May in the 17th century

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May - a busie, never mind merrie month in the 17th century and the Civil Wars

An interesting month in which a war that ravages Europe starts and sees one of its most notorious atrocities, a future King is born and a fledgling foothold is made in a new world.

1601 - 2nd May. Athanasius Kircher as born. An Egyptologist and scientist (and more besides), he was one of the first people to observe microbes through a microscope - ironic given our current situation that back then he was ahead of his time in proposing that the plague was caused by an infectious microorganism and in suggesting effective measures to prevent the spread of the disease. He also develops an early ‘magic lantern’.

1602 - 21st May. Martha’s Vineyard is first sighted by Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, English barrister, explorer, and privateer (interesting mix!). Gosnold has also been instrumental in founding Jamestown and exploring Cape Cod.

1607- 14th May. The first permanent English settlement in America is established at Jamestown, Virginia.

1618 - 23rd May. The Thirty Years War starts with three opponents of the Reformation being thrown through a window. Known as the Defenestration of Prague, this is the “official" trigger for the war.

1626 - 4th May. Dutch explorer Peter Minuit buys Manhattan Island for 60 guilders worth of cloth and buttons from a local Chief. Those 60 guilders is the equivalent today of just over 1,000 US dollars. A bargain!

1631 - 4th May. Henriette Stuart, daughter of Charles I is born.

1631 - 20th May. The Imperial Army under Tilly storms Magdeburg in Germany after a three-day siege. The atrocities committed on the population and the burning of the town go down in history. Over 30,000 people are massacred in the ‘war crime’ that become the watchword for the fear of protestants, not least in England and Ireland, of what would lay in store for them from ‘catholic’ forces.

1630 - 29th May. The future Charles II is born.

1637 - 13th May. Cardinal Richelieu of France creates the table knife, with its blunt or rounded end. Apparently, this is to stop people picking their teeth at the table with a sharp knife. It was in the 17th century that it becomes fashionable for dinner hosts to lay out cutlery at the table.

1625 - 14th May. Barbados comes under British control.

1620 - 17th May. The first merry-go-round is noted by an Englishman passing through modern-day Bulgaria. He describes a curiosity that he happens upon as a large wheel with seats fastened to it on the outside, in which children are placed. The wheel then begins turning, with the children circling around.

1641 - 12th May. The execution of the Earl of Strafford. Forcing Charles I to send one of his staunched supporters and advisors to his death is a major coup for the growing Parliamentary cause. Charles will forever be haunted by this and 8 years later would see his own execution as punishment for his consenting to Strafford's.


Parliament win a skirmish at Grantham. Parliament storm and take Wakefield. Warrington surrenders to Parliament.

Parliament impeaches Queen Henrietta-Maria for making war on Parliament and bringing arms into the country for that purpose.

The Royalist are victorious at the Battle of Stratton.

Meanwhile in France on 19 May a French army destroys that of Spain army at the Battle at Rocroi in France, ending the domination of the Spanish Tercios. Some of us have been fortunate enough to go to Rocroi to take part in a re-enactment.


Reading is abandoned by the Royalists and occupied by Parliament.

Prince Rupert storms Bolton and massacres the defenders.

Parliament occupy Abingdon.

The siege of Lathom House, the last Royalist stronghold in Lancashire, is lifted. The valiant defence, led by the Countess of Derby, is relieved by Royalist forces under Prince Rupert. A little over a year later Lathom House will surrender to a second siege.


In Scotland, the Battle of Auldearn is a victory for the Marquess of Montrose over the Covenanter Army.

Leicester is stormed and sacked by Royalist forces under Prince Rupert.

1646 - 5th May. Charles surrenders to the Scots at Southwell, near Newark. The Scots eventually handed him over to the Parliamentarians for £400,000.

1647 - 27th May. Achsah or Alice Young becomes the first recorded American woman to be executed for being a "witch” in Salem, Massachusetts, which achieves lasting notoriety for its witch trials.

1648 - 15th May. The independence of the Netherlands is finally recognised with the Dutch and Spanish ratification of the Treaty of Munster, initially signed in January. As well as ending the Thirty Years’ War it ends the Dutch Eighty Years’ War of Independence - the struggle that some of us re-enact on our many forays to the Netherlands.

1649. Leveller mutinies among New Model Army soldiers are ruthlessly crushed at Burford in Oxfordshire.

1650 - 21st May. The leader of the Royalist cause in Scotland, the Marquess of Montrose, is hung drawn and quartered in Edinburgh.

1650 - 24th May. John Churchill, 1st duke of Marlborough and future victor at Blenheim is born.

1655 27th May. Following a successful invasion by British forces Jamaica is surrendered by Spain. See more on this later on.

1659 - 25th May. Richard Cromwell resigns as English Lord Protector. He had taken over from his father Oliver. His resignation helps pave the way for the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II.

1660 - 7th May. Isaack Fubine of Savoy in The Hague, patents macaroni. Apparently so!

1660 - 29th May. On this his 30th Birthday, the future Charles II is welcomed into London on his return from exile.

1661 - 25th May. King Charles II marries Portuguese princess Catherina the Bragança. India’s city of Mumbai is given to Charles II as dowry.

1663 - 7th May. Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, London, opens.

1671 - 9th May. Colonel Thomas Blood attempts to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. He fails!

1674 - 20th May. John Sobieski became Poland’s first King.

1678 - 31st May. The Godiva procession, commemorating Lady Godiva's legendary ride while naked, became part of the Coventry Fair.

1682 - 6th May. King Louis XIV moved his court to Versailles, France. Louis had embarked on the transformation from chateau to stunning palace.

1686 - 24th May. Gabriel Fahrenheit is born. This German physicist goes on to devise a temperature scale and introduce the use of mercury in thermometers.

1692 - 18th May. Elias Ashmole dies. He has fought on the Royalist side in the Civil War, but is best known to us for his antiquarian and scientific collection that become the foundation of the Ashmolian Museum in Oxford.