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30 December: On this day in history

What events happened on 30 December in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…

Published: December 30, 2021 at 6:05 am
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30 December 1460: Richard of York’s decapitated head is given a crown of paper

The duke’s Lancastrian foes show him little sympathy after butchering his army in the Wars of the Roses

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By the end of 1460, England was in tumult. After months of uneasy peace between the rival Lancastrian and Yorkist factions, open war had broken out once more.

In the north of England, Richard of York was holed up in his fortress at Sandal Castle, while the Lancastrian forces were camped barely 10 miles away at Pontefract. On 30 December, York led his men from the castle, perhaps on a foraging expedition, or possibly to launch a surprise attack on his adversaries. In truth, his plans have never been explained. But what followed was sheer carnage.

By later standards, the battle of Wakefield was barely a battle at all. It was all over very quickly. As one chronicler put it, by the time York reached “the plain ground between his castle and the town of Wakefield, he was environed on every side, like a fish in a net, or a deer in a buckstall; so that he manfully fighting was within half an hour slain and dead, and his whole army discomfited”.

As many as 2,500 men may have been slaughtered, among them not only York himself, but his son Edmund, Earl of Rutland and his brother-in-law and chief northern ally, the Earl of Salisbury.

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Their enemies shed no tears for the fallen Yorkists; quite the reverse. The Lancastrian commander, the Duke of Somerset, ordered that the three barons’ heads should be mounted above Micklegate Bar, the city of York’s western gate. In a gesture of supreme contempt, Richard of York’s head wore a paper crown.

Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries

30 December 1408
Death of John Hawley, wine and wool merchant, 14 times mayor of Dartmouth and one of medieval England's most rapacious and successful privateers. In 1404 he had earned the approval of King Henry IV by beating off a major Breton raid on Dartmouth but his indiscriminate choice of vessels to attack had also seen him briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London. The character of the shipman in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales is probably partly based upon him.
30 December 1711
With his political opponents accusing him of corruption, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, was dismissed by Queen Anne from all his offices.
30 December 1879
A first partial public performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance took place in the Royal Bijou Theatre, Paignton. It was given in order to secure copyright after problems with unauthorised performances of HMS Pinafore in the USA.
30 December 1922 
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formed with the signing of a treaty by the representatives of the Russian, Transcaucasian, Ukrainian and Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republics.
30 December 1947 
King Michael of Romania is forced to abdicate by the country's communist government.

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Authors

Dominic SandbrookHistorian and presenter

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

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