1 September

1715: Louis XIV succumbs to gangrene

In August 1715, about a month before his 77th birthday, the elderly French king spent a pleasant day hunting. But when he returned to Versailles, he felt an agonising pain in his leg and consulted his doctor. The doctor diagnosed sciatica, but the pain got worse, and soon Louis’ leg began to turn black. That was a very bad sign: he had senile gangrene, a condition that is often associated with diabetes.


By 30 August Louis had slipped into unconsciousness. The royal apartments were put under close guard; all mail to and from the palace was stopped. On 1 September, the Sun King breathed his last. With him passed the era of French supremacy.

2 September

44 BC: Cicero delivers the first of the Philippics

Bust of Marcus Tullius Cicero
Bust of Cicero. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Appalled at the rise of Mark Antony after Caesar’s murder, Roman statesman Cicero delivers the first in a series of speeches, known as the Philippics, attacking the new order. In revenge, Antony ordered Cicero’s head and hands to be cut off.

3 September

1878: Hundreds are killed as paddle steamer Princess Alice sinks on the Thames

Some time around 7.30pm, as the ship entered Gallions Reach, its captain suddenly realised that they were on a collision course with a much larger ship coming the other way, the collier Bywell Castle. The captain yelled out: “Where are you coming to! Good God! Where are you coming to?” – but it was already too late. With an enormous crunch, the Bywell Castle ploughed through the side of the paddle steamer, effectively slicing it into two. Within just five minutes, it had sunk beneath the waves.

Even by London’s standards, the stretch of the Thames where the Princess Alice sank was especially foul, with so much sewage that boatmen gagged as they passed through. Now, hundreds of men, women and children floundered desperately in the fetid waters, weighed down by their clothes.

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Aboard the Bywell Castle, crewmen tried to throw them ropes, lifebuoys, even chicken coops to cling on to. But it was no good. It was a horrific scene.

After 10 minutes, the screams died down. The disaster was over, and perhaps 640 people were dead.

4 September

1998: Google takes the world by storm

Larry Page and Sergey Brin sitting with the 'Google' sign
Larry Page and Sergey Brin. (Photo by JOKER/Martin Magunia/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Two years earlier, Larry Page and Sergey Brin had developed an algorithm called PageRank, which helped them to find out which web pages would link to a given site. At the time, the dotcom boom was in full swing – a digital Wild West in which fortunes could be made and lost in months. But Page and Brin were convinced that PageRank, when adapted as a search engine, would be a lasting hit, and in September 1997 they registered an internet domain name for their new engine. Their first web page explained: “10^100 (a gigantic number) is a googol, but we liked the spelling Google better. We picked the name Google because our goal is to make huge quantities of information available to everyone. And it sounds cool and has only six letters.”

A year later, on 4 September 1998, Page and Brin formally incorporated their company, which was based in a friend’s garage in Menlo Park. They only had one employee, a fellow PhD student from Stanford. Yet already their server was humming with activity, and by the end of the year Google had indexed some 60 million web pages. By the following summer Page and Brin had secured a staggering $25m in equity funding, and Google was already on its way to becoming a household name.

5 September

1791: Olympe de Gouges fights for women’s rights

Frustrated that the French National Assembly’s charter of human liberties, Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, offered nothing to women, Olympe de Gouges decided to write a feminist version, which she dedicated to Marie Antoinette. She called for women to have full political rights, for equality within marriage and for women to be allowed to identify the fathers of their children, which meant single mothers could demand support.

Was France ready for this ground-breaking proposal? It was not. Most of her fellow revolutionaries ignored it. For the Jacobins, she was too brave, too outspoken and too independent. Two years later, after a swift mock trial, they sent her to the guillotine.

6 September

1972: Israeli athletes are kidnapped from the Munich Olympic Village

All nine Israeli athletes kidnapped from the Munich Olympic Village by the Palestinian Black September Group were killed in a gun battle at a nearby airport during an ill-fated attempt to free them by force.

7 September

1812: Napoleon won a costly but inconclusive victory over the Russians at the battle of Borodino

With over 70,000 casualties it was the bloodiest single day of fighting in the Napoleonic Wars.

Famous births in September

4 September 1241

Alexander III of Scotland

8 September 1442

John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford

9 September 1941

Otis Redding, American soul singer

10 September 1852

Alice Brown Davis, principal chief of the Seminole nation.

11 September 1611

Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne, Vicomte de Turenne, French soldier who defeated a Spanish and English royalist army at the battle of the Dunes

11 September 1862

Hawley Harvey, the first criminal to be captured with the aid of wireless communication

12 September 1811

William Bell Scott, painter and poet

12 September 1812

Richard March Hoe, inventor and manufacturer of the world's first successful rotary printing press

19 September 1882

Christopher Reynolds Stone MC, London editor of The Gramophone

23 September 1861

Robert Bosch, industrialist and inventor

28 September 1841

Georges Clemenceau, prime minister of France

29 September 1758

Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson

8 September

1504: Michelangelo’s masterpiece divides opinion in Florence

The head of Michelangelo's 'David'
The head of Michelangelo's David. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

On 8 September 1504, the public set eyes on Michelangelo’s magnificent David. The statue was so big that, according to the writer Giorgio Vasari, two brothers had to make a special contraption to carry it to the Piazza della Signoria, “a very strong framework of wood”, with the statue dangling inside.

“On the rope which held the figure suspended,” added Vasari, they “made a slip-knot which was very easy to undo but tightened as the weight increased, which is a most beautiful and ingenious thing”.

Amazing as it may seem, Michelangelo’s masterpiece had its critics; indeed, some Florentines even threw stones at it. It was, they thought, a symbol of the city’s controversial republican government, which had replaced the local Medici dynasty.

Meanwhile, Florence’s governor Piero Soderini thought that the nose was too big. So Michelangelo climbed up and pretended to knock a bit off, and Soderini proclaimed himself satisfied.

But more astute observers saw the statue as a supreme symbol of humanist values. As Vasari put it: “Whoever has seen this work need not trouble to see any other work executed in sculpture, either in our own or in other times, by no matter what craftsman.”

9 September

1739: The Stono Rebellion is the biggest revolt of its kind in British North America

Early in the morning of 9 September 1739, almost two dozen men gathered in the fields near the Stono river, some 20 miles south-west of Charleston, South Carolina. All of them were slaves. Their self-appointed leader was known as Jemmy; contemporaries called him ‘Angolan’, but he had probably been shipped west from the kingdom of Kongo, in central Africa. It was Jemmy who had roused his fellows by appealing to their thirst for freedom; it was probably also Jemmy who gave them their motto, ‘Liberty!’

At first, Jemmy and his fellows made good progress. Their first move was to raid Hutchenson’s Stores at the nearby Stono River Bridge, where they killed two men and stole a large consignment of guns and ammunition. Heading south, they paused to burn the white residents’ houses as they passed, killing somewhere between 20 and 30 people. Tellingly, they spared the man who kept Wallace’s Tavern, because he was known to be relatively kind to his own slaves.

By midday, the fugitives’ numbers had swollen to between 50 and 100. Whenever they encountered whites, they generally killed them. One who got away, though, was the state’s lieutenant governor, William Bull, who rode off to raise the local militia. The next day, Bull’s men caught up with the slaves near the Edisto river. There, he reported to London, his men “killed and took so many as to put a stop to any further mischief at that time, 44 of them have been killed and executed”. The rest, he wrote, “remain concealed in the woods expecting the same fate”.

None of the fugitives made it all the way to Spanish Florida and freedom. Within a couple of weeks, all had been either killed or captured. So ended one of the greatest slave rebellions in the history of British America.

10 September

1419: John the Fearless is lured into a fatal trap

In one of the key incidents of the Hundred Years’ War, John the Fearless was struck down with an axe on a bridge in Montereau, central France. The assassination solidified divisions within France, strengthening the hand of England’s Henry V.

11 September

1297: William Wallace routs the English invaders

William Wallace
William Wallace. (Photo by Print Collector/Getty Images)

On the morning of 11 September 1297, the Earl of Surrey ordered his English army to cross the Forth river at Stirling Bridge. The war for Scotland was raging, and although the north bank was guarded by Scots under Andrew Moray and William Wallace, Surrey was determined to force the issue. It was the worst mistake of his life – and a titanic moment in Scottish history.

Only when most of Surrey’s forces had crossed did the Scots make their move, bombarding the English with spears before charging down to cut their army in two. Outnumbered, their backs to the river, some of the English swam for safety, while others, led by Sir Hugh de Cressingham, tried to fight their way out.

12 September

490 BC: Athens claims victory against the mighty Persian army and a new sporting tradition is created

Traditionally dated to 12 September 490 BC, the battle of Marathon has gone down as one of the most celebrated clashes in world history. On one side were the Persians, then by far the greatest power in the eastern Mediterranean; on the other, the little democracy of Athens.

For years, the Athenians had supported Greek rebels in Asia Minor against their Persian overlords. So the Persian king, Darius, decided to teach them a lesson, sending his fleet towards the bay of Marathon. There his troops disembarked, preparing to march on Athens.

What followed became part of Athenian legend. Aided by only 1,000 men from the city of Plataea, the Athenian force faced a Persian army at least twice the size. Should they attack? The Athenians were divided, but were finally swayed by a speech by their general Miltiades. If they fought and won, he declared, their country would “be free – and not free only, but the first state in Greece”.

13 September

1944: Noor Inayat Khan is executed at a concentration camp

At dawn on 13 (or possibly 12) September 1944, four women were led into a yard in Dachau concentration camp, where they were told to kneel and had their death sentences read to them. SS men then stepped forward and shot them one at a time in the back of their necks. One of the women had been badly beaten first, but in her final moments managed to utter the single word “liberté”.

Her name was Noor Inayat Khan. Having escaped German-occupied France in 1940, she trained for the British forces and later gained a post in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) as a wireless operator. In June 1943, Noor was inserted into France on a highly dangerous mission to aid the “Prosper” resistance network, under the codename “Madeleine”. She chose to stay even when the Germans rounded up the network’s agents, but was betrayed and arrested by the Gestapo four months later.

After several escapes and recaptures, Noor – who refused to give up anything in her interrogations – was sent to Dachau with three other SOE agents, Madeleine Damerment, Yolande Beekman and Eliane Plewman. After being executed, they were stripped and searched for jewellery. For displaying “the most conspicuous courage, both moral and physical”, Noor was posthumously awarded the George Cross in 1949.

14 September

1982: Princess Grace of Monaco died of her injuries after her car went off the road and over a cliff in Monaco

Her daughter, Princess Stephanie, was with her in the car but she survived the accident.

15 September

1940: Adolf Hitler’s Luftwaffe launches their largest offensive yet against the Royal Air Force

They hoped to draw them out by a massive attack on London, but the RAF destroyed some 60 enemy planes and carried the day – it is remembered as Battle of Britain Day.

16 September

1400: Owain Glyndŵr is proclaimed Prince of Wales during an uprising that lasts for 12 years

In September 1400, Owain Glyndŵr was smouldering with anger. Born some four decades earlier to a landed family in the Welsh Marches, Glyndŵr had been involved in a land dispute with a fellow nobleman, Baron Grey de Ruthin.

On 16 September 1400 Glyndŵr took desperate action. Summoning his friends to his Denbighshire estate of Glyndyfrdwy, he was proclaimed Prince of Wales. According to an English jury, the rebels pledged themselves to kill Henry and stamp out the English language. Then they proceeded “in warlike fashion like enemies” to Ruthin, which they sacked and plundered. So began the Welsh Revolt, the bloodiest rising against English rule for more than a century.

17 September

1787: The US Constitution is signed

On 17 September, gathering in the Assembly Room of Independence Hall, the delegates listened to a patriotic address by Benjamin Franklin before taking it in turns to sign the new Constitution.

At 81, Franklin was the oldest of the 39 men who signed that day; by contrast, 26-year-old Jonathan Dayton was young enough to have been his grandson. Theirs was really only a symbolic gesture, since the document still needed to be ratified by the states. But symbols matter: there could hardly have been a more powerful sign of their commitment to a common cause.

18 September

1714: Following the death of his second cousin, Queen Anne, the 54-year-old elector of Hanover lands in Great Britain for his coronation as George I

19 September

1970: The first Glastonbury festival is held in Somerset

Tents and a stage in the first Glastonbury Festival
The first Glastonbury Festival, September 1970. (Photo by Robert Blomfield Photography/Getty Images)

It was organised by farmer Michael Eavis and headlined by Tyrannosaurus Rex. Tickets cost £1 and included free milk from the farm.

Famous deaths in September

4 September 1852
William MacGillivray, ornithologist
14 September 1321
Dante Alighieri, Florentine poet
14 September 1982
Princess Grace of Monaco
15 September 1712
Sidney, 1st Earl of Godolphin
16 September 1701
James II and VII, England’s last Catholic monarch
16 September 1911
Edward Whymper, English mountaineer and engraver
20 September 1851
Mary Martha Sherwood, one of the 19th-century's most prolific children's authors
21 September 1832
Sir Walter Scott, writer
26 September 1842
Richard, Marquess Wellesley

20 September

1973: Billie Jean is king in tennis’s ‘Battle of the Sexes’

Billie Jean is carried in a chair by men
Tennis star Billie Jean King is carried to the court by four men for the battle of the sexes tennis match with 55-year-old tennis star Bobby Riggs. (Photo by Getty)

Competitive sport had never seen anything like it. To great roars from more than 30,000 spectators, and with an estimated 90 million people watching on television, the 29-year-old Billie Jean King was carried by four men into the Houston Astrodome, like Cleopatra on her throne. A few moments later, the 55-year-old Bobby Riggs followed, in a rickshaw drawn by a group of young women. Riggs handed her a lollipop. King gave him a piglet, a fitting gift for a man who prided himself on being a chauvinist pig. And then the slaughter began.

“I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match,” Jean said later. “It would ruin the women’s tour and affect all women’s self-esteem.” And she was as good as her word. That day in the Astrodome, she hammered Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

“For women everywhere,” said The New York Times, “she convinced sceptics that a female athlete can survive pressure- filled situations and that men are as susceptible to nerves as women.”

21 September

1840: William Henry Fox Talbot develops the ‘calotype’ process

By using silver iodide, gallic acid and silver nitrate, the photographic pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot developed the so-called ‘calotype’ process, enabling him to make positive prints from calotype negatives. The process proves very popular with other budding British photographers, boosting the development of commercial photography.

22 September

1761: The coronation of George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

It was held in Westminster Abbey. The couple had been married at St James's on the evening of 8 September, after meeting for the first time that afternoon.

23 September

1909: The French newspaper Le Gaulois carries the first instalment of a new story by Gaston Leroux

It was set two decades earlier in the sumptuous, haunted world of the Palais Garnier opera house. The story takes its title from its most famous character: The Phantom of the Opera.

24 September

1332: Edward Balliol was crowned king of Scotland

This was following his victory with English help over the Earl of Mar at Dupplin Moor in August.

25 September

480 BC: Greece defeats Persia, once and for all

The Persians’ overwhelming numbers worked against them. As one Persian line crashed inevitably into the next, some of their captains began to panic, and eventually morale cracked completely. Watching from his throne on Mount Egaleo, Xerxes looked on in impotent fury as his fleet fell back in disarray, the Greeks surging forward and singing in triumph. As the historian Herodotus recorded, many of the Persians could not swim, so the seas foamed with the bodies of drowning men.

The battle of Salamis is commonly seen as the turning point in the Persian Wars. Indeed, for generations of writers, it was a decisive moment in world history: the moment when the free cities of the Greeks definitely escaped the Persian yoke. This is probably an exaggeration. But had events in September 480 turned out otherwise, it is tempting to wonder how different our world might be.

26 September

1969: The Beatles' last recorded album, Abbey Road, is released on both sides of the Atlantic. It goes straight to number one in the charts

27 September

1940: The Tripartite Pact is signed

A year after the opening of the Second World War, Germany, Italy and Japan signed the Tripartite Pact, promising to co-operate in building a new order in Europe and Asia, and to help one another if they are attacked by an outside power – widely seen as a warning to the United States.

28 September

48 BC: Pompey is knifed to death

Pompey being stabbed in a boat
The Stabbing of Pompey, 1634. Artist Willem Basse. (Photo by Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images)

On 28 September, Pompey sailed into view of the Egyptian coast. His companions, including his wife, Cornelia, were terrified that he might be betrayed, and their fears only increased when they were greeted by a small group of men in a battered fishing boat. The sea, the men explained, was not deep enough for a royal trireme. Pompey must come across to their little boat, and they would ferry him to meet the pharaoh.

At that, Pompey’s friends became even more agitated. What if the Egyptians had done a deal with Caesar? But the old general merely shrugged. He had no choice, he said, and with his wife watching nervously from their deck, he stepped onto the little boat.

The men cast off. According to the historian Plutarch, nothing was said; as they headed for the land, there was only silence. It was Pompey who broke the tension. “Aren’t you an old comrade of mine?” he asked one of the welcoming party, a former Roman soldier called Lucius Septimius. The latter “merely nodded, without saying anything to him or showing any friendliness”. So “the profound silence continued”.

And then the moment came. Pompey was getting to his feet, clutching one of his servant’s hands, when Septimius stabbed him from behind. More blows rained down so, Plutarch wrote: “Pompey, drawing his toga down over his face with both hands, without an act or a word that was unworthy of himself, but with a groan merely, submitted to their blows.”

29 September

1911: Italy declares war on the Ottoman empire

The ensuing conflict saw the first incidence of bombing from an aeroplane when an Italian pilot dropped a grenade on an oasis near Tripoli.


30 September

1452: The first part of Johannes Gutenberg's Bible is published in Mainz, Germany

It was the first book to be printed using moveable metal type.