8 historical events that happened in June
From the death of Alexander the Great to Hitler's arrival in Paris, Dominic Sandbrook highlights notable events from history that took place in June
5 June 1832: Angry Parisians man the barricades
26 June 1541: Francis Pizarro meets a bloody end over dinner
Francisco Pizarro died as he had lived, sword in hand. Pizarro, who had defied the odds to bring down the Incas and conquer modern-day Peru for the Spanish, was almost 70 years old. As governor of New Castile (as Peru was then named), he had spent years locked in a bitter feud with a rival conquistador, Diego de Almagro. In 1538 Pizarro had had Almagro executed. But now the latter’s son – also Diego – wanted revenge.
Pizarro was dining in his palace in Lima when Almagro burst in with about 20 armed supporters. Most of the old man’s guests fled, but Pizarro stood his ground, reaching for his sword from where it hung on the wall. According to one account, he struck down two would-be assassins and ran a third through. While he struggled to draw out his sword, however, Almagro’s men stabbed him in the throat. Lying on the palace floor, Pizarro shouted: “Jesus!” The last thing he ever did was to draw a cross on the ground with his own blood and kiss it. The most ruthless conquistador of the age was dead.
Pizarro’s body was buried in Lima Cathedral, but it was not until 1977 that building workers found a lead box, bearing the inscription: “Here is the head of Don Francisco Pizarro Demarkes, Don Francisco Pizarro who discovered Peru and presented it to the crown of Castile.” Forensic scientists reported that the skull was broken by numerous violent blows – perhaps a fitting end for a man steeped in violence.
23 June 1940: Hitler crows over Paris
It was about 5.30 in the morning when Adolf Hitler’s plane landed at the edge of Paris. Three large Mercedes cars were waiting to take the conqueror into town, and the Nazi dictator knew exactly where he wanted to go first – the opera. As he told his minister, Albert Speer, Charles Garnier’s neo-baroque opera house was his favourite building in Paris. And now that the French capital had fallen to Germany’s all-conquering army, Hitler had the chance to live out a dream.
Hitler’s tour of Paris on 23 June 1940 – the only time he visited the city – was one of the greatest days of his life. France lay prostrate at his feet, the shame of 1918 finally avenged. As he toured the city, posing for pictures by the Eiffel Tower, he discussed plans for a victory parade. Yet he concluded that it was a bad idea: “I am not in the mood for a victory parade. We aren’t at the end yet.”
To Speer, the Nazis’ chief architect, Hitler waxed lyrical about the beauties of the French capital. But he was determined that Germany could do better. “Berlin,” he said later, “must be more beautiful. When we are finished in Berlin, Paris will be only a shadow.”
Hitler’s visit was astonishingly brief, and by nine in the morning he was already heading back to Germany. “It was the dream of my life to be permitted to see Paris,” he told Speer as they drove back to the airfield. “I cannot say how happy I am to have that dream fulfilled today.” Speer himself was struck by his master’s mood. “For a moment,” he wrote later, “I felt something like pity for him: three hours in Paris, the one and only time he was to see it, made him happy when he stood at the height of his triumphs.”
26 June AD 363: A Persian spear fells Rome's last pagan emperor
16 June 1883: 183 children crushed to death in concert tragedy
The poster for Sunderland’s Victoria Hall seemed wonderfully enticing. “On Saturday Afternoon at 3 o’clock,” it said, “the Fays from the Tynemouth Aquarium Will Give a Grand Day Performance for Children – The Greatest Treat for Children Ever Given.” There would, it added, be prizes, “a handsome Present, Books, Toys, &c”. When Mr and Mrs Fay took the stage on 16 June 1883, an estimated 2,000 children were packed into the concert hall.
What followed was a tragedy of heartbreaking proportions. At the end of the show, an announcer declared that children with specially numbered tickets would get a prize on the way out. Meanwhile, performers began handing out treats to children in the front row. Many of the 1,100 children in the gallery rushed towards the stairs, worried they were going to miss out.
At the bottom, however, they found a narrow door, bolted to allow only one child through at a time. As more children stampeded down the stairs, a crush began to develop. Parents rushed to help, but could not get near the door.
Children started falling, bodies piling up near the door. By now it was obvious that a terrible disaster was under way. In all, 183 children died that day, some as young as three. In the aftermath, legislation provided for better emergency exits, with doors opening outwards, not inwards. Queen Victoria sent a heartfelt letter of condolence quoting the words of Jesus: “Suffer little children to come unto me... for such is the Kingdom of God.”
18 June 1178: Monks witness an extraordinary lunar event
11 June 323 BC: Alexander the Great dies after drinking binge
Alexander of Macedon, master of the world from the shores of the Adriatic to the mountains of Afghanistan, spent the early summer of 323 BC in Babylon. Only a year before, his troops had persuaded him to turn back from a planned invasion of India. But already he was planning new conquests, hoping to strike at the heart of Arabia. On top of that, the 32-year-old king was pressing forward with his plans to integrate Persians and Macedonians, even urging his officers to take Persian wives. And then, some time around the beginning of June, disaster struck.
Accounts of Alexander’s death differ widely. The most popular, told by the historian Plutarch, holds that he was taken ill after a drinking session with his friend Medius of Larissa. In the next few days, Alexander developed a fever. Although he managed to put in an appearance before his worried troops, his condition worsened until he could no longer speak. At last, some time in the night between 10 and 11 June, he died.
His death had a shattering impact. Within weeks the Macedonian empire was already falling apart, as his officers began to carve out their own rival dominions. Even Alexander’s sarcophagus, hijacked and taken to Alexandria, became a weapon in the civil war. “I foresee great contests,” he is supposed to have said, “at my funeral games.” He was right.
4 June 1989: Hundreds die in Tiananmen Square
Other notable June anniversaries
29 June 1613
When a cannon misfires during a performance of Henry VIII, accidentally igniting the theatre’s thatched roof, the Globe Theatre in Southwark burns to the ground.
3 June 1937
In a chateau near Tours, the Duke of Windsor – formerly Edward VIII – marries Wallis Simpson. His brother, George VI, forbids his other brothers from attending the nuptials.
7 June 1494
Spain and Portugal agree a treaty to divide the New World between them, carving up the newly discovered Americas along a meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands.
9 June 1934
The world’s most famous duck, Donald, makes his first appearance in the short Walt Disney cartoon The Wise Little Hen, based on the fairy tale of The Little Red Hen.
27 June 1358
Following the Treaty of Zadar, the Republic of Dubrovnik throws off Venetian rule and comes under the protection of Louis I of Hungary.
25 June 1978
In San Francisco, the artist Gilbert Baker designs a hippie-influenced rainbow flag with eight stripes, to be flown during the city’s Gay Freedom Day Parade.
This article was first published in the June 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine