23 March 1430

Birth in Lorraine of Margaret of Anjou. As the wife of the mentally feeble Henry VI of England, she was the de facto leader of the Lancastrian faction for much of the Wars of the Roses.


23 March 1801: Russia’s tsar is brutally beaten to death

A plot to force the unpopular Paul I to abdicate results in his murder

Catherine the Great was a hard act to follow. Even so, her son and heir Paul, who became tsar of Russia in 1796, made a pretty wretched fist of it. Having been separated from his mother as a boy, he had become obsessed with military minutiae and kicked off his regime by introducing Prussian-style uniforms, which proved deeply unpopular with his soldiers. His plans to force the nobility to subscribe to a new code of chivalry produced an angry reaction, while the total failure of his anti-French foreign policy made for a stark contrast with Catherine’s canny diplomacy.

On the night of 23 March, matters came to a head. After a frosty dinner party, Paul had retired to bed in St Petersburg’s Mikhaylovsky Palace. Meanwhile, a group of aristocratic officers, including the city’s military governor Count Pahlen, were fortifying themselves with champagne before the action to come. At last, they burst into the emperor’s chambers, forcing their way past his valet and literally dragging Paul out in his nightcap.

Many accounts agree that the plotters initially planned to force Paul to abdicate, but alcohol soon took over. In the confusion, one officer hit the struggling Paul in the face with a golden snuffbox. The emperor went down, and a group of the plotters piled on top of him, kicking and choking him. One of them wrapped a sash around his neck and began to tighten. Then, when he had stopped twitching, they kicked and stamped on his body, until they were pulled away.

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The next morning, when Paul’s son Alexander, now emperor, reviewed the guards, they were wearing their old uniforms. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

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Confederate General Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson was defeated at Kernstown. Nevertheless, he had prevented the Union from transferring forces to reinforce their campaign to capture Richmond, the Confederate capital.

23 March 1882

Mathematician Emmy Noether is born in Bavaria. According to Einstein she was "the most significant genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began".

23 March 1919

Former socialist newspaper editor Benito Mussolini founds the fascist movement in Italy. He will draw on many of the ideas of Italian writer and war hero Gabriele D'Annunzio.

23 March 1931

Indian independence fighters Bhagat Singh, Shivaram Rajguru and Sukhdev Thapar were hanged for the murder of an official they had mistaken for the police chief responsible for the death of politician Lala Rajpat Rai.


23 March 1933

The German Reichstag passed the Enabling Act. It gave Adolf Hitler dictatorial powers by ‘enabling’ his government to issue decrees independently of the Reichstag and the presidency.

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