Click to follow
The Independent Online
FALSE ALARMS: Columbus was told he'd fall off the edge of the world in 1492, but didn't; Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII, was "pregnant" for many months by Philip II but died childless in 1558; in 1678 Titus Oates concocted a story of a "Popish plo t" which led to the murder and persecution of many Catholics; the fictional news flash that Martians had landed, at the beginning of Orson Welles's War of the Worlds led to panic in the US when it was broadcast in 1938; The Protocols of Zion outlined a J ewishplot to take over the world but were exposed as a forgery in 1921; the White Brotherhood waited in vain for the end of the world in Kiev in 1993; an Australian television technician working at Sky in 1993 saw a practice news flash that the Queen Mo therwas dead, and told his mum who told the world; a Moscow news agency reported last week that Russian air defences had shot down a "missile" - it was a Norwegian research rocket and it wasn't shot down.

TODAY is the feast day of Saint Gilda the Wise, sixth-century abbot in the Clyde valley, who wandered through Britain and wrote De excidio Brittaniae, a pitiful tale of the miseries and ruin of the people, which has been described as "querulous". Kinder historians believe that, genuinely shocked by the sorry effect immorality had on the lives of the poor, Gilda was trying to minister to the deepest needs of their souls. He also travelled and preached in Ireland but preferring the solitary life, spent his last years on an island off Brittany.

29 January, 1737: Thomas Paine (above), possibly England's greatest radical writer, was born at Thetford in Norfolk. After working variously as corset-maker, teacher and excise man, he emigrated to the American colonies in 1774 where he wrote Common Sense, a rallying cry for the cause of independence from Britain. "Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one," he said. In 1787, the revolution complete, he returned to England and published Rights ofMan, for which he was charged with treason. He escaped to revolutionary France where he was greeted as a hero but eventually fell foul of Robespierre and was jailed for opposing the Terror. Returning to the United States, he was r eviled as an atheist (which he was not), and died alone and in poverty in 1809. "A share in two revolutions is living to some purpose," he once said.