December 19, 2018 all-day

On this day in history:

211 – – – – Caracalla has Geta, his brother and co-emperor, killed by the Praetorian Guard.  Caracalla’s father, Septimius Severus, died on February 4, 211 at Eboracum (present day York) while on campaign in Caledonia, north of Roman Britannia. Caracalla and his brother, Geta, jointly inherited the throne upon their father’s death.  Together they ended the campaign in Caledonia after concluding a peace with the Caledonians that returned the border of Roman Britain to the line demarcated by Hadrians’s Wall. (Hadian’s Wall ran from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea to the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea, and was the northern limit of the Roman Empire. It had a stone base and a stone wall. There were milecastles with two turrets in between. There was a fort about every five Roman miles.)  During the journey back to Rome with their father’s ashes, Caracalla and his brother continuously argued with one another, making relations between them increasingly hostile. Caracalla and Geta considered dividing the empire in half along the Bosphorus to make their co-rule less hostile. Caracalla was to rule in the west and Geta was to rule in the east. They were persuaded not to do this by their mother. Then at a reconciliation meeting arranged by their mother, Caracalla had Geta assassinated by members of the Praetorian Guard loyal to himself, Geta dying in his mother’s arms as she probably wondered why she had arranged for the meeting. Caracalla then persecuted and executed most of Geta’s supporters and ordered a damnatio memoriae pronounced by the Senate against his brother’s memory Geta’s image was removed from all paintings, coins were melted down, statues were destroyed, his name was struck from papyrus records, and it became a capital offence to speak or write Geta’s name. In the aftermath of the damnatio memoriae, an estimated 20,000 people were massacred. Those killed were Geta’s inner circle of guards and advisers, friends, and other military staff under his employ. This guy Caracalla was one mean son of a gun.

1154 – – – Henry II of England is crowned at Westminster Abby.

1187 – – – Pope Clement III is elected.

1562 – – – The Battle of Dreux takes place during the French Wars of Religion. Oh what God has had to put up with supposedly in His name. The French Wars of Religion were a prolonged period of war and popular unrest between Roman Catholics and Huguenots (Reformed/Calvinist Protestants)  in the Kingdom of France between between 1562 and 1598. It is estimated that three million people perished in this period from violence, famine, or disease in what is considered the second deadliest religious war in European history (surpassed only by the Thirty Years’ War, which took eight million lives).  Much of the conflict took place during the long regency of Queen Catherine de’ Medici, widow of Henry II of France, for her minor sons. It also involved a dynastic power struggle between powerful noble families in the line for succession to the French throne: the wealthy, ambitious, and fervently Roman Catholic ducal House of Guise (a cadet branch of the House of Lorraine, who claimed descent from Charlemagne) and their ally Anne de Montmorency, Constable of France (i.e., commander in chief of the French armed forces) versus the less wealthy House of Conde’ (a branch of the House of Bourbon), princes of the blood in the line of succession to the throne who were sympathetic to Calvinism. Foreign allies provided financing and other assistance to both sides, with Habsburg Spain and the Duchy of Savoy supporting the Guises, and England supporting the Protestant side led by the Condés and by the Protestant Jeanne d’Albret, wife of Antoine de Bourbon, King of Navarre, and her son, Henry of Navarre. Moderates, primarily associated with the French Valois monarchy and its advisers, tried to balance the situation and avoid open bloodshed. This group (pejoratively known as Poliriques) put their hopes in the ability of a strong centralized government to maintain order and harmony. In contrast to the previous hardline policies of Henry II and his father Francis I, they began introducing gradual concessions to Huguenots. A most notable moderate, at least initially, was the queen mother, Catherine de’ Medici. Catherine, however, later hardened her stance and, at the time of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572, sided with the Guises. This pivotal historical event involved a complete breakdown of state control resulting in series of riots and massacres in which Catholic mobs killed between 5,000 and 30,000 Protestants over a period of weeks throughout the entire kingdom. At the conclusion of the conflict in 1598, the Protestant Henry of Navarre, heir to the French throne, converted to Catholicism and was crowned Henry IV of France. He issued the Edict of Nantes, which granted Huguenots substantial rights and freedoms though this did not end Catholic hostility towards them or towards him, personally. The wars of religion threatened the authority of the monarchy, already fragile under the rule of Catherine’s three sons and the last Valois kings: Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III. This changed under the reign of their Bourbon successor Henry IV. The edict of Nantes was revoked later in 1685 with the Edict of Fontainebleau by Louis XIV of France. Henry IV’s wise governance and selection of able administrators did leave a legacy of a strong central government, stability, and economic prosperity that has gained him the reputation as France’s best and most beloved monarch, earning him the designation “Good King Henry”. Surely more than you wanted to know.

1606 – – – The ships Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery depart England carrying settlers who founded, at Jamestown, Virginia, the first of the thirteen colonies that became the United States.

1777 – – – American Revolution – George Washington’s Continental Army goes into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

1924 – – – The last Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost is sold in London.

1941 – – – (a) World War II – Adolph Hitler appoints himself as head of the Oberkommando des Heeres. The Oberkommando des Heeres was the high command of the Nazi Army. (b) Limpet mines placed by Italian divers heavily damaged HMS Valiant and HMS Queen Elizabeth in Alexandria harbor.

1946 – – – Start of the First Indochina War.

1972 – – – Apollo program – The last manned lunar flight – Apollo 17 – returns to Earth.

1974 – – – Nelson Rockefeller is sworn in as Vice President under President Gerald Ford under the provisions of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.  I note just for fun that I met Rockefeller in his VP office having been introduced to the VP by my friend and Rockefeller’s Legal Counsel, Richard Parsons, who went on to many interesting positions and challenges among them chairman of Citigroup and the former chairman and CEO of Time Warner. He stepped down as CEO of Time Warner on December 31, 2007. He was previously the interim CEO of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA franchise – there is more but not bad for a Black b-baller from the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn who went on to play ball at the University of Hawaii.

1994 – – – The Sino-British Joint Declaration, stating that China would resume the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong and the United Kingdom would restore Hong Kong to China with effect from July 1, 1997 is signed in Beijing, China by Deng Xiaoping and Margaret Thatcher.

1998 – – – President Clinton is impeached by the House of Representatives, becoming the second President to be impeached.

2016 – – – The Electoral College votes.  Donald Trump formally becomes the 45th President of the United States.  Mike Pence is concurrently elected the 48th Vice President.

2018 – – – Because this is Ember Wednesday in the old Catholic liturgical tradition I take the opportunity to mention it.  In the liturgical calendar of the Western Christian churches, Ember days are four separate sets of three days within the same week — specifically, the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday — roughly equidistant in the circuit of the year, that are set aside for fasting and prayer. These days set apart for special prayer and fasting were considered especially suitable for the ordination of clergy. The Ember Days are known in Latin as the quattuor anni tempora (the “four seasons of the year”), or formerly as the jejunia quattuor temporum (“fasts of the four seasons”).  The four quarterly periods during which the ember days fall are called the embertides.  The purpose of their introduction was to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy. Possibly occasioned by the agricultural feasts of ancient Rome, they came to be observed by Christians for the sanctification of the different seasons of the year.  Within the Catholic Church it is likely that most Catholics born after 1965 surely would have little to no idea about Ember Days having  never heard of them as the celebration of these days has largely been abandoned after the Second Vatican Council.  Pope St. Leo the Great in the 5th century mentioned the Ember Day Fasts, pointing to these fasts as stemming from Old Testament and Apostolic tradition. While not universally practiced for quite sometime – even before Vatican II, Ember Days are still a part of the Church’s tradition and today is Ember Wednesday.  At St. John the Beloved in McLean, Virginia, a special Latin Mass was celebrated very early this morning – 4:30 – (Ember Wednesday Mass was to be completed before dawn) in candlelight and with beautiful liturgical music – an old tradition living on with thanks to Our Creator.

 Composed by Robert A. McConnell

Any opinions expressed herein are solely those of the writer and not necessarily those of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation. 



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