History Extra logo
The official website for BBC History Magazine and BBC History Revealed

6 January: On this day in history

What events happened on 6 January in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…

Published: January 6, 2022 at 6:06 am
Try 6 issues for only £9.99 when you subscribe to BBC History Magazine or BBC History Revealed

6 January 1540: Henry VIII marries wife number four

Anne of Cleves fails to impress in the royal bedchamber


Even though Henry VIII had already married three times, his wedding with Anne of Cleves on 6 January 1540 was a day to remember, though perhaps not for the right reasons. The bride and groom had met just five days earlier, when Anne’s modest appearance had left the king famously unimpressed. But still the marriage went ahead, as to not proceed would jeopardise an important alliance with the duchy of Cleves.

The service itself, held in Greenwich by Archbishop Cranmer, was a success, and Anne’s golden wedding gown, long fair hair and glittering jewels made a great impression on the onlookers. The wedding feast was predictably lavish, and afterwards the happy couple retired to bed to consummate the marriage. Alas, this part of the proceedings was a complete disaster. When Henry surfaced the next morning, he was not in a good mood.

When Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, asked how it had gone, the king snapped: “I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse.” Later, he told friends that he had been put off by the “hanging of her breasts and looseness of her flesh”, which he said made him doubt whether she was really a virgin.

Almost certainly this was an excuse. At almost 50, heavily overweight with a painful leg ulcer, Henry himself was no oil painting. In any case, the marriage was never consummated and was over in just a few months.

Perhaps surprisingly, though, the king had always treated his wife with marked kindness. “When he comes to bed,” she told a confidante, “he kisses me and taketh me by the hand and biddeth me, ‘goodnight sweetheart’.”

Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries

6 January 1759
27-year old widow Martha Dandridge Custis marries future US President George Washington at her Virginia home which, coincidentally, is called 'The White House'.
6 January 1838
German composer Max Bruch is born in Cologne. He was conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra from 1880–83 and his Violin Concerto No 1 is still one of the most popular violin concertos of the Romantic era.
6 January 1842
Some 4,500 Anglo-Indian troops and a further 12,000 dependants and camp followers began the disastrous retreat from Kabul. The retreating army was almost completely wiped out in a week.
6 January 1863
The USS Pocahontas, a screw steamer performing blockade duty off Mobile Bay, captured the British steamer Antona, which was attempting to deliver munitions and other supplies to the Confederates.
6 January 1931
The new Sadler's Wells theatre opened with a performance of Twelfth Night. Cast members included John Gielgud as Malvolio and Ralph Richardson as Sir Toby Belch.

6 January 1661: Religious radicals launch an uprising

The Fifth Monarchists take up arms in an attempt to overthrow Charles II

Although Charles II’s restoration in 1660 may now look like it was inevitable, it did not feel that way at the time. Charles had only regained his throne after months of chaos, and there were still plenty of old Roundheads who venerated the Good Old Cause. Among them was Thomas Venner.

A former cooper, he had spent years in New England before becoming the head of the Fifth Monarchists, a radical dissenting sect who believed that Christ’s return – and the end of the world – were only a few years away.

On Sunday 6 January 1661 Venner launched his would-be revolution, bursting into St Paul’s Cathedral with a group of armed men, waving banners carrying the words “The Lord God and Gideon” and proclaiming that Christ, not Charles, was king. The lord mayor called out the London militia, but by the time they reached St Paul’s, Venner and his men had retreated north.

For the next two days, the Fifth Monarchists lay low in the woods near Highgate. Then, on 9 January, they returned in force. Samuel Pepys was woken at six that morning by “people running up and down… talking that the Fanatiques were up in arms in the City”. Pepys was sufficiently worried to arm himself with a sword and pistol, and when he ventured out he found the shops shut and the place in uproar.


Still, after hours of hard fighting, the remaining radicals were cornered in two City pubs, and Venner himself was taken after suffering 19 wounds and killing three men with a halberd. “A thing that never was heard of,” mused Pepys, “that so few men should dare and do so much mischief.”

Browse more On this day in history


Dominic SandbrookHistorian and presenter

Dominic Sandbrook is historian and presenter, and a regular contributor to BBC History Magazine


Sponsored content