11 October: On this day in history

What events happened on 11 October in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…

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11 October 1649: Cromwell’s army ravages Wexford

Thousands are slaughtered despite promises of “no violence” by the English

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On 11 October 1649, guns rang out across Wexford. For more than a week the Irish port had been besieged by Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army, which had identified it as a key royalist garrison and a crucial base for attacks on parliamentarian shipping.

During the siege, Cromwell had been negotiating with the local governor, David Synnot, for a peaceful surrender. The English commander promised that if Wexford capitulated he would allow the garrison leave to disperse, and that “no violence” would be offered to the townsfolk. But on the morning of 11 October, the talks broke down. A few hours later, for reasons that remain unclear, the officer commanding Wexford Castle decided on his own initiative to hand it over to Cromwell. Now the New Model Army had the upper hand. As the town’s defenders broke and fled, Cromwell’s men burst into the town.

What followed was carnage. The parliamentarian troops stormed through the streets of Wexford, and hundreds of defenders fled for the river Slaney; many drowned, while others were shot down by their pursuers. Estimates of the total death toll at Wexford differ widely, but most historians agree that at least 2,000 people may have been killed – perhaps many more.

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Contrary to popular belief, Cromwell had not personally ordered the attack on the town, but he shed no tears for the town’s victims – for this was the judgment of God. “They were,” he wrote, “made with their blood to answer for the cruelties they had exercised upon diverse poor Protestants.”

Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries…

11 October 1531

Swiss religious reformer Ulrich Zwingli was killed at the battle of Kappel. He had been serving with the army of Protestant Zurich in a campaign against the forces of the Swiss Catholics.

11 October 1758

Birth in Arbergen near Bremen, Germany of physician and amateur astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Matthäus Olbers. While practising medicine in Bremen he will discover a number of comets including one which bears his name, develop a method for calculating their orbits and also discover two asteroids: Pallas in 1802 and Vesta in 1807. He is best remembered for formulating Olbers’ Paradox which argues that in an infinite universe the night sky should not be dark but be lit by the light of the stars that lie in all directions.

11 October 1810

Advancing through Portugal, elements of Marshal Massena’s invading French army stumbled across the Lines of Torres Vedras, the system of forts and redoubts secretly built on Wellington’s orders to defend Lisbon.

11 October 1872

Militant suffragette Emily Davison was born in Blackheath. In June 1913 she was killed after running out in front of the king’s horse at the Epsom Derby.

11 October 1889

British physicist James Joule died, aged 70, at his home in Sale, Cheshire. Much of his work focused on energy and heat, and the SI unit of energy, the joule, is named after him.

11 October 1982

The wreck of the Tudor warship Mary Rose is raised from the sea bed off Spithead.


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