1294 – Saint Celestine V resigned the papacy after only five months; Celestine hoped to return to his previous life as an ascetic hermit.
1545 – Council of Trent began.
1577 Sir Francis Drake set out from Plymouth, on his round-the-world voyage.
1642 Towards noon the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sighted ‘a large land, uplifted high’. This was the first recorded sighting of New Zealand by a European.
1643 – English Civil War: The Battle of Alton.
1769 Dartmouth College was founded by the Rev. Eleazar Wheelock, with a Royal Charter from King George III.
1816 Ernst Werner von Siemens, German engineer, inventor, and industrialist, was born (d. 1892).
1903 Carlos Montoya, Spanish guitarist, was born (d. 1993).
1906 Sir Laurens van der Post, South African author, was born (d. 1996).
1925 Dick Van Dyke, American actor and comedian was born.
1929 Christopher Plummer, Canadian actor, was born.
1936 Prince Karim Aga Khan (Aga Khan IV), Imam (leader) of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, was born.
1939 Eric Flynn, British actor and singer, was born (d. 2002).
1939 Battle of the River Plate : At 6.21 a.m. on 13 December 1939, the cruiser HMS Achilles opened fire on the German ‘pocket battleship’ Admiral Graf Spee in the South Atlantic. It became the first New Zealand unit to strike a blow at the enemy in the Second World War.
1948 Jeff Baxter, American guitarist (Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers) was born.
1949 Paula Wilcox, English actress, was born.
1954 Tamora Pierce, American author, was born.
1959 Archbishop Makarios became the first President of Cyprus.
1960 – While Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia visited Brazil, his Imperial Bodyguard seized the capital and proclaimed him deposed and his son, Crown Prince Asfa Wossen, Emperor.
1961 Irene Saez, Miss Universe 1981 and Venezuelan politician, was born.
1967 – Constantine II of Greece attempted an unsuccessful counter-coupagainst the Regime of the Colonels.
1974 Malta became a republic.
1979 – The Canadian Government of Prime Minister Joe Clark was defeated in the House of Commons, prompting the 1980 Canadian election.
1981 General Wojciech Jaruzelski declared martial law in Poland to prevent dismantling of the communist system by Solidarity.
1989 – Attack on Derryard checkpoint: The Provisional Irish Republican Army launched an attack on a British Army permanent vehicle checkpoint near Rosslea. Two British soldiers were killed and one badly wounded.
1996 Kofi Annan was elected as Secretary-General of the United Nations.
2002 – The European Union announced that Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia would become members from May 1, 2004.
2003 Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was captured near his home town of Tikrit.
2004 Former Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet was put under house arrest, after being sued under accusations over 9 kidnapping actions and manslaughter. The house arrest was lifted the same day on appeal.
2006 – The Baiji, or Chinese River Dolphin, was pronounced extinct.
2011 – Murder-suicide in the city of Liège (Belgium), killing 6 and wounding 125 people at a Christmas market.
2014 – Landslides caused by heavy rain in Java, Indonesia, killed at least 56 people.
Sourced from NZ History Online & Wikipedia.