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‘Evil May Day’: Re-examining the Race Riot of 1517

Graham Noble separates fact from Tudor propaganda.

The First of May in Tudor England was a traditional public holiday, normally set aside for celebration and light-hearted revelry, but on that day in 1517 the City of London exploded into a destructive race riot that must have terrified peace-loving citizens almost as much as its intended victims. The scale of the event was unique in sixteenth-century London but its interest for us lies not only in what happened and why, but also in the reaction of the authorities. The way that news was managed and the subsequent story ‘spun’ shows that the Tudor establishment, and in particular the Lord Chancellor, Thomas Wolsey, was as aware as modern politicians of the need to cover up their mistakes and uphold their reputations.

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