1492 — The Alhambra Decree expels the Jews from Spain

The Catholic Monarchs of Spain – Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon – decided, no doubt in close consultation with members of the clergy, that ordering the expulsion of Jews from the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon and its territories and possessions by 31 July of 1492 (i.e. in a period of 3 months) was a good idea. The Alhambra Decree, or Edict of Expulsion, was duly made, keeping Spain among the fashionable kingdoms of Europe (expelling Jews was very much in vogue at that time).

It is unclear just how many Jews left Spain (most of them for North Africa or the Ottoman Empire), but estimates place the number between one and two hundred thousand, with another 50,000 or so converting to Catholicism to remain in Spain. Many thousands of Jews were died trying to leave Spain – murdered by brigands who wanted their wealth, betrayed by Spanish mariners (who overcharged them for passage and in some cases dumped them overboard to drown), or executed for remaining after the deadline without converting.

The Decree remained officially in force until Vatican Council II in 1968, and post-Franco Spain has pursued a policy of reconciliation with the descendents of expelled Jews (who now have the legal right to claim Spanish citizenship without satisfying the normal inhabitancy requirements).

Referenced in:

Tomas De Torquemada — Down I Go

1596 — René Descartes is born

Although he is best known to history as the man who said “I think, therefore I am” – René Descartes was not merely a philosopher but also a mathematician. If you’ve ever used an X-Y coordinate system, you’ve used one of his most famous inventions, the Cartesian plane.

A Frenchman who spent most of his adult life in Holland, Descartes’ major contributions to philosophy were in the field of metaphysics – the mind-body problem. Descartes’ answer to the problem was dualism – that mind and body are separate. In mathematics, the Cartesian coordinate system married algebra and geometry, and created the theoretical basis upon which Leibniz and Newton each independently built calculus.

Referenced in:

Bruces’ Philosophers Song — Monty Python

1986 — Fishing of the Atlantic Striped Bass is made illegal

Under the terms of the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act of 1984, it became possible for duly appointed local authorities (reporting in turn to state authorities, under the overall coordination of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission) to declare moratoriums on fishing for the Atlantic Striped Bass – known to fisherman as the Striper – for periods of up to 30 days. But these moratoriums could also be renewed more or less indefinitely, until it was determined by the authority that the population of the fish had recovered sufficiently.

While in most locations, populations of the Atlantic Striped Bass did indeed recover – although the process took around a decade – that was little consolation to the fisherman who lost their livelihoods in the meantime.

Referenced in:
The Downeaster Alexa — Billy Joel