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26 October: On this day in history

What events happened on 26 October in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…

Published: October 26, 2021 at 6:06 am
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26 October 1512

King Henry VIII commissioned Florentine sculptor Pietro Torrigiani to produce a monument to the royal's parents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, in Westminster Abbey. Torrigiani (who famously broke Michelangelo's nose in a student brawl) had "to make and worke, or doo to be made and wrought, well, surely, clenly, workemanly, curiously and substancyally, for the sum of £1,500 sterling, a tombe or sepulture of whit marbill and of black touchstone wt. ymags, figures, beasts and other things of cuppure gilt".


26 October 1881: Guns are ablaze at the OK Corral

Lawmen trade bullets with a gang of outlaws in a shoot-out that goes down in Wild West legend

In the popular imagination, the gunfight at the OK Corral has become shorthand for a vanished age of daring outlaws and rugged lawmen, facing each other in the dust of the Old West. The reality, however, was a long distance from the Hollywood portrayals seen in numerous westerns.

Founded near the Mexican border, Tombstone, Arizona was only two years old in 1881, but people flooded in every week. The settlement boasted scores of saloons, a bowling alley, two newspapers and an opera house. It was not a contented place, though. Political rivalries, feuds and communal tensions were rife, not least between the rich saloon interests and rural cowboys. This was where the Earp brothers, representing the town, and the Clanton and McLaury brothers (the cowboys), came in

After weeks of simmering tension, matters came to a head on 26 October 1881. The famous gunfight was an attempt by Tombstone’s newly appointed marshal Virgil Earp, his brothers Wyatt and Morgan and friend Doc Holliday to disarm members of a gang of outlaws, who had defied the law by bringing weapons into the town. Contrary to popular belief, the shooting did not happen at the actual OK Corral, but at a scruffy lot nearby. And it was all over in moments.


The trigger was Virgil’s cry: “Boys, throw up your hands. I want your guns!” Two cowboys drew their revolvers and then somebody (accounts of who that person was differ) fired the first shot. The air was thick with gun smoke, then 30 seconds later, the guns fell silent. Three cowboys lay dead, but a legend was born. | Read more: how wild was the Wild West?

Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries…

26 October 1440 
Gilles de Rais, a Breton nobleman who had fought alongside Joan of Arc and been appointed Marshal of France, was executed by strangulation after being found guilty of satanism, abduction and child murder.
26 October 1407 
Mobs attack the Jewish community in Cracow.
26 October 1708
The last stone of the lantern on the dome of the new St Paul's Cathedral is put in place by the son of Christopher Wren, also called Christopher.
26 October 1711
Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed had a blazing row with Isaac Newton and other members of a Royal Society committee over the ownership of the astronomical instruments in Greenwich Royal Observatory.
26 October 1759
Birth in Arcis-sur-Aube of Georges-Jacques Danton, the mouthpiece of the French Revolution. In 1794 he was guillotined after being sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Tribunal he himself had created.

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Dominic SandbrookHistorian and presenter

Dominic Sandbrook is historian and presenter, and a regular contributor to BBC History Magazine


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