4 February 211

Sixty five-year-old African-born Roman emperor Septimius Severus died at Eboracum (York) while preparing to lead a campaign against the Caledonians.


4 February 1520

Mary Boleyn, 'the other Boleyn Girl', married William Carey, courtier and a favourite of Henry VIII. She later became the king's mistress.

4 February 1555: Mary creates a Protestant martyr

John Rogers becomes the first person to be executed for heresy under the Catholic queen

On the morning of 4 February 1555, John Rogers was sleeping soundly in his cell at Newgate prison when the keeper’s wife came for him. The son of a Birmingham spur-maker, educated at Cambridge, and a friend of the Protestant scholar William Tyndale, Rogers had long been an opponent of what he called “pestilent popery, idolatry and superstition”. But when the Catholic Mary Tudor became queen in 1553, his preaching put him in danger.

In January 1554 Rogers had been detained for denying the authority of the Church of Rome – a brave thing to do, given that Mary was now vigorously turning the clock back towards Catholicism. And now, more than a year later, his time had run out.

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That morning, dragged before the sheriffs, Rogers was asked to “revoke his abominable doctrine”. Fearless to the last, he stuck to his guns. “That which I have preached I will seal with my blood,” he said. “Thou art a heretic,” said the sheriff: “I will never pray for thee.” “But I will pray for you,” Rogers replied calmly.

Later that day he was taken to Smithfield, singing psalms as he went. On the way, his wife and 11 children were waiting; not even the sight of his family, though, could disturb his cool. Before a “great number of people”, according to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, “he was burnt to ashes, washing his hands in the fame as he was burning… He constantly and cheerfully took his death with wonderful patience, in the defence and quarrel of the Gospel of Christ.” He was just the first of Mary’s victims. In the next three years, at least 280 more would follow. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

4 February 1789

The 69 members of the electoral college unanimously elect George Washington as the first president of the United States of America. He will be re-elected for a second term in office in 1792.

4 February 1847

Henri Dutrochet, the discoverer of osmosis, dies in Paris.

4 February 1908

Birth of poet Julian Bell, son of Clive and Vanessa Bell and nephew of Virginia Woolf. He will be killed in July 1937 while serving as an ambulance driver for the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War.

4 February 1912

Franz Reichelt was killed after jumping off the Eiffel Tower to demonstrate the parachute suit he had invented. The parachute failed to open properly and Reichelt plummeted nearly 190 feet to his death.

4 February 1913

Birth in Tuskegee, Alabama of African-American civil rights activist Rosa Parks. In December 1955, she was arrested and fined after refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger while travelling on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. The incident led to the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, led by Martin Luther King Jr, and a year-long boycott of the city-owned bus company.

A Supreme Court decision later overturned the ordinance under which Parks had been fined, and outlawed racial segregation on public transport.

4 February 1945: Stalin pushes Churchill to the margins at Yalta

The Soviet premier dominates a critical Allied summit

If we had spent 10 years on research,” grumbled Winston Churchill, “we could not have found a worse place in the world than Yalta.” For on 4 February 1945, when Britain’s unflagging prime minister arrived in the Crimean resort for a summit with Franklin D Roosevelt and Josef Stalin, he found it distinctly down-at-heel.

The retreating Nazis had left much of the countryside burned and bleeding. Behind the elegant facades, the Crimean palaces were dusty and dilapidated.

Yalta has gone down as one of the decisive summits in world history. The Big Three, as they were known, met the following afternoon, with Roosevelt acting as chairman. But the American president was tired and ill – he would die just months later – and it was Stalin who dominated. As the meetings drew on, Churchill was slowly pushed to the margins. It was Stalin, for example, who got his way over Poland: not only did the Allies agree to recognise his puppet communist government, but he got to keep the territory he had seized in 1939. The irony, of course, was that Britain had gone to war to save the Poles; now it was abandoning them to Moscow.


Yet given the pressures of the war against Adolf Hitler, Churchill felt that he simply had no choice. In his final words to the conference, he echoed Stalin’s talk of the future, and proposed a toast to “the broad sunlight of victorious peace”. Afterwards, boarding a British ship in Sebastopol harbour, he immediately demanded to have his clothes de-loused. Back in London he told his ministers that Stalin, unlike Hitler, could be trusted. He would soon change his mind. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

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