April 30, 1517: Evil May Day (England’s History of Anti-Immigrants Goes Way Back)

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A Brief History

On April 30, 1517, oddly enough the day before May Day, riots in London, England broke out known as Evil May Day (alternately, Ill May Day).  English apprentices and businessmen had grown afraid of losing their jobs or business to foreigners coming from Continental Europe and setting up shop in London, taking jobs and business away from English workers and owners.

Digging Deeper

Resentment against foreigners has reared its ugly head again and again over the years in England and recently in the United States and other European countries as well.  Xenophobia is apparently nothing new and is certainly alive and “well” in today’s world.

A certain Dr. Bell had delivered a fiery speech denouncing these foreign workers and businessmen at the behest of a broker, John Lincoln, on Easter Tuesday preceding the riots.  The people were properly whipped into a resentful frenzy, leading cautious authorities to announce a curfew for 9 pm on the evening of April 30, 1517.

Irate at being told to clear the streets, apprentices gathered by at least 1000 strong in the unfortunately named Cheapside area and confrontation quickly turned into riot, with foreign residences and businesses being vandalized and looted.  By around 3 am after 300 arrests things seemed to calm down, and those arrested were pardoned by King Henry at the urging of his wife, Catherine of Aragon.  Unfortunately for the unlucky number of 13 rioters convicted of treason that night, those 13 were executed on May 4, 1517 as apparently even a King’s patience and sympathy has limits.  Dr. Lincoln himself was also hanged on May 7, 1517 for instigating the unrest.

A view of Cheapside published in 1837

London was occupied by over 5000 troops after the riot, and once the pardoned prisoners had been released no further riots broke out.

We have previously reported on the “Rivers of Blood” speech and other xenophobic events and would like to remind the British people that they themselves have historically shown up in numerous places where they were the unwanted guests!  (Colonialism?)

Question for students (and subscribers): Your opinions about immigration policies then and now are appreciated, so please share them in the comments section below this article, whether you are pro- or anti-immigration.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Everett-Green, E.  Evil May-Day: A Story of 1517.  Nelson, 1896.


About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.