The Sunday Section: This Week in History - May 17-23

May 17

1590 – Anne of Denmark becomes Queen consort of Scotland, England, and Ireland at the age of 15 following her marriage to James VI and I in 1589.

Anne of Denmark

1630 – Niccoló Zucchi, an Italian Jesuit, astronomer and physicist may have been the first to see the belts on Jupiter.

Niccoló Zucchi

1642 – Montreal is founded by French settlers who name it Ville-Marie de Montréal.

1727 – Death of Catherine I, Empress of Russia, aged 43, in St Petersburg.

Catherine I

1792 – Twenty-four New York merchants sign an agreement, the culmination of a secret meeting they had had 2 months earlier to discuss ways to bring order to the securities business.  The Buttonwood Agreement, named after their traditional meeting place, a buttonwood tree, calls for the signers to trade securities only among themselves.  This would become the New York Stock Exchange.

1881 – Frederick Douglass, a former slave who became known as a social reformer, abolitionist orator, writer and statesman, is appointed recorder of deeds for Washington DC.  After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement, known for his dazzling oratory.  Many Northerners found it difficult to believe that he had been a slave.  He was proof against slaveholders’ arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.  Douglass was a firm believer in the equality of all people.

Frederick Douglass

"I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."

1884 – Alaska becomes a US territory.

1899 – The foundation stone for the Victoria and Albert Museum is laid by Queen Victoria.

1974 – Three bombs have exploded in Dublin during rush house, and a 4th in Monaghan 90 minutes later.  33 civilians are killed, including a full-term unborn child, and almost 300 are injured.  Although most of the victims were young women, the ages of the dead ranged from 5 months to 80 years.  The bombings were clearly co-ordinated, yet it wasn’t until 1993 that the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) claimed responsibility.  No one has been convicted.

Dublin and Monaghan Bombings - car bomb at South Leinster Street, Dublin

1980 – Miami is engulfed in race riots.  By the time order is restored, 18 people are dead, 350 are injured, including children, and 600 are arrested.  Property damage is estimated to be over $100 million.  The riots were sparked by the acquittal of police officers who had been charged with the brutal beating of Arthur McDuffie, which resulted in his death.  McDuffie, an insurance salesman and ex-Marine who happened to be black, had been pulled over for speeding on his bike.  Whether the police were stressed with the ever-increasing crime in the area, or for whatever unknown reason, they surrounded McDuffie and began to beat him, holding him down and repeatedly hitting him with batons and flashlights.  His skull was cracked in half, he was taken to hospital where he slipped into a coma and died 4 days later.  The officers claimed that McDuffie had sustained his injuries after falling off his bike.

Arthur McDuffie

1990 – The World Health Organisation takes homosexuality off its list of mental illnesses.


1803 – The uneasy truce created by the Treaty of Amiens ends after only 1 year when Britain declares war on France.  The British were angered by Napoleon’s restructuring of the international system in Western Europe, especially with, what they saw as, his meddling in Switzerland, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.

1897 – ‘Dracula’, a novel by Bram Stoker, is published.

1944 – The 2nd Polish Corps capture Monte Cassino in their second attack which started the day before.  They were under constant artillery and mortar fire from the strongly fortified German positions, and had little natural cover for protection.  The fierce fighting also included hand-to-hand combat.  With their supply lines threatened, the Germans withdrew and the Poles took Monte Cassino, opening the road to Rome.

2nd Polish Corps at the Battle of Monte Cassino May 1944

1969 – The launch of Apollo 10.  It was the first flight of a complete, crewed Apollo craft to operate around the moon.  It also transmitted images back to Earth.

Apollo 10 launch

1973 – Death of Jeannette Rankin, aged 92, in California.  She was the first woman to be elected to Congress.  A lifelong pacifist, she was among the 56 members of Congress who voted against entry into World War I in 1917, and was the only member to vote against declaring war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbour.

Jeannette Rankin

1980 – Mount St Helens erupts resulting in the deaths of 57 people.  Hundreds of square miles are destroyed in over a billion US$ in damage, and thousands of game animals are killed.  The mountain is left with a crater on its north side.

Mount St Helens

1994 – Israel withdraws from the Gaza Strip.

1995 – Death of Alexander Gudonov, Russian dancer and actor, aged 45, in California.

Alexander Gudonov in 'Witness'

1995 – Death of Elizabeth Montgomery, aged 62, in California.

Elizabeth Montgomery


1536 – Death of Anne Boleyn, beheaded at the Tower of London.

1643 – Delegates from 4 New England colonies – Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Harbour – meet in Boston to form the United Colonies of New England.

1780 – In what came to be known as the ‘Dark Day’, near-total darkness descends on much of New England about midday.

1845 – HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, with a combined crew of 133, set out from England to find the Northwest Passage, a sea route from the Western Atlantic to the Eastern Pacific which would allow European merchants a quicker, easier access to the Orient without having to sail around South Africa or the Americas.  The expedition was led by Sir John Franklin, an experienced explorer who had already led 2 land expeditions to find the Passage.  The expedition was expected to last 3 years, but after a sighting by 2 whaling ships in July, both ships and their crew were never seen again, despite search-and-rescue missions.

1864 – Death of Nathaniel Hawthorne, aged 59, in New Hampshire.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

1884 – The premiere of the official Ringling Brothers travelling circus in Wisconsin.

1898 – Death of William Ewart Gladstone, aged 88, in Wales.  He not only served as prime minister 4 times, he was also the Chancellor of the Exchequer 4 times, and was the oldest prime minister, resigning for the final time when he was 84.

William Ewart Gladstone

1900 – Opening of the Simplon Tunnel, linking Switzerland and Italy.  At the time, it was the world’s longest tunnel.

1907 – Death of Benjamin Baker, aged 67, in Berkshire.  An English engineer, he helped develop London’s underground railway with Sir John Fowler, but is best known for his work on the Forth Bridge.  He later helped design and build the Aswan Dam.

Benjamin Baker

1910 – For the first time, Halley’s Comet is photographed as it passes by Earth.  The Earth actually passes through the tail of the comet, causing near-panic.

1930 – White women win voting rights in South Africa.

1935 – Death of T.E. Lawrence, aged 46, in a motorcycle accident in Wareham, Dorset.  6 days earlier, he’d been riding his motorcycle close to his cottage, Clouds Hill; a dip in the road obstructed his view of 2 boys on their bicycles.  He swerved to avoid them, lost control and was thrown over the handlebars.

T.E. Lawrence

Hugh Cairns, the neurosurgeon who attended Lawrence, later began a study of the unnecessary loss of life by motorcycle dispatch riders through head injuries.  His research led to the use of crash helmets by motorcyclists.

Hugh Cairns

1967 – The Soviet Union ratifies an agreement banning nuclear weapons from outer space.  The Unites States, Great Britain, and several other nations had already signed and/or ratified the Outer Space Treaty.

1971 – USSR launches an unmanned space probe, Mars 2, as part of their Mars programme.  The descent module malfunctioned, and the probe crashed, making it the first man-made object to crash on Mars.

1994 – Death of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, aged 64, in Manhattan.

Jacqueline Onassis


1217 – The Second Battle of Lincoln, fought at Lincoln Castle, during the First Barons’ War, between the forces of the future Louis VIII of France and Henry III.  A relief force under the command of William Marshal attacked Louis’ forces, and the Comte du Perche, commanding the French troops, was killed.  Louis was then expelled from his base in the southeast of England.  The citizens of Lincoln had been loyal to Louis, so Henry’s forces sacked the city; because of this, the battle is also known as ‘Lincoln Fair’.

1310 – For the first time, shoes were made for left and right feet.

1471 – Death of Henry VI, aged 49, at the Tower of London.

1498 – Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer, arrives at Calicut in India, the first European to reach India by sea.

Vasco da Gama

1506 – Death of Christopher Columbus, aged about 54, in Spain.

1840 – York Minster is badly damaged by fire.

York Minster fire

1873 – Jacob Davis, a tailor in Reno, Nevada, approaches Levi Strauss in the hopes that the latter will secure the necessary patents for Davis’ invention – canvas pants with copper rivets to reinforce the stress points.  In exchange for his idea, Strauss made Davis his production manager.  When Strauss switched from using canvas to heavyweight blue denim, the now-legendary ‘blue jeans’ were born.

Jacob Davis (L) and Levi Strauss

1916 – A tornado hits the town of Codell in Kansas.  On the same date in 1917 and 1918, Codell is also hit by tornados, with the last being the most destructive; the town never fully recovered after that.

1942 – For the first time, the US Navy permits black recruits to serve.

1956 – The US conducts the first airborne test of an improved hydrogen bomb, dropping it from a plane over the island of Namu in the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.  The successful test proved hydrogen bombs to be viable airborne weapons, and the arms race took another leap forward.

1990 – The Hubble Space Telescope sends the first photographs from space.

Hubble Space Telescope

Hubble's first image

1996 – Death of Jon Pertwee, aged 76, in Connecticut.

Jon Pertwee


1420 – Following the English victory at Agincourt, the Treaty of Troyes is signed, stating that Henry V and his heirs, through his marriage to Katherine de Valois, would inherit the throne of France upon the death of her father, Charles VI of France.

1471 – Edward IV enters London after his victory at the Battle of Tewkesbury.

1804 – The Lewis and Clark Expedition begins.

1819 – The first bicycles, or ‘swift walkers’, in America are introduced in New York.

1881 – The American Red Cross is established by Clara Barton.  A teacher, she’d also been a hospital nurse in the Civil War.  It was during a trip to Geneva in 1869 that she was introduced to the Red Cross, and was later asked to be the American representative.

Clara Barton

1916 – British Summer Time is introduced, established by the Summer Time Act 1916.

1919 – The US House of Representatives passes an amendment allowing women to vote.

1927 – Charles Lindbergh, in his plane, the ‘Spirit of St Louis’, lands at Le Bourget Airport in Paris 33.5 hours after leaving Roosevelt Airport in New York.  He had completed the first solo crossing of the Atlantic.  The challenges Lindbergh and the ‘Spirit’ faced included, skimming over storm clouds as high as 10,000ft, wave tops as low as 10ft; fighting ice; flying blind through fog for hours; and navigating only by the stars, and then only when they were visible, and dead reckoning before landing at 22:22.  The airfield was not marked on his map; all he knew was that it was about 7 miles NE of Paris.  At first he thought the airfield was a large industrial complex because of the bright lights spreading out in all directions.  In fact, the lights were the headlights of thousands of cars driven by excited spectators caught in “the largest traffic jam in Parisian history”.

Charles Lindbergh and the 'Spirit of St Louis'

1946 – Death of Louis Alexander Slotin, aged 35, at Los Alamos National Laboratory.  He was a Canadian physicist and chemist who worked on the Manhattan Project, a research and development project that produced the first atomic bombs during World War II.  9 days earlier, he had accidentally started a fission reaction, which released a burst of hard radiation.  He received a lethal dose of radiation and died of acute radiation syndrome.  The accident ended all hands-on critical assembly work at Los Alamos.

Louis Slotin

1991 – Death of Rajiv Gandhi, prime minister of India, aged 46.  He was assassinated while on the campaign trail.  A woman approached, greeted him and detonated a belt laden with explosives tucked under her clothing.  The explosion killed Gandhi, his assassin, and at least 25 other people.  The assassination was caught on film in the camera of a local photographer; he died in the blast but his camera was undamaged. 

Rajiv Gandhi

1998 – Indonesia’s second president, Suharto, has resigned after ruling for 31 years, following the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, which hit Indonesia the hardest.  Seen as the source of the country’s mounting economic and political crises, calls for his resignation grew following the killing of 4 demonstrators by security forces.  The rioting and looting that followed resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 people, and the destruction of countless buildings.

Suharto reading his address of resignation


1455 – Death of Henry Percy, the 2nd Earl of Northumberland, aged 62, at the First Battle of St Albans, the opening battle in the War of the Roses.  His father was Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, and his grandfather, also called Henry Percy, was the first Earl of Northumberland.  Both men initially supported Henry Bolingbroke (who would become Henry IV) against Richard II, but then grew disillusioned and rebelled against the new regime.  ‘Hotspur’ was killed by the future Henry V at Shrewsbury in 1403, and young Henry Percy was brought up by his grandfather who’d been pardoned.  After subsequent political hardships, Henry was finally allowed to take the title of ‘2nd Earl of Northumberland’ by Henry V, who realised it was in his best interests to have the Northumberland family on his side.

Henry Percy was travelling with the king, Henry VI, and the Duke of Somerset to a council in Leicester when they were intercepted by Richard, Duke of York, and the Neville brothers, including Richard, Duke of Salisbury.  The battle was a total victory for the Yorkists, with the king captured, and Somerset and Northumberland killed.  A contemporary chronicler suggested that the true purpose of the battle had been to settle personal scores, for once York and Salisbury had killed Somerset and Northumberland respectively, the battle was over; modern-day historians support this view.

1802 – Death of Martha Washington, aged 70, in Virginia.  The first ‘First Lady’, she was married at age 18 to Daniel Custis, a rich planter 2 decades her senior.  When he died, she was left a wealthy widow at 25, with independent control of her inheritance; she capably ran the 5 plantations he’d left her.  They’d had 4 children, 2 of whom survived into young adulthood.  She married George Washington, also a wealthy landowner, when they were both 27.  They did not have children, but raised her 2 children together.

Martha Washington

1849 – Abraham Lincoln received a patent for a device to lift a boat over shoals and obstructions; he is the only US president to be granted a patent.

1885 – Death of Victor Hugo, aged 83, in Paris.

Victor Hugo

1892 – Dr Washington Sheffield invents the toothpaste tube.

Washington Sheffield

1897 – The (original) Blackwater Tunnel under the River Thames in east London is opened by the Prince of Wales.

1906 – The Wright brothers patent their method of controlling a glider, which incorporates the simultaneous use of roll control (with wing-warping) and yaw control (with a rear rudder).

1933 – The Loch Ness monsters is, for the first time, reportedly sighted by John Mackay.

1946 – A WAC Corporal rocket, fired from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, has reached 50miles, the first US-designed rocket to reach the edge of space, according to the US definition of the edge of space at the time.

1962 –Continental Airlines Flight 11, en route from Chicago to Kansas City, has exploded near Centerville, Iowa.  The Boeing 707 crashed in a clover field, killing all 45 crew and passengers.  During the subsequent investigation, FBI agents discovered that one of the passengers, Thomas Doty, a married man with a 5-year-old daughter, had purchased a $150,000 life insurance policy, in addition to another $150,000 in insurance and death benefits.  He’d been arrested for armed robbery and was waiting on the preliminary hearing.  The agents established that he had purchased 6 sticks of dynamite, which he detonated in the lavatory of the plane, hoping that his wife and daughter would then be able to collect the $300,000 of life insurance.  But as Doty’s death was ruled a suicide, the policy was voided and his wife was only able to get a $3 refund.

1990 – Death of Rocky Graziano, aged 71, in New York.

1998 – A federal judge has ruled that US Secret Service agents can be compelled to testify before a grand jury in the Lewinsky scandal, concerning the sexual relationship between President Bill Clinton, and 22-year-old White House employee, Monica Lewinsky.

Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton at the White House, 1995


1430 – The capture of Joan of Arc.  In an attempt to alleviate the Siege of Compiégne, Joan of Arc planned a surprise assault against the attacking Burgundians, with the assistance of Compiégne’s captain, Guillaume de Flavy.  Unfortunately, the city gate was closed before all the French defenders could return.  The reason for this is still unclear – it could have been done to prevent any Burgundians entering the city, or it could have been an act of betrayal by de Flavy.  The Burgundian scholar and poet, Georges Chastellain, described Joan of Arc’s final moments as leader of the French forces – “Then the Maid [Joan of Arc], surpassing the nature of a woman, took on a great force, and took much pain to save her company from defeat, remaining behind as the leader and as the bravest of the troop.  But there fortune permitted for the end of her glory and for the last time that she would ever carry arms.  An archer, a rough and very dour man, full of much spite because a woman, who so much had been spoken about, should have defeated so many brave men, as she had done, grabbed the edge of her cloth-of-gold doublet, and threw her from her horse flat to the ground.

1568 – The Netherlands declare their independence from Spain.

1660 – Charles II returns from exile, sailing from Scheveningen in the Netherlands to England.  He had been living in The Hague since 1648, the home of his sister, Mary, and her husband, William II, Prince of Orange.

1701 – Death of Captain William Kidd, hanged in London after being convicted of piracy, and of the murder of William Moore.  He had turned from a buccaneer into a privateer captain in British service, and was sent to pillage French settlements in the West Indies.  In 1696, he had set off from London and, about a year later, reached Madagascar.  He then thought it would be profitable to turn pirate, he set about capturing several merchant ships.  His crew, however, were on the verge of mutiny, and in a fit of rage, Kidd struck the ship’s gunner, William Moore, with an iron-bound bucket, fracturing Moore’s skull; he died within 24 hours.  Kidd then discovered the government had proclaimed him a pirate, and he sailed for Boston to plead his innocence to the British governor there.  But he was arrested and sent back to England, where he was tried for the murder of Moore, and for piracy.  After he was hanged, his body was gibbetted over the River Thames for 3 years, as a warning to would-be pirates.

Captain William Kidd

1813 – Simón Bolivar, the South American independence leader, enters Mérida, leading the invasion of Venezuela, and is proclaime El Liberator, ‘The Liberator’.

Simón Bolivar

1868 – Death of Kit Carson, aged 58, in Colorado.  An American frontiersman, his other jobs included mountain man, wilderness guide, Indian agent, and an American army officer.  He became a legend in his own lifetime through biographies and news articles.

Kit Carson

1934 – Death of Bonnie Elizabeth Parker, aged 23, and Clyde Chestnut Barrow, aged 25.  Outlaws and robbers from the Dallas area who travelled the central US with their gang, they were ambushed and killed near the town of Sailes, Louisiana, by law officers.  The gang was believed to have killed at least 9 police officers and several civilians.  Although she had been present at over a hundred felonies in her 2 years as Barrow’s companion, Parker was not the machine gun-wielding killer the press made her out to be.  Her reputation as a supposed cigar-smoking gun moll grew out of a snapshot found by police at an abandoned hideout.  But, although she chain-smoked cigarettes, she did not smoke cigars.  That, and other photos found, led to the glamorization of the outlaws.  According to historian Jeff Guinn, “ John Dillinger had matinee-idol good looks and Pretty Boy Floyd had the best possible nickname, but the Joplin photos introduced new criminal superstars with the most titillating trademark of all – illicit sex.  Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were wild and young, and undoubtedly slept together …

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow

The 'infamous' photo of the 'cigar-smoking gun moll'

1940 – Spitfires of 54 Squadron are the first to shoot down Messerschmitt Bf 109s on the coast of northern France.

1945 – Death of Heinrich Himmler, Gestapo leader, aged 44.  After his capture, he was taken to the headquarters of the 2nd British Army in Lúneburg, where a medical exam was conducted.  As the doctor attempted to examine the inside of Himmler’s mouth, the prisoner jerked his head away, bit into a hidden cyanide pill, and collapsed.  He was dead within 15 minutes.  He was buried in an unmarked grave, the precise location of which remains unknown.

Heinrich Himmler

1945 – William Joyce, better known as Lord Haw-Haw, is arrested at the Danish boundary.

1960 – David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s prime minister, announces the capture of Adolf Eichmann to the Knesset (parliament).  Having learnt that Eichmann was in Argentina, Ben-Gurion had ordered the secret service, Mossad, to capture him.  The agents seized him near his home in Buenos Aires on 11 May.  Near midnight on 20 May, Eichmann was sedated and dressed as a flight attendant.  He was flown out of Argentina on board the same aircraft that had, a few days earlier, carried Israel’s delegation to the anniversary celebration of Argentina’s independence from Spain.