On this day in 1661, the cooper Thomas Venner was hanged, drawn and quartered for high treason, for attempting, with fifty or so following so-called “Fifth Monarchists”, to overthrow the recently restored King Charles II and seize London in the name of “King Jesus”. (They believed Him about to return, in fulfilment of a prophecy in the Book of Daniel that Four Monarchies would precede the Kingdom of Christ – the Babylonian, Persian, Macedonian and Roman).
Venner and his men, many of whom were veterans of the Parliamentarian New Model Army of the Civil War, had earlier in the month congregated in Swan Alley, descended upon and occupied St Paul’s, accosted passers-by and asked them who they were for, and shot dead one man who answered that he was for Charles. They had then gone on the run, and on the rampage, for several days, with Venner personally responsible for three murders, committed with a halberd, on Threadneedle Street (*). The men were finally surrounded by an overwhelmingly superior force of troops, according to one colourful account, in the Helmet Tavern on Threadneedle Street and the Blue Anchor on Coleman Street, where they made a last stand, and were either killed or captured (after troops broke in from roof level, smashing aside the roof tiles with the butts of their muskets). Venner himself was captured, after being wounded no fewer than nineteen times, and then tried and convicted at the Old Bailey for his crimes.
Swan Alley is visited on our “Rebellious London” themed special.
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(*) A number of people killed in the rebellion were buried in the Bedlam Burial Ground off Bishopsgate.