On this day, the 7th of August 1588, the Invincible Spanish Armada was destroyed by the English fleet off the coast of Gravelines, France. (What is it with naming ships some synonym of "unsinkable", only for them to sink?)
The Spanish Armada was in the process of an invasion of England, under the justification of restoring the Catholic faith to England (but also due to English piracy of Spanish trade in the Caribbean) It consisted of some 130 ships, 40 of these being battle-line ships and the rest for soldier transport and cargo. It is estimated that the Armada had around 8,000 sailors and 19,000 soldiers.
The Armada was defeated not in all out battle, but rather after the English sent, at midnight, several fireships into their anchored formation near Calais. The Armada was forced to cut loose and scatter to avoid catching fire, and thus break formation. At dawn, the English fleet sailed in and sunk or seriously damaged many of the disorganised ships. The Spanish remnants were forced to return home the long way, up around Scotland, and lost many more ships in the process.
The defeat of the Armada effectively saved England (and the Dutch Republic) from land invasion and annexation into the Spanish Empire.
On this day the 5th of August 910, the Danelaw Vikings saw a summary defeat at the hands of the allied forces of Wessex and Mercia, in the Battle of Tettenhall.
This was off the back of decades of raids of Northumbria and settlement of those areas by the Danes, due to the relative security of central England under Alfred the Great.
The Danes, believing the English armies to be otherwise occupied, sought to sail up and raid along the river Avon. They did for a while, but were eventually caught up with the joint Anglo-Saxon force near Tettenhall. The raiders were utterly destroyed and their leaders killed. This led to a generation of no Viking incursion in north England.
On this day the 22 July 1298, the English under King Edward 1 defeated the Scots under William Wallace. The Battle of Falkirk was a major battle in the First War of Scottish Independence.
The battle came in the aftermath of the famous Scottish victory at Stirling Bridge and subsequent Scottish raids on England. This battle saw the use of the schiltron, a thick, circular mass of pikeman and archers (reminiscent of a hedgehog) deployed as an extremely effective anti-cavalry formation.However, despite the efficacy of schiltrons against English cavalry, they proved facile targets for English missiles. Large, unmoving and poorly armoured, the blobs of Scottish pikemen and archers were barraged with arrows, boltsandstones from all sides. The schiltrons were broken apart and the Scottish forces were routed.
After the defeat, William Wallace resigned as the official Guardian of Scotland. It's said that the battle of Falkirk should never have happened, as William Wallace was more attuned to the guerilla style of warfare over the more formal pitched battles.
On this day, the 24 June 1497, the Italian explorer Giovanni Cabot discovered new lands west of Ireland, under the patronage of King Henry VII of England.
Cabot was the first western explorer to make landfall in America since the Vinland arrival around 1000 AD.
He left from Bristol, with both the intent of finding new lands for the King, but also with the intent of discovering the mythical isle of Hy-Brasil, a place of Irish legend.
He did not find Hy-Brasil, instead making landfall across the Atlantic somewhere on the northeastern coast. The exact location is not known, but the town of Bonavista, Newfoundland has been designated as the site.
Upon his successful return to England, he was awarded ten whole pounds! (two years wages at that time, so not an insignificant amount) His landing on the northern lands was a major success story, and validated the funding of further expeditions much akin to Christopher Columbus.
On this day, the 18th of June 1815, one of the most famous battles ever occurred in modern day Belgium, near a small town called Waterloo.
Napoleon had only returned from exile on Elba to France, and to power, some 4 months prior. His so called 100 days of rule lasted from his arrival until a few days after Waterloo. However, the defeat was so great he was forced to abdicate and "retire" to Saint Helena, where he remained until his death.
Waterloo marked the end of a catalogue of wars that had wreaked havoc across Europe since the French revolution, and also began an era of relative peace in Europe, as well as the unification of the German states into a single confederation. Napoleon's actions in France also began the idea of total war, a concept that would be seen at its peak in 100 years or so...
On this day, the 29th March 845, thousands of Vikings plundered and occupied the city of Paris as the climax of their invasion of Frankia over the past few decades.
In mid March, 120 longships with some 5,000 warriors entered and sailed up the Seine. They were under the command of a chieftain called Reginherus, said to be the legendary Ragnar Lothbrok from the sagas.
In response to the naval invasion, the Frankish King Charles the Bald divided his army into two, putting each half on either side of the river to protect both flanks.
Unfortunately for the Franks, this simply prompted the Vikings to assault one river bank entirely, obliterating half of the Frankish army before they even reached the walls.
With this, the Franks could not hope to defend Paris effectively, and so paid the Vikings to leave, with around 2.5 tonnes of gold and silver.
As you might know, this was merely to buy the Franks some time. Vikings never leave for long, and they needed to get ready...
On this day, the 25th March 1436, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower) finally completed its construction after 140 years.
It remains to this day the largest brick dome ever constructed, and is one of the most impressive feats of engineering from the Renaissance.
The length of time of construction may have been a tad on the long side, mostly due to the initial architect Arnolfo di Cambio died mid-construction, after which his successor Giotto de Bondone also died mid-construction 35 years later.
During this time there were also several obstructions, such as many changes in patrons, an architect design competition for the dome, and last but not least the Black Death.
If you ever find yourself in Florence, the basilica is a must-visit.
On this day, February 16th 600 A.D., a papal decree was issued by none other than Pope Gregory I the Great.
It stated that all good Christians would give a blessing when they heard another person sneeze, by saying: "God bless you"
It was the running idea at the time that sneezes would spread the plague (This was the Justinian Plague), which to be fair to them, was a pretty solid theory. Sneezes are a classic vector for bacteria to spread from person to person. The remedy of just bombarding the sneezer with blessings, however, may leave much to be desired from the perspective of modern medical science.
Funny to think though, that the tradition of saying "Bless you" to someone who sneezes is 1,400 years old, and will probably continue on until we all stop speaking English.
On this day, the 20th of December 1522, the Siege of Rhodes ended with victory for Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire. The siege was the result of an attempt to seize control of the Mediterranean by the Empire. While the Knights of Rhodes were technically an independent state, they were the last remaining Hospitaller force, and they were in the way.
Lasting six months, the walls of Rhodes were continually bombarded with artillery, and undermined (literally) with barrel explosives. As many as 100,000 soldiers participated, ending in a truce between the two exhausted and diseased parties.
Suleiman allowed the Knights and islanders to leave with their arms and valuables, if they wished, promising no further harm nor conversion of churches to mosques. The Knights certainly took him up on his offer, making their way back to Sicily first, then after a few years settling the island of Malta. They would hold this bastion for almost another 300 years.
On this day, the 14th of December 1542, Mary Queen of Scots was named as Queen of Scotland. Now this seems all well and good - despite the fact that Mary was merely 6 days old at the time!
Obviously, a newborn can't govern, and so regents ruled in her stead until she came of age. However, this didn't stop them from performing a crowning ceremony when she was 9 months old.
So before she could walk or talk, Mary would be crowned. Miniaturised regal robes were made for her, with a velvet mantle and bejeweled satin gown. Understandably the clothes completely enveloped the child, who also had to be carried down the hall and held up on the throne to prevent her rolling off.
The ridiculousness continues, as the ceremony also involves giving the Queen her heavy, regal Sceptre and 3ft long Sword of State, which were placed delicately into the babies tiny, tiny hands, and the Crown finally placed upon her weird, large baby head.
To finish it off, all the prelates, peers and observers would then kneel before this crying bundle of clothes and oversized implements to swear fealty until they die.
Yeah, monarchists truly are the sanest of folks aren't they.