Category Archives: London History

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

Sixteenth-century statue of Queen Elizabeth I, St Dunstan-in-the-West (formerly Ludgate) .JPG

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 Battle of Turnham Green (1642)

The battle of Turnham Green

Image courtesy of “Look and Learn

The Battle of Turnham Green, in the English Civil War, took place on this day in 1642.

The site of the battle is marked by a series of informative plaques.  According to the plaques, after losing the Battle of Brentford on November 12th, 1642, the Parliamentarians took up a strategic defensive position at Turnham Green, with their left flank protected by the river, and their right by a series of enclosures.  It was here that the following day  they  essentially faced down the Royalists, who found themselves unable to manoeuvre past, in one of the largest-ever confrontations on English soil (albeit a substantially bloodless one), involving some 40000 troops.   This was a decisive moment in the history of the war, the country, and its  capital.

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The Battle of Brentford (1642)

The Battle of Brentford, in the English Civil War, took place on this day in 1642 …

Monument

Informative plaque

The site of the battle is marked by a granite memorial and by a series of informative plaques.

According to the plaques, what happened here was as follows:

“Parliamentarians had arrived in the prosperous market town on Friday 11 November.  The following day the royalists marched from Hampstead Heath and in the early afternoon broke through a parliamentary barricade at the bridge over the Brent.  Near this information panel, the royalists were delayed, fighting two or three hours until the parliamentarian soldiers fled.  This position was defended by about 480 of Lord Brooke’s regiment and survivors of the earlier fighting, with two small pieces of artillery. The royalists soon gained the upper hand.  There seem to have been no civilian dead despite the capture of the town.  About 20 royalists were killed, and perhaps 50 parliamentarians died in the fighting with more drowning in the Thames.  Parliamentary Captain John Lilburne was amongst those captured”.

And what happened next was as follows:

“Later that afternoon the royalists pressed on towards London.  There were more parliamentary troops in a large open area, probably Turnham Green and Chiswick’s Common Field.  These green-coated men of John Hampden’s regiment of foot charged five times, holding the royalists back.  But with night coming and the royalists exhausted from fighting both sides disengaged.  The royalist soldiers who had captured Brentford ransacked the town … The Battle of Turnham Green took place the following day”.

John Gwyn, a royalist soldier, wrote:

“We beat them from one Brainford to the other, and from thence to the open field, with … resolute and expeditious fighting, …  push of pike and the butt-end of muskets, which proved so fatal to Holles’ butchers and dyers that day”.

Map

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”.

Paradise Found, or “To-Morrow To Fresh Woods And Pastures New”

milton

John Milton died on this day in 1674 …

Milton was a poet, man of letters and sometime statesman of the slightly later Caroline, Civil War, Commonwealth and Restoration areas.  He is best known now as the author of the epic poem “Paradise Lost”, published in 1667, which Samuel Johnson argued “with respect to design may claim the first place … among the productions of the human mind”.  During the Civil War and Commonwealth, though, he was known as the author of a number of – non-fiction – prose works  opposing  the monarchy and episcopacy, and supporting Republican and Parliamentarian causes.  These included the polemical “Tenure of Kings and Magistrates” and “Eikonoklastes” (a counter-blast to “Eikon Basilike”, popularly attributed to Charles I himself), both published in 1649; and “Defensio pro Populo Anglico”, published in 1652 (“First Defence”) and 1654 (“Second Defence”).  His Republicanism led to his arrest and temporary imprisonment after the Restoration, his release being secured by, among others, Andrew Marvell (then a Member of Parliament).  He is buried in the church of St Giles Cripplegate,  where there are both a statue and a bust of him.  He had been born  in Bread Street, and is also commemorated by a plaque there, and by another on the church of St Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside.

Here is a selection of quotations from “Paradise Lost“:

“What though the field be lost?

All is not lost; the unconquerable will,

And study of revenge, immortal hate,

the courage never to submit or yield”

* * *

“How oft, in nations gone corrupt

And by their own devices brought down to servitude

That man chooses bondage before liberty?

Bondage with ease before strenuous liberty”

* * *

“But first whom shall we send

In search of this new world, whom shall we find sufficient?

Who shall tempt, with wand’ring feet

The dark unbottomed infinite abyss

And through the palpable obscure find out

His uncouth way, or spread his aery flight

Upborne with indefatigable wings

Over the vast abrupt, ere he arrive

The happy isle?”

* * *

“Freely we serve,

Because we freely love, as in our will,

To love or not; in this we stand or fall”

* * *

“For so I created them free and free they must remain”

* * *

“What is strength without a double share of wisdom?”

* * *

“Who overcomes by force hath overcome but half his foe”

* * *

“Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heav’n”

* * *

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell … ”

* * *

And one from “The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates”:

“No man … can be so stupid to deny that all men naturally were born free, being the image and resemblance of God himself”.

 

 

London prepares for Civil War (Giovanni Giustiniani, 1642)

The Civil War star fort at Vauxhall, as depicted in c. 1800.jpg

On this day in 1642, Giovanni Giustiniani, the Venetian ambassador to the court of Charles I, wrote in a letter to the Doge and Senate of Venice:

“They do not cease to provide with energy for the defence of London … .  They have sent a number of parliamentarians to the surrounding provinces with instructions to get together the largest numbers they can of their trained bands, with the intention of despatching these subsequently to where the remains of the parliamentary army are quartered.  They have brought a number of the companies of these trained bands … into this city.  All the troops are kept constantly at arms.  There is no street, however little frequented, that is not barricaded …, and every post is guarded … .  At the approaches to London, they are putting up trenches and small forts of earthwork [“Lines of Communication”], at which a great number of people are at work, including the women and … children.  They have issued a new manifesto to the people full of the usual representations against the … king, for the purpose of arousing their enthusiasm still more in the support of this cause”.

George Vertue's plan of London's Civil War defences.jpg