29 March 845: Norse warriors sack Paris

The raiders force the Frankish king to pay a vast bribe


In the ninth century, a terrible nightmare haunted the people along the shores of north-western Europe. It began with a sail, far out to sea; then came the longships, the Northmen with their swords and axes, the blood, the screaming, the terror.

Even the greatest realm of the age, the kingdom of West Francia, was not immune. In the 830s and early 840s, the Northmen launched punishing raids on towns that included Antwerp, Rouen and Nantes. And then, in March 845, came the greatest raid of all. Some 120 Viking ships entered the Seine on the coast of modern-day Normandy. Aboard were around 5,000 warriors, armed to the teeth.

The Frankish king, Charles the Bald, reacted swiftly, stationing men on either side of the Seine. To his horror, the Vikings simply picked off the smaller garrison, taking more than 100 prisoners and hanging them before their horrified comrades. Then they headed for Paris.

According to legend, the Vikings landed on Easter Sunday, 29 March, a single bell rousing the city’s people with the terrible news. There was no point resisting. Indeed, Charles had long since disappeared. Even an outbreak of disease among the Vikings did not deter them, although it did kill perhaps 600. In the end, Charles only persuaded them to leave the city after handing over a bribe of 7,000 pounds of silver.

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No wonder the Norse bards remembered the Vikings’ leader, Ragnar, as one of the greatest heroes of the age. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

29 March 1461: Edward IV claims victory at the battle of Towton

Twenty thousand men die in the bloodiest clash ever to take place on English soil

On Palm Sunday 1461, the weather was horrendous. Even though it was late March, it was bitterly cold, the heavy winds whipping sleet and snow into people’s faces. For the rival armies camped outside the village of Towton, 12 miles from York, it must have made for a wretched morning. And worse, of course, was to follow.

The clash between the armies of York and Lancaster on 29 March 1461 is often referred to as the bloodiest battle on English soil, although historians still argue about the numbers.

An estimated 50,000 men took the field that day, fighting for one of two rival kings: either the strapping 18-year-old Edward IV, of the House of York, or the pious Henry VI, of Lancaster, who was almost 40. This, the bloodiest stage of the first War of the Roses, had already lasted 18 months. But many of the soldiers must have suspected that, given the sheer numbers, Towton would be decisive – as indeed it was.

Like most medieval battles, it was a confused, bloody, muddy affair. After the two sides exchanged arrows, the Lancastrians charged, and for a time it seemed as if their numerical advantage would win the day. But Edward, fighting bravely in the front line, rallied his men, and at the crucial moment, with the snowstorm at its zenith, his ally the Duke of Norfolk threw in fresh troops.

The fighting went on for hours but, by late afternoon, the Lancastrians’ spirit was broken. Exhausted, many threw off their helmets and fled the battlefield. Some were cut down as they ran; others drowned, weighed down by their armour in their desperation to cross the stream at Cock Beck.

In the region of 20,000 men died that day amid the snow and the mud. But for the Yorkist victors, it probably seemed worth it. With Henry fleeing into exile, Edward IV stood almost unchallenged as master of England. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

29 March 1632

The Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye returned New France, including Quebec and Acadia, to French control after it had been captured by the English in 1629.

29 March 1788

Preacher and hymn writer Charles Wesley dies, aged 80, in Marylebone, London. During his life he wrote over 6,000 hymns including Love Divine, All Loves Excelling and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.

29 March 1879

In Kambula, South Africa, some 2,000 British troops use superior firepower to overcome a Zulu army 10 times larger, losing just 29 men but killing hundreds. The Zulus’ morale is broken. Their army begins to disintegrate, and a British victory becomes inevitable.

29 March 1883

Parliament debated the poor state of repair of the Achilles statue in Hyde Park. The bronze for the statue had come from cannon captured by the forces of the Duke of Wellington at Salamanca, Vittoria, Toulouse and Waterloo.

29 March 1927

Henry Segrave breaks the 200 mph land speed barrier in his Sunbeam at Daytona, Florida.

29 March 1929

Death of orientalist Annette Beveridge. In 1921 she completed the translation of the Babur-nama, the memoirs of Babur, founder of the Mughal Empire. She was the mother of Welfare State pioneer William Beveridge.

29 March 1940

Prince Alexander Obolensky was killed when the Hawker Hurricane he was taxiing crashed at Martlesham, Suffolk. His second try for England against the All Blacks at Twickenham in 1936 is one of the most famous in rugby history.


29 March 2014

As midnight strikes, the first same-sex marriages are solemnised in England and Wales.

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