1993 – The MV Braer runs aground in the Shetlands

Two days prior to the spill, the MV Braer had suffered contamination of its fuel by sea water after cracks in the fuel lines had former. In the early morning of January 5, the contamination became so great that the engine could no longer function. Dead in the water, the 242 metre long oil tanker, laden with 85,000 tonnes of Gulfaks crude oil, was at the mercy of the elements. And the elements were not feeling merciful.

The winds were blowing between Force 10 and 11 that night (a range from 89-117 kmh, or 55-73 mph), driving the now uncontrollable tanker towards the rocks of Sumbergh Heads. In the event, she ran aground at Garths Ness, and although a great amount of oil leaked out, the combination of the violence of the storm and the nature of the oil (Gulfaks is unusually biodegradable) dispersed the oil more quickly that might otherwise have been the case. The environmental toll was still vast and preventable, but it would only have been worse had the oil not been Gulfaks. A small mercy, perhaps, but a mercy just the same.

Referenced in:
The Islands — Fairport Convention

1587 – Mary Queen of Scots is beheaded

Say what you like about Elizabeth I, Queen of England, but she wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty as a ruler. Even less afraid was her spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, whose careful interception of the letters of Mary, Queen of Scots, made it clear that Mary – who had a good claim to the English throne in her own right – was plotting to have her cousin murdered and to take her place as Queen.

Under the circumstances, Mary’s arrest, conviction and sentencing to execution were more or less guaranteed, although Elizabeth hesitated to order the death sentence carried out, as she worried that it might set a precedent for Queen-killing, something she had a vested interest in preventing. Her Privy Council took the matter out of her hands, and Mary was scheduled to beheaded on February 8, 1587. In the event, it took two strokes of the headman’s axe to kill her. Her body, clothing and personal effects were burnt to frustrate relic hunters.

Referenced in:

Fotheringay — Fairport Convention

June 15, 1381 – Wat Tyler’s rebellion dies with him

Walter ‘Wat’ Tyler was born in 1341, and little is known of his life before his involvement in the Peasant’s Rebellion of 1381. He is believed to have served in the English army, seeing action at both Crécy and Poitiers, among others.

Tyler joined the rebellion apparently due to his strong egalitarian views, and sought an end, or at least a reform, of the feudal system. He led an army 50,000 strong into London, and their show of force persuaded the king to meet with them. Richard II, who was only 15, met with Tyler at Smithfield, although no account of their conversation survives. Tyler was struck down and stabbed repeatedly – it is widely believed that his first assailant was the Lord Mayor of London, who took exception to Tyler’s perceived ‘insolence’. Upon Tyler’s death, the king declared himself leader of the rebels, and commanded them to disperse. The promises he made to them were not kept, and the other leaders of the revolt were also killed, at his order.