History Extra logo
The official website for BBC History Magazine and BBC History Revealed

17 August: On this day in history

What events happened on 17 August in history? We round up the events, births and deaths…

Published: August 17, 2022 at 4:42 am
Subs offer

17 August 1585

After a long siege, the Dutch city of Antwerp falls to the Spanish, triggering a mass exodus of as many as 60,000 of its citizens.

Advertisement

17 August 1761

Birth in Northamptonshire of William Carey. In 1792 Carey co-founded the Baptist Missionary Society.


17 August 1809

Death at Soho House, Handsworth of Birmingham manufacturer and entrepreneur Matthew Boulton. Boulton had financed James Watt’s steam engine and had established a mint to supply copper coinage to the government.


17 August 1945: Animal Farm finally reaches bookshelves

George Orwell’s anti-Soviet text appears, having been passed over by top publishers

George Orwell’s book Animal Farm, widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s most powerful and effective political fables, was published by Secker and Warburg on 17 August 1945. But behind that anodyne fact lies a fascinating story.
Orwell wrote the book over the winter of 1943–44, while Britain and the Soviet Union were fighting together against Nazi Germany. Having seen Stalinism at first hand in the Spanish Civil War, he loathed Soviet communism and was determined to expose its cruel hypocrisy. Getting the book published, however, was more difficult than he expected.

When Orwell submitted the manuscript to Faber & Faber, the publisher’s director, TS Eliot, turned it down, arguing that despite its “fundamental integrity”, it was too loaded against communism. A second publisher also rejected it, prompting Orwell to lament in an article that, because of the war, it was “now next door to impossible to get anything overtly anti-Russian printed”.

After more refusals, at last Frederic Warburg agreed to publish it, even though many of his own colleagues thought it foolhardy to be associated with something so critical of Britain’s Soviet ally. His gamble paid off: by the 1950s, the CIA was said to be airdropping thousands of copies into Soviet-occupied eastern Europe. Its status as a satirical classic and moral touchstone was assured. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook


17 August 1960

US pilot Gary Powers was sentenced to a total of ten years’ imprisonment for espionage after his U2 spy plane was brought down over Sverdlovsk in central Russia. He served 21 months in prison before being exchanged for the KGB spy Rudolf Abel.


17 August 1962

Peter Fechter, an 18-year-old bricklayer, was shot by East German border guards while attempting to escape with a companion across the Berlin Wall at Zimmerstrasse, not far from Checkpoint Charlie. His companion managed to escape but Fechter was hit in the hip and slowly bled to death watched by people on both sides of the barrier. The East German guards did nothing to assist the wounded fugitive while West German police and nearby American military police were unwilling to provoke an international incident by setting foot on East German soil.

Advertisement

17 August 1998

US president Bill Clinton admits to a grand jury that, contrary to his earlier denials, he had had an “improper relationship” with intern Monica Lewinsky.

Browse more On this day in history
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sponsored content