1 January

1540: Henry VIII meets his bride-to-be, Anne of Cleves

Bored of waiting for his bride, Henry had decided to welcome her with what he considered a hilarious prank. He and a group of friends rode to Rochester in matching hoods and capes, like Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Out of politeness, though, he sent Browne ahead to warn her.


As Anne stared at Browne in bewilderment, he knew she was wrong for Henry. He had, he later recalled, never been “more dismayed in all his life”.

2 January

1769: The schools of the Royal Academy of Arts meet for their first session in Pall Mall, London

Academy President Joshua Reynolds delivers the first of his famous 'discourses' on art.

3 January

1888: Marvin Stone patents the paper drinking straw

4 January

1642: Charles I leads troops into the House of Commons to arrest the Five Members

Portrait of King Charles I by Sir Anthony van Dyck.
Portrait of King Charles I by Sir Anthony van Dyck. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images via Getty Images).

By the end of 1641, relations between Charles I and his parliament were close to collapse. And, on 4 January, Charles acted. In violation of convention, Charles I led a troop of armed men into the Commons and took the seat of the Speaker, William Lenthall. But as he looked around, the Five Members were nowhere to be seen. “I see the birds have flown,” Charles said drily, and asked Lenthall where they were. Lenthall fell to his knees. “May it please your majesty,” he said, “I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this house is pleased to direct me whose servant I am here.”

Charles strode out in high dudgeon, the five MPs still in hiding. Six days later he left London and began raising an army.

5 January

1919: The German Workers' Party, the forerunner of the Nazi Party, is formed in Munich

In September Adolf Hitler joins the party, which will change its name in 1920 to the National Socialist German Workers' Party.

6 January

1661: The Fifth Monarchists take up arms in an attempt to overthrow Charles II

On Sunday 6 January 1661, Thomas 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.”

Famous births in January

3 January 1892

John Ronald Reuel (JRR) Tolkein, scholar and author 

4 January 1809

Louis Braille, developer of written communication for visually impaired people.

8 January 1871

James Craig, later 1st Viscount Craigavon. The son of a prosperous whiskey distiller, Craig became the first prime minister of Northern Ireland in June 1921 

10 January 1769

Michel Ney, who was dubbed "the Bravest of the Brave" for his role as French marshal during Napoleon's retreat from Moscow

15 January 1918

Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Egyptian leader

16 January 1908

Ethel Merman, New York singer and star of a string of Broadway musicals including Anything Goes, Annie Get Your Gun, and Gypsy

17 January 1863

David Lloyd George, who would replace Herbert Asquith as prime minister

18 January 1882

Alan Alexander 'AA' Milne, poet, playwright, and Winnie the Pooh creator

19 January 1809

Edgar Allan Poe, poet, critic, and writer

22 January 1561

Francis Bacon, statesman and philosopher

22 January 1788

George Gordon Byron, poet, and the son of Captain John "Mad Jack" Byron, a philandering spendthrift, and Catherine Gordon, a rich Scottish heiress | Read more about the scandolous Byrons 

Famous deaths in January 

3 January 1959

Edwin Muir, Orcadian poet, novelist, and academic

4 January 1761

Stephen Hales, botanist, chemist, and inventor

5 January 1858

Joseph Count Radetzky, a veteran of the Napoleonic wars

11 January 1891

Georges-Eugene Haussmann, French civic planner who remodelled Paris in the 1850s and 1960s

11 January 1928

Thomas Hardy, poet and novelist

13 January 1941

James Joyce, Irish novelist and poet

20 January 1779

David Garrick, actor and theatre manager

21 January 1932

Lytton Strachey, writer, critic author, and a founder member of the Bloomsbury Group

21 January 1959

Cecil B DeMille, American film director, producer and screenwriter

26 January 1823

Edward Jenner, physician and pioneer of smallpox vaccine | Read more about the history of vaccination 

31 January 1788

Charles Edward Stuart, 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'

7 January

1913: Standard Oil chemist William Merriam Burton receives a US patent for his thermal cracking process

This doubled the yield of gasoline from a barrel of crude oil.

8 January

1697: Britain’s last execution for blasphemy takes place

In the mid-1690s, Edinburgh’s library had one of the finest collections in the country, including provocative, supposedly ‘atheistical’ works by philosophers such as Descartes, Hobbes and Spinoza. 20 year old Thomas Aikenhead plunged in with gusto. But he made the mistake of telling his friends what he was reading. This was no time to be a free thinker: the Scottish authorities had recently ordered a crackdown on “atheistical, erroneous or profane or vicious” literature. Thomas’s friends talked and, in the autumn of 1696, he was arrested and charged with blasphemy.

More like this

On Christmas Eve, young Thomas was sentenced to death. Only the strictest punishment, insisted the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly, would stamp out “the abounding of impiety and profanity in this land”. On the morning of 8 January, he made the long walk to the gallows. In a last letter, he insisted that it was only natural to “have an insatiable inclination to the truth”. He was the last person ever executed for blasphemy in Britain.

9 January

2007: Steve Jobs unveils the first iPhone

Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds up the new iPhone that was introduced at Macworld on January 9, 2007 in San Francisco, California.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds up the new iPhone that was introduced at Macworld on January 9, 2007 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

“Thank you for coming,” said the thin, bespectacled man in the black polo neck and Levi’s jeans. “We’re going to make some history together today.”

At last it was time for the new product to be revealed. “This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for two and a half years,” he said. “Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything... Well, today, we are introducing three revolutionary products.”

These were, he said, “a widescreen iPod with touch controls”, a “revolutionary mobile phone”, and a “breakthrough internet communications device”. “An iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator,” he repeated. “An iPod, a phone... are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. This is one device, and we are calling it... iPhone.”

10 January

1863: The London Underground opens to a sceptical public

“For the first time in the history of the world,” said The Daily News, “men can travel in pleasant carriages, and with considerable comfort, lower down than gas pipes and water pipes… lower down than the graveyard.”

11 January

AD 630: Muhammad conquers Mecca

After eight years away, having converted thousands to his cause, Muhammad returned to Mecca, with 10,000 armed supporters.

There was remarkably little bloodshed. Only a few locals tried to resist, and those who weren’t killed quickly surrendered. When Muhammad took control, he ordered virtually no reprisals. Only 10 of his leading opponents were arrested, and not all were killed. “He who lays down arms will be safe. He who locks his door will be safe,” he told the people of Mecca. “There is no reproof against you. Go your way, for you are free.”

12 January

1895: The National Trust is founded

The National Trust was rooted deep in the soil of Victorian Britain. The key figure was Octavia Hill, a high-minded reformer who had long believed that working people should have access to “the life-enhancing virtues of pure earth, clean air and blue sky”.

A painting of Octavia Hill, by John Singer Sargent.
A painting of Octavia Hill, by John Singer Sargent. (Photo By RDImages/Epics/Getty Images)

Back in 1876 she had helped her sister Miranda found a Society for the Diffusion of Beauty, which campaigned for open spaces to “bring beauty home to the poor”. “We all want quiet,” she explained, “a few acres where the hill top enables the Londoner to rise above the smoke, to feel a refreshing air for a little time and to see the sun setting in coloured glory which abounds so in the Earth God made.”

At the same time, Hill was working with her friend Hardwicke Rawnsley, an Anglican clergyman, and the solicitor Sir Robert Hunter to protect the Lake District from quarrying in the fells. At the end of 1893, the three of them met at the office of the Commons Preservation Society, Britain’s oldest conservation group, to discuss a new trust specifically to buy sites for the nation as a whole. Back in 1885, Hill had proposed calling it the Commons and Gardens Trust. But Hunter suggested a simpler name: the National Trust.

13 January

1898: Zola attacks France’s anti-Semitism

As the people of Paris trudged to work on 13 January 1898, one title on the newsstands caught their attention. On the front page of the socialist newspaper L’Aurore (‘The Dawn’), the headline read simply: “J’Accuse …!” In smaller print were the words: “Letter to the president of the Republic. By Emile Zola.”

14 January

1878: Alexander Graham Bell demonstrates the telephone to Queen Victoria at Osborne House, Isle of Wight

Calls are made to nearby Osborne Cottage as well as to Cowes, Southampton and London.

15 January

1559: The coronation of Queen Elizabeth I takes place in Westminster Abbey

The date had been specially chosen on the astrological advice of the noted Tudor scholar and mystic Dr John Dee. The previous day Elizabeth had ridden in state from the Tower of London to Whitehall in a display of pageantry that cost the Queen alone the sum of £16,000. Most of England's bishops were too old, infirm, unacceptable to the Queen or unwilling to serve so it is left to the very junior Bishop of Carlisle, Owen Oglethorpe, to carry out the actual coronation ceremony.

16 January

1912: Scott’s Antarctic dreams are dashed

Tuesday 16 January 1912 ought to have been the happiest day of Robert Falcon Scott’s life. After years of preparations, his British expedition team were only a few miles from the south pole, and on the brink of one of the greatest achievements in the history of exploration. And then – disaster.

Scott’s journal entry that night captured his dreadful disappointment. “The worst has happened, or nearly the worst,” he wrote. Not long after they had set off in the morning, one of his men had spotted a mysterious ‘black speck’ in the distance. “We marched on, and found that it was a black flag tied to a sledge bearer; near by the remains of a camp; sledge tracks and ski tracks going and coming and the clear trace of dogs’ paws – many dogs. This told us the whole story. The Norwegians have forestalled us and are first at the pole.”

Not even Scott’s habitual sang-froid could mask his shock that the rival Norwegian team, led by Roald Amundsen, had got there first.

17 January

1929: Popeye the Sailor makes his first appearance as a minor character in Elzie Crisler Segar's long-running Thimble Theater comic strip

Popeye reaches for a can of spinach in a still from a film, c. 1945.
Popeye reaches for a can of spinach in a still from a film, c. 1945. (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Courtesy of Getty Images)

18 January

1283: During the final stages of his second war of conquest in Wales, Edward I gained control of the Conwy valley by capturing the native Welsh castle of Dolwyddelan

19 January

1511: Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk to give thanks for the birth of a son

The king presented a ruby collar to be hung around the neck of the shrine's statue of the Virgin Mary. A few weeks later, however, the royal child died. In 1538, during Henry's dissolution of the monasteries, such shrines were destroyed, and the statue of the Virgin was taken to Chelsea to be publicly burned alongside other religious images.

20 January

1265: England’s first parliament meets

The first parliament in English history met on 20 January 1265, but it was so different from its modern-day equivalent that the two can barely be compared. It was called not by the king – the decent, dithering Henry III – but by the rebellious magnate Simon de Montfort, who had become the standard-bearer for the cause of the barons against the monarchy.

Little detail about this first parliament survives, and it seems to have broken up within a month. But it established a vital principle, and when Henry’s son Edward I summoned the ‘Model Parliament’ 30 years later, he too invited knights and burgesses, as well as representatives from each city, all of whom were elected.

So perhaps de Montfort’s reputation as the accidental godfather of parliamentary democracy is not entirely false, even if he was far from being a democrat.

21 January

1663: Wiltshire antiquary John Aubrey is elected a member of the Royal Society

Although an early student of the stone circles at both Avebury and Stonehenge, Aubrey is best known for his collection of biographical essays, Brief Lives.

22 January

1901: Queen Victoria dies after 63 years on the throne

Engraved portrait of Queen Victoria, by H B Hall.
Engraved portrait of Queen Victoria, by H B Hall. (Photo by Kean Collection/Getty Images)

The queen breathed her last at about 6.30pm on 22 January, with almost all her family gathered around her bed. At the top were her doctor, Sir James Reid, and – of all people – her bombastic grandson Kaiser Wilhelm II, who was typically determined to hog the limelight. When she died, Turi was placed on her deathbed to honour her last request.

23 January

1571: Queen Elizabeth I opens and names London's Royal Exchange

It had been founded five years earlier by Sir Thomas Gresham in a bid to compete with the Antwerp Bourse as a centre for foreign trade.

24 January

AD 41: Claudius becomes emperor

When the Roman aristocrat Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus, better known simply as Claudius, awoke on 24 January AD 41, he never imagined he would end the day as emperor. His nephew Caligula, in charge for almost four years, was still a young man. A sickly, scholarly figure, Claudius was 50 years old and had never been seen as a serious political figure. There seemed no reason for that to change.

And then, suddenly, everything was thrown into flux. During the Palatine Games, which were held to honour his ancestor Augustus, Caligula was murdered by the Praetorian Guard. The conspirators hoped – among other aims – to restore senatorial rule, but in the meantime, Caligula’s German bodyguards rampaged through the palace.

Claudius ran for his life. “In great terror at the news of the murder,” wrote the biographer Suetonius, “he stole away to a balcony hard by and hid among the curtains which hung before the door.” But there he was spotted by a soldier called Gratus – and for a moment, it seemed that his luck had run out.

Gibbering in fear, Claudius begged for mercy. But according to the historian Josephus, “Gratus smiled upon him, and took him by the right hand, and said: ‘Leave off, sir, these low thoughts of saving yourself, while you ought to have greater thoughts, even of obtaining the empire... Go to, therefore, and accept the throne of thy ancestors.’”

Claudius was still too terrified to walk, so Gratus and his friends carried him. Here, they shouted, was their new emperor.

25 January

1971: Idi Amin seizes power in Uganda while the country's president, Dr Milton Obote, is out of the country attending a Commonwealth conference in Singapore

President Idi Amin.
President Idi Amin. (Photo by GettyImages)

26 January

1871: The Rugby Football Union is founded at the Pall Mall Restaurant on Regent Street

Twenty-one clubs were represented at the meeting. The London club Wasps were not present – although invited, they turned up at the wrong pub on the wrong day.

27 January

1820: Explorers catch sight of Antarctica for the first time

On 27 January, the fog lifted. It was, Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen remembered, the “most beautiful day”, icily cold but with clear skies and bright sunshine. And then he saw it: a headland away to the north, which “ended in a high mountain which was separated by an isthmus from another mountain chain extending to the south-west”. This was no little island; this, he told his men triumphantly, was Antarctica itself. He called it Alexander I Land, after the tsar he served.

28 January

1813: Pride and Prejudice is published

On 28 January 1813, the novel made its first appearance in the bookshops, bound in three handsome volumes and priced at 18 shillings. Though it was hardly an instant bestseller, its reputation soon began to grow.

“Buy it immediately,” playwright Richard Sheridan told a friend, adding that it was “one of the cleverest things” he had ever read.

29 January

1863: At least 250 Native American men, women and children are killed

Colonel Patrick Connor and a detachment of California volunteers attacked a group of the Shoshone tribe who were camped on the Bear River in present-day Idaho.

30 January

1948: Gandhi is assassinated on his way to prayer

Mahatma Ghandi enjoys a laugh with his two granddaughters Ava and Manu at Birla House in New Delhi.
Mahatma Ghandi enjoys a laugh with his two granddaughters Ava and Manu at Birla House in New Delhi. (Photo by GettyImages)

The clock had ticked past 5pm on 30 January 1948, and in the garden at Birla House, New Delhi, Mohandas Gandhi was running late. At the age of 78, the leader of India’s independence struggle still played a prominent role in the politics of the subcontinent, and had only recently completed a fast in protest at the violence between Hindus and Muslims. Now, the day’s business concluded, he and his great-nieces were on their way to a prayer meeting.

Outside, a crowd of several hundred schoolchildren, businessmen, holy men and even street-sellers was waiting. As Gandhi approached, one man pushed his way to the front. “Bapu [Father] is already 10 minutes late, why do you embarrass him?” asked Gandhi’s great-niece, Manuben. At that, the man pushed her aside, so that she dropped the rosary and notebook she was carrying. Then he levelled his Beretta pistol, and fired.

31 January

1971: Launch from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida of the Apollo 14 space mission


Crewed by Alan Shepard, Stuart Roosa and Edgar Mitchell, it became the third Apollo mission to land men on the moon.