This Day In History: November 17

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On this day in history, November 17th…

1558 : Elizabeth I, daughter of King Henry VIII, succeeded her half sister, Queen Mary I, to become the new Queen of England and Ireland and began an era that would be known in British history as the Elizabethan Age. For the short 5 years that Queen Mary I was sovereign head, she and half-sister Elizabeth, daughter of  Anne Boleyn, butted heads continually. Mary was brought up as a Catholic and wished to restore the pope to supremacy in England. Her persecution of Protestants all over England led the people to call her ‘Bloody Mary’. On November 17, 1558, after being ill for several months, Queen Mary passed away and Elizabeth I was next in succession to the throne at 25 years old. Queen Elizabeth I was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty. She revoked Mary’s pro-Catholic legislation and established a permanent English Protestant Church. Her 44 years on the throne brought about some much needed stability to England.

1869 : The Suez Canal linking the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea was finally inaugurated after 10 years of construction. Also known as “The Highway To India”, the Suez Canal was an important project and came about when a French diplomat (in Cairo) by the name Ferdinand de Lesseps, made an agreement with the Ottoman governor of Egypt, to create a company that would build a canal 100 miles across the Isthmus of Suez. In 1859, excavation of the canal started using forced labor (slaves) and most of it was done by hand with primitive tools such as picks and shovels. Later, the Europeans brought in better tools for construction like dredgers and steam shovels. Initially the canal was 200-300 feet wide at the surface, but narrowed to about 75 feet wide at the bottom and was only 25 feet deep. It’s said that more than 1.5 million people worked on the Suez Canal project and thousands died during its construction. Four years after the scheduled finish and almost double the cost they had initially estimated, the project was finally completed. On November 17th, 1969 the canal was officially opened in a grand ceremony and the guest of honor French Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III, sailed through the canal in the Imperial yacht ‘Aigle’, followed by a British P&O liner ‘Delta’. In its first year, traffic was lower than expected with less than 500 ships using the canal. This was because of the difficulty in navigation such a narrow canal. However, in later years improvements were made making the Suez Canal one of the most heavily traveled shipping lanes in the World.

1950 :   Tenzin Gyatso is enthroned as the Dalai Lama (the religious head of the ‘Gelug’  or Yellow Hat sect’ of Tibetan Buddists) at age 15. Born as Lhamo Thondup in the Tibetian region of Amdo, Gyatso was barely three years old  when they were searching for the boy who would become the successor to the thirteenth Dalai Lama. It is said that one of the signs that led them to Thondup was that the embalmed body of the thirteenth Dalai Lama which was facing south-east had mysteriously turned to face the northeast—indicating the direction the new incarnation would be found. The regent at the time even claimed he had a vision telling him to search in a specific one-story house in the Amdo region. As a test to see if Thondup was the real incarnation of the Dalai Lama, he was shown a variety of toys and relics, some of which belonged to the last Dalai Lama. He apparently passed this test by correctly identifying the items that were the Dalai Lama’s.  He was formally recognized as the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and renamed ‘Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso’. The Chinese, however, had already occupied a large region of Tibet and did everything they could to prevent them from moving him to Lhasa. They placed the Dalai Lama under house arrest and demanded large amounts of silver. At age 6, he began his monastic education at the Kumbum monastery. In 1939, they journeyed to  Lhasa where he was officially installed as the spiritual leader of Tibet at the Potala Palace. However, he was not formally enthroned as the temporal ruler of Tibet until the age of 15, on November 17, 1950. He is regarded one of the most globally well known Dalai Lamas in Tibetan history and even won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989  for “the struggle of the liberation of Tibet and the efforts for a peaceful resolution”.

2003 : Major Hollywood star Arnold Schwarzenegger is sworn in as  Governor of California. Born on July 30, 1947,  in Austria, Schwarzenegger took the body building world by storm winning dozens of titles and even being featured in a documentary about the Mr. Olympia competition called Pumping Iron.  His first Hollywood venture was the 1970s movie Hercules, but he got his break when he was featured in  Conan the Barbarian in 1982. From there, he went on to what most would call his signature role in The Terminator which gained him international fame as well. In 1986, Schwarzenegger, a staunch Republican, married  television journalist Maria Shriver, niece of President John F. Kennedy and a member of one of America’s most famous Democratic families. In August 2003, with no personal prior history in politics or service in any public office, Schwarzenegger announced that he was running for Governor of California. He defeated Governor Gray Davis in the special recall election on October 7, 2003 and was sworn into office on November 17, 2003. Dubbed “The Governator”, he has not only served the remainder  of Gray Davis’ term, but was also re-elected to serve a full term in 2006.

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