This week in history: Encyclopaedia Britannica

This week in 1768, Colin Macfarquhar and Andrew Bell of Scotland published the first edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica. It had just 3 volumes—quite a contrast to the thirty-two volumes of the fifteenth and final edition, published in 2010. Despite small beginnings, Britannica quickly gained a reputation for excellence and was soon considered the most authoritative English language encyclopedia. Ironically given the name, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. has become an American company. Sears Roebuck bought the rights in 1920, and the company now operates out of Chicago. Continue reading “This week in history: Encyclopaedia Britannica”

This week in history: Napoleon III

This week in 1852, Charles-Louis Napoléon Bonaparte became Emperor of France. His father was the younger brother of the original Napoleon. And his mother was the daughter of the famous Josephine – the long-term mistress and eventually wife of the first Napoleon — by her other (first) husband. To capitalize on his famous uncle’s reputation, the new emperor took the name Napoleon III. (In theory, the first Napoleon’s four-year-old son had ruled for about two weeks in 1815, as Napoleon II.) Continue reading “This week in history: Napoleon III”

This week in history: Queen Elizabeth

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. Rather, the queen probably 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 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. Continue reading “This week in history: Queen Elizabeth”

This week in history: Annie Edson Taylor

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

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

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: The Rosetta Stone

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: David & Michelangelo

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.