17 June 1040

Following the death of his half-brother, Harold Harefoot, Harthacnut landed at Sandwich with 62 ships to claim the throne of England. One of his first acts as king was to have his predecessor’s body dug up and thrown into a bog.


17 June 1239

Birth in the Palace of Westminster of the future King Edward I, the eldest son of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence. He will be the first English king for 200 years to bear an Anglo-Saxon name.

17 June 1462: Vlad the Impaler massacres 15,000

The Wallachian leader slaughters an Ottoman army

In the first half of June 1462, the Ottoman army marched through Wallachia, in present day Romania. Infuriated by the defiance of the Wallachian leader, Prince Vlad, Sultan Mehmed II had decided to teach his northern neighbour a bloody lesson. Yet as the Ottomans advanced, they found the wells poisoned, the roads barbed with traps and the countryside teeming with sufferers from leprosy and plague, whom Vlad had sent south to infect the invaders.

Outside the Wallachian capital, Târgoviste, the Ottomans halted for the night. The atmosphere was heavy with tension. And then, in the early hours of 17 June, Vlad attacked, accompanied by several thousand of his best men. As one Wallachian veteran later recalled: “During the entire night he sped like lightning in every direction and caused great slaughter.” The fighting went on till four in the morning, leaving the Ottoman army in utter consternation. And then, according to the Wallachian veteran, Vlad “returned to the same mountain from which he had come.

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No one dared pursue him, since he had caused such terror and turmoil”.

In Romania, the Night Attack of Târgoviste is remembered as a national triumph. But it also cemented Vlad’s reputation as one of the most fearsome warriors of the age. When the Ottomans marched into Târgoviste the following day, they found the main road lined with the rotting corpses of thousands of their comrades, including the renowned admiral Hamza Pasha. All had been impaled on stakes, a gesture which had become Vlad’s gory trademark. Later he became known as Vlad the Impaler, his name a byword for savage cruelty. But he is best known today by his Romanian patronymic – Dracula. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

17 June 1497 : Henry VII crushes Cornish rebels

A protest that began in Cornwall comes to a bloody conclusion in the capital

It might seem odd that the great Cornish Rebellion of 1497, one of the landmarks in the county’s history, came to an end with a battle in Deptford, now in south London. But in a way, that captures the strange flavour of this half-forgotten episode.

The rebellion had been triggered at the end of the previous year, when the Tudor king Henry VII, well known for his ability to squeeze money out of his subjects, suspended Cornwall’s long-standing tax exemptions. Under Michael An Gof, a blacksmith, and Thomas Flamank, a lawyer and former MP, several thousand Cornishmen rose up and marched into Devon.

Unfortunately, their strategy was not entirely clear. The king did nothing, so the Cornishmen had no choice but to keep going. They moved on to Bristol, Salisbury and Winchester, but still Henry did nothing. Some of them went home; others moved on to Kent, and then into Surrey. Eventually, on 17 June, they arrived in Deptford – and this time Henry’s army was waiting.

The battle itself was something of a shambles. At one point Henry’s commander got so carried away that he ended up being captured by the Cornish. Bizarrely, though, they immediately let him go. The upshot, anyway, was that the Cornishmen were defeated and their leaders arrested. Both were sentenced to be hanged and then beheaded. Before he died, An Gof made the rousing declaration that they were destined to have “a name perpetual and a fame permanent and immortal”. Yet, as it turns out, most people have never heard of him. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

17 June 1565

A few weeks into the Ottoman siege of Malta, the swash-buckling Turkish corsair Turgut Reis – better known as Dragut – is hit by splinters from a cannonball, which thuds into the ground a few feet away. For six days he fights for life, before finally succumbing to his wounds.

17 June 1631: Mughal empress’s death inspires the Taj Mahal

A mighty mausoleum is built for Mumtaz Mahal

In the city of Burhanpur, in the centre of modern India, stands a ruined palace, the Shahi Qila. You can still see its splendid royal bath, with its magnificent carved ceiling. It is easy to see why, in the summer of 1631, the Mughal empress Mumtaz Mahal chose this room to give birth to her 14th child.

Little is known of Mumtaz Mahal. A daughter of the Persian nobility, she was born Arjumand Banu Begum in 1593, and was betrothed to the Mughal prince Khurram when she was just 14. By all accounts she was a bright and elegant young woman, who could read Arabic and Persian and wrote her own verses. Her husband, who became emperor under the name Shah Jahan in 1628, was said to adore her, and gave her the name Mumtaz Mahal, ‘the exalted one of the palace’. “The friendship and concord between them had reached such an extent, the like of which has never been known between a husband and wife,” wrote one court historian.

But then tragedy struck. Although Mumtaz Mahal’s 14th child was born healthy, the labour was too much for her, and on 17 June she died. It was a sad story – but she left an extraordinary architectural legacy. The following year, work began on a mausoleum for her in the city of Agra, built of white marble. Today it is one of the most famous buildings in the world – the Taj Mahal. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

17 June 1843

Twenty two Europeans and four Maori were killed when a party of armed settlers clashed with the Ngati Toa at the Wairau Valley. it was the first serious clash of arms between the Maori and British since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.


17 June 1862

Death in London of Charles, 1st Earl Canning. He had been governor-general of India during the mutiny of the Bengal army in 1857.

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