August 2014
 
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Friday 1

1714

England. Fat Queen ‘Brandy’ Anne has guzzled her last drink. A vicious man blisters her skin with hot irons, covers her feet in garlic, cuts a vein to make her bleed and shaves her head . . . and that’s her doctor! She dies in spite of this . . . or maybe because of it?

Saturday 2

1274

Dover, England. New King, Edward I, comes home after a pretty good Crusade in Jerusalem. He made peace with the Moslems, but that didn’t stop one of their groups, the ‘Assassins’, sending a killer after him. Anyway, lucky Ed survived the attack with a poisoned dagger.

Sunday 3

1279

England. The English mop up after a huge storm that raged a day and a night causing floods and damage to crops. There is such a shortage of corn that the price goes up. King Edward complains that the palace cannot buy enough corn to make fresh bread. Poor King Ed – but imagine how much worse it is for the penniless peasants.

Monday 4

1265

Evesham, England. The revolting barons, led by Simon de Montfort, fight a royal army led by Prince Edward. De Montfort is cut into pieces. His head is sent to the wife of Roger Mortimer as a thank-you gift for helping to fight Simon. (Most of us would rather have a box of chocolates.)

Tuesday 5

1392

France. King Charles VI of France is riding with his guards when a leper leaps out and warns the king of a terrible ‘doom’. Soon after this Charles goes mad – something that doesn’t stop him ruling the country, of course.

Wednesday 6

1577

Oxford, England. A strange disease strikes down all the men who were in court a month ago. Women and children who were there are not affected. Judges, juries and criminals all die – 300 of them.

Thursday 7

1840

Britain. Parliament passes a law banning the use of boys as chimney sweeps. Their bosses are upset, of course. They argue that the boys enjoy climbing through choking soot and fumes, scraping knees and elbows raw, choking to death when they get stuck and being beaten when they are careless. Quite right – no dead sweep-boy has ever complained.

Friday 8

AD 117

Roman Empire. Hadrian becomes Emperor today. He is famous for Hadrian’s Wall and the ancient Roman joke about it – Q: Where is Hadrian’s wall? A: At the bottom of Hadrian’s garden.

Saturday 9

1812

Barbados, Caribbean. It’s Mr Thomas Chase’s funeral today. The family pop him in a coffin and carry it down to the family vault. But, when the sealed door is opened the funeral party sees that his children’s coffins have . . . moved! How? No one will ever know.

Sunday 10

St Lawrence’s Day

Old Lawrence was tortured and executed for being a Christian but he was a pretty tough old cookie. He was roasted on a spit like a chicken. After a while he raised his head and said, ‘Turn me over, please. I’m cooked on that side!’

Monday 11

1934

USA. A deserted American island full of sea birds is taken over and today it opens as a prison. It is called Alcatraz. You may escape the prison but you won’t survive the swirling currents and the freezing waters of San Francisco Bay. Is the world’s toughest prison for the next 29 years.

Tuesday 12

The Glorious Twelfth

Britain. The ‘Glorious Twelfth’ – the start of the grouse-shooting season. The grouse shooters try to shoot a ‘brace’ of birds. A brace is a pair. Dangerous sport because if they shoot four then they’ve shot a pair of braces . . . and their trousers may fall down.

Wednesday 13

1756

Germany. Princess Adelaide is born. She grows up to marry King William IV of Britain. Their coronation is held at a time when the country is short of cash, and the coronation feast is scrapped. Adelaide even has to provide the jewels for her own crown. Still, it’s all worth while when she has an Australian city named after her.

Thursday 14

1900

Beijing, China. The Chinese Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists (‘The Boxers’ for short) has been making trouble. The Boxers have been murdering ‘foreign devils’ – lots of heads lopped off. But today the German, US and Brit foreign devils fight back and knock out The Boxers.

Friday 15

1057

Scotland. King Macbeth is assassinated today. 550 years later everyone will remember him because William Shakespeare will write a play about him. Unfortunately Will’s quill makes Macbeth (and his lovely wife Gruach) into murderers. Macbeth killed the previous king in battle – not with a knife in the back.

Saturday 16

1977

Tennessee, USA. Some people say that, on this day, pop singer Elvis Presley is found dead in the toilet. However, there have been thousands of sightings of Elvis, alive and well, in places from a Sacramento supermarket to a Chigwell chip shop. Thousands of people can’t all be idiots, can they?

Sunday 17

1982

Ayers Rock, Australia. Baby Azaria Chamberlain is tucked up in her bed in the family tent. But minutes later her mother cries, ‘A dingo has got my baby!’ The bloodstained clothes are found a week later – cut with a knife, not torn by a wild dog’s teeth. The police arrest the baby’s mother and it takes her six years to clear her name. But the mystery remains . . . who done it?

Monday 18

1587

First English child is born in America. She is called Virginia Dare. (No, stupid, her father is not the 1950s comic book space captain Dan Dare! How dare you even suggest it?)

Tuesday 19

1561

Leith, Scotland. Mary Queen of Scots returns from France to claim her throne. Elizabeth I of England has a group of ships waiting to grab her and send her back throneless. But a mysterious fog descends and Mary gets through safely. (Don’t worry, Liz will get her in the end. The neck end.)

Wednesday 20

1940

Mexico. The brutal Russian leader, Joseph Stalin, is afraid of Leon Trotsky. Trotsky hides in a fortress-house in Mexico but Stalin’s assassins finally get close enough to kill him with an ice-pick in the head. Trotsky doesn’t see the point!

Thursday 21

1485

Leicestershire, England. King Richard III has some very nasty dreams. This is a bad sign, since tomorrow he has to meet Henry Tudor in battle at Bosworth Field. Richard has twice as many men as Henry, but sure enough, he ends up losing the battle and getting the chop.

Friday 22

1849

Venice, Italy. A famous first – the world’s first bombers! The Austrians send hot-air balloons over Venice with 30-pound bombs attached. The bombs don’t cause much damage. But in August exactly a hundred years later, Japan is dedicating the town of Hiroshima as a shrine of peace after a single nuclear bomb killed 130,000 people.

Saturday 23

1628

Portsmouth, England. The Duke of Buckingham is dead, killed by a single stab wound to the chest. King Charles adores his chief adviser Buckingham – the rest of Britain hates him. So is he killed by a power-mad rival? No. He is killed by a soldier who’s upset because he hasn’t been paid!

Sunday 24

AD 79

Pompeii, Italy. The citizens are minding their own business this hot summer’s evening. Suddenly the nearby volcano, Vesuvius, erupts and smothers the town in choking, stinking, suffocating hot ash. Two thousand die but are preserved better than a fishfinger at the North Pole. In 1748 archaeologists happily dig up the gruesome remains.

Monday 25

1530

Ivan the Terrible born today. By thirteen he is taking part in blood sports like hunting – he has his chief minister hunted down and torn apart by dogs. Later he will kill his own son and have whole cities full of people murdered. (Can’t imagine why they call him ‘Terrible’.) Eventually he plays one dangerous sport too many. He dies playing . . . chess!

Tuesday 26

1883

Krakatoa Island. The moon turns blue. It’s caused by the ash from a huge volcanic eruption as it is scattered through the air. The eruption is heard 3000 km away and the tidal wave it creates carries a steam ship 3 km into the jungle of a nearby island. Awesome. (This rare event happens just once in a blue moon, you’ll be pleased to hear.)

Wednesday 27

551 BC

China. Chinese thinker Confucius is born. He is remembered for hundreds of wise proverbs (most of which he probably didn’t write) including the brilliant: ‘Do not remove a fly from a friend’s forehead with a hatchet.’ Wow! 2,450 years later this is still a sensible bit of advice.

Thursday 28

1719

Durham, England. James Lyon is dead unlucky. He is sentenced to hang today but a pardon is sent to set him free. The messenger goes to the wrong town by mistake! James has a second chance when the gallows break as they try to hang him. They string him up from an oak tree instead. Third time unlucky, Jamie.

Friday 29

1533

Peru. The Inca chief Atahualpa has been captured by Spanish conqueror, Pizarro. He has paid millions of pounds in ransom to be set free – today Pizarro has him executed anyway!

Saturday 30

30 BC

Egypt. The Greek Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, is in trouble. The Romans are coming to get her. She probably drinks poison when she hears that her lover Mark Antony has died. Some reports say she stuffs a poisonous asp down her dress and lets it bite her. Were her last words, ‘Fangs very much!’?

Sunday 31

1422

Vincennes, France. When Henry V dies of dysentery his son takes over. Unfortunately Henry VI is just 9 months old. When he opens Parliament at the age of three he cries all the way through the ceremony. Parliament has been full of whingers ever since.