Category Archives: 16th century London

“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.

The Parish Clerks’ “Bills of Mortality” for the “Plague Year” of 1665 are examined at  the church of All Hallows Staining on our “London Wall” standard walk, and on our “Tudor and Stuart London”, “Tudor and Stuart City highlights” and “Great Fire of London” themed specials (*).

According to these records, 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 (see also September 20th posting).

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 (see also April 30th posting).

(*) 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).

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

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

Charles Wriothesley (see also March 18th posting) 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”.

West Smithfield, where the Bartholomew Fair was held, is visited on various of our walks, including the “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn” standard.

Further details of all our walks are available in the “Our Guided Walks” section.

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

[*] The “Holy Maid of Kent”, incidentally, was Elizabeth Barton, who was executed in 1534 (see April 20th posting).

Nonsuch House

London Bridge / Nonsuch Hs

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

On this day in 1577, the first stone was laid for the foundation of Nonsuch House on Old London Bridge, which stood until 1757, when it was demolished to allow for the widening of the road.  The original construction of the House, which took two years to complete, was remarkable for the amount of pre-fabrication involved, with sections manufactured in Holland and shipped across the North Sea packed flat for assembly on site.  And also for the quality of the craftsmanship employed, it even being said that all the sections fitted together with wooden pegs, and without a single nail. The completed House, with its gaudy paintwork, intricately carved carapace, and ornate cupolas, was  one of the wonders of its age. Fortunately, it stood just long enough, albeit apparently in a state of some disrepair, to be immortalised in a Canaletto drawing of circa 1750, now in the British Museum. Unfortunately, we know very little of its nearly two-hundred year history – not even who its occupants were!

The modern incarnation of London Bridge is visited on our “Historic Southwark” 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 (www.lostcityoflondon.co.uk), or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

Celebrating Sir Francis Drake

 

On this day in 1586, Sir Francis Drake was feted in the Middle Temple on his return from the New World – where he had been busy “privateering” (plundering Spanish possessions).

Drake is also famous as  the first person to circumnavigate the globe, between 1577-80, aboard the “Golden Hind(e)”.  On April 4th, 1581, Elizabeth I visited his ship, which had been “drawn into a creek … at Deptford as a perpetual memorial for having circuited round about the whole earth”, and “consecrated it with great ceremonie, pompe and magnificence eternally to be remembered”; and knighted him (see also April 4th posting).  The ship  remained at Deptford for about 100 years, until it started to disintegrate and had to be broken up.  A  plaque on the water-front there marks the site and commemorates the event.  There is a modern reconstuction of it  in St Mary Overie Dock in  Southwark.

Middle Temple Hall is visited on various of our walks, including the “Tudor and Stuart 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).