Year
1717
Month Day
May 16

Satirical writer, Voltaire, is imprisoned in the Bastille

Writer Francois-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire, is imprisoned in the Bastille on May 16, 1717.

The outspoken writer was born to middle-class parents, attended college in Paris, and began to study law. However, he quit law to become a playwright and made a name for himself with classical tragedies. Critics embraced his epic poem, La Henriade, but its satirical attack on politics and religion infuriated the government, and Voltaire was arrested in 1717. He spent nearly a year in the Bastille.

Voltaire’s time in prison failed to dry up his satirical pen. In 1726, he was forced to flee to England. He returned several years later and continued to write plays. In 1734, his Lettres Philosophiques criticized established religions and political institutions, and he was forced to flee again. He retreated to the region of Champagne, where he lived with his mistress and patroness, Madame du Chatelet. In 1750, he moved to Berlin on the invitation of Frederick II of Prussia and later settled in Switzerland, where he wrote his best-known work, Candide. He died in Paris in 1778, having returned to supervise the production of one of his plays.

READ MORE: 10 Things You Should Know About Voltaire

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Discovery of Ozone Hole announced

In the scientific journal Nature on May 16, 1985, three scientists from the British Antarctic Survey announce their detection of abnormally low levels of ozone over the South Pole. Their discovery, commonly known as the Ozone Hole, became a palpable example of mankind's ability ...read more

Pioneering TV journalist Barbara Walters signs off

On May 16, 2014, broadcast journalist and TV personality Barbara Walters retires from ABC News and as co-host of the daytime program “The View.” In a landmark career that spanned some 50 years on air, the 84-year-old Walters blazed a trail for women in TV news. On Walter’s May ...read more

French dauphin, Louis, marries Marie Antoinette

At Versailles, Louis, the French dauphin, marries Marie Antoinette, the daughter of Austrian Archduchess Maria Theresa and Holy Roman Emperor Francis I. France hoped their marriage would strengthen its alliance with Austria, its longtime enemy. In 1774, with the death of King ...read more

Worker protests mount in France

In France, the May 1968 crisis escalates as a general strike spreads to factories and industries across the country, shutting down newspaper distribution, air transport and two major railroads. By the end of the month, millions of workers were on strike, and France seemed to be ...read more

Warsaw Ghetto uprising ends

In Poland, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising comes to an end as Nazi soldiers gain control of Warsaw’s Jewish ghetto, blowing up the last remaining synagogue and beginning the mass deportation of the ghetto’s remaining dwellers to the Treblinka extermination camp. Shortly after the ...read more

First Academy Awards ceremony

On this day in 1929, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hands out its first awards, at a dinner party for around 250 people held in the Blossom Room of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, California. The brainchild of Louis B. Mayer, head of the powerful MGM film ...read more

Basketball great, Magic Johnson, plays center as a rookie, wins championships

On May 16, 1980, Los Angeles Lakers point guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson steps in for injured center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and scores 42 points, leading the Lakers to a four games-to-two series win over the Philadelphia 76ers for their first championship since 1972. In 1979, Magic ...read more

Senate acquits President Andrew Johnson of high crimes and misdemeanors

On May 16, 1868, the U.S. Senate votes against impeaching President Andrew Johnson and acquits him of committing “high crimes and misdemeanors.” He would not be fully acquitted of all charges until 10 days later, on May 26, 1868.  In February 1868, the House of Representatives ...read more

First Academy Awards ceremony is held

May 16, 1929 marks the first-ever Academy Awards ceremony, Hollywood’s annual celebration of the best its creative artists have to offer over the previous year. The official Academy Awards banquet took place in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Some 270 people ...read more

A nurse stabs expectant mother to death, steals unborn baby

Norma Jean Armistead checks herself into Kaiser Hospital in Los Angeles, California, with a newborn that she claims to have given birth to at home. Some staff members were already aware that Armistead, a nurse at the hospital, had a pregnancy listed on her medical charts the ...read more

U.S.-Soviet summit meeting collapses after U-2 spy plane shot down

In the wake of the Soviet downing of an American U-2 spy plane on May 1, 1960, Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev lashes out at the United States and President Dwight D. Eisenhower at a Paris summit meeting between the two heads of state. Khrushchev’s outburst angered Eisenhower ...read more

Georgia Patriot Button Gwinnett is fatally wounded in duel

On May 16, 1777, British-born Georgia Patriot and signer of the Declaration of Independence Button Gwinnett receives a bullet wound in a duel with his political rival, Georgia city Whig Lachlan McIntosh. Three days later, Gwinnett died as a result of the gangrenous wound. ...read more

U.S. Congress passes Sedition Act

On May 16, 1918, the United States Congress passes the Sedition Act, a piece of legislation designed to protect America’s participation in World War I. Along with the Espionage Act of the previous year, the Sedition Act was orchestrated largely by A. Mitchell Palmer, the United ...read more