July 12th 927 is the closest we have to a foundation date for England, when all the kings of Britain met at Eamont Bridge, near Penrith in Cumbria, to swear an oath of peace under the overlordship of Æthelstan. Having previously been king of the Anglo-Saxons, Æthelstan’s key success in 927 was conquering Viking York which placed the kingdom of Northumbria under his control and secured the submission of the northern kings.
Æthelstan was the son of Edward the Elder, and grandson of Alfred the Great, and his ancestors had already carved large chunks from Viking lands as far north as the River Humber. As such they customarily referred to themselves as ‘king of the Saxons’ or ‘king of the Anglo-Saxons’. However, securing the submission of the other British kings meant that Æthelstan could go further. Coins minted soon after the 927 oath referred to him as rex totius Britanniae or ‘king of all Britain’.
Despite the oath, Æthelstan’s rule over the north of England was still fragile and in 937 he faced the combined forces of Scots, Vikings and Strathclyde Britons under the command of Olaf Guthfrithson, Constantine II, and Owen I respectively. An account of the ensuing Battle of Brunanburh was recorded in a contemporary poem of the same name and was preserved in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. A further 52 other sources mention the battle, although realistically we know little about what happened other than Æthelstan and his army were victorious. This victory secured Anglo-Saxon control, and effectively laid out the map of the British Isles as we know them today.
On the 24th June 1374, people in Aachen in Germany suddenly and mysteriously began dancing in the streets and didn’t stop for many weeks. Known variously as St John’s Dance, St. Vitus’ Dance, or the ‘dancing plague’, the occurrence in Aachen was neither the first nor the last – but is one of the best documented.
Many hundreds of people were affected by the dance mania, which involved erratic movements and often involuntary shouts and screams. Of those afflicted many would continue to dance until they dropped to the floor of exhaustion, foaming at the mouth and twitching their limbs until they had recovered sufficiently to resume the dance again. Others died of cardiac arrest or from injuries sustained during the dance.
It’s understandable that people at the time were concerned about the mania and that various theories were suggested about its cause. Religion, and punishment from saints John or Vitus, were closely associated with both the cause and the cure. It’s been suggested that the virtual disappearance of outbreaks by the 17th Century coincided with the spread of Protestantism and its rejection of the veneration of saints.
More recent theories point towards the fact that the first dancers were people on pilgrimage, not citizens of the town in which the dancing happened. The suggestion is therefore that the dancers were members of cults performing highly-planned rituals that would have seen them executed for heresy if not for the excuse that it was a mass outbreak of dancing plague. Others commentators simply suggest that the dancing was a form of mass hysteria.
On the 18th May 1291, the Crusader-controlled city of Acre was seized by the Muslim forces of the Mamluk Sultan Al-Ashraf Khalil. The Siege of Acre, sometimes known as the Fall of Acre, marked the last attempt to exert Crusader influence in the Holy Land.
Acre had been under Christian control since it was besieged in 1191 during the Third Crusade, and had quickly become the capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. With the rise of the Mamluk Sultanate in nearby Egypt in 1250, Crusader holdings became targets for conquest.
The spark for the attack on Acre was the suspected killing of a Muslim for an affair with the wife of a Christian. This coincided with the arrival of over 1,600 poorly disciplined Italian reinforcements for the city, who allegedly pillaged nearby towns for supplies and killed a number of Muslims in the process.
These killings were cited by the Mamluks as reason to cancel a ten-year truce they had signed with the Crusaders. Having amassed an army of many thousands, Sultan Khalil therefore began the siege on 5th April and within less than a month his forces had reached the city walls and begun to mine out the base of the walls and defensive towers. These began to collapse on the 8th May, and a few days later the full infantry attack on the city began. By nightfall on 18th May the Christians had been defeated, their leaders having either fled by boat or been killed in the fighting.