On This Day … 20 May


  • 685 – The Battle of Dun Nechtain is fought between a Pictish army under King Bridei III and the invading Northumbrians under King Ecgfrith, who are decisively defeated.
  • 794 – While visiting the royal Mercian court at Sutton Walls with a view to marrying princess Ælfthryth, King Æthelberht II of East Anglia is taken captive and beheaded.
  • 1217 – The Second Battle of Lincoln is fought near Lincoln, England, resulting in the defeat of Prince Louis of France by William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke.
  • 1449 – The Battle of Alfarrobeira is fought, establishing the House of Braganza as a principal royal family of Portugal.
  • 1497 – John Cabot sets sail from Bristol, England, on his ship Matthew looking for a route to the west (other documents give a May 2 date).
  • 1498 – Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama discovers the sea route to India when he arrives at Kozhikode (previously known as Calicut), India.
  • 1521 – Ignatius of Loyola is seriously wounded in the Battle of Pampeluna.
  • 1570 – Cartographer Abraham Ortelius issues Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, the first modern atlas.
  • 1631 – The city of Magdeburg in Germany is seized by forces of the Holy Roman Empire and most of its inhabitants massacred, in one of the bloodiest incidents of the Thirty Years’ War.
  • 1645 – Yangzhou massacre: The ten day massacre of 800,000 residents of the city of Yangzhou, part of the Transition from Ming to Qing.
  • 1741 – The Battle of Cartagena de Indias ends in a Spanish victory and the British begin withdrawal towards Jamaica with substantial losses.
  • 1775 – The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence is allegedly signed in Charlotte, North Carolina.
  • 1802 – By the Law of 20 May 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte reinstates slavery in the French colonies, revoking its abolition in the French Revolution.
  • 1813 – Napoleon Bonaparte leads his French troops into the Battle of Bautzen in Saxony, Germany, against the combined armies of Russia and Prussia. The battle ends the next day with a French victory.
  • 1861 – American Civil War: The state of Kentucky proclaims its neutrality, which will last until September 3 when Confederate forces enter the state. Meanwhile, the State of North Carolina secedes from the Union.
  • 1864 – American Civil War: Battle of Ware Bottom Church: In the Virginia Bermuda Hundred campaign, 10,000 troops fight in this Confederate victory.
  • 1882 – The Triple Alliance between the German Empire, Austria-Hungary and the Kingdom of Italy is formed.
  • 1902 – Cuba gains independence from the United States. Tomás Estrada Palma becomes the country’s first President.
  • 1927 – Treaty of Jeddah: The United Kingdom recognises the sovereignty of King Ibn Saud in the Kingdoms of Hejaz and Nejd, which later merge to become the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
  • 1940 – The Holocaust: The first prisoners arrive at a new concentration camp at Auschwitz.
  • 1941 – World War II: Battle of Crete: German paratroops invade Crete.
  • 1948 – Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek wins the 1948 Republic of China presidential election and is sworn in as the first President of the Republic of China at Nanjing.
  • 1949 – In the United States, the Armed Forces Security Agency, the predecessor to the National Security Agency, is established.
  • 1956 – In Operation Redwing, the first United States airborne hydrogen bomb is dropped over Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.
  • 1969 – The Battle of Hamburger Hill in Vietnam ends.
  • 1971 – In the Chuknagar massacre, Pakistani forces massacre thousands, mostly Bengali Hindus.
  • 1989 – The Chinese authorities declare martial law in the face of pro-democracy demonstrations, setting the scene for the Tiananmen Square massacre.
  • 2002 – The independence of East Timor is recognized by Portugal, formally ending 23 years of Indonesian rule and three years of provisional UN administration (Portugal itself is the former coloniser of East Timor until 1976).

People (Births)

  • 1769 – Andreas Vokos Miaoulis, Greek admiral and politician (d. 1835).
  • 1772 – Sir William Congreve, 2nd Baronet, English inventor and politician, developed Congreve rockets (d. 1828).
  • 1795 – Pedro María de Anaya, Mexican soldier. President (1847-1848) (d. 1854).
  • 1824 – Cadmus M. Wilcox, Confederate States Army general (d. 1890).
  • 1851 – Emile Berliner, German-American inventor, invented the Gramophone record (d. 1929).
  • 1895 – R. J. Mitchell, English engineer, designed the Supermarine Spitfire and Supermarine S.6B (d. 1937).
  • 1915 – Moshe Dayan, Israeli general and politician, 5th Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs (d. 1981).
  • 1916 – Alexey Maresyev, Russian soldier and pilot (d. 2001).
  • 1918 – Alexandra Boyko, Russian tank commander (d. 1996).
  • 1920 – John Cruickshank, Scottish lieutenant and banker, Victoria Cross recipient.
  • 1935 – José Mujica, Uruguayan guerrilla leader and politician, 40th President of Uruguay.
  • 1942 – Carlos Hathcock, American sergeant and sniper (d. 1999).
  • 1951 – Thomas Akers, American colonel, engineer, and astronaut.

People (Deaths)

  • 1550 – Ashikaga Yoshiharu, Japanese shōgun (b. 1510).
  • 1645 – Shi Kefa, Chinese general and calligrapher (b. 1601).
  • 1834 – Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, French general (b. 1757).
  • 1873 – George-Étienne Cartier, Canadian soldier, lawyer, and politician, 9th Premier of East Canada (b. 1814).
  • 1917 – Valentine Fleming, Scottish soldier and politician (b. 1887).
  • 1947 – Georgios Siantos, Greek sergeant and politician (b. 1890).
  • 1961 – Josef Priller, German colonel and pilot (b. 1915).
  • 2000 – Yevgeny Khrunov, Russian colonel, engineer, and astronaut (b. 1933).

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