10 February 1258: Baghdad falls to the Mongol hordes

Invaders lay waste to the city in a frenzy of brutality


Baghdad! In the mid-13th century the City of Peace, capital of the Abbasid caliphate and beating heart of Islamic power was renowned as a city of mosques and minarets; music and mathematics; astronomy, alchemy, sweets and spices. No wonder, then, that its caliph, the ineffectual, complacent al-Musta’sim, scoffed when he heard a nomad army was approaching his capital. Baghdad’s walls had stood for hundreds of years. Never would it fall to a foreign invader.

But the caliph was wrong. By the beginning of 1258, a colossal Mongol army was fast approaching, under their general, Hulagu. Their envoys delivered a final warning, demanding the caliph submit to save his people. But he refused, and the envoys were attacked in the streets of Baghdad.

So it was at the end of January that the Mongol siege engines opened the bombardment, raining down arrows and missiles, rocks and burning oil. By 1 February they had taken the entire eastern wall. Nine days later, al-Musta’sim surrendered. For his people, though, it was too late.

What happened next was one of the most frenzied massacres in history. For at least a week, Hulagu gave his men licence to kill, maim, rape and pillage as they saw fit. “They swept through the city,” said one account, “like raging wolves attacking sheep, with loose reins and shameless faces, murdering and spreading terror.” According to the same source, furniture “made of gold and encrusted with jewels was cut to pieces with knives and torn to shreds. Those hiding behind the veils of the great Harem were dragged through the streets and alleys, each of them becoming a plaything... as the population died at the hands of the invaders.”

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How many people were slaughtered? Some said 100,000; others said the true total was nearer a million. And al-Musta’sim was among them: according to one version, he was rolled in a carpet and trampled to death. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

10 February 1306: Robert Bruce murders John Comyn

Amid accusations of betrayal, Robert kills his rival for the Scottish throne

When John Comyn walked into Greyfriars Kirk on the morning of 10 February 1306, he could have had little idea what awaited him. As Lord of Badenoch and Lochaber, the ‘Red Comyn’, as he was known, was one of the most powerful men in Scotland.

Just a few years earlier he had served as one of the two Guardians of Scotland, along with his rival Robert Bruce. But relations between the two men had long since deteriorated into outright hatred. Both believed that they had a right to the Scottish throne; both had a history of playing their English neighbours off against their Scottish rivals.

Precisely what happened in the second half of 1305 remains unclear, but Bruce’s friends later claimed that, having sworn to uphold his rival’s claim to the throne, Comyn had gone back on his promise and betrayed him to the English. In any case, the two men made a deal to meet before the altar of the Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries – leaving their swords outside – where they could settle their differences.

It was, of course, a trap. As legend has it, Comyn had no sooner taken his place before the altar than Bruce pulled out a knife and stabbed him through the heart. Running from the church, Bruce bumped into a group of his friends.

“Pale, bloody and in much agitation,” as Walter Scott later put it, Bruce was nonetheless worried that he had failed to finish his rival off. “Do you leave such a matter in doubt?” one of his friends said. “I will make sure!” A few moments later, Bruce’s friends were at the altar. Their knives rose and fell. Comyn was dead. It was a crime, wrote Scott, that was to be “followed by the displeasure of Heaven; for no man ever went through more misfortunes than Robert Bruce”. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

10 February 1355: Oxford students spark a riot

A row over bad wine spills over into violence

It was St Scholastica Day in 1355 and Oxford’s students were in the mood to celebrate. Among them were Walter de Spryngeheuse and Roger de Chesterfield, who went for a drink at the Swindlestock Tavern on the Carfax junction, but they ended up painting the town much redder than they had anticipated.

No sooner had the students ordered some wine than passions rose. It began with the pair complaining that the wine was poor and demanding fresh drinks. The landlord refused. A few terse words were exchanged, peppered with “stubborn and saucy language”. The students started throwing wine and hit the barman with his own pot.

The argument degenerated into a rolling brawl, with more students and locals piling in. Townsfolk rang the bells at one church to call for aid; the students rang the bells at another. People arrived with cudgels, clubs, even bows and arrows. The university’s chancellor, Humphrey de Cherlton, tried to act as peacemaker, but retreated after somebody shot arrows at him. That was just the beginning.

The next day, 11 February, thousands of people rampaged through the streets and laid siege to inns and hostels, killing any scholars they found. “Havoc! Havoc!” they chanted. “Smite fast, give good knocks!” Three days later, the rioting finally died down. At least 60 students and 30 townspeople had been killed. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

10 February 1567

Lord Darnley, the husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, is murdered.

10 February 1649

After leading an abortive attempt to rescue King Charles I from Carisbrooke Castle in the previous December, Royalist sea captain and army officer John Burley is executed for treason at Winchester.

10 February 1758

Death of architect Thomas Ripley. A protégé of Robert Walpole, he designed the Old Admiralty Building, Whitehall and succeeded Vanbrugh as Controller of the King's Works. Many contemporaries regarded his work with derision.

10 February 1763

End of the Seven Years’ War as Britain, France and Spain signed the Treaty of Paris. Prussia and Austria signed a separate treaty five days later.

10 February 1840: Queen Victoria marries Prince Albert

The young queen finds marital bliss with her German cousin

It was raining on Queen Victoria’s wedding day but nothing could dampen the bride’s ardour on her big event. Despite months of wrangling over her future husband’s status, Victoria simply could not wait to be united with Prince Albert, her German consort.

The passionately scribbled entry in her diary captures something of the young queen’s excitement. “The last time I slept alone,” she began. “Got up at a quarter to nine – well, and having slept well; and breakfasted at half past nine. Mama came before and brought me a Nosegay of orange flowers… Wrote my journal, and to Lord [Melbourne]. Had my hair dressed and the wreath of orange flowers put on. Saw my precious Albert for the last time alone, as my Bridegroom.

The ceremony was held at St James’s Palace – “very imposing, and fine and simple”, wrote Victoria. Unusually for brides of the time, she wore a white dress, a symbol not so much of purity than of wealth, which proved immensely influential. Given her royal position, the archbishop of Canterbury had suggested leaving out the vow to ‘obey’ her husband. But she insisted on keeping it in.

On the wedding night, not even Victoria’s headache could spoil the mood. “He clasped me in his arms, and we kissed each other again and again!” she recorded excitedly. And the wedding night itself? “Bliss beyond belief! Oh! this was the happiest day of my life! – May God help me to do my duty as I ought and be worthy of such blessings!” | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

10 February 1841

Under the terms of the 1840 Act of Union, both Upper and Lower Canada were united into the Province of Canada with a single government and legislature.


10 February 1962

American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers and student Frederic Pryor were freed in exchange for KGB colonel Vilyam Fisher at the Ghenicke Bridge between West Berlin and Potsdam.

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