In the year AD 1591...
- Japanese hegemon Toyotomi Hideyoshi, having conquered all of Japan, dreams of conquering China as well. When the insolent Koreans refuse permission to allow his troops passage through the Korean peninsula, Hideyoshi orders his samurai to undertake the first of two futile attempts to conquer Korea.
- Morisco mercenaries under the pay of the Sultan of Morroco sack Timbuktu in what is now Mali, plundering its riches, killing its rulers, and exiling its scholars, and thus bringing an end to the Songhai Empire and the city of Timbuktu's centuries-long reign as a major trading hub in North West Africa. When Europeans arrive a few centuries later, little will remain of the the once mighty city except a few mud huts.
- The Dutch Revolt continues. When the Duke of Parma recalled to France by Spanish king Philip II so he can help the Catholic League lift the Siege of Paris, Dutch rebels led by Maurice of Nassau capture Zutphen, Deventer, Hulst, and Nijmegen.
- Plans for further Spanish intervention in the French war are called off, however, when the quasi-autonomous Spanish region of Aragon breaks out into open armed revolt against Philip's autocratic rule.
- In Russia, the 9-year-old tsarevitch Dimitri Ivanovitch, the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible, is found dead of a stab wound under mysterious circumstances. The official story is that he accidentally stabbed himself when he suffered a sudden epileptic seizure while playing with a knife. More likely, he was murdered at the behest of powerful minister Boris Godunov, who would later become Tsar. This incident would later lead to all sorts of craziness during the Time of Troubles, when numerous pretenders to the throne, known to history as the "False Dmitris" would appear on the scene, claiming to be the long lost Tsarevitch Dmitri.
- In a famous incident commemorated by Alfred Lord Tennyson in his poem "The Revenge," the HMS Revenge, separated from a British fleet because it had stopped to pick up some of its crew who had been recovering on shore from a bout of fever, is spotted by a fleet of 53 Spanish treasure galleons. The commander of the Revenge, Sir Richard Grenville, has an opportunity to flee, but decides to attack, despite being severely undermanned and outnumbered 53-1. Amazingly, Grenville and the crew of the Revenge manage to damage 15 of the galleons and sink two of them before they are finally boarded and captured. Grenville later dies of his wounds, and a few days later the captured Revenge along with 16 more Spanish galleons are sunk by a sudden cyclone.
- William Shakespeare has a productive year, wrapping up work on his Henry VI trilogy of plays, penning a new comedy, The Taming of the Shrew, and beginning work on a long series of sonnets addressed to an unknown lover.
- Sir Philip Sidney's sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella is published for the first time, five years after his death.
- The city of Hyderabad, India is founded by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, a ruler of the city-state of Golconda, when his old capital at Golconda runs out of water.
These people were born in 1591:
These people died in 1591:
- Japanese tea master Sen no Rikyu, having been ordered to commit suicide by his patron Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
- Spanish Carmelite friar and poet Saint John of the Cross.
- Spanish poet Luis Ponce de León.
- Venetian courtesan and poet Veronica Franco.
- Pope Gregory XIV, succeeded by Pope Innocent IX.
- Pope Innocent IX, succeeded by Pope Clement VIII.
- British adventurer Sir Richard Grenville, of wounds suffered while commanding a British fleet in battle against Spanish treasure galleons off the Azores.
- Italian Jesuit priest Saint Aloysius Gonzaga.
- Scottish religious reformer John Erskine of Dun.
- 3-year-old Toyotomi Tsurumatsu, the only son of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, leaving his father's legacy in doubt.
- Japanese warlord Toyotomi Hidenaga, half-brother of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
- Noted Italian composer Vincenzo Galilei, the father of famous astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei.
- Dimitri Ivanovitch, the 9-year-old son of Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible, probably of murder but possibly as stated in the official story that he accidentally stabbed himself with a knife during an epileptic seizure.
1590 - 1591 - 1592