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16 July: On this day in history

What events happened on 16 July in history? We round up the events, births and deaths…

Published: July 16, 2022 at 6:05 am
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16 July 1212

The combined forces of Castile, Aragon, Portugal and Navarre defeated Muhammad al-Nasir’s army at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in Andalusia. The victory gave added momentum to the Christian reconquista of southern Spain.

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16 July 1546: Anne Askew is burned at the stake

A hidden cache of gunpowder saves the heretic from a tortuously slow death

Anne Askew was, by any standards, an extraordinary woman. Born near Grimsby in around 1521, she was a devout Protestant. As a young girl she would go to Lincoln Cathedral to discuss theology with the clergy – and none of them could ever beat her in an argument.

When Anne got married, her Catholic husband lost patience with her Bible-reading and threw her out. She moved to London and became involved with radical evangelical circles. But in the summer of 1546, she was arrested for heresy and taken to the Tower.

Here she underwent horrific torture, racked so hard that her bones popped from their sockets. Her torturers wanted evidence against the queen, Katherine Parr. But Anne refused to name names.

On 16 July, Anne was taken to Smithfield, to be burned as a heretic. Her body was now so broken that she could not stand unaided. Instead she lay slumped in a chair, which her guards tied to the stake.

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It was a stifling day, and the crowd was restless. Some shouted that Anne was a good Christian, and scuffles broke out. Suddenly a clap of thunder tore the sky in two – the voice of God, some people cried. As if in answer, the bonfire burst into an explosion of its own.

When the smoke cleared, it was obvious what had happened. Somebody had hidden gunpowder under the wood, so that Anne’s suffering would be soon over. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook


16 July 1783

The Marquis de Jouffroy d’Abbans demonstrated his experimental steamship, the Pyroscaphe, on the river Saone at Lyon. An early form of paddle steamer, the ship managed to travel up the river for 15 minutes before breaking down.


16 July 1821

Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Church of Christ, scientist and author of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, was born in Bow, near Concord, New Hampshire.


16 July 1945: The US tests its atomic bomb

A huge ball of fire fills the skies above the New Mexico desert

It was almost 5.30am on 16 July 1945, in the dawn heat of the New Mexico desert, when the bomb exploded. “I was staring straight ahead with my open left eye covered by a welder’s glass and my right eye remaining open and uncovered,” recalled one observer, Ralph Carlisle Smith, who was watching from a nearby hilltop. “Suddenly, my right eye was blinded by a light which appeared instantaneously all about without any build up of intensity. My left eye could see the ball of fire start up like a tremendous bubble... It turned yellow, then red, and then beautiful purple.”

There was, he remembered, a loud cheer from the other watchers. Then one of the scientists said softly: “That was at least 5,000 tons and probably a lot more.”

The first US atomic bomb test, codenamed Trinity, was a genuine landmark in world history. After years of secret work, the scientists of the Manhattan Project had given the US government a weapon unparalleled in its sheer destructive power. At the test site in the remote heart of the desert, they could barely contain their excitement and their awe at the spectacle of the explosion. “The whole country was lighted by a searing light with the intensity many times that of the midday sun,” another observer said. “It was golden, purple, violet, gray and blue. It lighted every peak, crevasse and ridge of the nearby mountain range with a clarity and beauty that cannot be described but must be seen to be imagined.”

For the director of the Los Alamos laboratory, Robert Oppenheimer, it was a moment of sweet vindication. Yet now, at the height of his triumph, a line from Hindu scripture came unbidden to him: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

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16 July 1960

Death of German Second World War field marshal Albert Kesselring. He led Luftlotte 2 during the Battle of Britain and commanded German forces in Italy during the battles at Anzio and Monte Cassino.

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