March 27th 1625: Charles I becomes King
On this day in 1625, Charles I became King of England, Scotland and Ireland. He succeeded to the throne upon the death of his father King James I. Charles and his father believed in the divine right of kings to absolute rule. This caused Charles’s struggle for power with Parliament and resentment among his subjects for his seemingly tyrannical actions like taxing without the consent of Parliament and interfering with churches. The English Civil War broke out in the last years of his reign, which pitted the crown against Parliament. Charles was captured by the Parliamentarians and executed for high treason in 1649. The monarchy was then abolished but returned in 1660 with Charles’s son in power.
March 29th 1871: Royal Albert Hall opens
On this day in 1871 Queen Victoria officially opened the concert hall in London which was named after her late husband Prince Albert. The hall had been initially planned by Albert after the success of the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace in 1851. Work began in 1867; the hall was designed by Captain Francis Fowke and Major-General Henry Scott and built by Lucas Brothers. It was completed in 1871 and at the official opening on March 29th the Queen was so overcome with emotion she was unable to speak. It was Edward, Prince of Wales who had to announce:
“The Queen declares this Hall is now open”
February 5th 1788: Robert Peel born
On this day in 1788 the future Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Robert Peel, was born. Peel was born in Bury, Lancashire and his father was a famous industrialist and Member of Parliament. Peel was educated at Oxford, and entered politics at the young age of 21 in 1809. Peel became Home Secretary in 1822, and served for the duration of the ‘liberal’ government of Lord Liverpool until 1827. As Home Secretary, Peel created the modern police force, leading to officers being known as ‘bobbies’ and ‘peelers’ after him. Peel became Prime Minister in 1834, and again in 1841. As Prime Minister, Peel repealed the Corn Laws and issued the Tamworth Manifesto which led to the formation of the modern Conservative Party.
On this day in 1924 Ramsay MacDonald became the first ever Labour Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. MacDonald came to power in 1924, having earned public respect for his opposition to the First World War. His first government had a minority in the Houses of Parliament and thus relied on support of the other left-wing party: the Liberals. His government lasted nine months, but was defeated in the 1924 General Election. MacDonald returned to power in 1929, and thus faced the challenges of the Great Depression. His party was divided over the issue, and in 1931 MacDonald formed a National Government, with a majority of Conservative MPs. Therefore MacDonald was expelled from the Labour Party for his ‘betrayal’.
MacDonald stepped down in 1935, thus ending the first period of Labour governance, and died in 1937. Since MacDonald, the Labour Party have established themselves as a major party in the UK. Its Prime Ministers have included Clement Attlee, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
On this day in 1898, the English author Lewis Carroll died of pneumonia following influenza. Carroll (birth name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) was best known for his book ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and its sequel ‘Through the Looking-Glass’. He was also a mathematician and photographer.
In 1856 a new Dean (Henry Liddell) arrived at Christ Church collge of the University of Oxford, where Carroll studied and taught. He became close friends with Liddell’s family, especially his daughter Alice. Whilst Carroll denied that his character was based on a real child, it is widely believed that his heroine was based on Alice Liddell. Partly because the acrostic poem at the end of ‘Through the Looking Glass’ spells out her name. He would frequently take the children on rowing trips, and on one trip invented a little story that would later become ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. Alice Liddell, having been told the story, begged Carroll to write it down; he did so, and gave her an illustrated manuscript in 1864 with the title ‘Alice’s Adventures Under Ground’. The final version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ was published in 1865. The book was a huge success, and ‘Lewis Carroll’ became famous around the world. Its sequel was published in 1871.
There has been much speculation about Carroll and his mysterious life, but one cannot deny the influence Carroll’s writing and the characters in his works have had on popular culture.
On this day in 1066 the English King Edward the Confessor died aged 62. He was childless, and thus his death sparked a succession crisis. He was eventually succeeded by Harold Godwinson, who was to be the last Anglo-Saxon King of England. This is because later that same year the Normans, led by William the Conqueror, invaded Britain and defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings.
As King, Edward was seen as very pious and it was during his reign that royal power in England began to disintegrate. However, later historians have said this portrayal is unfair, and that Edward’s reputation has been tarnished by the subsequent invasion of England.
Edward was canonised by Pope Alexander III in 1161.
On this day in 1653, Oliver Cromwell became the ‘Lord Protector’ of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Cromwell was one of the commanders of the New Model Army which defeated the royalists in the English Civil War. After the execution of King Charles I in 1649, Cromwell dominated the short-lived Commonwealth of England, conquered Ireland and Scotland, and ruled as Lord Protector from 1653 until his death in 1658. Cromwell was intensely religious, and advocated puritanism.
He entered the English Civil War on the side of the Parliamentarians and became a key military leader and was quickly promoted from leading a single cavalry troop to command of the entire army. In 1649 he was one of the signatories of Charles I’s death warrant and was a member of the Rump Parliament (1649–1653), which selected him to take command of the English campaign in Ireland during 1649–50. He led a campaign against the Scottish army between 1650 and 1651. On 20th April 1653 he dismissed the Rump Parliament by force, setting up a short-lived nominated assembly known as the Barebones Parliament, before being made Lord Protector of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland on 16th December 1653.
Cromwell died in 1658 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. After the Royalists returned to power, they had his corpse dug up, hung in chains, and beheaded. He remains a controversial figure in British history.
(Before the fire)
On this day in 1936, the Crystal Palace in London was completely destroyed by a fire. The Palace was originally erected in Hyde Park to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. More than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world gathered in the Palace’s 990,000 square feet of exhibition space to display examples of the latest technology developed in the Industrial Revolution. After the Great Exhibition the building moved to a park in Penge Common next to an affluent area of London called Sydenham Hill. It stood there from 1854 until 1936. During this time it was a tourist attraction, and location for numerous events, such as the world’s first cat show in 1871.
On the evening of November 30th 1936, a small office fire started after an explosion in the women’s cloakroom. Even though 89 fire engines and over 400 firemen arrived they were unable to extinguish the blaze. The fire spread quickly in the high winds that night, because it could consume the dry old timber flooring and the huge quantity of flammable materials in the building.
The glow was visible across eight counties and 100,000 people came to Sydenham Hill to watch the blaze, among them Winston Churchill. Upon seeing the Crystal Palace succumb to the flames, Churchill said, “This is the end of an age”.
(After the fire)
June 15th 1215: Magna Carta sealed
On this day in 1215, King John of England put his ‘Great Seal’ on the Magna Carta. The charter required the King to respect the liberties of the barons and stated that the only way to punish someone was by the law of the land (not on the King’s will). The feudal barons had rebelled against the King and forced him to accept the charter in order to limit his power and ensure their privilege. The charter was later modified and renewed. The Magna Carta is seen as a major step in the development of English democracy and forms a key part of Britain’s uncodified constitution.
March 11th 1864: The Great Sheffield Flood
On this day in 1864 the Dale Dyke Dam in Sheffield broke, causing one of the largest floods in English history. 650 million gallons of water swept down Loxley Valley and through areas of Sheffield. The flood destroyed 800 houses and killed around 293 people, thus making it the largest man-made disaster to befall England, and one of the deadliest floods in history. Individual stories from the disaster are particularly tragic, including Joseph Dawson, who tried to carry both his ill wife and their two day old baby boy to safety; however the currents were too strong and he knew he could only save one. Dawson saved his wife, and thus their still-unnamed baby became the first victim of the floods. One famous story of the disaster was of Mary Ann and Joseph North whose baby daughter Mary was pulled from the water in her cradle. The destruction afterwards led one observer to remark that Sheffield was “looking like a battlefield”
January 31st 1606: Guy Fawkes executed for the Gunpowder Plot
On this day in 1606, Guy Fawkes (or Guido Fawkes) was executed for plotting against the British Parliament and King James I. Fawkes and his gang planned to assassinate the King and restore a Catholic monarch by blowing up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament, attended by the monarch. The group leased a cellar beneath the House of Lords and Fawkes stockpiled gunpowder there. The authorities were alerted by an anonymous letter, and arrested Fawkes on 5th November 1605, who was questioned and tortured and finally revealed their plans. Fawkes was hanged on 31st January. His failure has been commemorated in England ever since when every 5th November, people gather to burn his effigy and observe a fireworks display. He is also remembered through the Guy Fawkes masks worn by political protestors, most recently the Occupy movement and the group ‘Anonymous’.
On this day in 1559 Elizabeth I, the last Tudor monarch, was crowned Queen in Westminster Abbey. She was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn, who was executed 2 years after Elizabeth’s birth. Elizabeth came to the throne after the Catholic Mary I, during whose reign she had been imprisoned on suspicion of supporting Protestants.
As Queen, she established an English Protestant Church, which evolved into today’s Chrch of England. She was a far more moderate ruler than her predecessors, and quite tolerant of other religions, avoiding persecution. In foreign policy, she oversaw the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 as Spain sought to conquer England. Elizabeth’s rival, Mary Queen of Scots, was imprisoned by the Queen in 1568 and executed in 1587.
The period of Elizabeth’s reign is known as the Elizabethan era, and is known for playwrights such as William Shakespeare and adventurers like Sir Francis Drake. Elizabeth never married, and thus did not continue the Tudor line and died heirless on 24th March 1603, aged 69. She was succeeded by the King of Scotland, who became King James I, and thus marked the union of England and Scotland
On this day in 1895 the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty (‘National Trust’), a conservation society, was founded in the United Kingdom. It operates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Scotland has their own National Trust). They own many historic houses and gardens, industrial monuments and social history sites. It is one of the largest landowners in the UK, most of its properties being open to the public free of charge. It is the largest membership organisation in the United Kingdom, and one of the largest UK charities.
The Trust was founded on 12th January 1894 by Octavia Hill (1838–1912), Robert Hunter (1844–1913) and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley (1851–1920). They were originally concerned with protecting open spaces and a variety of threatened buildings. Its first property was Alfriston Clergy House in East Sussex, purchased in 1896 for £10. Its first nature reserve was Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire in 1899. Its first archaeological monument was White Barrow in Wiltshire, a Neolithic long barrow (an earthmound considered a collective tomb), in 1909 for £60.
The National Trust continues to operate today to preserve Britain’s past, and its sites attract thousands of visitors. Its sites include Sutton Hoo (two 6th and early 7th century cemeteries in Suffolk), Thomas Hardy’s Cottage in Dorset, St. Michael’s Mount off the coast of Cornwall, and 251 Menlove Avenue & 20 Forthlin Road in Liverpool (the childhood homes and Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney respectively)
On this day in 1065, Westminster Abbey in London is consecrated (dedicated to the religious and sacred purpose). The Abbey is the traditional place of coronation of British monarchs and the burial site for British monarchs. It is also used for royal weddings, the most recent of which was the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton on 29th April 2011.
A week after its consecration, King Edward the Confessor died and was buried in the church. His successor, Harold II was most likely crowned in the Abbey, although the first documented coronation is that of William the Conqueror in 1066.
The Abbey was supposedly first founded at the time of Mellitus (first Bishop of London) who died in 624. Between 1042 and 1052 Edward began rebuilding St Peter’s Abbey to give himself a royal burtial church. The Abbey was the first English church built in the Norman Romanesque style
(A recently released portrait of Edward VIII in his coronation robes, which he never went through with)
On this day in 1936, Edward VIII’s abdication of the throne of Great Britain became effective. The King abdicated due to his intention to marry Wallis Simpson, a twice divorced American socialite. As British monarch, Edward was the head of the Church of England, which did not allow divorced people to remarry. Therefore it was believed that Edward could not marry Simpson and remain on the throne. Edward knew that the government (led by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin) would resign if the marriage went ahead, which could have dragged the King into a general election. The widespread unwillingness to accept Mrs Simpson as the King’s consort, and the King’s refusal to give her up, led to Edward’s abdication. He is the only British monarch to have voluntarily renounced the throne since the Anglo-Saxon period. With a reign of 326 days, Edward was one of the shortest-reigning monarchs in British history. He was never crowned.
Edward was succeeded by his brother Albert, who became King George VI. King George had never expected to be King and therefore it was a shock to his family, especially to his daugher Elizabeth who was now to become Queen.
Edward was given the title His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor by George following his abdication, and he went through with the marriage in 1937 and remained married to Simpson until his death 35 years later.