28 July 1540: An eventful day for Henry VIII
An ageing Henry VIII married young Catherine Howard, while Thomas Cromwell was beheaded on Tower Hill.
After Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves (which Cromwell had orchestrated) quickly broke down, Cromwell’s political rivals at court – most notably the Norfolk family – saw this as an opportunity to bring Cromwell down from power by pushing Catherine Howard forward as an alternative wife.
Cromwell was sentenced to death for treason without facing trial after an act of attainder was passed against him. [An attainder is an act of a legislature declaring a person guilty without a trial.]
Catherine would follow Cromwell to the executioner’s block just over a year-and-a-half later on the grounds of treason after conducting an affair with Thomas Culpepper.
19 July 1799: French soldier discovers Rosetta Stone
During a campaign in Egypt, a Napoleonic soldier found a black stone outside Rosetta, a town 35 miles from Alexandria. The stone was a slab, almost two-and-a-half feet wide and nearly four feet long, with different inscriptions on it including Egyptian demotic, Greek and Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Following his invasion of Egypt in 1798, Napoleon had ordered a group of scholars to seize any cultural artefacts and to take them into French possession. The British took ownership of the stone after the French were defeated in 1801.
The discovery of the Rosetta Stone – an ancient Egyptian stone bearing writings in numerous languages – led our understanding of hieroglyphic writing. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
6 July 1885: A step forward for modern medicine
Although he was not certain that the vaccine would work, French microbiologist Louis Pasteur successfully gave the first anti-rabies vaccination to nine-year-old Joseph Meister, who had been bitten by an infected dog.
Pasteur, who had first tested the rabies vaccine on dogs, was a pioneer in using vaccines to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
13 July 1923: ‘Lady Astor’s Bill’ succeeds in parliament
Following MP Lady Nancy Astor’s campaign to raise the legal age of drinking in Britain, a law was passed in the House of Commons to prevent the sale of alcohol to anyone under the age of 18. Nicknamed ‘Lady Astor’s Bill’, it won by 257 votes to 10.
24 July 1943: British ‘foil’ the Germans
Following the German bombing raids on the British home front during the Second World War, the British and American Air Forces retaliated by bombing Hamburg.
Out of 791 British aircrafts that took part in Operation Gomorrah, only 12 were lost as the Air Force began to drop strips of aluminum foil out of the planes, which blocked the German radars and allowed the majority of the bombers to continue with their planned route.
5 July 1946: The bikini is showcased for the first time
Showgirl Micheline Bernardini modelled the first bikini, designed by Frenchman Louis Réard, at the Piscine Molitor in Paris. The new item of swimwear was named the ‘bikini’ after the atomic test off of the Bikini Atoll by the US earlier that week. The US was in a race against the Soviet Union to produce nuclear weapons. In order to test their bombs, the US government cleared the Bikini Atoll islands in the Pacific.
Two-pieces had been worn prior to 1946 by women in the UK and US, but nothing made out of such a small amount of material: Réard used just 30 inches of fabric to make the bikini – much to the shock of many members of the media present at the unveiling.
20 July 1969: The first moon walk
After Apollo 11’s launch on 16 July, watched by an estimated television audience of 530 million, even more tuned in as astronaut Neil Armstrong took the first ever step on the moon.
As he put down his foot on the moon’s surface, television viewers heard Armstrong announce: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. However, Armstrong is reported to have said that he has been misquoted, and that he in fact said: “That’s one small step for a man…”.
25 July 1978: Another step forward for modern medicine
Louise Brown, the world’s first ‘test-tube baby’, was born in Oldham General Hospital in England. Her mother, Lesley Brown, first underwent what we now recognise as IVF (in vitro fertilisation) under the supervision of gynecologist Dr Patrick Steptoe and physiologist Dr Robert Edwards in November 1977. Her daughter, Louise, was born by caesarean section.
In recognition of his pioneering work, Robert Edwards was presented with the Nobel Prize for medicine in 2010.
This article was first published on History Extra in July 2015