What happened this month in history?


January 4th 1967

High Speed World Record Attempt Ends in Tragedy.

Briton Donald Campbell lost his life doing what he loved best on January 4th 1967. He lost control of his all-metal turbo jet engine speedboat, Bluebird K7, which bounced three times before somersaulting into the air and crashing into the water at very high-speed. Campbell was killed instantly in the accident.

On the fateful day of his crash, he was trying to break a new water speed record in excess of 300mph when tragedy struck. He may not have died if he wasn’t so stupidly obstinate. Campbell lived under the huge shadow of his famous father, Sir Malcolm Campbell, a successful high-speed racer, who held various land and water speed records in the 1920’s and 30’s. Sir Malcolm doubted very much as to whether his son could emulate his success, but Donald was determined to prove him wrong. His daredevil and often reckless pursuit of speed gained him notoriety, becoming a multiple land and water record breaker in his own right. But one has to wonder at what point is notoriety just not worth it anymore? His horrible crash is forever etched into our minds arguably more so than any of his previous record breaking attempts.


January 15th 1559

The Coronation of Elizabeth I

“….I will be as good unto you as ever a queen was unto her people.”

These were the words of Elizabeth I on the eve of her coronation on this day, the 15th January, 1559. Not bad for a daughter of Henry VIII, who himself declared her illegitimate in his turbulent career as King of England. Fortunately, he would reverse this decision in 1544.

However, there were more troubled days ahead for Elizabeth, when her half-sister Mary imprisoned her briefly in the Tower of London in 1554. In the same tower her mother Anne Boleyn had spent her last horrible days as a prisoner before being beheaded on the orders of Henry VIII. Elizabeth had good reason to fear the same fate.

In a brief background to Elizabeth’s rise to the throne, England was a dangerous time for Protestants under Elizabeth’s half sister’s reign, in which, she shared a very stormy relationship. Queen Mary, a devote Catholic, imposed pro-Catholic dogma and made efforts to restore papal rule again in England. She went to great lengths to prosecute Protestants which included the barbaric act of burning. Mary would earn the nickname “Bloody Mary” for her prosecutions of Protestants by her opponents.

Elizabeth’s tower imprisonment was a response to the Protestant rebellion that ensued during Mary’s reign. Was it an act of desperation on Mary’s part to imprison her Protestant sister ? Mary’s prosecution would largely fail, including her attempt to punish her sister for treason. Elizabeth would be released after no evidence of a conspiracy could be proved.

During the last months of Mary’s reign, it became clear that she was now mortally ill. Her parliament urged her to name her sister as heir apparent. She reluctantly agreed and approved the succession of Elizabeth. (A condition of Elizabeth’s succession was a promise of sorts that Elizabeth wouldn’t change her Catholic reforms and legislation. Elizabeth never kept her promise.)

After Mary’s death, Elizabeth survived a brief Catholic plot against her, to be largely hailed by the majority of English lords who were Protestant. The English parliament would be called to announce that Elizabeth would take her place as ‘queen of this realm’.


January 16th 1547

Ivan The Terrible crowned Russia’s first Czar.

Although the Grand Prince of Moscow, Ivan IV had already effectively ruled Russia since 1533, he decided to raise the stakes and had himself officially crowned as the first Russian Czar (Caesar) on January 16th 1547. His bold coronation was a message to his subjects and Europe that he saw himself, like the Byzantine’s once did, as God’s representative here on earth. Greatly influenced by the Metropolitan of Moscow, Saint Macarius, to establish Russia as a Christian state, Ivan tied his new position strategically to Orthodoxy.

His reign lasted until 1584 with a long list of notable achievements. His reforms were extensive, introducing measures of self-government and at the same time curtailing the power of the aristocracy. In foreign policy, he promoted and forced Russia into Europe, while at home a detailed new legal code and cultural development, such as the printing press, helped modernize Russia. However, his reign is also remembered for him virtually bankrupting the state and his long campaign of terror against the Russian nobility, putting to death thousands of victims. It was during this period of ‘madness’ that he infamously beat his pregnant daughter-in-law, causing her to miscarriage and blinded the architect of St. Basil’s Cathedral, so he could not build anything of equal beauty again. Tragically he also killed his own son, in a fit of rage, which hastened the extinction of the Rurik dynasty.

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January 24th 41 AD

Emperor Caligula is Murdered.

The 3rd Emperor of the Roman Empire was a troubled youth named Gaius Julius Augustus Germanicus. We know him better as Caligula or “Little Boots”, a mad and depraved tyrant who ruled for four short years. Believing that he was a living God, he indulged in perverse and bizarre behavior that shocked the Roman populace. If we are to believe all that we read about him, he slept with his sisters and anyone really who taught his fancy, he devised awful new methods of torture, killed prominent Romans for no good reasons and according to legend fed his favourite horse, Incitatus, at his dinner table. The tale of Caligula’s mad affection for his horse went too far when he allegedly even attempted to elevate his horse to the consulship?

The seemingly strange rule of Caligula came to an end at the hands of members of the Praetorian Guard. Early in 41 AD, on January 24th, after being repeatedly humiliated (Caligula apparently took to mocking members of his imperial guard), two members (maybe more) of the Praetorian Guards slipped into a remote part of the palace and stabbed him to death. They went on to murder his wife and baby daughter, smashing her head against a wall. The Senate finally hoped that by desecrating his memory and statues that he might in time be forgotten from the annals of Roman history.


January 28th 1986

The Space Shuttle Tragedy

This year marks the 30th anniversary of one of modern history’s most dramatic disasters. The Space Shuttle Challenger and her seven-member crew set out on a space voyage that seemed routine for NASA on January 28th 1986, when a ruptured O-ring in the right solid rocket boaster caused a massive explosion, just 73 seconds after the Challenger was launched. In the midst of the break up of the Space Shuttle and its two rockets, the crew cabin detached and plummeted into the ocean at unbelievable speeds. All seven-members of the Challenger sadly lost their lives.

In the immediate aftermath, NASA went into lock down and were severely criticized for its lack of transparency with the press and wider public. The disaster led to a two and a half-year suspension of the Space Shuttle program. A subsequent commission investigation found that NASA had seriously disregarded a multitude of warnings around safety.