Category Archives: London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays

Whitehall Palace

The last in the  occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …

Whitehall Palace (Henry VIII)

Whitehall Palace was originally built for the  Archbishops of York in the thirteenth century, circa 1240, when it was known as York Place.  It was subsequently acquired by Henry VIII from the then Archbishop of York, Cardinal Wolsey, in 1529, whence, from Shakespeare’s “King Henry the Eighth”, “You must no more call it York Place: that is past; For since the Cardinal fell that title’s lost.  ‘Tis now the King’s, and called Whitehall”; and extended both by Henry and by James I.


The palace was undamaged in the Great Fire, but substantially burnt down in another fire in 1698.

69 - Copy.JPG

Ceiling, Banqueting House, Whitehall - Copy.JPG

Essentially only the Banqueting House, designed by the  Palladian architect Inigo Jones in 1622, and notable as the first Renaissance building in central London, with a ceiling by Rubens, still stands (together with “Henry VIII’s wine cellar” in the nearby Ministry of Defence building in Horse Guards’ Avenue, the site of his tilt-yard in Horse Guards’ Parade, part of his real tennis court in the Cabinet Office building at No. 70 Whitehall, and “Queen Mary’s Stairs”, built in 1691, on the Embankment).


Charles I was executed outside the Banqueting House in 1649.


The Holbein Gate, built in 1532 and notable as the probable place of the clandestine marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in 1533, survived the fires of  1666 and 1698, but was demolished in 1759.

Westminster Abbey

Another  in the  occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …

Westminster Abbey (Henry IV Part II; Henry VI Part I)

Westminster Abbey was originally founded, as the Benedictine Monastery of St Peter, by the Bishop of London, Dunstan, under the Saxon King Edgar, in 960, on what was then Thorney Island (according to legend, on the site of a church founded under Sebert in 604 – the same year that St Paul’s was founded).

bayeux-029 - Copy

It was rebuilt as an Abbey under Edward “The Confessor”, in the years up to 1065 …

North entrance - Copy.JPG

P1010361 - Copy.JPG

… and rebuilt again, in the Early Gothic style, under Henry III, in the mid thirteenth century …

P1010362 - Copy.JPG

P1120718 - Copy.JPG

… and extended, in the Late Gothic style, under a succession of kings in the late fourteenth to early sixteenth, in part by the master mason Henry Yevele; and refounded as a Cathedral after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540 (becoming a “Royal Peculiar” in 1556).   The present structure is essentially surviving thirteenth- to sixteenth- century …

West Towers - Copy.JPG

… although with some eighteenth-century additions in the form of  the west towers,  by Hawksmoor, and some twentieth-century  additions and restorations.

General-view-of-interior-by-canaletto - Copy.jpg

Henry VII’s Lady Chapel, built between 1503-08,  almost certainly under the supervision of the master mason Robert Jannings, is at  the very pinnacle of the Perpendicular Gothic: in its time, it was referred to as “orbis miraculum” (“the wonder of the world”).

There are a great many important monuments in the interior of the abbey, including those of no fewer than seventeen monarchs.  An equally large number of important state occasions have been held here, including all of the Coronations since that of the first Norman King, William I, in 1066.  The first  “King’s Great Council”, the fore-runner of Parliament, was held in the  Chapter House here in 1257.

The Tower of London

Another in the  occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …

Bob chilly days 067 - Copy.JPG

The Tower of London (Henry VI Part I; Henry VI Part II; Henry VI Part III; Richard II; Richard III)

The Tower of London was originally built under William I, William II and Henry I in the late eleventh to earliest twelfth century, between 1076-1101 (keep), and added to by Henry III in the late thirteenth (inner curtain wall), Edward I in the late thirteenth to early fourteenth (outer curtain wall), and a succession of later kings and queens, many of whom used it as a royal residence, through to the seventeenth.  The chapel of St Peter ad Vincula within is arguably of even older, Saxon origin.

Medieval - Copy.jpg

The Tower features in the earliest known painting of London, by an unknown artist, dating to the late fifteenth century, and commissioned to illustrate a book of poems written by Charles, Duc d’Orleans, who was imprisoned here for twenty-five years after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

Hundreds were imprisoned here over the centuries; and scores tortured, and/or executed,  in a variety of horrible ways.  One wonders how much better a world it would have been if all the imaginative effort expended in  devising means of inflicting suffering had instead been channelled elsewhere.



Another in the  occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …

Temple (Henry VI Part I)

Temple Church 2 - Copy.JPG

Temple was first  recorded in the twelfth century as Novum Templum, or “the New Temple”It takes its name from the Knights Templar of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, who relocated themselves here in the twelfth century (having previously been located in Holborn), and whose former land here became the site of the  Inns of Court of Inner and Middle Temple after the order was suppressed in the early fourteenth.

Inner Temple gateway - Copy - Copy.JPG

The surviving Inner Temple Gate-House, a timber-framed town-house, is  Jacobean, and dates to 1610-11.

Middle Temple Hall 1 - Copy.JPG

The surviving Middle Temple Hall is Elizabethan, and dates to 1571.  Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” premiered here in 1602.  It was performed here again exactly 400 years later in 2002, with an all-male cast, authentic  hand-made costumes and period music and instruments.


P1020070 - Copy.JPG

Shakespeare (Edmond) (d. 1607) - Copy

Another in the  occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …

Southwark (Henry VI Part II)

Southwark Cathedral (2) - Copy.JPG

Southwark was first  recorded as Sudwerca in the “Domesday Book” of 1086.  It takes its name from the Old English “suth”, and “weorc”, meaning defensive work or fort, in reference to the Roman defences south of the river.  (Note that there is also evidence of pre-Roman here, on Horselydown Eyot).  It was also referred to historically as Suthriganaweorc, meaning the defensive work or fort of the men of Surrey.  The area was unaffected by the Great Fire of London in 1666, the southward progress of which across the river was halted at a gap in the buildings on London Bridge that formed a natural firebreak.  However, it suffered its own Great Fires in 1212 and in 1676.  The Great Fire of 1212 reportedly killed thousands of people, many of them trapped on London Bridge.  According to a near-contemporary account: “An exceeding great multitude of people passing the Bridge, either to extinguish or quench it, or else to gaze at and behold it, suddenly the north part, by blowing of the south wind, was also set on fire, and the people which were even now passing the Bridge, perceiving the same, would have returned, but were stopped by the fire.”   The fire badly damaged the recently-built bridge, leaving it only partially usable for years afterwards, and necessitating a partial rebuild.  It also damaged  Southwark Cathedral, necessitating a partial rebuild.  Some of the masonry  used in the rebuilding of the cathedral  was salvaged from the fire debris and shows signs of fire damage.

Historically, Southwark was a so-called “liberty”, free of many  of the regulations governing life in the City across the river.  Over time it  became one of the poor places in which it, the rich City, attempted to locate  – and forget – some of its more “undesirable” buildings, including prisons (*); industries, including tanning; and activities, including prostitution, gambling, animal-baiting, and the performance of stage plays, all of which attracted large and unruly crowds.

(*) The Borough Compter, Clink, King’s Bench, Horsemonger Lane, first and second Marshalsea, and White Lion.

latest london 227 - Copy.JPG

The surviving part of the wall of the second, nineteenth-century, Marshalsea Prison, where Dickens’s father was incarcerated for debt, forms the northern boundary   of the churchyard of St George the Martyr.



Another in the  occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …

Smithfield (Henry VI Part II)

Smithfield takes its  name from the Old English “smethe”, meaning smooth, and “feld”, in reference to a flat field outside the City Wall.  This was a place where, from  the twelfth century onwards, apprentices  and others practised martial arts, and where fairs and other events were held, including the weekly horse fair, in which,  as FitzStephen put it “in another corner are placed vendibles of the peasant, swine with their deep flanks and cows and oxen of immense bulk”, and the annual Bartholomew Fair (made famous by Ben Jonson’s satirical play of the same name, written in 1614).  It was also a place of public execution: of the Scottish “freedom fighter” William Wallace, under the “Hammer of the Scots” Edward I, in 1305; of the Catholic “heretic” John Forest, under Henry VIII, in 1538; of  the Protestant “heretic” Anne Askew, also  under Henry VIII, in 1546; and of the  Protestant “heretics” John Rogers, the vicar of St Sepulchre, John Bradford, John Philpot and others, under “Bloody” Mary in  1555-7.  Moreover,  the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 came to an end here when one of its leaders, Wat Tyler, was treacherously and fatally stabbed by the Mayor of London, William Walworth.  The present meat market was built by Horace Jones in 1868.

After Dark.JPG

Watching from Smithfield’s wings while historical drama unfurled there was  41/42 Cloth Fair, “the oldest house in London”, built between 1597-1614, and still standing.  The house was first owned – in Shakespeare’s time – by one William Chapman, who was evidently a businessman of some means.  It has been memorably described by the architectural critic Ian Nairn as “ … an embodiment of the old London spirit.  Chunky, cantankerous, breaking out all over in oriels and roof-lights, unconcerned with … anything else other than shapes to live in”.

Savoy Palace

Another in the  occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …

Savoy Palace (Richard II)

The Savoy Palace was built by the Count of Savoie or Savoy, the uncle of  Henry III, in 1324.  It was later given to Edward I’s younger brother, Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, and passed down from him to Henry, Duke of Lancaster, who accommodated King John of France there after the latter’s defeat at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356, and in turn from him to John of Gaunt in 1361.  It was burnt  down during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 (after which John of Gaunt moved to Ely Palace).

Palace - Copy.jpg

Later buildings on the site, evidently re-developed only after having stood derelict for some considerable time, included the Savoy Hospital, founded by a bequest from Henry VII, who died in 1509, and the associated Savoy Chapel.  The Savoy Hospital became a military one in 1642, and was used to treat some of the wounded from the Civil War.  Parts of it later   became a military barracks and prison.  Large parts  of it were damaged by a fire in 1864, and subsequently demolished, making way  for the construction of the Savoy Theatre in 1881 and the Savoy Hotel in 1889.

june 2011 062 - Copy.JPG

Only the Savoy Chapel survives.