The days are bleeding together a little here in a still-locked-down 2021, so for today’s article, let’s consult the January 19ths of history to see if anything a little more interesting happened.
Starting early in AD 379, we have the appointment of the Spanish-born Theodosius I as a Roman Emperor in the Eastern provinces. The once-mighty Empire was going a little bit stale by this point and was ceding territory to ‘barbarians’ on almost all its borders. Nicene Christianity also became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Theodosius. He was a pragmatic military leader who was able to crush several insurrections against him from both within and outside the Empire, although this earned him prominent enemies, such as Bishop Ambrose of Milan. The bishop is thought to have refused Theodosius entrance to Church over his authorisation of the persecution of Jews. His historical reputation is somewhat marred by a reputation for bribery within his court, and his indifference towards the destruction of Ancient Grecian monuments. Nonetheless, he has been celebrated as a saint in the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodox Church; his feast day being 17th January.
In 1547, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, met his downfall in the Tower of London at the hands of the famously sympathetic and relaxed Henry VIII. Howard was a cousin of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, the King’s second and fifth wives respectively. Henry Howard was part of the landed gentry and was quite prepared to come to blows with anyone who disrespected his position, or anyone whom he thought coming to blows with might advance his status. He was repeatedly arrested for deviant behaviour such as breaking windows at random, though released on account of his societal status. His lack of fealty to Henry VIII, exhibited by his participation in a rebellion against the closure of monasteries, attempting to encourage the widow of his illegitimate son to seduce him, adopting Edward the Confessor’s coat of arms and disdain for Henry’s appointed associates meant he met a sticky end. He was beheaded in the Tower of London for ‘illegitimate’ use of royal arms, though it may have been more a case of Henry VIII getting angrier in old age and severe illness, as Howard was actually distantly related to Edward the Confessor.
In 1783, William Pitt The Younger became the youngest British Prime Minister in history, a record he holds to this day. Though King George III was mocked contemporarily for having entrusted the kingdom to a “schoolboy,” Pitt The Younger continues to be one of the most remembered Prime Ministers of all time. He was a member of the Tories, who survive today as the Conservatives, although the two are not quite the same party. He advocated conceding the Revolutionary War to the Americans and followed the advice of famed economist Adam Smith in successfully attempting to significantly reduce Britain’s deficit and reliance on foreign imports in the wake of the American war. The British Empire also saw major reorganisation with the India Act 1784 creating a board to regulate the East India Company’s governance of India and a Canada Constitutional Act giving Britain ultimate authority over Canada soon after. He is also remembered for the Act of Union 1800, which formally created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. This unfortunately allowed the persecution of Irish Catholics to continue, at George III’s behest. Pitt was a skilled politician, and is remembered as such, but it is important to note his policies did not always prioritise fairness and effective representation.
During 1915, the world was being dramatically altered by the onset of the most destructive war to date. Acting on plans first drawn up in late 1914, the first successful bombing raid conducted by German Zeppelin aircrews killed four and injured sixteen in the Norfolk area of England. This was to pale in comparison with the bombing casualties sustained on all sides in the Second World War but was a grim indicator of what was to come with further global conflicts. Zeppelins were cumbersome and often hampered by bad weather or the fact they could very easily be shot down, and as such, had little military impact. The Kaiser’s refusal to drop bombs on certain areas of London so as not to injure his relatives in the royal family are also very telling about the real casualties of war. However, the campaigns greatly increased public fear and awareness of the potential impact of enemy bombing campaigns, with 557 dead by the end of the war as a result of them.
In 1937, on the eve of war, billionaire inventor and aircraft enthusiast Howard Hughes flew from Los Angeles to New York in 7 hours 32 minutes. This broke the previous transcontinental airspeed record, which he also held, by two hours. He used an H1 monoplane of his own design to complete the journey, which was innovative at the time for having completely smooth metalwork and retractable landing gear to decrease the aircraft’s drag coefficient. Hughes was certain the US Air Force would buy the H1 design for use in the war, but they were of the opinion that it was unsuitable for aerial pursuit, even claiming that Japanese Mitsubishi Zero fighter planes were clearly taking extensive design cues from the H1. Hughes would eventually collaborate with the military to create the giant seaplane ‘Spruce Goose,’ intended to carry troops across the Atlantic. The project ultimately failed as it was too costly and not finished until 1947, 2 years after the end of the Second World War.
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