7 July 1313

Under the leadership of its chancellor Henry Harclay, the University of Oxford passed a statute forbidding the carrying of weapons by its students.


7 July 1456: Joan of Arc is posthumously acquitted of her crimes

The hero of Orléans is rehabilitated

A quarter of a century after she had been burned at the stake for heresy, Joan of Arc was back in court. It was the summer of 1456, and Pope Callixtus III had authorised a retrial to investigate whether the saviour of Orléans had been unjustly convicted. This was not much good for Joan, of course, since she had long been reduced to ashes, but it went down well with her supporters.

On 7 July, the various judges, clerks and priests filed into the Great Hall of the Archbishop’s Palace in Rouen, where Joan’s aged mother and brothers were waiting to hear the verdict.
The court had decided, said the archbishop of Reims, that the original “trial and sentence, being filled with fraud, false charges, injustice, contradiction, and manifest errors concerning both fact and law” should be considered “null, without effect, void, and of no consequence”. It was clear, he said, that “Joan did not contract any taint of infamy and that she shall be and is washed clean of such.”

When the archbishop had finished, a copy of the original charges and proceedings from 1431 was ritually torn up. Afterwards, the French inquisitor- general, Jean Bréhal, rode to Orléans, where Joan had famously lifted an English siege, to mark the good news at a great feast.

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In the years since Joan’s execution the townsfolk had celebrated her life anyway, even mounting a religious play at which pilgrims could buy indulgences for sin. But it was nice for them to know that the church was on their side. Joan’s status as a national heroine was secure. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

7 July 1462

Albanian leader Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg defeated an Ottoman army at the second battle of Mokra. The Ottoman army was almost completely destroyed.

7 July 1661

Quaker, writer and preacher and former Parliamentarian soldier George Fox the younger died at Hurst (now Hurstpierpoint) in Sussex.

7 July 1807: Napoleon meets Alexander I

The tsar of Russia has to make obeisance to France

In the summer of 1807, Napoleon Bonaparte was at the height of his powers. Having crushed his adversaries at Friedland in June, the French emperor now stood on the edge of Russia itself. Now, near the town of Tilsit on the river Neman (near the border between today’s Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and Lithuania), the emperor prepared to accept Russia’s obeisance.

To spare the blushes of Alexander I, the peace conference was held on a supposedly neutral raft in the middle of the river. On the white marquee, the French side was adorned with a giant letter N, the Russian side with a colossal A. The story goes, however, that when the two emperors were ferried across, the French put on a spurt at the end, to make sure that Napoleon got there first. And the first words uttered by a nervous Alexander spoke volumes about his subordination. “Sire, I hate the English no less than you do,” the tsar said anxiously, “and I am ready to assist you in any enterprise against them.”

After days of haggling, the first treaty was signed. By now the two emperors appeared firm friends; they were even reported to have held hands and exchanged handkerchiefs, like lovelorn Jane Austen heroines. For Alexander, though, the terms were humiliating, with the tsar agreeing to join Napoleon’s anti-British Continental System, to hand over the Ionian islands to France, and to pull Russian forces out of Wallachia and Moldavia. For Napoleon, the treaty was a triumph. But Alexander was more cunning than his new friend realised. “The alliance with Napoleon,” he wrote in a letter, “is only a change in a way we will fight against him.” In the long run, of course, Alexander would have the last laugh. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

7 July 1930

Scottish writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died, aged 71, at his house in Crowborough, East Sussex. He was originally buried in the house’s rose garden but was later reinterred with his first wife at Minstead in the New Forest.

7 July 1937: The Sino-Japanese War breaks out

Rising tensions bubble over into violence as shots ring out at the Marco Polo Bridge

The Marco Polo Bridge stands over the river Yongding, not far from the centre of modern Beijing. Completed in 1192, with 11 granite arches, it caught the Italian traveller’s eye a century later. “A very fine stone bridge,” he called it. “So fine indeed, that it has very few equals in the world.”

Hundreds of years later, the rebuilt bridge stood at the centre of one of the most momen- tous incidents in Sino-Japanese history. Since the turn of the 20th century, the Japanese had been allowed to station thousands of troops in China, ostensibly to guard their vital railway links. But their numbers had swollen dramatically, and in the summer of 1937 Japan’s generals were itching to launch an all-out conquest of the Chinese mainland.

The flashpoint came on 7 July, after the Japanese troops were returning to barracks outside the city of Wanping. Exactly what happened remain murky, but it seems that a Japanese soldier went missing, his commanders demanded permission to search Wanping and the Chinese said no.

As the night wore on, tempers began to fray. Both sides called for reinforcements, and at dawn the following morning the local Chinese troops opened fire on the Japanese soldiers at the Marco Polo Bridge. Was it planned? Or was it an accident? We will probably never know.

Eventually the two sides agreed a ceasefire, and it seemed the conflict would blow over. But news of the fighting had spread. In Tokyo, already sweltering with war fever, Japan’s government ordered more troops to the area. The Chinese government, too, was itching for a scrap. As its military leader, Chiang Kai-shek, wrote in his diary, they had given in too often to the “dwarf bandits” from Japan. “This is the time,” he added, “for the determination to fight.”


In the next few weeks the roads to Beijing echoed to the stamp of marching feet. The war had begun. By the time it was over, some 20 million people would be dead. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

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