Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Monday

Today is known in the USA as Black Friday. The term was coined in 1966 to refer to the practice of kicking off the Christmas shopping season with big sales on the day after Thanksgiving, and is "black" because the increased revenue is supposed to lift companies out of red ink and into solvency.* "Black" has been used historically to denote particular days when disaster has struck. There is more than one Black Sunday, and Black Tuesday will forever be linked with the USA stock market crash on 29 October, 1929. The markets crashed again on 19 October, 1987—though not so spectacularly as in 1929. There are also a number of Black Mondays, but I want to focus on two of them.

In The antiquities and history of Ireland (1705) by Sir James Ware and Sir John Davie, we find this:
The occasion of Black-Monday, and the Original remembrance thereof rose at Dublin. The City of Dublin, by reason of some great Mortality, being waste and desolate, the Inhabitants of Bristol flock'd thither to Inhabit, who after their Country manner, upon Holy-days, some for love of the fresh Air, some to avoid Idleness, some other for Pastime, Pleasure, and Gaming-sake, flock'd out of the Town towards Cullen's Wood upon Monday in Easter Week. The Bitanes, Tooles, (the Mountain Enemies) like Wolves lay in Ambush for them, and upon finding them unarm'd, fell upon them, and slew 300 men besides Women and Children, ...
Also called "The Cullenswood Massacre," the event in 1209 was commemorated by Dubliners every year for a few centuries afterward.

Hailstones from a storm in the Philippines
The other Black Monday (in fact, there are several, but I'm talking about the medieval ones) took place in 1360. The Hundred Years War was in a particularly busy phase, and Edward III's forces were all over France. While he was approaching Chartres, a storm of great severity struck his encamped forces on 13 April (Easter Monday that year). It brought thunder, lightning, high winds, hailstones as big as pigeon eggs that dented armor. One report described it as “A foul dark day of mist and hail, and so bitter cold, that sitting on horseback men died.” We are told that 1000 men and 6000 horses died from the storm. According to Froissart, this storm was taken by many of Edward's advisers to be an omen; they convinced him to make peace, and on 8 May the Treaty of Brétigny was first concluded (it was formally ratified months later at Calais).

*Calendar note: given the way Thanksgiving is calculated, today (the 22nd) is the earliest date that Black Friday can take place; the latest is 29 November.

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