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…

The year was 1356

In a stunning, shocking defeat, the French king, John II, was captured on September 19th during the Battle of Poitiers, fought southwest of Paris. He was taken to London, a prisoner – except that King John’s jailor, the king of England, was John’s very own uncle.  And the knight who had beaten him in the…

The Year was 1415

Roman Emperor Claudius the Cruel needed Roman soldiers, but they were not volunteering. Why not? Claudius thought the reason was that they wanted to stay home with their wives. His solution? Ban marriage. A Catholic priest, Valentine, disobeyed him, marrying young lovers in secret. Off with his head! The priest was beaten and beheaded in…

The year was 1818

Tonight was Christmas Eve. The organ at St. Nicholas church in Oberndorff was broken. In the afternoon, Father Josef Mohr, 26, walked a couple of miles from St. Nicholas to his friend Franz Gruber’s home in the nearby town of Arnsdorf, to give him a six-stanza poem he had written two years earlier. Franz, a…

The year was 1593

Some called Grace O’Malley a pirate. Even as a young girl, Grace O’Malley wanted to be part of the action. In Ireland, this was pretty normal, but her father said no. Her gorgeous long red hair, he said, would get caught in the rigging of the sails. Grace cut her hair and joined the family…

The year was 1343

The shocking breach of chivalry was blamed on Queen Joan. It was the summer of 1343, and 16 of the finest knights in Brittany had come to Paris to take part in a royal joust. They had been invited by none other than the king of France himself, Philip VI, to celebrate a truce with…