24 May 1487: Lambert Simnel is crowned king in Dublin

A juvenile Yorkist imposter threatens the reign of Henry VII


In the spring of 1487, Henry VII sat uneasily on his throne. It was less than two years since he had taken the crown by force at Bosworth, and he had already put down one Yorkist uprising. But then, at the end of May 1487, word reached Henry that the worst had happened. A Yorkist pretender claiming to be the young Earl of Warwick had been crowned king in Dublin, and an Irish army was on its way to England.

In reality, as Henry knew perfectly well, Warwick was safely locked in the Tower of London. The imposter was a tradesman’s son, 10-year-old Lambert Simnel (though this name is doubtful). He had been groomed by a Yorkist priest called Richard Symonds, who put it about that Warwick had escaped from the Tower and was now under his guidance. The priest then sailed to Ireland and presented young Simnel to the lord deputy, the Earl of Kildare, who was no fan of Henry VII. Kildare was also not a fool, and almost certainly knew that Simnel was an imposter – but the prospect of playing kingmaker was too tempting to resist.
On 24 May, Simnel was paraded through the streets of Dublin. At the Priory of the Holy Trinity, later Christ Church Cathedral, he was crowned king of England with a gold circlet borrowed from a statue of the Virgin Mary. Afterwards he was carried through the streets on the back of a giant Irishman, one D’Arcy of Platten.

But the plot soon began to unravel. When the rebels met Henry’s forces at Stoke Field in Nottinghamshire, the result was utter disaster for the Irish troops. For little Lambert Simnel, though, there was a surprisingly happy ending. Showing unexpected mercy, Henry gave him a job in his kitchens. Simnel reputedly later became a falconer, dying peacefully in his bed during the reign of Henry VIII. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

24 May 1612

Administrator, politician and courtier Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, died of cancer, aged 48. The son of Elizabeth I's chief minister, William Cecil Lord Burghley, he gradually took over his ageing father's role in government, becoming Elizabeth's secretary of state in 1596. Cecil played a leading role in ensuring the peaceful succession of James VI and I to the English throne, and the new monarch rewarded him and retained his services. Cecil was an enthusiastic patron of the arts and a keen builder, notably at Hatfield in Hertfordshire, where he oversaw the construction of an immense new house.

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24 May 1738: Wesley is born again

A moment in London inspires the Methodist movement

On the evening of 24 May 1738, on Aldersgate Street, in the heart of the City of London, a troubled man walked towards the moment that would change his life.

At the age of 34 John Wesley was in a state of deep despair. In October 1835 he had sailed with his brother Charles to Savannah, Georgia to set up a Christian mission. But an obscure legal dispute destroyed his reputation, and at the end of 1737 Wesley had returned to England. Now the Oxford-educated Anglican minister was drifting, his career heading nowhere.

During his trip to the colonies, Wesley had been impressed by the commitment of the Moravians, a church of Czech Protestants. It was to a Moravian prayer meeting that he was heading on the night of 24 May – and what followed was the foundational moment in the history of worldwide Methodism.

“In the evening,” John Wesley wrote in his journal, “I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

To put it simply, Wesley had been born again. Until that moment, he wrote later, “I was not a Christian” – meaning, not a real one. Now he felt convinced that only by opening themselves to Christ could individuals throw off sin and attain salvation. In the years that followed, Wesley gave an estimated 40,000 sermons, hammering home the same simple message. Few Englishmen of any generation have ever had such worldwide influence. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

24 May 1809

The first French prisoners from the Napoleonic wars arrive at Dartmoor prison, which had been built specifically to house them.

24 May 1930

Amy Johnson touched down in Darwin to become the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia. The 8,600-mile flight had taken just under 20 days.

24 May 1941

Ageing British battlecruiser HMS Hood blew up while in action with HMS Prince of Wales against German ships Bismarck and Prinz Eugen in the Denmark Strait. Of the 1,418 crew, only three survived.


24 May 1948

The SS Empire Windrush departs from Kingston, Jamaica with 492 West Indian passengers wishing to work in Britain. The ship will arrive at Tilbury after a month's voyage. Some of the migrants are given temporary accommodation in the deep level shelter at Clapham Common tube station, previously used as an air-raid shelter. Many choose to remain in the area. The ship will sink in 1954 after a fire in the engine room.

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