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14 January: On this day in history

What events happened on 14 January in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…

Published: January 14, 2022 at 6:06 am
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14 January 1900: Tosca premieres in Rome

Puccini’s dramatic opera wows the audience – despite threats from anarchists

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The genesis of Tosca, often seen as Giacomo Puccini’s masterpiece, was a saga in itself. His opera was based on the 1887 theatrical work La Tosca by the French playwright Victorien Sardou, who specialised in historical melodramas. Set in June 1800 in Rome, when that city was trapped between the armies of Napoleon and the kingdom of Naples, the original play was awash with murder, torture and surging passion. And since it starred Sarah Bernhardt, the most glamorous stage star of her day, it was a colossal international hit.

In May 1889, less than two years after the play’s original production, Puccini made his first bid for the operatic rights. He had already seen the play at least twice, and was convinced he could make it work. However, he did not obtain the rights, and Sardou instead struck a deal with a rival composer, Alberto Franchetti. Puccini never gave up, though, and in 1895 he convinced Franchetti to transfer the rights to him. By some accounts, he achieved this by persuading Franchetti that the story was too violent for an opera audience – and then proved that it certainly wasn’t.

With glorious timing, Tosca’s première at Teatro Costanzi (now the Rome Opera House) was scheduled for 13 January 1900 – at the peak of the Holy Year celebrations, when the city would be full of Catholic pilgrims. In the febrile climate of the day, Rome was simmering with rumours of anarchist and anti-clerical terrorist plots.

Learning that Italy’s queen consort Margherita of Savoy and other dignitaries had been invited to the première, one anarchist group threatened to bomb the theatre. The police arranged that the conductor would play the Royal March as a signal if there was an emergency; then, as a further precaution, the event was pushed back a day, to 14 January. They need not have worried. There was no attack and, though some critics complained about its brutality, the audience loved Tosca – and it has remained at the heart of the opera canon ever since.

Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries

14 January 1589
Francis Kett, nephew of Tudor rebel Robert Kett, is burnt for heresy in the ditch of Norwich Castle after questioning the divinity of Jesus Christ.
14 January 1761
In the third battle of Panipat – one of the largest battles fought in the 18th century – a French-backed Maratha army was heavily defeated by an Afghan force under Ahmed Shah Abdali.
14 January 1872
Death of Greyfriars Bobby, the Skye Terrier who supposedly kept a 14-year vigil at the grave of its master, John Gray, in Edinburgh's Greyfriars kirkyard.
14 January 1878
Alexander Graham Bell demonstrates the telephone to Queen Victoria at Osborne House, Isle of Wight. Calls are made to nearby Osborne Cottage as well as to Cowes, Southampton and London.
14 January 1943 
The start of a 10-day conference between US president Franklin D Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill in the city of Casablanca, Morocco, to discuss the conduct of the war against Nazi Germany.

14 January 1933: Bodyline affair puts Anglo-Australian relations to the test

Aggressive English tactics are just not cricket

As Australia’s cricketers took the field for the second day of the Third Test at the Adelaide Oval on 14 January 1933, a record crowd of more than 50,000 spectators were watching from the stands. They could hardly have known that they were about to witness perhaps the most controversial day, not just in cricket history, but in the intertwined history of Britain and Australia. Even today, the scars of the bodyline affair have never really healed.

The key figures in what followed were England’s captain Douglas Jardine, the picture of patrician superiority, and fast bowler Harold Larwood, a miner’s son from Nottinghamshire. Jardine told his bowlers to pitch their balls to land short in front of the leg stump of the wicket (where a batsman would stand). Bowling fast, high-bouncing deliveries meant the ball would then bounce up to hit the batsman’s body. Jardine called it ‘fast leg theory’. The Australian press dubbed it ‘bodyline’.

When it was England’s turn to field, Jardine unleashed his weapon. Larwood’s sixth ball hit Australian captain Bill Woodfull over his heart, almost knocking him to the ground and drawing gasps from the crowd. “Well played, Harold!” Jardine shouted pointedly, to the horror of the Australians. Play was temporarily delayed while Woodfull recovered, but when Jardine continued to employ bodyline tactics, the jeers and roars from the crowd became ever louder. Some England players admitted that they had been afraid of a riot.

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At the end of the day’s play, England’s manager Pelham Warner visited the Australian dressing room to offer sympathies to the battered Woodfull. “I do not want to see you, Mr Warner,” the Australian reportedly said. “There are two teams out there. One is playing cricket. The other is making no effort to do so.” | Read more about the history of cricket

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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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