1 October

331 BC: Alexander the Great slaughters Persian troops

It was a crushing Macedonian victory, with tens of thousands of Persians slaughtered in the chaos.


2 October

1501: A Spanish princess joins the Tudor dynasty

Princess Catherine of Aragon battled storms and bad omens before landing in England.

“She could not have been received with greater rejoicing,” wrote her doctor a few days later, “had she been the Saviour of the world.”

3 October

1990: East and West Germany are reunified

After 45 years of Cold War division, East and West Germany were reunified after East Berlin and the five states of the German Democratic Republic were incorporated into the Federal Republic of Germany.

4 October

1957: Launch of Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth

Soviet technician working on sputnik 1, 1957.
Soviet technician working on sputnik 1, 1957. (Photo by: Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

5 October

1795: Napoleon gets his first taste of power

At the beginning of October 1795, fighting broke out in Paris. After rushing to the Convention – the country’s governing assembly – in the small hours, a young Corsican officer called Napoleon Bonaparte found himself ordered to use all possible means to crush the insurrection. By 9am the next morning Napoleon had lined the streets with cannon, which were loaded with grapeshot – hundreds of metal balls packed into metal cases, which would cause devastating injury to a crowd of civilians. But Bonaparte was in no mood to compromise. “The rabble,” he wrote later, “must be moved by terror.”

Carnage ensued. As the cannons roared out their bloody message, hundreds were killed. By 6pm the streets were clear and the uprising was mostly over. As for Napoleon, he was rewarded with promotion – to command the French army in Italy.

6 October

AD 23: China’s usurping emperor Wang Mang is ousted

On 4 October, a rebel army stormed the capital, Chang’an. The next morning, they burst into the palace. Wang took refuge in the highest tower, defended by his guards. But there, after a stretch of bitter fighting, his life reached its blood-soaked climax. His head was cut off and his body torn to pieces, while rebel soldiers literally fought and died to get hold of the scraps. Eventually his head was delivered to the rebel commanders, who stuck it on a wall.

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7 October

1571: Catholics crush the Ottomans

Ships sailing in the battle of Lepanto
An illustration of ships in the battle of Lepanto. (Photo by Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images)

The Holy League prevailed in the battle of Lepanto, one of Europe’s great turning points. As the Ottomans fell back in disarray, the sea, wrote one onlooker, “was full of dead men, of planks, of clothing, of some who were drowning, of many shattered remains of ships that were burning and of others that were sinking”.

For the Ottomans, Lepanto was a disaster, shaking their air of invincibility and checking their advance through the Mediterranean. And what of Cervantes? Though stricken with fever, he fought gallantly and was hit three times by gunshots, one of which rendered his left hand permanently useless. He used his other hand to write his great book Don Quixote, published in two volumes in 1605 and 1615. He had “lost the movement of the left hand,” he said later, “for the glory of the right”.

8 October

1582: Pope Gregory XIII’s new calendar (which we still use today) means that, spookily, this day never happens

9 October

1192: King Richard I of England leaves the Holy Land at the end of the Third Crusade

After bad weather drove him ashore near Venice he was seized by Duke Leopold of Austria, before being handed over to German emperor Henry VI, who ransomed the monarch.

10 October

1899: The British are issued with a Boer ultimatum

The news from South Africa was an ultimatum, in response to Joseph Chamberlain’s increasing pressure, sent by the Boers’ uncompromising leader, Paul Kruger. Probably drafted by the young Jan Smuts (a future South African prime minister), the message accused Britain of stirring up discontent inside the Transvaal, insisted that Chamberlain withdraw the troops massing on the border, and demanded that no British troops currently on the high seas should be landed in South Africa.

On Wednesday, the ultimatum expired and the Boer War began. But it would be longer, bloodier and more difficult than anybody expected.

11 October

1649: Oliver Cromwell’s army ravages Wexford

Thousands were slaughtered despite promises of “no violence” by the English. Contrary to popular belief, Cromwell had not personally ordered the attack on the town, but he shed no tears for the town’s victims – for this was the judgment of God. “They were,” he wrote, “made with their blood to answer for the cruelties they had exercised upon diverse poor Protestants.”

Births in October

2 October 1452

King Richard III of England 

2 October 1869

Mohandas Karamchand Ghandi 

9 October 1940

Musician John Lennon

11 October 1872

Suffragette Emily Davison 

15 October 1880

Marie Stopes, palaeobotanist and advocate of birth control

15 October 1881

Pelham Grenville 'PG' Wodehouse, author of the Jeeves and Wooster series of novels

24 October 1788

Sarah Hale, American editor and writer 

31 October 1887

Chiang Kai-shek, Chinese Nationalist leader 

12 October

539 BC: Babylon falls to Cyrus the Great

The great Mesopotamian city came under Persian control. Resultantly, Cyrus was the master of Babylon and it belonged to his descendants for the next 200 years.

Illustration of siege of Babylon by Cyrus the Great. Soldiers run around with smoke in the background
Illustration of siege of Babylon by Cyrus the Great. (Photo by Stefano Bianchetti/Corbis via Getty Images)

13 October

1908: Suffragettes try to storm the House of Commons

A ‘Rush’ arranged by Pankhurst and WSPU resulted in 36 arrests. “Women’s Social and Political Union,” began the advertising flyer. “VOTES FOR WOMEN. Men and women – helped the suffragettes to rush the House of Commons on Tuesday evening, 13 October 1908, at 7:30.”

14 October

1322: Edward II is forced to escape from the battle of Byland in North Yorkshire

15 October

1764: Edward Gibbon finds unlikely inspiration in a crumbling city

A disappointing trip to the once-great city of Rome inspires the scholar to write his finest work: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

He wrote: “It was at Rome, on 15 October 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted friars were singing Vespers in the temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind.”

16 October

1793: Marie Antoinette is executed

Execution of Marie-Antoinette.
Execution of Marie-Antoinette. (Photo by Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images)

The French Revolution claims one of its most famous victims. On the way up to the guillotine, she accidentally trod on Sanson’s toe.

“Pardon, monsieur,” she politely apologised. Then, moving quickly and professionally, the executioner tied her to the plank, pulled off her neckerchief – and it was done. A heartbeat later, Sanson raised her severed head to show the crowd. The revolution had claimed one of its most famous victims, and certainly its most romantic.

17 October

1912: Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst underlines the Women's Social and Political Union's opposition to all political parties

18 October

1216: An attack of dysentery proves the death of ‘Bad King John

Sunk in misery, the king consoled himself by stuffing himself with peaches and sinking vast amounts of new cider – not, perhaps, the ideal diet for somebody suffering from dysentery. His stomach cramps worsened and, on the evening of 18 October, he died. At that time, dysentery was often a death sentence, so the famous “surfeit of peaches” probably had nothing to do with his demise. Still, it makes a good story.

19 October

1469: Ferdinand and Isabella tie the knot

On 19 October, roughly a week after they had met, the royal couple were married at Valladolid’s Vivero Palace. Strapped for cash, they borrowed money from their aristocratic friends to pay for the ceremony, and some 2,000 people reportedly looked on as Ferdinand swore to uphold the laws of Castile. The royal couple even produced a papal bull, signed by Pope Pius II, to get around the awkward fact that they were so closely related. That it was a complete forgery was beside the point. The wedding was a triumph, and in that moment a united Spain was born.

20 October

1720: Luck runs out for notorious pirate gang

Anne Bonny and Mary Read. A sailing ship is in the background and they are holding swords
Anne Bonny and Mary Read. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

A pirate who famously sailed alongside two fierce women, Mary Read and Anne Bonny, Rackham had for weeks been cruising along the coast of Jamaica, attacking fishing vessels with impunity. But on this evening he made his fatal mistake.
Having anchored his ship, the William, in Dry Harbour Bay, Rackham spent the evening boozing with his men before falling asleep. He probably never heard Captain Jonathan Barnet’s sloop gliding towards him. The first he knew of it was when Barnet shouted out an order to surrender.

As the British sloop sailed back towards Port Royal, Rackham must have known what was coming. Tried a few weeks later, he was hanged on 18 November and his body displayed on an island known today as Rackham’s Cay. Anne Bonny – who, like Mary Read, escaped the noose by revealing that she was pregnant – thought he had only himself to blame. “If he had fought like a man,” she reportedly said, “he need not have been hanged like a dog.”

Deaths in October

3 October 1881

Orson Pratt, mormon leader

6 October 1688

Christopher Monck, Governor of Jamaica

6 October 1892

Alfred Lord Tennyson, british Poet Laureate

7 October 1849

Edgar Allen Poe, american writer and poet

8 October 1967

Clement Attlee, former Prime Minister

16 October 1730

Antoine Laumet de Lamothe Cadillac, french explorer, adventurer and colonial governor

17 October 1849

Frederic Chopin, polish-born composer and pianist

31 October 1918

Egon Schiele, expressionist painter and protégé of Gustave Klimt.

31 October 1961

Augustus John, welsh painter, engraver and flamboyant bohemian

21 October

1861: In the second major engagement of the American Civil War, Union forces are decisively defeated at the battle of Ball's Bluff

Colonel Edward Baker, a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, was killed in the debacle.

22 October

1797: Andre-Jacques Garnerin jumps from a balloon above Paris to make the world's first recorded parachute jump

23 October

42 BC: Brutus takes his own life

According to some reports, Strato held Brutus’s sword, upon which the commander “fell with such force that it passed quite through his breast and brought him instant death”.

When Brutus’s enemies discovered his body, they treated it with striking respect; Antony even ordered that it be covered with his own expensive cloak. Brutus was cremated and on Antony’s orders, his ashes were sent to his mother in Rome.

24 October

1929: The American economy comes crashing down

The front page of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper with the headline 'Wall St. In Panic As Stocks Crash'.
The front page of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper with the headline 'Wall St. In Panic As Stocks Crash'. (Photo by FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

It was the morning of Thursday 24 October 1929, and Wall Street was packed. The New York Stock Exchange was not due to open until ten, but already the sidewalks were crowded with people, their faces anxious, the atmosphere crackling with nervous excitement.

The previous afternoon’s trading had ended with a storm of selloffs, and the mood was febrile. After years of surging stock prices, the Roaring Twenties were ending amid uncertainty. There had been hurricanes in Florida. Rumours swirled of bad land deals, and falling car and steel production. There was even talk that the great bull market, which depended heavily on cheap credit, was about to tumble.

25 October

1924: ‘Zinoviev letter’ story derails Labour’s election hopes

Britain shocked by ‘revolution plot’ revealed in the Mail. The letter was, in fact, a forgery. But who knew that at the time? Four days later, Britain went to the polls, Labour was defeated – and for decades supporters blamed the ‘Zinoviev letter’.

26 October

1881: Guns are ablaze at the OK Corral

After weeks of simmering tension, matters came to a head on 26 October 1881. The famous gunfight was an attempt by Tombstone’s newly appointed marshal Virgil Earp, his brothers Wyatt and Morgan and friend Doc Holliday to disarm members of a gang of outlaws, who had defied the law by bringing weapons into the town. Contrary to popular belief, the shooting did not happen at the actual OK Corral, but at a scruffy lot nearby. And it was all over in moments.

The trigger was Virgil’s cry: “Boys, throw up your hands. I want your guns!” Two cowboys drew their revolvers and then somebody (accounts of who that person was differ) fired the first shot. The air was thick with gun smoke, then 30 seconds later, the guns fell silent. Three cowboys lay dead, but a legend was born.

27 October

1807: France and Spain agree to the partition of Portugal

28 October

1922: Mussolini marches to power in Italy

Victor Emmanuel’s decision changed the course of Italian history. By lunch-time, the state of siege had been officially suspended. Facta was finished; Fascist supporters were openly celebrating in the streets of Rome. Two days later, the king invited Mussolini to form a government.

Why had he done it? Fear of civil war, some said, while others suggested that the king had deluded himself into thinking he could control Mussolini. If that was true, as events were to prove, he could hardly have been more mistaken.

29 October

1618: Sir Walter Raleigh meets a grisly end

A portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh.
A portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh. (Photo by Kean Collection/Getty Images)

After an extraordinary career of intrigue and exploration, including a 13-year stretch in the Tower of London after being found guilty of plotting against James VI and I, Sir Walter Raleigh’s luck had finally run out. An expedition to Venezuela to find the fabled El Dorado had gone horribly wrong and, contrary to their instructions, some of Raleigh’s men had attacked a local Spanish outpost. The Spanish ambassador, who hated Raleigh already, demanded blood. And this time the king was not in a forgiving mood.

30 October

1501: Cesare Borgia hosts a night to remember

On Sunday 30 October 1501, Cesare Borgia had some friends around for dinner; the guests included his father – Pope Alexander VI – and sister, Lucrezia. Formerly a cardinal, now commander of the papal armies, Cesare had a reputation for high living. But, even by the Borgias’ colourful standards, the bacchanal that became known as the ‘Ballet of Chestnuts’ would be a party like no other.


31 October

1922: Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini becomes prime minister of Italy

After taking the oath of allegiance to King Victor Emmanuel III in Rome's Quirinal Palace, Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini took up office as the 27th prime minister of Italy.