19 April 797
The Byzantine emperor Constantine VI is blinded and deposed by a coup organised by his own mother, Irene, who assumes power herself.
19 April 1012
Ælfheah (or Alphege), archbishop of Canterbury, was killed at Greenwich by drunken Vikings after refusing to allow himself to be ransomed. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the Vikings "pelted him with bones and the heads of cattle and one of them struck him on the head with the butt of an axe, so that with the blow he sank down and his holy blood fell on the earth..."
19 April 1390
Robert II, King of Scots, died aged 74 at Dundonald Castle in Ayrshire after living in semi-retirement for the past six years.
19 April 1506: Church row sparks Lisbon pogrom
Around 2,000 Jews massacred after dispute over holy vision
In spring 1506, Lisbon was not a happy place. After a long drought and a severe bout of plague, the Portuguese capital was in a febrile mood. And when an argument broke out at the convent of São Domingos de Lisboa, things quickly turned ugly.
The trigger came when, during a Sunday service, one worshipper declared he had seen the face of Jesus shining from the altar. Another man said that was rubbish: he had merely seen candlelight reflecting from the crucifix.
This second man was a New Christian – one of thousands of Jews who had fled west and converted to Catholicism after being expelled from Spain. Anti-Semitic resentment was already running high in Lisbon. And with the second man’s remarks, the dam broke.
A screaming crowd dragged him outside by the hair, beat him to death and set his body on fire. Then someone said they should round up and kill the other heretics too.
So began one of the worst pogroms in Portuguese history, as mobs roamed in search of Jews. “They burnt them in the streets of the city for three days on end,” wrote one observer, “till the bodies were consumed and became ashes.” Babies were dashed against the wall.
It was not until Tuesday that the king’s troops managed to restore order. By then, some 2,000 people had been massacred. The chief perpetrators were hanged, but the damage had already been done. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook
19 April 1713
With no clear male heir, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI issues the Pragmatic Sanction so his lands can pass to a woman. He’s succeeded by his daughter Maria Theresa in 1740 – though she still has to fight against her neighbours first.
19 April 1768
Giovanni Antonio Canal –'Canaletto' – dies in Venice aged 70. Famous for his landscapes of Venice, he was popular with English collectors. In 1746 he moved to England and painted there for a decade before returning to the city of his birth.
19 April 1779
The Reverend James Hackman is hanged at Tyburn for the murder of Martha Ray, his former lover and the long-term mistress of John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich.
19 April 1881
Politician, author and former prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, the 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, died in London, aged 76.
19 April 1877
Birth in Norway of Ole Evinrude, the inventor of the outboard motor.
19 April 1897: An alien being crash-lands in Texas. Or does it?
“A native of the planet of Mars” breathes new life into the declining town of Aurora
When the people of Dallas, Texas opened the local Morning News on 19 April 1897, they were in for a shock. “A Windmill Demolishes it”, read the headline on a story by one SE Haydon. Two days before, at six in the morning, an airship had fallen onto the little town of Aurora. “It sailed over the public square,” Haydon explained, “and when it reached the north part of town collided with the tower of Judge Proctor’s windmill and went to pieces with a terrific explosion.”
But the real surprise came in the wreckage. The dead pilot was badly burned, but it was clear “that he was not an inhabitant of this world”. Indeed, “Mr TJ Weems, the US signal service officer at this place, and an authority on astronomy, gives it as his opinion that he was a native of the planet Mars”.
The story of the Aurora crash (the ‘Texas Roswell’) has fascinated UFO-watchers ever since. In fact, it was almost certainly a hoax. Decades later, the former mayor of Aurora, Barbara Brammer, investigated the story and discovered that Haydon was actually a well-known local joker.
The truth is that Aurora was in trouble in the late 1890s. Boll weevils had destroyed the town’s cotton crop, while the residents had suffered the misfortunes of a major fire and an outbreak of spotted fever. Above all, plans for a rail link to Dallas had just been shelved.
“The town was dying,” one resident recalled years later. So Haydon decided to get them a little publicity. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook
19 April 1927: Mae West is imprisoned for sex
A high-profile trial only serves to further the actor’s notoriety
For Mae West, the events of 19 April 1927 were a public-relations coup beyond price. A year earlier, the 33-year-old performer had launched her first play, Sex, at Daly’s 63rd Street Theatre in New York City. West herself played a prostitute, Margie La Monte, and as the title suggests, the treatment could hardly have been more risqué – at least by the standards of the time.
Not surprisingly, the city’s cultural conservatives hated it. By contrast, the public seemed delighted, and despite damning reviews and religious protests, demand for tickets was high. But then, in February 1927, the police raided the theatre, arrested the entire cast and charged West with obscenity.
For someone with West’s natural flair and eye for a photo opportunity, the ensuing trial was a wonderful chance to confirm her emerging notoriety. When she arrived at the Jefferson Market Courthouse on 19 April, she was in gloriously unrepentant form, much to the displeasure of the judge, George Donnellan, who fined her $500 and sentenced her to 10 days in jail.
West spent her first night at the women’s prison at the courthouse. In a scribbled note to reporters the next morning, she remarked that it had been “not so bad. The inmates were very interesting. Will have enough material for 10 shows. I didn’t think much of the bed.” West was then moved to Welfare Island, now Roosevelt Island, where she spent the next seven days. “Hello, Mae!” her fellow inmates shouted when she arrived. “Glad to see you!” | Written by Dominic Sandbrook
19 April 1943
Beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising as German police and SS forces, who had entered the ghetto in order to deport the remaining inhabitants, were ambushed by Jewish insurgents. It took the germans a month to quell the resistance.
19 April 1956: Grace Kelly weds the prince of Monaco
The film-star enjoys two sumptuous ceremonies – but her reception is lukewarm
It was the ultimate fairytale wedding, so exciting they held it twice. For the Hollywood film-star Grace Kelly and her new husband, Prince Rainier of Monaco, one ceremony was not enough. First came the civil ceremony on 18 April 1956. But it was the religious occasion, at Saint Nicholas Cathedral the next day, that really caught the attention of the world’s press.
In fairness, it was a terrific story. Waiting at the altar was Rainier III, the dapper, chain-smoking monarch of Monaco, latest representative of the medieval Grimaldi dynasty, now presiding over one of the world’s fastest-growing tax havens. And walking down the aisle was one of the most beautiful and accomplished actresses on Earth, Grace Kelly, famous for High Noon, Rear Window and Dial M for Murder. Who could resist?
In most respects the wedding lived up to expectations. The bride – who had only met her husband a year earlier – wore a dress with 800,000 sequins and 1,500 precious stones, and the happy couple’s presents included a convertible black-and cream Rolls-Royce from the people of Monaco. The glitziest gift, though, was a yacht – all 147 feet of it – from the prince’s friend Aristotle Onassis.
But although the newspapers were beside themselves with excitement, the new Princess Grace’s subjects remained remarkably unmoved. “The promised crowds that were going to swamp Monaco have never appeared,” admitted the Manchester Guardian. “People did line the streets when, after the ceremony, the prince and princess drove round the town in an open car, but only a few deep... A few grandmothers from Nice or Genoa stood on tea chests, and young American tourists clicked away with cameras, but that was all. The crush was rather worse outside the post offices; these, for one day only, were selling special portrait stamps of the newly married couple. Almost a quiet wedding.” | Written by Dominic Sandbrook