It’d be a brave person who would dare predict what could happen next year, but one thing is for sure: 2022 will bring a juicy crop of anniversaries, getting off to a good start on January 6 with the 700th anniversary of the death in 1322 of King Philip the Tall (“Le Long”) of France, who had succeeded his elder brother, King Louis, whose height is not known but whose unfortunate nickname was “the Quarreller”.
Moving on to January 15, 1622, we reach the baptism of Molière, the playwright who, four centuries later, is still capturing the follies of this and any age. (He was to die while playing the hypochondriac in Le Malade Imaginaire; call it Method Acting if you must but his own malady was not at all imaginary.)
January 30, 1972 was the date of Bloody Sunday; it is 50 years since “1 Para” won its battle with unarmed civil rights protesters in Londonderry in Northern Ireland, killing 13. In April came the – also shameful – Lord Widgery’s whitewashing “inquiry” into the murders, sorry, accidental deaths.
February 2, 1922 saw the publication of Ulysses, but only in Paris, where it was typeset – hence the 2,000 typos. Until 1936 the British had to read smuggled copies under their bedclothes. (NB: June 16 is the day when, as in James Joyce’s novel, folk follow the hero’s route in Dublin from public bath to public house.) Also celebrating its centenary is the experimental Radio 2MT, which inspired the launch of the BBC and on the 14th began its first test programmes.
March 11 brings an anniversary that is 1,800 years old but involves a youth with a contemporary LGBT issue. In 222 A.D. the Praetorian Guard assassinated extravagant 18-year-old transsexual Roman Emperor Heliogabalus; born a male, he is said to have offered a surgeon half of the empire to turn him/her into an Empress.
April anniversaries begin on the 3rd with the centenary of bad news for Russia: Joseph Stalin was its new leader. Thanks for nothing, Fate! On the 6th, two centuries earlier, there had been a welcome u-turn from Tsar Peter the Great: in 1722 the mightily-moustached monarch cancelled his previous tax on beards, which he thought made Russia the laughing stock of Europe. (The tax not the beards.)
May 30, 1972 – half a century ago – saw “the Angry Brigade” in the dock at the Old Bailey for one of the UK’s longest political trials; a leading member of the far-left band which had, among other operations, blown up a BBC Outside Broadcast van, declared that he was the only “Really Angry” member, while his comrades were merely “the Slightly Cross Brigade”.
On June 16, 1922, Michael Collins of Sinn Féin won the first Irish general election but soon lost an Irish vote of no confidence, i.e. was assassinated. Civil liberties took a giant leap forward on June 22, 1772 when the Court of King’s Bench, in a burst of political-correctness-gone-mad, declared that a black slave, who had been bought in America and then escaped in England, was a free man here and should not be restored to his “owner”. Woke or what?
Louis Blériot was born 150 years ago on July 1, 1872 and grew up to develop the first practical car headlight and the powered monoplane – and to speed across the Channel at 45mph at the dizzy height of 76 metres. The 16th of the month heralds another way of reaching for the heavens, marking as it does the 1,400th anniversary of the start of the Islamic calendar, based on the date in 622 A.D. when religious persecution forced Muhammad to escape from Mecca to Medina.
Poor Poland, whose territory had already been somewhat nibbled away, was partitioned – and not for the last time – on August 5, 1772 when Russia, Prussia and Austria signed on their dotted lines to divvy up the entire country.
On August 17, 1922 “Deutschlandlied”, aka “The Song of the Germans”, was adopted as the national anthem of Germany. Its music had been recycled from an 18th-century composition by Joseph Haydn to celebrate the birthday of the (then) Holy Roman Emperor, echoes of which can be found in our “God Save the Queen” – not a good omen. As for its not terribly lyrical lyrics, these had been written much earlier on the unpromising theme of the need for unity in a divided country; now the Song was dusted down by the Weimar Republic as the official ditty. It was then honoured, or dishonoured, by the ensuing Nazi regime, which particularly liked the first line of the first stanza: “Deutschland über alles”. At a time when Germany really was above all, this topped the charts in goose-stepping circles – anthem is as anthem does, they would have said – so, in order to remove that unsavoury association, only the third stanza is sung these days.
Fifty years ago, “Black September” Palestinian terrorists captured and killed 11 Israeli competitors at the Munich Olympics on September 5, 1972. The 21st brings a very different Middle East anniversary — the centenary of the day when US President Warren Harding signed the Lodge-Fish Resolution, which may sound like a hotel for anglers but it was in fact an official expression of support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, courtesy of Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and the colourfully named Congressman Hamilton Fish III.
October 14 will mark exactly seven centuries since the battle of Old Byland when, without bothering with a referendum on Scottish independence, Robert the Bruce put Sassenach King Edward II to flight in 1322. Long before The Crown on television, the 1972 play Crown Matrimonial opened on October 19 in London; it featured the Queen Mother, the first living member of the royal family impersonated on stage, thanks to the abolition of the draconian censorship powers of the Lord Chamberlain.
The Romantic Movement was born 250 years ago, or at least Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born, on October 21, 1772; he grew up to dream up The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and the drug-powered Kubla Khan – a total of two great poems more than most other poets. A century ago, Benito Mussolini marched on Rome to seize power on the 30th, showing that Fascists can make not only the trains but also their coups run on time.
The centenary of the day when archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the steps leading to the tomb of the 18-year-old Egyptian King Tutankhamun falls on November 4; three weeks later, Carter made his way into the actual burial chamber, which had remained intact for over three millennia. Many of those who entered this spooky space were struck down by the Mummy’s Curse. Or maybe not. November 18 saw the death in 1922 of Marcel Proust, whose seven-volume À La Recherche du Temps Perdu had made him “the greatest novelist of the twentieth century” (©Graham Greene). Proust died before he finished tweaking the proofs of the final volumes, a task completed by his brother Robert, and later its first English translator, C. K. Scott Moncrieff, expired before completing the last volume of In Search of Lost Time.
December 4, 1872 was the disturbing day when the good ship Mary Celeste was discovered lurching around near the Azores, with its crew clearly carried away by a giant octopus or aliens. Or maybe not; after 150 years, the jury is still out.
The year 2022 is a great one for creatives’ centenaries, including, as it does on December 8, the birth of Lucian Freud, who left us, arguably, the greatest portraits of his century, plus an estimated 14 children (and counting).
And finally, on the 30th, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics would be celebrating the 100th birthday of its foundation, if the USSR hadn’t imploded 30 years ago.