British Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps is officially established

Year
1917
Month Day
July 07

On July 7, 1917, British Army Council Instruction Number 1069 formally establishes the British Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), authorizing female volunteers to serve alongside their male counterparts in France during World War I.

By 1917, large numbers of women were already working in munitions factories throughout Britain, serving the crucial function of supplying sufficient shells and other munitions for the Allied war effort. The harsh conditions in the factories were undeniable, with long hours spent working with noxious chemicals such as the explosive TNT; a total of 61 female munitions workers died of poisoning, while 81 others died in accidents at work. An explosion at a munitions factory in Silvertown, East London, when an accidental fire ignited 50 tons of TNT, killed 69 more women and severely injured 72 more.

In early 1917, a campaign began to allow women to more directly support the war effort by enlisting in the army to perform labors such as cookery, mechanical and clerical work and other miscellaneous tasks that would otherwise be done by men who could better serve their country in the trenches. By March 11, 1917, even Sir Douglas Haig, the British commander in chief, had come around to the idea, writing to the British War Office that “the principle of employing women in this country [France] is accepted and they will be made use of wherever conditions admit.”

The establishment of the WAAC in the summer of 1917 meant that, for the first time, women were to be put in uniform and sent to France to serve as clerks, telephone operators, waitresses and in other positions on the war front. Women were paid less than their male counterparts: 24 shillings per week for unskilled labor and up to twice that for more skilled labor, such as shorthand typing. 

As the stated purpose behind the WAAC was to release British soldiers doing menial work in Britain and France for active service at the front, the War Office set the restriction that for every woman given a job through the WAAC, a man had to be released for frontline duties. None of the female volunteers could become officers–according to traditions in the British army–but those who rose in the ranks were given the status of “controllers” or “administrators.” 

By the end of World War I, approximately 80,000 women had served in the three British women’s forces—the WAAC, the Women’s Relief Defense Corps and the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry—as non-combatants, but full-fledged contributors to the Allied war effort.

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Britain agrees to return Hong Kong to China


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Year
1984
Month Day
December 19

In the Hall of the People in Beijing, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang sign an agreement committing Britain to return Hong Kong to China in 1997 in return for terms guaranteeing a 50-year extension of its capitalist system. Hong Kong–a small peninsula and group of islands jutting out from China’s Kwangtung province–was leased by China to Great Britain in 1898 for 99 years.

In 1839, in the First Opium War, Britain invaded China to crush opposition to its interference in the country’s economic, social, and political affairs. One of Britain’s first acts of war was to occupy Hong Kong, a sparsely inhabited island off the coast of southeast China. In 1841, China ceded the island to the British with the signing of the Convention of Chuenpi, and in 1842 the Treaty of Nanking was signed, formally ending the First Opium War. At the end of the Second Opium War (1856-1860), China was forced to cede the Kowloon Peninsula, adjacent to Hong Kong Island, along with other area islands.

Britain’s new colony flourished as an East-West trading center and as the commercial gateway and distribution center for southern China. On July 1, 1898, Britain was granted an additional 99 years of rule over the Hong Kong colony under the Second Convention of Peking. Hong Kong was occupied by the Japanese from 1941 to 1944 during World War II but remained in British hands throughout the various Chinese political upheavals of the 20th century.

On December 19, 1984, after years of negotiations, British and Chinese leaders signed a formal pact approving the 1997 turnover of the colony in exchange for the formulation of a “one country, two systems” policy by China’s communist government. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called the agreement “a landmark in the life of the territory, in the course of Anglo-Chinese relations, and in the history of international diplomacy.” Hu Yaobang, the Chinese Communist Party’s secretary-general, called the signing “a red-letter day, an occasion of great joy” for China’s one billion people.

At midnight on July 1, 1997, Hong Kong was peaceably handed over to China in a ceremony attended by numerous international dignitaries, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Prince Charles, Chinese President Jiang Zemin, and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. A few thousand citizens of Hong Kong protested the turnover, which was otherwise celebratory and peaceful. The chief executive of the new Hong Kong government, Tung Chee Hwa, did enact a policy based upon the concept of one country, two systems, thus preserving Hong Kong’s role as a principal capitalist center in Asia. 

Massive anti-government protests in Hong Kong began in June 2019, when more than 1 million people marched to protest a bill that would allow the extradition of people to mainland China to stand trial. The bill was later dropped, but anti-government unrest remains. 

READ MORE: How Hong Kong Came Under ‘One Country, Two Systems’ Rule

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Edward VIII abdicates


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Year
1936
Month Day
December 11

After ruling for less than one year, Edward VIII becomes the first English monarch to voluntarily abdicate the throne. He chose to abdicate after the British government, public, and the Church of England condemned his decision to marry the American divorcée Wallis Warfield Simpson. On the evening of December 11, he gave a radio address in which he explained, “I have found it impossible to carry on the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge the duties of king, as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.” On December 12, his younger brother, the duke of York, was proclaimed King George VI.

Edward, born in 1894, was the eldest son of King George V, who became the British sovereign in 1910. Still unmarried as he approached his 40th birthday, he socialized with the fashionable London society of the day. By 1934, he had fallen deeply in love with American socialite Wallis Warfield Simpson, who was married to Ernest Simpson, an English-American businessman who lived with Mrs. Simpson near London. Wallis, who was born in Pennsylvania, had previously married and divorced a U.S. Navy pilot. The royal family disapproved of Edward’s married mistress, but by 1936 the prince was intent on marrying Mrs. Simpson. Before he could discuss this intention with his father, George V died, in January 1936, and Edward was proclaimed king.

The new king proved popular with his subjects, and his coronation was scheduled for May 1937. His affair with Mrs. Simpson was reported in American and continental European newspapers, but due to a gentlemen’s agreement between the British press and the government, the affair was kept out of British newspapers. On October 27, 1936, Mrs. Simpson obtained a preliminary decree of divorce, presumably with the intent of marrying the king, which precipitated a major scandal. To the Church of England and most British politicians, an American woman twice divorced was unacceptable as a prospective British queen. Winston Churchill, then a Conservative backbencher, was the only notable politician to support Edward.

Despite the seemingly united front against him, Edward could not be dissuaded. He proposed a morganatic marriage, in which Wallis would be granted no rights of rank or property, but on December 2, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin rejected the suggestion as impractical. The next day, the scandal broke on the front pages of British newspapers and was discussed openly in Parliament. With no resolution possible, the king renounced the throne on December 10. The next day, Parliament approved the abdication instrument, and Edward VIII’s reign came to an end. The new king, George VI, made his older brother the duke of Windsor. On June 3, 1937, the duke of Windsor and Wallis Warfield married at the Château de Cande in France’s Loire Valley.

For the next two years, the duke and duchess lived primarily in France but visited other European countries, including Germany, where the duke was honored by Nazi officials in October 1937 and met with Adolf Hitler. After the outbreak of World War II, the duke accepted a position as liaison officer with the French. In June 1940, France fell to the Nazis, and Edward and Wallis went to Spain. During this period, the Nazis concocted a scheme to kidnap Edward with the intention of returning him to the British throne as a puppet king. George VI, like his prime minister, Winston Churchill, was adamantly opposed to any peace with Nazi Germany. Unaware of the Nazi kidnapping plot but conscious of Edward’s pre-war Nazi sympathies, Churchill hastily offered Edward the governorship of the Bahamas in the West Indies. The duke and duchess set sail from Lisbon on August 1, 1940, narrowly escaping a Nazi SS team sent to seize them.

In 1945, the duke resigned his post, and the couple moved back to France. They lived mainly in Paris, and Edward made a few visits to England, such as to attend the funerals of King George VI in 1952 and his mother, Queen Mary, in 1953. It was not until 1967 that the duke and duchess were invited by the royal family to attend an official public ceremony, the unveiling of a plaque dedicated to Queen Mary. Edward died in Paris in 1972 but was buried at Frogmore, on the grounds of Windsor Castle. In 1986, Wallis died and was buried at his side.

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Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female prime minister, dies

Year
2013
Month Day
April 08

Margaret Thatcher, the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom, dies in London at age 87 from a stroke on April 8, 2013. Serving from 1979 to 1990, Thatcher was the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century. She curbed the power of Britain’s labor unions, privatized state-owned industries, led her nation to victory in the Falklands War and as a close ally of U.S. President Ronald Reagan played a pivotal role in ending the Cold War. A polarizing figure, Thatcher, nicknamed the Iron Lady, was credited by her admirers with championing free-market, conservative policies that revitalized the British economy, while critics charged these initiatives hurt the nation’s lower classes.

Margaret Hilda Roberts was born on October 23, 1925, in Grantham, a town in northeast England. Her family lived in an apartment above the grocery store owned by her father, who also was a local politician. After graduating from Oxford University in 1947, the future prime minister worked as a research chemist. In the early 1950s, she twice ran unsuccessfully for parliament as a Conservative Party candidate. After marrying Denis Thatcher (1915-2003), a well-off businessman, in 1951, she studied law and gave birth to twins in 1953. That same year, she qualified as a barrister.

In 1959, Thatcher was elected to the House of Commons from the Finchley district in north London. She rose through her party’s ranks, and when the Conservatives came to power under Edward Heath in 1970, she was named secretary for education. In that role, Thatcher was vilified by her Labour Party opponents as “Thatcher the Milk Snatcher” after she made cuts to a free-milk program for schoolchildren. In 1975, with Labour back in power, Thatcher, to the surprise of many, defeated Heath to become head of her party, as well as the first woman to serve as opposition leader in the House of Commons.

In 1979, with Britain’s economy in poor health and labor union strikes rampant, the Conservatives returned to power and Thatcher was elected prime minister. Her government lowered income taxes but increased taxes on good and services, slashed or eliminated government subsidies to businesses and implemented other austerity measures. Unemployment soared and Thatcher’s approval ratings plummeted. Then, after Argentina invaded the British-ruled Falkland Islands in April 1982, she sent troops there and by June the Falklands had been recaptured. The victory helped Thatcher win re-election as prime minister in 1983.

READ MORE: How the Falklands War Cemented Margaret Thatcher’s Reputation as the ‘Iron Lady’

During her second term, Thatcher’s government defeated a bitter, yearlong miner’s strike and passed legislation restricting the rights of trade unions, while also privatizing a number of state-owned enterprises, selling off public housing and de-regulating the financial industry. In 1984, Thatcher survived unscathed a bomb attack by the Irish Republican Army at a Conservative Party conference in Brighton, England; the blast killed five people and injured more than 30 others.

In foreign affairs, Thatcher, an opponent of communism, had a close relationship with Ronald Reagan, who served in the White House from 1981 to 1989, and with whom she shared a number of conservative views. Yet she also forged ties with Mikhail Gorbachev, who led the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991. Thatcher famously said after meeting him, “I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together,” and her leadership played an important role in helping to end Cold War tensions between America and the Soviets. In other foreign policy issues, Thatcher, controversially, spoke out initially against international efforts to impose economic sanctions on apartheid South Africa, arguing such sanctions wouldn’t work.

After being elected to an unprecedented third term in 1987, the hardheaded Thatcher experienced dissent in her own party over her opposition to further economic integration between Britain and the rest of Europe, and her introduction of a widely unpopular poll tax system. In November 1990, at the urging of her fellow party members, she resigned as prime minister and was succeeded by John Major. When she departed 10 Downing Street, Thatcher was the longest continuously serving prime minister in more than 150 years.

She left the House of Commons in 1992, and was appointed to the House of Lords, with the title Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven. She went on to pen her memoirs and travel the world giving lectures. Following a series of minor strokes in the early 2000s, Thatcher largely retreated from public view. Meryl Streep earned an Oscar for her portrayal of the former prime minister in the 2011 biopic “The Iron Lady,” which generated criticism from some Conservative politicians for its depiction of Thatcher’s decline into dementia during her later years. After Thatcher died in April 2013, more than 2,000 guests from around the world attended her funeral at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, which in 1965 was the site of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s funeral.

READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About Margaret Thatcher

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Britain’s Prince William weds Kate Middleton

Year
2011
Month Day
April 29

On April 29, 2011, Great Britain’s Prince William marries his longtime girlfriend Catherine Elizabeth “Kate” Middleton at Westminster Abbey in London. Some 1,900 guests attended the ceremony, while another 1 million spectators lined the streets of London and an estimated 2 billion people around the world watched on television.

The 29-year-old bride and 28-year-old groom, second in line (behind his father) to the throne, met in 2001 as students at the University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland. Middleton, the eldest of three children, was raised in the English village of Bucklebury. Her parents, former flight attendants, became millionaires running a successful party-supply business. Middleton majored in art history at St. Andrews and went on to do a stint as an accessories buyer for a British clothing chain. Prince William, the elder of two sons born to Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales, embarked on a military career after college, eventually becoming a helicopter search-and-rescue pilot with the Royal Air Force (RAF). His parent’s lavish 1981 wedding was a media sensation witnessed by a global television estimated as high as 750 million; however, in December 1992, it was announced the couple was separating. The couple, who publicly admitted to infidelities during their marriage, officially divorced in 1996. Diana died in a car crash in Paris the following year.

READ MORE: Glorious Behind-the-Scenes Photos of Queen Elizabeth’s 1947 Wedding

After dating for eight years, William and Kate became engaged in October 2010 while vacationing in Kenya, Africa. Their engagement was publicly announced the following month, on November 16, ending years of media speculation about whether they ever would tie the knot—and immediately kicking off a new wave of speculation about the wedding details, including the guest list and the bride’s dress.

At their Friday morning marriage ceremony on April 29, the bride wore a gown designed by Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen, a British fashion house, while the groom donned the scarlet tunic of an Irish Guards officer. Middleton’s younger sister, Pippa, served as maid of honor, while William’s brother, Prince Harry, was best man. The nuptials were presided over by the archbishop of Canterbury, with world leaders and celebrities including Elton John and David and Victoria Beckham in attendance. After the ceremony, the newlyweds kissed twice on a Buckingham Palace balcony before hundreds of thousands of cheering fans. Overhead, RAF planes made a ceremonial flyby. An afternoon reception at the palace presided over by Queen Elizabeth for some 650 guests followed, and that evening, Prince Charles hosted a dinner dance at the palace for 300 people.

The couple, who once married became the duke and duchess of Cambridge, honeymooned in the Seychelles, before returning to Wales, where William resumed his duties as a helicopter pilot.

On July 22, 2013, the duchess gave birth to the couple’s first child, George, who is third in line to the throne. She gave birth to Princess Charlotte on May 2, 2015 and to Prince Louis on April 23, 2018.

READ MORE: Not Every Royal Wedding is the Stuff of Fairytales

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Three-year-old Madeleine McCann goes missing in Portugal

Year
2007
Month Day
May 03

On May 3, 2007, less than two weeks before her fourth birthday, Madeleine McCann of Rothley, England, vanishes during a family vacation at a resort in southern Portugal. McCann’s disappearance prompted an international search; however, she has never been found.

In May 2007, the McCann family—parents Gerry and Kate McCann, Madeleine and her 2-year-old twin siblings Sean and Amelie—were vacationing with a group of friends at the Ocean Club resort in Praia da Luz (“Beach of Light”), a tourist village along Portugal’s Algarve coast. On the evening of May 3, Gerry and Kate McCann went with friends to the Ocean Club’s tapas bar, leaving a sleeping Madeleine and her brother and sister in the family’s ground-floor apartment, located near the tapas bar. The McCanns and their friends agreed to check on the children every half hour. At around 10 p.m., Kate McCann went to the apartment and discovered Madeleine was missing.

Portuguese police initially believed the little girl had wandered off and would be quickly found. As a result, they failed to promptly distribute a description of the missing child or search cars crossing the Portugal-Spain border, less than two hours from Praia da Luz.

McCann’s disappearance generated widespread media coverage in Europe and beyond. English soccer star David Beckham made a televised plea for her safe return, and “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling reportedly donated millions to help find the little girl. Gerry and Kate McCann, observant Catholics, also had an audience in Rome with Pope Benedict, who blessed a photo of Madeleine.

On September 7, 2007, Portuguese officials named Gerry and Kate McCann, both of whom are physicians, as suspects in their daughter’s disappearance. Soon after, authorities leaked word that Madeleine’s DNA had been discovered in the trunk of the car her parents rented in Portugal almost a month after she vanished. There was speculation that the McCanns, in order to enjoy an evening out, had given their children sedatives and that Madeleine had a fatal reaction to the dosage she received. Afterward, the McCanns faked her abduction and hid her body for weeks before transferring it to the trunk of their rental car. Gerry and Kate McCann labeled this theory ridiculous, particularly given the fact that they were under intense media scrutiny and constantly followed by reporters. The local Portuguese police chief later admitted that the DNA tests were inconclusive.

In July 2008, Gerry and Kate McCann were formally cleared by Portuguese officials of any involvement in their daughter’s disappearance. A third person who had been considered the case’s only other formal suspect, a British man living in Portugal, was cleared as well. Additionally, Portugal’s attorney general said there was insufficient evidence for police to continue their investigation.

The McCanns hired private detectives to keep looking for their daughter and have made publicity tours throughout Europe and the U.S. to raise awareness about her plight. 

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Falklands War ends

Year
1982
Month Day
June 14

After suffering through six weeks of military defeats against Britain’s armed forces, Argentina surrenders to Great Britain, ending the Falklands War.

The Falkland Islands, located about 300 miles off the southern tip of Argentina, had long been claimed by the British. British navigator John Davis may have sighted the islands in 1592, and in 1690 British Navy Captain John Strong made the first recorded landing on the islands. He named them after Viscount Falkland, who was the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time. In 1764, French navigator Louis-Antoine de Bougainville founded the islands’ first human settlement, on East Falkland, which was taken over by the Spanish in 1767. In 1765, the British settled West Falkland but left in 1774 for economic reasons. Spain abandoned its settlement in 1811.

In 1816, Argentina declared its independence from Spain and in 1820 proclaimed its sovereignty over the Falklands. The Argentines built a fort on East Falkland, but in 1832 it was destroyed by the USS Lexington in retaliation for the seizure of U.S. seal ships in the area. In 1833, a British force expelled the remaining Argentine officials and began a military occupation. In 1841, a British lieutenant governor was appointed, and by the 1880s a British community of some 1,800 people on the islands was self-supporting. In 1892, the wind-blown Falkland Islands were collectively granted colonial status.

READ MORE: How the Falklands War Cemented Margaret Thatcher’s Reputation as the ‘Iron Lady’

For the next 90 years, life on the Falklands remained much unchanged, despite persistent diplomatic efforts by Argentina to regain control of the islands. In 1981, the 1,800 Falkland Islanders—mostly sheep farmers—voted in a referendum to remain British, and it seemed unlikely that the Falklands would ever revert to Argentine rule. Meanwhile, in Argentina, the military junta led by Lieutenant General Leopoldo Galtieri was suffering criticism for its oppressive rule and economic management and planned the Falklands invasion as a means of promoting patriotic feeling and propping up its regime.

In March 1982, Argentine salvage workers occupied South Georgia Island, and a full-scale invasion of the Falklands began on April 2. Argentine amphibious forces rapidly overcame the small garrison of British marines at the town of Stanley on East Falkland and the next day seized the dependent territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich group. Under orders from their commanders, the Argentine troops inflicted no British casualties, despite suffering losses to their own units. Nevertheless, Britain was outraged, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher assembled a naval task force of 30 warships to retake the islands. As Britain is 8,000 miles from the Falklands, it took several weeks for the British warships to arrive. On April 25, South Georgia Island was retaken, and after several intensive naval battles fought around the Falklands, British troops landed on East Falkland on May 21. After several weeks of fighting, the large Argentine garrison at Stanley surrendered on June 14, effectively ending the conflict.

Britain lost five ships and 256 lives in the fight to regain the Falklands, and Argentina lost its only cruiser and 750 lives. Humiliated in the Falklands War, the Argentine military was swept from power in 1983, and civilian rule was restored. In Britain, Margaret Thatcher’s popularity soared after the conflict, and her Conservative Party won a landslide victory in 1983 parliamentary elections.

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Duke of Windsor weds American socialite

Year
1937
Month Day
June 03

In France, the duke of Windsor—formerly King Edward VIII of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—marries Wallis Warfield, a divorced American socialite for whom he abdicated the British throne in December 1936.

Edward, born in 1896, was the eldest son of King George V, who became the British sovereign in 1910. He served as a staff officer during World War I and in the 1920s made extensive goodwill trips abroad as Prince of Wales, a title bestowed on male heirs to the British throne. During the Depression, he helped organize work programs for the nation’s unemployed and was highly regarded by the public in the years leading up to his father’s death.

READ MORE: The Scandalous Romance That May Have Saved the British Monarchy

Edward, still unmarried as he approached his 40th birthday, socialized with the fashionable London society of the day and frequently entertained at Fort Belvedere, his country home. By 1934, he had fallen deeply in love with American socialite Wallis Warfield Simpson, who was married to Ernest Simpson, an English-American businessman who lived with Mrs. Simpson near London. Wallis, who was born in Pennsylvania in 1896 and brought up in Maryland, had previously married and divorced a U.S. Navy pilot. The royal family disapproved of Edward’s married mistress, but by 1936 the prince was intent on marrying Mrs. Simpson. Before he could discuss this intention with his father, George V died on January 20, 1936, and Edward was proclaimed king.

The new king proved popular with his subjects, and his coronation was scheduled for May 1937. His affair with Mrs. Simpson was reported in American and continental European newspapers, but due to a gentlemen’s agreement between the British press and the government, the affair was kept out of British newspapers. On October 27, 1936, Mrs. Simpson obtained a preliminary decree of divorce, presumably with the intent of marrying the king, precipitating a major scandal. To the Church of England and most British politicians, an American woman twice divorced was unacceptable as a prospective British queen. Winston Churchill, then a Conservative backbencher, was the only notable politician to support Edward.

Despite the seemingly united front against him, Edward could not be dissuaded. He proposed a morganatic marriage, in which Wallis would be granted no rights of rank or property, but Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin rejected this as impractical on December 2. The next day, the scandal broke on the front pages of British newspapers and was discussed openly in Parliament. With no resolution possible, the king renounced the throne on December 10. The next day, Parliament approved the abdication instrument, and Edward VIII’s 325-day reign came to an end. That evening, the former king gave a radio broadcast in which he explained: “I have found it impossible to carry on the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge the duties of King, as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.” On December 12, his younger brother, the duke of York, was proclaimed King George VI. That day, the new king made his older brother the duke of Windsor.

By that time, Edward had already left for Austria, where he lived with friends apart from Mrs. Simpson as her divorce proceedings progressed. Her divorce became final in May 1937, and she had her name legally changed back to Wallis Warfield. On June 3, 1937, the duke of Windsor and Wallis Warfield married at the Chateau de Cande in France’s Loire Valley. A Church of England clergyman conducted the service, which was witnessed by only about 16 guests. Wallis was now the duchess of Windsor, but King George, under pressure from his ministers, denied her the title of “royal highness” enjoyed by her husband.

For the next two years, the duke and duchess lived primarily in France but visited other European countries, including Germany, where the duke was honored by Nazi officials in October 1937 and met with Adolf Hitler. After the outbreak of World War II, the duke accepted a position as liaison officer with the French. In June 1940, France fell to the Nazis, and Edward and Wallis went to Spain. During this period, the Nazis concocted a scheme to kidnap Edward with the intention of returning him to the British throne as a puppet king. George VI, like his prime minister, Winston Churchill, was adamantly opposed to any peace with Nazi Germany. Unaware of the Nazi kidnapping plot but conscious of Edward’s pre-war Nazi sympathies, Churchill hastily offered Edward the governorship of the Bahamas in the West Indies. The duke and duchess set sail from Lisbon on August 1, 1940, narrowly escaping a Nazi SS team sent to seize them.

In 1945, the duke resigned his post, and the couple moved back to France. They lived mainly in Paris, and Edward made a few visits to England, such as to attend the funerals of King George VI in 1952 and his mother, Queen Mary, in 1953. It was not until 1967 that the duke and duchess were invited by the royal family to attend an official public ceremony, the unveiling of a plaque dedicated to Queen Mary. Edward died in Paris in 1972 but was buried at Frogmore, on the grounds of Windsor Castle. In 1986, Wallis died and was buried at his side. 

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Peasant army marches into London

Year
1381
Month Day
June 13

During the Peasants’ Revolt, a large mob of English peasants led by Wat Tyler marches into London and begins burning and looting the city. Several government buildings were destroyed, prisoners were released, and a judge was beheaded along with several dozen other leading citizens.

The Peasants’ Revolt had its origins in a severe manifestation of bubonic plague in the late 1340s, which killed nearly a third of the population of England. The scarcity of labor brought on by the Black Death led to higher wages and a more mobile peasantry. Parliament, however, resisted these changes to its traditional feudal system and passed laws to hold down wages while encouraging landlords to reassert their ancient manorial rights. In 1380, peasant discontent reached a breaking point when Parliament restricted voting rights through an increase of the poll tax, and the Peasants’ Revolt began.

In Kent, a county in southeast England, the rebels chose Wat Tyler as their leader, and he led his growing “army” toward London, capturing the towns of Maidstone, Rochester, and Canterbury along the way. After he was denied a meeting with King Richard II, he led the rebels into London on June 13, 1381, burning and plundering the city. The next day, the 14-year-old king met with peasant leaders at Mile End and agreed to their demands to abolish serfdom and restrictions on the marketplace. However, fighting continued elsewhere at the same time, and Tyler led a peasant force against the Tower of London, capturing the fortress and executing the archbishop of Canterbury.

On June 15, the king met Tyler at Smithfield, and Tyler presented new demands, including one calling for the abolishment of church property. During the meeting, the mayor of London, angered at Tyler’s arrogance in the presence of the king, lunged at the rebel leader with a sword, fatally wounding him. As Tyler lay dying on the ground, Richard managed to keep the peasant mob calm until the mayor returned with armed troops. Hundreds of rebels were executed and the rest dispersed. During the next few days, the Peasant Revolt was put down with severity all across England, and Richard revoked all the concessions he had made to the peasants at Mile End. For several weeks, Wat Tyler’s head was displayed on a pole in a London field.

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Separation of Charles and Diana announced


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Original:
Year
1992
Month Day
December 09

British Prime Minister John Major announces the formal separation of Charles, Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne, and his wife, Princess Diana. Major explained that the royal couple were separating “amicably.” The report came after several years of speculation by the tabloid press that the marriage was in peril, citing evidence that Diana and Charles spent vacations apart and official visits in separate rooms.

On July 29, 1981, nearly one billion television viewers in 74 countries tuned in to witness the marriage of Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, to Lady Diana Spencer, a young English schoolteacher. Married in a grand ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the presence of 2,650 guests, the couple’s romance was, for the moment, the envy of the world. Their first child, Prince William, was born in 1982, and their second, Prince Harry, in 1984.

READ MORE: The Hidden Dark Side of Charles and Diana’s Relationship

Before long, however, the fairy tale couple grew apart, an experience that was particularly painful under the watchful eyes of the world’s tabloid media. Diana and Charles separated in 1992, though they continued to carry out their royal duties. In August 1996, two months after Queen Elizabeth II urged the couple to divorce, the prince and princess reached a final agreement. In exchange for a generous settlement, and the right to retain her apartments at Kensington Palace and her title of “Princess of Wales,” Diana agreed to relinquish the title of “Her Royal Highness” and any future claims to the British throne.

In the year following the divorce, the popular princess seemed well on her way to achieving her dream of becoming “a queen in people’s hearts,” but on August 31, 1997, she was killed with her companion Dodi Fayed in a car accident in Paris. An investigation conducted by the French police concluded that the driver, who also died in the crash, was heavily intoxicated and caused the accident while trying to escape the paparazzi photographers who consistently tailed Diana during any public outing.

Prince Charles married the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker Bowles, on April 9, 2005.

READ MORE: The Final Years of Princess Diana

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