Category Archives: 15th century London

Henry V’s triumphal return to London after Agincourt (1415)

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Image courtesy of “Look and Learn” (www.lookandlearn.com)

On this day in 1415 took place Henry V’s triumphal return to  London after his famous  victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt on October 25th.  An anonymous author wrote the following eye-witness account:

“[T]he citizens went out to meet the king at the brow of Blackheath, … the mayor and … aldermen in scarlet, and the … lesser citizens in red cloaks with red-and-white party-coloured hoods, to the number of about 20000 … . And when the king came through the midst of them … and the citizens had given glory and honour to God, and congratulations to the king … the citizens rode before him towards the city, and the king followed … .

When they arrived at the … bridge … there placed on the top of the tower was  an enormous figure, with … the keys of the city hanging from a staff in his … hand … .

… And when they reached the … aqueduct in Cornhill they found the tower hidden under a scarlet cloth stretched in the form of a tent, on spears hidden under the cloth.  Surrounding … were the arms of St George, St Edward, St Edmund and of England, … inset with this pious legend: ‘Since the king hopes in the Lord and in the mercy of the highest, he shall not be moved’.  Under a covering was a band of venerable white-haired prophets, … who released, when the king came by, sparrows and other small birds in great cloud as a …  thanksgiving to God for the victory He had given …, while [they] sang in a sweet voice … [a] psalm … .

Then they went on to the tower of the conduit at the entrance to Cheapside which was decked with an awning of green … and erected to resemble a building.

… And when they came to the [Eleanor] cross in Cheapside … it was hidden by a beautiful castle of wood … .

… And when they came to the tower the conduit at the exit to Cheapside towards St Paul’s, … above the tower was stretched a canopy sky-blue in colour … and the top … was adorned by an archangel in shining gold … .  Below … was a figure of majesty represented by a sun darting out flashing rays … .

… Such was the dense throng of people in Cheapside … that a bigger or more impressive crowd had never gathered before in London.

But the king himself went along, amidst … the citizens, dressed in a purple robe, not with a haughty look and a pompous train … but with a serious countenance and a reverend pace accompanied by only a few of his most faithful servants; following him, guarded by knights, were the captured dukes, counts and the marshal.   From his silent face and … sober pace it could be inferred that the king … was giving thanks and glory to God alone and not to man.  And when he had visited the sanctuary of SS Peter and Paul, he rode away to his palace of Westminster, escorted by his citizens”.

The execution of  Margery Jordemaine, the “Witch of Eye” (1441)

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“There was a Beldame called the wytch of Ey

Old mother Madge her neyghbours did hir name

Which wrought wonders in countryes by heresaye.

Both feendes and fayries her charmyng would obay

And dead corpsis from grave she could uprere.

Suche an inchauntresse, as that tyme had no peere”.

On this day in 1441, Margery Jordemaine, the so-called “Witch of Eye” was burnt at the stake at Smithfield for alleged treason – specifically, for her part in a conspiracy  to kill the then King, Henry VI,  through witchcraft.  The event went on to be immortalised by Shakespeare in his play about the king.

Contrary to popular belief, the burning of witches was evidently  a comparatively rare event in Medieval England.  Malcolm Gaskill, in his book Witchfinders, published in 2005, records  that only 3 witches were burned in England between 1440-1650 (although also that a further 200 were hanged).

Jack Cade’s rebellion (1450)

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On this day in 1450 Jack Cade, alias Mortimer,  and thousands of armed supporters entered London “to punish evil ministers and procure a redress of grievances”.  Cade went on to strike  the “London Stone” on Cannon Street  with his sword, and declare himself “Lord of this City” (*); and in this capacity to oversee the show-trial at the Guildhall and subsequent execution on Cheapside of the corrupt Lord High Treasurer, James Fiennes, Baron of Saye and Sele, and his son-in-law William Crowmer.    Unfortunately for Cade, in succeeding days he lost what support he had for his cause among the citizens of London, as his followers descended into drunken  rioting and looting in the City.  Eventually, on July 8th, the citizens drove him and his followers from the City, after a pitched battle on London Bridge, during which scores of combatants were killed (**).

(*) An act  immortalised thus by Shakespeare in “Henry VI Part II”, Act IV, Scene VI:

“Now is Mortimer Lord of this City.  And here, sitting upon London-stone, I charge and command that, of the city’s cost, the pissing-conduit run nothing but claret wine this first year of our reign.  And now, henceforward, it shall be treason for any that calls me other than Lord Mortimer”.

(**) Cade was later captured and executed in Sussex,  whereupon  his   body was brought to London and beheaded and quartered in the King’s Bench Prison in Southwark, and his head was put upon a pike on London Bridge.

The Battle of Deptford Bridge (1497)

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On or around this day in 1497, around 10000 – lightly – armed Cornish rebels gathered on Blackheath preparatory to marching on London to protest against oppressive royal rule and punitive taxation (suspension of the privileges of the “Stannary Charter” of 1305).  Unfortunately for them, they failed to rally  any support there from the Kentish, who were rightly fearful of a reprisal of the sort that had been meted out to them for their support of the Peasants’ Revolt in  1381 and Jack Cade’s rebellion in 1450.  It was thus a comparatively  weak force, further diluted by desertion,  that eventually lighted out  for London, and certainly one that was easily crushed by the king’s 20000-strong professional army  at the Battle of Deptford Bridge (also known as the Battle of Blackheath).  Contemporary records indicate that between two hundred and two thousand Cornishmen were killed in the battle, along with between eight and three hundred of the king’s men.  The principal rebel leaders   Michael Joseph the Smith (An Gof) and Thomas Flamank were  captured at the battle and hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn ten days later, whereupon their heads were put up on pike-staffs on London Bridge.  Flamank was quoted as saying  “Speak the truth and only then can you be free of your chains”.  Nonetheless, the persecution and pauperisation of the Cornish continued for many years to come.

 

The execution of Lord Chamberlain Hastings (1483)

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On this day in 1483, Lord Chamberlain Hastings was summarily beheaded in the Tower of London on the orders of the Duke of Gloucester, purportedly for plotting to kill him.  The death of Hastings removed one of the last obstacles standing between the ambitious Gloucester and the crown (Hastings having been  a supporter of the rival claimant, the recently deceased Edward IV’s son, also named Edward – one of the similarly ill-fated “Princes in the Tower”).  Gloucester was duly offered the crown in Baynard’s Castle on June 26th – becoming Richard III.

 

The Bastard Fauconberg’s assault on London (1471)

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During “The Wars of the Roses”, between 1455-85, London was an important centre of political machination, and the Tower, the scene of a series of chilling politically motivated murders, in forgotten dreadful cubicles behind great locked doors.

There was also some actual action in the City; and indeed there were pitched battles on its outskirts, at St Alban’s in 1455 and 1461, and  at Barnet in 1471.

On May 14th, 1471, London’s  Yorkist garrison was bombarded and then assaulted, as the contemporary “Chronicle of London” put it, “on alle sydys”, by Lancastrian forces  under the privateer Thomas Nevill, illegitimate son of William Nevill, Lord Fauconberg, and otherwise known as the Bastard Fauconberg.  In response, the  Lord Mayor, John Stockton,  and his Sheriffs, John Crosby (*) and John Ward,  rode from gate to gate to rally the City’s  defences, “in alle haast with a Trumpett”.   And for the most part the defences held firm.  Aldgate came under the most sustained attack, “with mighty shott of hand Gunnys & sharp shott of arrowis”.  Indeed, some attackers even  managed to enter the City there, only to be held up by defenders under the Recorder of the City, Thomas Ursewyk, and an Alderman named John Basset, and then to be forced to retreat  by the arrival of defensive reinforcements from the Tower of London, “which dyscomffortid the Rebellys”.  The attack had failed, and the attackers who had evaded capture took to their ships, and sailed out to the safety of the Thames estuary.  Many  of those  who had been captured  were summarily executed, including Spysyng and Quyntyn.  And within days, Henry VI was apparently also done to death, on the orders of Edward IV, in the Tower.

(*) Crosby was later knighted for his role in the City’s defence.  His memorial in the church of St Helen Bishopsgate shows him in armour.

The Execution of William Taylor (1423)

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On this day in 1423, the Lollard Priest William Taylor was burnt at the stake for heresy  in West Smithfield.

Lollardy was a movement that sought to restrict the secular wealth and power of the established church, and to return to apostolic poverty and mission).  It has been described as the “Morning Star of the Reformation”.