The Convention Parliament (1660)

Charles II coronation portrait by John Michael Wright

On this day in 1660, which would have been Oliver Cromwell’s 61st birthday, the “Convention Parliament” was convened for the first time, in theory as a “free parliament”, with no allegiance to either the Commonwealth or the Monarchy, although in practice as one with overwhelmingly Monarchist sympathies.  Indeed, according to Trevelyan, it was “by the letter of the law no true Parliament, because the king did not summon it, on the contrary, it summoned the king”.

On May 8th, it restored the monarchy to Prince Charles, making him King Charles II.  Charles II then went on to have executed almost all the surviving “regicides”, who had signed his father Charles I’s death warrant, thereby violating the terms of his own “Declaration of Breda”, which had promised a pardon for all crimes committed during the Civil War and inter-regnum (see Don Jordan and Michael Walsh’s “The King’s Revenge – Charles II and the Greatest Manhunt in British History”).

The Palace of Westminster, where Parliament sits, is visited, although not entered, on our “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey” standard walk, and on our “Tudor and Stuart  London” and “Legal London” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

St Mellitus’s Day

1 - Iconic image of Mellitus, St Paul's Cathedral, London

Today is the feast day of St Mellitus, who died on this day in 624.

Mellitus was a member of the Gregorian mission sent to England to convert the then-pagan Anglo-Saxons to Christianity at the turn of the sixth and seventh centuries (he was the recipient of the letter from Pope Gregory I known as the epistola ad Mellitum).  He became  the first Bishop of London in 604, and, incidentally,   the third Archbishop of Canterbury in 619.  The first St Paul’s Cathedral was built  during his Bishopric of London  in 604, and destroyed by fire in 675 (*).  As the Venerable Bede put it, in his “Ecclesiastical History of the English People”:

“In the Year of our Lord 604, Augustine, Archbishop of Britain, ordained … Mellitus to preach to the province of the East Saxons … .  … [W]hen this province … received the word of truth, by the preaching of Mellitus, King Ethelbert built the church of St Paul the Apostle, in the city of London, where he and his successors should have their episcopal see … ”.

Interestingly, Mellitus was sent into exile from London shortly after the construction of the cathedral, in 616, when the then-Christian King Sebert died, and the City and kingdom temporarily reverted to paganism  (see  also June 10th, 2014 posting, entitiled “Anglo-Saxon Londoners Reject Christianity”).  Again as Bede put it:

“In the year of our Lord 616 … the death of Sabert [Sebert], king of the East Saxons … left three sons, still pagans, to inherit his … crown.  They immediately began openly to give themselves up to idolatry, … and … granted free licence to their subjects to serve idols.  And when they saw the bishop [Mellitus] … celebrating Mass … , filled, as they were, with folly and ignorance, they said unto him … ‘We will not enter into that font, because we … do not stand in need of it, and yet we will be refreshed by that bread’.  And being … earnestly admonished by him, that this could by no means be done, nor would any one be admitted to partake of the sacred Oblation without the holy cleansing, …  they said, filled with rage, ‘If you will not comply with us in so small a matter as that which we require, you shall not stay in our province’.  And they drove him out … and his company … from their kingdom [Essex].  [And] King Eadbald  … was not able to restore the bishop to his church against the will and consent of the pagans”.

Saxon St Paul’s is discussed  on various of our walks, including the “Dark Age (Saxon and Viking) London” themed special.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

(*) The   second St Paul’s, “The Church of Paulesbyri”, was built during the  Bishopric of  Erkenwald, between 675-85,  and destroyed by the Vikings in 961.

The  third was built in 961, and destroyed by fire in 1087.

Coronacon Day (1661)

Charles II coronation portrait by John Michael Wright.jpg

On this  day in 1661, Charles II was formally crowned king at Westminster Abbey.

Samuel Pepys wrote of the occasion in his diary:

“About 4 I rose and got to the Abbey, … and ..,  with a great deal of patience I sat … till 11 before the King came in. And a great pleasure it was to see the Abbey raised in the middle, all covered with red, and a throne (that is a chair) and footstool on the top of it; and all the officers of all kinds, so much as the very fidlers, in red vests.

At last comes in the Dean and Prebends of Westminster, with the Bishops (many of them in cloth of gold copes), and after them the Nobility, all in their Parliament robes, which was a most magnificent sight. Then the Duke, and the King with a scepter (carried by my Lord Sandwich) and sword and mond  before him, and the crown too.

The King in his robes, bare-headed, which was very fine. And after all had placed themselves, there was a sermon and the service; and then in the Quire at the high altar, the King passed through all the ceremonies of the Coronacon, which to my great grief I and most in the Abbey could not see. The crown being put upon his head, a great shout begun, and he came forth to the throne, and there passed more ceremonies: as taking the oath, and having things read to him by the Bishop; and his lords (who put on their caps as soon as the King put on his crown),  and bishops come, and kneeled before him.

And three times the King at Arms went to the three open places on the scaffold, and proclaimed, that if any one could show any reason why Charles Stewart should not be King of England, that now he should come and speak.

And a Generall Pardon also was read by the Lord Chancellor, and meddalls flung up and down by my Lord Cornwallis, of silver, but I could not come by any.

But so great a noise that I could make but little of the musique; and indeed, it was lost to every body. But I had so great a lust to [piss] that I went out a little while before the King had done all his ceremonies, and went round the Abbey to Westminster Hall, all the way within rayles, and 10,000 people, with the ground covered with blue cloth; and scaffolds all the way. Into the Hall I got, where it was very fine with hangings and scaffolds one upon another full of brave ladies; and my wife in one little one, on the right hand.

Here I staid walking up and down, and at last upon one of the side stalls I stood and saw the King come in with all the persons (but the soldiers) that were yesterday in the cavalcade; and a most pleasant sight it was to see them in their several robes. And the King came in with his crown on, and his sceptre in his hand, under a canopy borne up by six silver staves, carried by Barons of the Cinque Ports, and little bells at every end.

And after a long time, he got up to the farther end, and all set themselves down at their several tables; and that was also a brave sight: and the King’s first course carried up by the Knights of the Bath.  And many fine ceremonies there was of the Heralds leading up people before him, and bowing; and my Lord of Albemarle’s, going to the kitchin and eat a bit of the first dish that was to go to the King’s table.

But, above all, was these three Lords, Northumberland, and Suffolk, and the Duke of Ormond,  coming before the courses on horseback, and staying so all dinner-time, and at last to bring up the King’s Champion, all in armour on horseback, with his spear and targett carried before him. And a Herald proclaims “That if any dare deny Charles Stewart to be lawful King of England, here was a Champion that would fight with him;” and with these words, the Champion flings down his gauntlet, and all this he do three times in his going up towards the King’s table. At last when he is come, the King drinks to him, and then sends him the cup which is of gold, and he drinks it off, and then rides back again with the cup in his hand.

I went from table to table to see the Bishops and all others at their dinner, and was infinitely pleased with it. And at the Lords’ table, I met with William Howe, and he spoke to my Lord for me, and he did give me four rabbits and a pullet, and so I got it and Mr. Creed and I got  Mr. Michell to give us some bread, and so we at a stall eat it, as every body else did what they could get.

I took a great deal of pleasure to go up and down, and look upon the ladies, and to hear the musique of all sorts, but above all, the 24 violins.

About six at night they had dined, and I went …  to Mr. Bowyer’s.

…  At Mr. Bowyer’s, a great deal of company, some I knew, others I did not. Here we staid upon the leads and below till it was late, expecting to see the fire-works,  but they were not performed to-night: only the City had a light like a glory round about it with bonfires.

…  And …  after a little stay more I took my wife …  to Axe-yard, in which at the further end there were three great bonfires, and a great many great gallants, men and women; and they laid hold of us, and would have us drink the King’s health upon our knees, kneeling upon a faggot, which we all did, they drinking to us one after another. Which we thought a strange frolique; but these gallants continued thus a great while, and I wondered to see how the ladies did tipple.

At last I sent my wife … to bed, and Mr. Hunt  and I went in with Mr. Thornbury  (who did give the company all their wine, he being yeoman of the wine-cellar to the King) to his house; and there, with his wife and two of his sisters, and some gallant sparks that were there, we drank the King’s health, and nothing else, till one of the gentlemen fell down stark drunk, and there lay spewing; and I went to my Lord’s pretty well. … Thus did the day end with joy every where; and blessed be God, I have not heard of any mischance to any body through it all … .

… Now, after all this, I can say that, besides the pleasure of the sight of these glorious things, I may now shut my eyes against any other objects, nor for the future trouble myself to see things of state and show, as being sure never to see the like again in this world”.

Westminster Abbey and Westminster Hall are visited, although not entered, on various of our walks, including the “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey – Priories, Palaces and Parliament” standard walk, and the “Medieval London” and Tudor and Stuart London” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

 

 

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Shakespeare, Aldermanbury Square.JPG

William Shakespeare was born on or around this day in 1564, and died on this day in 1616.

Although he was born and died in Stratford-upon-Avon, he spent almost the entirety of his productive working life in London, and in truth is much more a London than a Stratford figure. He arrived in London  sometime between 1585 and 1592,  and  lived in the parish of St Helen, near  “The Theatre” and the “Curtain” in Shoreditch, in 1596; in the Liberty of the Clink in Southwark, near   the “Globe”, in 1599; and in Silver Street, near  the  “Blackfriars”, in 1604.

As Peter Ackroyd put it in his marvellous “Shakespeare – The Biography” (Chatto & Windus, 2005), “Shakespeare did not need to address London directly … ; it is the rough cradle of all his drama”.  However, as Hannah Crawforth, Sarah Dustagheer and Jennifer Young suggest in their thoughtful and thought-provoking “Shakespeare in London” (Bloomsbury, 2014), he may have indirectly referenced the violence of Tyburn in “Titus Andronicus”; the political machination of Whitehall in “Richard II”; the class distinction of the Strand in “Romeo and Juliet”; the legal machination of the Inns of Court in “The Merchant of Venice”; the religiosity of St Paul’s Cathedral in “Hamlet”; the madness of Bedlam in “King Lear”; the misery of imprisonment for debt in the King’s Bench Prison in Southwark in “Timon of Athens”; the strange new world of the “cabinet of curiosity” on Lime Street in “The Tempest”; and the rich variety and cosmopolitanism of one of the first true World Cities in the form of an ever-present back-drop.  Moreover, he did set one of his most famous scenes in London, in Ely Palace: that in “Richard II” in which John of Gaunt utters the immortal words:

“This royal throne of kings, this sceptr’d isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi-paradise,

This fortress built by Nature for herself

Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in the silver sea,

Which serves it in the office of a wall,

Or as a moat defensive to a house,

Against the envy of less happier lands,

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”.

3 - Sam Wanamaker at The Globe, Southwark, in 1947

4 - Wanamaker's reconstructed Globe

5 - Wanamaker Playhouse (inside reconstructed Globe), a model for the Blackfriars Theatre.JPG

Sites associated with Shakespeare are visited on many of our walks, most particularly on our “Tudor and Stuart London” and “Tudor and Stuart City Highlights” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

English Pride Dented On St George’s Day (1390)

The joust on London Bridge on St George's Day, 1390

On this day, St George’s Day, in 1390, English pride was  dented by the defeat of the Englishman Lord Welles by the Scotsman Sir David Lindsay in a friendly joust in front of King Richard (II) – on London Bridge!  As Gordon Home put it in his Medieval London, citing  the primary source of Hector Boece:

“At the sound of the trumpets the two champions hurled themselves at each other, and either splintered his lance without effect in dismounting his adversary.  Welles had directed his spear at his opponent’s head and hit him fairly on the visor, but the Scottish champion kept his seat so steadily that some of the spectators … shouted out that Lindsay had strapped himself to his saddle.  Thereupon the gallant Scot proved his honesty by vaulting to the ground and on to his horse’s back again in his heavy armour.  A second course followed with equal fortune, but at the third Welles was fairly overthrown.  The victor at once dismounted, and in the best spirit went to assist his fallen opponent …  [and] … never failed to call daily upon him during such time as he was confined to bed by the bruises and the severe shock of the fall”.

London Bridge  is visited on our “Historic Southwark” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

The Liberation of Belsen

On April 15th, 1945, shortly before the end of the Second World War, the Nazi concentration camp at Belsen was liberated by the advancing British Army.  A total of 70,000 of the camp’s inmates were subsequently discovered to have died, or to have been killed, here over the course of the war.  Most of the dead were Jews from all over occupied Europe, including, famously,  the diarist Anne Frank, and her sister Margot, from Amsterdam in the Netherlands.  Note, though, that many  Russian Prisoners-Of-War also died  in Belsen (which had been  used as a P.O.W. camp until 1943).

The Team.JPG

Inmates being boarded onto an ambulance.JPG

On  April 21st, 1945, a team from the Friends [Quakers] Relief Service arrived to help clear the camp, to comfort the many dying inmates, and to care as best they could for the surviving ones.

My uncle, Eryl Hall Williams, was among them.  In his 1993 book,  “A Page Of History In Relief”, he wrote of the conditions encountered in the camp, in part as follows:

“All figures are unreliable, but the camp appears to have contained some 60,000 people in the worst possible conditions of overcrowding, starvation, squalor and disease.  The Army had been at work for 6 days before the Red Cross teams arrived.  All the soldiers working in Camp 1 were volunteers.  So moved were they by the frightful condition of the internees that they had given  up their month’s ration of sweets and cigarettes on their behalf, and a neighbouring unit also gave up their blankets.

The camp consisted of about a square mile of army huts, divided into three blocks, the Men’s Lager, the Women’s Lager, and outside the inner wire, the S.S. quarters.  Conditions in the Camp were not too bad until January 1945, it seems, when there was a vast influx of internees [arriving at the end of “death marches”] from camps further east.  But when the British arrived, internees were packed at about 600 per large army hut, without running water or working sanitation.  They had had nothing to eat for a week: before that for two months they had had 1 pint of swede soup each per day; before that for four months 2 pints of swede soup and a piece of bread each per day.  They were dying at the rate of 600 per day of starvation and disease [14,000 of the camp’s inmates were to die in the days and weeks immediately after the liberation].    Typhus was endemic.

The impression of the first to enter was of an enormous horde of people reduced to the animal level.  Cannibalism was said to have been witnessed by a Major of the R.A.M.C. [Royal Army Medical Corps] and is referred to in some detail in Dr. Fritz Leo’s account.  In some of the huts, the sights, smells and sounds were beyond endurance.  Everywhere was the vast concourse of scarecrow people, bodies incredibly emaciated, and faces stamped with a single expression of despair”.

 

A Synagogue in Restoration London (Joseph Greenhalgh, 1662)

first-synagogue-after-resettlement-creechurch-lane-1657.jpg

On this day in 1662, one Joseph Greenhalgh wrote in a letter to Samuel Crompton:

“Lately … I lighted upon a learned Jew with a mighty bush beard, …  with whom … I fell into conference … ; at which time he told me that he had special relation as Scribe and Rabbi to a private Synagogue … in London, and that if I had a desire to see their manner of worship … he would give me such a ticket,  as, upon sight thereof, their porter would let me in … .  When Saturday came, … I … was let … in … ,, but there being no Englishman but myself, … I was at first a little abashed to venture alone amongst all them Jews, but my innate curiosity to see things strange …  made me confident … .  I … opened the inmost door, and taking off my hat (as instructed) I went in and sate me down among them; but Lord … what a strange … sight was there … [as] would have frightened a novice … .  Every man had a large white … covering … cast over the high crown of his hat, which from thence hung down on all sides, … nothing to be seen but a little of the face; this, my Rabbi told me, was their ancient garb, used in divine worship in … Jerusalem … : and though to me at first it made altogether a strange … show, yet me thought it had in its kind, I know not how, a face and aspect of venerable antiquity ”.

On a related note, Bevis Marks Synagogue, London’s oldest surviving Sephardic Synagogue, built in 1701 (as a replacement for Creechurch Lane Synagogue, originally built in 1657), is visited, although not entered, on our “London Wall” standard walk.  And Sandy’s Row Synagogue in Spitalfields, London’s oldest surviving Ashkenazic Synagogue, founded in 1854 (on the former site of a French Huguenot Church, originally built  in 1766), is passed on our “Bishopsgate and beyond (Historic Shoreditch and Spitalfields)” standard walk.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).