 1661, five years before the fire in 1666. The proposed work included renovations to interior and ...

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...

William and Mary. November 4, 1677.

Mary, born at St James’s Palace in London on 30 April 1662, was the eldest daughter of the Duke of York (the future King James II & VII), and his first wife, Anne Hyde. Mary’s uncle was King Charles II, who ruled the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland. She was baptised into the Anglican faith in the Chapel Royal at St James’s, and was named after her ancestor, Mary, Queen of Scots. Although her mother bore eight children, all except Mary and her younger sister Anne died very young, and King Charles II had no legitimate children. Consequently, for most of her childhood, Mary was second in line to the throne after her father. The Duke of York converted to Roman Catholicism in 1668 or 1669 and the Duchess about eight years earlier, but Mary and Anne were bro...

The Second Battle of Bedriacum. October 24, 69 AD.

News of the defeat of Otho was brought to Brixellum, many of Otho’s troops urged him to fight on, pointing out that more troops were on the way, but the emperor chose suicide rather than cause more deaths. Vitellius continued his march on Rome, where he made a triumphal entry and was recognized as emperor by the Senate. Meanwhile, the legions stationed in the Middle East provinces of Judaea and Syria had acclaimed Vespasian as emperor. Vespasian had been given a special command in Iudaea by Nero in 67 with the task of putting down the Great Jewish Revolt. He gained the support of the governor of Syria, Gaius Licinius Mucianus and a strong force drawn from the Judaean and Syrian legions marched on Rome under the command of Mucianus. Before the eastern legions could reach Rome, the Dan...

Marie Antoinette´S Trial And Execution. October 15, 1793.

After Louis‘ execution, Marie Antoinette‘s fate became a central question of the National Convention. While some advocated her death, others proposed exchanging her for French prisoners of war or for a ransom from the Holy Roman Emperor. In April 1793, during the Reign of Terror, a Committee of Public Safety dominated by Robespierre was formed, and men such as Jacques Hébert began to call for Marie-Antoinette’s trial. By the end of May, the Girondins had been chased from power. Calls were also made to “retrain” the eight-year old Louis XVII, to make him pliant to revolutionary ideas. To carry this out, Louis Charles was separated from his mother on 3 July after a struggle during which his mother fought in vain to retain her son, who was handed over to Antoine ...

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