Friday, 9 January 2015

Today's the Day

Anniversaries & Events in Academia & Elsewhere

January 9
Possibly something to do with post-festive lethargy, but January 9 has to wait until 1317 for anything of moment to turn up. And then it’s only the coronation of Philip V as King of France, though he did have a fair few hoops to jump through before he finally got the crown upon his scalp, not least of which was being obliged to wait for his elder brother to make way first. As we know, back in those days they liked to avoid situations of the “Phil the Fourth, which one was that, then?” sort by endowing them with a descriptive nickname in order to jog the old memory. Thus, Phil the Fourth, the dad of our man, was known as Philip the Fair, thanks to his good looks, though he was a strangely unemotional man, described as “neither a man nor a beast, but a statue,” and noted for showing “few weaknesses of the flesh.” Though he obviously slipped from the straight and narrow on that one more than once, seeing he sired three strapping sons plus a daughter, Isabella, aka the She-Wolf of France, who turned out to be more trouble than all the sons put together.

When Phil the Fair (aka The Iron King) pegged out in 1314, aged only forty six and thus not as Iron as they’d reckoned, the oldest son, Louis, ascended to the throne. He had been supposed to marry Joan of Burgundy but was married off instead to Margaret of Burgundy, which meant that our Phil got left with Joan. Though things would work out alright in the end, as we shall see. Louis X, as he became, got himself saddled with the monikers of The Quarreller, The Headstrong and the Stubborn so, as you can imagine, his marriage didn’t turn out any too well (he called his daughter Joan, for one thing) and he’s said to have preferred playing real tennis to spending time with the “feisty and shapely” Margaret, something that backfired badly when he died in 1316 following a particularly challenging game. Which should have left the field clear for our man, Philip the Tall as he was known, to get going on his kinging but, as ever, nothing was straightforward back then. The newly widowed Margaret also happened to be pregnant at the time and so it was decided that the child would be monarch once it was born – Philip could fill in as regent in the meantime – and it was duly crowned John I before promptly dying five days later.
At last, thinks our Phil. But, oh no, not quite yet. Louis X’s daughter, Joan, decides she wants the throne herself, which Philip contests on a number of fronts, including her youth, doubts over her paternity (her mother Margaret and her aunt Joan had both been accused of adultery by the Sister-In-Law-From-Hell, Isabella, whose nose had been somewhat put out of joint by the fact that her own husband, Edward II of England, preferred his knight Piers Gaveston to any charms she had to offer) and finally, as trump, by pointing out that she was a woman, which rather put a stop to her gallop.

When it came to the marriage stakes, Philip fared contrastingly better, being noted for his unusual generosity to his wife (Joan the Lame) and for the numerous, if sickmaking, love letters he wrote to her; together the couple had four daughters (imaginatively named Joan, Margaret and Isabelle, plus Blanche, who, possibly in pique, became a nun) and a son (you’ve guessed it: Philip) who died in infancy. Having no male issue and also having insisted on the Salic Law that barred women from the throne, the crown then passed to younger brother Charles, who also died without male issue, which resulted in Edward III of England putting dibs on the French crown and ultimately to the Hundred Years’ War.

This day in 1493, Christopher Columbus, having “discovered America” in 1492 – though, more accurately, having discovered that the Americas were still there some five centuries after Leif Erikson had first come across them and, even then, not hitting the mainland until 1502 and America itself not at all – this day our intrepid explorer (who had been looking for Asia) reported seeing three female forms that “rose high out of the sea” and which he naturally assumed to be mermaids, though, somewhat ungallantly, describing them as “not half so beautiful as they are painted.” Hardly surprising really, seeing that what he was actually looking at were manatees (which, for once, he was first to discover), creatures weighing in at nearly six hundred kilos, with grey wrinkled flesh and whiskers, and also known as Sea Cows. Easy mistake to make. What odds that his next comment was, “Don’t fancy yours much”?

9 January 1522 and Adriaan Boeyens is elected Pope number two hundred and eighteen, and thus begins what will become a mostly unremarkable papacy, not to mention a short one, ending with his death on 14 September 1523, less than two years in. His reign wasn’t a total washout, however, seeing that it was marked by his being the only Dutch Pope ever, the last non-Italian one until John Paul II of Poland became Pope in 1978, and the fact that he, along with Marcellus II (1555, who only managed a dismal twenty two days at it), are the only two to have retained their actual names into popery.

We English have also got claims to just the one Pope (still one better than the Irish, though), also an Adrian, the Fourth in his case, but way back in 1154-59, and he was the one supposedly responsible for encouraging Henry II to bring the Irish under the Romish system, though Henry, being something of an Angevin thug (he had Thomas Beckett butchered in Canterbury cathedral, remember), took this to mean invade Ireland with all brutality and to “rid a barbarous nation of its filthy practices,” thus making Henry the first English king to set foot in Ireland and enabling him to lay the foundations for eight hundred years of what would become “the Troubles.” Our Adrian, or Hadrian, as some prefer, was born in St Albans as Nicholas Breakspear and died, legend persists, choking on a fly in his wine.
In all, there were six Popes Adrian but no less than eight Saints Adrian for them to take their name from. Favourite for the role might just be Adrian of Nicomedia, who was a pagan officer in the imperial court there. The story goes that he was happily getting stuck into some vicious torturing of a band of Christians when he happened to ask them what, precisely, they expected in return for their stubborn refusal to turn heathen, and so impressed was he with their response, (that no man knows “the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” – he wasn’t to know they were merely quoting 1 Corinthians 2:9 at him, was he?) that, there and then, he declared his own faith. Which may be the point at which he spotted the flaw in this policy, seeing he himself was then immediately subjected to a particularly excruciating taste of his own medicine before being put to death. The guards, not quite satisfied that they’d squeezed every last drop of brutality out of the situation, then wanted to burn his body but, right on cue, a storm blows up and quenches the fire. Adrian’s wife did, however, manage to salvage his severed arm, which is why he is often depicted having only the one arm. It’s clear the Catholics aren’t without a sense of humour, as he is now patron saint of guards, soldiers, plague and epilepsy. And butchers. Oh, and (would you believe it) of arms dealers …

This day in 1793, Jean-Pierre Blanchard becomes the first person to fly in a balloon in the United States. Which, as you’ve probably spotted, is somewhat specific for a first, many of the ballooning firsts already having been accomplished. As we know, it was the Montgolfier brothers who got the whole thing “off the ground”, as it were, though they were a tad too canny to do any of the flying themselves, sticking to the inventing part, which would get their father (for some reason) elevated into the nobility. The dad is listed as a “paper manufacturer” but, seeing he fathered sixteen children, he obviously had other interests besides, and he also lived to be ninety three so, if longevity’s your bag, you now know how to go about it. Back with the brothers, their first flight with living beings came on 19 September 1783 and involved a sheep, a duck and a rooster, the idea being that the sheep was near enough to human physiology to make do with, the duck was used to being up aloft, and the rooster a kind of wild card, seeing he hadn’t done any flying at all up to then. The demonstration was watched by King Louis XVI and Marie Antionette (the moral of the story being, if you want to avoid coming to a sticky end, steer clear of ballooning demos), lasted eight minutes and ended with a safe landing. It is unclear whether the French lauded the three aeronautical aces into their Halls of Fame or simply served them as successive courses at the banquet that presumably followed.
Blanchard made his first successful balloon flight on 2 March 1784 in a hydrogen balloon (not a first either, the first manned one coming on 21 November 1783 and the first hydrogen one on 1 December 1783). Things nearly got off to a disastrous start – Blanchard would never prove the most fortunate of men – when a spectator slashed at the balloon’s mooring ropes with a sword after having been refused a place on board. You can see why: a maniac armed with a sword is hardly top of the priorities for a balloon flight, when all said and done. Though it did see the start of a public mania for all things balloon-themed, including clothing (exaggeratedly puffed sleeves and rounded skirts) and even haircuts, including an à la Montgolfier or even an à la Blanchard (he wasn’t even first in that). Mind, to be fair, he was first to balloon across the Channel, on 7 January 1785.

With the invention of the parachute in 1783, Blanchard interested himself in that or, rather, in true Montgolfier do-unto-others style, he interested some dogs in it, the science behind this presumably being to discover how a dog, with no previous experience of plummeting rapidly earthward from fifteen hundred feet, would react physiologically to being abruptly hurled from the basket of a balloon. It is to be hoped that nobody was standing directly below when he launched them into thin air. As usual with Blanchard, Fate got the last laugh when our man was himself forced to bail out sharpish in 1793 when his balloon ruptured, after which he spent time developing versions in folded silk for lightness and strength, from which the modern parachute evolved. That, of course, was the same year in which he made his triumphant first flight in the Americas, launching on 9 January from a prison yard in Philadelphia. Quite what future possibilities he was pioneering by floating himself out of a gaol isn’t recorded, though present to witness it were then-President George Washington and future ones John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe, the moral of that story clearly being, if you want to get on in life, watch as many ballooning demos as possible.

Blanchard married Marie Madeleine-Sophie Armant, in 1804, another keen balloonist but, alas, on 20 February 1808, Jean-Pierre had a heart attack and fell from his balloon, dying over a year later from his injuries. His stalwart widow continued to give demonstrations, using fireworks (you can probably guess where this is going), which resulted in her premature death when the balloon caught fire. A strong wind was blowing, which took the burning craft sideways rather than straight down, and the basket landed on a rooftop, an impact she could well have survived, until the usual Blanchard luck came into play and the ropes holding her chair burned through, pitching her headlong into the street below.

All of which leaves us very little time or space to do any justice to the myriad other events that 9 January has provided. Like in 1799, when Pitt the Younger introduced Income Tax of two shillings in the pound, to “help with our effort in the Napoleonic Wars.” The Wars ended but, oddly enough, Income Tax is still going strong. Not long later, in 1806, Nelson received a state funeral, 9 January being the last day in a long succession of events that started back at 11.30am on Monday 21 October when the good Admiral hoisted the most famous signal in naval history: “England expects…” Famous it might be but, just for fun, let’s all write down now what we think it is; we’ll come back to it later. By one that day, Nelson having spent the Battle parading up and down in an admiral’s feathery hat and a bright blue jacket covered in telltale insignia and medalry, a sniper took a potshot and did for him, breaking his spine, after which his body was preserved in a cask of brandy mixed with camphor and myrrh – he may have been an infamously little bloke but that still sounds like it would’ve required a good deal of undignified cramming to get him in. From there to Gibraltar, where it was put in a lead coffin filled with spirits of wine (still intent on pickling him, then), then on to Greenwich to lie in state from 5-7 January, and then to the Admiralty on 8 January. On Thursday 9, the cortege, preceded by eight thousand troops, made its slow way to St Pauls Cathedral where, after a four hour service, he was put into a sarcophagus originally intended for Cardinal Wolsey. The sailors charged with folding the flag that had draped the coffin and placing it in the grave instead tore it into pieces to keep as a memento. So much for England Expects.

Talking of which, what did you put? What you should have is: ‘England Expects That Every Man Will Do His Duty.’ Which more or less says, Yep, England is pretty confident our blokes will do what has to be done. Unlike the commonly misquoted version of ‘England Expects Every Man To Do His Duty,’ which is much more your command; nor either is it ‘England expects that every man this day will do his duty,’ which comes from a popular song and has the extra words to make it fit the metering. It may even have started life beginning with, ‘Nelson confides that...’ (Nelson has confidence), except partypooping signaller John Pasco pointed out that there was no code for Nelson or for confides so they’d have to spell them out letter by letter. As it was, even using codewords, it still took six separate hoists to make the entire signal. The signal is still flown on HMS Victory every Trafalgar Day.

And finally, 9 January is a day for any inventors out there. The one in 1816 saw Humphry Davy at Hebburn Colliery, testing out his new safety lantern for miners, which originally burnt vegetable oil from a wick contained behind a metal gauze. Unfortunately, the introduction of the Safety Lamp actually resulted in an increased number of accidents. For one thing, it encouraged the working of areas previously closed for being too hazardous and, for another, the gauze of the lamps was easily damaged, rendering the lamp not only useless but dangerous. Although ventilators should have been installed to reduce methane, the mine-owners considered this to be on the expensive side (your heart just bleeds for them, don’t it?), so instead they made the miners buy the lamps themselves. Well, why not? They’d always had to buy their own candles in the past. Three years later, Davy would become the first boffin to be granted a baronetcy. Oddly enough, he was also something of a versifier, with Coleridge himself saying, “had he not been the first chemist, he would have been the first poet of his age.”

Meanwhile, this day in 2001, Apple announced iTunes and then followed that up in 2007 by announcing the iPhone. Whilst Apple has grown fat on the profits ever since, commuters worldwide have daily to live with the ghastly consequences …


Philip IV & Family: Isabella's French family, depicted in 1315: l-r: Isabella's brothers, Charles and Philip, Isabella herself, her father, Philip IV, her brother Louis, and her uncle, Charles of Valois.[Public Domain]
Philip V: By Anonymous [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Edward II & Gaveston: By Marcus Stone (Kunst für Alle) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Joan the Lame: By Jean de Vignay [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Columbus: By Jose Maria Obregon (Own work, ClarkSui, 2013-02-12) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Adrian VI: Jan van Scorel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Nicholas Breakspear: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Balloon: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Blanchard: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Blanchard Ballooning: By Watteau de Lille (dit), Watteau Louis Joseph (1731-1798) (Europeana) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Mrs Blanchard:
Death of Nelson: Daniel Maclise [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
England Expects: By Ipankonin (Vectorized from raster image) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Humphry Davy: By Thomas Phillips (died 1845) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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