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Which anniversaries were marked in Britain in 2017? Have a quick scan through the eclectic list of events below, some of which may have slipped your mind; they were bound to have been on someone’s British calendar for 2017.
1650th anniversary of multiple assaults and near anarchy
In 367AD, near simultaneous raids on Roman Britain were launched by Picts from Scotland, Scots from Ireland and Franks and Anglo-Saxons from Germany. Coastal defences were overwhelmed. The barbarians plundered for a year before order was restored. Click for a bit about Roman Britain.
In 867AD, the Great Army of the Danes captured York and the southern part of the kingdom of Northumbria. Click for a bit about the Vikings.
1000th anniversary of England divided into four
In 1017, the Danish king of England, Cnut married Emma of Normandy, the widow of his former enemy, Ethelred ‘the Unready’. Cnut also divided England into four earldoms – Northumbria Wessex, Mercia and East Anglia – each previously kingdoms in their own right. Click for a bit about Britain before the Norman Conquest.
800th anniversary of the Battle of Lincoln
The Battle of Lincoln was fought in the city on 20th May 1217, between the forces of Prince Louis of France (the future King Louis VIII) and his English baron allies, and those loyal to the young King of England, Henry III. Henry’s victory was largely due to the leadership of William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke.
750th anniversary of a native Welsh prince’s authority recognised by an English king
In 1267, King Henry III of England acknowledged Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s lordship in Wales. The honour was short-lived; Henry died in 1272 and his son and successor, Edward I, demanded homage from Llywelyn, who repeatedly refused. Edward invaded Wales in 1277, Llewelyn was killed in 1282 and, in 1284, the Principality of Wales was incorporated into England. Click for a bit about Welsh history.
Execution of Kathryn Howard – 13th February 1542. Kathryn (or Catherine) was only about 18 or 22 years old (her exact date of birth is unknown) when she placed her head on the executioner’s block in the Tower of London. The fifth wife of King Henry VIII, she was found guilty of treason on the grounds of adultery and would almost certainly have passed under the heads of two of her former lovers, previously executed and displayed on London Bridge, on her journey along the Thames to the Tower. Historian Peter Ackroyd notes that Henry held a great banquet on the day of his wife’s execution, with twenty six ladies at his own table.
Battle of Solway Moss – on 24th November 1542, an invading Scottish army of up to 18,000 was defeated by an English army of around 3,000 near Longtown in Cumbria. To be fair, the invasion was partly a response to English raids into Scotland, which included the burning of the towns of Kelso and Roxburgh.
Mary, Queen of Scots’ birthday – Mary, Queen of Scots was born on 8th December at Linlithgow Palace. Happy Birthday, Mary.
1567 was quite a year for Mary, Queen of Scots. In February, her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, was murdered. In May, Mary married James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, the chief suspect in her husband’s murder. In June, she was captured by disaffected nobles at Carberry Hill and imprisoned in Lochleven Castle. In July, she was forced to abdicate the throne in favour of her infant son, James (VI of Scotland and later I of England). Mary remained at Lochleven for about a year before escaping and eventually seeking refuge in England (May 1568), where she was held in dignified captivity until her execution at Fotheringhay on 8th February 1587.
375th anniversary of the start of the English Civil War
The so-called English Civil War (in fact, it was a British affair) was one of the most significant events in our history. On 22nd August 1642, King Charles I raised his standard over the battlements of Nottingham Castle. Thus, he marked the beginning of the armed conflict between monarch and parliament that would end with his own execution in 1649 – and the making of a more modern Britain. See The Stuarts and the Republic of Britain for a bit about the English Civil War.
John Milton published his somewhat lengthy poem, Paradise Lost in 1667.
200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen
Author Jane Austen died, probably as a consequence of Addison’s disease, on 18th July 1817 in Winchester. Jane Austen was born in the rectory at Steventon, Hampshire, on 16th December 1775 and is best known for just six major novels, Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815), followed by Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1818. Austen may not be your thing – but as the lady said, “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other”. Fans can expect a flurry of events at various places in 2017 – where better to start than at her house in Chawton? Visit the website of the Jane Austen House Museum. Or you could go to Bath – “Who can ever be tired of Bath?”
Antiseptics – between March and July 1867, Joseph Lister published his theories on antiseptics in the medical journal, the Lancet. Lister was professor of surgery at the University of Glasgow and, inspired by the work of Louis Pasteur, had decided to experiment with dressings soaked in carbolic acid to cover open wounds. The rate of infection – a killer in hospitals at the time – reduced. Lister went on to advocate hand-washing, sterilising instruments and spraying carbolic in the theatre while operating.
2nd Reform Act – the Second Reform Act passed by Parliament in 1867 roughly doubled the electorate in the United Kingdom from one to two million men – an estimated 33% of all adult males. The act was introduced by the Conservative Benjamin Disraeli, who persuaded his colleagues that the people would be grateful and vote for them; the following year’s General Election was won by the Liberals. For more about electoral reform, see How Britain got the vote.
1917 was the third year of the First World War. Somewhat inevitably, many of the anniversaries remembered in Britain during 2017 involved that conflict. For an overview of WW1 and Britain’s part in it, see Britain and the First World War.
The Zimmermann Telegram & US declaration of war
In January, German Foreign Minister Dr Alfred von Zimmermann, anticipating that Germany’s policy of unrestricted submarine warfare would lead to war with the USA, sought to enlist the promise of support from Mexico in that event, suggesting it could thereby regain its lost territories of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The proposal was sent by telegram to the German ambassador in Mexico, intercepted and decoded by British Intelligence and its contents revealed. The USA declared war on Germany on 6th April.
Baghdad fell to British and Indian troops on 11th March.
Plastic surgery was pioneered by New Zealander Harold Gillies at the Queen’s Hospital in Sidcup, Kent, which opened in June.
On an unspecified date in 1917, another New Zealander, Ernest Rutherford, split the atom for the first time in what is now part of the University of Manchester.
17th July – to appease anti-German feeling, King George V changed the Royal Family’s name from Saxe-Coburg Gotha to Windsor.
One event that will be commemorated by many in Britain in 2017 is the battle in Belgium known as Third Ypres, or, simply, Passchendaele. It is seared into the national memory. Britain and its allies had held the old Flemish cloth town of Ypres since 1914; it was a salient on the front line, with the Germans holding the surrounding higher ground on three sides. The British planned an offensive with the specific aims of breaking through to the Belgian coast to prevent the use of ports by German submarines and relieving pressure on the French, whose troops had mutinied in April. A precursor to the main assault was the need to clear German troops from high ground on the Messines Ridge south of Ypres. This commenced in the early hours of 8th June with the explosion of 19 out of 21 massive mines that had been covertly laid under the German lines. The blast could be heard in the south of England and the results were predictably horrendous – it is estimated that 10,000 Germans perished in the carnage. By 17th June the objectives on the Messines Ridge had largely been achieved. Two mines did not explode – one is still there, buried under the Belgian countryside. The main offensive began on 31st July and lasted until 6th November, when Canadian troops finally took the tiny village of Passchendaele. What the planners had not foreseen was the worst rain in years. This turned the low-lying, sodden ground, already pockmarked and full of the detritus of almost three years of warfare, into a slimy hell where men could drown, become disorientated and simply disappear. The British and their allies advanced about 4½ miles and never reached the coast. Casualty figures vary from one source to another – according to historian Martin Gilbert, Britain and her allies lost 62,000 men with 164,000 wounded and the Germans 83,000 dead with 250,000 wounded. All or most of the ground was retaken by the Germans in their offensive of March 1918; and then taken back before the armistice in November.
On November 2nd, Britain issued the Balfour Declaration, confirming Britain’s support for a ‘national home’ for the Jewish people in Palestine. The British had already promised the Arabs control of Palestine in return for military assistance against the Turks. Perfidious Albion?
Jerusalem was captured by British troops on 11th December.
British centenaries aside, one of the most far-reaching events of 1917 was the Russian Revolution. This took Russia, the ally of Britain and France, out of the war. In October (or November, depending on your preferred calendar) the subsequent Bolshevik Revolution directly led to civil war and the formation of the odious Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or Soviet Union. I wonder if Mr Putin will be marking the event?
Happy birthday to those born in 1917
Well-known Brits celebrating their 100th birthdays in 2017 would have included:
25 February – Anthony Burgess, writer, composer, a man of multiple occupations, he is probably best-known as the author of A Clockwork Orange (1962), later made into a film by Stanley Kubrick. Burgess was born in Harpurhey, Lancashire, died in St John’s Wood, London, on 22 November 1993 and is buried in Monaco.
12 March – Googie Withers, actress, was born in Karachi, India (now Pakistan) and died on 15 July 2011 in Sydney, NSW, Australia. Her ashes were scattered at sea.
20 March – Vera Lynn, the singer who made her name as ‘the Forces Sweetheart’ during WW2, with hugely popular songs such as We’ll Meet Again and White Cliffs of Dover, was born in East Ham, London.
30 August – Denis Healey, Labour politician, was born in Mottingham, Kent. An Oxford contemporary of his friend and political rival, Ted Heath, Healey served as Secretary of State for Defence from 1964 to 1970, Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1974 to 1979 and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party from 1980 to 1983. Denis Healey died in Alfriston, East Sussex, on 3 October 2015.
7 September – Leonard Cheshire, one of the most highly decorated RAF pilots and leaders of WW2 (including holder of the Victoria Cross), was born in Chester. Cheshire commanded the legendary 617 ‘Dam Busters’ Squadron (after the famous raid) and helped pioneer precision target marking using low-flying marker aircraft. He retired as a Group Captain and founded the Cheshire Homes for the disabled after the war, continuing to work in the charitable sector for the rest of his life, often with his second wife, Sue Ryder. Leonard Cheshire died on 31 July 1992 in Cavendish, Suffolk.
22 October – Joan Fontaine, actress, was born in Tokyo, Japan. Christened Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland, she was the younger sister of Olivia de Havilland, and won an Oscar as best actress in 1941, for her role in the Hitchcock thriller, Suspicion. Joan Fontaine died on 15 December 2013 in Carmel Highlands, California, USA.
16 December – Arthur C Clarke, science and science-fiction writer, was born in Minehead, Somerset. He was a futurist, and perhaps best-known for inspiring and co-writing the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Arthur C Clarke died in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he had lived since 1956, on 19 March 2008.
75th Anniversaries, 2017
In January 1942, Britain had been at war for 28 months. The Prime Minister was Winston Churchill. Most of Europe was occupied by Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union having been invaded the previous June. The USA was now also engaged, having been attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor in December 1941. For an overview of WW2 and Britain’s part in it, see Britain and the Second World War.
January – the first US troops arrive in the United Kingdom, in Belfast. And in Suffolk, an amazing hoard of Roman silverware is discovered, the Mildenhall Treasure. On 29th January, the radio programme Desert Island Discs is broadcast for the first time, presented by its creator, Roy Plomley; it is still going in 2017.
On 15th February, Singapore falls to the Japanese: about 85,000 British, Australian and Indian troops surrender; it is the worst disaster in British military history.
In March, the Royal Air Force bombed Lűbeck, creating a firestorm which destroyed much of the town’s historic centre. The German Luftwaffe retaliated by targeting several historic British cities of no military or strategic significance, such as Exeter and Bath (the so-called Baedeker Raids, after the tourist guide in which the cities are mentioned). The RAF bombing campaign against Germany intensified in 1942 as a matter of policy; on 30th May, over 1,000 bombers attacked Cologne.
The ill-fated Dieppe Raid involving British and Canadian troops took place on 19th August. Designed to test German defences, it was a disaster for the attackers.
On 5th October, the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief was founded – OXFAM is 75 years old in 2017.
23rd October saw the start of the 2nd Battle of El Alamein in Egypt, which pushed the German Afrika Korps back and turned the tide of the war in North Africa. Churchill said: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” On 8th November, the British and Americans launched Operation Torch, the invasion of French North Africa.
On 11th September, Enid Blyton published Five on a Treasure Island – the first of the Famous Five series and by far the most interesting and influential publication of the year.
I lied. On 1st December, William Beveridge submits his report on social security. The Beveridge Report, was widely admired (even by Hitler). It formed the basis of Labour Party policy on the Welfare State, implemented after the war, and its effects are still with us.
Happy birthday if you were born in 1942
Well-known Brits celebrating their 75th birthdays in 2017 might have included:
3 January – John Thaw, actor, born in Longsight, Manchester. Probably best known for his roles in the TV series The Sweeney and Inspector Morse, John Thaw died on 21 February 2002 in Luckington, Wiltshire.
5 January – Jan Leeming, TV Presenter.
8 January – Stephen Hawking, inspirational physicist, was born in Oxford. He died in Cambridge on 14 March 2018.
19 January – Michael Crawford, actor, was born in Salisbury, Wiltshire.
1 February, Terry Jones, writer, comedian and one of the six founder members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, was born in Colwyn Bay, Wales.
28 February – Brian Jones, musician and founder of The Rolling Stones, was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Jones drowned on 3 July 1969, in Hartfield, Sussex.
27 March – Michael York, actor, was born in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire.
28 March – Neil Kinnock, politician, was born in Tredegar, Wales. Neil Kinnock was leader of the Labour Party and the Opposition from 1983 to 1992. He went on to become a European Commissioner and Vice President of the European Commission.
8 April – Roger Chapman, musician, probably most famously known as the lead vocalist with 70s group Family, was born in Leicester.
12 May – Ian Dury, musician and unforgettable front-man of the Blockheads (whose hits included Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll and Hit Me With your Rhythm Stick) was born in Harrow, Middlesex. He died on 27 March 2000 in Upminster, Essex.
18 May – Nobby Stiles – footballer with Manchester United and member of England’s 1966 World Cup squad, was born in Collyhurst, Manchester.
9 June – Ossie Clark, fashion designer, was born in Warrington, Cheshire. He was murdered in London on 6 August 1996.
18 June – Paul McCartney, musician – still best known as a founder member of The Beatles – was born in Liverpool.
4 July – Prince Michael of Kent, full name Michael George Charles Franklin, grandson of King George V and Queen Mary, was born in Iver, Buckinghamshire.
17 September – Des Lynam, TV presenter, and adopted Brit was born in Ennis, County Clare, Ireland.
27 September – Alvin Stardust, singer, real name Bernard Jewry and who also had a persona as Shane Fenton before being reinvented as Alvin Stardust, was born in Muswell Hill, London. He died on 23 October 2014 in Ifold, West Sussex.
26 October – Bob Hoskins, actor, was born in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. He died in London on 29 April 2014.
24 November – Billy Connolly, comedian, actor, presenter and musician, was born in Anderston, Glasgow.
31 December – Andy Summers, musician, best known as guitarist with 80s supergroup The Police, was born in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire.
1967 was the year of the Summer of Love. It started badly, when Donald Campbell perished attempting the World Water Speed Record on Coniston Water, driving Bluebird K7. In April, the UK won the Eurovision Song Contest (Sandie Shaw with A Puppet on a String) and in May Celtic FC became the first British team to win football’s European Cup. The Beatles released their landmark album, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in June (it was fifty years ago today…), but in August their manager, Brian Epstein, died. Homosexual acts in private between consenting men over the age of 21 were decriminalised in England and Wales and abortion became legal in the UK (except for Northern Ireland). The Marine Broadcasting Offences Act made it illegal for British subjects to be associated in any way with the popular pirate radio stations and Radio Luxembourg but, by sheer coincidence, the BBC launched Radio 1, the first radio station to exclusively play contemporary popular music (and not before time, I say). The People’s Republic of South Yemen was declared following the withdrawal of British troops and a conflict which had lasted since 1963.
Famous Brits born in 1967 include the ex-Labour Shadow Chancellor turned hip-swivelling dancer Ed Balls and the musician Noel Gallagher (Oasis, High Flying Birds).
So that’s a few anniversaries for 2017. What did we miss?