The Week in History,

A roundup of the week’s historical events, collected from my Twitter ramblings and expanded with contemporary and near contemporary descriptions.

Issue 1.  Mon. 13 Feb 1503. Challenge of Barletta. 13 Feb 1692. Massacre of Glencoe. 14 Feb 1779. Death of Captain Cook. 15 Feb Destruction of the USS Maine. 17 Feb Official Opening of Tut’s Tomb.

Chivalry and glory in Italy.


Spanish commander Gonzalo de Córdoba attempts to keep his forces intact against powerful French armies that threaten to overwhelm him. In an instance of war taking a back seat to honour, a genuine example of chivalry played out in defence of Italian honour.

“… a circumstance occurred which, by attracting the attention, suspended in some degree the operations of the hostile armies, and was probably not without its influence on the subsequent events of the war. Some negotiations having taken place between the French and Spanish commanders, for the exchange of their prisoners, Charles de Torgues, a French officer, visited the town of Barletta, where being invited to supper in the house of Don Enrico di Mendoza, in company with Indico Lopez and Don Pietro d’Origno, prior of Messina, a dispute arose respecting the comparative courage of the French and Italian soldiery, in the course of which de Torgues asserted that the Italians were an effeminate and dastardly people. Lopez replied, that he had himself under his command a troop of Italians, who were not only equal to the French, but on whose courage and fidelity he could as fully rely as if they were his own countrymen. In order to decide this controversy, it was agreed that a combat on horseback should take place between thirteen Frenchmen and thirteen Italians, on condition that the victors should be entitled to the arms and horses of the vanquished,andonehundredgoldcrownseach. This proposal met with the approbation of the respective commanders, who were probably not dis- pleased with the opportunity afforded them of a shortrelaxationfromthefatiguesofwar. Four judges were appointed on each side, to determine on the victory, and hostages were mutually given to abide by their decision.

FRENCH. Charles de Torgues. Marc de Frigne. Giraut de Forses. Claude Graiam d’ Asti. Martellin de Lambris. Pier de Liaie. Jacques de la Fontaine. Eliot de Baraut. Jean de Landes. Sacet de Sacet. Francois de Pise. Jacques de Guignes. Naute de la Praises

ITALIANS. Hettore Fieramosca. Francesco Salamone. Marco Corollario. Riccio di Palma. Gulielmo d’Albamonte. Marino di Abignente. Giovanni Capozzo. Giovanni Brancaleone. Lodovico d’Abenavolo. Hettore Giovenale. Bartolommeo Tanfulla. Komanello da Forli. Mcale Tesi.

JUDGES. Monsig. di Broglio Monsig. di Murtibrach. Francisco Zurlo. Diego Vela. Monsig. de Bruet. Francesco Spinola. Etum Suite. Alonzo Lopez.

Monsig. de Musnai. Angelo Galeotta.
Monsig. de Dumoble. Albernuccio Valga.

On the day appointed, which was the thirteenth of February, 1503, the armies met as spectators of the combat, in a plain between the towns of Andre and Corrato, and the chief commanders pledged themselves to each other for the due observance of the stipulated terms. After the Italian comba- tants had attended the celebration of the mass, Gonsalvo encouraged them by an oration, the tenor of which has been preserved by one of his countrymen, in Spanish verse,They then partook of a moderate collation, after which they proceeded to the field of battle, their horses ready caparisoned being led by thirteen captains of infantry. The combatants followed in complete armour, except their helmets, which, together with their lances, were carried by thirteen gentlemen. Being arrived within a mile of the field they were met by the four Italian judges, who informed them that they had been with the four judges appointed by the French, and had marked out the space for the combat. The Italians were the first in the field, when their leader, Hettore Fieramosca, availed himself of the opportunity of addressing his associates in a speech which the Neapolitan historian, Summonte, has also thought proper to preserve. In a short time the French combatants made their appearance in great pomp and with numerous attendants. The adverse parties then quitting their horses and mounting the steeds prepared for them, arrayed themselves in order, and giving their coursers the reins, rushed against each other at full speed. A few lances were broken in the shock, without much injury to either party ; but it was observed that the Italians remained firmly united, whilst the French seemed to be dispersed and in some disorder. The combatants then dismounting, attacked each other with swords and battle-axes and a contest ensued in which both parties displayed great courage, strength, and dexterity, but the result of which was a complete victory to the Italians ; the French being all either wounded or made prisoners. The ransom of one hundred crowns not being found upon the persons of the vanquished, the conquerors by the directions of the judges retained their adversaries in custody, and carried them into the town of Barletta, where Gonsalvo out of his own purse generously paid their ransom and restored them to liberty.”
Life of Leo the Tenth by William Roscoe.
Dark deeds were perpetrated in Glencoe.


A party of Williamite Soldiers where ordered to extriminate the clan McDonald. The reason was that they had been too slow to accept King William’s Pardon after the 1689 Jacobite rising. Worst of all they betrayed the tradition of highland hospitality and murdered their hosts as they slept, forcing the fugitives to face the ravages of a bitter Scottish winter.
The orders were handed down from the very top, by the time they arrived in Captain Robert Campbell’s hands they were as precise as they were ruthless.

“You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebells, the McDonalds of Glenco, and put all to the sword under seventy. you are to have a speciall care that the old Fox and his sones doe upon no account escape your hands, you are to secure all the avenues that no man escape. This you are to putt in execution att fyve of the clock precisely; and by that time, or very shortly after it, I’ll strive to be att you with a stronger party: if I doe not come to you att fyve, you are not to tarry for me, but to fall on. This is by the Kings speciall command, for the good & safety of the Country, that these miscreants be cutt off root and branch. See that this be putt in execution without feud or favour, else you may expect to be dealt with as one not true to King nor Government, nor a man fitt to carry Commissione in the Kings service. Expecting you will not faill in the full-filling hereof, as you love your selfe, I subscribe these with my hand att Balicholis Feb: 12, 1692.
For their Majesties service
(signed) R. Duncanson
To Capt.
Robert Campbell
of Glenlyon”
Letter ordering the death of the MacDonalds of Glencoe.

Captain Cook meets a tragic and brutal end.


After he failed to take captive a high chief in reprisal for a stolen boat. Making it to the shore, a dense crowd of Hawaiians gathered and began to get violent, pelting the British with stones and then driving the sailors and marines into the sea:

“At that time, it was to the boats alone, that Captain Cook had to look for his safety; for when the marines had fired, the Indians rushed among them, and forced them into the water, where four of them were killed : their lieutenant was wounded, but fortunately escaped, and was taken up by the pinnace. Captain Cook was then the only one remaining on the rock : he was observed making for the pinnace, holding his left-hand against the back of his head, to guard it from the stones, and carrying his musket under the other arm. An Indian was seen following him, but with caution and timidity; for he stopped once or twice, as if undetermined to proceed. At last he advanced upon him unawares, and with a large club, or common stake, gave him a blow on the back of the head, and
then precipitately retreated. The stroke seemed to have stunned Captain Cook : he staggered a few paces, then fell on his hand and one knee, and dropped his musket. As he was rising, and before he could recover his feet, another Indian stabbed him in the back of the neck with an iron dagger. He then fell into a bite of water about knee deep, where others crowded upon him, and endeavoured to keep him under : but struggling very strongly with them, he got his head up, and casting his look towards the pinnace, seemed to solicit assistance. Though the boat was not above five or six yards distant from him, yet from the crowded and confused state of the crew, it seems, it was not in their power to save him. The Indians got him under again, but in deeper water : he was, however, able to get his head up once more, and being almost spent in the struggle, he naturally turned to the rock, and was endeavouring to support himself by it, when a savage gave him a blow with a club, and he was seen alive no more. They hauled him up lifeless on the rocks, where they seemed to take a savage pleasure in using every barbarity to his dead body, snatching the daggers out of each other’s hands, to have the horrid satisfaction of piercing the fallen victim of their barbarous rage.”
A narrative of the death of Captain Cook by Samuel David.

Casus Belli in Cuba.


The door to the Spanish American War opened with a bang as the USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbour. Despite the best efforts of the Spanish government to ward of conflict increasingly imperialist America, events spiralled out of control and lead to the Invasions of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Newspapers were swift to capitalise on the destruction of the Maine and fed a jingoistic public with inflammatory reports.

From the New York Times.
“Havana, Feb. 15 At 9:45 o’clock this evening a terrible explosion took place on board the United States battleship Maine in Havana Harbor. Many persons were killed or wounded. All the boats of the Spanish cruiser Alfonso XII. are assisting. As yet the cause of the explosion is not apparent. The wounded sailors of the Maine are unable to explain it. It is believed that the battleship is totally destroyed. The explosion shook the whole city. The windows were broken in nearly all the houses. The correspondent of the Associated Press says he has conversed with several of the wounded sailors and understands from them that the explosion took place while they were asleep, so that they can give no particulars as to the cause.


He Declares That No Spaniard Would Be Guilty of Causing Such a Disaster Senor de Lome, the departing ex-Minister of Spain to this country, who arrived in this city last night, and went to the Hotel St. Marc, at Fifth Avenue and Thirty-ninth Street, was awakened on the receipt of the news from Havana. He refused to believe the report at first. When he had been assured of the truth of the story he said that there was no possibility that the Spaniards had anything to do with the destruction of the Maine. No Spaniard, he said, would be guilty of such an act. If the report was true, he said, the explosion must have been caused by some accident on board the warship.”


Howard Carter formally opened the door to the sepulchre of Tutankhamun.


Before assembled guests and officials of the Egyptian government Carter set to work. Much of the 1922 season and a portion of that year had been taken up with cataloging, clearing and recording the intervening antechamber, in which he had seen such “wonderful things”.

“In the Antechamber everything was prepared and ready, and to those who had not visited it since the original opening of the tomb it must have presented a strange sight. We had screened the statues with boarding to protect them from possible damage, and between them we had erected a small platform, just high enough to enable us to reach the upper part of the doorway, having determined, as the safest plan, to work from the top downwards. A short distance back from the platform there was a barrier, and beyond, knowing that there might be hours of work ahead of us, we had provided chairs for the visitors. On either side standards had been set up for our lamps, their light shining full upon the doorway. Looking back, we realise what a strange, incongruous picture the chamber must have presented, but at the time I question whether such an idea even crossed our minds. One thought and one only was possible. There before us lay the sealed door, and with its opening we were to blot out the centuries and stand in the presence of a king who reigned three thousand years ago. My own feelings as I mounted the platform were a strange mixture, and it was with a trembling hand that I struck the first blow. My first care was to locate the wooden lintel above the door: then very carefully I chipped away the plaster and picked out the small stones which formed the uppermost layer of the filling. The temptation to stop and peer inside at every moment was irresistible, and when, after about ten minutes’ work, I had made a hole large enough to enable me to do so, I inserted an electric torch. An astonishing sight its light revealed, for there, within a yard of the doorway, stretching as far as one could see and blocking the entrance to the chamber, stood what to all appearance was a solid wall of gold. For the moment there was no clue as to its meaning, so as quickly as I dared I set to work to widen the hole. This had now become an operation of considerable difficulty, for the stones of the masonry were not accurately squared blocks built regularly upon one another, but rough slabs of varying size, some so heavy that it took all one’s strength to lift them: many of them, too, as the weight above was removed, were left so precariously balanced that the least false movement would have sent them sliding inwards to crash upon the contents of the chamber below. We were also endeavouring to preserve the seal-impressions upon the thick mortar of the outer face, and this added considerably to the difficulty of handling the stones. Mace and Callender were helping me by this time, and each stone was cleared on a regular system. With a crowbar I gently eased it up, Mace holding it to prevent it falling forwards; then he and I lifted it out and passed it back to Callender, who transferred it on to one of the foremen, and so, by a chain of workmen, up the passage and out of the tomb altogether. With the removal of a very few stones the mystery of the golden wall was solved. We were at the entrance of the actual burial-chamber of the king, and that which barred our way was the side of an immense gilt shrine built to cover and protect the sarcophagus.”
The Tomb of Tutankhamun by Howard Carter.

Public domain Images collected from Wikipedia. See you again for another adventure in Historyland.


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