16 September: On this day in history

What events happened on 16 September in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…

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16 September 1400: Welsh rebels launch revolt to fight back against English rule

Owain Glyndŵr is proclaimed Prince of Wales during an uprising that lasts for 12 years

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In September 1400, Owain Glyndŵr was smouldering with anger. Born some four decades earlier to a landed family in the Welsh Marches, Glyndŵr had been involved in a land dispute with a fellow nobleman, Baron Grey de Ruthin. Until recently, the dispute had been delicately poised. But a year earlier, Richard II, who enjoyed strong support in Wales, had been overthrown by Henry Bolingbroke, who later became Henry IV.

Unfortunately for Glyndŵr, Henry and Grey were good friends, and the latter seized the opportunity to occupy Glyndŵr’s land. What’s more, Grey deliberately failed to pass on a royal summons to join Henry’s campaign against the Scots – which meant that technically Glyndŵr was guilty of treason.

On 16 September 1400 Glyndŵr took desperate action. Summoning his friends to his Denbighshire estate of Glyndyfrdwy, he was proclaimed Prince of Wales. According to an English jury, the rebels pledged themselves to kill Henry and stamp out the English language. Then they proceeded “in warlike fashion like enemies” to Ruthin, which they sacked and plundered.

So began the Welsh Revolt, the bloodiest rising against English rule for more than a century. By 1403 much of Wales was in open rebellion, and the following year thousands of French troops landed at Milford Haven in support. The fortunes of war ebbed and flowed – a bewildering succession of sieges, captures, ransoms and escapes – until 1415 when English rule was returned to Wales.

Even Glyndŵr’s fate is uncertain, though one chronicler recorded that he died in 1415. “After four years in hiding from the king and the realm,” wrote Adam of Usk, “Owain Glyndwˆ r died, and was buried by his followers in the darkness of night”.


16 September 1620: Pilgrim Fathers set sail for America

Pioneers make a daring voyage in search of a new life in Massachusetts

At the beginning of September 1620, the Puritan community later known as the Pilgrim Fathers were becoming increasingly impatient.

More than a dozen years earlier, their separatist congregation had moved from eastern England to the Dutch city of Leiden. But partly because they struggled with the language, and also because they were worried that their children were becoming Dutch, they had decided on a radical new venture: to build a new world on the shores of North America.

By August 1620 the Pilgrims were ready to leave, and they had leased two ships, the Speedwell and the Mayflower. But then – disaster struck. When they set sail on the fifth of the month, the Speedwell began to leak, forcing them to turn back to Plymouth. Here some of the passengers lost enthusiasm, but eventually the organisers managed to cram more than 100 settlers onto the Mayflower. Now they waited for the wind.

On 16 September the Pilgrims “put to sea again with a prosperous wind, which continued diverse days together”, as recalled the future governor of the new colony, William Bradford. Alas, many of them were afflicted by sea-sickness, and they also had to put up with abuse from one of the sailors, clearly not a fan, who told them that “he hoped to help to cast half of them over board before they came to their journey’s end”. Fortunately, added Bradford, “it pleased God… to smite this young man with a grievous disease, of which he died in a desperate manner”.

And at last on 9 November the Pilgrims sighted land: the New World of their dreams.


16 September 1622

Imperialist troops under Johann, Count of Tilly captured Heidelberg during the Thirty Years’ War. The town’s castle surrendered a few days later. Sir Gerard Herbert, the commander of Heidelberg’s garrison, was mortally wounded.


16 September 1701

Living in exile in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, England’s last Catholic monarch, James II and VII, suffers a severe stroke and dies at the age of 67. His heart, entrails and brain are divided between various Catholic religious institutions, and the Jacobite succession passes to his son James Francis Edward, the Old Pretender.

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16 September 1911

English mountaineer and engraver Edward Whymper died at Chamonix aged 71. On 14 July 1865 he was a member of the first party to climb the Matterhorn but the achievement was clouded by the deaths of four of the group after the rope tying them together snapped on the descent. In 1871 Whymper published Scrambles Amongst the Alps, a bestselling account of his mountaineering adventures. Whymper was awarded the Royal Geographical Society’s patron’s medal in 1892.

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