On October 2, 1942, the ocean liner the RMS Queen Mary was sailing to Glasgow, Scotland carrying some 20,000 American troops to fight in Europe during World War II. The mighty ship was escorted by the HMS Curacoa, a light cruiser, to protect the Queen Mary from German U-Boat attacks. The Queen Mary was also engaging in a classic zig-zag pattern meant to make targeting by U-Boats difficult. However, the Curacoa was not zig-zagging, and, since it was slower than the ocean liner, the zigs eventually caught up with the cruiser’s straight line. The two ships collided and the Queen Mary “sliced the cruiser in two like a piece of butter, straight through the six inch armoured plating.” The ocean liner continued on since there was a standing order to not help stricken ships due to fears of lurking submarines. The British admiralty were attempting to avoid a Lusitania-type disaster that struck them during World War I. All of these safety precautions led to the tragic deaths of nearly 250 crewmen aboard the HMS Curacoa.
On September 29, 1328, a daughter, Joan, was born to the Earl of Kent in Oxfordshire, England. She would grow up to have an incredibly interesting life – especially if you consider the stereotypes that surround medieval women. As a young girl, Joan befriended her cousin, the royal Prince Edward of Woodstock, also known as the Black Prince. This friendship will come back into play soon! At the age of 12, Joan secretly married disgraced nobleman, Thomas Holland, who was fourteen years her senior. Holland then left England for Crusade against the pagans of Prussia and Joan was forced to marry William Montacute, heir of the Earl of Salisbury. Joan did not bring up the fact that she was already married, fearful that Thomas would be killed because of it. As such, there would be an issue when Thomas Holland returned home.
When he did, the marriage with Joan was made known and Thomas demanded the return of his wife. William Montacute responded by imprisoning Joan in his home until the Pope finally ruled in favor of Joan’s first marriage and she returned to the house she preferred. Over the next 11 years, Thomas and Joan celebrated the births of five children prior to Thomas’ death in 1360. Throughout her marriage(s), Joan had maintained a close friendship with Prince Edward who had never married. After the mourning period for Thomas was over, Edward approached Joan and gifted her a silver cup from his military exploits. King Edward III, the Prince’s father, was concerned about his son’s courtship of a widow who had already been secretly married – but Joan and the Prince approached the king and told him that they would be married in secret, if the king did not bless the marriage. Faced with this ultimatum from his heir, Edward III relented. Joan of Kent and Edward, the Black Prince, were married on 10 October 1361. Joan took the title Princess of Wales, as her new husband was the Prince of Wales (the first time this was used for the heir to the throne!). This marriage lasted for 10 years until the death of Edward and produced two children, one of whom survived to adulthood to become King Richard II upon the death of his grandfather, Edward III.
When Edward III passed away in 1377, young Richard became king at the age of 10. Despite mismanagement of much royal power by the subsequent regency led by Richard’s uncle, John of Gaunt, Joan brilliantly managed her own reputation and that of her son. For example, during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, Joan passed through the lines of the rebels unmolested and, in fact, was cheered as she went by. Due to her popularity, which rubbed off on her young son, the rebels never condemned the monarchy – just the bad advisors. A strong argument, therefore, can be made that Joan of Kent held much of the responsibility for the continued success of the English monarchy during a period of particularly acute trouble. The beloved queen mother died in 1385 and was buried, per her request, with her first husband, Thomas.
Featured Image: “Joan of Kent.”English Monarchs.
Image 1. “Richard II.” By English: Anonymous – http://www.archist.com.au/assets/images/Richard_II.jpg, Public Domain.
Source: “Joan, ‘Fair Maid of Kent’.” English Monarchs.
On September 28, 1975, three armed men burst into the Spaghetti House Restaurant in Knightsbridge, London. The staff had come in prior to opening to count the previous week’s take and to balance the books. The three assailants were looking to rob the store and had not expected the nine employees to be there. In response, they hustled the employees into the storage room, but one of the workers was able to sneak out a back door and went to alert police. Shortly thereafter, the Spaghetti House was surrounded by law enforcement and the criminals had an unexpected hostage situation on their hands. Over the next five days, a tense standoff ensued. The would-be robbers claimed to be members of the Black Liberation Army, a Black Panther splinter group. Authorities, however, dismissed these claims, but still approached the situation cautiously. The thieves’ demand for an airplane to Jamaica was denied and on the fifth day, they were finally talked down. All three armed men were immediately arrested. Several of the hostages, however, had taken a liking to the captors and refused to testify against them. Despite this, all three criminals were found guilty and faced long prison terms.
Source: “1975: London’s Spaghetti House siege ends.” BBC News.
On September 23, 1641, an English merchant ship the Merchant Royal was returning home laden with an estimated 100,000 pounds of gold from Mexico. As the ship neared Land’s End in Cornwall, the weather rapidly degraded and the Merchant Royal began taking on water. Shortly after this, the ship went down killing 18 of the crew with the captain and most of the rest of the crew escaping in lifeboats. The 100,000 pounds of gold would have been worth close to $1.5 billion in 21st century currency.
In 2007, the Odyssey Marine Exploration company found a massive treasure trove off of Land’s End during a project code named “Black Swan.” It has been speculated that they had finally found the Merchant Royal, though there is no proof of this. Odyssey, however, thinks they found another shipwreck, the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes from Spain. Despite claiming the treasure was found in international waters, and was thus, open for salvage, a court in the United States required Odyssey to turn the gold back over to Spain.
Featured Image: “Gold from the ‘Black Swan’ Wreck.” By Hispalois – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.
Source: “Record wreck ‘found off Cornwall’.” BBC News. 19 May 2007.
““Black Swan” Project Overview.” Odyssey Marine Exploration.
On September 22, 1598, in the Fields of Shoreditch in London, England, two of the kingdom’s small circle of theatre-men met. One was Ben Jonson, a playwright and poet, whose works would be overshadowed by his contemporary, one William Shakespeare, but who was certainly an accomplished master of the theatre. The other man was an actor, Gabriel Spencer, about whom little is known. What we do know is that these two met at the Fields to fight a duel. By the end of that morning, Spencer was dead, run through by Jonson’s blade. The cause of the confrontation was never clearly explained, but Jonson claimed that Spencer started the dispute and then broke the terms of the duel by using a sword 10-inches longer than what was agreed upon. Conveniently, however, we don’t have Spencer’s side.
Jonson was tried for murder at the Old Bailey in London and was found guilty. He escaped hanging by pleading “benefit of clergy,” meaning that he was spared since he was educated in Latin. Ben Jonson did spend about 10 years in prison and was branded on his left thumb as a felon. In addition, all his property was forfeit to the crown. He certainly made the most of his narrow escape from the gallows – writing numerous successful plays until his death in 1637 – so 39 years after that fateful morning.
Featured Image: “Ben Jonson.” By After Abraham van Blyenberch (ca. 1575–1624) – National Portrait Gallery: NPG 363, Public Domain.
Source: Jokinen, Anniina. “The Life of Ben Jonson.” Luminarium. 9 September 2003.
On September 7, 1978, an anti-Communist activist Georgi Markov was walking across the Waterloo Bridge in London to wait for a bus to work at the BBC. Markov was in exile from his native Bulgaria and had been agitating for an end to Communism since he was first banished in 1969. As he was waiting for the bus, he felt a sharp pain in his leg but since it was crowded didn’t think too much of it. Shortly later, however, he fell mortally ill. The pain proved to be from a small pellet made of ricin that had been injected into his thigh by specially designed umbrella. Three days later, Markov was dead.
In 2005, a Bulgarian journalist, Hristo Hristov, was looking into this case and found in the state archives in Sofia that only one agent was active in London at the time of Markov’s assassination. Hristov named an Italian-Dane, Francesco Gullino, who had been recruited by the Bulgarian Communist regime and had gained renown as one of the most prolific Soviet-era assassins. Gullino’s location today is unknown.
Featured Image: “Georgi Markov.” By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use.
Source: Walsh, Nick Paton. “Markov’s umbrella assassin revealed.” The Guardian. 5 June 2005.
From about 9:00 AM to 9:40 AM on Thursday, August 27, 1896 the shortest international war in history took place as several ships of the British Royal Navy bombarded the tiny state of Zanzibar one day after sudden death of its sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini. Thuwaini was succeeded under somewhat dubious circumstances by his cousin Khalid bin Barghash. The new Sultan Khalid’s rise to power enraged the British who had signed an unequal treaty with the small sultanate giving the British consul the authority to approve any new sultan that came to the throne. The British authorities would veto Sutlan Khalid’s reign in a very emphatic way.
In the morning on the day after Sultan Hamad’s death British naval forces under Rear Admiral Harry Rawson issued an ultimatum for Khalid to stand down and when he received no response from the palace proceeded to bombard the defenses of Zanzibar along with the royal palace. Sultan Khalid’s brief reign ended as he sought refuge in the German consulate. The British then put Hamud bin Muhammad on the throne since he was more amicable towards British interests. The Anglo-Zanzibar War ended up with about 500 causalities on the side of the sultanate and with one British sailor suffering a minor injury.