19 October 1469: Ferdinand and Isabella tie the knot

Celebrated marriage paves the way for a united Spain


It was October 1469, and in Valladolid the 18-year-old Princess Isabella, heir to the Castilian throne, waited for the man with whom she would share her life. With Castilian politics a maelstrom of intrigue, the negotiations had proceeded for months in secret. But on about 12 October, the teenage princess’s second cousin, Ferdinand of Aragon, rode in secret into Valladolid – and for the first time, one of history’s most celebrated couples laid eyes on one another.

Both Ferdinand and Isabella were delighted with what they saw. For his part, the young Aragonese was a model Renaissance prince, brave, courteous and dashing. Isabella, meanwhile, was famously beautiful: “The handsomest lady,” one witness said, “that I ever beheld.” No doubt some of this was propaganda. Even so, observers agreed that the first meeting was a great success, auguring well for the creation of a single Spanish monarchy.

On 19 October, roughly a week after they had met, the royal couple were married at Valladolid’s Vivero Palace. Strapped for cash, they borrowed money from their aristocratic friends to pay for the ceremony, and some 2,000 people reportedly looked on as Ferdinand swore to uphold the laws of Castile. The royal couple even produced a papal bull, signed by Pope Pius II, to get around the awkward fact that they were so closely related. That it was a complete forgery was beside the point. The wedding was a triumph, and in that moment a united Spain was born. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

19 October 1610

Birth of Anglo-Irish statesman and military commander James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde. After fighting in Ireland, firstly against the Irish Catholic rebels and then against Cromwell's parliamentarians, he joined Charles II in exile.

19 October 1688

Surgeon and anatomist William Cheselden is born in Somerby, Leicestershire. In 1733 he will publish Osteographia or the Anatomy of Bones, the first full and accurate description of the human skeletal system.

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19 October 1739

Britain declared war on Spain. Although disputes over trading rights were the primary cause of the war, much of the anti-Spanish feeling in Britain had been created by Captain Robert Jenkins's claim that his ear had been cut off by Spanish coastguards in the West Indies a few years earlier. This incident gave the war its sobriquet, 'the War of Jenkins' Ear'. The war, which was later subsumed into the War of the Austrian Succession, began well for Britain with Admiral Vernon's capture of Porto Bello but subsequent colonial campaigns were largely unsuccessful.

19 October 1762

HMS Britannia was launched at Portsmouth. A 100-gun first-rate ship of the line, she saw service at the battle of Cape St Vincent and also at Trafalgar, where she was the flagship of Nelson's third-in-command, the Earl of Northesk.

19 October 1781: Surrender at Yorktown

British defeat in America’s War of Independence

In October 1781, the last act of the American War of Independence was played out in Virginia. For weeks some 9,000 British troops under Lord Cornwallis had been trapped in the port of Yorktown. Under relentless bombardment from French and American guns, and with the French and Spanish fleets cutting off any possible reinforcement from the Atlantic, Cornwallis knew that his situation was hopeless.

On the evening of 16 October, he and his commanders made the decision to surrender. The next day, a British officer waved a white handkerchief at the besiegers and two days after that, at 2pm, the British troops marched out of the town. Cornwallis himself was, conspicuously, not at their head; perhaps understandably, he claimed to be ill and told his deputy, General O’Hara, to handle the surrender. The British had requested the traditional honours of war, which allowed them to march out with their flags waving. However, the Americans refused. So the British troops emerged with their flags furled and muskets reversed. Even hostile onlookers admitted that they presented a “decent and neat appearance”; indeed, Cornwallis had given every soldier a fresh new uniform for the occasion. In a nicely appropriate touch, the British band was playing ‘The World Turned Upside Down’.

In Britain, the events at Yorktown were seen as a catastrophe. “Oh God! It is all over!” gasped the prime minister, Lord North, who knew that the reversal had destroyed Britain’s chances of forcibly subduing the insurgent American states. Yet few people blamed Cornwallis himself. Indeed, he later enjoyed a spectacular public career, becoming governor-general of India and British commander in Ireland. In the US, of course, the Yorktown surrender has entered local legend. But in Britain it was soon eclipsed by the great dramas of the Napoleonic Wars, beside which it amounted to a mere sideshow. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

19 October 1807

Lieutenant William Berry RN is hanged for sodomy on board HMS Hazard.


19 October 1922

At the Carlton Club in London, Conservative MPs vote to break up the coalition led by Lloyd George, throwing the Liberals out of office for the first time since 1906.

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