What happened this month in history?

April 1st 1204

The Death of Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor was a very wealthy woman and one of the most powerful and influential women of the twelfth century. She became Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right at the age of 15 in 1137. Her succession to the duchy of Aquitance made her a very eligible bride throughout Europe. Though, one must be skeptical and presume her title and inherited wealth played an important part of her eligibility. Nevertheless soon after she married Louis VII of France and became Queen of France.

With her husband she participated in the failed Second Crusade and even managed to bedazzle everyone at the Byzantine court of Manuel I with her beauty and high spirited nature. Following the crusade she sort to divorce her husband and at first Pope Eugene III refused to annul the marriage. By 1152, after the marriage produced no male heirs, on grounds of consanguinity, Louis divorced her in 1152.

Within months, though, Eleanor sort for herself another politically shrewd marriage and alliance. She married Duke Henry of Normandy, who would become future king of England (Henry II) and in time had five sons and three daughters with him.

After a while her second marriage would deteriorate. Eleanor, it seemed had finally had enough of Henry’s philandering ways and by 1167 she packed her belongings and sailed across the channel to her own city of Poitiers (with Henry’s Blessing). In Poitiers, Eleanor retained her own court and was even not afraid to oppose Henry, when her son Prince Henry launched a rebellion against him. Her actions unfortunately infuriated Henry II and he had Eleanor imprisoned for around 15 years. Upon his death, Eleanor would be released in 1189.

In her final years of life, she would act as regent (Queen) for her son Richard I while he sought fame and glory during the Third Crusade. Eleanor would outlive Richard and survive long enough to see her youngest son John reign as king.

At the age of 82 this amazing women would die in a convent on April 1st 1204, having influenced the politics of western Europe through her marriages and influence over her sons.


April 10th 1972

The French Connection wins the Academy Award for best picture of 1971.

The Library of Congress wasn’t wrong to include The French Connection into its registry as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” in 2005. It is truly one of the best cop-movie pictures of all time! Back in 1972 on April 10th, at the 44th annual Academy Awards, it deservedly won best picture (for the previous year). From a technical point of view, one can’t help but admire the rough-edged editing style of the film that makes many memorable scenes seem reckless and frantic. It is also quite scary how true to life it portrayed urban decay of the 70’s, and even more impressive is its unyieldingly gloomy ending. Loosely based on a true story, the film centres on the single-minded zeal of New York City police detective “Popeye” Doyle, played by legendary actor Gene Hackman. All in all, it is a thrilling and powerful movie set against the backdrop on the war on drugs.

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April 10th 1998

Peace in Ireland? The Good Friday Agreement is signed.

The twentieth century saw some of the worst political violence in Northern Ireland, between 1969 and 1999, where almost some 3,500 people lost their lives. The root of the conflict in Ireland stemmed from the political division of the country in 1921. Often referred to as “the Troubles”, Ireland was divided into two: Northern Ireland with its six counties (which remained in the United Kingdom) and the republic of Ireland. The struggle has largely been fought over national, cultural and religious divisions, between Northern Ireland’s Protestants and Catholics. The Protestants in Northern Ireland primarily see themselves as British and have time and time again stated their support and allegiance to the United Kingdom (unionists). While most Catholics in Northern Ireland identify themselves as Irish, and have harboured dreams of a reunion with the republic of Ireland (nationalists).

For decades, the British and Irish governments have actively worked on bringing peace to the region, in particular a political settlement that would hold true and stay strong. After tireless years of work, the British and Irish governments, together with Northern Ireland’s political parties signed a peace agreement on April 10th, 1998. Known as the Good Friday Agreement (also known as the Belfast Agreement), its provisions in a nutshell specified that Northern Ireland would continue to be a part of the United Kingdom, for as long as the majority of the people of Northern Ireland wished it. If and only when a majority of people residing in the six counties vote for a reunification with Ireland (as a whole) would Northern Ireland cease to exist.

The transfer of power from London to Belfast, in a power-sharing self-rule assembly set up in Stormont Castle (Belfast) has been troubled, as the two major political parties, the unionist and nationalist, come to grips with the process. Since 1999 the Northern Ireland Assembly has been suspended several times over its short history, due to a loss of trust and confidence from both sides of the political divide. As a work in progress, many still praise its desire and good will to succeed.


April 12th 1204

Crusaders breach the walls of Constantinople and sack the city

The sack of Constantinople or siege of Constantinople was the final shameful act of the Fourth Crusade that began on the 8th of April 1204. It was a culmination of events that led the crusader armies first to the walls of the eternal city in 1203, in which the Latins had entered in an agreement to restore the rightful heir of the Byzantine Empire. Following the first siege of the city in 1203, the disgraced Emperor Alexios III fled, allowing for Isaac II to be restored as Emperor, with his son Alexios IV to rule as co-Emperor. Unfortunately, Isaac II died soon after, allegedly of shock, when he heard the news that his son Alexios IV was deposed and subsequently murdered by a popular uprising early in 1204. The Crusaders were obviously furious upon hearing the news and immediately asked the new Emperor Alexios V to honour the agreements and debts owed to them by Alexios IV, but he refused. The armies of the Fourth Crusade thereafter began a new offensive against the city on the 8th April. The siege almost came to a standstill, as the Crusaders failed to make headway with their attacks, but on the 12th, with the assistance of favourable winds, Venetian ships were finally able to get close enough to Constantinople’s sea walls. After a brief successful attack, the Crusaders overwhelmed the Byzantines, opened one of the gates in the wall and entered into the city. The fighting continued in the city, but by the next morning on the 13th, the will of the defenders to fight came to an end. What followed has been described by witnesses and historians ever since, as the greatest shame inflicted on Christians by other fellow Christians, in faithlessness and deception, in cruelty and sheer utter greed.

For three days straight days, the inhabitants of Constantinople were open to rape and murder, as the Crusaders systematically pillaged the city. The Crusaders targeted everything in their wake, sacking churches and mansions of the rich. Battle axes, swords and tools hacked and wrenched out gold and precious stones from walls and objects of beauty. Religious treasure, which included the relics of saints, was particularly sort after and shipped to Italy and France. So much more was melted down to mint coins or damaged by senseless destruction or lost in the chaos. It was the Venetians who gained some of the greatest ‘booty’. They carefully selected beautiful enamels and precious oriental marble-works. Most famously, the Venetians brought back to their lagoon, the four bronze horse statues, that stood in Constantinople’s hippodrome for centuries, which would now adorn the central doorway of the Basilica of San Marco.

The Fourth Crusade did more than just strip the great city of Constantinople of its wealth. It had decidedly mortally wounded the Byzantine Empire that had stood for almost a thousand years. The Crusaders would share-out Byzantium’s lands and Constantinople would become the heart of a new Latin Empire of the East, until the Byzantine’s eventually recaptured its precious city in 1261.


April 19th 1937

The completion of San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate Bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the great engineering wonders of the modern world. It was built to connect the city of San Francisco with Marin County and spans approximately 1.7 miles across the San Francisco Bay.

Its distinct orange vermillion steel skeleton is recognized all over the world as arguably San Francisco’s greatest attraction. Users of the bridge are promised a spectacular view from the six-lane roadway, which also includes a pedestrian walkway and bicycle lane built on either side of the bridge.

Three chief engineers are credited with its design – Joseph Strauss, Irving Morrow and Charles Ellis. It is typically categorized as a suspension bridge with truss arches and truss causeways.

The actual construction of the bridge took four years to complete and was plagued by numerous problems. Yet after years of fast-rising tides, frequent storms, San Francisco’s famous fog and difficulty of blasting through bedrock 30 metres below the bay surface to anchor earthquake-proof foundations, the bridge was completed on April 19th 1937.


April 25th 1915

The Gallipoli Campaign: Landings at Anzac Cove

A little after four in the morning of the 25th April, the first wave of Australian soldiers rowed ashore on Anzac Cove, on the Gallipoli peninsula, after being initially towed in by steamboats, under the cover of darkness. Around four thousand men were ashore, four battalions in total, which included the 11th, in what was an astonishing tactical surprise in and around dawn. With the Turks somewhat confused with what was unfolding around them, it wasn’t long before the Anzacs (Australians) secured the beach head for the next wave of men heading into shore. Interestingly, contrary to popular belief, there was no massacre on Anzac Cove beaches. Of course, there were many casualties reported early on, but if you are looking for a real story about the slaughter on the beaches of the peninsula, that occurred in the British sector on Cape Helles.

Faced with steep terrain and deep gullies, the Anzac advance up the peninsula cliffs was fraught with danger and enormous difficulty. By mid morning on that first day some 8,000 Anzac’s had a toe-hold on the cove. Although, the Anzacs were largely unopposed on the beaches, the Turkish counter attack that followed was swift and effective, halting the allies advance over the next few days. Casualties on the first day of the campaign for the whole of the allies were horrendous. The Anzac contingent alone sustained casualties around 2,000 men, which included 749 dead. The Turks too, had suffered around about the same number of casualties.

The great hope of a sweeping victory over the Turks would be put to rest very quickly. No one, especially the British admiralty, would be dinning in Constantinople any time soon. Under British command, the whole allied operation would eventually stagnate into a mortal stalemate that dragged on until their evacuation in late December 1915.

This series aims to take a look at many of the important events or memorable moments that shape our history month after month. It will be on occasions updated to include additional material, giving you the reader a rough guide to what happened this month in history! *This particular article was originally published on April 10th 2016. 

Photo Credits: Every effort has been made to trace and appropriate acknowledge all the images used this article. All images appear to be in the public domain except the image of Eleanor of Aquitaine, which is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license. The Golden Gate Bridge image is used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license. The movie still image of the film The French Connection (1971) is courtesy of twentieth Century Fox. I make use of this image under the rational of fair use to highlight an exceptionally important film. It also enables me to visually identify the film, contributing to the readers understanding of the article, which could not practically be communicated by words alone.