On this day on 26th April

On this day in 121 AD Marcus Aurelius, the son of Marcus Annius Verus and Domitia Lucilla, was born in Rome. Marcus had dozens of wealthy and influential relatives. His paternal grandfather, Marcus Annius Verus, was a Roman senator, whereas his maternal grandmother, Domitia Lucilla Maior, was an extremely wealthy woman who owned one of the largest brick factories in the Roman Empire.

Marcus' father, who had reached the rank of praetor, died in 124. As he was only three at the time he had no memory of his father. His mother did not remarry. Marcus later recalled that he learnt from his mother "piety and beneficence, and abstinence, not only from evil deeds, but even from evil thoughts; and further, simplicity in my way of living, far removed from the habits of the rich."

His grandfather took over the responsibility of bringing him up after the death of his father. Later, Marcus Aurelius commented that his grandfather had a major influence on his personality. "I learned good morals and the government of my temper."

Marcus Annius Verus was a loyal supporter of Emperor Hadrian and he made him aware of his grandson. Hadrian seemed to take a strong interest in the boy and when he was six years-old he promoted him into the equestrian class. The idea was that the boy would enter the senatorial order "by merit" when he officially become a man. This was an extremely rare honour for one so young.

At the age of eight Marcus "commenced his education in earnest". His grandfather insisted that he was educated at home with private tutors instead of sending him to school. Most oligarchic Roman families, insisted that their children be educated at home rather than at school. As Frank McLynn points out: "In the first place it was thought that schools were likely to corrupt the morals of the young, partly because they would come into contact with rougher, more depraved elements, and partly because there was little effective discipline in the public schools, with teachers either being martinets or pussycats, but seldom striking the right balance, and their charges being idle, ill-behaved, conceited or self-willed."

We do not know the name of his first tutor but according to Marcus he instructed him to reject the pleasures of chariot racing and the Roman Games. That only "lesser minds" supported the factions (Blues, Greens, Whites and Reds). He was taught "to be neither of the green nor of the blue party at the games in the Circus, nor a partisan either of the Parmularius or the Scutarius at the gladiators' fights; from him too I learned endurance of labour, and to want little, and to work with my own hands, and not to meddle with other people's affairs, and not to be ready to listen to slander."

Another teacher named Diognetus, encouraged him to reject the passions of most young boys: "not to busy myself about trifling things, and not to give credit to what was said by miracle-workers and jugglers about incantations and the driving away of daemons and such things; and not to breed quails for fighting, nor to give myself up passionately to such things; and to endure freedom of speech; and to have become intimate with philosophy; and to have been a hearer, first of Bacchius, then of Tandasis and Marcianus; and to have written dialogues in my youth; and to have desired a plank bed and skin, and whatever else of the kind belongs to the Grecian discipline." (7) His mother, who did not play a major role in his upbringing, but when he was twelve she discovered him sleeping on the floor and forced him to give up "this nonsense" and sleep in a bed.

During his early years his most important teacher was a Greek who had been living in Syria, Alexander of Cotiaeum. He taught him about the use of language and states in The Meditations that he learnt "to refrain from fault-finding, and not in a reproachful way to chide those who uttered any barbarous or solecism or strange-sounding expression; but dexterously to introduce the very expression which ought to have been used, and in the way of answer or giving confirmation, or joining in an inquiry about the thing itself, not about the word, or by some other fit suggestion." (9) In other words, the clever educator moves the discussion away from the error and subtly introduces the correct expression (of grammar, syntax or pronunciation), so that the student leans his error without being humiliated for having made it.

Marcus Aurelius was taught not to be a hedonist and to deny himself the pleasures of the flesh and resisted the temptation of having sex with attractive slaves, both boys and girls. "I am thankful to the gods... that I preserved the flower of my youth, and that I did not make proof of my virility before the proper season, but even deferred the time... that I never touched either Benedicta or Theodotus, and that, after having fallen into amatory passions, I was cured." Roman morals allowed males up to eighteen a bisexual period. His biographer points out: "Like many people who are not highly sexed, Marcus could never really understand what all the fuss was about when it came to Eros."

Marcus Aurelius as a young man (c. 140 AD)
Marcus Aurelius as a young man (c. 140 AD)

On this day in 1649 Bulstrode Whitelock wrote about the burial of the executed Robert Lockyer. "About one hundred went before the Corpse, five or six in a file; the Corpse was then brought, with six trumpets sounding a soldier's knell; then the Trooper's horse came, clothed all over in mourning and led by a footman. The corpse was adorned with bundles of Rosemary, one half stained in blood; and the Sword of the deceased along with them. Some thousands followed in rank and file: all had sea-green-and-black Ribbon tied on their hats, and to their breasts: and the women brought up the rear. At the new Churchyard in Westminster, some thousands more of the better sort met them, who thought not fit to march through the City. Many looked on this funeral as an affront to the Parliament and the Army; others called these people Levellers; but they took no notice of any of them."

Robert Lockyer was born in London in about 1626. On the outbreak of the English Civil War, Lockyer joined the Parliamentary Army (Roundheads) and served as a private trooper. It is believed that he became a Leveller in November 1647, after reading the An Agreement of the People.

Oliver Cromwell made it very clear that he very much opposed to the idea that more people should be allowed to vote in elections and that the Levellers posed a serious threat to the upper classes: "What is the purport of the levelling principle but to make the tenant as liberal a fortune as the landlord. I was by birth a gentleman. You must cut these people in pieces or they will cut you in pieces."

In July, 1648, the Levellers published their own newspaper, Moderate Intelligencer. Edited by Richard Overton it included articles by John Lilburne, John Wildman and William Walwyn. The newspaper controversially encouraged soldiers in the New Model Army to revolt. In March 1649, Lilburne, Wildman, Overton and Walwyn were arrested and charged with advocating communism. After being brought before the Council of State they were sent to the Tower of London.

Levellers in the army continued to protest against the government. The most serious rebellion took place in London. Troops commanded by Colonel Edward Whalley were ordered from the capital to Essex. A group of soldiers led by Robert Lockyer, refused to go and barricaded themselves in The Bull Inn near Bishopsgate, a radical meeting place. A large number of troops were sent to the scene and the men were forced to surrender. The commander-in-chief, General Thomas Fairfax, ordered Lockyer to be executed.

Lockyer's funeral on Sunday 29th April, 1649, proved to be a dramatic reminder of the strength of the Leveller organization in London. "Starting from Smithfield in the afternoon, the procession wound slowly through the heart of the City, and then back to Moorfields for the interment in New Churchyard. Led by six trumpeters, about 4000 people reportedly accompanied the corpse. Many wore ribbons - black for mourning and sea-green to publicize their Leveller allegiance. A company of women brought up the rear, testimony to the active female involvement in the Leveller movement. If the reports can be believed there were more mourners for Trooper Lockyer than there had been for the martyred Colonel Thomas Rainsborough the previous autumn."

Front cover of pamphlet on Robert Lockyer (1649)
Front cover of pamphlet on Robert Lockyer (1649)

On this day in 1816 Robert Owen gave evidence on child labour to Parliamentary Committee.

Question: At what age to take children into your mills?

Robert Owen: At ten and upwards.

Question: Why do you not employ children at an earlier age?

Robert Owen: Because I consider it to be injurious to the children, and not beneficial to the proprietors.

Question: What reasons have you to suppose it is injurious to the children to be employed at an earlier age?

Robert Owen: Seventeen years ago, a number of individuals, with myself, purchased the New Lanark establishment from Mr. Dale. I found that there were 500 children, who had been taken from poor-houses, chiefly in Edinburgh, and those children were generally from the age of five and six, to seven to eight. The hours at that time were thirteen. Although these children were well fed their limbs were very generally deformed, their growth was stunted, and although one of the best schoolmasters was engaged to instruct these children regularly every night, in general they made very slow progress, even in learning the common alphabet. I came to the conclusion that the children were injured by being taken into the mills at this early age, and employed for so many hours; therefore, as soon as I had it in my power, I adopted regulations to put an end to a system which appeared to me to be so injurious.

Question: Do you give instruction to any part of your population?

Robert Owen: Yes. To the children from three years old upwards, and to every other part of the population that choose to receive it.

Question: If you do not employ children under ten, what would you do with them?

Robert Owen: Instruct them, and give them exercise.

Question: Would not there be a danger of their acquiring, by that time, vicious habits, for want of regular occupation.

Robert Owen: My own experiences leads me to say, that I found quite the reverse, that their habits have been good in proportion to the extent of their instruction.

Henry William Pickersgill, Robert Owen (c. 1825)
Robert Owen by Henry William Pickersgill, Robert Owen (c. 1825)

On this day in 1881 Charles Bradlaugh was again refused permission to affirm and is escorted from the House of Commons. Bradlaugh was a member of the Liberal Party and in the 1880 General Election he won the seat of Northampton. At this time the law required in the courts and oath from all witnesses. Bradlaugh saw this an opportunity to draw attention to the fact that "atheists were held to be incapable of taking a meaningful oath, and were therefore treated as outlaws."

Bradlaugh argued that the 1869 Evidence Amendment Act gave him a right he asked for permission to affirm rather than take the oath of allegiance. The Speaker of the House of Commons refused this request and Bradlaugh was expelled from Parliament. William Gladstone supported Bradlaugh's right to affirm, but as he had upset a lot of people with his views on Christianity, the monarchy and birth control and when the issue was put before Parliament, MPs voted to support the Speaker's decision to expel him.

Bradlaugh now mounted a national campaign in favour of atheists being allowed to sit in the House of Commons. Bradlaugh gained some support from some Nonconformists but he was strongly opposed by the Conservative Party and the leaders of the Anglican and Catholic clergy. When Bradlaugh attempted to take his seat in Parliament in June 1880, he was arrested by the Sergeant-at-Arms and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Benjamin Disraeli, leader of the Conservative Party, warned that Bradlaugh would become a martyr and it was decided to release him.

On 26th April, 1881, Charles Bradlaugh was once again refused permission to affirm. William Gladstone promised to bring in legislation to enable Bradlaugh to do this, but this would take time. Bradlaugh was unwilling to wait and when he attempted to take his seat on 2nd August he was once forcibly removed from the House of Commons. Bradlaugh and his supporters organised a national petition and on 7th February, 1882, he presented a list of 241,970 signatures calling for him to be allowed to take his seat. However, when he tried to take the Parliamentary oath, he was once again removed from Parliament.

The authorities attempted to obstruct the activities of Charles Bradlaugh and other freethinkers in the National Secular Society. Pamphlets on religion were seized by the Post Office and on several occasions they were excluded from using public buildings for their meetings. In 1882 the staff of the journal, The Freethinker, were prosecuted for blasphemy, and two of them were found guilty and sent to prison.

Gladstone's Affirmation Bill was discussed by Parliament in the spring of 1883. The Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal Manning, head of the Catholic Church, argued against the right of atheists to be MPs and when the vote was taken in May 1883, the Affirmation Bill was defeated. In 1884 Bradlaugh was once again elected to represent Northampton in the House of Commons. He took his seat and voted three times before he was excluded. He was later fined £1,500 for voting illegally.

Charles Bradlaugh, St Stephen's Review (3rd August, 1881)
Charles Bradlaugh, St Stephen's Review (3rd August, 1881)

On this day in 1896 German war ace Ernst Udet was born in Frankfurt, Germany. He joined the German Army Air Service in 1915. Flying a Fokker D-III , he scored his first victory on 18th March 1916 in a lone attack on 22 French aircraft. By the end of the First World War Udet had 62 victories. This made him the second highest German war ace of the war.

After the war Udet appeared with Leni Riefenstahl in the film SOS Eisberg. He was also active in the Richthofen Veterans' Association and caused great controversy when he campaigned to have Hermann Goering rejected for for making false claims of air victories during the First World War.

Udet joined the Luftwaffe in June 1935 as a colonel and a year later was appointed head of the Technical Office of the Air Ministry. In this post Udet was responsible for the introduction of the Junkers Stuka and the Messerschmitt Bf109.

During the Second World War he rose to the rank of colonel general and Director of Air Armaments. In 1940 pilots began to complain that the Spitfire was superior to German aircraft. Later Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering both accused him of being responsible for the defeat of the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. He was also criticized for neglecting the development of new heavy bombers.

Udet became depressed by the performance of the Luftwaffe during Operation Barbarossa and the decision by Erhard Miltch to overrule his plans to develop the Focke Wulf FW 190. On 17th November, 1941, Udet shot himself in the head while on the phone to his mistress.

Adolf Hitler was embarrassed by Udet's death and the Nazi Government issued a statement that Udet had been accidentally killed while testing out a new weapon. The award-winning play, The Devil's General by Carl Zuckmayer, was based on Udet's life.

Ernst Udet
Ernst Udet

On this day in 1905 famous footballer, Lily Parr, was born.

Lily Parr
Lily Parr

On this day in 1926 Kingsley Martin comments on the General Strike. "Arthur Cook made a most interesting study - worn-out, strung on wires, carried in the rush of the tidal wave, afraid of the struggle, afraid, above all, though, of betraying his cause and showing signs of weakness. He'll break down for certain, but I fear not in time. He's not big enough, and in an awful muddle about everything. Poor devil and poor England. A man more unable to conduct a negotiation I never saw. Many Trade Union leaders are letting the men down; he won't, but he'll lose. And Socialism in England will be right back again."

Dora Meeson Coates, Greedy Boys (1908)
Bernard Partridge, The Lever Breaks (19th May 1926)

On this day in 1933 Nazi Germany limits the number of Jewish students in schools and universities.

Jewish Children in the Nazi Classroom
A German student taking part in "race education" classes. (c. 1935)

On this day in 1937, Guernica was bombed by the German Condor Legion. On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War Guernica had a population of about 7,000 people. As it was a market day the town was crowded. The town was first struck by explosive bombs and then by incendiaries. As people fled from their homes they were machine-gunned by fighter planes. The three hour raid completely destroyed the town. It is estimated that 1,685 people were killed and 900 injured in the attack.

General Francisco Franco denied that he had nothing to do with the raid and claimed that the town had been dynamited and then burnt by Anarchist Brigades. After the war a telegram sent from Franco's headquarters was discovered and revealled that he had asked the German Condor Legion to carry out the attack on Guernica. It is believed that the attack was an attempt to demoralize the Basque people.

Pablo Picasso, Guernica (1937)
Pablo Picasso, Guernica (1937)

On this day in 1945 Ann Stringer writes an article about the Red Army crossing the Elbe River.


Ann Stringer in mid-toast with Russian troops (1945)
Ann Stringer in mid-toast with Russian troops (1945)

On this day in 1968 German artist John Heartfield died.


John Heartfield, Executioner of the Third Reich (September, 1933) (Copyright The Official John Heartfield Exhibition & Archive)
John Heartfield, Executioner of the Third Reich (September, 1933)
(Copyright The Official John Heartfield Exhibition & Archive)