For the last Quick Hit Friday of 2019, I’d like to preview some major anniversaries of historical moments we’ll experience in 2020. The closest I’ve come to doing that was on New Year’s Day 2018, when I published a piece on tumultuous 1968 as we arrived at its 50th anniversary. (I meant to follow that up with a similar piece on New Year’s Day 2019, when I saw 1619 as a huge year in American history for multiple reasons, but then I forgot. Fortunately, the New York Times did a good enough job mangling it in my stead.)
Today, however, I’d just like to give a brief overview of some historical events from the last thousand years that will celebrate some iteration of a “centennial” in 2020. We’ll start with…
1020: The death of famed Viking explorer Leif Ericson, who either got his name from his father, Eric the Red, or his mother, Þjóðhildur. Hard to say.
What we do know is that he reached the Americas nearly five centuries before the most influential figure in Western history did, which kinda makes you wonder if ‘ole Leif is slept on historically. I say next year, on the thousandth anniversary of his death, we all re-name Columbus Day to Leif Ericson Day. Who’s with me?
November 25, 1120: The White Ship sinks on a voyage across the English channel, killing a couple hundred Englishmen on board, including William Adelin, son of Henry I, the Norman King of England. Henry was left without a male heir, though he did have a daughter, Matilda, to whom he then expected to leave the throne. However, her later marriage to a French nobleman, Geoffrey, the Count of Anjou, a rival of the Normans from whom none of them wanted to take orders, turned many English nobles against her claim. Upon Henry’s death in 1135, many of them rallied to Henry’s nephew, Stephen, and he usurped the throne. Matilda and Geoffrey’s son, Henry (named after Matilda’s father), later avenged this outrage by invading England, forcing Stephen into a treaty that recognized Henry as his successor, and later he became King Henry II. Keeping his father’s name, the proper part of Norman Dynasty was dead, and the English nobility ended up being ruled by Angevins despite their initial resistance. Henry II later married Eleanor of Aquitaine, which centuries later made possible a glorious film, The Lion in Winter, starring Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn. The two monarchs’ progeny includes every English monarch since then, including reigning Queen Elizabeth II.
All made possible because William Adelin drowned on the White Ship in 1120.
April 28, 1220: Work is begun on the Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury, England. Its initial construction took 38 years, and its spire is now the tallest in England at 404 feet. The best part is that it still houses the cleanest copy of the original Magna Carta. We should go.
April 6, 1320: The Declaration of Arbroath asserts Scotland’s independence from England.
Now, with the resounding victory for Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party, Brexit seems nigh. Since many in Scotland don’t like the idea of leaving the European Union with the rest of the heretofore United Kingdom, are you thinking what I’m thinking?
Perhaps, on the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath, the Scots will once again assert their independence from their neighbors to the south.
1420: Joan of Arc turns eight years old, or, as we can later call it, middle age.
(What, too soon?)
June 15, 1520: Pope Leo X threatens Martin Luther with excommunication if he keeps up this annoying Protestant Reformation thing. Luther, desperately wanting to become the sixth most influential figure in Western history, ignores him.
1620: Ah, this is the big one today, particularly for lovers of American history. In September of 1620, the Mayflower departs England with 102 Pilgrims on board heading for North America. It arrives at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts on December 21 — a wonderful time of year to show up in New England on a wooden boat. They proceed to face no hardships whatsoever.
In seriousness, if you find their journey of interest, you simply have to read this book.
1720: Edmund Halley, he of his eponymous comet, became England’s second Astronomer Royal, a position he held until this death 22 years later. Rumor has it his ghost returns to scare his successors every 76 years or so.
November, 1820: President James Monroe wins re-election in the most dominant non-Washington electoral performance in American history. He wins about 80 percent of the popular vote, and 231 of a possible 232 electoral votes. (The exceptional elector, William Plumer, cast one vote for Best Secretary of State Ever John Quincy Adams, who wasn’t even running. The explanation for Plumer’s dissent is either because he wanted George Washington to remain the only unanimously elected president, or he was a real wise-ass.) Monroe’s resounding triumph stemmed from his presiding over the so-called Era of Good Feelings, a time when Monroe and other factors had so successfully deconstructed partisanship that his party, the Democratic-Republicans, was the only one left.
It’s quite clear, as we head into the 200th anniversary of his huge victory and we have another President aiming for re-election, that we are most certainly not in an “era of good feelings.” I’m trying to think of a more appropriate name for it. What’s the opposite of good again?
January 10, 1920: (The hundredth anniversary is two weeks from today!) The Treaty of Versailles goes into effect, officially ending World War I, and the League of Nations, whose job it is to avert World War II, is formed. Both were total successes, and we haven’t seen any major bloodshed since.
Do you like history? Then try some of PPFA’s other history posts from 2019:
- The Five Most Important General Election Runners Up
- Ranking Presidents By Length of Tenure
- The Liberalization of the U.S. Constitution
- The Most Successful Presidential Runs From House Members
- What Was Happening in History the Last Time Each Planet Was In Its Current Position?
- And, of course, the 30 Most Influential Figures in Western History, a list started in early 2017 but not completed until this year.