On the 7th September the Second Cornish Uprising of 1497 began when Perkin Warbeck landed at Whitesand Bay near Land’s End. The significance of Warbeck is that he soon declared himself King Richard IV as he had convinced his followers that he was Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the two “Princes in the Tower”.
After surrendering to Henry VII’s forces in Hampshire, Warbeck was held by the King in relative luxury even though he confessed to being an imposter. His admission that he was actually the son of a prosperous family in Tournai, in what is now Belgium, was subsequently proven by the nineteenth century historian James Gairdner who had access to the town archives.
Warbeck’s career as a pretender to the throne began shortly after he arrived in the Irish city of Cork where he was soon identified as a member of the York dynasty. He quickly adopted his new identity, and travelled around the royal courts of Europe securing support for his claim. The French King Charles VIII lent him support, as did Margaret of York – the aunt of the Princes in the Tower.
Warbeck led an invasion of England from France in 1495, but this went disastrously wrong. After finding little support in Ireland, he instead headed to Scotland where he stayed for two years and married the Scottish King’s cousin. After another failed invasion of England he was invited by Cornish rebels to join with them in what was to be his final failed assault.
Two years after his capture, Warbeck was hanged at Tyburn on November 23rd, 1499.
On the 5th September 1698, Tsar Peter I of Russia – otherwise known as Peter the Great – imposed a tax on beards. The long flowing beards of Russian tradition, which were closely associated with Orthodox Christianity, were faced with a progressive tax that charged up to an eye-watering 100 roubles. In return, the wearer would receive a small copper token indicating the tax had been paid but which declared “the beard is a superfluous burden”.
Determined to modernise and westernise Russia following the death of his brother Ivan, with whom he had jointly ruled Russia until 1696, Peter returned from undertaking the Grand Tour and immediately began a series of dramatic reforms. Military, political, economic and social changes were imposed that were designed to catapult Russia into the modern world and place it amongst the great powers of Europe.
Peter’s war on beards began as soon as he returned to Russia. Meeting with numerous nobles and senior members of the government on his return from Western Europe, he is said to have begun shaving his guests with a barber’s razor. Only members of the clergy and peasants were spared the demand to have a clean-shaven face.
The move was unpopular, not only because it was a significant challenge to tradition, but also because shaving a beard was interpreted by some as being a sin. Although he initially ordered officials to shave anybody they found who did not comply with the new decree, Peter soon realised that taxing beards would take advantage of some of his subjects’ unwillingness to shave. The tax wasn’t abolished until 1772.
On the 22nd August 1485, King Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth and the forces of Henry Tudor brought the Plantagenet dynasty to an end. Henry secured his reign soon afterwards by later marrying Elizabeth of York, the niece of Richard III and daughter of Edward IV, and united the two warring houses through the symbolism of the Tudor rose.
Wishing to capitalise on Richard’s diminishing support following the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower and the death of his wife, Henry Tudor prepared to invade England from his base in Brittany and fight Richard for the throne. Funded by Charles VIII of France, and supported by three times as many French mercenary soldiers as his own troops, Henry set sail on the 1st August with 2,000 men. Landing at the Welsh port of Milford Haven, Henry secured the support of the influential Welsh landowner Rhys ap Thomas, on his march to England.
Richard’s army gathered in Leicester from the 16th August and, on the night of the 21st, camped on Ambion Hill near the town of Market Bosworth with 10,000 men. The next morning, facing Henry and his force of around 5,000 soldiers, the Yorkists were defeated when the Stanley family switched sides and surrounded and killed Richard after the king chose to break ranks and target Henry himself. Henry was crowned under an oak tree near the site.
Richard’s body was taken to Leicester by the Lancastrians where it was buried in an unmarked grave in Greyfriars church. The body was only found again in 2012.
On the 10th August 1792, French revolutionary troops stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris. Referred to by some historians as ‘the Second Revolution’ the events of the 10th August suspended the monarchy under King Louis XVI.
The royal family had lived in the Tuileries since the October Days of 1789 saw them brought back to Paris from Versailles. Louis and his family were virtually imprisoned, as proved when crowds barred them from moving to their summer residence in April 1791. This may have influenced Louis to carry out the failed Flight to Varennes two months later, after which the family were more officially held under house arrest in the Tuileries Palace.
The relationship between the royal family and the people of Paris continued to decline throughout 1792. The king did himself no favours by vetoing a range of decrees passed by the Legislative Assembly, but the situation grew worse with the threat of invasion from foreign armies. By the time of the Brunswick Manifesto on 1st August that lent foreign support to the royal family, the crowds of Paris held Louis and the concept of monarchy in absolute contempt.
On the morning of the 10th August, crowds massed outside the Tuileries. With Louis opting to take shelter in the Legislative Assembly building, his Swiss Guard who were left to defend the palace were eventually overrun after they ran out of ammunition. Approximately 800 people on the king’s side were killed, and Paris was put in the hands of the revolutionaries while the royal family were sent to the Temple prison.
On the 22nd July 1706, the foundation for the establishment of the Kingdom of Great Britain was laid when commissioners from England and Scotland agreed the Acts of Union. Although both countries had been under the same monarch since King James I and VI, it took over a century for the two countries to be united as Great Britain.
Previous attempts to unite Scotland and England had taken place since James came to the throne, but each had resulted in failure. However by the start of the 18th century each country found itself in a position where political union would be advantageous. Scotland would benefit from the economic security of union, while England hoped to remove Scotland as a ‘backdoor’ for French attacks or a possible Jacobite restoration.
The 31 English and 31 Scottish commissioners chosen to carry out negotiations for union first met at the Cockpit, a government building at Whitehall in London, on 16th April. As well as their demands, each side also had a bargaining card: England would grant Scotland freedom of trade and access to colonial markets, while Scotland would agree to Hanoverian succession after Queen Anne.
The demands and compromises lined up incredibly well with each other, and after just three days the commissioners had agreed on the basic principles of union. However, it took three months in total to draw up the detailed treaty before it could go to the Scottish and English Parliaments to be ratified. Royal assent was given on the 6th March 1707, and on May 1st the Acts went into effect.
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 10th July 1553, Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed queen of England after her first cousin once removed, the 15-year-old King Edward VI, died of an unknown respiratory problem. However, the Privy Council proclaimed Edward’s older sister Mary as queen just nine days later and imprisoned Jane in the Tower of London. She was tried on charges of high treason, found guilty, and beheaded the following February.
The Third Act of Succession was passed by Parliament in July 1543 and restored Henry’s daughters – Mary and Elizabeth – to the line of succession after his son Edward and any children he might have. Jane was the grandniece of Henry VIII through her grandmother, Mary Tudor, Queen of France, who was Henry’s sister. The Third Act of Succession stated that the throne would pass to her line if his own children did not have any descendants.
Despite all Henry’s planning, Edward VI chose to restrict the succession further. As he lay on his death bed, he nominated the Protestant Jane Grey as his successor rather than his older Catholic sister Mary. Historians disagree over how much influence Edward’s chief minister, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and the father of Jane’s husband Lord Guildford Dudley, had on this decision.
Whatever the role of Northumberland in the succession, when he left London after Edward’s death to intercept his sister Mary the Privy Council switched their allegiance and proclaimed Mary as queen on 19th July. Parliament later declared Jane a usurper, and she was found guilty of treason for having signed documents as “Jane the Queen”.
On the 20th June 1789 at Versailles in France, the National Assembly swore the Tennis Court Oath in which they vowed not to separate until a written constitution had been established for the country.
Faced with enormous financial difficulties, Louis XVI had called a meeting of the Estates General that first convened in early May. This involved representatives of the three Estates – the clergy, the nobility and the non-privileged common people known as the Third Estate – meeting with the king at Versailles in an attempt to solve the economic crisis. However, the allocation of votes was unfair so the representatives of the Third Estate separated themselves from the main group and met separately. On the 13th June, by which time they had been joined by some nobles and the majority of the clergy, they declared themselves the National Assembly.
However, when the king ordered their usual meeting room to be closed and guarded by soldiers, the National Assembly feared that the king was about to force them to disband. The National Assembly instead relocated to a nearby building used for playing jeu de paume, a forerunner of modern tennis, where they swore the oath. The Tennis Court Oath therefore didn’t really happen in a tennis court, but the name has stuck.
The Oath was significant for being a collective action by French citizens against their king. Faced with such opposition Louis finally relented and, on June 27th, he ordered the remaining nobles to join the National Assembly and ended the Estates General.
In 1518 the English Cardinal Wolsey had negotiated the Treaty of London, a non-aggression pact that was signed by the twenty major European powers of the time. However, peace held for barely a year before two of the signatories went to war and Wolsey began to arrange meetings between Henry VIII and the other monarchs to salvage the agreement.
Francis I of France was barely three years younger than Henry and, like his English counterpart, was keen to display the grandeur of his court. Consequently both men approached their forthcoming meeting as an opportunity to outshine the other, resulting in a more than two week long festival of riches and entertainment.
The meeting took place between the communes of Ardres in France and Guîne, which at the time was under English rule. Both rulers erected lavish temporary palaces and pavilions due to the castles in the nearby communes being in a poor state of repair. The extensive use of cloth of gold, which was woven with real gold thread and silk, would later give the site of the meeting its name. The extravagance of the two kings knew no bounds, with Henry’s encampment featuring a gilt fountain that ran with wine and claret.
The event also featured such competitions as jousting and wrestling, with Henry being defeated by Francis in the latter. Yet despite the joviality provided by these games and other entertainment including banquets and exotic animals, the meeting ended on 24 June with little political progress. Less than three weeks later Henry signed an alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Francis’ main rival on the continent.
On the 2nd June 1946, Italians voted in a referendum to abolish the monarchy and turn their country into a republic. The question was simple: Monarchy or Republic? More than 89% of eligible Italian citizens voted in the referendum, with 54.3% voting in favour of a republic.
Italy had emerged from the Second World War as a country torn apart by conflict. The royal family was blamed by many people for allowing the growth and domination of Mussolini’s fascist regime, and was therefore also held responsible for the war and the Italian defeat. Even the wartime king, Victor Emmanuel III, had recognised the precarious nature of his position when Mussolini’s government collapse in 1944, and so handed over the responsibilities of head of state to his son, Crown Prince Umberto.
Umberto II formally ascended to the Italian throne in May 1946 but, despite his relative popularity with the Italian population compared to his predecessor, the pro-monarchy campaign was unable to gain sufficient support. However, the results of the referendum demonstrated a very clear split between a generally pro-republican north (where 2/3 of the population voted to abolish the monarchy) and a pro-monarchist south where 2/3 of the population wanted to keep it.
Umberto II was magnanimous and dignified in defeat. In his final speech to the Italian people he didn’t bear them any ill will, and encouraged them to be loyal to the republic. The monarchy formally ended on the 12th June 1946, and Umberto was exiled to Portugal. He died in 1983, having never set foot in Italy again.