Category Archives: 16th century London

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!

 

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.  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.

 

Lady Jane Grey accedes  to   the throne (Henry Machyn, 1553)

The so-called Streatham Portrait, believed to be a copy of a contemporary portrait of Lady Jane Grey

Henry Machyn wrote in his diary in 1553:

“The ix day of July was sworne unto the qwen Jane [Grey] … doythur of the duke of Suffolke …

The x day of July was reseyved in the Towre [Jane] with a grett company of lords and nobulls … and the duches of Suffoke her mother, bering her trayn, … and ther was a shot of gunnes … and the proclamasyon … [of] qwen Jane … and a trumpet blohyng …”.

Machyn is now best known as a diarist or chronicler.  His  Diary contains descriptions of such  important events in 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 [Tudor].

The execution of Sir Thomas More (1535)

3 - Holbein's portrait of More

On this day in 1535, the former Lord Chancellor, also lawyer, humanist, social philosopher, author (of “Utopia”) and “Man for All Seasons” Sir, now Saint,  Thomas More was beheaded on  Tower Hill  for High Treason,  for refusing to take an oath acknowledging the King, Henry VIII, rather than the Pope, as the Supreme Head of the Church in England (being  “the king’s good servant, but God’s first”).

His son-in-law William Roper wrote of the event:

“And soe was he brought by Mr Lievetenaunt out of the Towre, and thence led towards the place of execution, where goinge upp the Scaffold, which was so weake that it was readie to fall, he sayde … ‘I pray you, I pray you, Mr Lievetenaunt, see me safe upp, and for my cominge downe let mee shift for my selfe’.  Then desired he all the people thereaboutes to pray for him, and to beare witnesse with him, that he should suffer death in and for the faith of the holie Catholique Church, which done hee kneeled downe, and after his prayers sayed, hee turned to the executioner, and with a cheerful Countenance spake unto him, ‘Plucke up thy spirittes, man, and be not affrayed to do thine office … ’.  Soe passed Sir Thomas Moore out of this world to God … ”.

More’s  headless corpse was buried in an unmarked grave in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London.  His head was put on a pike on London Bridge.  It was later retrieved by his daughter Meg Roper, the wife of William, and buried in the Roper family vault in the church of St Dunstan in Canterbury.

1 - Plaque marking site of More's birthplace on Milk Street

2 - Plaque marking site of More's execution on Tower Hill.jpg

There are plaques in the City marking the sites of More’s birth on Milk Street and of his death on Tower Hill.

4 - Statue of More on Carey Street

5 - Statue of More outside Chelsea Old Church

6 - Memorial to More in Chelsea Old Church.JPG

There are  also statues of him to the west of the City, one on Carey Street just off Chancery Lane, and another outside Chelsea Old Church; and a  memorial to him inside Chelsea Old Church.

7 - The rebuilt Crosby Hall in Chelsea.JPG

Crosby Hall, where he lived between 1523-4, was moved from its past location in Bishopsgate to its present one opposite Chelsea Old Church in 1910.

 

Be of good comfort, brother

1 - Burning of Protestants at Stratford.jpg

On this day in 1556, during the Counter-Reformation, some 20000 people gathered in Stratford to witness the burning at the stake by the Catholic Queen Mary Tudor of thirteen Protestants (eleven men and two women) accused of  heresy.

2 - Memorial to the Protestant martyrs ar Stratford.JPG

There is a memorial to the martyrs outside the church of St John in Stratford.

3 - Burning of Protestants at Smithfield

A number of Protestant heretics were also burned at the stake by Mary  in West Smithfield, many of whom were later buried in the nearby church of St James  in Clerkenwell.

4 - Memorial to Protestant martyrs at West Smithfield

There is a memorial to three of them, namely, John Bradford, John Philpot and John Rogers,  in West Smithfield …

Martyrs - Copy

… and another in the church of St James in Clerkenwell.

John Foxe gives an account of the burning of Bradford in his “Book of Martyrs”, published in 1563, which reads as follows:

“ … When Bradford and Leaf came to the Stake … , they lay flat on their faces, praying to themselves the space of a minute of an hour.  Then one of the Sheriffs said … , Arise and make an end … .  At that word they both stood … and … Bradford took a Fagot in his hand, and kissed it, and so likewise the Stake.  … And so … Bradford went to the Stake: and holding up his hands, and casting his countenance to Heaven, he said thus, O England, England, repent thee of thy sins, repent thee of thy sins.  Beware of Idolatry, beware of false Antichrists, take heed they do not deceive you.  And … one of the Officers … made the fire … .  [And] Bradford … asked all the world forgiveness, and forgave all the world, and prayed the people to pray with him, and turned … unto the young man that suffered with him, and said, Be of good comfort Brother; for we shall have a merry Supper with the Lord this night: And so spake no more words that any man did hear … ”.

By way of balance, there are various memorials to Catholics executed by the Protestant Tudors in the Charterhouse and in the church of St Etheldreda in Holborn.  And there is another, near the site of the infamous “Tyburn Tree”, on Tyburn Convent.

 

The execution of Bishop John Fisher (1535)

Fisher, as portrayed by Holbein

On this day in 1535, the 65 year old Bishop and  Cardinal John Fisher was executed for “misprision of treason”, for refusing to accept Henry VIII as the Supreme Head of the Church in England.  (The notoriously vengeful King had never forgiven Fisher for siding against him in the long-running dispute over his proposed divorce from Katherine of Aragon, and for arguing against him, and  for the indissolubility of marriage –  a principle that the Bishop swore he was prepared to die for – before the Papal  Legate in Blackfriars in 1529).  The Bishop had been tried and convicted at Westminster Hall on 17th June.  He had originally been sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 24th June, but when the King realised that this was the feast of St John the Baptist, he changed the date, reasoning that if he did not the public might forever associate John Fisher with his patronal namesake.  The Bishop  was eventually beheaded at Tower Hill on 22nd June (the feast of the first English Christian martyr, St Alban).  His head is said to have been shown to Anne Boleyn, who had expressed a desire to see it, and it was then stuck on a pole on London Bridge.

Fisher banner, All Hallows by the Tower.JPG

His body was buried in All Hallows-by-the-Tower (although later  reburied in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula inside the Tower).

By all accounts, the  Bishop met his death in a state of anticipation that was at times almost joyous.  According to one:

“[W]hen they reached the scaffold, the rough men of his escort offered to help him up the ladder. But he smiled at them: ‘Nay, … ye shall see me go up to my death well enough myself; without help’.  And forthwith he began to climb, almost nimbly. As he reached the top the sun appeared from behind the clouds, and its light shone upon his face. He was heard to murmur some words from Psalm 33 … .   The masked headsman knelt …  to ask his pardon. And again the cardinal’s manliness dictated every word of his answer: ‘I forgive thee with all my heart, and I trust on Our Lord Thou shalt see me die even lustily’.   Then they stripped him …  and … a  gasp of pity went up at the sight of his …  body, nothing …  but skin and bones …  the flesh clean wasted away; and a very image of death … .  He was offered a final chance to save his life by acknowledging the royal supremacy, but …  turned to the crowd, and …  spoke these words: ‘Christian people, I am come hither to die for the faith of Christ’s Catholic Church, and I thank God hitherto my courage hath served me well … , so that …  I have not feared death; wherefore I desire you help me … with your prayers, that at the very …  instant of my death’s stroke, …  I then faint not in …  fear; and I pray God save the king and the realm, and …  send the king a good counsel’.   The …  courage of his spirit triumphing over the obvious weakness of his body, amazed them all, and a murmur of admiration was still rustling the crowd when they saw him go down on his knees and begin to pray. … Then he …  put his wasted neck upon the low block”.

Bishop John Fisher is honoured as a Saint by both the Catholic Church and the Church of England, alongside Sir Thomas More.  The Catholic Church beatified him in 1886, and canonised him in 1935, and celebrates his feast day on 22nd June, the day of his execution.  The Church of England added him to the Calendar of Saints and Heroes in 1980, and celebrates his feast day on 6th July, the day of More’s execution.

Site of execution, Tower Hill.JPG

 

The Mock-Battle of Deptford (Edward VI, 1549)

Bust of Edward VI on site of Bridewell Palace.JPG

On this day in 1549, the boy-King, Edward VI wrote in his journal:

“I went to Deptford, being bidden to supper by the lord Clinton … .   After … was there a fort made upon a great lighter on the Thames …, of which Mr. Winter was captain, with forty or fifty other soldiers … .  To the fort also appertained a galley … , …  for defence … .  Wherefore there came 4 pinnaces … , which … with clods, squibs, canes of fire, darts … and bombards, assaulted the castle; and at length … burst the outer walls of the castle, beating them of the castle into the second ward, who after issued out and drove away the pinnaces, sinking one of them, out of which all the men in it … leaped out, and swam in the Thames.  Then came th’ admiral of the navy and three pinnaces, and won the castle by assault, and burst the top of it down, and took  the captain … ”.