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11 December: On this day in history

What events happened on 11 December in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…

Published: December 11, 2021 at 6:06 am
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11 December 1688: James II flees London

The desperate monarch flings the Great Seal of the Realm into the Thames

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In December 1688, London was a city simmering with tension. Only weeks earlier, William of Orange had landed at Torbay, promising to safeguard Eng- land’s laws and liberties from the Catholic James II and VII. With his regime tottering, James had abandoned plans to fight and had fallen back on his capital. Now, as anti-Catholic demon- strations broke out across London, the king, hitherto so proud, began to panic. “What would you have me do?” he asked one adviser. “My children hath aban- doned me... my army hath deserted me, those that I raised from nothing hath done the same. What can I expecte from those I have done little or nothing for?”

In the early hours of 10 December, James’s queen, Mary of Modena, left for France with their baby son. The next night, James followed. As he left his palace, he ordered that the writs calling for a new parliament be burned, and as his little skiff bobbed down the Thames in the darkness, he is said to have thrown the Great Seal of the Realm overboard, as if hoping to destroy the very basis of English government.

Alas for James, his escape bid ended in ignominy. A few hours later, on the morning of the 11th, his boat stopped at Faversham to take in more ballast, and his friend Sir Edward Hales was recognised by the local seamen. At first they took James merely for an “ugly, lean-jawed hatchet-faced popish dog”; on finding out who he was, however, they treated him worse than ever. Locked in a Faversham pub, he was not even allowed to go to the toilet on his own, but was surrounded by self-appointed guards and gawpers. Three days later, James’s friends managed to extricate him, but for a man who considered himself anointed by God, this had been the supreme humiliation.

Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries

11 December 361
Julian the Apostate became sole emperor of the Roman empire. The last non-Christian ruler of the empire, he was mortally wounded 18 months later while campaigning against the Sassanids.
11 December 1282
Llywelyn ap Gruffyd, the last prince of an independent Wales, was killed by the English in a minor skirmish while campaigning in the Builth region. His head was later sent for public display in London.
11 December 1640
The House of Commons received a petition signed by 15,000 Londoners calling for the abolition of the existing church hierarchy "root and branch". A bill to that effect was introduced the next year but was defeated in the House of Lords.
11 December 1899
The Boers defeated a British force at Magersfontein. Another defeat at Stormerg on the previous day and a third at Colenso on the 15th led press and public to refer to the episode as 'Black Week'.

11 December 1936

Former king Edward VIII spoke to a stunned nation announcing that he had abdicated the throne in favour of his brother, George, so as to be free to marry divorcee Mrs Wallis Simpson. The historic broadcast and climax of the constitutional crisis was heard by the whole country, most of whom had been unaware of the royal love affair only a week earlier.

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As the crisis developed Edward was keen to put his side of the story to the country. The speech he wrote, however, in which he argued the case for a morganatic marriage – that he could marry Wallis without her ever becoming queen – was vetoed by the cabinet. When Edward did eventually broadcast, George VI was the new king, and Edward was preparing to go into exile. His speech survives, as it was recorded by BBC engineers in defiance of orders; its existence was denied by archivists for many years. | Read more about the Abdication Crisis

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Authors

Dominic SandbrookHistorian and presenter

Dominic Sandbrook is historian and presenter, and a regular contributor to BBC History Magazine

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