Today in History
History's Happenings for October 14
William, Duke of Normandy and vassal of the French King Henry I, felt he had a strong claim to the throne of England, across the Channel from his French duchy. A decade before, in 1051, he had visited his cousin King Edward the Confessor of England, who had no heir, and secured his promise that William would inherit the throne upon Edward's death. In addition William's wife, Matilda of Flanders, was a direct descendant of England's famed Alfred the Great, who had unified Anglo-Saxon England in the ninth century.
And just to make sure, when England's most powerful earl, Saxon Harold of Wessex, was shipwrecked on William's shores in 1064, he was forced to swear over holy relics that he would not obstruct William's claim to the throne.
Pretty tidy. Unfortunately for a lot of ordinary people it didn't work out that way.
When pious Edward finally died in 1066, Harold made his play, and the English royal council anointed him as King Harold II.
Not a happy man, William secured the permission of Pope Alexander II for an invasion of England to claim his avowed right to the throne. With his ships and army, all his rebellious barons having been promised chunks of England for their cooperation, he set sail across the English Channel on September 27, 1066.
In ordinary circumstances, Harold would have been awaiting William's arrival with a superior army and superior resources, forcing the Duke into an extended campaign on Harold's terms. But luck went with William.
Far to the north in Yorkshire another Harold -- Harold Hardrada, feared Viking king of Norway -- was landing his troops, assisted by none other than the brother of England's Harold. To meet this threat the king hurried north with his army and won a decisive battle at Stamford Bridge on September 25, killing his brother in the process. In the midst of the celebration afterwards came the messenger with the news of William's landing on the south coast in Pevensey on September 28.
Southward again hustled Harold and his army, an impressive feat after a hard battle and over miserable roads. They drew up just northwest of the little southern town of Hastings, and faced the Norman army to seaward.
On the morning of October 14, 1066, under the blaze of Haley's Comet, which both sides considered an omen, the Normans attacked first with arrows, which the English shields repelled, and then with their cavalry, which Harold's army lacked. When the English axemen managed to turn back the cavalry charge, the Norman line started to break, and the English committed one of battle's greatest sins -- they broke ranks and pursued in disorder. Right into a trap.
Realizing the English lack of discipline, William used feigned retreats to great advantage, steadily whittling away bodies of disorganized English until Harold's army finally fell apart and the few survivors fled the field, leaving their cumbersome baggage train behind for the Normans. Harold himself had been shot through the eye with an arrow and lay among the anonymous dead.
William, later called the Conqueror, was crowned William I of England in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1066. Every coronation since that day has occurred in the same place, and each British monarch traces his or her descent from the great Conqueror.
Over the next two decades, William completely subjugated England, including the ravaging of the rebellious north, commanded a virtual inventory of his new kingdom in what is now called the Domesday Book, and also had to contend with ongoing war at home in Normandy. In 1087, while touring the battlefront in his duchy, the Duke's horse tripped on debris and threw him, inflicting a mortal injury. So thoroughly had William subdued and reorganized his conquest, that his second son slipped seamlessly onto England's throne as William II.
The Battle of Hastings was not only one of the fiercest in history, but also one of the most important, for it opened England to the Normans and their progeny, who changed the entire course of British history and culture, and over the years replaced largely fragmented Saxon institutions with unified and well-organized Norman systems.
The battlefield, near Battle Abbey, the original of which was raised by William in thanks to God, is still preserved today, as are copies of his Domesday Book.
England has never since been conquered, nor successfully invaded.
Well-known as the founder of the state of Pennsylvania ("Penn's Woods"), we may sometimes forget that, subservient to the Crown of England, William Penn actually owned the state of Pennsylvania, as well as most of Delaware!
Penn was born on October 14, 1644, in London, of the wealthy and renowned Admiral Sir William Penn. During his student days at Oxford, he became a Quaker, which convictions led to increasing trouble with the authorities -- he was imprisoned in Ireland in 1666, and in England in 1669 and 1671. During this period he wrote several works for which he is duly famous, The Sandy Foundation Shaken, which publication got him his first English prison term, No Cross, No Crown and Innocency With Her Open Eyes, the latter two written during his last confinement.
Having used a piece of his inherited fortune to help establish a Quaker colony in New Jersey, Penn hankered for his own colony. So he asked King Charles II for a charter as payment for an old debt owed his father. Happy to kill two birds -- the debt and the noxious Quakers -- Charles agreed and on March 4, 1681, issued a charter to Penn for what was to become the better part of the present state of Pennsylvania, followed later by a big piece of Delaware as well.
He and several friends set out for his new colony in September, 1682.
Upon arrival, Penn made peace with the local Indians, laid out and named the city of Philadelphia, and proceeded to govern his small colony, at the time confined to about 25 miles around the new city. His doctrines included a degree of religious tolerance which drew not only Quakers but persecuted sects such as the Amish and Mennonites from mainland Europe, which presence is still strong in the state.
Penn returned to England several times after establishing the colony, further helping persecuted Quakers while there, but usually leaving poor managers behind in Pennsylvania. Before his death in England in July, 1718, mismanagement of the colony by his deputies had all but ruined him.
The thirty-fourth president of the United States was born on October 14, 1890, in Denison, Texas, and grew up poor in Abilene, Kansas.
Aspiring to a military career from an early age, "Ike" graduated from West Point in the famous class of 1915 -- "the class the stars fell upon" -- which produced fifty-nine generals. He spent World War I as a tank instructor.
After the War, military promotion was slow due to the surfeit of eligible officers, and Eisenhower was still a major at age 40, when he served as an aide to then-Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur. However, after the opening guns of the Second World War, Ike's organizational abilities won him promotion past 350 more senior officers to become commander of U.S. forces in Europe in 1942. The first major action for his new command was Operation Torch, the Allied landing in North Africa which occured in November of the same year.
Preparatory for the combined Allied invasion of the continent in 1944, Eisenhower was selected to command the multinational forces being assembled for the onslaught as Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force. He became America's first ever five-star general (MacArthur followed suit shortly afterward as commander in the Pacific.)
After the War, Eisenhower served as Army Chief of Staff until 1948, when he accepted the presidency of Columbia University. President Truman selected him to command the newly assembled NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) forces in 1950, but he retired from this post in 1952 when offered the Republican presidential nomination, and the opportunity to defeat Democrat Adlai Stevenson, which he did.
The Eisenhower administration is noted for perhaps the most popular president in U.S. history, but also for concern about his easy-going management style and frequent time off for golf and other leisure activities. Ultra-Conservatives such as Secretary of State John Foster Dulles fairly well ruled the roost, and the antics of Senator Joe McCarthy were all but overlooked by the administration. The stockpiling of atomic weapons and the threat of mutual destruction were initiated under Ike's presidency, and the term "military-industrial complex" was introduced by him.
Eisenhower's foreign policies were somewhat perplexing. While threatening Soviet aggression with our atomic strength, he did nothing when the Reds invaded Hungary in 1956. Promising aid to Mideast countries battling communism, Ike nonetheless led UN condemnation of the taking of the Suez in 1956 by Britain, France and Israel when left-leaning Egypt closed it. He did successfully end the Korean War, but laid the groundwork for U.S. involvement in Vietnam -- which War he later supported -- by backing the French and the Diem regime there.
Nonetheless, when one considers the upheavals that followed World War II, with the sea-change in world power distribution, the unraveling of colonial empires and the advent of the Cold War over global communist aggression, it is difficult to see how American foreign policy could have flowed neatly from one era to the next without some confusion. Eisenhower's main contribution, the obvious issues aside, was the peace, prosperity and sense of moral well-being that he brought to the average American, most of whom well remembered the concerns and privations of the Depression and the recent war years. The oft-called "Golden Fifties" were his legacy.
His second term marred by ill-health and the Soviet jump into space, Ike left office under a call from Democrats for more forceful leadership. His vice-president, Richard M. Nixon, lost his bid for the presidency in 1960 to just such a Democrat -- John F. Kennedy.
The General penned his autobiography, At Ease (1967), and continued to advise presidents until his death on March 28, 1969.
(Stay tuned for a write-up on this event.
(Stay tuned for a write-up on this event.
(Stay tuned for a write-up on this event.
After 64 missions over Europe in World War II, fighter ace Chuck Yeager decided to keep his wings after the war, and signed on as an Air Force test pilot.
He joined a unique bunch of flyers testing envelope-pushing experimental aircraft out of Edwards Air Force Base in California, where he was chosen from among many hopefuls to test Bell Aircraft's X-1 rocket plane. The X-1 was designed to push both the airframe and the pilot to the limit in flights approaching the speed of sound, where shock waves would be punishing.
On October 14, 1947 Yeager, suffering an injured shoulder from a fall the night before, climbed down into his X-1 hanging beneath a Boeing B-29 bomber at 30,000 feet. He ordered the release. The plane shot out and up to 40,000 feet, where it crashed through the magic barrier for the first time, hitting Mach-1 at 662 miles per hour. (The nominal speed of sound at sea level is about 760 MPH.)
Five years later, Yeager set a new world speed record of 1650 MPH in a Bell X-1A rocket plane. A failed attempt to reprise the feat in the 1960's left him burned from a high-altitude ejection.
Moving into line unit command after the last speed record attempt, now-Brigadier General Yeager retired from the service in 1975, and wrote his autobiography, Yeager, in 1985.
As its name implies, Columbus Day celebrates the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World, on his first voyage in 1492. Though credited with discovering America, Columbus actually landed on the Caribbean island of Guanahani, one of the modern Bahamas, but his historic voyage opened a path to the New World that led eventually to the North American mainland.
And the date. Columbus actually arrived on October 12, 1492, but for our convenience, the Federal government rewrote this bit of history in 1968, so that the holiday occurs on the second Monday in October.
Another noteworthy occurrence for this day was the proclamation by President Benjamin Harrison that there should be a pledge to our flag. That first pledge was recited in public schools on the five-hundredth anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the New World, October 12, 1892.
Canada celebrates Thanksgiving for essentially the same reasons we do. Since their climate generally dictates an earlier harvest, they celebrate the holiday earlier.
In 1879, the Canadian Parliament specified a national day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated annually on November 6. It was later moved up to the second Monday in October, thus always coinciding with our Columbus Day holiday.
Happy Thanksgiving, neighbors!