Today in History: November 24-26
Europeans stumble upon Tasmania, the English monarchy faces a sudden crisis, and more
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November 24, 1642: Dutch explorer Abel Tasman and his crew sight an island off the southeastern coast of Australia. They were the first Europeans to locate what they named Van Diemen’s Land, after Dutch East Indies governor Anthony van Diemen. Tasman’s mission was to locate the famed “Province of Beach,” a land with allegedly vast gold deposits that Europeans—based on a misreading of Marco Polo’s travelogue (possibly fueled by some creative license on the part of Polo himself) and a vast overestimation of the size of Australia—believed would be found south of the Solomon Islands. Van Diemen’s Land eventually became a British colony, which in 1856 changed its name to Tasmania. Today it is part of Australia.
November 24, 1859: Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species is published. Its theory of evolution by natural selection became a fundamental tenet of modern biology.
November 24, 1965: Congolese army chief of staff Mobutu Sese Seko leads a bloodless coup that installs him as the unquestioned ruler of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mobutu ruled his repressive totalitarian state, which he renamed “Zaire” in 1971, until he was overthrown in the First Congo War in 1997. He died several months later in exile.
November 25, 1120: The White Ship sinks after striking a rock off the coast of Normandy en route to England. What made this particular shipwreck notable is that the vessel was carrying William Ætheling, the only legitimate son of King Henry I of England, as well as Henry’s illegitimate son Richard of Lincoln. This meant that when Henry died in 1135 his only heir was his daughter Matilda, which was problematic because she was married to the Count of Anjou, Geoffrey Plantagenet. Oh, and also because she was a lady. English nobles didn’t like Geoffrey but they really didn’t like the idea of being ruled by a woman, and in this case the true royal line would have passed through Matilda, not her husband. They decided instead to make Henry’s nephew, Stephen of Blois, their new king. This kicked off a civil war known as “The Anarchy,” essentially pitting Norman England against Norman Normandy. That war (1135-1153) ended in a compromise, the Treaty of Wallingford, which left Stephen as king but ensured the succession of Matilda’s son, the future Henry II.
November 25, 1177: The Battle of Montgisard
November 25, 1491: The Treaty of Granada
November 25, 1510: Portuguese forces under Afonso de Albuquerque capture the port city of Goa from the Bijapur Sultanate for the second time. Goa became the capital of Portuguese India, a colonial possession that survived in one form or another from the early 16th century until 1961, though it lost most of its towns and cities in the 17th and 18th centuries.
November 26, 1939: The Russian village of Mainila is struck multiple times by artillery shells, which Soviet authorities blamed on the Finnish military. In reality the Red Army had staged an attack on the village as a justification for tearing up the USSR’s non-aggression treaty with Finland. A long-planned Soviet invasion and kicking off the “Winter War.” The conflict ended in March 1940 with Finland agreeing to make some territorial concessions to the Soviets—either more than Moscow wanted or much less than it was hoping to gain, there’s some academic debate about this. There’s a bit more consensus that, regardless of outcome the Red Army struggled to a surprising degree in confronting the far weaker (on paper, anyway) Finnish military. Among other ramifications of this conflict, the Red Army’s difficulties helped convince Adolf Hitler that the Soviet Union was vulnerable to invasion, which needless to say didn’t quite turn out the way he’d assumed it would.
November 26, 2008: Ten members of the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba begin a four day killing spree of bombings and shootings across the Indian city of Mumbai. When it ended on November 29, at least 174 people had been killed (including nine of the attackers) and over 300 more wounded. The attack continues to affect relations between India and Pakistan to the present day.