The Year was 1035

When King Cnut died in 1035, it should have been a simple matter to divide his kingdom between his two teenage sons. King Cnut had a wife, Emma of Normandy. They had a son, Harthacnut.  King Cnut also had a mistress, Aelfgifu. And they had a son, Harold Harefoot. King Cnut ruled two kingdoms, the…

The Year was 1939

Why would all these people be coming to this obscure graveyard? The caretaker could not understand the sudden interest in the nondescript grave of a teenage soldier who had died during a skirmish in the British Mandate of Palestine more than 60 years earlier, in 1939. The teenager, named Harry, had lied about his age…

The Year was 1565

Elin did not want to go to England. She was 15, and she was being made to travel with Princess Cecilia from Sweden to London. The purpose of the trip was to talk young Queen Elizabeth into marrying Cecilia’s brother, King Eric. The other five royal ladies of Princess Cecilia’s retinue were all about her…

The Year was 1917

Facing the firing squad, Mata Hari refused the white blindfold. In a firing squad, all the shooters fire bullets except one, who fires blanks, so that no shooter knows who fires the fatal bullet. As the sun came up, Mata Hari smiled, seemingly unafraid, even blowing a kiss toward her executioners.   Born in Holland,…

The year was 1163

That was the year a fateful progression of events began with a single act: a priest in England was accused of a murder. The king, the powerful Henry II, demanded that the priest be tried for the crime in his secular court system. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, who was Henry’s good friend and…

The year was 1916

Col. Mark Sykes called Gertrude Bell (among other things!) a “conceited, gushing, flat-chested… blethering fool.” Both were British. Sykes joined with France’s Francois Georges-Picot to draw the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, but it was Bell who was the power behind the map that carved up the old Ottoman Empire, willy-nilly creating the countries that are now…

The year was 1297

Princess Joan had a very big problem in the summer of 1297. Joan, 23, was political gold. Her father – the feared and volatile 6’4” Edward I of England – was arranging a second marriage for her. Joan was a widow. Edward had married her off at 17 to the powerful, red-haired Gilbert de Clare,…

The year was 1373

Was it arrogance? He was known for it. Was he bitter? Yes. John of Gaunt spent his life merely third in line for the throne when he clearly thought he was most qualified to be king of England. Did he see this as a way to prove to England that he was a better military…

The year was 1903

Langley insisted his contraption was “capable of flight.” Not that it could fly. It couldn’t. Langley wasn’t just anybody. He was Samuel Pierpont Langley, blue blood, Harvard graduate, astronomer. Determined to be first with a manned flying machine, Langley built two ¼-scale models that seemed to succeed. But were they flying? Or were they being…

The year was 1392

Geoffrey Chaucer, an accountant, had the good luck to marry the sister of the mistress of John of Gaunt. And John of Gaunt’s father was the King of England. To impress his high-born friends, Chaucer started writing what we would call dirty stories. They were impressed. Chaucer found a way to link his stories together…