Skip to content

This week in history: Queen Elizabeth

November 18, 2019

This week in 1558, Elizabeth Tudor was declared queen of England and Ireland, following the untimely death of her half-sister, Queen Mary. Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry VIII by his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Her first and most important job as queen was to marry and produce an heir. Her sister Mary had married the King of Spain (leading to an unhappy long-distance marriage), and Elizabeth could have chosen a foreign royal too. Many of her advisors, on the other hand, preferred a noble English husband. Either way, conventional wisdom demanded marriage, since a kingdom without an heir is unstable, and since a mere woman can’t reign alone. Yet after Elizabeth had flirted with various foreign and English suitors for years, it became clear the queen would never marry. It’s not that Elizabeth disliked men. In fact, she apparently had a taste for big, athletic bad boys. But the queen apparently felt that, in a man’s world, a husband would steal some of her authority. And for an energetic, forceful, and smart ruler like Queen Elizabeth, that was unacceptable. So she reigned alone and became known and loved as the Virgin Queen (though her actual virginity seems doubtful). And she ruled well, blazing her own trail as a ruling queen without husband or heir. Her forty-five-year reign saw a steady rise in English might and witnessed the defeat of what was then Europe’s greatest power – as Elizabeth’s navy (and bad weather) foiled a Spanish invasion and destroyed the Spanish Armada, in 1588. The Elizabethan era also saw a great flowering of English culture, including the rise of English drama and the start of Shakespeare’s career.

The queen’s refusal to marry, however, was not without consequences. She did not need a man to help her rule, but she did need an heir. Controversy about succession swirled around her later years. She ultimately let it be known that the king of Scotland would succeed her. King James was the son of Queen Elizabeth’s cousin and defeated rival, Mary Queen of Scots. So he descended from Henry VII, Elizabeth’s grandfather and the founder of the Tudor dynasty. Queen Elizabeth never did officially name James her heir, but when she finally died in 1603, King James took the throne, and the union of England, Ireland, and Scotland began.

This week in history: The Mayflower

November 11, 2019
Painting by William Halsall

This week in 1620, passengers and crew aboard The Mayflower got their first glimpse of the New World, sighting modern-day Cape Cod in Massachusetts. The travelers spent a couple of days trying to sail further south to Virginia, their intended destination, but strong winds pushed them back to the natural harbor at Cape Cod. After anchoring on November 11, the settlers drafted and signed The Mayflower Compact, which established a form of government for the colony. Arguably, it was North America’s first written constitution.

Sadly, the expedition fared pretty poorly after that. The settlers weren’t prepared for Massachusetts’ harsh winter, and by the Spring, half were dead. Little did the Pilgrims realize, however, that they had actually enjoyed a stroke of luck, though a grim one. European diseases born by fisherman had infected the local Native Americans recently, wiping out most of the Wampanoag population. So the land nearby was both partly cleared and relatively empty when the settlers arrived: well-suited for colonists. And the remnant of the Wampanoag were too few to protect themselves from their enemies, so they were eager for allies. As a result, the natives befriended and helped the desperate Pilgrims.

This week in history: The Sistine Chapel

November 5, 2019
Photo by Antoine Taveneaux, reproduced with permission under the Creative Commons License Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license

This week in 1512, the Vatican revealed the newly-painted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, for the first time. Renaissance master Michelangelo had begun the work in 1508, under commission from Pope Julius II (often called the warrior pope). The master had actually resisted the project at first. The scale of the job intimidated him (with good reason). And – amazingly from the viewpoint of history – Michelangelo considered himself more a sculptor than a painter. He also thought that his enemies had arranged the commission, assuming he would fail. But Pope Julius was relentless.

To most of us today, the Sistine Chapel ceiling is a dignified work of art, painted in dark hues. But many art historians believe that, before the centuries dimmed the paint, the masterpiece glowed with bright colors, like a holy comic book.

This week in history: Annie Edson Taylor

November 1, 2019

On October 24th 1901, Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to “raft” over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive. She accomplished this feat on her 63rd birthday with the intent of securing her finances, through speaking engagements and other publicity. Unfortunately, she never made much money from the venture – mostly because her associates swindled her during post-stunt publicity tour. Annie did write a memoir that briefly improved her finances, but not for long. She died in 1921 in relative obscurity. Today, however, Kathleen Ordiway portrays Taylor at the “Encounter Niagara” tour at the falls, ensuring the survival of her legacy.

This week in history: Louis XIII

October 17, 2019

On this day in 1610, Louis XIII was crowned King of France, following the assassination of his father, Henry IV. The new king was only nine, so his mother, Marie de’ Medici, ruled as regent. Her mismanagement, however, along with widespread hostility toward her Italian favorites, led the teenage Louis XIII to take over in 1617. He then exiled his mother and execute several of her followers. Louis XIII ruled well, thanks in large part to his brilliant chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu. The king died in 1643 and was succeeded by his son, Louis XIV, a.k.a. the Sun King, who made France the greatest power in Europe.

This week in history: Theodore Roosevelt

October 14, 2019

This week in 1910, former President Theodore Roosevelt became the first U.S. chief executive to fly in an airplane. More than 10,000 people attended the event at Kinloch Field in St. Louis. The pilot, Archibald Hoxsey, flew Roosevelt around the field twice, for a distance of about three miles, in a flight lasting three minutes and twenty seconds. Roosevelt greatly enjoyed the experience and waved to the crowd from the circling airplane. Hoxsey, on the other hand, suffered great anxiety, fearing what might happen if the former President were injured or killed. But the plane landed with both pilot and passenger in great spirits.

This week in history: Sputnik I

October 4, 2019

Photo by Gregory R Todd, provided under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license.

On this day in 1957, Sputnik I became the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth. The beachball-sized Soviet machine circled the planet in a low elliptical orbit for three weeks before its batteries finally died. Then it continued for two more months before finally falling back into the atmosphere. The unexpected success of Sputnik I triggered the great 20th Century space race between the Soviet Union and the United States. Sputnik gave the Soviets a tremendous head start, but arguably the U.S. won the race when it put the first human beings on another astronomical body—on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon.

This week in history: The Rosetta Stone

September 27, 2019

Photo courtesy of Hans Hillewaert via Wikimedia Commons.

On this day in 1822, Jean-Francois Champollion announced that he had deciphered the Rosetta Stone, 23 years after its discovery. The Rosetta Stone records a 196 BC decree from the reign of King Ptolemy V Epiphanes of Egypt, and it’s written in 3 different languages. That made it the key to translating ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, as well as the Egyptian demotic script. The bottom language was Ancient Greek, which was well-known in the 1800’s, and the demotic and hieroglyphic scripts were inscribed above. So Campollion used the ancient Greek version of the decree to translate the other two, giving historians the key to reading hieroglyphs and demotic script on temple walls, ancient manuscripts, and everywhere else. Much of what we know about the ancient Egyptians—including those from far before 196 BC—comes to us thanks to Campollion’s work.

This week in history: Wright Flyer II

September 23, 2019

This week in 1904, Wilbur Wright achieved humanity’s first “circular flight.” He did this in the 2nd plane he and his brother Orville built. The Wright Flyer II, pictured here, took one minute and sixteen seconds to complete a circle in the air. The plane made a total of 105 flights in 1904, but this one—on September 20—was the first complete circle.

This Week in History: David & Michelangelo

September 13, 2019

David by Michelangelo

Michelangelo’s David, photographed by Jörg Bittner Unna, courtesy of Wikimedia

This week in 1501, Michelangelo began work on his statue of David, one of Renaissance Italy’s most famous works of art. The artist took three years to complete the piece, unveiling it in 1504. David was originally meant to stand on the roof-line of the Florence Cathedral, but it (he) was instead placed at Palazzo Vecchio in the public square. In 1873, David was moved to the Gallery of the Academy of Florence, with a replica standing in the original site.

Wordpress Social Share Plugin powered by Ultimatelysocial
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram