3 August 1460

James II of Scotland was killed when one of his own cannons exploded at the siege of Roxburgh Castle, which had been in English hands since 1346.


3 August 1492: Columbus sets sail on a world-changing voyage

The explorer plans to reach Asia, but surprises are in store

Early in the morning on 3 August 1492, Christopher Columbus set off from the Andalusian port of Palos de la Frontera on the most famous expedition in history.

For years the Genoese navigator had been trying to interest the monarchs of Europe in his pet project of a voyage across the Atlantic to reach the spice-rich lands of east Asia. At first the Portuguese royals seemed interested but they were seeking their own new trade route around Africa. So Columbus turned instead to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, who had just completed the conquest of the Iberian peninsula by crushing the last Muslim redoubt at Granada. By April, they had struck a deal. If Columbus succeeded, he would get the title of admiral of the oceans and viceroy of any lands he conquered, as well as a tenth of all the profits. As for Ferdinand and Isabella, they would receive the wealth and bounty of Asia.

By the start of August, Columbus’s fleet was assembled, with his chief ship, the Santa Maria, to be accompanied by the Niña and the Pinta. As he reported to his patrons, he departed “well supplied with provisions and with many sailors, on the third day of August... being Friday, half an hour before sunrise, taking the route to the islands of Canaria, belonging to your Highnesses, which are in the said Ocean Sea, that I might thence take my departure for navigating until I should arrive at the Indies.”

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Some 36 days later, Columbus stepped onto the sands of the Bahamas, to be greeted by a nervous but friendly crowd of islanders. He never made it to Asia. But he had changed the world. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

3 August 1499

King Henry VII learned of a plot to free Perkin Warbeck and the Earl of Warwick (both potential claimants to the crown) from the Tower of London and to place one of them on the throne. Both men were tried and executed in November.

3 August 1527: The first letter in English is sent from North America

Henry VIII receives a landmark missive from the New World

In August 1527, Henry VIII’s mind was heavy. His union with Catherine of Aragon had produced no heir, and the king now believed that by marrying his brother’s widow, he had committed a terrible sin. But while Henry was brooding, thousands of miles away one of his subjects was putting pen to paper.

On 10 June, an Essex-born sailor called John Rut had left Plymouth for the New World. On 3 August, after a journey beset by storms, Rut sailed into the harbour of St John’s, Newfoundland. There, Rut sat down to write to his king.

The letter began in suitably obsequious style: “Pleasing your Honourable Grace to heare of your servant John Rut with all his company here in good health thanks be to God,” reads the first line.

“The third day of August,” Rut continues, “we entered into a good harbour called St John and there we found Eleuen Saile of Normans and one Brittaine and two Portugal barks all a fishing and so we are ready to depart towards Cap de Bras that is 25 leagues as shortly as we have fished and so along the Coast... and so with all diligence that lyes in me toward parts to that Ilands that we are command at our departing and thus Jesu save and keepe you Honourable Grace and all your Honourable Reuer. In the Haven of St John the third day of August written in hast 1527, by your servant John Rut to his uttermost of his power.”

Rut sailed on to Florida; he must have returned safely to England, for a few months later he was sent to fetch Henry wine from Bordeaux. His message has gone down in history as the first letter in English ever sent from North America. What Henry made of it, though, we will never know. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

3 August 1792

Sir Richard Arkwright, a self-made man who became the pioneer of Britain’s factory system, died aged 59 at Cromford in Derbyshire.


3 August 1811

Together with Alois Volker and Joseph Bortis, two local chamois hunters, Johann and Hieronymus Meyer from Aargau, Switzerland became the first people to reach the summit of the Jungfrau in the Bernese Alps.

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