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262: This Week: Battle of Britain, Hamilton, One Nation, One King

In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in Battle of Britain, Hamilton, and One Nation, One King.

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

July 10, 1940. England.

The light sand is littered with military equipment. There’s an ammo can, a couple artillery guns and the legs of someone who we can assume is diseased. On top there is barbed wire, but the only thing that’s moving in the scene is the sporadic tufts of green grass sprouting out of the sand as it blows in the wind.

It’s a scene of abandonment.

As the camera pans slowly, we can see more abandoned vehicles. A burned-out car, a broken wagon, maybe what looks like a motorcycle lying on its side. Off in the distance, huge plumes of black smoke are rising as if the battle has left this deserted beach. It’s moved on.

While we see this on the screen, there’s voiceover in the movie that gives us a news report.

This is the BBC Home Service. Here is the news. In the House of Commons this afternoon, the Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, said, ‘What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin.’”

This segment comes from the 1969 film called The Battle of Britain.

And while the movie doesn’t come right out to tell us when or where we are, it’s pretty clear the deserted beach we’re seeing is the beach at Dunkirk. The Miracle of Dunkirk was an evacuation that took place between May 26th and June 4th, 1940. Of course, what we’re seeing in the film is after that.

So, I’ll admit that I’m speculating a little bit about the timing of when this might be. This is another example of a movie that doesn’t really show the event that started the conflict, but we do know from history that it was this week in the year 1940 when the Battle of Britain officially began.

Well, at least, that’s when the British officially recognize the dates. Other historians might not agree with those dates.

The event that we don’t see in the movie to kick off the battle was when over a hundred German bombers and fighters attacked a British shipping convoy in the English Channel while about 70 other bombers attacked dockyards in South Wales. Those attacks were the start of what would end up being a series of bombing raids, and that’s why the date of July 10th, 1940, is commonly referred to as the start of the Battle of Britain.

Just from the name of it, you might think this is a little different than the battles that take place in a specific city, near a river, or by some other geographical landmark. And you’d be right.

The Battle of Britain took place in the skies primarily over Great Britain’s airspace between the Royal Air Force and the German Luftwaffe.

We see the aftermath of the empty beaches at Dunkirk in the film, and after the Miracle at Dunkirk, France had fallen to Nazi Germany. That happened officially on June 22nd, 1940 with an armistice between France and Germany. Then, the Nazis set their sights on Great Britain.

The English Channel posed a problem, though, because up until this point in the war the Nazis had massive success rolling through most of Western Europe with the blitzkrieg. Basically, that was swift attack using tanks on the ground supported by the Luftwaffe in the air.

So, for Germany to be able to defeat Great Britain, they’d have to get rid of the RAF first. If they could achieve air superiority, the Luftwaffe would be able to support an invasion of Great Britain.

It’s also important to point out that Hitler wanted to focus on the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front. So, he was really hoping by defeating the RAF that would force Great Britain to sue for peace and he wouldn’t have to pull away his tanks and ground forces that could be used on the Eastern Front.

Of course, that’s not the kind of information the Nazi leaders were going to tell their enemies, so we mostly know this sort of thing by looking at it through a historical lens.

What happened next was just under four months of hard fighting that ended up seeing both Britain and Germany suffering massive losses. Thousands of aircraft were lost, tens of thousands of lives lost…but, Britain held on long enough to hand Nazi Germany their first major defeat of World War II.

If you want to watch the event depicted on screen, check out the 1969 film simply called The Battle of Britain. The news report we started this segment with starts right at the beginning at about eight and a half minutes into the film.


July 11, 1804. Weehawken, New Jersey.

Our next movie is of a Broadway musical on a dark stage. A man and a woman are the only ones visible as the song begins. The woman is Phillipa Soo’s version of Eliza Hamilton while the man is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s version of her husband, Alexander Hamilton. She sings to him, asking him to come back to sleep. He replies he has an early meeting out of town. He assures her that he’ll be back before she knows he’s gone.

As the song continues, a host of backup singers join the stage to tell the story of what happens next. They share the information about what’s happening at the meeting he mentioned earlier.

The song is being sung by Leslie Odom Jr.’s version of Aaron Burr. And conveniently for us, Burr’s song shares the information of ten bulleted items. I’m not going to repeat the exact lyrics since they’re copyrighted, of course, but here’s a summary of the ten things we learn in the song.

  1. They rode across the Hudson at dawn, along with his friend William P. Van Ness.
  2. Hamilton arrived with his crew. There’s a mention of Nathaniel Pendleton and a doctor.
  3. Hamilton examined the terrain, but most disputes ended with no one shooting.
  4. Hamilton drew the first position and the doctor turned around so he could deny seeing anything.
  5. This is all happening near the same place where Hamilton’s son died.
  6. Hamilton examined the trigger on his gun.
  7. Aaron Burr was not a good marksman.
  8. Hamilton wore his glasses that morning, and Burr had a daughter.
  9. Aim no higher than the eyes.
  10. There’s not really anything for number ten other than there are ten paces before turning to shoot.

Here is where the show goes into a sort of slow motion. The bullet travels from one gun to the other. Life flashing before their eyes.

A few moments later, we find out the result of the duel: Alexander Hamilton shot into the sky. Aaron Burr did not. Alexander Hamilton is hit by the bullet from Burr’s gun.

This comes from the movie version on Disney+ of the popular Broadway musical Hamilton. Now, I know we haven’t really covered musicals here on Based on a True Story before…and if you do want to dig into the historical accuracy of the musical Hamilton in the future then let me know!

But for today, I thought we could cover at least this one scene in Hamilton.

Of course, in the true story, life is not a musical. We all know that.

But it is true that Alexander Hamilton was shot during a duel this week in history by the Vice President of the United States, Aaron Burr. Yes, he really was the Vice President at the time he killed Hamilton. The duel took place on July 11th, 1804.

So, what of those ten things the musical mentions?

Let’s recap each of those. Before we do, though, just as a quick reminder, I’m not listing the actual lyrics for copyright purposes, but we’ll get the gist of what it’s saying so we can dig into their historical accuracy a little better.

Also, it’s worth pointing out that this duel wasn’t something officially documented. So, what we know of it comes from those who were there. With that said, let’s get to the list.

  1. They rode across the Hudson at dawn, along with his friend William P. Van Ness.

It is true that at about 5:00 AM on July 11th, 1804, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton each left separate docks in Manhattan to travel across the Hudson River to Weehawken, New Jersey. Although the song kind of makes it sound like they traveled together, they actually took separate boats in an attempt to keep the duel a secret. They went to New Jersey because it was a little more lenient on prosecuting duels than New York was at the time.

The song is also correct to mention Van Ness. Mr. Willian Peter Van Ness was a federal judge and Aaron Burr’s second. In a duel, the second is a friend of one of the parties to help make sure the duel is done in an honorable way and to the rules of the duel.

  1. Hamilton arrived with his crew. There’s a mention of Nathaniel Pendleton and a doctor.

The implication here is that Burr arrived first, followed by Hamilton and someone named Nathaniel Pendleton and an unnamed doctor. That is true, as well.

Aaron Burr and the men with him arrived to the dueling grounds at about 6:30 AM and started clearing some underbrush in preparation for the duel. Alexander Hamilton and the men with him made it there about half an hour later.

Nathaniel Pendleton was a district judge and served as Hamilton’s second in the duel. The doctor was Dr. David Hosack, a friend of Hamilton’s who, as his title suggests, was a medical doctor.

  1. Hamilton examined the terrain, but most disputes ended with no one shooting.

This mostly seems like a throwaway line in the song, but I suppose it would make sense for both Hamilton and Burr to examine the terrain when they get there. Since we learned Hamilton got there after Burr and the men with Burr had started clearing underbrush, perhaps that’s what this is referring to.

While it might be a stretch to suggest that most duels end up with no one shooting, it is true that many duels end up without anyone being killed. By that, I’m referring to something the musical does touch on elsewhere: Deloping. That’s the practice of purposely missing or shooting into the ground to end the duel.

For example, Alexander Hamilton had been involved in more than a dozen duels, or “affairs of honor” as they were called. That includes at least one other with Aaron Burr. Burr himself said he dueled Hamilton twice before this one, so there are some conflicting stories there. But the point is that not every duel comes away with someone dying.

  1. Hamilton drew the first position and the doctor turned around so he could deny seeing anything.

From here on out, the accounts of what happened get even more blurry and conflicted. With that said, though, as the story goes, the Burr and Hamilton’s seconds cast lots to determine who would get to pick their positions.

As a little side note, casting lots is kind of like flipping a coin or rolling dice. Hamilton’s second, Nathaniel Pendleton, won that so Hamilton got to pick first position. So, the song is correct there.

Did the doctor turn around so he could deny anything? That’s an oversimplification.

It’s very likely that the two seconds were the only others present other than Burr and Hamilton themselves, and both seconds turned their backs for the actual shots. That was another form of plausible deniability so no one could say they saw any shots being fired.

What we do know is that about a month later, Dr. David Hosack, wrote down that he didn’t only turn his back, but he wasn’t even right there for the duel. He was nearby, but he said he saw Hamilton and the two seconds disappear into the woods. A short while later, he heard two shots and came rushing to find Hamilton wounded.

So, if that’s all true, then that also helps us understand why there are so many conflicting accounts of exactly what happened.

  1. This is all happening near the same place where Hamilton’s son died.

This is true. While we didn’t talk about this in the segment, earlier in the musical we see Alexander Hamilton’s son, Philip, get killed in a duel. That really did happen on November 23rd, 1801, Philip challenged a lawyer named George Eacker to a duel after Eacker had given a speech opposing Alexander Hamilton. That duel took place not at the exact same dueling grounds, but it was also in New Jersey a few miles away.  

  1. Hamilton examined the trigger on his gun.

We don’t really know this for sure. Alexander Hamilton was in the Continental Army and, as we saw earlier in the musical, he had been General Washingon’s aide. But, even though he was in the army, that didn’t mean he had a lot of experience with weapons himself. Sure, he’d shot them, but was he good with them?

On top of that, if we consider that after the Revolutionary War came to an end in 1783, Hamilton’s career took a similar path as Washington’s as it went from the military into politics. So, it’s not likely that he had shot a gun since the War—over two decades before the duel.

The last little bit of evidence here that’s worth mentioning is that some sources have said the guns used in the duel were hidden until they arrived at the grounds. This was part of giving people plausible deniability.

Putting these two clues together, if they didn’t see the guns on the way there and Hamilton hadn’t shot a gun in decades—sure, it makes sense that he’d examine the gun when it was handed to him.

  1. Aaron Burr was not a good marksman.

Like the last point, we just don’t know for sure. Like Hamilton, Aaron Burr had been in the Continental Army. Just like Hamilton, after the Revolutionary War ended, Burr went into politics.

With that said, though, there have been some historians who have said Aaron Burr had been practicing shooting at his home in New York City leading up to the duel. Does that mean he was a good shot? We don’t know for sure. But it is likely that he had shot a gun more recently than Hamilton.

  1. Hamilton wore his glasses that morning, and Burr had a daughter.

Let’s start with the part we know for sure is true: Aaron Burr did have a daughter. In fact, Aaron Burr had at least eight children. The reason I say “at least” is because, well, to put it bluntly, Burr had two wives over the course of his life, but he was known to have children outside of marriage.

For example, it was just a few years ago, in 2018, that John Pierre Burr was officially recognized as Aaron Burr’s son for the first time by the Aaron Burr Association. He was one of two children Aaron Burr had with a servant from India who worked in his household.

What of the other part of this line, though, about Hamilton wearing his glasses?

That is most likely true, although as I mentioned earlier, the accounts we have from those who were there don’t always line up.

If he did have them on, though, it wasn’t necessarily the entire time. As the story goes, even though Hamilton had already told his second that he planned on deloping, when Hamilton and Burr stood facing each other, Hamilton asked for a moment to put his glasses on.

Why did he want to put his glasses on if he had planned on deloping, or purposely missing Aaron Burr? Well, as you already know, Hamilton was killed soon after this, so we’ll never really know for sure.

Let’s do the last couple lines together:

  1. Aim no higher than the eyes.
  2. There’s not really anything for number ten other than there are ten paces before turning to shoot.

These last few lines work well for the song, but they don’t add much to the true story.

And, in a way, that actually works for the true story because the least accurate thing we know about is what happened right at the end.

The reason for that is because the account told by Burr’s second and Hamilton’s second at the duel don’t line up—probably because of what we talked about before with them having their backs turned.

According to one version of the story, Hamilton fired first and just as he had said he would do, he deliberately missed Aaron Burr. When Burr heard the shot hit a tree behind him, he fired back. He didn’t know Hamilton had said he was going to deliberately miss, after all. His shot did not miss.

According to another version of the story, it was Aaron Burr who shot first and hit Hamilton. The shot hit Hamilton just above his right hip. He collapsed almost immediately and involuntarily dropped his gun, which caused it to fire.

Hamilton didn’t die right away, and according to his own version, he told the doctor later that his gun was still loaded. But there was a second shot, so that would seem to back up the idea that Hamilton didn’t purposely shoot and instead didn’t realize the gun had gone off as he collapsed.

No matter what actually happened, what we do know is the outcome.

Alexander Hamilton succumbed to his wound, passing away at about 2:00 PM the next day, July 12th, 1804.

If you want to see how the duel that happened this week in history is depicted in the movie version of the musical, you can find the song in our segment starting at about two hours, 21 minutes and 12 seconds of Hamilton.


July 14, 1789. France.

Something is being dipped into a molten hot furnace. It reminds me of the times when I learned about glass blowing as a child, but that was a long time ago. This looks like something very hot, though. The camera pans to a man who is controlling the stick in the furnace.

Then, the camera cuts to a castle. Someone yells, “Murderer!” and we can hear the sound of a crowd yelling.

Another cut and we seem to be in some sort of a makeshift hospital. An injured person is carried on a stretcher. Others saying, “May he rest in peace,” as if someone has passed away.

This initial chaos in the scenes are coming together a little bit more as we see some people talking about what’s going on.

One man says it’s not a crime to fight to defend yourselves.

A woman says they took 300 barrels of powder for their rifles.

Another man says that they’ll resist the King’s troops because Paris has stormed the Bastille and everyone around him cheers.

This depiction comes from the 2018 movie called One Nation, One King.

As you can probably guess, this depiction isn’t great…but as it turns out there really are not very many good depictions of the storming of the Bastille that started the French Revolution.

But that is what happened this week in history on July 14th, 1789 when revolutionary insurgents seized control of a fortress called the Bastille.

The movie doesn’t really mention any of this, but if we take a step back to get some historical context, a financial crisis in France resulted in a lot of conflicts. In May, unrest started to bubble up. In June, a group known as the National Assembly came to the forefront. Meanwhile, the French king, Louis XVI, had reorganized the people in charge of the finances and dismissed Jacques Necker, the finance minister. That was on July 11th, 1789. When that happened, people were afraid that Louis would arrest members of the National Assembly.

While this unrest wasn’t new and it had been brewing for a while, when people overcame the Bastille—a political prison and fortress—that gave people the confidence they needed to continue to revolt against the monarchy that had ruled France for centuries.

If you want to watch the event as it’s depicted in the 2018 movie One Nation, One King, the day of July 14th, 1789 starts at about three minutes into the film.



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