11 July 1302

An army of Flemish burghers defeated the flower of French chivalry outside Courtrai (modern-day Kortrijk). The spurs of the slain French knights were hung up in a local church, giving the battle its popular name: the battle of the Golden Spurs.


11 July 1603

Peter Osborne was admitted as a fellow-commoner of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Osborne, who was knighted in 1611, fought for the king in the Civil War, defending Castle Cornet on Guernsey against the island’s largely parliamentarian inhabitants.

11 July 1804: Hamilton and Burr meet in dawn duel

Personal animosity reaches a climax as US politicians face off

After years of personal tension, two of the young republic’s most prominent politicians, Vice President Aaron Burr and former treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton, had decided to settle their differences once and for all.

The background to their duel lay in the animosity between two different factions: the pro-business Federalists, such as Hamilton, who believed in a strong government; and the Democratic-Republicans, such as Burr, who were more suspicious of central authority.

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But there was a personal dimension, too: as Hamilton wrote, he saw Burr as a “profligate, a voluptuary in the extreme”.

In June 1804 Burr issued a formal challenge, and Hamilton accepted. On the designated morning, the two combatants took separate boats from Manhattan across the Hudson river to a woodland clearing in Weehawken, New Jersey. And after their seconds had prepared the ground, they took their places.

Hamilton fired first, his shot passing high into the trees. Then Burr took aim. His lead ball smashed into Hamilton’s lower abdomen, just above his hip. When Hamilton’s doctor reached him, he was on the ground in his second’s arms. “His countenance of death I shall never forget,” the doctor wrote. “He had at that instant just strength to say, ‘This is a mortal wound, doctor,’ when he sunk away, and became to all appearance lifeless.”

Hamilton was taken back to New York, but it was no good. He died the next day. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

11 July 1920

Eugénie, widow of Napoleon III and empress of France from 1853 to 1871, died in Madrid aged 94. After France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, she joined her family in exile in England and is buried with them at Farnborough.

11 July 1921

After over two years of conflict, a truce came into effect between British government forces and the Irish Republican Army. Ensuing talks led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the establishment of the Irish Free State.

11 July 1921

After a row with fellow members who want to merge with a rival party, Adolf Hitler briefly resigns from the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.

11 July 1960: Harper Lee exposes southern racism

The author publishes her debut novel, To Kill a Mockingbird

It was the summer of 1960, and Harper Lee was worried. After quitting her job, she had finished her first book, which she wanted to call Go Set a Watchman. But her publishers, JB Lippincott, persuaded her to change the title. They settled on To Kill a Mockingbird. The publication date was set for 11 July: a sweet moment for a debut novelist. But Lee’s editor warned her not to expect too much. At best, it would likely sell only a few thousand copies.

Lee had been working for years on her story of racial injustice in a small southern town. But as the big day approached, she felt a surge of anxiety. “I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird,” she said later. “I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers.”

When the day came, not everybody was bowled over. The novel, said the Atlantic Monthly, was merely “pleasant, undemanding” reading. But with the southern civil rights movement making headlines day after day, it could hardly have been better timed. Its moralistic message was perfectly crafted to win over middle-class readers. And when both the Readers’ Digest and the Book of the Month Club gave it their seal of approval, Mockingbird’s success was guaranteed.


By the time the Hollywood adaptation appeared in 1962, Lee was a household name, feted as the writer who, perhaps more than any other, had persuaded white Middle America to face the harsh reality of racial prejudice. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

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