[Of all the things to be thrown onto pyres and consigned to oblivion by Savonarola and his cronies - from simple hair ribbons and cosmetics to priceless and irreplaceable works of art - the first and foremost, namely himself, was not; for daring to act in judgement against men (which by his own admission is ultimately the duty of God) his own bonfire would have to wait, but come it would, and it would make a very pretty flame indeed...]
1497 - Pope Alexander VI excommunicated Girolamo Savonarola; a critic of the decadent papacy, Savonarola's crusade extended to whatever elements of Renaissance culture he considered immoral, leading him to engage in book burnings, undertaking the so-called Bonfire of the Vanities, and the destruction of paintings containing pagan imagery by the likes of Botticelli and Michelangelo. Far be it from me to agree with a Pope - especially such a decadent and corrupt one - but Savonarola was more a tyrant than a culture warrior, and his comeuppance just short of one year later came several years too late to save the numerous treasures he'd destroyed.
1568 - At the Battle of Langside the forces of Mary, Queen of Scots (commanded by the Duke of Chatelherault) were defeated by a confederacy of Scottish Protestants under James Stewart, Earl of Moray, Regent of Scotland on behalf of Mary's infant son James VI and her half-brother.
1619 - Dutch statesman Johan van Oldenbarnevelt was executed in The Hague after having been accused of treason for his support of William the Silent and efforts to liberate Holland from Spanish control.
1787 - Captain Arthur Phillip sailed from Portsmouth in command of the First Fleet, which was charged with establishing a penal colony in Australia with eleven ships full of convicts.
1846 - The Mexican-American War was declared by President James K. Polk with the approval of Congress, which was how they did it in those days.
1848 - Finland's national anthem, Maame - with music by Fredrik Pacius and lyrics by Finn Johan Ludvig Runeberg - was first performed.
1861 - The Great Comet of 1861 was discovered by John Tebbutt in Australia; it came so close to Earth the planet passed through its tail, obscuring the sun even in the daytime. It will next return in 2269.
1888 - With the passage of the Lei Áurea or 'Golden Law' Brazil unconditionally abolished slavery.
1909 - The first Giro d'Italia took place in Milan; Italian cyclist Luigi Ganna was the winner.
1912 - Britain's Royal Flying Corps - the forerunner of the Royal Air Force - was established.
1939 - The first commercial FM radio station in the United States was launched in Bloomfield, Connecticut; the station later became WDRC-FM.
1940 - As the German army crossed the Meuse River and the Battle of France began, Winston Churchill made his 'blood, toil, tears, and sweat' speech to the House of Commons. Meanwhile Queen Wilhelmina fled the Nazi invasion of Holland aboard the HMS Hereward to lead the Dutch government in exile from London while her daughter and heir Princess Juliana took her children (Princesses Beatrix and Irene) to live in Ottawa for their safety.
1948 - The Kfar Etzion massacre was committed by Arab infantry, the day before the state of Israel issued its Declaration of Independence and the 1948 Arab-Israeli War began.
1952 - The Rajya Sabha - the upper house of the Parliament of India - held its first sitting.
1954 - The Anti-National Service Riots in Singapore were led by Chinese students between the ages of 18 and 20 who were unwilling to be drafted into compulsory military service.
1967 - Dr. Zakir Hussain became 3rd President of India, and the first Muslim President of Indian Union.
1969 - A series of race riots broke out in Kuala Lumpur which later came to be known as the May 13 Incident.
1985 - Police in Philadelphia stormed the headquarters of an African-American anti-technology organization called MOVE in order to end a stand-off, killing 11 MOVE members in the process; during the raid police also dropped a bomb from a helicopter, destroying the homes of 250 city residents in the process.
2000 - In the Dutch city of Enschede, a fireworks factory exploded, killing 22 people, wounding 950, and resulting in approximately €450 million in damage.
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