23 October 42 BC: Brutus takes his own life
The leading conspirator in the assassination of Julius Caesar falls on his own sword
For Marcus Junius Brutus, one of the aristocratic assassins of Julius Caesar, the second battle of Philippi was a catastrophe. More than two years since Caesar’s murder, Brutus might have been forgiven for thinking himself safe. Even at the beginning of October 42 BC, when he was facing the combined armies of Caesar’s lieutenant Mark Antony and his heir Octavian, his position looked pretty good. But after a stalemate on 3 October at the first battle of Philippi, in modern-day Greece, things began to unravel.
- Read more about the death of Julius Caesar
The second battle could hardly have gone worse for Brutus. He had a strong defensive position but his officers were impatient to settle matters, and their insistence on mounting an attack soon backfired. After bitter hand-to-hand fighting against Octavian’s forces, Brutus’s army fell back in disarray.
That night, after fleeing from the battlefield, Brutus and his senior officers sat and talked in the darkness. He asked his old friend Volumnius to help him kill himself, but was refused. Brutus was undeterred. “After clasping each man by the hand… he said he rejoiced with exceeding joy that not one of his friends had proved false to him,” wrote the historian Plutarch, “and as for Fortune, he blamed her only for his country’s sake.” Then he withdrew with another old friend, Strato. According to some reports, Strato held Brutus’s sword, upon which the commander “fell with such force that it passed quite through his breast and brought him instant death”.
When Brutus’s enemies discovered his body, they treated it with striking respect; Antony even ordered that it be covered with his own expensive cloak. Brutus was cremated and on Antony’s orders, his ashes were sent to his mother in Rome.
Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries…
23 October 1639
Philip Skippon was elected captain of the Honourable Artillery Company on the recommendation of King Charles I. Three years later he led the London Trained Bands to Turnham Green to defend the capital against the forces of the monarch.
23 October 1642
In the first major battle of the English Civil War, the armies of King Charles I and the Earl of Essex clashed at Edgehill in Warwickshire. The battle was largely indecisive although the royalists ended the day in control of the road to London.
23 October 1658
Death of Roundhead army officer and regicide Thomas Pride. A veteran of numerous battles including Naseby and Worcester, he commanded the troops who in 1648 purged the Commons of MPs considered antagonistic to the army.
23 October 1817
French encyclopaedist Pierre Larousse is born in Toucy.
23 October 1850
Hundreds of delegates (including organiser Paulina Davis, above) assemble in Worcester, Massachusetts for the first National Woman’s Rights Convention.
23 October 1900
Cricketer Douglas Jardine was born in Bombay, India. He is best remembered for his captaincy on the 1932/33 ‘Bodyline’ Ashes tour where his uncompromising use of short pitched bowling proved too much for an increasingly disgruntled Australian team.
23 October 1911
Winston Churchill was appointed first lord of the Admiralty. He did much to prepare the Royal Navy for a modern war but was removed from the post in 1915 after the failure of the Dardanelles campaign which he himself had proposed.