Category Archives: Contemporary accounts of events

The consecration of Westminster Abbey (1065)

Edward the Confessor's body being brought to the abbey for burial in 1066

Westminster Abbey was consecrated on this day  in 1065 …

A monk of St Bertin’s Abbey wrote of its construction:

“Outside the walls of London … stood a monastery [founded by Bishop Dunstan under King Edgar the Peaceable and] dedicated to St Peter, but insignificant in buildings … .  … The king [Edward the Confessor], therefore  … gave his attention to that place, for it both lay hard by the famous and rich town and also was a delightful spot, … [and] … decided to have his burial place there [he was to die on January 5th, 1066].  Accordingly, he ordered that out of the tithes of all his revenues should be started the building of a noble edifice, worthy of the Prince of the Apostles; so that, after the transient journey of this life, God would look kindly upon him, both for the sake of his goodness and because of the gift of lands and ornaments with which he intended to ennoble the place.  And … there was no weighing of the costs, … so long as it proved  worthy of … God and St Peter”.

Cromwell cancels Christmas (John Evelyn, 1657)

2 - The church of St Margaret, Westminster - where the warden was fined for celebrating Christmas  in 1647.JPG

On this day in 1657, under the Commonwealth and Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell that followed the Civil War, John Evelyn wrote in his diary:

“I went to London with my wife, to celebrate Christmas day, Mr Gunning preaching in Exeter chapel … .  Sermon ended, as he was giving us the Holy Sacrament, the chapel was surrounded with [Parliamentarian] soldiers, and all the communicants and assembly surprised and kept prisoner by them … .  It fell to my share to be confined to a room …, where yet I was permitted to dine with the master of it … and some others of quality who invited me.  In the afternoon came Colonel Whalley, Goffe, and others … to examine us one by one; some they committed to the marshal, some to prison.  When I came before them, they took my name and abode, examined me why, contrary to the ordinance made, that none should any longer observe the superstitious time of the nativity (so esteemed by them), I durst offend …, and … pray for  Charles Stuart … .  I told them we did not pray for Charles Stuart, but for all kings, princes, and governors.  They replied … with other frivolous and ensnaring questions, and much threatening; and, finding no color to detain me, they dismissed me with much pity of my ignorance.  These were men of high flight and above ordinances, and spake spiteful things of our Lord’s Nativity.  As we went up to receive the sacrament the miscreants held their muskets against us as if they would have shot us  at the altar, but yet suffering us to finish the office of Communion, as perhaps not having instructions what to do in case they found us in that action.  So I got home late the next day, blessed be God”.

Fall from grace (Archbishop William Laud, 1640)

Laud - Copy

On this day in 1640, Archbishop William Laud was arrested, and wrote in his diary:

“I was accused by the House of Commons for high treason, without any particular charge laid against me … .  Soon after, the charge was brought into the Upper House [of Lords] … .  I was presently committed to the Gentleman Usher, but was permitted to go in his company to my house in Lambeth for …  such papers as pertained to my defence … .  I stayed in Lambeth till the evening to avoid the gazing of the people … .  As I went to my barge, hundreds of my poor neighbours stood there and prayed for my safety and return to my house, for which I bless God and them”.

Laud was later imprisoned in the Tower of London, early in 1641.

Laud's trial in the House of Lords

After the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642, he was tried  for and convicted of high treason in the House of Lords, in 1643-4, and eventually executed on Tower Hill, in 1645.   Among the charges levelled  against him were:  “That, by false erroneous doctrines, and other sinister ways and means, he went about to subvert religion, established in this kingdom, and to set up popery and superstition in the church … .  […] That to suppress preaching, he hath suspended divers good and honest ministers, and hath used unlawful means, by letters, and otherwise, to set all bishops to suppress them.  […] That, to save and preserve himself from being questioned and sentenced from these and other his traiterous designs, from the first year of his now Majesty’s reign, until now, he hath laboured to subvert the rights of parliamentary proceedings, and to incense his Majesty against parliaments … .”

Laud had previously been made Bishop of London in 1628, and Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, and become known for his “High Church” views, and his fierce opposition to and persecution of Puritans.

“Bere-beyten on the Banke side” (1554)

A Medieval depiction of bear baiting

On this day in 1554, Henry Machyn wrote in his diary:

“The sam day at after-non was a bere-beyten on the Banke syde, and ther the grett blynd bere [whose name was Sackerson] broke losse, and in ronnyng away he chakt a servyng man by the calff of the lege, and bytt a gret pesse away, and after by the hokyll-bone, that with-in iii days after he ded”.

“Melody and joy and comfort to all true Englishmen and women” (Henry Machyn, 1558)

Somerset House (Cornelis Bol, c. 1650)Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts of events in the history of London …

On this day in 1558, Henry Machyn wrote in his diary:

“And so her Grace [Elizabeth I] lay in the Tower unto the fifth day of December, that was Saint Nicholas even.  And there was in certain places children with speeches, and other places singing and playing with regals.

The fifth day her Grace removed by water under the bridge unto Somerset Palace, with trumpets playing, and melody and joy and comfort to all true Englishmen and women, and to all people”.

Henry V’s triumphal return to London after Agincourt (1415)

The Look and Learn version of events.jpg

Image courtesy of “Look and Learn” (

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”.

“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 Brentford (1642)

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


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”.


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

The Gunpowder Plot (Sir Edward Hoby, 1605)

The Gunpowder Plotters, with Fawkes third from the right

On this day in 1605 was discovered “a most horrible conspiracy of the Papish against the King [James I]” to blow up the Houses of Parliament in the Palace of Westminster, for their roles in which Guy Fawkes and his fellows were cruelly put to death.   (The discoverer, one Thomas Knyvet(t), the Keeper of Whitehall Palace, was rewarded by the granting of  an extension of the lease on his house, in what was to become Downing Street).

Sir Edward Hoby (*) wrote of the event:

“On the 5th of November we began our Parliament, to which the King [James I] should have come in person, but refrained, through a practice but that morning discovered.  The plot was to have blown up the King at such time as he should have been set in his royal throne, accompanied by his children, Nobility and Commons and … Bishops, Judges and Doctors, at one instant and blast and to have ruined the whole estate and kingdom of England.  And for the effecting of this there was placed under the Parliament house [Palace of Westminster], where the king should sit, some 30 barrels of gunpowder … .

… In a vault under the parliament chamber before spoken of one Johnson [Guy Fawkes’s  assumed name] was found … who, after being brought into … the court, and there demanded if he were not sorry for his so foul and heinous a treason, answered he was sorry for nothing but that the act was not performed.  Being replied unto him that no doubt there had been a number in that place of his own [Catholic] religion, how in conscience he could do them hurt, he answered a few might well perish to have the rest taken away.  … When he was brought into the King’s presence, the King asked him how he could conspire so hideous a treason against his children and so many innocent souls which never offended him? He answered that … a dangerous disease required a desperate remedy”.

Sir Edward Hoby, as portrayed in 1583

(*) Hoby (1560-1617) was a scholar and a courtier during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I.  He was the son-in-law of Elizabeth’s cousin Henry Carey, the First Baron Brunsdon, and the nephew of her chief advisor William Cecil, the First Baron  Burghley or Burleigh.