4 July 1621

James Ley, a prominent Stuart lawyer and administrator and the future Earl of Marlborough, married Jane Boteler, niece of royal favourite the Duke of Buckingham. He was 70; she was 17.


4 July 1653

First sitting of Cromwell’s Nominated Assembly, a hand-picked legislative body of 144 ‘godly men’. It was popularly nicknamed the Barebones Parliament after one of its members, Praise-God Barbon. Within six months its moderate members, alarmed by the activities of a radical minority, handed power back to Cromwell. Following the failure of the Assembly, the Council of Army Officers produced the Instrument of Government, a written constitution which placed sovereignty in “a single person and a parliament”. In December 1653 the “single person”, Oliver Cromwell, was installed as lord protector.

4 July 1862: The tale of Alice in Wonderland is born

A young girl from Oxford provides inspiration for one of literature’s best-loved characters

The scene is the river Isis, near Oxford, on a cool, drizzly summer afternoon in July 1862. After a leisurely lunchtime picnic, two men are rowing a boat back into the city from the village of Godstow. One is a young priest called Robinson Duckworth. The other is an Oxford mathematician called Charles Dodgson, who has planned the outing to entertain his college dean Harry Liddell’s three daughters, 13-year-old Lorina, 10-year-old Alice and eight-year-old Edith.

It is Alice who is Dodgson’s favourite. And, as the boat glides along the Isis, he begins to tell her a story with a heroine just like herself – a girl called Alice.

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Better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, Dodgson was a very eccentric man indeed; biographers have often detected something faintly disturbing in his fondness for Alice Liddell. But she clearly enjoyed his story that afternoon, with its strange, magical setting and eclectic fairytale characters, and she begged him to write it down for her.

Seized with enthusiasm, Dodgson started work the next day. But it was not until November 1864, more than two years later, that he presented Alice with a beautifully illustrated handwritten manuscript, entitled Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. It bore a heartfelt dedication: “A Christmas Gift to a Dear Child in Memory of a Summer’s Day.”

By now, Dodgson had already shown the manuscript to other friends, who thought it was brilliant. Almost exactly a year later, it appeared in print, albeit with a new title: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

4 July 1910

In what was dubbed the fight of the century, African-American boxer Jack Johnson defeated James J Jeffries in Reno, Nevada to become the first black heavyweight champion of the world.


4 July 1941

During the German occupation of Latvia, the Great Choral Synagogue in Riga is set on fire, destroying the holy scrolls and killing dozens – perhaps even hundreds – of Jewish refugees who have taken sanctuary in the basement.

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