History, Holidays & Observances – November 17

A look at some of the history, holidays & observances on November 17

Holidays & Observances on November 17

Feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, a 13th century Hungarian Princess who was married at fourteen and widowed at 20, after which she used her own money to build a hospital and spent the next four years of her life caring for the sick until she herself passed away.  A model of Christian charity, she is known today as the Patron Saint of hospitals, nurses, bakers, brides, dying children, exiles, homeless people, lace-makers and widows,


Major Events on November 17

1558 – The Start of the Elizabethan Era

On this date in 1558, Queen Elizabeth I ascended to the throne following the death of her sister, Queen Mary I, a woman whose reign was marked by violence as she sought to undo the British Reformation and reestablish Catholicism as the state religion.  When Elizabeth was crowned the Queen, she undid Mary’s policies, embraced the Reformation, and presided over a “golden age” in England, the apogee of the English Renaissance.  It was the time of Shakespeare and Marlowe.  Drama, literature, poetry and the arts all flourished.  And Elizabeth took her nation from the brink of bankruptcy in 1558 to relative prosperity by the end of her reign forty-five years later.  During that time, Britain developed its navy into the finest in the world, bringing peace to its shores with the defeat of the Spanish Armada, and engaging the world with exploration and commerce.

1603 – Sir Walter Raleigh put on trial by James I for treason.

Nothing better exemplified the glory of the Elizabethan Era, nor the tumult and civil strife that was to follow under the Stuart Kings than the life of Sir Walter Raleigh.  Under Queen Elizabeth, Raleigh had flourished along with the English nation.  Under Elizabeth, Raleigh sponsored efforts to explore and colonize Virginia.  He was the first to export the great cash crop of tobacco from Virginia into England.  He led expeditions to explore South America.  And he served his country in various capacities, as a soldier, as a sea captain, as a governor and a member of Parliament.  But within six months of Queen Elizabeth’s death and the end of the Tudor dynasty, her successor, King James I first of the Stuart line, had Sir Walter Raleigh confined in the Tower of London and on this day, put him on trial for treason.

The trial was a farce.  Raleigh was given no chance to confront his accusers, whose testimony was heard at trial through hearsay evidence, something Raleigh bitterly contested.  Convicted, Raleigh spent the next 13 years in the Tower, during which time he authored several books.  James I granted Raleigh a short reprieve in 1614, but after Raleigh caused a conflict with the Spanish, James I had him beheaded in 1616.  As Raleigh’s fortunes went, so went the fortunes of England and the Stuart Kings.  King James I’s son, Charles I, brought England into a civil war and, like Raleigh, lost his head to the executioner’s axe.  James I’s grandson, James II, ascended to the throne near the end of the 17th century, only to be deposed as well in the Glorious Revolution, ending the Stuart dynasty.

1894 – H. H. Holmes, America’s first modern serial killer arrested

Dr. Henry H. Holmes was many things — a physician, a con man, a bigamist, an arsonist, a horse thief, . . . and a serial killer.  His life of crime came to an end on this day in Boston, 1894, when authorities arrested Holmes for the murder of a man to collect on a life insurance policy.  While in custody, Holmes confessed to murdering 27 people, though only nine of those murders were ever verified.  Later accounts, wildly sensationalized, put the number of his victims at upwards of 200.   Some of those murders were reputed to have occurred at a building built by Holmes in Chicago that the press later dubbed the “Murder Castle.”

This edifice became Holmes’ booby-trapped Murder Castle. The space featured soundproof rooms, secret passages and a disorienting maze of hallways and staircases. The rooms were also outfitted with trapdoors over chutes that dropped Holmes’ unsuspecting victims to the building’s basement.

The basement was a macabre facility of acid vats, pits of quicklime (often used on decaying corpses) and a crematorium, which the killer used to finish off his victims.

Within two years of his arrest, Holmes was convicted of one murder and hanged.  He was buried encased in cement at his own request.



1800 – The United States Congress holds its first session in the new seat of government, Washington, D.C.  The first Capitol Building did not last long.  The British looted and burned the building during the War of 1812.

1968 – The Heidi Game: On this date, NBC was broadcasting a Raiders–Jets football game.  As it neared its exciting conclusion, it had run over scheduled time and NBC cut to the movie, Heidi.  The uproar led to a change in sports broadcasting in the U.S.

1970 – The court martial of Lieutenant William Calley began today for his role in the My Lai Massacre.

1997 – Luxor massacre:  Six Muslim terrorists kill 62 people, mostly tourists, outside of the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor, Egypt.

Born on November 17

AD 9 – Vespasian, a man of humble origins who grew to be a very successful military commander, leading an army during the Invasion of Britain and then in quelling the Great Jewish Revolt.  After the murder of Nero, several men vied to rule the empire.  Vespasian was the last left standing, crowned as Emperor in 69 A.D., “the year of four emperors,” Vespasian ruled successfully for a decade thereafter, returning a measure of stability to the empire.

Died on November 17

1796 – Catherine the Great, wife of Peter III of Russia, came to power in 1762 by organizing a coup.  She reigned for 34 years, liberalizing Russia and turning it into a world power.

1818 – Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wife of George III, Queen of England, mother of fifteen children, and a tobacco addict fondly nicknamed “snuffy.”