Archive for the Past Category

kingKing Edward VI was only 9 years old when he became King of England and Ireland on this day 476 years ago, and he was just 15 when he died, but some significant changes were accomplished during his reign. His father was Henry VIII, under whose reign the Church of England had broken away from the Church of Rome, although Henry  liked Roman liturgical ceremony and had resisted many of the reforms being urged upon him.

Edward became the first Protestant king of England. Sixteen executors were appointed in his father’s will to act as Edward’s council until he reached 18. Edward’s uncle, Edward Seymour, became Lord Protector of the Realm and assumed most of the powers and responsibilities of government. Seymour was mainly interested in fighting expensive wars with Scotland, and in 1549 he was arrested and replaced by John Dudley.

During Edward’s reign, a number of important reforms were made to the Church of England under the leadership of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. The requirement that clergy remain celibate was abolished. Worship services were required to be held in English, rather than Latin, using the Book of Common Prayer. The Mass was abolished. Although these reforms were reversed during the reign of Queen Mary, they subsequently became entrenched in the practices of the Church of England.

tightening-the-beltRwanda is feeling the effects of the recent aid funding cuts made by international donors in response to alleged complicity of Rwanda in unrest in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. The UK, US, European Union, Germany, Netherlands and other major donors cut their aid to Rwanda almost two months ago following a UN report which accused Rwandan officials of providing active support for M23 rebels in the DR Congo.

As aid accounts for around 40% of Rwanda’s budget, the government’s ability to meet its planned expenditure targets is significantly compromised. Spending has been postponed on a range of agriculture, health, infrastructure and justice projects. Recruitment of civil servants has been frozen, and there is some expectation that civil servant salaries will be slashed in a supplementary budget later this month.

The Rwandan government finances most of the country’s development projects, and business confidence has fallen away given that significant decreases in government spending are anticipated. It is feared that a liquidity crisis may occur soon, and interest rates on bank deposits have doubled in the past two months, making access to credit increasingly unaffordable.

adult-baptismAnabaptism began on this day 488 years ago in Switzerland when Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz and George Blaurock gathered with 13 other men in Zurich. Four days earlier, the Zurich city council had ordered the group to cease their nonconformist religious activities and submit any unbaptised infants for baptism within 8 days. Believing that the Bible taught that baptism was for adult believers and not for infants, Grebel baptised Blaurock, who then baptised the others, thus becoming anabaptists (“people who rebaptise”).

After pledging to hold to the faith of the New Testament and live as fellow disciples separated from the world, the men left the meeting determined to encourage others to do likewise. Grebel was imprisoned later the same year, 1525, and died in 1526 at the age of about 28. Manz was arrested several times before being executed by drowning on 5 January 1527. Blaurock was beaten and banished on the day that Manz was executed, so he moved to Tyrol and had a fruitful ministry there until he was arrested in August 1529, tortured, and burned at the stake on 6 September 1529.

Anabaptism spread from Tyrol to the Low Countries and Moravia, which became a centre for the movement because of greater religious toleration there. Persecution of anabaptists, including torture and executions, by both Roman Catholics and Protestants, resulted in mass emigration to North America of anabaptist groups including the Amish, Hutterites and Mennonites.

Casablanca-ConferenceOn this day 70 years ago, a meeting vital to the future of the free world took place in Casablanca. One of the key players was an elderly British politician who had failed as a commander in the First World War and had subsequently become an ostracised member of parliament because of his extreme and eccentric opinions. Another was an American man who had been paralysed from the waist down as the result of polio.

This unlikely duo, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, sat down in Casablanca with the commanders of the Free French forces, Generals Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud, to work out a strategy to conquer the Axis powers and restore Europe to freedom. The conference covered a range of issues including the next phase of the war, the provision of aid to Russia, dealing with U-boats in the Atlantic, and negotiations with Russia and China.

The Casablanca Conference, which lasted from 14 January until 24 January 1943, resulted in plans for the invasion of France in early 1944, together with a lower-level campaign in Italy in 1943, in the hope of eliminating Italy from the war. Churchill and Roosevelt met frequently during the war, with further 1943 meetings in Washington, Quebec, Cairo, Tehran and Cairo.

balloon-flightOn this day 228 years ago, the French inventor Jean-Pierre Blanchard and American physician and scientist Dr John Jeffries completed the first human flight over the English Channel, taking off from Dover Castle and landing around 150 minutes later at Guînes, near Calais. The first-ever successful manned balloon flight had occurred just over a year previously, in November 1783, using a hot air balloon designed by the Montgolfier brothers.

Jean-Pierre Blanchard used a hydrogen-filled balloon, and his first successful flight was in Paris on 2 March 1784. Rather than settling for where the wind chose to take him, he tried using a pair of wings to “row” the balloon in a particular direction; however, this part of the experiment proved unsuccessful as the forces exerted on the balloon by the air vastly outweighed any force that could be exerted by a human operating the wings.

Blanchard travelled to England later in 1784 and conducted some successful flights leading up to his flight with Dr John Jeffries across the English Channel on 7 January 1785. Later that year he successfully trialled the parachute using a dog as the passenger, and some eight years later he used a parachute to save his own life when his balloon ruptured; however he died in 1809 as a result of injuries sustained the previous year in a fall from a balloon caused by a heart attack.

one-rupeeOn this day 412 years ago, Queen Elizabeth I granted a Royal Charter giving the Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading with the East Indies a 15-year monopoly on trade with all countries east of the Cape of Good Hope and west of the Straits of Magellan. The new British East India Company’s charter was renewed by King James I in 1609 for an indefinite period. Business prospered, and the charter was renewed again in 1657 by Oliver Cromwell.

The Industrial Revolution brought great wealth to Britain, leading to an increased demand for raw materials and commodities from India. As a result the British East India Company became the most important entity in international trade, and came to exert considerable influence on the British government. The Company maintained its own army and engaged in a range of military conflicts, resulting in the expansion of its territory and influence.

In 1857 a mutiny by some Indian soldiers in the East India Company’s army escalated into a widespread Indian rebellion, and reports of atrocities which occurred during the rebellion led to the nationalisation of the East India Company by the British government pursuant to the Government of India Act 1858, and the Company was dissolved in 1874.

King-JohnJohn Lackland was born on this day 846 years ago, the fifth and youngest son of King Henry II of England. Three of his brothers died young, and the fourth, Richard the Lionheart, became king in 1189. The following year Richard set out for Europe en route to the Holy Land as one of the leaders of the Third Crusade. During Richard’s absence John tried unsuccessfully to seize power, but when Richard died in 1199 John succeeded to the throne.

Much of John’s reign was characterised by expensive military campaigns in France, in an effort to retain control of his possessions there, and after suffering a defeat in France in 1214 he returned to England only to face a revolt by his barons who were unhappy with how he treated them and how much tax he charged. Under duress, John met with the barons and signed a peace agreement which later became known as the Magna Carta.

Although neither John nor the barons honoured the terms of the Magna Carta, and his struggles continued until his death from dysentery in 1216. The Magna Carta went on to become a key source in English law of the freedom of individuals against arbitrary actions of the State. Some clauses from an amended version entitled The Great Carter of the Liberties of England and of the Liberties of the Forest, which was enacted in 1297, are still in force today.

first flightThe eastern coastline of North Carolina is a thin strip of land separating the Atlantic ocean from inland waterways. Along that strip of land is a town called Kitty Hawk, and some six kilometres south of the town are the Kill Devil Hills where, some 109 years ago today that brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight. The area was selected because of its frequent winds and soft sandy surfaces.

The Wright brothers had gone into business and printers and newspaper publishers in 1889, and then opened a bicycle shop in 1892. In the 1890s, many people were trying to build heavier-than-air flying machines, with mixed success and often ending in tragedy, and the Wright brothers became convinced that the key to success involved developing stable controls which would make the flight safe, starting with gliding and working up to powered flight once the controls had been mastered.

From observing the flight of birds, the brothers decided to use wing warping to cause their machine to bank to the left or right, thereby enabling steering. In 1900 they began their visits to Kitty Hawk, starting their experiments with a glider. In 1901 they built a wind tunnel in their bicycle shop and used it to conduct tests on large numbers of different model wing shapes, leading to a fully controlled glider and then in 1903 to the powered Wright Flyer I.

Albert Lutuli accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for 1960 on this day 61 years ago. Lutuli was born in 1898 in South Africa, a descendant of Zulu chiefs. He attended an American mission school and then worked for 17 years as a teacher. In 1935 he was appointed tribal chief, a role which he held for another 17 years before being removed by the government.

In 1944, Lutuli became a member of the African National Congress, and in 1952 he became president of that organisation, remaining president until the ANC was banned in 1960. The ANC had been established in 1912 by non-white Africans who had obtained a higher education, and its members attempted to influence political development by means of petitions and deputations to the authorities, and then, under Lutuli’s leadership, by means of boycotts, defiance campaigns and strikes.

When the government deposed him as chief because of his political activities, Lutuli, a Christian, said: “The road to freedom is via the Cross.” His approach to apartheid was to protest “openly and boldly against injustice” in a “determined and nonviolent manner”. In 1956 he was arrested and charged with treason, a charge which was eventually dropped. For the rest of his life he was subjected to travel sanctions, and he died in 1967, but the anti-apartheid struggle continued for more than two more decades before achieving success.

One of the great English novelists, Joseph Conrad was born Józef Teodor Konrad ‪Nałęcz Korzeniowski on this day 155 years ago in Berdychiv, Ukraine, although he considered himself Polish. Both of his parents died of tuberculosis, leaving him an orphan at the age of 11. He suffered from poor health and was a poor student at school, except in the subject of geography, and at the age of 16 he set out for France to become a sailor.

After a few years working as a sailor in France, based in Marseilles, including various voyages to the West Indies, Conrad moved to England to distance himself from compulsory military service in Russia, and in October 1878 set sail for Australia, arriving in Sydney Harbour in January 1879 before returning to London later that year. Over the next ten years he progressed through the British Merchant Navy to the rank of Master Mariner.

Conrad’s sailing adventures and the time he spent working for a Belgian company in the Congo became rich source material for his later literary efforts. He retired from sailing in 1894 at the age of 36, and his first novel Almayer’s Folly was published the following year. He soon developed a reputation as a romantic teller of exotic tales, although he did not achieve popular success until 1913.