Every year on 14 February, Valentine’s Day is celebrated across the Western world as a day of love – a time for romance to blossom and lovers to share gifts.
But throughout history, 14 February hasn’t always been marked by affection and warmth. Over the millennia, Valentine’s Day has seen more than its fair share of pivotal events, including brutal executions, bombing campaigns and military engagements.
From the death of Richard II in 1400 to the firebombing of Dresden in 1945, here are 10 historic events that occurred on Valentine’s Day.
1. Saint Valentine is executed (c. 270 AD)
According to popular legend, in the 3rd century AD, Emperor Claudius II banned marriages in Rome to encourage potential imperial soldiers to enlist. In around 270 AD, the story goes, a priest named Valentine defied Emperor Claudius II’s ban on marriages and continued to secretly wed young men with their lovers.
When Claudius learned of this betrayal, he ordered Valentine’s death, and on 14 February, Valentine was publicly beaten and executed. He was then posthumously crowned a saint, though this legendary origin story of Saint Valentine is subject to fierce debate.
2. Massacre in Strasbourg (1349)
In the mid-14th century, the Christian residents of Strasbourg, in present-day France, slaughtered as many as 2,000 local Jewish residents.
One of a series of pogroms in the region, the Strasbourg massacre saw Jews blamed for the spread of the Black Death and subsequently burned at the stake.
3. Richard II dies (1400)
In 1399, Henry of Bolingbroke (later crowned King Henry IV) deposed King Richard II and imprisoned him in Pontefract Castle, Yorkshire. Soon after, on or near the 14 February 1400, Richard died.
The exact cause of death is disputed, though the two chief theories are either murder or starvation.
4. Captain Cook is killed in Hawaii (1779)
In 1779, English explorer ‘Captain’ James Cook was in Hawaii when the once-friendly relations between the Europeans and the Hawaiians turned sour.
A skirmish broke out, and Cook was stabbed in the neck by a Hawaiian. Cook died shortly after. The surviving members of the crew responded to the attack a few days later, firing cannons from their ship and killing around 30 Hawaiians on the shore.
5. Saint Valentine’s Day massacre (1929)
As morning broke on Valentine’s Day in prohibition-era Chicago, 1929, 4 gangsters entered the hangout of mobster Bugs Moran. Possibly under orders of rival mobster Al Capone, the raiders opened fire on Moran’s henchmen, killing 7 in a shower of bullets.
The shooting, which became known as the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre, was orchestrated to look like a police raid. No one was indicted for the attack, though Capone was strongly suspected to have masterminded the hit.
6. Japanese paratroopers attack Sumatra (1942)
On 14 February 1942, Imperial Japan began its assault and invasion of Sumatra, then part of the Dutch East Indies. A part of Japan’s expansion into Southeast Asia, Sumatra was attacked as a stepping stone towards Java.
Allied soldiers – primarily British and Australian – fought against the Japanese bombers and paratroopers. On 28 March, Sumatra fell to the Japanese.
7. American troops killed at Kasserine Pass (1943)
Kasserine Pass, in Tunisia’s Atlas Mountains, was the site of a crushing American defeat during World War Two. There, in February 1943, German forces led by Erwin Rommell engaged with Allied troops.
By the close of the Battle of Kasserine Pass, it was thought that more than 1,000 US soldiers had been killed, with dozens more seized as prisoners. It marked a crushing defeat for America and a step backwards in the Allies’ North African campaign.
8. Bombing of Dresden (1945)
Late on 13 February, and into the morning of 14 February, Allied bombers launched a sustained bombing campaign over Dresden, Germany. It’s thought that nearly 3,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped on the city and more than 20,000 people were killed.
Dresden wasn’t an industrial centre crucial to the German war effort, so the city’s bombing was widely criticised as an act of ‘terror bombing’. The city, which had once been known as ‘Florence on the Elbe’ for its beauty, was absolutely devastated by the bombing campaign.
9. Firebombing of Malcolm X’s house (1965)
By February 1964, Malcolm X had been ordered to vacate his home in Queens, NYC. On the eve of a hearing to postpone the eviction, his house was firebombed. Malcolm and his family survived unscathed, but the perpetrator was never identified.
Less than a fortnight later, on 21 February 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated, shot to death while on stage at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan.
10. Guerrillas attack the US embassy in Tehran (1979)
Valentine’s Day, 1979, marked a key moment in the escalating tensions in Tehran that led to the Iran hostage crisis. Guerillas associated with the Marxist Fadaiyan-e-Khalq organisation launched an armed attack on the US embassy in the Iranian capital, taking Kenneth Kraus hostage.
Kraus, a marine, is remembered as the first American taken hostage in the build-up to the Iran hostage crisis. Within a few hours, the embassy was returned to the US, and within a week, Kraus was released. An assault on 4 November 1979 marked the start of the Iran hostage crisis, in which over 50 US citizens were held for more than 400 days by supporters of the Iranian revolution.