[If you think this is undignified you should have seen his execution!]
1294 - Saint Celestine V abdicated the papacy after only five months in office, hoping to return to his previous life as an ascetic hermit. Imagine something like that happening today... I know I do.
1545 - The Council of Trent began, called and presided over at first by Pope Paul III, then Pope Julius III, and finally Pope Pius IV; the Roman Catholic Church's 19th Ecumenical Council, it was held at the behest of Martin Luther (shown, at left) in order to examine so-called Protestant heresies. Alas, the princes of the church were uninterested in self-examination, and thus used the time to devise greater and more evil punishments for those responsible (because that's what Jesus would have done) rather than examining their own decadence and other laxities as the real cause of the Reformation. Not only did the Council of Trent reflect the highest ideals of the Counter-Reformation - namely bigotry, corruption, and greed - when it ended in December 1563 (just nine days shy of its own 18th birthday) it would be the church's last such navel-gazing session until Pope Pius IX called the First Vatican Council to order in December 1869.
1577 - Sir Francis Drake left Plymouth aboard the Pelican, (which was renamed the Golden Hind mid-voyage) intent on circumnavigating the Earth upon the orders of Elizabeth I.
1636 - The Massachusetts Bay Colony organized three militia regiments to defend the colony against the Pequot nation; this necessary precaution is recognized today as the foundation of the US National Guard.
1642 - Abel Janszoon Tasman became the first European to reach New Zealand.
1769 - Dartmouth College was founded by Reverend Eleazar Wheelock, with a Royal Charter from King George III, on land donated by Royal Governor John Wentworth.
1937 - The Japanese military initiated the Nanjing Massacre, a genocidal killing spree which claimed more than 200,000 (mostly civilian) lives in the six weeks that followed their capture of the Chinese capital.
1938 - The Neuengamme concentration camp opened in the Bergedorf district of Hamburg.
1951 - Margaret Hilda Roberts married Denis Thatcher at London's City Methodist, making her Margaret Thatcher; the marriage would result in twin national embarassments named Carol and Mark, but nothing like her copulation with Satan in 1959, which would bring about her election to Parliament on behalf of Finchley and, twenty years later, the country's cruellest government since Cromwell.
1959 - Archbishop Makarios III became the first President of Cyprus.
1967 - King Constantine II of Greece led a successful counter-coup against the Regime of the Colonels.
1974 - Malta became a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations.
1977 - A DC-3 aircraft chartered from the Indianapolis-based National Jet crashed near Evansville Regional Airport, killing 29, including the University of Evansville basketball team, support staff and boosters of the team.
1979 - The minority government of Canada's Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Joe Clark fell following a vote of non-confidence sponsored by NDP Finance Critic (and future Ontario premier) Bob Rae.
1981 - Poland's General Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law in order to suppress the pro-democracy Solidarity movement. It, uh, didn't work...
1996 - Kofi Annan was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations.
2000 - The so-called Texas Seven - led by George Rivas - escaped from the John Connally Unit near Kenedy, Texas, and went on a robbery spree during which police officer Aubrey Hawkins was shot and killed.
2003 - Saddam Hussein was captured near his hometown of Tikrit by US troops as part of Operation Red Dawn.
2006 - The Baiji, or Chinese River Dolphin, was announced as being functionally extinct.
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