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15 October: On this day in history

What events happened on 15 October in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…

On this day_Numbers_orange15

15 October 1582

Spain, Portugal, Poland and most of Italy adopted the new calendar introduced by Pope Gregory XIII. Although other Catholic countries soon followed suit Protestant states were slower to accept the change, with Britain only switching in 1752. | Did the introduction of the Gregorian calendar spark riots?

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15 October 1608

Birth in Faenza of Italian mathematician, physicist and inventor Evangelista Torricelli. In 1643 he will create the world’s first barometer.


15 October 1764: Edward Gibbon finds unlikely inspiration in a crumbling city

A disappointing trip to the once-great city of Rome inspires the scholar to write his finest work

The autumn of 1764 found the 27-year-old Edward Gibbon in Italy, enjoying the delights of the Grand Tour. After leaving Oxford, Gibbon spent years studying in Switzerland and serving with the Hampshire militia during the Seven Years’ War. Now he had made a pilgrimage to what had once been the greatest of all cities, Rome.

As Gibbon recalled, he would never forget “the strong emotions which agitated my mind as I first approached and entered the eternal city”. To a learned young man, to see the “ruins of the Forum” or the “memorable spot where Romulus stood… or Caesar fell” was almost unimaginably thrilling. Yet Rome’s glory days were gone. The city in the 1760s was a crumbling relic, unimaginable as the capital of the greatest empire in the world.

By Gibbon’s own account, the gulf between past and present weighed heavily on his mind. He later wrote: “It was at Rome, on 15 October 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted friars were singing Vespers in the temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind.”

Gibbon’s biographers often describe this as a fanciful invention, and perhaps it was. But there is no doubt that the trip had an effect on Gibbon. And 12 years later, the great historian published the first of six volumes of his magnum opus, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.


15 October 1880

Marie Stopes, palaeobotanist and advocate of birth control, was born in Edinburgh. She was the elder daughter of architect Henry Stopes and his wife, Charlotte, a Shakespearian scholar.


15 October 1881

English humorist and author of the Jeeves and Wooster series of novels, Pelham Grenville ‘PG’ Wodehouse, was born, prematurely, in Guildford in Surrey.


15 October 1839

Queen Victoria proposed to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who accepted. The couple married in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace in the February of the following year.

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15 October 1917

Dutch spy Mata Hari is executed by firing squad.

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