Category Archives: 16th century London

“All London did eat and drink and made merry” (Henry Machyn, 1558)

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On this day in 1558, Henry Machyn wrote in his diary:

“Between 11 and 12 a’forenoon, the lady Elizabeth was proclaimed queen Elizabeth, queen of England, France and Ireland, and defender of the faith, by divers heralds of arms and trumpeters, … dukes, lords  … and the lord mayor and the aldermen, and divers other[s].  The same day, at afternoon, all the churches in London did ring, and at night did make bonfires and set tables in the street, and did eat and drink and made merry for the new queen Elizabeth … ”.

It was the start of a Golden Age.

The execution of Walter Raleigh (1618)

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The Devonian landed-gentleman, writer, poet,  court favourite,  politician, soldier, spy and explorer Walter Ralegh was executed on this day in 1618.

Ralegh was granted a Royal Charter by Elizabeth I in 1584 to explore, colonise and rule any “remote, heathen and barbarous lands, countries and territories, not actually possessed of any Christian Prince or inhabited by Christian People [in the New World]”,  in return for one-fifth of all the gold and silver that might be mined there.  He first organised, although did not himself participate in, two voyages to Roanoke in Virginia in the 1580s, in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to establish an English colony in North America, under the governorship of John White (it was not until 1607 that a successful colony was to become  established, at Jamestown in Virginia).   White first went out to Roanoke in 1587, but returned to England shortly afterwards in order to pick up further supplies.  He had intended to go back again within the year, but, for various reasons, was not actually able to do so until three years later than planned.  When he finally did arrive back in Roanoke, he found no trace of the colony or of the colonists, other than the word  “CROATOAN” carved into tree trunks.   Ralegh then himself participated in a voyage in  1595 in search of “El Dorado”, the fabled city of gold in South America, again with no success.  In between times,   in 1591,  he had been temporarily imprisoned in the Tower of London, for having married Elizabeth Throckmorton, one of Elizabeth I’s  ladies-in-waiting, without first having sought the Queen’s express permission.  Later, after  Elizabeth I died, and James I succeeded her to the throne, Ralegh was imprisoned again, this time on the altogether more serious charge of complicity in the so-called “Main Plot” against the new King in 1603 (which sought to remove him and replace hm with his cousin Arbella Stuart).  He was eventually pardoned and released from captivity in 1616, in order to undertake a second voyage in search of “El Dorado”.  This time, he did find gold, albeit by the expedient of ransacking a Spanish outpost, in violation of the terms not only of his pardon, but also of   the Treaty of London of 1604, that had brought to an end the long-running Anglo-Spanish War.  On his eventual return to England in 1618, he was arrested and executed in Westminster Palace Yard, essentially to appease the Spanish.

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There is a portrait of Ralegh,  by an unknown artist of the  English School, in the National Portrait Gallery.  It depicts a handsome  man wearing an embroidered and padded white doublet, and a sable-trimmed and pearl-studded cloak, in the Queen’s colours of black and white.  Ralegh is of  course remembered  for supposedly once having made the chivalrous gesture of casting  one of his cloaks upon a puddle  so as to allow the Queen to walk over it without getting her feet wet.  He is also widely credited with  having supposedly introduced the potato, and tobacco, to England

“Shakespeare and his fellow actors promise to be good neighbours” (Henry Carey, 1594)

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On this day in 1594, Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, wrote to the Lord Mayor of London:

“Where my now company of players have been accustomed … for the service of her majesty [Elizabeth I] …  to play this winter time at the Cross Keys in Gracious [Gracechurch] Street; these are to require and pray your lordship (the time being such as, thanks be to God, there is now no danger of the sickness [plague]) to permit and suffer them to do so.  The which I pray you rather to do for that they have undertaken to me that, where heretofore they began not their plays till towards four o’clock, they will now begin at two and have done between four and five and will not use any drums or trumpets at all for the calling of people together and shall be contributories to the poor of the parish where they play, according to their abilities”.

Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon

Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon (1526-96) was a nobleman, a courtier to his cousin, Elizabeth I, and a politician as well as a patron of Shakespeare’s playing company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.  He was the son of Anne Boleyn’s sister Mary, and it has been speculated that he was fathered by Henry VIII.

Theft of the Queen’s Chamber-Pot (John Stow, 1564)

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Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts of events in the history of London, this one written by John Stow in 1564  …

“On the xxvi day of September in anno 1564, … ware arrayned at ye Guildhall of London iiii personas … for ye stelynge and receyvynge of ye queens lypott [chamber pot], combe, and lokynge glasse, with a bodkin of gold to brayd hir heare, and suche  othar small ware out of hir chambar in her progresse.  And on … ye xxviii day of September, ii of them …  were bothe hangyd before ye Cowrte gate … ”.

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The Battle of Flodden Field, and the bizarre tale of the King’s Head (1513)

St Michael Wood Street

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Flodden Field, one of the bloodiest ever fought on British soil, between the English and the Scots, which took place in 1513.  According to Stow, in his “Survay of London written in the Year 1598”, sometime after the battle, the decapitated head of the defeated Scottish King, James IV, ended up being buried in  the church of St Michael, Wood Street, just off Cheapside (*). The church was later  burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt  by Christopher Wren between 1670-75, and modified  in 1887-88, only to be demolished in 1897. Nothing remains of it at its former site, now occupied by a public house – called not the “King’s Head” but the  “Red Herring”!

(*) The relevant part of the text reads more-or-less in full as follows:

“There is …  , … without any outward monument, the head of James, the fourth king of Scots of that name, slain at Flodden field, and buried here by this occasion: After the battle the body of the said king being found, was enclosed in lead, and conveyed … to the monastery of Shene in Surrey … .  Since the which time workmen there, for their foolish pleasure, hewed of his head; and Lancelot Young, master glazier to her majesty [Elizabeth I], … seeing the same dried from all moisture, and yet the form remaining, with the hair of the head, and beard red, brought it to London to his house in Wood Street, where for a time he kept it … , but in the end caused the sexton of that church to bury it amongst other bones … ”.

Hatches, Matches and Despatches (1538)

The Bills of Mortality for the Plague Year

On this day in 1538, Henry VIII’s Vicar-General Thomas Cromwell mandated the keeping by parish clerks of registers of births, deaths and marriages (“every wedding, christening and burying”) within their parishes  – to which we owe much of what we now know of everyday past life in London.

According to the Parish Clerks’ “Bills of Mortality” for the “Plague Year” of 1665, 68596  people died of the – bubonic – plague in London in  1665, including 112 in the parish of All Hallows Staining (the church collapsed in 1671, it is said  on account of undermining of its foundations by plague  burials).  A  further 4808 people died of “consumption and tiffick”, which might actually have been the plague as well.  And 5 died of being “distracted”!

Among the plague victims was my twelve times great-aunt’s first husband, Robert  Mickell, who  succumbed on 17th September, 1665  (having written in his will only days earlier, evidently only too aware of his own mortality, “I … being well in body … praised bee God for the same but considering the frailty of man’s life and not knowing how soon it may please Almighty God my creator to call me out of this transitory world doe make and ordayne this my last will and testament … ”).

He died as the epidemic reached its peak, killing over a thousand people a day.

The epidemic finally began to abate with the onset of  the cold weather in October, 1665, which would have rendered inactive the rat fleas responsible for its  spread.

 

“There’s the biter bit” (Charles Wriothesley, 1538)

Bartholomew Fair fan (1721)Bartholomew Fair fan (1721)

Charles Wriothesley wrote in his “Chronicle of England during the Reigns of the Tudors …”  that on this day in 1538:

 “At Clerkenwell, where the wrestling is kept, after the wrestling was done, there was hanged … the hangman of London [Cratwell] … for robbinge a booth in Bartlemewe fayre, which said hangman had done execution in London since the Holy Maid of Kent [*] was hanged, and was a conninge butcher in quartering of men”.

[*] The “Holy Maid of Kent”, incidentally, was Elizabeth Barton, who was executed in 1534.