Today in History: May 13

There were probably many motivations behind Cardinal Richelieu’s decision: sometimes, one does not need one’s dinner guests to always be armed with daggers and knives, especially not at dinner. An angry guest can always retrieve his sword on the way out, the Cardinal may have thought.

It is believed by Henry Petroski, the historian of things, among other writers, that the Cardinal was irritated by the disgusting habit some of his dinner guests displayed of picking their teeth with their daggers and the blades they ate with.

On this date in 1637, Cardinal Richelieu ordered his house staff to grind down and round off the sharp ends of his dinner knives, which led to an instant invention: the table knife, which is used to cut one’s meal but not stab at it and convey the chunks to one’s mouth, and can not be used to settle violent disagreements.

There is no patent, but His Eminence (Richelieu is also the figure who came up with “Eminence” as the title for a Cardinal) is almost certainly the inventor of the table knife.

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On this date in 1981, Pope John Paul II was wounded in an assassination attempt in St. Peter’s Square at Vatican City. The Pope was shot and wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca.

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Jimmy McPartland died 25 years ago today. “China Boy,” with McPartland on cornet:

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Gil Evans was born on this date in 1912. Joe Louis was born in 1914 on this date. Bea Arthur was born on this date in 1922. Clive Barnes was born on this date in 1927. Bruce Chatwin was born 76 years ago today. Ritchie Valens was born on this date in 1941.

Mike Gravel is 86. Harvey Keitel is 77 today. Armistead Maupin is 72. Tim Pigott-Smith is 70. Franklyn Ajaye is 67. Zoë Wanamaker is 67. Stevie Wonder is 66 today. “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)”:

Dennis Rodman is 55. Stephen Colbert is 52. (My Stephen Colbert column: “How to Be a Live TV Audience.” Buckethead is 47. Robert Pattinson is 30.

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