The Sunday Section: This Week in History - March 29-April 04

March 29

1461 – At the Battle of Towton, the Lancastrian army of Henry VI suffers a massive defeat at the hands of the Yorkists, and Edward IV’s position as king is secured.

'Battle of Towton' ~ Richard Caton Woodville Jr.

1827 – The funeral of Ludwig van Beethoven, with more than 10,000 mourners present.

1886 – A new fizzy drink made from a secret recipe that includes syrup, caffeine and a tincture of coca leaves, Coca-Cola, is being sold at a pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia.  Its inventor, Dr John Pemberton, claims it will cure anything from hysteria to the common cold.

1871 – The Royal Albert Hall is opened by Queen Victoria.

1912 – Presumed date of the death of Robert Falcon Scott in Antarctica, on his return journey from the South Pole, only 11 miles from a pre-arranged supply depot.

1929 – The House of Commons has voted in favour of the Equal Franchise Bill, giving the vote to all women over the age of 21.

1970 – Death of Vera Brittain, the peace campaigner and writer.

Vera Brittain (1915)

1973 – The last US troops withdraw from Vietnam.

US Marines honour fallen comrades before leaving Vietnam

1979 – Idi Amin, Uganda’s tyrannical dictator, has fled the capital, Kampala, and is thought to be heading towards his tribal homeland.

1989 – In the first real election in Russia since 1917, Soviet citizens have voted against the ruling Communist Party.


1840 – Death of Beau Brummell, in a lunatic asylum for the poor in France, having fled there to escape gambling debts.

Beau Brummell

1842 – Dr Crawford Long, an American surgeon, has used ether as an anaesthetic for the first time.

Dr Crawford Long

1855 – Dost Mohammed, the Afghan leader, has signed a peace treaty with the British, ending 12 years of hostilities.

1856 – The signing of the Treaty of Paris has signalled the end of the 3-year Crimean War.

'Heavy Brigade at Balaclava' 1854

1867 – America has signed a treaty of cession with Russia to buy the frozen wastes of Alaska.  The US Senate must now authorize the payment of $7.3 million.

Alaska Purchase

1925 – Death of Rudolf Steiner, aged 64.

Rudolph Steiner

1981 – President Ronald Reagan has survived an assassination attempt.  John Hinckley Jr fired 6 shots, and all 6 missed the President, even though Hinckley had a clear shot with the 3rd bullet.  The first bullet hit the presidential press secretary, James Brady, in the head; the 2nd hit police officer Thomas Delahanty in the neck as he turned to shield Reagan.  After the 3rd shot, Reagan was shoved into the limousine by Special Agent Jerry Parr, and the 4th bullet hit Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy in the abdomen as he used his body to protect Reagan.  The 5th bullet hit the bullet-resistant limousine window.  The final bullet ricocheted off the armoured side of the limousine, hit the president, grazed a rib and lodged in his lung, stopping barely an inch from his heart. The bullets Hinckley had used were designed to explode on contact; the bullet that hit Brady was the only one that exploded. (Jim Brady was left permanently disabled, and became a passionate supporter of gun control.  When he died in 2014, the medical examiner ruled the cause of death to be the gunshot wound and its consequences, and his death was ruled a homicide.)

 Reagan being pushed into limousine

Reagan being pushed into limousine

Agents and police surround James Hinckley Jr. On the ground, police officer Thomas Delahanty (middle, facing camera) and James Brady (right, legs visible)

James Brady 1981

1986 – Death of James Cagney, aged 87.

James Cagney


1820 – American missionaries arrive in Honolulu.

1854 – Japan opens its doors to American traders.

1855 – Death of Charlotte Bronté.

Charlotte Bronté

1889 –Opening of the Eiffel Tower by French premier, Tirard.  The designer, Gustave Eiffel, in an interview given in 1887: “Now to what phenomenon did I give primary concern in designing the Tower?  It was wind resistance.”  As an experienced bridge builder, he took into account the effects of the wind; as proof of his effective design, the tower sways only 2-3inches in the wind.

Gustave Eiffel

Eiffel Tower 1889

1939 – Under the terms of a tripartite UK-French-Polish treaty, Britain pledges to defend Poland.

1950 – Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian explorer, has published an English translation of his 1948 voyage across the Pacific Ocean on board a raft, the ‘Kon-Tiki’.

Thor Heyerdahl


1959 – The Dalai Lama has fled Tibet to the safety of India.

Dalai Lama 1959

1980 – Death of Jesse Owens, aged 67.  He won 4 gold medals in the 1936 Olympics in Germany, and was undoubtedly the star of the games, but Hitler refused to shake his hand because Owens was black.

Jesse Owens, 1936 Olympics

April 01

1204 – Death of Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of Henry II.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

1662 – Charles II has today granted royal patronage to a group of scientists and academics, known as the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge.

1917 – Death of Scott Joplin, in an asylum.

Scott Joplin

1924 – HMV introduces the first gramophone to change records automatically.

1945 – US forces invade Okinawa.

US Marines wade ashore at Okinawa

1948 – The Soviet Union has begun severe checks on all Western transport entering Berlin, putting a strain on the relationship of the former wartime allies.  The Soviets say they are responding to the decision by France, Britain and the US to unify their 3 separately administered zones into one West German zone.

Berliners watching supply planes landing at Tempelhof

1960 – US launches its first weather satellite that was considered successful, the TIROS-1.

Image of Earth from TIROS-1

1976 – Death of Max Ernst, German-born Surrealist artist.

Max Ernst

1983 – Thousands of anti-nuclear campaigners today linked hands in a 14-mile long protest chain that encircled the US Air Force base at Greenham.  It is the latest civil protest at the presence of nuclear missiles on English soil; no arrests were made as Thames Valley and military police adopted a ‘softly, softly’ approach.

Peace protesters at Greenham (Alamy)

1984 – Death of Marvin Gaye, a day short of his 45th birthday, shot by his father, Marvin Gaye Sr. during a violent argument.  There had been concerns about the singer’s mental state and his heavy use of cocaine.

Marvin Gaye


1801 – Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson disobeyed orders from Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, the Commander-in-Chief, and sank the pro-French Danish fleet off its home port of Copenhagen at the Battle of Copenhagen.  When Nelson read Sir Parker’s signals to withdraw, he is reputed to have held his telescope to his blind eye and continued attacking.

Battle of Copenhagen

1810 – Napoleon Bonaparte marries Marie Louise, the daughter of the Austrian emperor; she is Bonaparte's second wife.

Wedding of Napoleon Bonaparte and Marie Louise

1860 – The first Italian parliament meets in Turin.

1921 – The IRA obtain Tommy guns from 2 gunsmiths in Connecticut.

1977 – Britain’s favourite racehorse, Red Rum, has become the first horse ever to win 3 Grand Nationals.

Red Rum jumps the last fence at the Grand National

1979 – Vietnamese soldiers in Cambodia have uncovered evidence of unspeakable brutality suffered by the people under the communist regime of the Khmer Rouge.  The soldiers are occupying the country after ousting Pol Pot.  Mass graves containing piles of skulls and bones of at least 2,000 people have been found in north-eastern Cambodia.

Mass grave in Cambodia (Nat Geo/Getty Images)

1982 – The Falklands Islands, a British South Atlantic dependency, has been taken over by Argentinian military forces.  The governor, Rex Hunt, ordered the Marines stationed in the capital, Port Stanley, to surrender as they were heavily outnumbered by the invasion force.

Sir Rex Hunt

1991 – Soviet coal miners are on strike across the country.

1991 – Roger Cooper, a British businessman, is released from an Iranian prison after serving 5 years of a 10-year sentence for alleged spying.


1784 – The India Act is passed in an effort to modify the powers of the government’s agents in India, the East India Company, and to make it more accountable to the government.

1862 – Death of Sir James Clark Ross, the explorer who gave his name to the Ross Seal, the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica, and the James Ross Strait in Canada.

Sir James Clark Ross

1882 – Death of Jesse James, shot at his home in St Joseph, Missouri.  His killer, Bob Ford, was staying with James, his wife and 2 children.  As James stood on a chair to straighten a picture, Ford allegedly shot him in the back of the head.  Neighbours were understandably shocked to learn that the man they knew as Thomas Howard was actually a wanted criminal with a $10,000 price tag on his head.

Jesse James

1897 – Death of Germany’s foremost classical-romantic composer, Johannes Brahms, aged 64.

Johannes Brahms

1922 – Joseph Stalin is appointed General Secretary of the Communist Party.

1936 – Death of Bruno Hauptmann, executed today by electric chair, for the kidnap and murder of the 20-month-old son of the Lindberghs.  Hauptmann, who proclaimed his innocence throughout the trial, had appealed, but it was turned down.  His last words, to his spiritual adviser, still insisted he was innocent.

1987 – Jewellery belonging to Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, who died 12 months ago, was auctioned in Geneva by Sotheby’s.  The £31 million raised will go to medical research.

Sotheby's catalogue

1991 – Death of Graham Greene, aged 86.

Graham Greene


1581 – Francis Drake is knighted today at Deptford by Elizabeth I.  Earlier he had entertained the queen to a banquet aboard the ‘Golden Hind’, the ship in which he had replicated Ferdinand Magellan’s feat of circumnavigating the world, a voyage that took him 3 years.

The Tavistock Statue, Devon, depicting the knighting of Sir Francis Drake

1849 – Frederick William IV of Prussia is elected Emperor of Germany but refuses to take the crown.

Frederick William IV

1900 – The heir to the throne, Prince Edward, survived an assassination attempt when 2 shots were fired at him at Brussels railway station.  It is believed that the assailant, 15-year-old Jean-Baptiste Sipido, holds the prince personally responsible for the deaths suffered in the Boer War.

Edward, depicted in 'Vanity Fair' 1902

1949 – The North Atlantic Treaty is signed today in Washington, establishing the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, with the aim of protecting Western nations from Soviet aggression.  The signatories are Britain, Canada, the US, France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Italy and Portugal.

North Atlantic Treaty

Signing of North Atlantic Treaty in Washington

1963 – The Beatles’ have grabbed the top 5 spots in the US singles charts with ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, ‘Twist and Shout’, ‘She Loves You’, ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’, and ‘Please Please Me’.

1968 – Death of Martin Luther King, aged 39, shot in a motel in Memphis, Tennessee by an unidentified white man.

"... if a man hasn't discovered something he will die for, he isn't fit to live." ~ Martin L King Jr.

1979 – Death of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, hanged by a military regime for the alleged murder of a political opponent.

1981 – The Grand National has been won by Bob Champion, a cancer-sufferer, and Aldaniti, who had previously suffered a broken hock.

Bob Champion and Aldaniti winning the Grand National

Bob Champion and Aldaniti