Sunday, May 31, 2009

This Day In History - May 31

Art: Lady Godiva by John Collier

May 31 1279 BC – Rameses II (The Great) (19th dynasty) becomes pharaoh of Ancient Egypt. Regarded as the most powerful of all of the pharaohs, he ruled Egypt for 66 years. He was famed both as a warrior and a builder. In greek, he was called Ozymandias - and it is he about whom the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote his famous sonnet, Oxymandias.

526 AD – A devastating earthquake struck the one of the great cities of the ancient world, Antioch, killing 250,000. Antioch was famed for its loose morals, and of it, famed historian Edward Gibbons wrote: "Fashion was the only law, pleasure the only pursuit, and the splendour of dress and furniture was the only distinction of the citizens of Antioch. The arts of luxury were honoured, the serious and manly virtues were the subject of ridicule, and the contempt for female modesty and reverent age announced the universal corruption of the capital of the East."

1076 - The execution of Waltheof of Northumbria ended the Revolt of the Earls against William the Conqueror. William was actually in Normandy during the revolt. England's "warrior bishops," Wulfstan, Odo of Bayeux, and Geoffrey de Montbray actually led seperate elements of the King's forces to defeat the Earls. This was the last act of rebellion to contest the Norman conquest.

1223 – One of the great cavalry battles of history, the Battle of the Kalka River in Georgia – was fought between the Mongol armies of Genghis Khan led by Subutai against the Kievan Rus and the Cumans. The result was a huge victory for the Mongols.

1647 - Jules Crittenden adds his own familial connection to this date: "Kent being the center of a spreading revolt against Parliament, sparked by the banning of Christmas celebrations in December 1647, that became known as the Second English Civil War; on the afternoon of June 1, 1648, the New Model Army under Sir Thomas Fairfax fronted up at the bridges over the Medway at Maidstone. . . ." Read his whole post.

1669 – Citing poor eyesight, Samuel Pepys records the last event in his diary.

1678 – The Godiva Procession is first held in Coventry, celebrating the famed naked protest of Lady Godiva. According to legend, somewhere about the time of the Norman Conquest, Lady Godiva took pity on the people of Coventry, who were suffering under her husband's oppressive taxation. She appealed repeatedly to her husband to lower the taxes. He steadfastly refused until at last, weary of her entreaties, he said he would grant her request if she would strip naked and ride through the streets of the town. Lady Godiva took him at his word and rode naked through Coventry market and the assembled townsfolk. Her husband lifted the taxes. Given the various taxes that Obama is considering, I think we could do with one of the lady's progeny now. And we have our own precedent - we have the ladies of "Breasts, Not Bombs." What we need are a new group, "Tits, Not Taxation."

1759 – The Province of Pennsylvania bans all theater productions. Shades of Cromwell.

1859 – Big Ben Starts keeping time. Much more on this at the exceptional blog, Brits At Their Best, including such interesting tidbits as this: "The five-and-a-half ton clockwork mechanism keeps the time accurate to the second. On top of the clock's pendulum is a small stack of old penny coins, which are laid on or removed to alter the pendulum and keep the clock precise."

1862 – Confederate forces under Joseph E. Johnston engage Union forces under George B. McClellan outside Richmond, Virginia in the Battle of Seven Pines. The battle saw 11,000 casualties and led to a retreat in June by Union forces.

1864 – The Army of Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee engages the Army of the Potomac under Ulysses S. Grant at the Battle of Cold Harbor. It was Lee's last victory of the war. He held strong defensive positions and, from there, was able to stop repeated frontal attacks by Grant, inflicting some 13,000 Union casualties over twelve days.

1889 – In the Johnstown Flood, over 2,200 people died after a dam broke, sending a 60-foot wall of water over the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. It also led to a change in the law. After the flood, victims suffered a series of legal defeats in their attempt to recover damages from the dam's owners. Public indignation at that failure prompted a major development in American law--state courts' move from a fault-based regime to strict liability.

1902 – The Treaty of Vereeniging ends the Second Boer War and ensures British control of South Africa.

1911 – R.M.S. Titanic, the first "unsinkable" ocean liner, is launched. Less than a year later, it would sink in the ice cold seas of the Atlantic following a collision with an iceberg.

1916 – The WWI Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle in history, took place roughly due south of Norway in the North Sea. It involved a total of 250 ships split between the British Royal Navy and the German Imperial Navy. It was the last naval battle conducted between battleships. Fourteen British and eleven German ships were sunk with the British suffering about 6,000 killed, the Germans 2,500. Despite their smaller losses, the battle ended when the Germans left the engagement under the cover of nightfall and returned to port. The Germans thereafter turned to submarine warfare and did not again attempt to engage the British fleet.

1921 – The Tulsa Race Riot, the deadliest race riot in American history, occurred in the racially segregated Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma. During the 16 hours of rioting, over 300 were killed, 800 people were admitted to local hospitals, an estimated 10,000 were left homeless, 35 city blocks composed of 1,256 residences were destroyed by fire, and $1.8 million in property damage was caused.

1927 – The last Ford Model T rolls off the assembly line after a production run of 15,007,003 vehicles.

1943 – The Zoot Suit Riots began in Los Angeles.

1962: Adolf Eichmann, the SS officer known as "the architect of the Holocaust," was hung following a trial in Israel.

1973 – The United States Senate votes to cut off funding for the bombing of Khmer Rouge targets within Cambodia, hastening the end of the Cambodian Civil War. Two years later, the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot took total control of Cambodia and instituted one of the bloodiest genocides in history.

1977 – The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System completed. Since its completion, the pipeline has transported over 15 billion barrels of oil


1613 – John George II, Elector of Saxony (d. 1680)

1819 – Walt Whitman, American poet (d. 1892)

1857 – Pope Pius XI (d. 1939)

1860 – Walter Sickert, English painter (d. 1942)

1930 – Clint Eastwood, American film director and actor Holidays and observances Today is the Christian festival of Pentecost.