Anniversaries & Events in Academia & Elsewhere
Very much a day of affairs political, as it goes, with many of them also proving to be of an American persuasion for some reason. This may simply be because it follows so swiftly on the heels of Thanksgiving, a holiday lasting a full two days “Across the Pond”, the first of which is devoted to feasting on an industrial scale, meaning that, consequently, the second becomes one for attempting to shed all those excess pounds that have been piled on during such over-indulgence. And what better means to achieve this end than via a bout of frenzied bargain-hunting, especially if it involves a spot of heavy-duty public brawling along the way? Black Friday, of course, which has now infiltrated its way into this country too, though, being very much British, we have dispensed entirely with the culinary niceties in order to get stuck straight into the fisticuffs as we go about securing the cutprice merchandise that we didn’t want the day before and the stores couldn’t shift but now we find we must have at any cost, if only to prevent our fellow shoppers from getting their hands on it instead, though the result in either case would be the same: in a few days’ time it will appear on e-Bay, probably with the rider, “slightly damaged.”
the Princes in the Tower (“no proof”), there are those that maintain this could have been a genuine accident. However, the man who loosed the shot, Walter Tirel, a known crack shot, immediately hotfooted it off to France, whilst Rufus’ brother, Henry, who was also there at the time, spurred his own horse to full pace in the direction of the Treasury in Winchester, to claim both cash and crown, leaving the body to be recovered by a peasant.
The somewhat laissez faire attitude of Charles IV, King of Bohemia (later to become Holy Roman Emperor) did nothing to calm the conflagration, seeing he decided not only that the Nuremberg town council should be let off entirely but that they were also perfectly at liberty to help themselves to the property of the Jews and knock down their houses to build markets on. All of which failed dismally to restore any kind of order and the slaughter continued. Disappointingly, Charles VI wasn’t ever endowed with one of those ludic nicknames that seemed so popular back then, such as Wilfred the Hairy or James the Just, though Charlie the Fathead might have suited him admirably. But, before we go accusing him of more addle-headed thinking than a below-average mule that’s been drinking snakebite and then suffered a savage blow to the head, we need to remind ourselves that it ran in the family. After all, his dad was none other than John the Blind, who actually was blind and had been since he was forty and yet still insisted on taking part in the Battle of Crécy (26 August 1346) a decade later, so that he could “land one blow with his sword.” You may be able to spot the flaw in his plan. For one thing, he couldn’t see anything of what was going on, least of all who was coming to get him for flailing his sword vaguely in their direction (“stand still, you blighters, and let me land you one”) and, for another, he and his two guides were firmly lashed together, which is perhaps not the perfect battle tactic. Plus, of course, as we all know, England was destined to win. He famously said "Let it never be the case that a Bohemian king runs.” Nor did he. Both he and his guides were promptly hacked to pieces.
a gundalow, which promptly ran aground twice, though still made it across the lake, from where it was on to “42 exceeding strong sleds, and 80 yoke of oxen to drag them as far as Springfield.” At Glen Falls, two feet of snow fell on Christmas Day and yet the ice was still too thin to get the guns across the Hudson, so they poured more water on top to try and thicken it. Then, when they finally did get going, they kept dropping the guns into the river, though always recovering every one until, at last, on January 27, they arrived, at which Knox went personally to tell Washington about it and to no doubt have a good sturdy breakfast. When the British, under General Howe, saw their own guns being placed against them, they quietly sloped off to Nova Scotia, whilst Knox became chief artillery officer of the Continental Army, and later served as the first United States Secretary of War
Not quite so happy was the first Mr President’s demise. Having spent 12 December 1799 riding around in freezing rain, he ate his supper still wearing his sodden garments and then, savage sore throat notwithstanding, he went out to do the same again the next day. Needless to say, he got even sicker. Our George was a firm believer in bloodletting and, once three doctors had been summoned, they got stuck in with gusto, so much so that they ended up taking half of all his blood. Strangely enough, he died. His last words were: “Tis well.” Apart from the bungling doctors, of course.
the Declaration of Independence bloke, of course, so if he did nothing else after that, at least that catchy second line of his would become "one of the best-known sentences in the English language.” Though nowhere in it appear the words “Declaration of Independence,” and it was originally known as the Dunlap broadside (Dunlap being the printer), with possibly the most infamous name to appear on it being that of John Hancock, now immortalised in American folklore as the slang term for a signature. After his Declaration triumph, Jefferson followed Washington’s precedent by being elected for a second term on 5 December (1804) and then, when the end came, going out in the most memorable fashion. Having been in declining health for a year, on 3 July 1826 he was overcome with fever. The doctor was summoned but there was little hope, and at eight that evening he woke and uttered his famous last words: “Is it the fourth yet?” To which the doctor replied, "It soon will be". He died at ten to one on the afternoon of the Fourth of July, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration, and a few hours before John Adams (the second President, with Jefferson as his Vice President), Adams own last words being, “Thomas Jefferson survives.” Alas, untrue, but only just.
In 1832, Andrew Jackson was also re-elected on this day. He was the first US President to suffer a physical attack when a chap he had drummed out of the Navy for embezzlement suddenly turned up and walloped him one and then scarpered with several of Jackson’s party in hot pursuit, including author Washington Irving, though Jackson ended up letting his assailant off.
One last President to get in on the 5 December act was James K Polk (yes, there really was a President Polk) who, this day in 1848, triggered the Gold Rush by confirming that gold had been discovered in California. To begin with, however, it was more of a Gold Amble or even a Plod, seeing it was way back in January that the first nugget had been picked up.
Anything the Americans can do, so can we (except, perhaps, liberate ourselves from a hated British government, though our Scottish comrades gave it a good go) and on 5 December 1905, Henry Campbell-Bannerman became Prime Minister. You might well say Who, but he was actually the first ever to officially be called Prime Minister, as before that it had always been a term of abuse, the title having been coined for use on Walpole, a big fat wealthy waste of space that abhorred any iota of talent (so, very much in the sense we still use it today). Unfortunately, CB’s health declined and, by April 1908, he was forced to resign because of it. He died nineteen days later and, true to all our 5 December heroes, his (inaccurate) last words were, “This is not the end of me.” Like most Liberals, a tad overoptimisitic, we fear. Though he was the last PM to actually die at Number Ten, and that’s a trend that could stand some reviving.
Finally though, if you’d not heard of Campbell-Bannerman, then do spare a thought for Andrew Bonar Law, a Canadian, making him the only PM born outside Britain, a feat he topped by serving in that office from 23 October 1922 to 22 May 1923, just 211 days and the third shortest in history. The poor fellow would eventually die of throat cancer and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, at his funeral in Westminster Abbey, Herbert Asquith acidly remarked that they were “burying the Unknown Prime Minister next to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.” Asquith, it should be observed, was a fellow Liberal, and you need friends like that, don’t you?
Black Death Riots: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A1349_burning_of_Jews-European_chronicle_on_Black_Death.jpg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Henry Knox: Charles Willson Peale [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Ox Team: By M.A. Wageman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Polk: By James_Polk.jpg: Brady, Mathew B., 1823 (ca.)-1896, photographer: derivative work: Superwikifan (James_Polk.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Brannan: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Washington: John Trumbull [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Jefferson: Rembrandt Peale [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Jackson Shooting: By Bonus Onus at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Jackson: Thomas Sully [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Campbell-Bannerman: Leslie Ward [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Bonar Law: Leslie Ward [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons