England. King Henry II dies which serves him right; he probably had brother Bill bumped off so he could get the throne. Son Richard I arrives at the funeral and looks into the open coffin at his hated father – blood spurts from the corpse’s nose. That’s one in the eye for Richard. He has a second funeral for his vital organs – a fashion for kings till about 1800.
West Virginia, USA. John Brown’s body lies mouldering in the grave today. That’s because he’s been executed. His crime? He led a rebellion to free American slaves.
England. Famous mystery writer Agatha Christie is involved in her very own mystery when she disappears for ten days. Where is she? Is she alive? Has she lost her memory? Who cares? Actually 15,000 people care – that’s how many join the search and find her in Harrogate. No one ever knows how she spent those ten days. It’s a Christie mystery.
St Barbara’s Day
Turkish girl Barbie was locked in a tower by her father. Her very protective father. But she becomes a Christian and daddy becomes a bit upset. He cuts her head off. (That’s more than a bit upset to be honest.) But a really upset God blasts daddy with lightning. (‘Why couldn’t he do this before Barbie died?’ you might well ask.) Barbara is now the patron saint of lightning and guns.
Rome, Italy. Pope Innocent VIII changes the rules about witchcraft. It had been a small offence before today but now it becomes a serious crime. He orders the Holy Inquisition to seek out and destroy witches. In the next 300 years about 200,000 people will die cruel deaths, accused of being witches. Most of these are women, often old and defenceless.
USA. The ‘space-race’ is on between Russia and the USA. Two months ago Russia launched the first satellite called Sputnik. Russia 1 USA 0. Today the US launches Atlas with its first satellite. It rises less than a metre off the ground then explodes. Russia 2 – USA 0.
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. A report on this day says, ‘A flying man flew down from the top of the castle keep. After that he made an ass fly down, by which several accidents happened. The weights tied to the ass’s legs knocked down several people, bruised others in a dreadful manner and killed a girl upon the spot.’ (It would be nice to think the ass survived!)
Sweden. Queen Christina is born and grows up to be a little odd. She is terrified of fleas and has a miniature cannon built to defend herself. The barrel measures 10 cm and it works like a real cannon, firing miniature cannon balls.
London. A new sports stadium opens. The stadium is Newgate Prison and the sport is hanging criminals in public. The trouble is that more people are murdered in the crowd than on the scaffold as cut-throats throttle and rob the watchers. After 1868 criminals are hanged in private.
Winchester, England. Walter Raleigh, who is often accused of introducing tobacco to Britain, lays his head on the block. He’s about to be executed for treason. At the last second King James sends a reprieve. Raleigh goes to the block again, for the same crime, 13 years later . . . but this time the axe falls.
Builth Wells, Wales. Prince Llywelyn, killed in battle with the English today, is the last real Welsh Prince of Wales. Llywelyn should have been captured but squire Stephen de Frankton doesn’t recognize the prince and kills him by mistake. The Prince of Wales’s head will decorate the Tower of London walls. Last Prince of Wales, first Prince of Walls?
New York, USA. A landmark in the history of popular music. Singer Bill Haley records a song which goes, ‘See you later alligator, in a while crocodile’. Many pop songs have been banned for their words. Sadly this one wasn’t.
Fredericksburg, USA. General Jackson has a great idea. His men will swim naked across the Rappahannock river and attack the enemy on a snowy December night. Luckily the plan is abandoned.
Oxford, England. Anne Greene is hanged for murdering her child. Doctors take her body away to practise on . . . but she starts breathing! Within five days she is fit and well. Her friends say it’s a miracle and proves she is innocent after all. She is pardoned and lives to get married and have three more children.
Rome, Italy. Emperor Nero born. As emperor he sees a collapsible boat used in a stage play and orders one for his mother. He then arranges for it to collapse while she is at sea! She swims ashore so Nero simply has her assassinated by men with big swords. That works better.
Prussia. King Frederick William II is dying. Lots of people rush to bring him miracle cures in the hope that they’ll make a quick bag of gold. Fred Will is told to breathe in the breath of two new born calves, to sleep between two nine-year-old children and to listen to wind instruments . . . but violins will kill him! (You’ve heard school orchestras, so you’ll understand this.) Fred Will tries them all and dies anyway.
England. A new book is published and becomes amazingly popular. It is Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, and now we have a new word for those parents who won’t buy you that computer for Christmas: Scrooge!
Sussex, England. At last old bones are found which show the missing link between monkeys and human beings. The skull of the ‘Piltdown Man’ is found. Scientists are really excited for the next 40 years – till it is proved to be a big fake and a huge joke! Someone made a monkey of the scientists!
England. A new law says tramps should be branded with a ‘V’ (for Vagrant) if they don’t go back to their home town. First warning gets a whipping. Later they can be made into slaves for two years. This new law is good news for tramps: the last law in 1535 said they could be executed.
France. Doctor Ambroise Paré dies. He was an expert at treating battle wounds. He used the neat trick of tying off leaking blood vessels. Before Paré, doctors used to seal open wounds by dipping them in boiling oil. Sizzle!
Britain. The day when poor people go ‘mumping’ . . . knocking on the doors of the rich and begging for food, money or clothes. They could get threatening – maybe they said, ‘I’m a mumper, gizza jumper or I’ll thump yer.’
Alexandria. A sad day for book lovers. The library at Alexandria is supposed to contain all the books of the world. When the Moslem armies capture Alexandria they decide that the parchment scrolls will make really useful fuel to heat the waters of the public baths of the city . . . well, it is winter after all! Six months later they’re all burned.
Holland. Famous painter Vincent van Gogh gets really upset when he has an argument with another painter, Gauguin. Vince cuts his own ear off! When someone asks, ‘Why did you do that?’ van Gogh replies, ‘Eh?’
Dover, England. A vicar sees a light in the sky. There is a strange noise then a brilliant flash. The Christmas star? No, a German airship dropping the first ever bomb on British soil. It falls in the vicar’s garden and makes sure his Christmas goes with a bang!
Roman Empire. Roman Emperor, Theodosius, is saying ‘Sorry!’ to the people of Thessalonica – or at least to the ones who are left alive. The people had a little riot and Theodosius decided to teach them a lesson. He had the rioters massacred. Still, it’s nice of old Theo to say, ‘Sorry . . . and have a very happy Christmas!’
Boxing Day is so called because rich people used to give their servants Christmas ‘boxes’ today. Yesterday the servants were far too busy stuffing and cooking the rich people’s turkeys. Poor servants get their Christmas a day late . . . but it still beats the heck out of that turkey’s Christmas.
Rochester, England. Henry VIII has a favourite minister, Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell has persuaded Henry to marry Anne of Cleves. Henry hates Anne but he doesn’t have her head cut off. Instead he divorces her . . . and has Thomas Cromwell’s head cut off.
An unlucky day! Back on the original Christmas Day, King Herod ordered the slaughter of all the male children in Bethlehem to make sure this new king (Jesus) didn’t grow up to nick his throne, as the Three Wise Men had forecast. Hundreds of ‘innocent’ children die. Three Wise Men were unwise to open their three wise mouths.
Canterbury, England. Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, is in bits after an argument with King Henry II’s knights. Henry was really rather cut up by the killing – but not so cut up as Becket.
Russia. Rasputin ‘The Mad Monk’ is a favourite of the Russian Tsar and he practically runs the country. A group of jealous lords invite Rasputin to a midnight tea party. Rasputin tucks into food sprinkled with cyanide . . . but doesn’t die. They shoot him twice . . . but he doesn’t die. They shoot him four more times as he escapes, beat him with chains and throw him into the icy Neva River. He dies. Some tea party.
Rome, Italy. Emperor Commodus decides to celebrate the new year with a sacrifice of his consuls (government ministers). The consuls don’t want to be sacrificed for some reason. Commodus’s girlfriend hires an athlete called Narcissus to strangle Commodus in his bath. Happy New Year to new Emperor Pertinax, who lasts three whole months before he is assassinated too. Isn’t history horrible?