Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts and descriptions of the historic City of London, this rather wonderful – if in part fanciful – one from “The Singularities of London”, written, originally in French, by L. Grenade in 1578 …
“On the foundation of London, its names, its site and the River Thames
There is a certain fool (but entirely ignorant of history) who has written that England was formerly called Britain, since its language was brief and concise. This stupid etymology, however, is most worthy of such a dullard. In fact, it endows him with ears longer than those of an ass, for this name comes from an excellent Trojan named Brutus, … who bestowed on England the name of Britain from his own name … .
This Brutus of whom I speak, having long wandered hither and thither … following the total ruin of Troy, finally reached the island called at that time Albion. And, since the country seemed a suitable place to end his … travails, having chosen a location on the River Thames, he began to build a city. This was in the year of the world 2855, and 1188 years before the coming of … Christ. This clearly demonstrates the antiquity of the city, … that we now call London.
So, having begun to build his city, Brutus … named it New Troy. And this name remained until the coming of King Lud, who in the year 68 before … Christ, called it Ludunum after his own name. But since then, over time, a change has been made and it has been called Londinium … .
Now, Brutus could not have selected a place … more fitting nor more rich in everything required for the location of a place more perfect in all respects. And to prove this, I will first relate something of the neighbouring places so as to add greater lustre to all the rest.
Let us consider therefore (but with wonder) the environs of this noble city. … [I]f we stand in the elevated place called Highgate, we have from there a full view of the city which with its buildings is wondrously pleasing on the eye, and in its shape and situation alongside the river, describes an arc of very beautiful form. Then, if we cast our gaze from there towards the east, we follow the Thames flowing gently into the arms of its father the Ocean. And turning towards the south, we see that lovely and rich county of Kent … , as full of delight as it is of fertility. Finally, let us look west and north towards the descent of the Thames to the sea. O what joy to see the level plain extending as far as the eye can see, very fertile in all things.
Now let us come to the site itself of this excellent city, which lies beside a great river called the Thames, which brings great profit and convenience to the said city. The length of this river is 30 French leagues … . This river conveys large vessels of between two and 300 toms burden to the aforementioned city : … by which means all manner of goods from all countries abound here. The great ships which approach it are accustomed on entering – and when they are opposite the magnificent royal Tower – to salute the city with great cannon shots, as if rendering thanks to God … .
London is situated in the midst of a beautiful and spacious plain, which ensures that the city is well aired. She is encompassed on all sides by beautiful meadows … , gardens and cultivable lands, which, on account of their fertility, yield much produce each year.
The villages (of which there is a great number in the environs) are … only about two harquebus shots distant from the city. Therefore, people go there in great numbers on holidays when the weather is good”.