Category Archives: 16th century London

Life and death in Tudor London (Henry Machyn, 1563)


On this day in 1563, Henry Machyn wrote in his diary:

“One master Lynsey armourer dwelling in Bishope-gate street did hang himself in a privy house for he had his office taken away from him … .  The same day there was a maid dwelling in Hay lane … did fall out of a window and break her neck.  The same day … in saint Martens there was a woman dwelling there took a pair of shearers for to have cut her throat, but she missed the pipe in her … madness, and … a day after … died … ”.

Machyn, who lived from 1496/1498–1563, was  a merchant-taylor or clothier but is now best known as a diarist or chronicler.  His  Diary, written between 1550-1563, contains descriptions of such  important events in Tudor history as the Reformation, and the conversion of the country to Protestantism, under Henry VIII, and the reversion to Catholicism under Henry’s daughter Mary.  Judging from his actions, as well as from  the tone of the Chronicle, Machyn would appear to have been at least  a closet Catholic.  In 1561, he committed the sinful act of “spyking serten [slanderous] words against Veron the [Protestant] preacher”, for which he paid penance at St Paul’s Cross.


Perestroika – and Peter the Great


On this day in 1557, the first Russian Embassy opened in London, and on this same day exactly one year later, a Russian trade mission arrived in London, bringing with it many sable skins.

On a more-or-less related note, the entry in John Evelyn’s diary for February 6th, 1698 records that:

“The Czar Emp: of Moscovy [Peter the Great], having a mind to see the Building of Ships, hired my house at Says Court [*], & made it his Court & palace, lying & remaining in it … ”.

Perhaps not altogether surprisingly, the Czar, who had something of a  reputation for drunken riotous living, was far from a model guest.   He  proceeded to comprehensively  trash Evelyn’s house – knocking a hole in the wall to allow easier access to the shipyard, breaking over three hundred windows, twenty pictures and  fifty chairs, ruining all the paintwork, curtains and bedding, covering all the floors with ink and grease, and in all causing £150 worth of damage!  Worse, he destroyed Evelyn’s pride and joy, the “impregnable” hedge  in his garden, “four hundred foot in length, nine Foot high, and five in diameter … [that] mocks at the rudest assaults of the Weather, Beasts or Hedge-breakers” – making a great play of being repeatedly pushed through it in a wheelbarrow!



The Czar’s visit is also recalled by a  statue on the west bank of Deptford Creek, by a plaque on the site of the Friends’ Meeting House on Deptford High Street, by “Czar Street” in Deptford, and by “Muscovy Street” just off Great Tower Street in the City – near the long-lost pub he drank so much in that the landlord  renamed it “The Czar of Muscovy” in his honour!

(*) Sir Richard Browne’s Sayers Court in Deptford, which Evelyn moved into after he married Browne’s daughter in 1652.  The house was demolished in 1728-29, and a workhouse put up in its place.  Part of the estate was later acquired by the Admiralty for use as its Victualling Yard (now defunct).

“Ye should do very well to inhibit all plays” (Edmund Grindal, 1564)


On this day in 1564, Edmund Grindal (then Bishop of London and later  Archbishop of Canterbury) wrote in a letter to William Cecil, the  First Baron  Burghley or Burleigh (a statesman and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I through much of her reign):

 “Mr Calfhill this morning showed me your letter to him, wherein ye wish some politic orders to be devised against infection.  I think it very necessary … .  By search I do perceive that there is no one thing … more like to have renewed this contagion than the practice of an idle sort of people which have been infamous in all commonweals: I mean these histriones, common players, who now daily, but specifically on holidays, set up bills, whereunto the youth resorteth excessively and there taketh infection: besides that God’s word by their impure mouths is profaned … .  For remedy whereof in my judgement, ye should do very well to … inhibit all plays for one whole year (and if it were for ever, it were not amiss) within the City or three miles’ compass, upon pains as well to the players as to the owners of the houses where they play their lewd interludes”.

The post-Medieval theatre scene in London is discussed on various of our walks, including the “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 (

The execution of Lady Jane Grey (1554)

A romanticised view of the execution of Lady Jane Grey, by Delaroche

On this day in 1554, Lady Jane Grey was executed on the orders of Queen Mary.  She  had previously been proclaimed Queen on July 10th, 1553 (see July 10th posting), only to be usurped by Mary nine days later on July 19th (see July 19th posting), and   tried and convicted of high treason on November 13th.  This was despite the previous King, Edward VI, having in his will  nominated her  as his preferred successor to the throne (she being a fellow  Protestant; Mary,  a Catholic).

Lady Jane’s father, Henry Grey, was  executed a matter of a few days later, on February 23rd, for his role in “Wyatt’s Rebellion” (see also February 3rd posting).


John Rogers – the first of the “Marian martyrs” – is burned at the stake in Smithfield (1555)


John Rogers, the vicar of the church of St Sepulchre without Newgate, was burned at the stake in Smithfield on this day in 1555.  He was the first of many “Marian martyrs”, put to death for their perceived heretical Protestantism during the reign  – and counter-Reformation – of the Catholic Queen Mary.


According to the account in John Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs”:

“Now when the time came that he, being delivered to the sheriffs, should be brought out of Newgate to Smithfield, the place of his execution, first came to him master Woodroofe, one of the aforesaid sheriffs, and calling master Rogers unto him, asked him if he would revoke his abominable doctrine, and his evil opinion of the sacrament of the altar. Master Rogers answered and said, “That which I have preached I will seal with my blood.” “Then,” quoth master Woodroofe, “thou art a heretic.” “That shall be known,” quoth Rogers, “at the day of judgment.” “Well,” quoth master Woodroofe, “I will never pray for thee.” “But I will pray for you,” quoth master Rogers; and so was brought the same day, which was Monday the 4th of February, by the sheriffs toward Smithfield, saying the psalm “Miserere” by the way, all the people wonderfully rejoicing at his constancy, with great praises and thanks to God for the same. And there, in the presence of master Rochester, comptroller of the queen’s household, sir Richard Southwell, both the sheriffs, and a wonderful number of people, the fire was put unto him; and when it had taken hold both upon his legs and shoulders, he, as one feeling no smart, washed his hands in the flame, as though it had been in cold water. And, after lifting up his hands unto heaven, not removing the same until such time as the devouring fire had consumed them – most mildly this happy martyr yielded up his spirit into the hands of his heavenly Father. A little before his burning at the stake, his pardon was brought, if he would have recanted, but he utterly refused. He was the first proto-martyr of all the blessed company that suffered in queen Mary’s time, that gave the first adventure upon the fire. His wife and children, being eleven in number, and ten able to go, and one sucking on her breast, met him by the way as he went towards Smithfield. This sorrowful sight of his own flesh and blood could nothing move him; but that he constantly and cheerfully took his death, with wonderful patience, in the defence and quarrel of Christ’s gospel.”

Protestant martyrs plaque, West Smithfield - Copy.JPG

The site is visited on our “Historic Smithfield … ” standard walk, and on our “Post-Medieval [Tudor and Stuart] London” and “Rebellious 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 (

Wyatt’s Rebellion


In late 1553 to early 1554,  Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger plotted a rebellion against the Queen, Mary, and in particular her plan  to marry the Catholic King of Spain, Philip (*).

The aims of the rebellion were  to overthrow Mary; to put in her place her half-sister Elizabeth; and to have Elizabeth marry the Protestant Earl of Devon, Edward Courtenay.

These aims were to be achieved by force of arms, with each of the four main rebel leaders responsible for assembling  an army in his respective corner of the country before marching on London: Wyatt in Kent; Henry Grey (the father of Lady Jane Grey), the Duke of Suffolk, in Leicestershire; Sir James Croft in Herefordshire; and Sir Peter Carew in Devon.

In the event, only Wyatt succeeded in raising much of a rebel  army, which grew further on its march to London through desertions from forces sent to oppose it, and eventually became some four thousand strong.

The  army arrived in Southwark on this day, February 3rd, in 1554, to find its way into the City of London blocked at London Bridge by further forces, responding to Mary’s stirring rallying-call at the Guildhall two days earlier (the army  was also  threatened by cannon in the Tower of London, commanded by the Lieutenant of the Tower, John Bruges or Brydges, who intimated that he was prepared to put them to use).   It then  withdrew, wheeled west to Kingston to cross the river there, marched back east and  attempted to enter the City again at Ludgate, on February 7th or 8th (sources differ)where it was again faced down, and where it broke up.

After the failure of his rebellion, Wyatt was tortured at the Tower before being tried, convicted and eventually executed (on April 11th).  His torturers had evidently hoped that he would somehow implicate Elizabeth, but he did not.  Elizabeth was herself temporarily imprisoned in the Tower while her supposed complicity was further investigated, but none was ever  proven.  She eventually became Queen after Mary’s death in 1558, and restored to the Wyatt family the titles and lands that Mary  had confiscated after the failed rebellion of four years before, including Allington Castle near Maidstone (substantially destroyed in a fire in the seventeenth century, and subsequently restored in the twentieth).

The Tower of London, where Wyatt was executed, is visited on various of our walks, including the “Tudor and Stuart London”, “Tudor and Stuart City highlights” and “Rebellious 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 (

(*) His  father,  Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder (1503-1542), was, among other things, a fine  poet, widely credited with introducing the Petrarchan sonnet into English literature.  Wyatt the Elder was himself twice imprisoned in the Tower, the first time, in 1536, for his supposed adultery with Anne Boleyn.

“The Thames would wash away ten thousand houses” (1524)


Astrologers predicted that on this day in 1524, because of  a  Grand Conjunction of all seven major planets, “the waters of the Thames would swell to such a height as to overflow the whole city of London, and wash away ten thousand houses” (among other things).  Heeding  the warning, broadcast far and wide in  print, many thousands of the city’s inhabitants withdrew to high dry ground, as at Hampstead and Highgate to the north and Blackheath to the south (it is said that William Bolton, the Prior of St Bartholomew’s, took refuge in a specially constructed and provisioned tower at his residence in Harrow).  Needless to say, in the event, the predicted tidal wave never materialised.

On a more-or-less related note, on this day in 1953, there was a terrible flood in the Thames Estuary that drowned hundreds of people.  Also, on this day in 1983, the Thames Barrier  was raised for the first time.