Fact of the day: 22nd January

Today we have two facts because I couldn’t choose between them.

Fact number 1: On this day in 1901 Edward VII was proclaimed King after the death of his mother, Queen Victoria.  The eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Edward was related to royalty throughout Europe. Before his accession to the throne, he served as heir apparent and held the title of Prince of Wales for longer than any of his predecessors. During the long reign of his mother, he was largely excluded from political power and came to personify the fashionable, leisured elite.

When Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1901, Edward became King of the United Kingdom, Emperor of India and, in an innovation, King of the British Dominions. He chose to reign under the name Edward VII, instead of Albert Edward—the name his mother had intended for him to use,[ declaring that he did not wish to “undervalue the name of Albert” and diminish the status of his father with whom the “name should stand alone.”

Edward usually smoked twenty cigarettes and twelve cigars a day. Towards the end of his life he increasingly suffered from bronchitis. He suffered a momentary loss of consciousness during a state visit to Berlin in February 1909. In March 1910, the King was staying at Biarritz when he collapsed. He remained there to convalesce, while in London Asquith tried to get the Finance Bill passed. The King’s continued ill health was unreported and he attracted criticism for staying in France whilst political tensions were so high. On 27 April he returned to Buckingham Palace, still suffering from severe bronchitis. Alexandra returned from visiting her brother, King George I of Greece, in Corfu a week later on 5 May.

The following day, the King suffered several heart attacks, but refused to go to bed saying, “No, I shall not give in; I shall go on; I shall work to the end.” Between moments of faintness, the Prince of Wales (shortly to be King George V) told him that his horse, Witch of the Air, had won at Kempton Park that afternoon. The King replied, “Yes, I have heard of it. I am very glad”: his final words.  At 11:30 p.m. he lost consciousness for the last time and was put to bed. He died 15 minutes later.

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Fact number 2: On this day in 1905 Bloody Sunday in St Petersburg marked the start of the Russian revolution of 1905. Unarmed demonstrators marching to present a petition to Tsar Nicholas II were fired upon by soldiers of the Imperial Guard when approaching the city centre and the Winter Palace from several gathering points. The shooting did not occur in the Palace Square. Bloody Sunday was an event with grave consequences for the Tsarist regime, as the disregard for ordinary people shown by the reaction of the authorities’ undermined support for the state.

Although the Tsar was not at the Winter Palace and did not give the order for the troops to fire, he was widely blamed for the inefficiency and callousness with which the crisis had been handled. While it was unrealistic for the marchers to expect Nicholas to ride out into the Palace Square to meet them, his absence from the city, against at least some advice, reflects a lack of imagination and perception that he was to show on other occasions. The killing of people, many of whom had seen the Tsar as their “Father”, resulted in a surge of bitterness towards Nicholas and his autocratic rule. A widely quoted reaction was “we no longer have a Tsar”.

Tsar Nicholas II attempted to appease the people with a Duma; however, the autocracy eventually resorted to brute force near the end of 1905 in order to curtail the burgeoning strike movement that continued to spread. It is estimated that between October 1905 and April 1906, 15,000 peasants and workers were hanged or shot, 20,000 injured, and 45,000 sent into exile.

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