Dates, dates, dates

Posted by Tory Historian Friday, December 19, 2008

Over on The New Culture Forum Peter Whittle has a posting about the need to learn dates if one is to understand history at all. Readers of this blog know that Tory Historian is very much in favour of dates and marks as many of them as possible. Without knowing when things happened it is impossible to have anything but the most superficial and gooey idea of historical development.

Mr Whittle’s challenge to his readers is to put together a list of 50 dates that would be essential learning for everyone who wants to know anything about history. (And, really, essential learning for school children in their early teens.) There is no indication whether the dates have to do with British or world history but then, as Tory Historian has been told, Britain’s history is world history. Besides certain dates are so important that, no matter where the events happened, we should all know them.

Tory Historian takes up the challenge and passes it on to this blog’s readers. Here are a few ideas: 55BC – Julius Caesar’s invasion, 1066 – Norman Conquest, 1215 – Magna Carta, 1649 – execution of Charles I, 1688 – Glorious Revolution, 1689 – Bill of Rights, 1707 – Act of Union, 1805 – Trafalgar, 1807 – abolition of slave trade, 1815 – final defeat of Napoleon and Britain’s rise to the rank of undisputed world leader, 1832 – First Reform Act, 1867 – Second Reform Act, 1914–1918 – Great War and the start of decline in European hegemony and British power, 1939-1945 – the process completed, 1973 – Britain becomes part of the EEC (later EC and, even later, EU) thus abandoning the idea of sovereign legislation.

Now for some dates in the world that, nevertheless, affected Britain in various ways: 476 – fall of Rome (this is optional), 1453 – fall of Constantinople, 1492 – Columbus reaches America, 1517 – Luther nails 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, 1618-1648 – Thirty Years’ War ending with the Treaty of Westphalia, 1776 – Declaration of Independence, the natural successor event to the signing of Magna Carta and passing of the Bill of Rights, also the end of the first British Empire, 1789 – French Revolution, 1848 – revolutions across Europe, 1861 – Russian serfs freed, 1861-1865 – American Civil War and American slaves freed, 1871 – Unification of Germany, 1917 – Russian revolutions, 1922 – Ireland becomes independent, 1947 – India and Pakistan become independent (these two events herald the end of the British Empire for better or worse), 1989 – fall of the Berlin Wall, 1991 – end of the Soviet Union.

Others will think of other dates and will, perhaps, disagree with Tory Historian’s list. Let’s hear from those to whom historical dates matter.


  1. 1689, Glorious Revolution.
    1870, founding of German Empire.

    Gotta have those.

  2. Anonymous Says:
  3. 480 BC - Battles of Thermopylae and Salamis. I know these did not bring about the demise of the Persian empire, but they halted its spread and allowed the Greeks to continue bullying each other and subjagating those around them, which surely had important ramifications for the development of the West. For a disturbing period before this battle they actually had to unite against the common enemy, which is more than any self-respecting citizen should have to bear.

    I do not know why Thermopylae is so much more famous than Salamis. The latter is much more interesting, full of exciting intrigue and craftiness.

    Also 1918, because, as the greatest history book says, this is the year when America became Top Nation and history came to a.

  4. Anonymous Says:
  5. By the way - after reading this I googled historical dates and found this great site:

    Can I have 1666 - Great Fire of London? It may not be of world importance, but it is a very memorable date, and I have many memories of visiting the Great Fire display at the Museum of London with the reading from Pepys' diary.

  6. ayrshiretory Says:
  7. A few pedantic corrections. Substitute 1781 for 1776; the Declaration of Independence would be a forgotten piece of paper had we actually not lost at Yorktown. Substitute 1660 for 1649; the restoration of monarchy had a much greater effect than the execution of Charles I. And add 1349 - the Black Death; in fact could that date, although not much quoted, not be THE most important date in British and European history?

  8. Lex,
    I mentioned both 1688 (Glorious Revolution) and 1689 (Bill of Rights) as well as the unification of Germany though I gave the date as 1871, which is when William was crowned as Emperor. I completely agree, those dates are vital.

    Let us have 480BC by all means though, like you, I am inclined to vew Salamis as far more important both from political and military points of view. Thermopylae? Nice story, a defeat and they were not 300 but several times more. Still, the date stands.

    1918 is there with 1914 but you are quite right. I ought to have quoted "1066 And All That". Just as 1815 saw the rise of Britain as top nation, 1918 saw the rise of America, though it was not completed till 1945.

    Let's have 1666 - the Great Fire of London resulted in Christopher Wren's churches and that must be a good thing. Thanks for the link. It will be used.

    It does not have to be either/or. We can have both 1649 and 1660, both being of importance in English history. 1349 is a very important date though hardly the most important one and one that few people can recall. We can certainly publicize it.

    But I cannot agree with you on Yorktown being more important than the Declaration of Independence. Maybe it would have been forgotten or maybe not but it is a vitally important document and so is its date. On the other hand, 1781 is important and the end of the first British Empire. Hmm, even that is problematic because of Canada. Still, on balance, I have to agree with you on its importance.

  9. Agreed about the Black Death.

    Battle of Plassey, 1757. While British rule in India has ended, the full impact of that long-lasting relationship is still playing out. If Bismarck really said that the most important political fact of the 20th Century was that the USA spoke English, the most important political fact of the 21st may be that India speaks English (in its fashion, and with caveats).

  10. Lex,
    Absolutely. Battle of Plassey is very important. We shall add the date as the beginning of the British Indian Empire, which has had an as yet incalculable effect on the world. English as spoken by Indians is very attractive and often considerably more correct than English as spoken by many English. Just a thought. So, 1757 is another date. We'll get to the fifty in no time at all.

  11. Anonymous Says:
  12. I would add the battle of Manzikert in 1071 and Gaugamela in 331 B.C.

  13. Anonymous Says:
  14. Agreed absolutely about Manzikert and Gaugamela.

    1798, French occupation of Egypt. A huge blow to the Islamic world, and the beginning of their self-perception as losing in the struggle with the West.

    1840, First Opium War. The disintegration of China into chaos which lasted a century is a key feature of the modern world, and in perhaps the most disgraceful episode in British history, the first Opium War was the first major blow that got that process going.

    1979. Perhaps the most important year after 1945. Two events. First, the Iranian Revolution, which sets the tone for Islamic confrontation with the rest of the world, and constitutes a repudiation of modernization, globalization and whatever other -zations you may have. But, that same year, Deng Xiaoping put China on the course of capitalist development, adopting "socialism with Chinese characteristics", which has led to the rise of China as an economic powerhouse. Two civilizations, diametrical decisions about how to respond to the challenge posed by the American led world, same year.

  15. Anonymous Says:
  16. Then there's always the Sack of Baghdad in 1258 by the Mongols. This did to the cultured, sexually liberated Muslim world what the Soviets did to Tsarist Russia.

  17. Anonymous Says:
  18. 871, battle of Ashdown hill. What would have become of England if Alfred the Great had not proved the Vikings could be bested, in combat?

  19. 1993 - Signing of the Maastricht Treaty whereby most of Britains' sovereign power was handed over to an unelected, unaccountable ruling elite in the European Union.

    2008 - Signing of the Lisbon treaty whereby the few remaining remnants of sovereignty were handed over to an unelected, unaccountable ruling elite in the European Union, giving away the basic national freedoms fought for by Britons over many centuries.

  20. Anoneumouse Says:
  21. The Siege of Vienna in 1529, The siege signaled the end of Ottoman expansion into Europe.

    The Siege of Britain 1973 - to date

  22. Anonymous Says:
  23. I'll offer 3:

    1346 Battle of Crecy - England becomes a major player in Europe,

    1415 Battle of Agincourt - one of those events in a country's history that forms a national identity,

    and probably the most important, but most ignored 1647 The Putney Debates - the what are we, where are we going? moment.

  24. Anonymous Says:
  25. 2009 - a bit of "history to come" at this time of year.
    Tories lose fourth general election in a row because they hate England.

  26. Richard Says:
  27. 15 August 1942 - The arrival of the Ohio in Valetta Grand Harbour, breaking the siege of Malta, without which the Mediterranean would have fallen, changing the course of history.

  28. Unknown Says:
  29. Dates are critical -- they establish the framework in which the action is played out. It's key to understanding the generational interactions in any period of history. It's much easier to understand the American Revolution, for instance, if you can remember that the events of 1688-89 were just at the edge of living memory in 1774-75. A young boy in Boston in 1689 standing in the crowd on Boston Common watching the citizens face down Governor Hutchinson's troops might have still been around as an old man in 1775 to give a first-hand account of the events to the militiamen about to defend Bunker Hill. The Americans at the time certainly thought of themselves as re-fighting either the English Civil War or the Glorious Revolution.

    1876 is the effective founding of the modern Indian state. 1956 is important for the Hungarian revolution and Khrushchev's speech on Stalin, which between them marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet empire, and for the Suez fiasco, which was perhaps the final act of "World War Zero" -- the transition from British to American predominance in the English-speaking world.

    And let's not forget 1588, the defeat of the Armada, which marked the beginning of a revolution in military affairs in sea power, and guaranteed the Reformation in England.

  30. Whoa! I take my eyes off the blog for a moment and it is inundated with great (and not so great suggestions). Let me try to reply to some.

    First of all, I really don't like Anonymous comments. Please, try to get some kind of a monniker. Usually, I don't even reply to them but that seems a bit churlish at the moment.

    Let's get a few things out of the way. There is no such thing as history in the making or, to be quite precise, everything is history in the making. We have no idea whether the Tories will lose another election in 2009 because there is not indication that there will be one. So, we'll skip that.

    1840 is, possibly, a good date for modern Chinese history though I am not sure the first Opium War is the most significant event in the process you mention, Lex. In the same way, 1979 is probably of importance at the moment, as the beginning of the rise of ferocious anti-Western Islamism. Not sure it was quite that significant in China but it is certainly to be considered. 1798 - French occupation of Egypt we must definitely include. A huge blow to Muslim self-perception. And, to add insult to injury, the French were then defeated at the Battle of the Nile.

    As I have already put in Britain joining the Common Market as a crucial date, we do not necessarily need all the subsequent developments, which are merely that.

    I also think that the second siege of Vienna, known as the Battle of Vienna in 1683 is more important than the first one in 1529. We can argue that one through.

    I think we have to take Crecy and Agincourt. Not sure the Putney Debates had the slightest influence on anything at all, fascinating though they are if for no other reason but to see the high level of the Puritan soldiers' education.

    We are going to have to have problems with the World War II battles. I agree about Malta but should we not have Moscow and Stalingrad as well? Except for the difficulty of defining the exact days. And what of June 22, 1941 and December 6, 1941? Tricky. Maybe the answer is a separate list of absolutely essential dates in twentieth century wars.

    I think I need to think over Manzert, Gaugamela and Baghdad. Not that they were not important, especially the first two, but we might have to expand the dates to one hundred. If we have the Mongol invasion of Baghdad (and I have no rooted objection to that), we shall have to have their expansion into Eastern Europe and the conquest of Russia as well.

  31. Anonymous Says:
  32. In my opinion, the battle of Mohacs 1526 should replace the two sieges of Vienna as it was more decisive in shaping central and eastern Europe.

    1525 Battle of Pavia where Francis I is captured by Charles V. France learns that long-term occupation/assimilation of Italy is outside of its realizable European goals. Francis makes nice with Suleiyman in 1535 and creates the notion that dominating the Med is a fundamental cornerstone of any French foreign policy that continues to Sarko's Med free trade union today.

  33. Anonymous Says:
  34. 1883 - Married Women's Property Act. This meant that a woman's property and earnings belonged to her rather than her husband, an important step for women to be treated as proper members of society.

  35. I would like to add 8th April, 1904. the signing of The Entente Cordial.
    Although this ended hundreds of years of conflict between Gt Britain and France, it did in the end oblige Gt Britain to enter the conflict that became The Great War which was a conflict I believe we could have stepped back from and not got involved with.
    Just imagine what the world could look like if we had Not been involved?

    Another date, how about 12th April 1912, the sinking of the Titanic? I know it was only a tragic maritime disaster but on the one hand the repercussions on Gt Britain's maritime reputation were massive, but on the other hand, the massive change of maritime rules and regulations and on sea-going activity were profound and saved many more lives.

  36. Mrs. Davis Says:
  37. Not all the action in history is political.

    1436 Movable type implemented by Gutenberg.

    1698 Thomas Savery develops first practicable steam driven device, a water pump.

    September 19, 1796 George Washington delivers Farewell Address. All dates in the American Revolution lead to this one and without it, they might well have led to nothing more than a historical footnote.

    Now come a series of events that affect the lives of more people than perhaps any others in history.

    August 28, 1858 Edwin Drake drill for oil initiating the Petroleum Age.

    December 10, 1869 Wyoming Territory grants women suffrage. Not all events that are important are beneficial.

    October 22, 1879 Thomas Edison is successful in efforts to invent first incandescent light bulb.

    September 26, 1928 Thomas Fleming discovers penicillin.

    December 9, 1942 George Weil initiates the first sustained nuclear reaction at Stagg Field.

    July 1944 Norman Borlaug declines DuPont's offer to double his salary and takes a position with the Cooperative Wheat Research Production Program.

    1953 Franklin, Watson and Crick understand DNA.

    May 9, 1960 The FDA approves the use of the first oral contraceptive.

  38. The theme has not been abandoned. Tory Historian merely took a Christmas break. Very soon there will be a further posting with some more dates, which I hope will also excite responses. Eventually there will be a list of considerably more than fifty essential dates. Let me just add, in response to some of the comments that I quite agree that it is not just politics that matters and certain crucial economic, scientific and social dates need to be included as well. I have already realized my omission of printing -maybe 1436 or maybe 1455, the first Gutenberg Bible. Other dates become debatable (and we shall debate them). Which date for the invention of the steam engine should we take as vital? Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin certainly but what of Louis Pasteur and his discoveries?

  39. Mrs. Davis Says:
  40. A problem with science is that it is so interconnected and in some ways inevitable. Sooner or later, someone was going to invent the electric light. That is what makes Fleming's discovery so marvelous.

    Nonetheless, the effect of petroleum, electric light, atomic energy, and genetics are so profound that some date should be canonized to recognize the time at which they begin to affect the story of personkind.

  41. HM Stanley Says:
  42. I would have to add the following:

    1. 1534--Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy establishing Anglican Church.

    2. 1611--Issuance of King James Version of Bible, arguably most prolific proselytizing agent of English language.

    3. 1833--Abolition of Slavery Act in British Empire.

    4. 1885--Founding of Indian National Congress, first anticolonial party of its type, to influence all other decolonization political movements in Third World.

    5. 1960--Macmillan's "Winds of Change" ["Wind of Change" for the pedantic] Speech; crystallizing end of Britain's third empire (America being first and India second).

  43. Looking forward to an update of "Dates, dates, dates" following on from all those suggestions

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