1 March

1815: Napoleon boldly returns to France

On 1 March, something extraordinary happened on the south coast of France. Napoleon – who had escaped from Elba on the brig Inconstant – landed in the seaside village of Golfe-Juan, between Cannes and Antibes, with a thousand men. He issued a defiant proclamation, asserting his right to rule.

A painting of Napoleon.
A painting of Napoleon. Located in: Musee du Louvre, Paris, France. (Photo by Francis G. Mayer/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

2 March

537: Belisarius saves Rome from the Goths

As smoke rose from the Goths’ camps, Belisarius knew that his gamble had paid off. He waited until half the retreating Gothic forces were across the Milvian Bridge, and then ordered his troops out of the city. They killed thousands of Goths, and many more were drowned. Belisarius had won. For the time being at least, Rome remained Roman.

3 March

1913: Women’s suffrage takes off in Washington DC

A group of Women's Suffrage activists march in the 1913 parade carrying a banner reading 'I Wish Ma Could Vote'.
A group of Women's Suffrage activists march in the 1913 parade carrying a banner reading 'I Wish Ma Could Vote'. (Photo by FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Although the parade got off to a slow start, it was soon evident that this was no passing demonstration. Never before had so many women marched together in pursuit of their right to vote. Marching down Pennsylvania Avenue with two dozen floats, nine bands and four mounted brigades, they were led by the figure of the lawyer and activist Inez Milholland, atop a white horse and wearing a white cape.

4 March

1918: The first case of “Spanish flu” is recorded

There was still a chill in the air on the morning of 4 March 1918. Private Albert Gitchell, a US Army mess cook, woke feeling hot and achy, his throat burning. Physically unable to attend to his duties, he dragged himself to the infirmary – Hospital Building 91 – where his temperature was taken, recording a shocking 39.4°C. Wary of spreading whatever disease had infected Gitchell, the camp doctor recom- mended that the cook – whom he diagnosed with “a bad cold” – spend a few days in a separate tent.

It was already too late. Almost immediately afterwards, several more patients descended on the infirmary complaining of the same symptoms. Before lunchtime, 107 cases of the mysterious flu were recorded at Fort Riley.

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5 March

1953: Death of Stalin

Stalin’s daughter Svetlana remembered the final moment. “He literally choked to death as we watched,” she wrote. “The death agony was terrible … At the last minute, he opened his eyes. It was a terrible look, either mad or angry, and full of the fear of death.” For a moment, Stalin raised his hand, as if pointing or threatening. “Then,” Svetlana wrote, “the next moment, his spirit after one last effort tore itself from his body.”

6 March

1836: Rebel settlers take a last stand at the Alamo

It was at about 5.30 in the morning that the Mexicans launched their final assault on the Alamo. Five months earlier, American settlers in Texas, or ‘Texians’, had rebelled against the Mexican government, driving away their forces. During the inevitable Mexican counterattack, more than 200 Texian rebels had become trapped at the Alamo Mission, near San Antonio. Steadily the besiegers tightened their grip, and now they were ready to finish the job.

7 March

321: Constantine orders that Sunday become a day of rest

“On the venerable day of the Sun,” Constantine ordered, “let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country however persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits because it often happens that another day is not suitable for grain-sowing or vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost.”

Famous births in March

1 March 1810

Frédéric François Chopin, composer and pianist

1 March 1812

Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, English Gothic Revival architect and designer

3 March 1847

Alexander Graham Bell, telephone pioneer

3 March 1911

Jean Harlow, film actress and original 'blonde bombshell' 

4 March 1678

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi, violinist and composer

6 March 1937 

Valentina Tereshkova, first woman to orbit the earth

7 March 1857 

Julius Wagner von Jauregg, Nobel Prize winning psychiatrist

8 March 1712

Quaker John Fothergill, physician and naturalist 

9 March 1763

William Cobbett, radical politician, farmer and author

10 March 1858

Henry Watson Fowler, lexicographer and author 

12 March 1613

André Le Nôtre, landscape gardener  

14 March 1808

Narcissa Whitman, in 1836, she and Eliza Spalding are hailed as the first two women to cross the Rocky Mountains 

14 March 1879

Albert Einstein, pioneering theoretical physicist

15 March 1813

John Snow, English obstetrician, epidemiologist and public health reformer

16 March 1751

James Madison, fourth US president

20 March 1811

Napoleon II, the son of Napoleon Bonaparte and his second wife, Marie Louise of Austria

21 March 1527

Hermann Finck, German composer

21 March 1768

Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier, mathematician and physicist

22 March 1783

Sarah Goodin Barrett Moulton, young subject of one of Thomas Lawrence’s most famous portraits

23 March 1430

Margaret of Anjou, de facto leader of the Lancastrian faction for much of the Wars of the Roses 

23 March 1882

Emmy Noetherm, mathematician

30 March 1811

Robert Bunsen, chemist

31 March 1732

Joseph Haydn, Austrian composer

31 March 1878

John Arthur "Jack" Johnson, first black world heavyweight boxing champion

Famous deaths in March

2 March 1930

DH Lawrence, novelist

3 March 1792

Robert Adam, Scottish neoclassical architect and interior designer

3 March 1808

Johann Christian Fabricius, Danish entomologist

4 March 1193  

Saladin, sultan of Egypt and Syria and founder of the Ayyubid dynasty

4 March 1790

Flora MacDonald, Jacobite heroine 

5 March 1827 

Alessandro Volta, Italian physicist and battery inventor

6 March 1888

Louisa M Alcott, American writer, feminist and abolitionist

7 March 1810

Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, Nelson's second-in-command at the battle of Trafalgar

8 March 1917

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, German airship designer

10 March 1513

John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford

13 March 1842

Henry Shrapnel, British soldier and inventor

25 March 1650

John Williams, Archbishop of York

25 March 1809

Anna Seward, poet known as 'the Swan of Lichfield'

26 March 1827

Ludwig van Beethoven, composer

27 March 1770

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Venetian artist

31 March 1631

John Donne, English metaphysical poet

8 March

1711: Marquis de Guiscard stabs Sir Robert Harley

Members of the British cabinet were questioning the French spy the Marquis de Guiscard when he pulled out a knife and stabbed Sir Robert Harley in the chest. Harley, who as chancellor of the exchequer was one of Queen Anne's chief ministers, was said to have been saved from death thanks to the heavy gold thread embroidery that his sister Abigail had sewn onto his coat, which broke the blade of the knife. Harley was, however, wounded by a second blow and forced to take to his bed for six weeks.

9 March

1841: The US Supreme Court frees the slaves of La Amistad

As Justice Story began speaking, it became clear that the Supreme Court had sided with the slaves. As their lawyer put it, they had been “unlawfully kidnapped, and forcibly and wrongfully carried on board”, so they were entitled to their freedom. Abolitionist supporters paid for them to be put up in Farmington, Connecticut, where they were given English lessons and Bible classes, while fundraisers collected money to send them back home. A year later, they set eyes on the African coast for the first time since they had been kidnapped. Most disappeared into obscurity. But one, Sarah Margru Kinson, later returned to the United States to study at Oberlin College, before going back to Sierra Leone as a Christian missionary.

10 March

1910: Release of the silent movie In Old California. Directed by DW Griffith of the Biograph Company, it is the first film to be shot in Hollywood

11 March

AD 222: Rome’s emperor of excess meets a bloody end

Elagabalus (Photo by Pictures From History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The Praetorian Guard, sick of Elagabalus’s excesses, switched their allegiance to his cousin Severus Alexander and turned on Elagabalus. As the historian Cassius Dio recorded, there was no mercy for either Elagabalus or his mother: “Their heads were cut off and their bodies, after being stripped naked, were first dragged all over the city, and then the mother’s body was cast aside somewhere or other while his was thrown into the river.”

12 March

1612: King James VI and I granted the Virginia Company of London a third royal charter, extending its American territories to include Bermuda.

The move gave more control to ordinary investors and allowed the company to run a lottery to raise funds

13 March

1781: William Herschel observes Uranus

Using a telescope of his own design, astronomer William Herschel observed the planet later named Uranus from the back garden of his house in New King Street, Bath. He originally thought it was a comet.

14 March

1942: Anne Miller, a nurse from Connecticut, becomes the first known person to have her life saved by penicillin after developing a streptococcal infection after a miscarriage

15 March

1927: Female rowers battle it out at the first women’s boat race

Even the sceptics had to admit that it was a colourful occasion. As if determined to confirm their killjoy reputation, the heads of the women’s colleges had scheduled the race for 1.15pm, “in order to avoid a large body of spectators”. All the same, the banks were packed with “enthusiastic undergraduates, flinging confetti over the river, and blowing toy trumpets”.

16 March

1968: As many as 500 Vietnamese civilians are murdered by US troops at My Lai, South Vietnam. Lieutenant William Calley will be the only participant to be convicted for the crime

17 March

1921: Marie Stopes opens Britain's first family planning clinic

Marie Stopes opened Britain 's first family planning clinic, the Mothers' Clinic, in Holloway, north London. In 1925 the clinic moved to Whitfield Street in central London, where it remains to this day.

Dr. Marie Stopes
Dr. Marie Stopes (Photo by GettyImages)

18 March

978: King Edward is murdered at Corfe

On 18 March 978, a brutal murder was committed at Corfe in Dorset – and the victim was Edward, king of the English. “No worse deed for the English race was done than this,” the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle lamented.

The main suspect for the assassination was Edward’s stepmother, Ælfthryth, widow of his father, King Edgar. Certainly she had a motive: with Edward dead, his younger half-brother – her son, Æthelred – would inherit the English throne. It has been supposed that she invited the young king to Corfe to participate in a hunt, with murder in mind.

19 March

1962: In the US, a young folk singer called Bob Dylan releases his first album, the imaginatively titled Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan recording his first album, 'Bob Dylan', in front of a microphone with an acoustic Gibson guitar and a harmonica during one of the John Hammond recording sessions in November 1961 at Columbia Studio in New York City, New York.
Bob Dylan recording his first album, 'Bob Dylan'. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

20 March

1966: A thief steals into church and pinches the World Cup

As the secretary of the Football Association admitted, the theft had cast “quite a cloud” over the forthcoming tournament. But then, on 27 March, the cup was found. Out walking with his owner in South Norwood, a dog called Pickles disappeared beneath a hedge, and reappeared with something wrapped in newspaper – the Jules Rimet trophy.

21 March

1617: Pocahontas is buried, far from home

By March 1617, at the end of her London visit, Pocahontas was possibly already gravely unwell, and not keen to travel back to Virginia. As an observer wrote: “She is on her return though sore against her will, if the wind would come about to send them away.”

It was planned that the family would sail from London on the George, belonging to Samuel Argall, deputy governor of Virginia. Before the ship set out on the long ocean voyage, it dropped anchor at Gravesend to gather supplies and fresh water. Here, Pocahontas was taken off the ship, dying or possibly already dead. Her body was laid to rest in the chancel of Saint George’s Church – a superior place of burial usually reserved for clergy or high-standing parishioners.

22 March

1960: American physicists Arthur Schawlow and Charles Townes are awarded the world's first patent for a laser

Gordon Gould, who coined the term laser and whose patent application had been rejected, began a 30-year legal battle for his patent rights

23 March

1801: Russia’s tsar is brutally beaten to death

Many accounts agree that the plotters initially planned to force Paul to abdicate, but alcohol soon took over. In the confusion, one officer hit the struggling Paul in the face with a golden snuffbox. The emperor went down, and a group of the plotters piled on top of him, kicking and choking him. One of them wrapped a sash around his neck and began to tighten. Then, when he had stopped twitching, they kicked and stamped on his body, until they were pulled away.

The next morning, when Paul’s son Alexander, now emperor, reviewed the guards, they were wearing their old uniforms.

24 March

1944: The Great Escape arouses Hitler’s fury

As night fell on the 24th, the men chosen for the escape attempt assembled in Hut 104.

By the time the Germans realised the prisoners were getting out, 76 men had crawled to freedom. The snow was so deep that they were forced to use main roads rather than forest paths, as they had planned, and all but three were soon recaptured. Hitler wanted them all shot; in the end, 50 were executed.

25 March

1807: The slave trade is abolished in the British empire

The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act entered the statute books on 25 March 1807, making it illegal to trade enslaved people within the British colonies. The act – culmination of a decades-long struggle by abolitionists in Britain – ruled that, from 1 May 1807, “dealing and reading in the purchase, sale, barter, or transfer of slaves or of persons intending to be sold, transferred, used, or dealt with as slaves, practiced or carried in, at, or from any part of the coast or countries of Africa shall be abolished, prohibited and declared to be unlawful”.

26 March

1830: The Book of Mormon debuts with a whimper

Woodcut illustration of the inception of Mormonism
Woodcut illustration of the inception of Mormonism (Photo by GettyImages)

Today, with an estimated 15 million Mormons worldwide, original copies of the Book of Mormon change hands for well over $50,000. But when the book first went on sale on 26 March 1830, sales were disappointing. Many local citizens thought it was blasphemous; another Palmyra paper even called it “the greatest piece of superstition that has come to our knowledge”.

Local farmer Martin Harris had mortgaged his property to pay for Smith’s security. Harris lost everything, yet he never lost his faith in the Book of Mormon. It was “no fake,” he said on his deathbed. “I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen and I have heard what I have heard. I have seen the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon is written.”

27 March

1881: In the then violent town of Basingstoke, troops are called to clear the streets after the Salvation Army’s anti-alcohol campaign provokes rioting by local brewery workers

28 March

1979: Labour receives a vote of no confidence

As Hamilton reached the clerk’s table he gave “an almost imperceptible thumbs up”. On the other side, a Tory whip was whispering to Mrs Thatcher, and her face paled. “I don’t believe it,” she mouthed, and a gasp of triumph came from the Labour benches. Had they pulled it off, against all the odds?

Then the clerk of the house handed the voting slip to the Conservative teller, Spencer Le Marchant, and the mood changed. Suddenly the government benches were deathly silent, and all the noise was coming from the opposition. “Order, order!” said the speaker, and the house fell absolutely still.

“The Ayes to the right, 311,” Le Marchant said. “The Noes to the left, 310.” Even before he had finished, there came from the Tory benches a roar of unbridled joy. They had done it. Now the election was on.

29 March

2014: As midnight strikes, the first same-sex marriages are solemnised in England and Wales

30 March

1282: Sicilians revolt against their French oppressors

It was on Easter Monday, just before the evening Vespers service at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Palermo, that the moment came. As crowds gathered outside the church for the annual festival, a group of swaggering, tipsy French officials, with a man called Drouet particularly prominent, made overtures to some young Sicilian women. In the ensuing melee, one outraged husband plunged his knife into Drouet – and all hell broke loose.

“To the sound of the bells,” wrote the great historian Steven Runciman, “messengers ran through the city calling on the men of Palermo to rise against the oppressor. At once the streets were filled with angry armed men, crying ‘Death to the French’… They poured into the inns frequented by the French and the houses where they dwelt, sparing neither man, woman nor child.” Whenever they found a suspected Frenchmen, the mob demanded that he pronounce the local word ciciri, which outsiders invariably found difficult. Anyone who failed the test was killed.

By the next morning, 2,000 people lay dead. The War of the Sicilian Vespers had begun; it would last for another 20 years.

31 March

1889: France’s Eiffel Tower opens

The four sloping legs of the Eiffel Tower undergo construction in 1887 at the Champ-de-Mars in Paris. Civil engineer Gustave Eiffel designed the unique all-steel tower as a temporary structure for the Centennial Exposition of 1889. Instead of being demolished, it became a permanent fixture and a symbol of the city.
The four sloping legs of the Eiffel Tower undergo construction in 1887 at the Champ-de-Mars in Paris. (Photo by GettyImages)

The tower was an instant hit: illuminated every night by gas lamps, it dominated not just the Exposition, but Paris itself. When the public were finally allowed in, the lifts were still not working. Yet in the first week alone, almost 30,000 people climbed to the top – a sign of how completely it had caught the world’s imagination.

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