On this day: Martin Luther King Jr

Born on January 15th 1929, Martin Luther King was to become a Baptist minister and social activist who played a key role in the American civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination on 4th April 1968. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, in the USA, Martin was the son of the Reverend Martin Luther King senior. The family name was originally just King, but Michael Luther King senior added the ‘Luther’ in honour of the medieval German religious reformer, Martin Luther.

Having followed in his father’s footsteps and now a Baptist minister, Martin Luther King Jr. became a non-violent activist for the American Civil Rights Movement through the promotion of christian principles. In 1955, he led the Montgomery bus boycott, when black men and women refused to use the USA’s racially segregated public transport system. He also helped found the Southern Christian Leadership (SCLC) in 1957, serving as its first president. Via the SCLC, King led an unsuccessful movement in 1962 to fight, peacefully, against racial desegregation in Albany, Georgia. The following year he helped organise another protest at Birmingham, Alabama. Perhaps most famously, in 1963, during a march on Washington to highlight the issue of racial inequality, he delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

After being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize the following year, King continued to combat racial inequality through peaceful protest. In 1965, he helped to organize further mass marches, as well as a campaign in Chicago to get rid of segregated housing. Ultimately, however, his ability to bring people to together in protest against racism. would cost him his life. There were still many people in America who resented the arguments and reasoning he was promoting, and one of them was James Earl Ray. And so it would be that during the planning of a national occupation of Washington, D.C. on 4th April 1968, which was to be called the Poor People’s Campaign, he was assassinated by Ray.

Despite his untimely, premature death, Ray’s actions have in some ways even increased the impact Martin Luther King Junior made on the world’s political and social stage. His insistence on making his point via nonviolent means was an inspiration to many; and his legacy of work lives on today.

We might have thought that the discovery of the skeleton of Richard III, beneath a car park in Leicester in 2013, would have ended once and for all the debate about possibly the most controversial of our monarchs. But in truth, “final” answers have bred more questions.

Once the remains were subjected to the most stringent scientific analysis, using the most modern techniques available, we were able to learn a great deal, not just about the manner of Richard’s death but also such minutiae as what he ate in the last few years of his life. They have even revealed that, suffering from scoliosis, he did indeed have a curvature of the spine. Dry bones, however, can only tell us so much and, rather than narrowing the debate, they seem to have widened it (If Richard had scoliosis, does that prove he was the ‘crookback’ vilified by the Tudors and portrayed as such by Shakespeare? And, if so, can we conclude that his mind was as warped as his backbone?).

Leicester’s new Richard III Visitor Centre (https://kriii.com) has opened in the building adjacent to the excavations and incorporates the burial site. It is a fascinating place to visit if you get the chance. Viewing the grave, now encased under a sheet of glass, it becomes evident just how close it was to being obliterated forever; the foundations of a Victorian wall are just a few centimetres away from where the skeleton was found and, even then, no feet were recovered. We are, therefore, incredibly fortunate that it existed at all. The excavations were endorsed and aided by the staff at Leicester University (https://www.le.ac.uk/richardiii) and motivated by the meticulous research of the Richard III Society; in particular, through the vision of one woman Philippa Langley. There is a Channel 4 documentary which follows the process,  http://www.channel4.com/programmes/richard-iii-the-king-in-the-car-park/on-demand ,which is well worth a watch.

The rediscovery and reinternment of Richard III has been of immense value to students of history, not least because it has underlined the fact that there can be no neat endings. Instead, we need to appreciate that even such an important historical discovery is nothing more than a single link in an unpredictable series of events, although it is also part of a very enjoyable, if elusive search for the truth.

On 18th February 1797, while Napoleon Bonaparte was embarking on his conquest of central Europe, a French invasion comprising of four ships and 1400 troops set sail from Camaret, France, under the command of the elderly Irish-American, Colonel William Tate. Napoleon had ordered Tate to land near Bristol and destroy it, before crossing into Wales. The weather was not on their side however, as severe gales made it impossible for the French warships to land anywhere near Bristol. Instead they set a course for Cardigan Bay in southwest Wales.

On Wednesday February 22nd, the French warships sailed into Fishguard Bay to be greeted by cannon fire from the local fort. Unbeknown to the French, the cannon wasn’t being fired at them, but as an alarm to warn the local townsfolk. Nervously, the ships withdrew and sailed on until they reached a small sandy beach near the village of Llanwnda, where men, arms and gunpowder were unloaded early on the morning of Thursday February 23rd. The ships, with a small crew, then returned to France with a special despatch being sent to Paris informing Napoleon of the successful landing.

However, after only two days many of the invaders were too drunk to fight and, having also met fierce opposition from the Welsh population, the invasion collapsed. Tate’s force surrendered to the local militia, led by Lord Cawdor, on February 25th, 1797 (depicted above).

As Napoleon had been so successful across much of Europe, news of this unusual invasion raised alarms bells across Britain. When reports of the event hit London, panic led holders of banknotes to demand that the Bank of England convert their paper money into gold. As the total face value of the notes in circulation was almost exactly twice the actual gold reserves held by the Bank of England, Parliament was forced to act fast. On 22nd February, they passed the Bank Restriction Act, which made all banknotes inconvertible notes. This meant that banknotes issued by a central bank could not be redeemed for the underlying wealth that they represented, a precedent that has defined the modern use of banknotes ever since.

On 8th February 1587, at the age of 44, Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed at Fotheringhay Castle, under the orders of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I,

The only child of James V of Scotland and his French wife, Mary was born in December 1542 in Linlithgow Palace. Mary was only 6 days old when her father died and she became queen.
As Mary was too young to rule, her mother acted as regent in her stead, and arranged for Mary’s betrothal to King Henry VIII’s son, Edward, when she was 5 years old. However, when the time grew nearer, Mary, herself already a strong Catholic, had Catholic guardians who were opposed to a match with a Protestant. To prevent it happening, they took Mary away to Stirling Castle. This breaking of the proposed marriage agreement made Henry VIII very angry, and he ordered a series of savage but unsuccessful raids into Scotland. These attacks became known as The Rough Wooing.

Rather than marry Mary off to the English monarchy, her guardians arranged an alliance with Francis, the four-year-old heir to the French crown, and sent Mary to be raised at the French court. In April 1558 they were married and the following year Francis became king, briefly uniting the French and Scottish crowns. Only the year after this, however, King Francis died from an ear infection, leaving Mary a widow at the age of 18.

Returning to Scotland, Mary found herself a Catholic living in a country that was officially Protestant, and this meant many people regarded her with suspicion even though she initially ruled with patience and understanding.

In 1565, Mary married her cousin the Earl of Darnley, but the marriage quickly broke down, and Mary became fond of the Earl of Bothwell instead. Darnley became increasingly suspicious of Mary, and in 1566 he and a group of Protestant nobles murdered Mary’s Italian secretary, David Rizzio, believing him to be having an affair with his wife. After the birth of Darnley and Mary’s son James in June 1566, their relationship became even worse, and, when in February 1567 Darnley was murdered via an explosion outside his house in Edinburgh, the main suspect was the Earl of Bothwell. Further, Mary married him only 3 months after Darnley’s death. It was an act that turned the majority of the Scottish nobility against her. Bothwell was quickly sent into exile and Mary forced to abdicate from the Scottish throne in July 1567. She was imprisoned in Lochleven Castle, and her infant son James was made king.

With the help of a few loyal followers, Mary escaped Lochleven in 1568 and fled to England to seek refuge from her cousin, Elizabeth I. She had expected Elizabeth to help her, but the Queen of England found herself put in a very difficult position because Mary had a strong claim to the English throne. To keep her throne safe, Elizabeth ultimately had Mary imprisoned for the next 19 years.

Even though she was constantly watched, every time there was a plot against Elizabeth, Mary was blamed by the Queen’s supporters. Despite this, Elizabeth herself gave her cousin the benefit of the doubt until 1586, when she discovered Mary had corresponded with Anthony Babington, who was plotting to depose Elizabeth. These letters convinced Elizabeth that Mary would in fact always be a danger to her position as Queen of England.

Mary was tried for treason and condemned to death in October 1586. It was still 5 months before Elizabeth finally agreed to sign the death warrant which sent Mary to the block, but in the end it was inevitable. Not for the first time, a crown had become a poisoned chalice.

January 24th saw the anniversary of the death of one of Britain’s most famous statesman, Winston Churchill. He is best known for his leadership of this country through the days of the second world war, but also led in his younger years a varied, eventful and sometimes dangerous life.

Born on November 30th 1874, Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was the son of Lord Randolph Churchill and Jeanette Jerome, a New York socialite. He was also the grandson of the 7th Duke of Marlborough, John Spencer-Churchill.

A rebellious child, Churchill was sent to Harrow boarding school near London in 1888, in the hope that discipline would settle him into his studies. This proved to be not entirely successful. Not a natural academic, it later took Churchill three attempts to pass the exam for the British Royal Military College so he could enter the forces. Once in the British Army, he joined the Fourth Hussars in 1895 (pictured above in his uniform); serving in the Indian northwest frontier and the Sudan. While in the Army, he wrote military reports for newspapers The Pioneer and The Daily Telegraph, and wrote two books on his experiences, The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898) and The River War (1899).

After leaving the Army in 1899, Churchill became a war correspondent for the conservative newspaper, Morning Post. It was a hazardous job, and while reporting on the Boer War, he was taken prisoner by the Boers while on a scouting expedition. However, he managed to escape, and travelled 300 miles to Mozambique, before getting back to Britain.

Churchill’s political career began in 1900. He became an MP in the Conservative Party for Oldham. Unconvinced that the Conservative Party was committed to social justice, though, he switched sides to the Liberal Party in 1904.

Although Churchill achieved many things during his political career, it is for his war time work that he will always be remembered most. But this should include what he did before World War Two. From 1919 to 1922, Churchill served as Minister of War and Air and Colonial Secretary under Prime Minister David Lloyd George. As time went on, though, fractures in the Liberal Party led to Churchill rejoining the Conservative Party.

By 1938, as Germany began controlling parts of Europe, Churchill had become a critic of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement toward the Nazis. He would ultimately be proved right and on September 3rd, 1939, Britain declared war on Germany. Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and a member of the war cabinet. By April 1940, he was chairman of the Military Coordinating Committee. Then, on May 10, King George VI appointed Churchill Prime minister and Minister of Defense.

Churchill formed a coalition cabinet of leaders from the Labour, Liberal and Conservative parties, and began cultivating a relationship with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. By March 1941, he had secured vital U.S. aid to bring supplies into the UK. After the United States entered World War II, in December 1941, Churchill was confident that the Allies would eventually win the war, and again, he would eventually be correct.

After the war, Churchill proposed plans for social reforms in Britain, but he was defeated in the general election in July 1945. He was not finished with politics yet, however, and in 1951 he returned to government as Prime Minister.

In 1953, at the age of 78, Churchill was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. Sadly, later that year he suffered a series of strokes at his office and retired as prime minister two years later. He remained in Parliament until the general election of 1964, when he retired fully.

On January 15th, 1965, Churchill suffered a severe stroke. He died at his London home, at age 90, later that year.

Naval officer and explorer Robert Falcon Scott is commonly known as “Scott of the Antarctic”. Yet for all his successes, the most famous part of his story will always be one of tragic failure.

Born on 6th June 1868 in Devonport, Devon, Robert fell in love with the idea of a life at sea at an early age. He became a naval cadet at 13, and went on to serve on a number of Royal Navy ships throughout the 1880s and 1890s.

Scott’s skill bought him to the notice of the Royal Geographical Society, and led to his appointment as the commander of the famous National Antarctic Expedition of 1901-1904. With the aim of getting nearer to the South Pole than any team had managed before, Scott and his men, including renowned explorer, Ernest Shackleton, were victorious, becoming national heroes.

Scott had only been home from his first trip for a short time before he began to plan a second expedition, with the aim of becoming the first explorer to reach the South Pole itself. It took years for Scott and his men to raise the money to pay for this expedition, but in June 1910 they finally left in the whaling ship Terra Nova, sailing from Cardiff.

The following October the expedition set off from their base camp equipped with sledges, ponies and dogs. Unfortunately the weather conditions were so appalling that neither the ponies nor the sledges could cope and the team was forced to travel without them.

By mid December the terrain had become so bad that the dog teams had to turn back, leaving the men to ascend the treacherous Beardmore Glacier and the polar plateau without help. By January 1912, only five of the original explorers remained: Scott, Wilson, Oates, Bowers and Evans. On 17th January, they finally reached the South Pole, only to be faced with the disappointment of discovering that the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had beaten them to it.

Demoralised and exhausted, the British team began the 1,500 km journey back to base. This second brutal journey would be prove too much for them, however. Evans died in mid-February, and in March, Oates decided that the severe frostbite he was suffering was slowing the others down, walked out into the freezing conditions and was never seen again. The final tragic chapter of their doomed return came on 29th March 1912, only 20km from their supply stop, when Scott, Wilson, and Bowers died of starvation and exposure in their tent.

It took eight months before a search party found their tent, the three bodies and Scott’s diary, which detailed their incredible adventure, with its highs and terrible lows. Scott and his colleagues were buried where they’d been found, with a cairn of ice built up to commemorate their last resting place.

The British Museum in London was opened to the public on 15th January 1759. The museum actually started life in1753, after Sir Hans Sloane, a physician, naturalist and collector, left his entire collection of over 71,000 objects to King George II. Sloane wished for his artefacts to be preserved for the nation, in return for a one off payment of £20,000 to his heirs.

The Sloane collection was originally housed in a seventeenth-century mansion, Montagu House, in Bloomsbury, London. Later, in the early part of the nineteenth century, many high profile acquisitions were made, including the Rosetta Stone, in 1802 and the Parthenon sculptures, in 1816.

King George IV added his own gift to the museum by passing on his father’s library (known as the King’s Library). It was the need to house all these new pieces and books that led to the building of the museum’s famous quadrangular structure. This, along with the museum’s reading room, was built by 1857.

The number of natural history donations was so vast that the entire collection was moved to new premises in South Kensington in the 1880s. This became the separate Natural History Museum.
As the museum continued to grow, it became involved in historical and archaeological research of its own. Its Assyrian collections formed the basis for the understanding of cuneiform (an ancient Middle Eastern script), and the Rosetta Stone has resulted in the unlocking of Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Visitor numbers increased greatly during the nineteenth century, and the twentieth century saw an expansion in its educational services. In the 1970s there were fresh refurbishments and an in-house publishing company was established. In 1973 the library became the British Library.

In 2003, the British Museum celebrated its 250th anniversary. Approximately 5000 people visited each year in the 1800’s. The museum, which has always been free to enter, now annually welcomes 6 million people through its doors.

After America had won its independence, it left Britain’s monarchic tradition behind. Instead, the founding fathers of the United States created a system in which the American people had the power to select their leader. This system, which began with the election of George Washington, the first U.S. President, in 1789, has seen many changes since its inauguration. In the early years only white men who owned property could vote, but slowly, as more and more amendments were added to the election rules, everyone over the age of 18 was allowed the same right.

Since the initial election, when George Washington stood unopposed and reluctant to take on the role, to today, when the run for office as president of the United States has developed into a fiercely fought, often hostile and extremely complicated battle between two candidates, things have changed a great deal.

Today the presidential term is four years. And since 1845, Election Day has been held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Long before the election takes place, however, candidates must be chosen and put forward by their respective parties for nomination as their runner for the role of President. This process consists of a series of primary elections and nominating conventions within these parties, of which there are only two- the Democrats and the Republicans.

The primary elections take place between the January and June prior to the general election in November. In the summer before the main election, voters in all U.S. territories cast ballots for a group of delegates for a political party’s nominating convention to choose from. Then that convention picks one person to go forward as the parties’ presidential nominee.

Once the main candidates for election have been chosen, the presidential nominees and their associated convention select a vice-presidential running mate to join with him or her on their campaign. These vice-presidential candidates help the presidential hopefuls with speeches and party promotion, and keep the presidential campaign trail going across the vast distances of all the States of America.

The 58th quadrennial U.S. Presidential Election will take place between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump on November 8th 2016.

Celebrated poet, novelist, and ballad-collector Sir Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 14th August 1771.

When Walter was young he suffered a bout of polio that left him lame in his right leg for the rest of his life. To aid his recovery, Walter was sent to live for some years in the rural Scottish Borders, on his grandparents’ farm at Sandyknowe. It was while he was there that he learned many of the tales and legends which would influence much of his later literature. After some time, Walter then moved to Bath in England, for further recuperation at the famous spas, before returning to Scotland to study law.

Like his father, Walter became a lawyer, and in 1792 he was called to the Bar. As well as practising law, Walter was already a keen writer. In 1797 he married Charlotte Carpenter, with whom he had four children. Then in 1802, he published a three-volume set of collected Scottish ballads, The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders.

Walter became the Sheriff-Depute of Selkirk and a Principal Clerk to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, as well as continuing to publish poetry, such as his celebrated The Lady of the Lake. In 1809 he helped set up a theatre in Edinburgh, and founded the Quarterly Review. Scott’s first novel was Waverley, which was published in 1814. It was a huge hit, popular in Europe and America, and established Scott’s reputation as a major international literary force.

By the 1820s, Scott was probably the most famous of all living Scotsmen, and was consequently chosen to organise the visit to Edinburgh in 1822 of King George IV. By 1825 however, his financial situation suffered a drastic setback. Rather than declare bankruptcy he placed his home, Abbotsford, near Melrose, and income into a trust belonging to his creditors, and attempted to write his way out of debt. Despite these problems, Scott and his family continued to live at Abbotsford until his death on the 21st September 1832.

Sir Walter Scott was one of the first authors to have a truly international career during his own lifetime, with readers all over Great Britain, Ireland, Europe, Australia, and North America. To this day, his novels, including Ivanhoe, The Heart of Midlothian, Rob Roy, and Waverley, remain popular, on page and on screen.

Politicians appear to generate bad news all the time at the moment. Whether it be due to over-aggressive campaigning, allegations of corruption, or broken promises, public opinion of them never seems to be very high. But this is not a modern phenomenon. One of history’s most infamous political scandals occurred in 1974, resulting in the resignation in August that year of American President Richard Nixon (above). it would become known as the Watergate scandal.

The term Watergate has since come to encompass the collection of illegal activities undertaken by members of the Nixon presidential administration team. Often referred to as ‘dirty trick’ campaigns, these activities included bugging the offices of political opponent, the harassment of activist groups and political figures, and using the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), and the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) to do so.

The scandal was known as Watergate because, in June 1972, a break-in occurred within the Watergate office complex. Five burglars entered the Democratic National Committee offices, but were discovered by 24-year-old night watchman Frank Wills. They were arrested by police, and subsequently it was revealed that they were employed by Nixon. However, in August of 1972, President Nixon told reporters, “No one in the White House staff, no one in this administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident.”

The arrest of the Watergate burglars was just the beginning of a long chain of events in which it became increasingly clear President Nixon was deeply involved in an extensive cover-up of the break-in and other White House secretly sanctioned illegal activities. The earliest of these underhand activities is believed to have occurred in 1970, when The New York Times revealed a secret bombing campaign against neutral Cambodia in Southeast Asia was being conducted as part of the American war effort in Vietnam. Following the revelations, Nixon ordered wiretaps of reporters and government employees in order to discover the source of the news leaks.

By 1971, Nixon was so worried about the number of leaks from the White House that were undermining his position that he established a “Plumbers” unit in the White House with the sole purpose of gathering political intelligence on perceived enemies and preventing further news leaks.

In July 1973, evidence mounted against the President’s staff, including testimony provided by former staff members in an investigation conducted by the Senate Watergate Committee. The investigation revealed that President Nixon had a secret tape-recording system in his offices to record conversations between his colleagues.

After a year-long battle, the US Supreme Court ruled that Nixon had to release the tapes to government investigators. These audio recordings revealed that the president had attempted to cover up all of the dirty tricks activities that had been taking place, and left him facing impeachment.

Concluding one of history’s biggest scandals, and having entered Watergate into the political and cultural Lexicon, Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency of the USA in shame on August 9th, 1974.

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