The 1550s decade ran from January 1, 1550, to December 31, 1559.
- January 6 – Spanish Captain Hernando de Santana founds the city of Valledupar, in what is now Colombia.
- February 8 – Pope Julius III succeeds Pope Paul III, as the 221st pope.
- March 12 – Arauco War – Battle of Penco: Several hundred Spanish and indigenous troops under the command of Pedro de Valdivia defeat an army of 60,000 Mapuche, in present-day Chile.
- June 12 – The city of Helsinki, Finland (belonging to Sweden at the time) is founded by King Gustav I of Sweden.
- July 7 – Chocolate is introduced to Europe.
- July 21 – The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) is approved by Pope Julius III.
- October 2 – Battle of Sauðafell
- Altan Khan besieges Beijing.
- Iceland becomes fully Protestant.
- The first grammatical description of the French language is published by Louis Maigret.
- The first book in Slovene, Catechismus, written by Protestant reformer Primož Trubar, is printed in Schwäbisch Hall, Holy Roman Empire.
- Nostradamus' first almanac is written.
- John Dee finishes his studies at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.
- Sherborne School is established.
- A navigable summit level canal is completed, between Alster and the Trave.
- Approximate date – The discovery of silver at Zacatecas and Guanajuato in Mexico stimulates silver rushes.
- January–February – Macarius, Metropolitan of Moscow, and Tsar Ivan IV of Russia preside over the reforming Stoglavy Synod ("Hundred-Chapter") church council. A calendar of the saints and an ecclesiastical law code (Stoglav) are introduced.
- January 11 – Ketumati, Burma, is conquered by Bayinnaung.
- May 1 – The Council of Trent reconvenes by order of Pope Julius III.
- May 12 – The National University of San Marcos is founded in Lima (Peru), being the first officially established university in the Americas.
- July – Invasion of Gozo: Ottoman Turks and Barbary pirates invade the Mediterranean island of Gozo, enslaving all inhabitants (estimated at 5,000 to 6,000) and transporting them to Tarhuna Wa Msalata (in modern-day Libya).
- August 15 – The Siege of Tripoli ends, with the Knights of Malta surrendering Tripoli to the Ottoman Empire.
- September 21 – The Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico is founded in Mexico City (Mexico), being the second officially established university in the Americas.
- September 30 – Tainei-ji incident: A coup in Yamaguchi, by the military establishment of the Ōuchi clan, forces their lord Ōuchi Yoshitaka to commit suicide, and the city is burned.
- October 11 – John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, de facto Lord Protector of the Kingdom of England, is created Duke of Northumberland.
- Qizilbash forces under the command of Tahmasp I raid and destroy the cave monastery of Vardzia in Georgia.
- In Henan province, China, during the Ming Dynasty, a severe frost in the spring destroys the winter wheat crop. Torrential rains in mid summer cause massive flooding of farmland and villages (by some accounts submerged in a metre of water). In the fall, a large tornado demolishes houses and flattens much of the buckwheat in the fields. Famine victims either flee, starve, or resort to cannibalism. This follows a series of natural disasters in Henan in the years 1528, 1531, 1539, and 1545.
- The fifth outbreak of sweating sickness occurs in England. John Caius of Shrewsbury writes the first full contemporary account of the symptoms of the disease.
- In Slovakia, Guta (modern-day Kolárovo) receives town status.
- Portugal founds a sugar colony at Bahia.
- Juan de Betanzos begins to write his Narrative of the Incas.
- The new edition of the Genevan psalter, Pseaumes octantetrois de David, is published, with Louis Bourgeois as supervising composer, including the first publication of the hymn tune known as the Old 100th.
- January 15 – Henry II of France and Maurice, Elector of Saxony, sign the Treaty of Chambord.
- February 12 – Pedro de Valdivia founds the Chilean city of Valdivia, as Santa María la Blanca de Valdivia.
- February 24 – The privileges of the Hanseatic League are abolished in England.
- March – The Act of Uniformity imposes the Protestant Book of Common Prayer on England.
- March 26 – Guru Amar Das becomes the Third Sikh Guru.
- April – War breaks out between Henry II of France and Emperor Charles V. Henry invades the Duchy of Lorraine, and captures Toul, Metz and Verdun.
- April 11 – Metz Cathedral is consecrated.
- April 16 – Pedro de Valdivia founds the city of La Imperial, Chile.
- May – Maurice, Elector of Saxony, captures Augsburg, and almost seizes Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor at Innsbruck, leading to the suspension of the Council of Trent.
- July – In Hungary, Drégely Castle is attacked by the Ottoman Empire. Captain Szondy and c. 140 soldiers in the castle die, after 4 days of fighting against 8,000 Turkish raiders.
- August 2
- September – In Hungary, captain István Dobó commands the breaking of the Siege of Eger, led by Kara Ahmed Pasha of the Ottoman Empire.
- September 24 – The Debatable Lands on the border of England and Scotland are divided between the two kingdoms by a commission creating the Scots' Dike in an unsuccessful attempt to halt lawlessness here, but giving both countries their modern borders.
- October 2 – The Khanate of Kazan falls to troops of Ivan IV of Russia.
- In the Persian Gulf, the Ottoman Empire Red Sea Fleet attacks the Portuguese stronghold of Hormuz, but fails to capture it.
- Spain's Bartolomé de Las Casas publishes his attack on colonial practices in the New World, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies.
- In Italy, Bartolomeo Eustachi completes his Tabulae anatomicae, presenting his discoveries on the structure of the inner ear and heart, although, for fear of the Inquisition, it will not be published until 1714.
- King Edward VI of England founds 35 grammar schools by royal charter, including Shrewsbury; Leeds Grammar School is also established.
- May – The first Royal Charter is granted to St Albans in England.
- June 26 – Two new schools, Christ's Hospital and King Edward's School, Witley, are created by Royal Charter in accordance with the will of King Edward VI of England; St Thomas' Hospital, London, in existence since the 12th century, is named in the same charter.
- July 9 – Battle of Sievershausen: Prince-elector Maurice of Saxony defeats the Catholic forces of Margrave Albert of Brandenburg-Kulmbach. Maurice is mortally wounded.
- July 10 – Four days after the death of her cousin King Edward VI of England, Lady Jane Grey is proclaimed Queen of England – a position she holds for the next nine days.
- July 19 – The Lord Mayor of London proclaims Mary I the rightful Queen, following a change of allegiance by the Privy Council; Lady Jane Grey voluntarily abdicates.
- August – English explorer Richard Chancellor enters the White Sea and reaches Arkhangelsk, going on to the court of Ivan IV of Russia, opening up trade between England and Russia.
- August 3 – Queen Mary I of England arrives in London from East Anglia.
- August 18 – John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, is tried and convicted of treason for his role in putting his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, on the throne.
- September – Anglican bishops in England are arrested, and Roman Catholic bishops are restored.
- October 6 – Şehzade Mustafa, oldest son of Suleiman the Magnificent, is executed in Konya by order of his father.
- September 23 – The Sadians consolidate their power in Morocco, by defeating the last of their enemies.
- October 27 – Geneva's governing council burns Michael Servetus at the stake, as a heretic.
- December 25 – Battle of Tucapel: Mapuche rebels under Lautaro defeat the Spanish conquistadors, and execute Pedro de Valdivia, the first Royal Governor of Chile.
- Tonbridge School is founded by Sir Andrew Judde, under letters patent of Edward VI of England.
- The xiii Bukes of Eneados of the famose Poete Virgill, the first complete translation of any major work of classical antiquity into one of the English languages, is published in London.
- In Ming Dynasty China:
- January 5 – A great fire breaks out in Eindhoven, Netherlands.
- January 12 – Bayinnaung is crowned king of the Burmese Taungoo Dynasty.
- January 25 – São Paulo, Brazil, is founded.
- February 9 – Thomas Wyatt surrenders to government forces in London.
- February 12 – After claiming the throne of England the previous year, Lady Jane Grey is beheaded for treason.
- March 18 – Princess Elizabeth is imprisoned in the Tower of London.
- April 12 – Mary of Guise becomes Regent of Scotland.
- July 23–25 – Queen Mary I of England marries King Philip of Naples, the only son of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, in Winchester, England.
- August 2 – Battle of Marciano: Senese–French forces are defeated by the Florentine–Imperial army.
- August 12 – Battle of Renty: French forces led by Francis, Duke of Guise turn back an invasion of Picardy, by Charles V.
- November – English captain John Lok voyages to Guinea.
- Mikael Agricola becomes the bishop of Turku.
- Saadi conquer the Kingdom of Fez.
- Exact center year of Counter Reformation.
- The name of the beer brewed by New Belgium Brewing Company is based on a recipe from this date, called "1554."
- Luso-Chinese agreement: Portugal reaches an agreement with the Ming Dynasty of China, to be allowed to legally trade in the province of Guangdong.
- Rao Surjan Singh becomes ruler of Bundi.
- January 22 – The Kingdom of Ava in Upper Burma falls.
- February 2 – The Diet of Augsburg begins.
- February 4 – John Rogers, burned at the stake in London, becomes the first Protestant martyr under Mary I of England.
- February 8 – Laurence Saunders becomes the second Marian Protestant martyr in England, being led barefoot to his execution by burning at the stake.
- February 9 – Rowland Taylor, Rector of Hadleigh, Suffolk, and John Hooper, deposed Bishop of Gloucester, are burned at the stake in England.
- April 10 – Pope Marcellus II succeeds Julius III as the 222nd pope. He will reign for 22 days.
- April 17 – After 18 months of siege, the Republic of Siena surrenders to the Florentine–Imperial army.
- May 23 – Pope Paul IV succeeds Marcellus II, as the 223rd pope.
- May 25 – Jeanne d'Albret succeeds Henri II, on the Navarrese throne.
- June 1 – The Treaty of Amasya between the Ottoman Empire and Safavid Persia concludes the Ottoman–Safavid War (1532–1555).
- July 12 – Pope Paul IV creates the Roman Ghetto, the first Jewish ghetto in Rome.
- September 25 – The Peace of Augsburg is signed between Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and the Lutheran Schmalkaldic League, establishing the principle Cuius regio, eius religio, that is, rulers within the Empire can choose the religion of their realm.
- October 16
- October 25 – Charles V abdicates as Holy Roman Emperor and is succeeded by his brother Ferdinand.
- Russia breaks a 60-year-old truce with Sweden by attacking Finland.
- Humayun resumes the rule of the Mughal Empire.
- Bairam Khan defeats Hindu forces at the Second Battle of Panipat.
- The Adal Sultanate in the Horn of Africa collapses.
- The Muscovy Company is chartered in England to trade with Muscovy, and Richard Chancellor negotiates with the Tsar.
- English captain John Lok returns from Guinea, with five Africans to train as interpreters for future trading voyages.
- Richard Eden publishes The Decades of the Newe Worlde or West India, a translation into English of parts of Pietro Martire d'Anghiera's De orbe novo decades, Gonzalo Oviedo's Natural hystoria de las Indias and others including the first recorded use in English of the country name 'China'.
- Negro – the Spanish term for black person – is coined.
- Gresham's School is founded by Sir John Gresham, at Holt, Norfolk in England.
- William Annyas becomes the Mayor of Youghal, Ireland, the first Jew to hold such a position in Ireland.
- John Dee is charged, but cleared, of treason in England.
- Orlande de Lassus' first book of madrigals is published, in Antwerp.
- Lorenzo de' Medici orders a violin from Andrea Amati of Cremona.
- Ripon Grammar School re-established
- January 16 – Charles I, having already abdicated as Holy Roman Emperor, resigns the Kingdom of Spain in favour of his son, Philip II, and retires to a monastery.
- January 23 – The Shaanxi earthquake, the deadliest earthquake in history, occurs with its epicenter in Shaanxi province, China; 830,000 people may have been killed.
- February 5 – Truce of Vaucelles: Fighting temporarily ends between France and Spain.
- February 14
- February 22 (approx.) – Sophia Jagiellon marries Henry V, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg.
- March 21 – In Oxford, Thomas Cranmer is burned at the stake for treason.
- November – The Truce of Vaucelles collapses, and war resumes between Henry II of France and Philip II of Spain.
- November 5 – Second Battle of Panipat: Fifty miles north of Delhi, a Mughal army defeats the forces of Hemu, to ensure Akbar the throne of India.
- The kings of Spain take control of the Flanders region, including what is now the French département of Nord.
- The Plantations of Ireland are started in King's County (now County Offaly) and Queen's County (now County Laois), the earliest attempt at systematic ethnic cleansing in Ireland, by the Roman Catholic ruler Queen Mary I of England.
- Future King Prince John, younger son of King Gustav I of Sweden becomes Duke of Finland.
- Ivan the Terrible conquers Astrakhan, opening the Volga River to Russian traffic and trade.
- The Welser banking families of Augsburg lose colonial control of Venezuela.
- Lorenzo Priuli becomes Doge of Venice.
- The false Martin Guerre appears in the French village of Artigat.
- The first printing press in India is introduced by Jesuits, at Saint Paul's College, Goa.
- March – The Takeda clan besiege Katsurayama castle in eastern Japan. The siege ends with the last stand of the castle garrison and the complete destruction of Katsurayama, allowing the Takeda to further expand in Shinano Province.
- April 12 – The Spanish settlement of Cuenca, Ecuador, is founded.
- April 30 – Arauco War – Battle of Mataquito: Spanish forces of Governor Francisco de Villagra launch a dawn surprise attack against the Mapuche (headed by their toqui Lautaro), in present-day Chile.
- June 7 – Mary I of England joins her husband Philip II of Spain, in his war against France.
- June 10 – The New Testament of the Geneva Bible, a Protestant Bible translation into English (produced under the supervision of William Whittingham, and printed in Roman type), is published in Geneva.
- August 10 – Battle of St. Quentin: French forces under Marshal Anne de Montmorency are decisively defeated by the Spanish and English under Duke Emanuel Philibert of Savoy. Montmorency himself is captured, but Philip II refuses to press his advantage, and withdraws to the Netherlands.
- September 11–October 8 – The Colloquy of Worms convenes.
- October 27 – Emperor Ōgimachi accedes to the throne of Japan.
- Özdemir Pasha conquers the Red Sea port of Massawa, for the Ottoman Empire.
- Cossack chieftain Dimitrash tries to take Azov.
- With the permission of the Ming Dynasty government of China, and for the benefit of both Western and Eastern merchants, the Portuguese settle in Macau (retroceded in 1999). Direct Sino-Portuguese trade had existed since 1513, but this is the first official legal treaty port on traditional Chinese soil, that will form a long-term Western settlement.
- Spain becomes bankrupt, throwing the German banking houses into chaos.
- Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, is refounded by John Caius.
- The following schools are founded in England:
- Welsh-born mathematician Robert Recorde publishes The Whetstone of Witte in London, containing the first recorded use of the equals sign and also the first use in English of plus and minus signs.
- January 7 – French troops, led by Francis, Duke of Guise, take Calais, the last continental possession of the Kingdom of England.
- January 9 – Geneva becomes independent from the Canton of Bern.
- January 22 – The Livonian War begins.
- February 2 – The University of Jena is founded in Thuringia, Germany.
- February 5 – Arauco War: Pedro de Avendaño, with sixty men, captures Caupolicán (the Mapuche Gran Toqui), who is leading their first revolt against the Spanish Empire (near Antihuala), encamped with a small band of followers.
- April 24 – Mary, Queen of Scots, marries Francis, Dauphin of France, at Notre Dame de Paris.
- July 13 – Battle of Gravelines: In France, Spanish forces led by Lamoral, Count of Egmont defeat the French forces of Marshal Paul de Thermes.
- July 18 – The city of Tartu, capital of the Bishopric of Dorpat (in modern-day Estonia) surrenders to Russia.
- October 17 – Postal history of Poland: King Sigismund II Augustus appoints an Italian merchant living in Kraków to organise a consolidated postal service in Poland, the origin of Poczta Polska.
- November 17 – The Elizabethan era begins in England: Catholic Queen Mary dies, and is succeeded by her younger Protestant half-sister Elizabeth, who will rule for 44 years.
- John Knox's attack on female rulers, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regiment of Women, is published anonymously from Geneva.
- Queen Elizabeth grants rest and refreshment to pilgrims and travellers who pass by the Holy Well Spring at Malvern in England.
- English explorer Anthony Jenkinson travels from Moscow to Astrakhan and Bukhara. He is the first Englishman to note that the Amu Darya changed course, to start flowing into the Aral Sea.
- January – King Philip II of Spain marries his third wife, 14-year-old Elisabeth of Valois.
- January 15 – Elizabeth I of England is crowned, in Westminster Abbey.
- February 27 – Queen Elizabeth I of England establishes the Church of England, with the Act of Uniformity 1558 and the Act of Supremacy 1558. The Oath of Supremacy is reinstated.
- March 23 – Emperor Gelawdewos of Ethiopia, defending his lands against the invasion of Nur ibn Mujahid, Sultan of Harar, is killed in battle. His brother, Menas, succeeds him as king.
- April 2–3 – Peace of Cateau Cambrésis: France makes peace with England and Spain, ending the Italian War of 1551–59. France gives up most of its gains in Italy (including Savoy), retaining only Saluzzo, but keeps the three Lorraine bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun, and the formerly English town of Calais.
- May 2 – John Knox returns from exile to Scotland, to become the leader of the beginning Scottish Reformation.
- May 13 – At Basel, the body of Dutch Anabaptist leader David Joris is exhumed and burned, following his posthumous conviction of heresy.
- June 2 – A royal edict in France makes heresy punishable by death.
- June 11 – Scottish Reformation: A Protestant mob, incited by the preaching of John Knox, sacks St Andrews Cathedral.
- June 22 – Proxy marriage in Paris of King Philip II of Spain and the 13-year old Elisabeth of Valois. On June 30, the bride's father, King Henry II of France, is fatally injured in a jousting accident at the celebrations.
- July 10 – 15-year old Francis II becomes King of France following the death of his father, Henry II. Members of the House of Guise and the new king's mother Catherine de' Medici dispute control over the kingdom.
- August 15 – Led by Don Tristán de Luna y Arellano, a Spanish missionary colony of 1,500 men, on 13 ships, arrives from Vera Cruz at Pensacola Bay, founding the oldest European settlement in the mainland U.S. (St. Augustine is founded in 1565.)
- September 4 – Gorkha state is established by Dravya Shah, beating local Khadka kings, which is the origin of current country Nepal.
- September 19 – Just weeks after arrival at Pensacola, the Spanish missionary colony is decimated by a hurricane that kills hundreds, sinks five ships, with a galleon, and grounds a caravel; the 1,000 survivors divide to relocate/resupply the settlement, but suffer famine & attacks, and abandon the effort in 1561.
- September 21 – The 15-year-old King Francis II of France is crowned at Reims. The crown is too heavy for him, and has to be held in place by his nobles.
- December 25 – Pope Pius IV succeeds Pope Paul IV, as the 224th pope.
- End of Reformation according to many historians.
- The University of Geneva is founded by John Calvin.
- Oda Nobunaga wins control of his native province of Owari.
- Margaret of Parma becomes Governor of the Netherlands, in place of her brother, King Philip II of Spain.
- Jean Nicot, French ambassador to Portugal 1559–61, describes the medicinal properties of tobacco, which he introduces in the form of snuff to the French court.
- Pope Paul IV promulgates the Pauline Index, an early version of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.
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