Category Archives: 13th Century London

The end of the First Barons’ War (1217)


The First Barons’ War ended on this day in 1217.  The war had broken out in  1215, when it became clear that King  John  had no intention of abiding  by the terms of the Magna Carta.   When John died in 1216, the barons  refused to recognise his son Henry III as King, and instead supported  the rival claim to the title of the French King Philippe II’s son Louis, also known as the Dauphin (*).  The Dauphin and barons  then suffered a heavy military defeat at the Battle of Lincoln in 1217, after which they were forced to retreat to their power-base in London, there  to await reinforcements from France, which in the event never arrived, the transporting  fleet  being intercepted en route (**).  There, the  Dauphin   agreed to  relinquish  his claim to England and end the war, by signing the so-called Treaty of Lambeth, brokered by William Marshall, later in 1217.  In exchange, the barons and people were given back the liberties that had been taken away under John’s unjust rule.

(*) Henry III had actually already been crowned – in Gloucester – late the previous year.  He would go on to be crowned again  in Westminster in 1220.

(**) Incidentally, two prominent Londoners were captured at the battle, namely  the aforementioned Robert FitzWalter, formerly of Baynard’s Castle, and Richard de Montfichet, of Montfichet’s Tower, both of which  had been demolished on John’s orders after the baronial conspiracy of 1212, in which FitzWalter had been implicated.

The Great Fire of 1212


On this day in 1212, there was a great fire in Southwark that reportedly killed thousands of people, many of them trapped on London Bridge.  According to a near-contemporary account:

“An exceeding great multitude of people passing the Bridge, either to extinguish or quench it, or else to gaze at and behold it, suddenly the north part, by blowing of the south wind, was also set on fire, and the people which were even now passing the Bridge, perceiving the same, would have returned, but were stopped by the fire.”

The fire badly damaged the recently-built bridge, leaving it only partially usable for years afterwards, and necessitating a partial rebuild.  It also damaged  Southwark Cathedral, necessitating a partial rebuild.


Some of the masonry  used in the rebuilding of the cathedral  was salvaged from the fire debris and shows signs of fire damage.


Rebel Barons capture London (1215)


On this day in 1215, rebel barons captured London, going  on to force the king, John to set his seal to Magna Carta on the tenth of the following month (*).

Ralph of Coggeshall wrote:

“With alliances sworn with the citizens of London via go-betweens, … the barons came to London and seized it without opposition, the citizens being busy at Mass. Having entered, the barons captured all of the King’s supporters whom they found, depriving them of their goods. They broke into the houses of the Jews, rifling store-houses and strong boxes, and having spent much time in this holy work, abundantly restuffed their own empty purses. Robert fitz Walter, Marshal of the Army of God and Holy Church, and Geoffrey de Mandeville, earl of Essex and Gloucester, vigilantly and daily reinforced the city walls with stones taken from the houses of the Jews. They could not, however, take the Tower of London, defended against them by a small but brave garrison. As soon as it became known, far and wide, that the barons had seized the royal metropolis, all, save only the earls of Warenne, Arundel, Chester, Pembroke, Ferrers and Salisbury, and amongst the barons only William Brewer … defected to the baronial party; … so that …  the King was seized with such terror that he now dared travel no further than Windsor”.

(*) The First Barons’ War broke out in late  1215, when it became clear that when John  had no intention of abiding  by the terms of the charter.   At this time, the  barons sought to have Philippe II’s son Prince Louis of France replace John as king, and indeed welcomed him to London as king in early 1216.  However, when the war ended, by the Treaty of Lambeth, brokered by William Marshall, in 1217, they agreed to accept John’s son Henry III as king (John himself having died in late  1216).

Shock and Awe in London and Paris (Matthew Paris, 1247)

Matthew Paris

According to the contemporary chronicler Matthew Paris, in his Chronica Majora and Historia Anglorum, on this day, the vigil of St Valentine,  in 1247, “there was a great earthquake in many places of England, especially in London about the banks of the Thames, destroying many houses”.

Paris was also a  Benedictine monk, scribe and illuminator of manuscripts, based at St Albans Abbey. He was of French origin.


The elephant that never remembered (Groundhog Day, 1255)

The elephant that never remembered.jpg.jpg

On this day in 1255 Louis IX of France presented to Henry III one of the wonders of the age, an African elephant, to exhibit in the Royal Menagerie in the Tower of London.  Surviving records indicate that transporting the elephant to the Tower cost £6 17s 5d; building  a special house for it there,  measuring 40’  long by 20’ wide, more than £22; and keeping it for the nine months between December 1255 and September 1256, £24 14s 3½d – and all this at a time when a knight could live comfortably for a year on £15.

The elephant even had its own keeper, one Henri(cus) de Flor.  Unfortunately, it appears that he gave it  red wine to drink, a surfeit of which eventually killed it, in 1257.  The poor creature was buried in the Tower in 1258.  A   request was later made for its bones  to be dug up and given to the Sacrist of Westminster Abbey “for doing with them what the king had instructed him”.   Sadly, there is no surviving record of what became of this request!

The menagerie was eventually closed down in the nineteenth century by the then Constable of the Tower, the Duke of Wellington, who did not want it interfering with military matters any longer.  The animals were rehomed in  Regent’s Park, in what was to become the zoo there.


Westminster Hall

1 - Exterior of Westminster Hall

2 - Interior of Westminster Hall.JPG

On this day in 1265, Simon de Montfort convened what is widely regarded as England’s first representative Parliament at Westminster Hall (before 1265, Parliament, or its precursor, had met in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey, and after 1548, it met in the then-secularised Royal Chapel of St Stephen in the Palace of Westminster).

3 - Trial of Charles I in Westminster Hall (1649)

Also, on this day in 1649, the trial for treason of Charles I began here.

Westminster Hall was originally built as a royal residence cum banqueting house by William II, Rufus,  in 1097-99; and rebuilt, with a spectacular hammerbeam roof, by Hugh Herland and Henry Yevele, for Richard II, in 1394-1401.  It once formed part of the Old Palace of Westminster, work on which is believed to have begun, under Cnut, as long ago as 1016.  Together  with the adjacent Jewel Tower, it is essentially the only part of the old palace to have survived the terrible fires of 1512 and 1834 (the present, new palace was built, in the Victorian Gothic style, between 1837-70).  It was itself damaged by fire during the Blitz of the Second World War, and has since been further damaged by Death Watch Beetle, the infestation thought to have taken hold in  timbers that had become soaked during the war-time fire-fighting.


The church of St Martin Outwich (1217)

According to John Richardson’s “Annals of London”, the first written record of the church of St Martin Outwich on Threadneedle Street dates to eight hundred years ago, to 1217.

St Martin Outwich

The church survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, but was damaged in another fire in 1765, and, although subsequently rebuilt in 1796, was eventually demolished in 1874.

Oteswich memorial (d. 1400) - Copy

At this time, the tomb of one of its  benefactors, John de Oteswich, who is thought to have died in circa 1400, was relocated to the nearby church of St Helen, Bishopsgate.

At the same time, other Medieval remains were reinterred in Ilford Cemetery, including those  of one Abigail Vaughan, who in her will had left four shillings to the parish to buy faggots to burn heretics!

“Provision for the Safe-Keeping of the City” (Henry Le Galeys, 1282)

Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts and descriptions of the historic City of London, this one written by the then Lord Mayor, Henry Le Galeys, in his “Provision for the Safe-Keeping of the City”, in 1282 …

“As to the safe-keeping of the City:- All the gates of the City are to be open by day; and at each gate there are to be two serjeants to open the same, skilful men, and fluent of speech, who are to keep a good watch upon persons coming in and going out that so no evil may befall the City.

At every parish church, curfew is to be rung at the same hour as at St Martin’s le Grand; so that they begin together, and end together; and then all the gates are to be shut, as well as taverns for wine or for ale; and no one is then to go about by the alleys or ways.  Six persons are to watch in each ward by night, of the most competent men of the ward thereto; and the two serjeants who guard the gates by day, are to lie at night either within the gates, on near thereto.

The serjeants of Billingsgate and Queen Hythe are to see that all boats are moored on the City side at night, and are to have the names of all boats; and no one is to cross the Thames at night.  And each serjeant must have his own boat with four men, to guard the water by night, on either side of the bridge”.


St Martin’s le Grand was  a Benedictine monastery,  founded  as long ago as the eleventh century, by the brothers Ingelric and Girard.  According to the  “The Chronicle of the Grey Friars”, it was demolished  under Edward VI in 1548.


Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” …

Hackney was first recorded in 1198 as Hakeneia,  in 1222, from the  Old English personal name Haca, and eg, referring to an island in or peninsula on the River Lea.  In the post-Medieval period, it became a popular location for aristocratic country houses.  It remained semi-rural until as recently as the nineteenth century.

Church of St Augustine

The church of St Augustine was originally built here sometime before 1275, possibly on the site of and older, Norman or even Saxon church.    It was subsequently rededicated to St John sometime between 1660 and 1790, and substantially demolished between 1797-98, after a  new church dedicated to St John was built nearby.  Only the tower survives.

The church of St Mary, Barnes

Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” …

Barnes was first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as  Berne, from the Old English “bere-aern”, meaning barn.

The church of St Mary   was originally built in the early Medieval period, extended in the later Medieval to post-Medieval, and again in the nineteenth to  early twentieth centuries, and substantially rebuilt in the late twentieth, following a fire in 1978.  The tower dates to the fifteenth century.

A surviving Norman archway near the south door dates to  the early twelfth century …

7 - Blocked-up Norman door

… and three Early Gothic lancet windows in the chancel to the thirteenth.

4 - General view of interior

The oldest surviving brass memorial  dates to 1508.

8 - John Wylde memorial (d. 1508)

Faint traces of wall paintings from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries came to light after the fire of 1978.