Category Archives: Ceremonial London

The  coronation of William the Conqueror  (Orderic Vitalis, 1066)

1 - The coronation of William the Conqueror, Westminster Abbey, as depicted by Matthew Paris

On this day in 1066, William I was crowned king of England in Westminster Abbey.  One Orderic Vitalis wrote of the occasion:

“So at last on Christmas Day …, the English assembled at London for the king’s coronation, and a strong guard of Norman men-at-arms and knights was posted round the minster to prevent any treachery or disorder.  And, in the presence of the bishops, abbots, and nobles of the whole realm of Albion, Archbishop Ealdred consecrated William duke of Normandy king of the English and placed the royal crown on his head.  This was done in the abbey church of St Peter the chief of the apostles, called Westminster, where the body of King Edward [the Confessor] lies honourably buried.

But at the prompting of the devil, who hates everything good, a sudden disaster and portent of future catastrophes occurred.  For when Archbishop Ealdred asked the English, and Geoffrey bishop of Coutances asked the Normans, if they would accept William as their king, all of them gladly shouted out with one voice if not one language that they would.  The armed guard outside, hearing the tumult …, imagined that some treachery was afoot, and rashly set fire to some of the buildings.  The fire spread rapidly …, the crowd who had been rejoicing … took fright and throngs of men and women of every rank and condition ran out of the church in frantic haste.  Only the bishop and a few clergy and monks remained, … and with difficulty completed the consecration of the king who was trembling from head to foot.

… The English, after hearing of the perpetration if such misdeeds, never again trusted the Normans who seemed to have betrayed them, but nursed their anger and bided their time to take revenge”.

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 Lord Mayor’s Show

The Lord Mayor's Show in 1836, by David Roberts

Today is the day of the annual Lord Mayor (of the City of London)’s Show …

Richard I appointed the  first (Lord) Mayor of London, Henry Fitz-Ailwyn de Londonestone, in effect to run the City,  in 1189; and John granted the City the right to elect its own Mayor in 1215 (the “Mayoral Charter” is now in the Guildhall Heritage Gallery).  The prestige of the position was such that the by-then Mayor, William Hardel(l),  was invited by John to be  a witness to the sealing of, and an Enforcer or Surety of, the Magna Carta, later in 1215.  Magna Carta granted the City of London “all its ancient liberties and free customs, both by land and by water”.  In exchange, the Crown required that, each year, the newly elected  Lord Mayor present himself or herself at court to ceremonially “show” his or her allegiance.  This  event eventually became the Lord Mayor’s Show we know today.  Interestingly, the  associated parade of the mayor and his or her entourage, from the City to  Westminster, used to take place  on the Feast of St Simon and St Jude at the end of October, whereas now it takes place on the second Saturday in November.  The parade also used to take place on the water, whereas now it takes place  on land – although the mobile stages are referred to as “floats”.  It travels, accompanied by much pomp, from the Lord Mayor’s official residence, Mansion House,  past St Paul’s Cathedral, to the Royal Courts of Justice, where the Cities of London and Westminster meet.

The Lord Mayor’s Parade (Bassompierre, 1626)

The Lord Mayor's Show in 1746, by Canaletto.jpg

Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts of events in the history of London …

On this day in 1626, the visiting Alsatian Chevalier de Bassompierre wrote in his journal:

November 9th, which is the election of the Mayor, I came in the morning to Sommerset [House] to meet the Queen [Henrietta Maria], who had come to see him go on the Thames on his way to Westminster to be sworn in, with a magnificent display of boats.  Then the Queen dined, and afterwards got into her coach and placed me at the same door with her.  The Duke of Boukinham [Buckingham] also by her commands got into her coach, and we went into the street called Shipside [Cheapside] to see the ceremony, which is the greatest that is made for the reception of any officer in the world.  While waiting for it to pass, the Queen played at primero with the Duke, the Earl of Dorchit [Dorset] and me; and afterwards the Duke took me to dine with the Lord mayor, who that day gave a dinner to more than 800 persons”.

Edward VI entertains Mary of Guise (1551)

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Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts of events in the history of London …

On this day in 1551, the boy king, Edward VI, wrote in his diary of how he had, amid much pomp, accommodated and entertained the Catholic Queen Dowager (and mother of Mary Queen of Scots) Mary of Guise at Westminster, after her ship had been forced ashore by bad weather en route from France to Scotland.

His entry reads in part as follows:

 “[D]ivers … lords and gentlemen, … ladies and gentlewomen went to her, and brought her through London to Westminster.  At the gate there received her the Duke of Northumberland, Great Master, and the Treasurer, and Comptroller, and the Earl of Pembroke, with all the sewers, and carvers, and cup-bearers, to the number of thirty.  In the hall I met he, with all the rest of the Lords of my Council, as the Lord Treasurer, … etc., and from the outer gate up to the presence chamber, on both sides, stood the guard.  And so having brought her to her chamber, I retired to mine.  I went to her at dinner; she dined under the same cloth of state, at my left hand; at her rearward dined my cousin Francis, and my cousin Margaret; at mine sat the French Ambassador.  We were served by two services, two sewers, cupbearers, and gentlemen.  Her master hostel [Maitre d’Hotel] came before her service, and my officers before mine.  … After dinner, when she had heard some music, I brought her into the hall, and she went away”.

The “Sheep Drive” over London Bridge

Sheep Drive 2015

Today is the day of  the annual “Sheep Drive”  over London Bridge, with Freemen of the City of London ceremonially exercising their historical right, dating back to the Middle Ages,  to drive sheep over the bridge without payment of a toll.  Nowadays, the ceremony, which is organised by the Worshipful Company of Woolmen, also serves to raise money for charitable causes.

St Matthew’s Day Procession

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Today is the day of  the annual St Matthew’s Day Procession in the City of London,  with pupils of Christ’s Hospital School maintaining a long-established tradition by processing from the church of St Sepulchre Newgate Street to the Guildhall, there  to partake of luncheon with the Lord Mayor of London.  The school was originally founded on the site of the dissolved Greyfriars Priory on Newgate Street in 1552.  It moved to a new location in Horsham in Sussex in 1902.