This Month in UK History - May

May 19th 1536


Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII's second wife, was beheaded

Anne was queen of England from 1533 - 1536. Her Marriage to King Henry Xlll caused the split between the Catholic Church in Rome and the Church of England as Henry had to divorce his first wife before marrying Anne, a practice not allowed in the Catholic church.

Anne gave birth to the future queen of England, Elizabeth l but  when she bore Henry no sons he moved on to Jane Seymoor and had Anne arrested for treason, incest and adultery. After a swift trial she was beheaded in the Tower of London.

May 6th 1840


The Penny Black, the first postage stamp, was issued in Britain

The Penny Black was the world's first ever postage stamp. It was actually issued on May first for use on May 6th 1840.

This was the first time that stamps were used to indicate the mail was prepaid. Prior to this the receiver had to pay the postage.

Over 68 million Penny Blacks were issued and about 2% still survive today. They can be worth as little as £15 if in poor condition to as much as £1800 for mint condition stamps.

May 4th1979


Margaret Thatcher became prime minister of Britain

Margaret Thatcher became the first and only female prime minister to date on this day. She also went on to become the longest serving British prime minister of the 20th century.

She was famed for being a strong prime minster and was given the nickname of Iron Maiden by the Soviet Union. She is also famous for taking on and beating Argentina when they attempted to gain possession of the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic.

May 6th 1994


The Channel Tunnel between Calais and Folkestone was officially opened

The Channel Tunnel is a 50.5 KM undersea rail tunnel that links the UK to France. Its lowest point is 75 metres deep and at 37.9 KM the Channel Tunnel has the longest undersea section of any tunnel in the world.

The tunnel carries Eurostar passenger trains and Eurotunnel Roll-on/Roll-off vehicle transport - The largest in the world and International rail freight. 

In 1996 the US Society of Civil Engineers included the Channel Tunnel in their Seven Wonders of the Modern World

Famous Birth


Florence Nightingale, English nursing pioneer - May 12th 1820

Florence Nightingale was a celebrated nurse who became famous for her work in the Crimean War. She was known as The Lady with the Lamp because of her habit of doing her rounds to treat wounded soldiers at night.

She founded the first professional nuring school in the world at St Thomas' Hospital which is now part of King's College, University of London. The Nightingale Pledge taken by new nurses is in her honour and International Nurses Day is celebrated on her birthday.

Famous Death


Samuel Pepys, English diarist - May 25th 1703

Samuel Pepys graduated from the University of Cambridge and became a Royal Navy administrator and his influence and reforms were important in the early days of turning the Royal Navy into a professional fighting force.

However it is for his detailed diaries that he kept throughout his live that he is most famous. They are the primary source of information for the English restoration period as they give detailed eye witness accountants of great events such as the Great Plague, the Great Fire of London and the 2nd Dutch War.