On the 14th September 1814, the poem that was to provide the lyrics for the United States’ national anthem was written by 35 year-old Francis Scott Key. Called “Defence of Fort M’Henry”, the poem provides an account of the British attack during the Battle of Baltimore.
The War of 1812 had already been raging for two years when the British launched a seaborne invasion of Baltimore. At the time of the invasion, Key was aboard one of the British Navy ships lying off the coast. He had sailed to the flagship HMS Tonnant the previous week in order to negotiate a prisoner exchange, and was present when the British officers discussed war plans. Consequently he was not permitted to return to his own boat since he would be able to pass intelligence to the American military.
When the British began their attack, Key was therefore only to watch as Fort McHenry was subjected to an enormous bombardment from the ships, including a number of Congreve rockets from HMS Erebus that provided the “rockets red glare” in the fifth line of the poem. However, bad weather combined with the poor accuracy of the British munitions being fired at their maximum range meant that little damage was done to the fort.
When dawn came and the skies cleared, Key could clearly see a large American flag flying above the fort, and felt inspired to write the poem. It was published a week later alongside a note instructing readers to sing it to the melody of “The Anacreontic Song”. Ironically, the song itself was English.
On the 30th July 1792, a group of volunteer soldiers from the city of Marseille were the first to introduce and sing “La Marseillaise” in Paris. Written by the French army officer Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle and originally called “Chant de guerre pour l’Armée du Rhin” or “War Song for the Army of the Rhine”, it was designed to rally soldiers in Strasbourg during the French Revolutionary Wars. However, the song was soon adopted as the marching song of the National Guard of Marseille after one of the volunteers sang it at a patriotic gathering in the city. The song became the official French National Anthem three years later, on the 14th July 1795.
The song was written when the French revolutionary army was facing significant military difficulties in the War of the First Coalition. Facing the combined forces of both Austria and Prussia, the disorganised and numerically inferior French army had suffered a number of defeats in the first weeks of the war. This helps to explain the militaristic lyrics of the song, since it was written at a time when France was facing the very real threat of invasion and defeat.
The song’s close ties with the French Revolution meant that it often suffered at the hands of those who were against the revolution. For example, when Louis XVIII – the deposed Louis XVI’s brother – was declared king of France after the defeat of Napoleon, he banned La Marseillaise outright. The song was restored to its position as the French national anthem in 1879.
The Battle of Bannockburn began on the 23rd June 1314, leading to one of the most important Scottish victories of the First War of Scottish Independence that was fought intermittently from 1296 until 1328. Robert the Bruce, who had seized the Scottish throne in 1306, defeated King Edward II of England and secured Scotland’s de facto independence.
The battle was prompted by the Scots besieging the strategically important English-held Stirling Castle. The constable of the castle agreed to surrender unless he received assistance from the English army to break the siege by the 24th June. Faced with this imminent loss of the castle Edward II successfully raised an army of around 2,000 cavalry and 15,000 infantry to march on Scotland. Robert the Bruce’s army was significantly smaller than Edward’s, with estimates suggesting that he commanded around half the number of foot soldiers and only a quarter of the cavalry.
Bannockburn was unusual for a medieval battle in that it lasted for two days, with the first day being notable for Bruce single-handedly killing the young English knight Sir Henry de Bohun with an axe blow to the head after he tried to charge him with a lance. The ensuing melee resulted in the English being driven back, which had a devastating effect on their morale. The next day, after a sleepless night on marshy land next to the river known as the Bannock Burn, the English were hemmed in by the advancing Scots in front and the water. Realising they had lost, Edward II was escorted away by his bodyguards.
MV Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks in London carrying 492 West Indian immigrants.
The ship, originally known as MV Monte Rosa, was a German cruise ship that had been used as a troop transporter during the Second World War. She was seized by Britain at the end of the war, when she was renamed.
In 1948 the British government passed the Nationality Act, which gave British citizenship to people who lived in Commonwealth countries and allowed them the right to settle in Britain. Britain desperately needed workers in the aftermath of the Second World War, so Commonwealth citizens were encouraged to immigrate and help to rebuild the ‘Mother Country’. A series of advertisements in and around Jamaica advertised tickets for the journey on board Empire Windrush for £28, which equates to around £600 today.
Many of the passengers who bought this first wave of tickets had been members of the Royal Air Force during the war. A number of them sought to rejoin the armed forces, while others undertook the voyage to see what opportunities Britain would present.
Although the press generally greeted them warmly as ‘sons of Empire’, some members of parliament opposed the arrival of the immigrants. Their presence was needed to staff a number of industries, however, but although Britain was short of workers, there was also a shortage of housing. This led to the new arrivals being temporarily housed in the deep level air-raid shelter in South Clapham, approximately two miles away from Brixton town centre, while they searched for accommodation. The majority permanently settled in Britain, but the Afro-Caribbean community experienced significant prejudice, intolerance and racism in subsequent years.
Troops from the British Indian Army committed the Amritsar Massacre when they opened fire on nonviolent protesters and pilgrims at Jallianwala Bagh.
The First World War had seen the introduction of a series of emergency powers by the ruling British government that sought to suppress the emerging Indian nationalist movement. The Rowlett Act that came into effect in March 1919 extended these powers and was greeted with significant political unrest, especially in the Punjab region. On 10 April violence erupted in Amritsar and troops killed several nationalist protesters while the crowd killed at least five Europeans. The following day they beat a female English missionary.
In response to the volatile situation, the British government placed Amritsar under martial law and passed control to Brigadier General Reginald Dyer. Dyer immediately banned gatherings of more than four people, although it is likely that many Punjabis from outside the city were unaware of the ban when they arrived at Amritsar for the annual Baisakhi celebrations on 13 April. An estimated ten thousand people gathered at Jallianwalla Bagh, a large walled park in the city, although it is unclear how many were there to celebrate the festival and how many were nationalist protesters attending a demonstration.
Dyer arrived at the Bagh with armed soldiers in the late afternoon and blocked the exits. Without warning, he then gave the order for his troops to open fire in an attack that only stopped after most of the ammunition had been used. According to the British inquiry 379 people were killed, although Indian estimates place the figure at more than a thousand. Winston Churchill, the Secretary of State for War at the time, condemned the attack as ‘monstrous’.
The Stone of Scone was found on the site of the High Altar at Arbroath Abbey, nearly four months after it disappeared from Westminster Abbey.
The Stone of Scone is a block of red sandstone that was used in the coronation of the monarchs of Scotland and, later, the monarchs of England and the Kingdom of Great Britain. It was captured by King Edward I of England in 1296 and taken from Scone Abbey in Scotland to Westminster Abbey in London.
Since it was a powerful symbol of Scottish nationhood, a plot to remove the Stone from Westminster Abbey and return it to Scotland was hatched by University of Glasgow student Ian Hamilton and a number of accomplices. Having secured funding from Scottish businessman Robert Gray, Hamilton and three other students drove to London on Christmas Eve 1950 and put their plan into action.
The three men from the group entered the Abbey through a side door that night, and made their way to the Coronation Chair. They managed to remove the Stone, but damaged the chair itself in the process. The Stone also fell to the floor and broke into two unequal parts. The smaller was quickly taken to a waiting car driven by the one female accomplice, Kay Matheson, while Hamilton returned to load the larger half into a second car.
The two halves were reunited in Scotland a few weeks later, and the Stone was repaired by a stonemason. The conspirators met two Arbroath councillors at the ruined Abbey on 11 April, and laid the Stone on the site of the High Altar. The councillors later informed the police, and the Stone was recovered and returned to Westminster Abbey. It now resides in Edinburgh Castle, having been formally returned to Scotland by the British government in 1996.
On the 20th March 1890, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany formally accepted Otto von Bismarck’s resignation. His resignation had been demanded by the Kaiser a few days earlier and was submitted on the 18th. Bismarck’s exit from office two days later ended his decades-long domination of German and European politics, and ushered in the new age of Weltpolitik.
As Minister President and Foreign Minister of Prussia, Bismarck had overseen the unification of Germany in 1871. He then continued as Chancellor of Germany for almost two decades, throughout which Germany dominated European politics, and controlled the balance of power to ensure peace.
However the death of Kaiser Wilhelm I, which was quickly and unexpectedly followed by his son Frederick III, led to the young and relatively inexperienced Wilhelm taking the throne. Rather than allow his Chancellor to govern as he had done for the previous few decades, Wilhelm preferred to rule as well as reign which led to confrontations between the two men in the tussle for control.
The situation came to a head in early 1890, when they disagreed over social policy. While Bismarck was keen to introduce permanent anti-socialist laws, Wilhelm preferred to be more moderate. The stark difference in their positions became most obvious when Bismarck said he sought a violent confrontation in order to suppress the socialists. Wilhelm later took offence at Bismarck negotiating a new political alliance without his knowledge.
With their relationship in tatters, Wilhelm insisted that the 75 year old Bismarck submit his resignation. He was succeeded by Leo von Caprivi, and dedicated the rest of his life to writing his memoirs.