Milestones: Friday, November 17, 2023
GLORIANA — QUEEN ELIZABETH I ASCENDED THE ENGLISH THRONE ON NOV. 17, 1558, AND USHERED IN WHAT BECAME A GOLDEN AGE OF LITERATURE, EXPLORATION AND EUROPEAN DOMINANCE. The second child of King Henry VIII and his mistress and second wife, Anne Boleyn, young Elizabeth had to be on guard against attempts on her life and her reign. She was not expected to ever reign because she was third in line after her brother, Edward, and her elder sister, Mary, a Catholic monarch, who waged a bloody war against Protestants and had Elizabeth imprisoned. However, before Mary could execute her half-sibling, she herself died, and Elizabeth became a very effective and beloved ruler. Known as the Virgin Queen, or Gloriana, her union with her people became a substitute for marriage. A shrewd woman, she chose her advisors wisely, and England flourished. She proved her might in 1588 when her Catholic enemy, Spain, sent a fleet to invade England but was pushed back both by a navy that held its ground and by the weather.
Elizabeth also gained renown early for ending the religious bloodshed and decreeing that men were free to worship as they wished; officially, England became Protestant.
CENTER OF MUCH CONFLICT — THE SUEZ CANAL, WHICH LINKED THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA TO THE RED SEA, WAS OFFICIALLY OPENED ON NOV. 17, 1869. The canal, which took 1.5 million enslaved men to dig, shortened the sea route between Europe and India. The canal’s builder was the Suez Canal Company (a French enterprise) under the leadership of Ferdinand de Lesseps, which operated and ran the canal until 1956, when Egypt’s president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, seized it in 1956. In a rare Cold War-era act of solidarity, the United States and the Soviet Union found themselves allied and united to stand down Nasser’s aggression. They also had to pressure the NATO allies France, Great Britain and Israel to withdraw. Egypt again shut down the Suez Canal during the Six-Day War in 1967, and it wound up being a military front line between Israel’s and Egypt’s armed forces. It took eight years before Egypt’s President, Anwar Sadat, reopened the canal during peace talks.
Nowadays, the Suez Canal is active, with dozens of ships navigating it in the daily transport of goods.
GEOGRAPHIC MARRIAGE — BUDAPEST BECAME A UNITED CITY 150 YEARS AGO, on Nov. 17, 1873. This was a geographic and construction marriage of the historic neighboring cities of Buda, Óbuda and Pest on the Danube River, and thus Budapest became the capital of Hungary. All this was made possible with the construction some 28 years earlier of the Széchenyi Chain Bridge in 1849 over the Danube that connects Pest and Buda.
Interestingly, the three cities were founded by ancient Celts and were later conquered by the Romans, the Huns and, in the 20th century, by fascist forces. But in the late 19th century, Budapest was a key European city.
VELVET REVOLUTION, VELVET DIVORCE — A PROTEST AGAINST THE COMMUNIST REGIME IN PRAGUE, CZECHOSLOVAKIA ON NOV. 17, 1989, TURNED INTO THE VELVET REVOLUTION, a non-bloody toppling of the government. The protesters chose Nov. 17 for the protest, as it was International Students Day, a tragic observance and 50th anniversary of a Nazi attack on the University of Prague in which nine persons were killed, and 1,200 students were taken off to concentration camps. The Velvet Revolution, coming nine days after the Berlin Wall fell, was a protest against the single-party rule and the growth of anti-government speech. It led also to the rise in prominence of Václav Havel, a writer and the nation’s most famous dissident, who was elected president on Dec. 29, 1989.
Havel turned out to be the last president of Czechoslovakia, though. The Czech and Slovak regions began separating peacefully and became the Czech Republic and Slovakia in what is also termed The Velvet Divorce.
VERDI’S FIRST OPERA — THE FIRST OPERA OF Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi’s, which was titled “Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio,” (Oberto, count of St. Boniface, a town in northern Italy) opened at La Scala on Nov. 17, 1839. “Oberto,” set in the 13th century, was a tragedy and received favorably enough that Verdi received a commission from La Scala’s head to compose three more operas. His next opera, “Nabucco,” was even more successful, making Verdi an overnight celebrity. His later operas include classics that are performed at La Scala to this day: “Rigoletto,” “Il Trovatore,” “La Traviata,” “Aída” and “Otello.”
“Aida,” in particular, made use of grand staging, specifically in the scenes where Radames is sent off to war and then when he returns victorious.
See previous milestones, here.
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