The date everyone forgot

Posted by Tory Historian Monday, January 05, 2009

The greatest of all history books, “1066 and All That”, famously maintained that there were only two memorable dates in English history: 55 BC and 1066. This blog is busily proving the authors wrong but we may not be representative.

On the subject of the Gunpowder Plot Sellar and Yeatman said:

There were a great many plots and Parliaments in James I’s reign, and one of the Parliaments was called the Addled Parliament because the plots hatched in it were all such rotten ones. One plot, however, was by far the best plot in History, and the day and month of it (although not, of course, the year) are well known to be utterly and even maddeningly MEMORABLE.
The year was 1605, incidentally, but it is, of course, utterly unmemorable.

We have produced another date that can rival it. Neither Tory Historian nor any of the extremely knowledgeable contributors remembered the year 2001. And yet we all know 9/11, even if some of us are occasionally confused as to which is the month and which the day. Will this one be another Gunpowder Plot with an utterly unmemorable year and maddeningly memorable month and day? Not for the time being as we shall have to list it with other important dates.

There will be a final consensus list but here are a few dates to think about, some from our readers, some from Tory Historian doing a little more thinking.

1588 was mentioned by several contributors. The defeat of the Spanish Armada put England definitively out of the Catholic power structure.

1956 was also mentioned several times. The year of Suez and the Hungarian Revolution had an enormous impact on subsequent developments.

Then there are others, not yet discussed (methinks). 312 – Constantine’s conversion, which put the Roman Empire on its path to becoming Christian, whatever his reasons may have been. Tory Historian thinks that from a historic point of view this is a more important date than either 4 BC or 33 AD, the probable dates of Jesus Christ’s birth and of the Crucifixion. Disagreements are welcome.

We have a problem with the question of printing. Which is the crucial date? Tory Historian proposes 1455, the date of the Gutenberg Bible but at least one reader prefers 1436, the date moveable type was first implemented. And what of 1473, Caxton’s first book printed in English or, alternatively, 1476 in which the first English-language book (Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”) was printed actually in England?

We have two possible dates of importance to women: 1869 – Wyoming Territory grants votes to women though there were various examples of women voting before that, at least for a time. From the British point of view the date of Married Women’s Property Act, 1883, might be more important.

There are many more to be considered when the consensus list is put together. It looks ever more like 100 dates rather than 50 but we shall have to see.

In the meantime, here is another notion to be taken on. Let us take the six years of the Second World War from September 1, 1939 (Germany’s invasion of Poland) and August 15, 1945 (VJ Day). What precise dates can be called turning points in that period? September 3, 1939, May 10, 1940, June 22, 1941, December 6, 1941 spring to mind immediately. We already have August 15, 1942 – arrival of the Ohio in Valetta harbour, breaking the siege of Malta. May 8, 1945, of course, as well as May 9 – the latter marks German surrender on the Eastern front. August 6 and 8, 1945. What else? Is February 2, 1943, the German surrender at Stalingrad, led by Field-Marshal Paulus a turning point?

This one will be fun. Go to it, while Tory Historian tries to put together a coherent general list.


  1. Anonymous Says:
  2. Dear TH,

    Some European dates of interest:

    1631 - the battle of Breitenfeldt which was a turning point in the Thirty Years' War.

    If that date is too insignificant then the end of the same war, the Westphalian Peace, 1648.

    That peace certainly had an effect well into the late 19th century, keeping Germany disunited, something that was going to play a role also during the bloody 20th century.

    Otherwise, us Scandinavians have seldom played a star role on the world stage. The odd Viking raid. Well, according to the stories Russia was founded by Rurik a Swedish Viking , but that is so far back in the mist of time that it is difficult to put a definite date on it.

    There are some discoveries/inventions like the sexual system (C v Linné, Systema Naturae 1735), the propeller (John Ericson 1837), the dynamite (Alfred Nobel 1866), the spherical ball bearings (Sven Winquist 1907) etc.

    However, it will always be difficult to put one invention in front of another. Gutenberg, Edison and a few others are probably the ones that should end up in a list of 100 important dates.

    In biology apart from possibly Pasteur and Fleming I can only think of two off hand: Darwin and the publication of The Origin of Species (1859) and the determination of the molecular structure of the DNA (Watson & Crick 1953).

    I noted that an earlier poster argued to have the Great Plague included. I agree, though, the date for the start of that pandemic and when it reached Britain differs by a couple of years.

    Finally, on dates that can be considered turning points in WW II I'm sure the readers will put forward a number of excellent suggestions. I would just make a case for a definitely forgotten date:

    26 July 1939 - at a conference in Warsaw the Poles reveal to their British and French counterparts that they have broken the Enigma and promise one reconstructed machine to each along with the details of the decryption techniques.

    (Or maybe the date when the Enigma machine actually reached British shores. )

    Of course, as is well known, this was far from a complete solution to the Enigma problem, but unless the Polish contributions had not been transfered before the invasion of Poland it is doubtful whether the decryption techniques would have been developed in time.

    Thanks for giving me a chance to play!


  3. Anonymous Says:
  4. 1865 - When the modern American state--and the nature of contemporary conflicts and politics--was established.

  5. Peter O Says:
  6. Arguably the Battle of Kursk (July 1943) was much more of a turning point than Stalingrad. While von Paulus and a quarter of a million men surrendered in early February '43. Kursk was the moment when the offensive capability of the Wehrmacht was shattered. After Kursk (and particularly Prokhorovka) the Germans were simply incapable of launching a major offensive using armour.

  7. Anonymous Says:
  8. surely 6th June 1944 , the Normandy landings is pivotal.

    I would add June 22, 1941 Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia by Germany. By opening a second front without consolidating Europe in particular the invasion of England. I feel doomed Hitler from this point on, the only question would be the time taken and lives lost.

  9. Yee-ha!!! Should have thought of this one a long time ago. Then again, work will be involved in collating those dates. :(

    Welcome and please come back to play some more. In the original list, I put 1618 -1648 as important dates because of the Thirty Years' War but there might be some sense in unbundling it and having a few significant ones.

    You are right about the science dates - there are only so many really significant ones though others seem important.

    Origin of Species and DNA probably need to be included though there may be some discussion about the date for the latter. By the Great Plague, I assume you mean the Black Death. Again, we need to think carefully which date to use. I agree 1349 may not be the right one.

    Don't know about Enigma. I shall have to consult someone who is better versed in the various developments on that.

    Anonymous (oh dear!),
    The American Civil War was listed in the original posting.

    Peter O.
    Agreed about Kusk being pivotal but do we have a day as well as a month for its ending? Ditto Moscow, when the Germans were turned back.

    Pavlovs Cat,
    Barbarossa is listed in the posting, though only as a date. June 6, 1944 is definitely pivotal.

  10. Peter O Says:
  11. Kursk runs from July 4th till July the 20th 1943. Prokhorovka was on July 12th, the largest tank battle ever in history. Although the Russians claim that the Battle of Kursk ran till late August (with their counteroffensives), it was on the 20th of July that the Wehrmacht cancelled its offensive. That date signals the last ever mass armoured attack by the Germans of WW2.

  12. Anonymous Says:
  13. A few extra terrestrial dates:

    4th October 1957 - Sputnik 1

    12th April 1961 - Yuri Gagarin

    20th July 1969 - 1st moon landing (although Armstrong did not set foot on the moon until the 21st)

  14. Chertiozhnik Says:
  15. Hard to be precise, but 12 September 1940 and the delivery of cavity magnetron to the US.

  16. Anonymous Says:
  17. Here are two rather more remote dates in western European/ Mediterranean history: AD 622 (or so) was Mohammed's Hejira, which is set as Islam's founding event, at least for chronological purposes; and AD 711, which saw the first Arab and Berber incursion into Spain, where they stayed until 1492, which (when you think about it) was longer than Spain stayed in America, or France in Africa, or Britain just about everywhere.

  18. Peter O Says:
  19. Arguably the Battle of Tours/Poitier on October 10, 732 is more important than the first Islamic incursions into Iberia. At Tours Charles Martel defeated the Muslim army and prevented the Islamisation of Europe. Without his victory it is arguable that Europe would *not* have been Christian, BUT we would have had much better architecture!!!

  20. One of the pivotal dates for both the US and the United Kingdom would be Jan. 8. 1815 as the result of the Battle of New Orleans ended British attempts to limit the growth of the US and any further tries at reestablishing some form of empire in North America. The US secured its main interior line of communication and created some of the inconsistencies that would eventually end slavery.

  21. HM Stanley Says:
  22. Another suggestion:

    24 August 1572--St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre

    Surely the French "Armada" moment. It cripples France's maritime prowess (hitherto dominated by Huguenots) and radicalizes protestants (including Walsingham, later QEI's spy master, who is ambassador to France then) and reveals Pope as religious zealot---orders Te Deaum sang in celebration.

  23. August 3, 1943, the beginning of the Soviet counteroffensive at Kursk. That was the moment Germany had certainly lost the war.

  24. Anonymous Says:
  25. April 6, 1941 when the Axis powers decided to attack Yugoslavia instead of getting properly sorted for Barbarossa. If I remember correctly, Barbarossa was delayed due to the resistence and did not get of until the middle of June. Without this blunder, Moscow and St. Petersburg would have fallen and the Russians might have collapsed. Regardless, the Russians, per Stalin's plan, would have had to fall back to the Urals and regroup them from there, nullifying them as an offensive force for a while I should think.

  26. 18 January 1871 - at the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian War, the French government was forced to recognise the existence of the new nation of Germany in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, thus putting the world on course for World War I and all that followed - Lenin's Russia (Germany sent him back to his homeland in a sealed train hoping that an imploded Russia wouls fall out of the war) WWII, Cold War, European Union. It irks me somewhat that only one side of the demonic double-act of France and Germany is demonised.

  27. April 13, 1941, Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact. No JSNP, no Pearl Harbor. No JSNP, possible Japanese attack in Siberia following Barbarossa, which may have decided the war against the USSR. It would certainly have prevented the Soviet winter offensives in front of Moscow, and that may have led to a German victory or a negotiated peace, or the Allies not supporting Russia as they did. The riverbed of history shifted.

  28. Anonymous Says:
  29. U.S. naval construction bill, June 14, 1940 and July 20 1940. Authorized the construction of a “two-ocean navy” capable of defensive action in one ocean and offensive action in the other. More than 1,325,000 tons of naval construction was authorized, for 250 warships, including 7 battleships, 6 battle cruisers, 19 carriers, 60 cruisers, 150 destroyers, and 140 submarines. This was the decisive moment when the USA chose to become a global power.

  30. Laban Says:
  31. August 1920 and Pilsudski's brilliant victory in the Battle of Warsaw.

    20th century European history would have been very different had the Bolsheviks been on the German borders in 1921. It might even have been better. No disrespect to the Poles - it's just that it could hardly have been much worse.

  32. OK, I am back. I shall have to sort the WWII dates separately and there will, most certainly, have to be one for the Battle of Kursk, either July 20 or August 3. I think one of those, whichever we decide on, is more of a turning point than the invasion of Yugoslavia. You could also argue that the Germans made a number of serious strategic (and political though those don't really have a date) mistakes in their invasion of the Soviet Union and the Yugoslav campaign was less important.

    On the more general subject. 622 is definitely important and it should have been mentioned before. Of the various dates to do with the first Arab/Berber invasion of Europe (you mean the Islamization of Western Europe, Peter O, don't you) I am not sure which is the most important date but I am inclined to the ones that stopped the incurstion. 1492 is there already. 732 will have to be considered though there is an argument for having both that and 711. The fact is that Charles Martel did not push back the Moorish forces, who stayed in Europe till 1492. It is also true that the effects of that long occupation have been minimal, unlike, say the influence exerted by the British on the various colonies and territories.

    1871 has already been listed. 1920 may well be important though I disagree that the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe that early would have been a particularly good thing unless, of course, you think that would have weakened the system. It halted Soviet expansion, but only temporarily.

    St Bartholomew's Day massacre was a big event but solved nothing. The real disaster for the French state was 1688 - the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The Huguenots left in droves then. The Pope orders a Te Deum to be sung because heretics are massacred? Goodness me. What should he have done?

    1957 - First Sputnik, 1961 - 1st space flight, 1969 - 1st man on the moon: all important dates though the jury is still out as to how significant they will be in the long term. But we'll have them.

  33. Simon Harley Says:
  34. Date of interest: 31 May 1916. The Imperial German Navy finally got to see what a five mile line of battleships looked like (or gunfire at any rate) at the Battle of Jutland. Reaffirmed the German belief that they could never win a fleet action against the Royal Navy, and was a key factor in the adoption of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare and the well-known consequences of that policy.

    It just so happens this year is the 150th anniversary of the birth of John Jellicoe, the much-maligned British fleet commander.

  35. Thank you for that reminder Simon. We might have to have a separate category for key events in World War I as well as World War II. But Jellicoe's birth does need to be noted.

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