27 February 1881

First Boer War: The Battle of Majuba Hill takes place.

The Battle of Majuba Hill (near Volksrust, South Africa) on 27 February 1881 was the final and decisive battle of the First Boer War. It was a resounding victory for the Boers. Maj. Gen. Sir George Pomeroy Colley occupied the summit of the hill on the night of 26–27 February 1881. Colley's motive for occupying Majuba Hill may have been anxiety that the Boers would soon occupy it themselves, Colley having witnessed their trenches being dug in the direction of the hill.[1] The Boers believed that he might have been attempting to outflank their positions at Laing's Nek. The hill was not considered to be scalable by the Boers, for military purposes, and hence it may have been Colley's attempt to emphasise British power and strike fear into the Boer camp. The battle is considered to have been one of the most humiliating defeats of British arms in history.[2][3]

The Battle

The bulk of the 405 British soldiers occupying the hill were 171 men of the 58th Regiment with 141 men of the 92nd Gordon Highlanders, and a small naval brigade from HMS Dido. Gen. Colley had brought no artillery up to the summit, nor did he order his men to dig in, against the advice of several of his subordinates, expecting that the Boers would retreat when they saw their position on the Nek was untenable.[4] However, the Boers quickly formed a group of storming parties, led by Nicolaas Smit, from an assortment of volunteers from various commandos, totaling at least 450 men, maybe more, to attack the hill.

By daybreak at 4:30, the 92nd Highlanders covered a wide perimeter of the summit, while a handful occupied Gordon's Knoll on the right side of the summit. Oblivious to the presence of the British troops until the 92nd Gordon Highlanders began to yell and shake their fists, the Boers began to panic, fearing an artillery attack.[5] Three Boer storming groups of 100-200 men each began a slow advance up the hill. The groups were led by Field Cornet Stephanus Roos, Commandant D.J.K. Malan and Commandant Joachim Ferreira. The Boers, being the better marksmen, kept their enemy on the slopes at bay while groups crossed the open ground to attack Gordon's Knoll, where at 12:45 Ferreira's men opened up a tremendous fire on the exposed knoll and captured it. Colley was in his tent when he was informed of the advancing Boers but took no immediate action until after he had been warned by several subordinates of the seriousness of the attack.[3]

Over the next hour, the Boers poured over the top of the British line and engaged the enemy at long range, refusing close combat action, and picking off the British soldiers one-by-one.[6] The Boers were able to take advantage of the scrub and high grass that covered the hill, something the British were not trained to do. It was at this stage that British discipline began to wane, and panicking troops began to desert their posts, unable to see their opponents and being given very little in the way of direction from officers.[7] When more Boers were seen encircling the mountain, the British line collapsed and many fled pell-mell from the hill. The Gordons held their ground the longest, but once they were broken the battle was over. The Boers were able to launch an attack which shattered the already crumbling British line.

Aftermath

Amidst great confusion and with casualties among his men rising, Colley attempted to order a fighting retreat, but he was shot and killed by Boer marksmen. The rest of the British force fled down the rear slopes of Majuba, where more were hit by the Boer marksmen, who had lined the summit in order to fire at the retreating foe. An abortive rearguard action was staged by the 15th Hussars and 60th Rifles, who had marched from a support base at Mount Prospect, although this made little impact on the Boer forces. A total of 285 Britons were killed, captured, or wounded, including Capt. Cornwallis Maude, son of government minister Cornwallis Maude, 1st Earl de Montalt.[3]

As the British were fleeing the hill, many were picked off by the superior rifles and marksmen of the Boers. Several wounded soldiers soon found themselves surrounded by Boer soldiers and gave their accounts of what they saw; many Boers were young farm boys armed with rifles. This revelation proved to be a major blow to British prestige and Britain's negotiating position, for professionally trained soldiers to have been defeated by young farmboys led by a smattering of older soldiers. [3]

Notability

Although small in scope, the battle is historically significant for four reasons:

  • It led to the signing of a peace treaty, and later the Pretoria Convention, between the British and the reinstated South African Republic, ending the First Boer War.
  • The fire and movement ("vuur en beweging" in Afrikaans) tactics employed by the Boers, especially Commandant Smit in his final assault on the hill, were years ahead of their time.
  • Coupled with the defeats at Laing's Nek and Schuinshoogte, this third crushing defeat at the hands of the Boers ratified the strength of the Boers in the minds of the British, arguably to have consequences in the Second Anglo-Boer War, when "Remember Majuba" would become a rallying cry.
  • Gen. Piet Joubert viewed the aftermath of the battle and noted that the British rifles were sighted at 400-600 yards when the battle raged at about 50-100 yards, as the British officers had not told the troops to alter their weapons and, as a result, they were shooting downhill over the heads of the enemy, who had scant shelter.

Some British historians, have tried to argue that this defeat marked the beginning of the decline of the British Empire. Since the American Revolution, Great Britain had never signed a treaty on unfavorable terms with anyone and had never lost the final engagements of the war[dubious ]. In every preceding conflict, even if the British suffered a defeat initially, they would retaliate with a decisive victory[dubious ]. The Boers showed that the British were not an invincible foe.[3] This position fails to take into account several important factors. The First Boer War, while arguably Britain’s first real defeat since the American Revolution, was largely unnoticed by the rest of the world including the British public. Several world powers (the United States and Imperial Germany in particular) were already acting in open defiance of British hegemony at the time and there is little evidence Britain’s defeat in this brief low intensity conflict had any actual affect on the Foreign Relations of the British Empire. In stark contrast, The Second Boer War fought twenty years later would see the world watch in awe as the British Empire suffered repeated defeats by a poorly equipped enemy they vastly outnumbered. Though the British ultimately prevailed in the second conflict, recovering all territory lost in 1881 and forever exstinguishing the Boer Republics, the Empire’s prestige never recovered from its struggle against the Boers.

Notes

  1. ^ "The rapid strides that had been made by the Boers in throwing up entrenchments on the right flank of their position, and the continuance of these works in the same direction upon the lower slopes on the Majuba hill during the days subsequent to his return, induced him to believe that if the hill was to be seized before it was occupied and probably fortified by the Boers that this must be done at once." - The National Archives, WO 32/7827, "From Lt. Col. H. Stewart, A.A.G., to the General Officer Commanding, Natal and Transvaal, Newcastle, Natal, 4th April 1881. Report of the action on Majuba Hill, 27th February."
  2. ^ "It can hardly be denied that the Dutch raid on the Medway vies with the Battle of Majuba in 1881 and the Fall of Singapore in 1942 for the unenviable distinctor of being the most humiliating defeat suffered by British arms." – Charles Ralph Boxer: The Anglo-Dutch Wars of the 17th Century, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London (1974), p.39
  3. ^ a b c d e Farwell, Byron (2009). Queen Victoria's Little Wars. Pen & Sword Books. ISBN 9781848840157.
  4. ^ Donald Featherstone, Victorian Colonial Warfare - Africa, p. 58.
  5. ^ Martin Meredith, Diamonds Gold and War, (New York: Public Affairs, 2007):162
  6. ^ Donald Featherstone, Victorian Colonial Warfare - Africa, p. 60.
  7. ^ Donald Featherstone, Victorian Colonial Warfare - Africa, pp. 60-61.

References

  • Donald Featherstone, Victorian Colonial Warfare – Africa (London: Blandford, 1992)
  • Martin Meredith, Diamonds Gold and War, (New York: Public Affairs, 2007):162
  • The South African Military History Society Journal vol 5 no 2. Details the battle.
  • Jan Morris, Heaven's Command, (London: Faber and Faber,1998) pp 442–445.

Further reading

  • Castle, Ian (1996). Majuba 1881: The Hill of Destiny. Osprey Campaign Series. #45. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-85532-503-9.
  • Laband, John. The Transvaal Rebellion: The First Boer War, 1880–1881 (Routledge, 2014).
  • Laband, John. The Battle of Majuba Hill: The Transvaal Campaign, 1880–1881 (Helion and Company, 2018).

External links

27 February 1900

The British Labour Party is founded.

In 1899, a Doncaster member of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, Thomas R. Steels, proposed in his union branch that the Trade Union Congress call a special conference to bring together all left-wing organisations and form them into a single body that would sponsor Parliamentary candidates. The motion was passed at all stages by the TUC, and the proposed conference was held at the Memorial Hall on Farringdon Street on 26 and 27 February 1900. The meeting was attended by a broad spectrum of working-class and left-wing organisations—trades unions represented about one third of the membership of the TUC delegates.

After a debate, the 129 delegates passed Hardie’s motion to establish “a distinct Labour group in Parliament, who shall have their own whips, and agree upon their policy, which must embrace a readiness to cooperate with any party which for the time being may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interests of labour.” This created an association called the Labour Representation Committee, meant to co-ordinate attempts to support MPs sponsored by trade unions and represent the working-class population. It had no single leader, and in the absence of one, the Independent Labour Party nominee Ramsay MacDonald was elected as Secretary. He had the difficult task of keeping the various strands of opinions in the LRC united. The October 1900 “Khaki election” came too soon for the new party to campaign effectively; total expenses for the election only came to £33. Only 15 candidatures were sponsored, but two were successful; Keir Hardie in Merthyr Tydfil and Richard Bell in Derby.

Support for the LRC was boosted by the 1901 Taff Vale Case, a dispute between strikers and a railway company that ended with the union being ordered to pay £23,000 damages for a strike. The judgement effectively made strikes illegal since employers could recoup the cost of lost business from the unions. The apparent acquiescence of the Conservative Government of Arthur Balfour to industrial and business interests intensified support for the LRC against a government that appeared to have little concern for the industrial proletariat and its problems.

Labour Party Plaque from Caroone House, 14 Farringdon Street
In the 1906 election, the LRC won 29 seats—helped by a secret 1903 pact between Ramsay MacDonald and Liberal Chief Whip Herbert Gladstone that aimed to avoid splitting the opposition vote between Labour and Liberal candidates in the interest of removing the Conservatives from office.

In their first meeting after the election the group’s Members of Parliament decided to adopt the name “The Labour Party” formally. Keir Hardie, who had taken a leading role in getting the party established, was elected as Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, although only by one vote over David Shackleton after several ballots. In the party’s early years the Independent Labour Party provided much of its activist base as the party did not have individual membership until 1918 but operated as a conglomerate of affiliated bodies. The Fabian Society provided much of the intellectual stimulus for the party. One of the first acts of the new Liberal Government was to reverse the Taff Vale judgement.

The People’s History Museum in Manchester holds the minutes of the first Labour Party meeting in 1906 and has them on display in the Main Galleries. Also within the museum is the Labour History Archive and Study Centre, which holds the collection of the Labour Party, with material ranging from 1900 to the present day.

27 February 1594

Henry IV is crowned as King of France.

On the 27th of February 1594, Henry, King of Navarre was crowned King of France at the Cathedral of Chartres . He was the first monarch of the Bourbon Dynasty to rule France.
Henry III was the last monarch of the Valois dynasty. With him an era ended and another begun. In spite of having named Henry of Navarre his heir, many Catholics protested, as well as other rival claimants who believed that they could easily oust the new king from his throne. Hence, why it took him nearly five years to be crowned and even then, there was still some resistance.

After Henry IV was crowned King of France, he implemented a new series of policies that extended religious toleration. His mother, Jeanne III of Navarre, had been hailed as a Protestant savior. For this and other reasons, Henry became the champion of the Huguenot. Yet, Henry IV also proved to be pragmatic, playing on both sides when it suited as those before him had done.

Despite being supported by England, the English Queen felt betrayed once Henry IV sought to make an alliance with her Catholic enemies. Henry IV pretended to return to the Catholic church, while still seeming to favor the Huguenots. This back-and-forth put him at odds with his once strongest supporters. There were several assassination attempts, most of which failed.
His military bravado helped him avoid terrible disasters and thwarted Spain and the Holy Roman Empire’s attempts to take over all of France; but it didn’t do anything to lessen the hostilities of his divided kingdoms. While in Paris, he was killed by a Catholic fanatic, Francois Ravalliac. His companion was also attacked but managed to survived. Francois was apprehended and subjected to torture. He was asked to name his Catholic co-conspirators but Francois Ravalliac revealed there were none. It was just him. Francois had been a schoolmaster who’d fallen on hard times and blamed his lost fortunes to Henry IV’s policies and the Huguenots.

Henry IV was buried at the St. Denis Basilica and was succeeded by his son, Louis XIII of France. His wife, Marie de Medici, served as his regent and as soon as she was in power, she did her best to ensure that her son would become her docile, little puppet, who’d feel lost without her. While Henry IV’s reputation as a womanizer, brave soldier, peacemaker, and able King was something that his son could never live up to, the youth nevertheless idolized his father and when he came of age, he set aside his timidity and took matters into his own hands, dismissing his mother’s favorites -and his mother as well- and relying on his new friends and Cardinal Richelieu. Marie de Medici tried to make a comeback, and do as her distant relative, the indomitable Catherine de Medici, another Queen mother, had done before her but failed. She died in exile in the Spanish Netherlands.

Henry IV’s youth was anything but easy. He had been raised to be the perfect Protestant, yet was forced to go to the French court where he had to give up his beliefs and hear Mass, something he didn’t like but had to do to ensure his legacy and survival. While Jeanne III of Navarre and the Queen Mother and King’s governor were often at odds with each other, the two often formed alliances, to prevent Spain from having too much power in French affairs. Jeanne III didn’t live long enough to see the situation between Protestants and Catholics get out of hand, sparking the St. Bartholomew Massacre but her son did. After Charles IX of France died and his brother became King, Henry became one of the most influential figures in France. His struggle for the crown cost a lot of lives and while his view of his predecessors was shaped due to his years of captivity in the French court, where he was an honorable guest, he expressed sympathy for one of the most reviled women in his party and France, Catherine de Medici. Of her, he said “I ask you, what could she have done, poor woman, left at her husband’s death with five small children and two families in France -ours and the Guises- who hoped to get the Crown for themselves? Wasn’t it necessary for her to play some strange games, to deceive everybody, in order to protect her sons who reigned only because of her cunning? You may say she did harm to France -the marvel is she didn’t do worse!”

The French monarchy changed very little during Henry’s time. The crown continued to gain more power, something his son would continue through his Cardinal. Besides his religious policies and military enterprises, he also re-funded universities, started building projects that fortified out of date fortresses, and planned to construct new -and grander palaces- on the capital. He was also a patron of the arts who employed many artists. Many of them painted him as this god-like figure, who’s also affable and approachable, while others worked on adding more to Catholic religious houses.

Henry has gone down in history as one of the best kings that France has ever had, earning the sobriquets “le grand”, “le boi roi Henri”, and “le vert galant” for his many mistresses.
There are some however, who think he could have done better and established a more Republican government, the way it had been done in some Protestant realms and that several leaders favored. To this, Desmond Seward, in his biography on the Bourbon Kings, he says the following:
“Henri has been criticized for not giving France a new system of government and for restoring the traditional structure, the Ancient Regime which went down in 1789. But this is to ask that he should have been a man before his time. His education and outlook were those of the later Renaissance, not of the Enlightenment, and the Renaissance always looked to the past.”

Sources: Game of Queens by Sarah Gristwood, The Bourbon Kings of France by Desmond Seward, Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France by Leonie Frieda and The Rival Queens: Catherine de’ Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom by Nancy Goldstone.
Images: Top, from left to right -Henry IV of France portrait located at Versailles and Henry IV’s assassination. Bottom, from left to right – the royal coins depicting Henry IV and his consort, Marie de Medici and his coat of arms, and Henry IV.

27 February 1951

The 22nd Amendment to the United States Constitution, limiting Presidents to two terms, is ratified.

Twenty-second Amendment, amendment to the Constitution of the United States effectively limiting to two the number of terms a president of the United States may serve. It was one of 273 recommendations to the U.S. Congress by the Hoover Commission, created by Pres. Harry S. Truman, to reorganize and reform the federal government. It was formally proposed by the U.S. Congress on March 24, 1947, and was ratified on Feb. 27, 1951.

The Constitution did not stipulate any limit on presidential terms—indeed, as Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 69: George Washington, the country’s first president, opted to retire after two terms, setting a de facto informal “law” that was respected by the country’s first 31 presidents that there should be rotation in office after two terms for the office of the presidency.There is no clear indication that the decision to pursue the amendment was triggered by any single event or abuse of power. Indeed, throughout U.S. history, few presidents ever expressed the desire to serve more than the traditional two terms. Ulysses S. Grant sought a third term in 1880, but he was denied his party’s nomination. Theodore Roosevelt sought a third term in 1912 but lost it would have been his second elected term