May 17, 2015

It Happened on May 17th

George Boleyn, Henry Norris, Francis Weston, William Brereton, and Mark Smeaton Executed, 1536

Francis Weston
These were the five men tried and executed for high treason during the reign of Henry VIII, for allegedly having had sexual relations with Anne Boleyn. It is generally believed today (and, in fact, may have been privately believed at the time) that all five men were innocent of the charges. Henry needed to terminate his marriage to Anne in order to marry Jane Seymour. He was motivated, not just by his attraction to Jane and growing dissatisfaction with Anne, but by his need to produce an heir to the throne of England.

Anne had already been found guilty, so it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the men would be found so, as well. Still, in the case of George Boleyn at least, the courtiers were betting ten to one in favor of acquittal. George was a popular man, and had defended himself well at the trial.

Four of the five men were of high station. George Boleyn was the brother of Anne, and so in his case, the charges also included incest. The Boleyn family had risen quickly in the royal court, due in part to Henry's marriage to Anne and his previous affair with George's other sister Mary. Consequently, they had acquired many enemies. Sir Henry Norris was Henry's "Groom of the Stool" in his Privy Chamber. Sir William Brereton was also a Groom of the Privy Chamber. Sir Francis Weston was a gentleman of the court. All four of these men pleaded not guilty to the charges and were sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Because they had been in service to the court, their sentence was commuted to execution by beheading. On the scaffold, none of the four made any obvious assertions of their innocence, in order to avoid reinstatement of the harsher penalty, and forfeiture of their estates.

The other man convicted was Mark Smeaton. He was a musician in the court, the only one of the men who was of low station. He was also the only one of the five to be tortured, and the only one to confess. It is thought that he provided the names of the other alleged adulterers. He may have cooperated in order to obtain leniency. It worked: he, too, was merely beheaded. When Anne heard that he had been arrested, she is said to have commented, "He was a man of mean birth and the others were all gentlemen."

Aristides Won First Kentucky Derby, 1875

His owner didn't intend for him to win. Aristides, the small chestnut thoroughbred that won the first Kentucky Derby, was owned by H. P. McGrath, a gambling parlor owner who had used his profits to enter the world of horse racing. He entered two horses in the first Derby: Aristides, who was expected to be quick out of the gate and force the other horses to wear themselves out early, and Chesapeake, whom McGrath expected to be the real winner. Things didn't work out quite as planned, however.

Aristides took the lead early and never relinquished it, while Chesapeake never really caught up with the pack. Not sure what to do, Aristides's jockey, Oliver Lewis, looked to McGrath, and McGrath signaled for him to go on. Aristides won by a long length, and took the purse -- a whopping $2850.

The first Kentucky Derby was a one and a half mile race, not one and a quarter miles, as it is today. 15 horses competed, and 13 of the 15 jockeys were African Americans. There were 10,000 spectators to the event.

The Derby had been the brainchild of Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., a grandson of the famous explorer William Clark. He had been to Europe in 1972, and seen the Epsom Derby in England and the Grand Prix de Paris. Returning home, he organized the Louisville Jockey Club. Their purpose -- to establish some quality racing facilities in the area. The track was named Churchill Downs, after Clark's relatives, John and Henry Churchill, who had donated the land for the racetrack.

Frederick August Otto Schwarz Died, 1836

F.A.O. Schwarz
You may not be familiar with the name Frederick August Otto Schwarz, but I'll bet if I'd called him F. A. O. Schwarz you would have known who he was instantly.

Schwarz was a German immigrant from Herford, Westphalia. He came to America with his three brothers in 1856, and began working for a stationery importer in Baltimore, Maryland. At that time, it was a common practice for German exporters to place small toys in with the packing for their stationery. Schwarz seized the opportunity and started placing the toys in his windows as attention-getters. Soon the toys were outselling the stationery.

A few years later Schwarz had opened his own shop, the Toy Bazaar. This was followed by additional locations in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. Today, FAO Schwarz is the oldest toy store in the United States, and the one of the oldest retail establishments of any kind in the country. It was acquired by Toys 'R' Us in 2009.

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