Fact of the day: 17th July

On this day in 1762 Catherine II became tsar of Russia after the murder of Peter III of Russia.

After the death of the Empress Elizabeth on 5 January 1762 (OS: 25 December 1761), Peter, the Grand Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, succeeded to the throne as Peter III of Russia, and Catherine became Empress Consort of Russia.

The imperial couple moved into the new Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg.

The Tsar’s eccentricities and policies, including a great admiration for the Prussian king, Frederick II, alienated the same groups that Catherine had cultivated.

Besides, Peter intervened in a dispute between his Duchy of Holstein and Denmark over the province of Schleswig (see Count Johann Hartwig Ernst von Bernstorff).

On the night of 28 June 1762, Catherine the Great was given the news that one of her co-conspirators had been arrested by her estranged husband, and that all they had been planning must take place at once.

download (7)

She left the palace and departed for the Ismailovsky regiment, where Catherine delivered a speech asking the soldiers to protect her from her husband.

Catherine then left with the regiment to go to the Semenovsky Barracks where the clergy was waiting to ordain her as the sole occupant of the Russian throne.

She had her husband arrested and forced him to sign a document of abdication, leaving no one to dispute her accession to the throne.

Shortly after being arrested, Peter was strangled by his guards. Some speculate that Catherine had ordered this done, but there is no evidence to back this theory.


Fact of the day: 16th June

On this day in 1722 John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, English general and politician, died.

John Churchill was an English soldier and statesman whose career spanned the reigns of five monarchs.

Rising from a lowly page at the court of the House of Stuart, he served James, Duke of York, through the 1670s and early 1680s, earning military and political advancement through his courage and diplomatic skill.


Churchill’s role in defeating the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685 helped secure James on the throne, yet just three years later he abandoned his Catholic patron for the Protestant Dutchman, William of Orange.

Honoured for his services at William’s coronation with the earldom of Marlborough, he served with further distinction in the early years of the Nine Years’ War, but persistent charges of Jacobitism brought about his fall from office and temporary imprisonment in the Tower.

It was not until the accession of Queen Anne in 1702 that Marlborough reached the zenith of his powers and secured his fame and fortune.

Fact of the day: 10th May

On this day in 1768 John Wilkes was imprisoned for writing an article for The North Briton severely criticizing King George III. This action provoked rioting in London.

Wilkes hoped for a change in power to remove the charges, but this did not come to pass. As his French creditors began to pressure him, in 1768 he had little choice but to return to England.

He returned intending to stand as a Member of Parliament on an anti-government ticket; the government did not issue warrants for his immediate arrest as it did not want to inflame popular support.

Wilkes stood in London and came in bottom of the poll of seven candidates, possibly due to his late entry into the race for the position. He was quickly elected MP for Middlesex, where most of his support was located. He surrendered himself to the King’s Bench in April.

On waiving his parliamentary privilege to immunity, he was sentenced by Judge Joseph Yates to two years and fined £1,000; the Lords’ sentence of outlawry was overturned.

images (9)

When Wilkes was imprisoned in the King’s Bench Prison on 10 May 1768, his supporters appeared before King’s Bench, London, chanting “No liberty, no King.”

Troops opened fire on the unarmed men, killing seven and wounding 15, an incident that came to be known as the St George’s Fields Massacre.

The Irish playwright Hugh Kelly a prominent supporter of the government, defended the right of the army to use force against rioters, which drew the anger of Wilkes’ supporters and they began a riot at the Drury Lane Theatre during the performance of Kelly’s new play A Word to the Wise forcing it to be abandoned.

Fact of the day: 1st May

On this day in 1707 The Act of Union joined the Kingdom of England and Kingdom of Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain.

The two countries had shared a monarch since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne from his double first cousin twice removed, Queen Elizabeth I.

download (24)

Although described as a Union of Crowns, until 1707 there were in fact two separate Crowns resting on the same head (as opposed to the implied creation of a single Crown and a single Kingdom, exemplified by the later Kingdom of Great Britain).

There had been three attempts in 1606, 1667, and 1689 to unite the two countries by Acts of Parliament, but it was not until the early 18th century that both political establishments came to support the idea, albeit for different reasons.

The Acts took effect on 1 May 1707. On this date, the Scottish Parliament and the English Parliament united to form the Parliament of Great Britain, based in the Palace of Westminster in London, the home of the English Parliament.


Hence, the Acts are referred to as the Union of the Parliaments. On the Union, the historian Simon Schama said “What began as a hostile merger, would end in a full partnership in the most powerful going concern in the world … it was one of the most astonishing transformations in European history.”

Fact of the day: 27th April

On this day in 1737 Edward Gibbon was born.

Edward Gibbon (8 May 1737[1] – 16 January 1794) was an English historian and Member of Parliament. His most important work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788. The Decline and Fall is known for the quality and irony of its prose, its use of primary sources, and its open criticism of organised religion.


The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was published on 17 February 1776. Through 1777, the reading public eagerly consumed three editions for which Gibbon was rewarded handsomely: two-thirds of the profits amounting to approximately £1,000.[24] Biographer Leslie Stephen wrote that thereafter, “His fame was as rapid as it has been lasting.” And as regards this first volume, “Some warm praise from David Hume overpaid the labour of ten years.”

Volumes II and III appeared on 1 March 1781, eventually rising “to a level with the previous volume in general esteem.” Volume IV was finished in June 1784; the final two were completed during a second Lausanne sojourn (September 1783 to August 1787) where Gibbon reunited with his friend Deyverdun in leisurely comfort. By early 1787, he was “straining for the goal” and with great relief the project was finished in June.


It was on the day, or rather the night, of 27 June 1787, between the hours of eleven and twelve, that I wrote the last lines of the last page in a summer-house in my garden. … I will not dissemble the first emotions of joy on the recovery of my freedom, and perhaps the establishment of my fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy was spread over my mind by the idea that I had taken my everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion, and that, whatsoever might be the future date of my history, the life of the historian must be short and precarious.

Volumes IV, V, and VI finally reached the press in May 1788, their publication having been delayed since March so it could coincide with a dinner party celebrating Gibbon’s 51st birthday (the 8th). Mounting a bandwagon of praise for the later volumes were such contemporary luminaries as Adam Smith, William Robertson, Adam Ferguson, Lord Camden, and Horace Walpole. Smith remarked that Gibbon’s triumph had positioned him “at the very head of [Europe’s] literary tribe.”


Fact of the day: 27th March

On this day in 1794 Denmark and Sweden formed neutrality compact.

A neutral power in a particular war is a sovereign state which officially declares itself to be neutral towards the belligerents. A non-belligerent state does not need to be neutral. The rights and duties of a neutral power are defined in Sections 5 and 13 of the Hague Convention of 1907.

A permanently neutral power is a sovereign state which is bound by international treaty to be neutral towards the belligerents of all future wars. An example of a permanently neutral power is Switzerland. The concept of neutrality in war is narrowly defined and puts specific constraints on the neutral party in return for the internationally recognised right to remain neutral.


Belligerents may not invade neutral territory, and a neutral power’s resisting any such attempt does not compromise its neutrality.

A neutral power must intern belligerent troops who reach its territory, but not escaped prisoners of war. Belligerent armies may not recruit neutral citizens, but they may go abroad to enlist. Belligerent armies’ personnel and material may not be transported across neutral territory, but the wounded may be. A neutral power may supply communication facilities to belligerents, but not war material, although it need not prevent export of such material.

Fact of the day: 18th March

On this day in 1766 The British Parliament repeals the Stamp Act. (A bit late for that if you ask me :P).

The Stamp Act 1765 imposed a direct tax by the British Parliament specifically on the colonies of British America, and it required that many printed materials in the colonies be produced on stamped paper produced in London, carrying an embossed revenue stamp.

download (4)

Opposition to the Stamp Act was not limited to the colonies. British merchants and manufacturers, whose exports to the colonies were threatened by colonial economic problems exacerbated by the tax, also pressured Parliament. The Act was repealed on March 18, 1766 as a matter of expedience, but Parliament affirmed its power to legislate for the colonies “in all cases whatsoever” by also passing the Declaratory Act. There followed a series of new taxes and regulations, likewise opposed by the colonists.

The episode played a major role in defining the grievances and enabling the organized colonial resistance that led to the American Revolution in 1775.