This Day in History – March 25th

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1199 – Richard the Lionheart, King of England, is mortally wounded by a crossbow bolt in France – Though his reign as king was not quite 10 years, Richard I is one of the more famous and legendary rulers of England – possibly because of the tough-sounding epithet he is more commonly known as, “Lionheart,” which he earned as a great warrior and military leader. Born the third son of Henry II Sept. 8, 1157, Richard was never expected to be king. However, his eldest brother died as an infant, moving Richard up to second in line. By 16, Richard was already a powerful military commander, forcefully quelling rebellions for his father in France. In his 20s though, he too turned his eyes on his father’s French territories. Just as things were getting heated between them, Richard’s brother Henry died at 28, leaving Richard as Henry II’s eldest heir. Richard became convinced, with some help from his friend King Philip II of France, that Henry II intended to bypass Richard and instead crown his younger brother John, so he and Philip launched a surprise attack and defeated Henry II, who had reigned for over 30 years. Richard was crowned king five days before his 32nd birthday in 1189. He and Philip immediately began making plans and raising armies to take part in the Third Crusade to win back Christian control of Jerusalem from the Muslim sultan Saladin. They reached Cyprus in May 1191, where Richard’s sister Joan was being held captive, along with some stolen British treasure. Within a month, Richard had conquered Cyprus and made himself its king. He landed in Israel in June 1191. There, despite being terribly sick with scurvy, he conquered the city of Acre. Over the next year Richard and Saladin’s armies fought to a stalemate, and Richard’s crusade ended in failure. On his return home, he was temporarily held captive in Austria. Richard’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, secured the ransom money and Richard was released Feb. 4, 1194. During his absence, King Philip had conquered some of England’s territory in France, which Richard set about winning back for the next five years. In the evening of this date in 1199, Richard’s forces were besieging the Château de Chalus-Chabrol in central France when he was shot in the shoulder by a crossbow bolt. A surgeon removing the bolt did more harm than good, and the wound became gangrenous. Richard died April 6, 1199 in the arms of his mother, after pardoning the man who had shot him. However, as soon as the king died, his captain ordered the crossbowman flayed alive and hanged.

1655 – Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is discovered by Christiaan Huygens – Though he is also a notable Dutch clock maker credited with inventing the pendulum clock and a mathematician who conducted early study into probability, Christiaan Huygens is probably best known as the astronomer who first observed Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, which he did on this date in 1655. Inspired by Galileo’s improvements to telescopes that allowed him to discover the four largest moons of Jupiter in 1610, Christiaan and his brother Constantijn began building telescopes of their own in 1650. Publishing his observations in 1655, Huygens described it as “Saturni Luna,” or simply, “Saturn’s moon.” John Herschel named it Titan in 1847. Today, scientists know Titan as the only natural planetary satellite with a dense atmosphere and the only object besides Earth where clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid (the Lakes of Titan) has been found. Titan is 5,151 km in diameter, which makes it much larger than our Moon (3,474 km) and just larger than Mercury (4,879 km). In our solar system, the only moon larger than Titan is Jupiter’s Ganymede (5,262 km), however Titan appears larger due to its thick atmosphere. The moon’s atmosphere prevented close observation of Titan for many years until the Cassini-Huygens space probe mission in 2004 provided an in-depth understanding of Titan’s chemical makeup and surface appearance. Like Earth, Titan’s atmosphere is largely nitrogen, and frozen water is on its surface, however its lakes and seas contain liquid methane instead of water. This is because its surface temperature averages about -179°C. Titan is the most distant body from Earth to have a space probe land on its surface. In the distant future, as our Sun grows into a red giant, it’s hypothesized that Titan could become habitable

1807 – With the passage of the Slave Trade Act, trading slaves become illegal within the British Empire – On May 22, 1787, the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was formed by 12 men, Quakers and Anglicans, in London, England. At this time in history, the most common Old World immigrants to North and South America were West African slaves. The men who formed the society had a friend in British Parliament, William Wilberforce, who was an Evangelical Protestant and sympathetic to their cause. Wilberforce was inspired by the writings of society member Thomas Clarkson, and introduced the first Bill to abolish the slave trade in 1791, which was defeated by 163 votes to 88. By 1807, there was a sizable faction in Parliament of men in favour of abolishing the slave trade and, on Feb. 23, 1807, 20 years after the society first began their crusade, the motion to abolish the slave trade was carried in the House of Commons 283 votes to 16. The Bill received Royal Assent on this date in 1807. The act abolished the Atlantic slave trade in the British Empire and encourage British action to press other European nations to abolish the slave trade in their own borders. It did not, however, abolish slavery itself. The USA abolished the Atlantic slave trade in 1808, but not slave trading in its own borders. Also in 1808, the British Royal Navy began blockading West Africa, apprehending slave-bearing ships, freeing slaves and fining the ships’ captains. As a result, captains would sometimes dump their captives overboard when they saw Navy ships coming in order to avoid fines. The trade of African slaves to Brazil and Cuba continued until the 1860s. By 1865, some 12 million Africans had been shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas. More than one million did not survive the voyage. It would be another 26 years before Britain abolished slavery, in the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. Wilberforce died July 29, 1833, three days after hearing that the passage of the Act through Parliament was assured.

1975 – King Faisal of Saudi Arabia is assassinated by his nephew – On this date in 1975, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia was holding a “Majlis” event at his residence in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, during which a king allows citizens to come to his home and petition him. The King’s half-brother’s son Prince Faisal bin Musaid, who was then 30, was waiting in an ante room speaking to some representatives from Kuwait, when he was called in to see the king. King Faisal leaned in to kiss his nephew, who had just returned from the United States, when Prince Faisal calmly took out a pistol and shot his uncle twice in the head. A bodyguard struck Prince Faisal with a sheathed sword, knocking him down. The King survived the trip to the hospital, but died during an attempted blood transfusion. Following the killing, Riyadh had three days of mourning. King Faisal’s brother King Khalid claimed the crown in his brother’s place. Prince Faisal was later found guilty of regicide and, on June 18, 1975, was executed by beheading before thousands in a public square in Riyadh. Following the execution, his head was displayed to the crowd for 15 minutes on a wooden spike, before being taken away with his body in an ambulance. The prince’s motives are still not known, though it has been speculated that he was avenging the death of his elder brother Khalid, who had been killed by security forces during a protest against introducing television into the kingdom in 1966. In 1970 while attending university in Boulder Colorado, Prince Faisal had been arrested for selling LSD and hashish, however the charges were later dropped.

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