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10 May: On this day in history

What events happened on 10 May in history? We round up the events, births and deaths…

Published: May 10, 2022 at 6:23 pm

10 May 1307

Robert Bruce defeats the English at the Battle of Loudoun Hill.

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10 May 1612

Mughal emperor Shah Jahan married Persian princess Arjumand Banu Begum and gave her the title 'Mumtaz Mahal', meaning 'jewel of the palace'. After she died in childbirth in 1631 her husband had Agra's Taj Mahal built as her mausoleum.


10 May 1655: Oliver Cromwell’s forces attack Jamaica

The unplanned seizure of the Caribbean island becomes a turning point in England’s scramble for foreign colonies

At the end of 1654, one of the largest fleets in English history left Portsmouth for the Caribbean. Having declared war on Spain, Oliver Cromwell had conceived a ‘Western Design’ to seize the island prize of Hispaniola. Unfortunately, the expedition was a fiasco, and the fleet’s 3,000 English marines completely failed to capture the island’s capital at Santo Domingo. “In one afternoon,” one historian has noted, “the invincible reputation of the New Model Army had been thrown away.”

Reluctant to return without a consolation prize, the admiral, Sir William Penn, turned instead to another Spanish island, Jamaica, which was much less well defended. On 10 May 1655 the fleet sailed into Cagway Bay and opened fire on the little Spanish battery. The marines disembarked and, after six days, Penn concluded a treaty with the Spanish commander, with England annexing Jamaica and all Spanish residents promising to leave.

As acquisitions go, Jamaica seemed little more than a booby prize. Within days the English victors had fallen seriously ill. When the fleet finally limped home, Cromwell was so furious at the failure to take Hispaniola that he had Penn thrown into the Tower. Yet in the long run this was a hugely significant moment. With its rich sugar resources, Jamaica transformed the English diet, and it soon became England’s chief slave colony, at the centre of the booming Atlantic trade. Above all, the English state – not just private companies – was now a key player in the scramble for colonies. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook


10 May 1768: Anti-royal protest turns bloody

Soldiers fire on supporters of radical John Wilkes in London

In early May 1768, crowds began to gather at St George’s Fields, London. After producing increasingly fierce criticisms of George III and his government, the radical journalist John Wilkes had been arrested and imprisoned. To his supporters, it was an outrage. And since St George’s Fields were next to the King’s Bench Prison, this was the obvious place for a protest.

By mid-morning, the crowd was 15,000 strong, chanting “Wilkes and liberty!”, “No liberty, no king!” and “Damn the king! Damn the government!” The atmosphere became steadily more aggressive. The justices of the peace called for troops, and a unit of horse grenadiers took up a position in front of the prison. Some of the mob started taunting them, with a man in a red coat being particularly offensive. Three soldiers chased him into an outhouse adjoining the Horseshoe Inn. In the chaos, one of the guards levelled his musket and fired, and a red-clad figure fell. A moment later, they realised their mistake: they had shot the innkeeper’s son.

Now the mood turned ugly, and more troops were summoned. The protesters began pelting the soldiers with stones; in return, the soldiers fired into the crowd. More bodies hit the ground. The demonstration had become a bloodbath.

Exactly how many people died at St George’s Fields is unknown: perhaps seven or eight, with several dozen injured. More riots followed, but eventually the passions cooled. As for Wilkes, he ended his career as lord mayor of London: the classic radical trajectory. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook


10 May 1849: Theatre fans turn nasty

Bitter feelings over a stage rivalry lead to a tragedy of epic proportions

William Shakespeare’s plays often provoke strong feelings, and Macbeth is no exception. Even so, when the British actor William Charles Macready arrived in New York in 1849 to play the Scottish usurper, he could hardly have expected that local objections to his performance would see at least two dozen people killed and more than a hundred injured.

The violence on 10 May was rooted in the long-running rivalry between Macready, probably the finest Shakespearian actor of his generation, and his American rival Edwin Forrest. Both men had toured in Britain and the US, with Macready enjoying the greater success. Even in New York, discerning patrons agreed that Macready was better. But in the aggressively nationalistic, anti-English climate of the 1840s – especially among Irish immigrants – it was dangerous to say so.

In early May, Macready was booked in to play Macbeth at the Astor Opera House in downtown Manhattan. But during his performance on 7 May, the theatre was invaded by Forrest’s working-class partisans, who ripped up the seats and threw fruit, vegetables and shoes at the stage. Not surprisingly, the shocked Macready announced that he would return to Britain immediately. But after a petition of the American literary elite, among them Herman Melville and Washington Irving, he agreed to give another performance, three days later.

The result was a disaster. By the time the curtain rose on 10 May, 10,000 people had surrounded the theatre, many of them drunk. Soon after the mob had tried to set the theatre on fire, the authorities called in the militia. Shots rang out: dozens fell. They had paid a high price for their theatrical taste. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook


10 May 1857: Indian sepoys revolt against British rule

The uprising triggers a bloody war of independence

The East India Company (EIC) dominated India throughout the 18th century, the British company raking in huge profits from trade and moulding politics across the subcontinent. But its stranglehold began to be loosened on 10 May 1857, when sepoys (Indian soldiers serving in EIC forces) revolted at Meerut, a large EIC military base. The rebellion had a domino effect, triggering uprisings across India and launching a war of independence.

Long-simmering discontent with British rule was the ultimate cause of the revolt, but the spark for the initial uprising was unexpected: cartridge grease. Rumours had spread that the new Enfield gun cartridges were greased in pig and cow fat. Cows are sacred to Hindus, and pork is prohibited to Muslims; as a result, 85 Indian troopers of the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry refused to use the cartridges during a military drill. On 9 May, British officers – indifferent to these religious views – had those men stripped, shackled and paraded through the streets as a warning against disobedience, before imprisoning them.

Rather than subduing the rest of the Indian soldiers, it had the opposite effect. Demonstrations were held in Meerut and, on 10 May, a full-scale revolt erupted. As it was a Sunday, many British officers were not on duty; some were attending church, while others were attacked in the streets by sepoys and civilians. As well as British soldiers, women and children were also killed, though most escaped or were helped to safety by loyal Indian troops – before those sepoys joined the rebellion themselves.

The uprising spilled overnight from Meerut to Delhi, 40 miles south-west, and then across north-central India. Though the revolt enjoyed initial success,the British regained control with a “take no prisoners” policy, and thousands of Indian soldiers and civilians were murdered in revenge. | Written by Helen Carr


10 May 1940

First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill became prime minister after the resignation of Neville Chamberlain following the debacle of the Norwegian campaign. | Read more about appeasement and whether it caused WW2

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10 May 1941

After flying solo across the North Sea in a Messerschmitt 110, Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler's deputy, parachuted into Scotland in what appears to have been a bid to negotiate a peace settlement with the UK.

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