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30 March: On this day in history

What events happened on 30 March in history? We round up the events, births and deaths…

Published: March 30, 2022 at 6:06 am
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30 March 1282: Sicilians revolt against their French oppressors

A sunset prayer service turns into a mass riot, kicking off 20 years of war

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As the people of Sicily celebrated Easter in 1282, the mood was tense. For more than a decade, the island had been ruled by the French magnate Charles of Anjou, whose heavy taxes and Gallic hangers-on were much resented by the locals. After years of growing unrest, passions were running high; all that was needed was a spark.

Giulio Piatti’s depiction of the Sicilian Vespers, an uprising that took its name from the evening prayer service at which it began in Palermo, Sicily. The bloodshed that night led to a much longer campaign to overthrow the island’s French rulers

It was on Easter Monday, just before the evening Vespers service at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Palermo, that the moment came. As crowds gathered outside the church for the annual festival, a group of swaggering, tipsy French officials, with a man called Drouet particularly prominent, made overtures to some young Sicilian women. In the ensuing melee, one outraged husband plunged his knife into Drouet – and all hell broke loose.

“To the sound of the bells,” wrote the great historian Steven Runciman, “messengers ran through the city calling on the men of Palermo to rise against the oppressor. At once the streets were filled with angry armed men, crying ‘Death to the French’… They poured into the inns frequented by the French and the houses where they dwelt, sparing neither man, woman nor child.” Whenever they found a suspected Frenchmen, the mob demanded that he pronounce the local word ciciri, which outsiders invariably found difficult. Anyone who failed the test was killed.

By the next morning, 2,000 people lay dead. The War of the Sicilian Vespers had begun; it would last for another 20 years. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook


30 March 1533

Thomas Cranmer was consecrated archbishop of Canterbury in St Stephen’s College in the palace of Westminster. Cranmer took the traditional oath of loyalty to the papacy but, in a hint of things to come, immediately followed this with a solemn protestation that his oath would not override the law of God and his loyalty to the king, or act to the hindrance of “reformation of the Christian religion, the government of the English church, or the prerogative of the crown or the well-being of the same commonwealth”.


30 March 1880

The Irish dramatist and socialist Sean O'Casey was born to Protestant parents at 85 Upper Dorset Street, Dublin.


30 March 1811

Birth in Gottingen, Saxony, of chemist Robert Bunsen. He made significant advances in the field of spectroscopy and codiscovered caesium and rubidium and gave his name to the Bunsen Burner.


30 March 1848

An ice jam up-river causes Niagara Falls to stop flowing. Relics from the war of 1812 are found on the dry river bed.


30 March 1867

The United States agrees to buy Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million.


30 March 1912

The Oxford v Cambridge boat race had to be abandoned after both boats sank. The race was restaged two days later and Oxford emerged victorious.

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30 March 1979

Shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland Airey Neave is killed by a car bomb as he leaves a House of Commons car park. In 1942 he had become the first British POW to make a 'home run' from Colditz.

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