1303 Death of an ambitious pope
Since the middle of the eleventh century, popes had been asserting their power over secular rulers. They claimed that the spiritual authority ordained by God held precedence over mere earthly power. They had deposed kings and emperors and named substitute rulers; they had precipitated civil wars; claimed dominion over entire kingdoms and excommunicated princes right, left and centre. By 1300 they had gutted the power of their chief rival, the Holy Roman Emperor, and begun to quarrel with the new centralized monarchies of western Europe.
Benedetto Caetani, elected Pope Boniface VIII in dubious fashion in 1294, had twice forbidden the kings of England and France from taxing the Church in their countries. The King of France Philip IV “the Fair” responded by cutting off money from the French church to the papacy. Boniface replied by hinting that he might exercise his right of deposing Philip who immediately began a campaign of vilification of the pope including circulating forged documents.
This led Boniface on November 17, 1302 to issue the proclamation Unam Sanctam, which asserted the doctrine of papal monarchy in the most uncompromising terms ever. He asserted (1) there is but one true Church, outside of which there is no salvation; (2) that head is Christ and His representative, the pope who is above, and can direct, all kings; (3) whoever resists the highest power ordained by God resists Himself; and (5) it is necessary for salvation that all humans should be subject to the Roman Pontiff.
Philip the Fair now summoned a kingdom-wide assembly, and before it he accused Boniface of every imaginable crime from murder to black magic to sodomy to keeping a demon as a pet. A small French military force crossed into Italy in 1303 and took Boniface prisoner at his palace at Anagni with the intention of bringing him to France for trial. The French plan failed—local townspeople freed Boniface a couple of days later—but the proud old pope died shortly thereafter, outraged that anyone had dared to lay hands on his sacred person.
This marks the beginning of the waning of medieval papal power. In 1305 the cardinals elected the Frenchman Clement V who submitted to the French king on the question of clerical taxation and publicly burned Unam Sanctam, conceding that Philip the Fair, in accusing Pope Boniface, had shown “praiseworthy zeal.” A few years after his election, Clement moved the papacy from Rome to Avignon in southern France, the start of the period of papal humiliation known as “The Babylonian Captivity”
680 The Battle of Karbala
Though relatively bloodless, few combats in Islamic history have been as consequential as the Battle of Karbala.
When Mohammed died in 632, rulership of the Muslim world fell to a series of four caliphs or “successors”: Abu-Bakr, Mohammed’s father-in-law, Umar, Uthmana and Ali, Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law. The turbulence of the time may be seen in the fact that the last three were all assassinated. At the death of Ali in 661, the succession was disputed with a regional governor named Muawiyah winning more support than Ali’s oldest son Hasan. Muawiyah would establish a new dynasty, the Umayyads, and move the capital of the Islamic world from Mecca to Damascus.
Resistance to this new caliphate was led by Husayn, Ali’s second son, whose followers came to be known as Shi’ites. Husayn claimed that in establishing a dynasty the Umayyads had forfeited their right to rule. On October 10, 680 Husayn’s caravan was attacked by Umayyad forces and everyone in it killed or taken prisoner. This Battle of Karbala became part of Shi’ite sacred history, inspiring further resistance and engendering the annual Ashura period of mourning. The split in the Islamic world between the majority Sunni and minority Shia branches remains unhealed to this day.
Don Larsen’s Perfect Game
It was the fifth game of the 1956 World Series, between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers, with both teams having won two games. Yankee Stadium was crammed with 64,519 spectators, watching Brooklyn’s Sal “The Barber” Maglie on the mound for the Bums and Don Larsen pitching for the Bronx Bombers. Maglie had earned his nickname because his high and inside fastballs gave batters a close shave; Larsen was having his best year, with an 11-5 record and a 3.26 ERA.
The Yankee lineup was full of stars such as Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Enos Slaughter, and Billy Martin – but the Dodgers’ lineup was equally stellar: Jim Gilliam leading off, followed by four future Hall of Famers in Peewee Reese, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella. On this day in 1956 not one of the Brooklynites was able to get a hit; none of them reached base on a walk or an error. Using only 97 pitches, and shunning a windup, Don Larsen retired 27 Dodgers in a row, thus pitching the first, and only, perfect game in World Series history.
1813 The death of Tecumseh
The War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain was fought at sea and along the Canadian border. Allied with the British were many native tribes, resentful at American expansion into their traditional territories. A tribal confederacy under the Shawnee chief Tecumseh and his mystical brother known as The Prophet had consistently opposed yielding land to the Americans but had suffered a number of reversals.
In the autumn of 1813, the British and their native allies were being pushed back from positions below the Great Lakes. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry had won the Battle of Lake Erie capturing an entire British squadron, which prompted the famous phrase, “we have met the enemy and he is ours” and ashore the future president William Henry Harrison was also successful. He recaptured Detroit and launched an invasion of Upper Canada. On this day Harrison’s forces met a British army under Henry Procter backed by hundreds of Tecumseh’s warrior in what is now southern Ontario. The British wilted under an American charge but Tecumseh’s forces stood their ground. In the fighting Tecumseh was shot and killed.
The battle itself was of little significance as the victorious Americans were obliged to withdraw but the death of Tecumseh was a catastrophe for the native cause. Their confederacy collapsed and hopes of a pan-native resistance died.
O.J. Simpson is acquitted
On July 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson, ex-wife of football star and actor O.J. Simpson, and her companion Ron Goldman were found stabbed to death in Los Angeles. Suspicion fell on Simpson who had had a turbulent and occasionally violent relationship with his wife. Simpson was asked to turn himself into the police but instead he began to evince suicidal behaviour and fled in a white SUV, pursued at low speed while spectators lined the streets and millions watched on live television.
The subsequent murder trial was a media sensation, widely televised and presided over by Judge Lance Ito, whose handling of the case widely criticized. The prosecution relied largely on blood and DNA evidence that linked Simpson to the murder site while the defense “Dream Team” argued that the pair had been killed by a Colombian drug gang and that racist police had planted and tampered with evidence.
The jury of nine blacks, two whites and a Latino (10 women and 2 men) took 4 hours to reach a verdict of not-guilty, astonishing most of those who had followed the trial. Though he remained a free man, Simpson’s reputation was fatally damaged. A subsequent civil trial, launched by the Brown and Goldman families, found Simpson criminally responsible and ordered him to pay $33,000,000 in damages. In 2007 he was sent to jail for 33 years for a violent incident in Las Vegas. He will be eleigible for parole in 2017.
Boys’ Day (Dzień Chłopaka)
On this day girls in Poland are encouraged to give presents to boys. This unofficial holiday seems to be popular among high school students; gifts such as chocolates, cards and trinkets are presented by girls to the young men they like. Though there is no Girls’ Day in the country, there is a Woman’s Day. Other countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil and Japan have similar celebrations on different days.