The Sunday Section: This Week in History - March 01-07

March 01

1555 – Michael Nostradamus publishes his ‘Book of Centuries’ in France.  The 900 ‘Centuries’ contain a series of prophecies about future events, written in cryptic 4-lined rhymed verses.  The book is difficult to understand as Nostradamus has used not only anagrams but also Hebrew, Latin, Portuguese.  The predictions include a massive fire in London in 1666, the overthrow of the French monarchy in the 18th century, and 2 wars which will engulf the world in the 20th century.

Nostradamus and his Prophecies

1815 – Napoleon Bonaparte has returned from his banishment, landing at Cannes with 1,500 soldiers, and is making his way to Paris with a growing army, much to the horror of Austria, Britain and Russia.

1880 – Pennsylvania abolishes slavery, becoming the first US state to do so.

1896 – Italy attempts to invade Ethiopia with 100,000 troops but are routed.

1932 – The 20-month-old son of the aviator, Charles Lindbergh, has been kidnapped in New Jersey.  The baby was snatched while his parents were having dinner, and a $50,000 ransom note was found by the cot.  So far, the only clues are footprints in the garden, a homemade ladder that was used to reach the nursery, and the ransom note, which is crudely lettered and misspelt – “the child is in gut care”.

Charles Lindbergh III

1934 – Japan puts Peking’s ‘Last Emperor’, Pu Yi, on the throne of Manchukuo (now Manchuria).

Pu Yi

1940 – Vivien Leigh, an English actress, has won an Oscar for her role as Scarlett O’Hara, a proud southern belle, in the box-office breaking film, ‘Gone With the Wind’.

Vivien Leigh.jpg

Vivien Leigh

1946 – The Bank of England passes into public ownership.

1952 – The US has today successfully tested a 15-megaton hydrogen bomb, one thousand times more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Today’s bomb has wiped out 3 of the 23 islands of tiny Bikini Atoll, 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii. Cameras were on hand to record the incredible flash and the resulting, immense mushroom cloud.  The sheer power of the bombs could not be measured as the shock went right off the dials of the recording instruments.

Castle Bravo blast

1961 – President John Kennedy forms the Peace Corps, consisting entirely of volunteers, to work in Third World countries.

President Kennedy greeting Peace Corps volunteers

1969 – Mickey Charles Mantle, the baseball player, has retired today, taking his number with him, and the New York Yankees no longer have a No. 7.

Mickey Mantle

1972 – 14-year-old Timothy Davey, a London schoolboy, is found guilty by a Turkish court on the charge of conspiring to sell cannabis.

Timothy Davey

1978 – The coffin of Charlie Chaplin has been stolen from a Swiss cemetery.


1717 – The first-ever ballet to be performed in England, ‘The Loves of Mars and Venus’, is staged at Drury Lane.

1791 – The optical telegraph, more commonly known as the semaphore machine, is unveiled in Paris.

1836 – American settlers in Texas have declared their independence from Mexico, and set up a new state with a new flag, the Lone Star.  But the Mexican dictator, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna is determined to reassert control, and has invaded Texas.

Texas Declaration of Independence

1864 – President Abraham Lincoln has rejected a call for peace talks, put forward by Robert E. Lee, the Confederate General.  Lincoln is, instead, demanding surrender.

1882 – Queen Victoria has survived an assassination attempt by a Robert Maclean.

1930 – Death of author DH Lawrence in France.

DH Lawrence

1958 – A British team has successfully crossed from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea.  Under Sir Vivian Fuchs, the team has achieved the first crossing of the Antarctic.

Sir Vivian Fuchs

1969 – Concorde today made its maiden flight at Toulouse, amid applause from watching reporters and cameramen.  The Anglo-French plane was in the air for just under 30 minutes before it was brought back down again with the aid of a braking parachute and reverse thrust.

Concorde on its maiden flight

1972 – The American spacecraft, ‘Pioneer 10’, blasts off for Mars and Jupiter on a 21-month mission.

Pioneer 10

1986 – Almost 2 centuries after British convicts were shipped to Botany Bay, Britain today severed formal ties with its former colony, Australia, with the signing of the Australia Bill by Queen Elizabeth II.

1990 – Nelson Mandela is elected deputy president of the African National Congress, 3 weeks are his release from jail.


1802 – Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ is published.

1848 – Hunger, economic depression and political demands of a growing middle class is fuelling revolution across Europe.  It began last month in Paris when King Louis Phillippe fled his angry citizens who declared France a republic.  Now there are demonstrations in the Austrian Empire, with Hungary declaring its autonomy, Croatia demanding its freedom from Hungary, and Vienna renouncing Austria’s authority to proclaim itself a republic.  There is unrest also in Germany.

1857 – Britain and France have declared war on China, claiming the killing of a missionary as an excuse.

1875 – The premier of Bizet’s opera, ‘Carmen’, at the Opéra Comique in Paris.

1919 – Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the Bolshevik leader, has announced the formation of a new organisation, the Communist International, or ‘Comintern’, to dictate policies to communists in other countries.

1924 – In Turkey, President Kemal Ataturk has abolished the Caliphate and disestablished the Islamic religion.

Kemal Ataturk

1931 – America adopts ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ as its national anthem.

1942 – The West Coast of America is declared a military zone, and 100,000 people are evacuated.

1950 – The US Congress votes to admit Alaska as the 4h state.

1959 – Death of Lou Costello, who, with his partner Bud Abbott, were the most popular comedy duo in the 1940s and 1950s.

Lou Costello

1985 – After a year-long strike, Britain’s miners today voted to return to work.


1193 – Death of Saladin, the legendary leader who led the Muslims in the Crusades.


1681 – William Penn, a 38-year-old Quaker, has been granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II to set up a new colony in the American colonies.  Penn has been given powers over the new settlement and its surroundings, and its Indian population; he proposes to name the colony Pennsylvania.  The King has also paid off £16,000 of Penn’s family debts.

'The Birth of Pennsylvania' ~ Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

1789 – The first US Congress is held in New York with 59 members, each representing a district of roughly 30,000 people.

1824 – The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is founded in Britain.

1861 – Abraham Lincoln has been sworn in as the 16thAmerican president, inheriting a country divided on the threshold of civil war.

1873 – The ‘New York Daily Graphic’ becomes the first illustrated daily newspaper.

1945 – US General Douglas MacArthur has returned to the Philippines, having been forced to flee in 1942 as the Japanese advanced.  After months of heavy fighting, his troops have taken the capital, Manila.

General MacArthur wades ashore

1968 – The British Lawn Tennis Association and the International Tennis Federation have voted to allow highly-paid professional tennis players to compete in the world’s oldest amateur tennis tournament, Wimbledon.

1975 – Charlie Chaplin is knighted at Buckingham Palace.

Charlie Chaplin after receiving his knighthood (Getty Images)


1461 – Henry VI is deposed by the Duke of York in the Wars of the Roses.

Henry VI

1770 – 5 Americans have been killed today in the ‘Boston Massacre’ when British troops opened fire on an unruly crowd.  The troops had been sent 18 months previous as a show of force to suppress American resentment over the Stamp Act, which taxes all legal or printed documents.  Their arrival has been the cause of simmering tension, with the Americans seeing the troops as oppressors. 

The 'Boston Massacre'

1778 – Death of Thomas Arne, the composer, whose most famous work is, undoubtedly, ‘Rule Britannia’.

Thomas Arne

1790 – Death of Flora Macdonald, Scottish heroine who helped Bonne Prince Charlie escape after the Battle of Culloden.

Flora Macdonald (by Allan Ramsay)

1856 – The Covent Garden Opera House has been destroyed by fire.

1926 – The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon is destroyed by fire.

Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in flames

1930 – Clarence Birdseye, a New York food scientist, has perfected a method of quick-freezing peas which retains their taste and texture.  His frozen fish has already been on the market since 1925.

Clarence Birdseye

1936 – The Spitfire, Britain’s new fighter plane, made its maiden flight today.  Built by Vickers and powered by a liquid-cooled Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, the plane will enter service with the RAF in the next 2 years to counter the German Messerschmitt 109, said to be the world’s best fighter.  The plane’s designer, Reginald Mitchell, drew up his plans after hours studying seagulls flying.

Captain Joseph Summers in the cockpit of the Spitfire - 05/03/36

1946 – While touring the US, Winston Churchill has made a speech about the Russian threat, saying “An iron curtain has descended across Europe”.

1953 – Death of Joseph Stalin of a brain haemorrhage.  He started his career robbing banks to raise Bolshevik funds, and seized power after Lenin’s death in 1929.  As yet, no clear successor to the brutal leader has emerged.

1966 – Ronald and Reginald Kray, the 35-year-old twins who are the criminal overlords of London’s East End, have been jailed for 30 years for murder.  Lasting 39 days, theirs has been the longest murder trial ever held at the Old Bailey.  As they were led away, one of them addressed the judge: “I’ll see you later”.

The Kray twins


1836 – A small band of besieged Texan rebels have been slaughtered at the Alamo today by 6,000 Mexican troops under General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.  They stormed the crumbling mission and massacred the defenders.  The bodies have been burned as a warning to Texas to never challenge Mexican rule.  Among the dead was Davy Crockett, the frontiersman.  Having served 2 terms in Washington as a US congressman, he had only recently returned to Texas.

'The Fall of the Alamo' ~ Robert Jenkins Onderdonk

1888 – Death of author Louisa May Alcott.  Unable to bear the grief of losing her father, she died hours after his funeral.

Louisa M Alcott

1899 – A new pain relief drug, called aspirin, is patented today by chemist Felix Hoffmann, who synthesized the drug in his laboratory.  It is said to relieve muscle and joint aches and pains, and even the most severe headache.

1900 – Death of Gottlieb Daimler, engineer and inventor of the motorcycle.

Gottlieb Daimler

1901 – Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany has survived an assassination attempt by an anarchist.

1932 – Death of composer John Philip Sousa, aged 78.

John Philip Sousa

1944 – Daylight bombing raids on Berlin begin, from US air bases in Britain.

B-24 Liberator over Berlin (Imperial War Museum)

1987 – A British-owned cross-channel ferry, ‘The Herald of Free Enterprise’, has overturned in shallow water today soon after leaving the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, with her bow doors still open.  Almost 200 people are feared drowned.

'The Herald of Free Enterprise'

1988 – Britain’s elite SAS commando squad have shot dead an “active service unit” of Irish Republican activists on Gibraltar.  It was claimed that the 3 men – Sean Savage, Mairead Farrell and Daniel McCann – were planning to attack a military parade, and had a car packed with explosives.  However, no evidence has been found to support this, and eye-witnesses say the 3 men were unarmed when they were gunned down at close range with no warning.


1876 – The electric voice telegraph, or telephone, was patented today.  The revolutionary new device was invented by Alexander Graham Bell, who teaches vocal physiology at Boston University, and is an expert on communication with the deaf.  The telephone converts sound waves into electrical oscillations, which can then be transmitted long distances via a cable.

Alexander Graham Bell (Fox Photos/Getty Images)

1912 – Henri Seimet has flown from Paris to London in 3 hours, becoming the first aviator to make the journey non-stop.

1917 – The Victor Company has issued a new phonograph recording of the new sound called jazz, the music of the black community, except the musicians who recorded it in New York – Nick La Rocca and his Original Dixieland Jazz Band – are all white.

1936 – Adolf Hitler, Germany’s chancellor, has ordered his troops into the demilitarized zone east of the Rhine.  This is in direct violation of the Versailles Treaty, which ended the Great War.  Although the troops are being met with rejoicing by the local population, this could force the signatories of the 1925 Locarno Pact into action.  The Pact is between Germany, France, Belgium, Britain and Italy, with the first 3 undertaking not to attack each other, and the latter 2 acting as guarantors.  By occupying the Rhineland, Germany has effectively repudiated its undertaking.  Now, France wants action but Britain seems anxious not to upset Hitler.  The British government has already made a naval pact which removes controls imposed on Germany after the Great War, enabling it to build a powerful navy.

1945 – Nine years to the day after war was made inevitable with Adolf Hitler’s occupation of the Rhineland, American troops have seized a strategic bridge at Remagen, and have begun crossing into Germany.  Soviet troops, meanwhile, are advancing on Berlin.

Ludendorff Bridge, at Remagen, just captured by American troops (Imgur)

1971 – Swiss women are finally allowed the right to vote, and to hold federal office.

1984 – Death of Donald Maclean aged 70.  A British Foreign Office official, he was also a Russian secret agent, and fled to the Soviet Union in 1951.

Donald Maclean (Getty Images)

1989 – Chinese security forces have opened fire on Tibetan monks and civilians in Lhasa today.  The shootings started 2 days ago during a demonstration to mark the first Tibetan uprising against China 30 years ago.  Hundreds more Tibetans have been arrested.

1989 – A convicted murderer in South Carolina, Michael Anderson Godwin, who had his sentence reduced by successfully appealing against death by the electric chair, was today electrocuted anyway.  While sat on the metal toilet in his cell fixing his television, he bit one of the wires and the resultant electric shock killed him.