The so-called “Evil May Day” riots, marked by attacks on foreigners and on their places of residence and of business, took place in the City of London on and around May Day 1517, following an inflammatory speech by a Dr Beal or Bell at St Paul’s Cross, inciting the crowd “to cherish and defend themselves, and to hurt and grieve aliens for the common weal”. At the time there was considerable popular resentment towards foreigners in general and foreign merchants in particular, on account of their perceived preferential treatment by City authorities.
The riots were eventually broken up only after thousands of troops were called in and hundreds of rioters taken prisoner. The ring-leaders were then more or less immediately hanged, drawn and quartered, and their remains gibbeted. The remainder, though, despite also facing the death penalty for the treason of “breaking the peace of Christendom”, were eventually pardoned by the king, Henry VIII, probably largely thanks to pleas for mercy made by his queen, Catherine of Aragon, and by Thomas Wolsey. At this, the prisoners “took the halters from their necks and danced and sang”.
In the aftermath of the riots, the annual May Day celebrations that had taken place for hundreds of years were discontinued, and the May Pole that gave Undershaft its name was taken away.
|St Paul’s Cross.|
The present cross was put up in 1910. The previous one was put up on the same site, where the Saxons had held their “folkmoot”, in around 1191, damaged in 1382, possibly by the earthquake of that year, repaired in 1387, rebuilt in 1449, and taken down by order of Parliament in 1643 (during the Civil War).
|Plaque on St Paul’s Cross|
The wording on the Plaque reads as follows:
ON THIS PLOT OF GROUND
STOOD OF OLD “PAULS’ CROSS” WHEREAT AMID SUCH
SCENES OF GOOD AND EVIL AS MAKE UP HUMAN AFFAIRS
THE CONSCIENCE OF CHURCH AND NATION THROUGH
FIVE CENTURIES FOUND PUBLIC UTTERANCE
THE FIRST RECORD OF IT IS IN 1191AD. IT WAS REBUILT
BY BISHOP KEMP IN 1449 AND WAS FINALLY REMOVED
BY ORDER OF THE LONG PARLIAMENT IN 1643
THIS CROSS WAS RE-ERECTED IN ITS PRESENT FORM
UNDER THE WILL OF H C RICHARDS
TO RECALL AND TO RENEW
THE ANCIENT MEMORIES
St Paul’s features on four of The Lost City of London Guided Walks – further details from other parts of our website www.lostcityoflondon.co.uk