Category Archives: Contemporary accounts of events

Edward VI entertains Mary of Guise (1551)

History's_Marie_of_Guise.png

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 town begins to be lively again” (Samuel Pepys, 1665)

Lord have mercy on London.jpg

On this day in 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“The ‘Change pretty full, and the town begins to be lively again”.

The “Great Plague” was now well past its peak, and some semblance of normality was beginning to return to a stricken city.  The “Great Plague” killed at least 70000 people in London, and possibly as many as 100000 – far more than the “Black Death” of 1348-9, although far fewer in proportion to the overall population.  The “Bills of Mortality” show that of the 70000 recorded Plague deaths, only 10000 were in the 97 parishes within the walls of the City  – possibly because a significant proportion  of those inhabitants who could afford to do so had fled to the country.   The remaining 60,000  Plague deaths were in the 16 parishes without the walls, the 5 in Westminster, and the 12 in Middlesex and Surrey (St Giles Cripplegate, St Giles-in-the-Fields, St Margaret Westminster, St Martin-in-the-Fields, and Stepney, where there were “pest-houses”, were among the worst affected, with a total of well over 20,000 deaths – 6,500 of them in Stepney alone).  The bodies of the Plague victims were buried either in parish churchyards or in emergency “plague pits”, the latter including those of Tothill Fields in Westminster, to the west; Bedlam, Bunhill Fields and  Holywell Mount, to the north; Aldgate and the  Stepney pest-fields, to the east; and Crossbones Graveyard and Deadman’s Place, to the south.

“The Fatall Vesper”, or “A pittiful accident in the black friers” (John Chamberlain, 1623)

A contemporary engraving of the accident in Blackfriars

In  1623, John Chamberlain wrote in a  letter to Dudley Carleton:

“The next day after I wrote last  here fell out a pittiful incident in the black friers, where the papists had hired a house next to the French Ambassadors (that so they might be as it were under his protection) to hold …  masse, … and perform all other their exercises and rites after the Romish manner; a great multitude being met there on the 26th of the last month [October] to heare father Drurie a famous Jesuit among them preach in an upper roome, the floore sunke under them, or rather the beames and joystes not able to bear the weight brake in the midst.  Many [possibly as many as one hundred] perished, partly battered and bruised, but for the most part smothered, for the first floore fell with such violence that it brake down a second under it.  A number were hurt …, which found little helpe or comfort at first, our people being growne so savage … that they refused to assist them … in their necessitie, but rather insulted upon them with taunts and gibes in their affliction …, but there was as much goode … to represse the insolencie and inhumanitie of the multitude, and for reliefe of the distressed”.

Rejoicing in the Torah (Samuel Pepys, 1663)

On  this day in 1663, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“[A]fter dinner my wife and I, by Mr. Rawlinson’s conduct, to the Jewish Synagogue [on Creechurch Lane]: … Their service all in a singing way, and in Hebrew. And anon their Laws that they take out of the press are carried by several men, four or five several burthens in all, and they do relieve one another; and whether it is that every one desires to have the carrying of it, I cannot tell, thus they carried it round about the room while such a service is singing. And in the end they had a prayer for the King, which they pronounced his name in Portugall; but the prayer, like the rest, in Hebrew. But, Lord! to see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service … would make a man forswear ever seeing them more and indeed I never did see so much, or could have imagined there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this”.

Unbeknownst to him at the time, he had witnessed the service of Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah), marking the end of the Sukkot(h), the  annual cycle of readings from the Torah, which is always a celebratory rather than a solemn event.  The associated activity  that most bewildered him was the Hakafot (dancing with the Torah).   There would almost certainly also have been drinking of ritual wine (symbolising life), although he does not mention it.  Indeed, a traditional source recommends performing the priestly blessing earlier than usual in the service, to make sure that the priests are still sober  when the time comes!

Exterior of Bevis Marks Synagogue.JPG

Interior of Sandy's Row Synagogue.JPG

 

“I went to see Harrison hanged, drawn and quartered” (Samuel Pepys, 1660)

On this day in 1660, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“[I]n the morning … I went out to Charing Cross, to see Major-general Harrison hanged, drawn and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition.  He was presently cut down, and his head and heart shown to the people, at which there was great shouts of joy.   It is said, that he said he was sure to come  shortly at the right hand of  Christ to judge them that now had judged him … .  Thus it was my chance to see … the first blood shed in revenge for the blood of the King [Charles I] at Charing Cross. Setting up shelves in my study”.

Harrison

Thomas Harrison was   one of a number of the signatories to the death warrant of Charles I at the end of the Civil War in 1649 – otherwise known as “regicides” – to be  hunted down and executed by Charles II after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660.

“The Mortality is less this week” (Samuel Pepys, 1665)

1 - Lord have mercy on London

On this day in 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“The Bill [of Mortality], blessed be God! is less this week by 740 of what is was the last”.

The “Great Plague” was finally past its peak, although it had still not yet run its entire course.   It eventually killed at least 70000 people in London, and possibly as many as 100000 – far more than the “Black Death” of 1348-9, although far fewer in proportion to the overall population.  The “Bills of Mortality” show that of the 70000 recorded Plague deaths, only 10000 were in the 97 parishes within the walls of the City  – possibly because a significant proportion  of those inhabitants who could afford to do so had fled to the country.    The remaining 60,000  Plague deaths were in the 16 parishes without the walls, the 5 in Westminster, and the 12 in Middlesex and Surrey (St Giles Cripplegate, St Giles-in-the-Fields, St Margaret Westminster, St Martin-in-the-Fields, and Stepney, where there were “pest-houses”, were among the worst affected, with a total of well over 20,000 deaths – 6,500 of them in Stepney alone).  The bodies of the Plague victims were buried either in parish churchyards or in emergency “plague pits”, the latter including those of Tothill Fields in Westminster, to the west; Bedlam, Bunhill Fields and  Holywell Mount, to the north; Aldgate and the  Stepney pest-fields, to the east; and Crossbones Graveyard and Deadman’s Place, to the south.

Theft of the Queen’s Chamber-Pot (John Stow, 1564)

Guildhall.jpg

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 … ”.

Important trials - Copy.JPG

Experiences of the theatre in Post-Medieval London 

Thomas Platter

In  1599, Thomas Platter, a Swiss visitor to London, wrote:

“After dinner on the 21st of September, at about two o’clock, I went with my companions over the water [to Southwark], and in the strewn roof-house [?The Globe] saw the tragedy of the first Emperor Julius with at least fifteen characters very well acted.  At the end … they danced according to their custom with extreme elegance.  Two in men’s clothes and two in women’s gave this performance, in wonderful combination with each other”.

And:

“On another occasion, I saw … a comedy; if I remember right, in Bishopsgate.  Here they represented various nations, with whom … and Englishman fought … , and overcame them all except the German … .  [H]e outwitted the German … .

[E]very day at two o’clock  … two and sometimes three comedies are performed, at separate places, wherewith folk make merry together, and whichever does best gets the greatest audience.

… What they … produce daily by way of mirth … every one knows well, who has happened to see them … playing … .

With such …  pastimes … the English spend their time; … [and] …  learn what is going on in  other lands … ”.

Others took  much less  favourable views of the theatres, and  of the  badly-behaved crowds that they attracted.

The Lord Mayor and Aldermen made repeated efforts to have them closed down, on one occasion petitioning the Privy Council as follows:

“We have signified to your Honours many times heretofore the great inconvenience which we find to grow by the common exercise of stage-plays.  We presumed to do so, … being persuaded … that neither in polity nor in religion are they to be suffered in a Christian commonwealth, … containing nothing but profane fables, lascivious matters, cozening devices, and scurrilous behaviours … .  Among other inconveniences it is not the least that they give opportunity to the … evil-disposed and ungodly people that are within and about this city to assemble themselves … for … lewd and ungodly practices … .  For avoiding whereof we are now again most humble and earnest suitors to your honours to direct … letters … to the justices of peace of Surrey and Middlesex for the present stay and final suppression of the said stage-plays, as well at the Theatre, Curtain and Bankside as in all other places in and about the city … ”.

Indeed, the theatres were eventually temporarily closed down by the Puritans in the 1640s to 1650s, during the  Civil War and succeeding Commonwealth and Protectorate, only reopening in the 1660s, after the Restoration of the Monarchy.

 

“The number of the plague the biggest yet” (Samuel Pepys, 1665)

1 - Lord have mercy on London

On this day in 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“But, Lord! What a sad time it is to see no boats upon the river; and grass grows all up and down White Hall court, and nobody but poor wretches in the streets! And, which is worst of all, the Duke [of Albemarle] showed us the number of the plague this week, … that it is encreased …  more than the last, which is quite contrary to our hopes and expectations, from the coldness of the late season.  For the whole general number is 8297, and of them of the plague 7165; which is more in the whole … than the biggest Bill [of Mortality] yet: which is very grievous to us all”.

The “Great Plague” was now killing over a thousand people a day, and  at its peak, and it had  grown so deathly quiet in London that throughout the City  the river  could be heard flowing under the nineteen arches of the old bridge.  The Plague eventually killed at least 70000 people in London, and possibly as many as 100000 – far more than the “Black Death” of 1348-9, although far fewer in proportion to the overall population.  The “Bills of Mortality” show that of the 70000 recorded Plague deaths, only 10000 were in the 97 parishes within the walls of the City  – possibly because a significant proportion  of those inhabitants who could afford to do so had fled to the country.  The remaining 60000  Plague deaths were in the 16 parishes without the walls, the 5 in Westminster, and the 12 in Middlesex and Surrey.  Stepney was the worst affected, with 6500 deaths.

A visit to the Tower (Frederic Gershow, 1602)

Philipp Julius, the Duke of Stettin-Pomerania.JPG

On this day in 1602, Frederic Gershow, the secretary to Philipp Julius, the Duke of Stettin-Pomerania, wrote, in his diary:

“[H]is princely Grace, having obtained permission, visited the Tower of London, an old but strong castle built by Julius Caesar [sic], where they keep the prisoners.  At first we were led into a long hall, full of harness, maybe for a hundred thousand men, as one might say; but this armour was not properly arranged, nor kept clean”.

Tower Armoury