6 December 1240: The Mongols terrorise Kiev

The city is laid to waste by invaders


As winter came to Kiev, its people waited for the cataclysm. Three years earlier, the Mongols had swept into the western Eurasian steppes. First Ryazan fell, then Vladimir. By the autumn of 1240 the invaders were approaching the glittering domes of Kiev, then one of the largest cities in the world.

Well aware of the city’s wealth, the Mongols gave its inhabitants a chance to surrender, but they refused. The Hypatian Codex tells the story of what happened next. Led by Batu Khan, the Mongols arrived “with a mighty host of soldiers and surrounded the city… one could not hear anything as a result of the great din caused by his screeching carts, countless bleating camels and neighing herds of horses”. Meanwhile, Batu’s catapults “hurled their missiles without cessation and breached the walls”.

By the night of 5 December, the Mongols had taken the ramparts. The next morning, as they poured into the city, looting, raping and killing, hundreds of Kiev’s citizens fled inside the Church of the Virgin Mary. But so many stampeded up the stairs towards the dome that the structure collapsed beneath their weight. There was no escape from the slaughter.

Six years later, a papal envoy passed the ruins of what had once been Kiev, now a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The people had been enslaved, only 200 houses still stood, and there were “countless skulls and bones of dead men lying about on the ground”. Kiev, he wrote, “has been reduced almost to nothing”. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

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6 December 1648: Colonel Thomas Pride purges parliament

Cromwell’s New Model Army seizes the reins of power

The only genuine military coup in British history began on 6 December 1648. The Civil War was over and Charles I was a prisoner, but the winners had fallen out among themselves. While parliament’s moderate majority wanted to reopen negotiations with the beaten king, the New Model Army believed he had broken his word once too often. Something had to give, and at the beginning of December, the army’s commanders decided to act.

It was only as the first MPs climbed the stairs leading to the Commons chamber that they realised what was happening. At the top, surrounded by the men of his regiment, stood Colonel Thomas Pride, a former West Country brewer who had risen under Oliver Cromwell’s command. Pride held a list of members, divided into those deemed unreliable and those approved by the army. As word spread of his presence, many MPs fled or stayed away. But by the time Pride had finished, at least 200 members had been excluded and 45 arrested. The captives were held in a pub near the Palace of Westminster (nicknamed Hell) and later released. Parliamentary resistance had been broken; the army was the master of Britain.

In the next few days, what was left of the Commons – the so-called Rump Parliament – fell meekly into line, and by the end of January, Charles had been executed on charges of high treason.

The rule of the Rump did not last long: in 1653 it was forcibly dissolved by Oliver Cromwell, who became lord protector. But Cromwell did not forget his debts. By the time Thomas Pride died in 1658, he had become Lord Pride, with a seat in the new upper house and estates in the grounds of Henry VIII’s former Nonsuch Palace. Not too shabby for a yeoman’s son from Somerset | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

6 December 1922

The Irish Free State came into being as a result of the treaty signed by the British government exactly 12 months beforehand. Northern Ireland almost immediately exercised its right under the treaty to remove itself from the new state.


6 December 1969

18-year-old Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death by a Hell's Angel acting as a security guard after brandishing a gun during the Rolling Stones' set at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival.

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