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.

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

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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).

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Charles I was executed outside the Banqueting House in 1649.

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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).

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

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

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… 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 …

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

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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” …

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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.

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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.

 

Temple

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

Temple (Henry VI Part I)

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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.

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

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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.

Southwark

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

Southwark (Henry VI Part II)

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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.

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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.

 

Smithfield

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.

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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).

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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.

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Only the Savoy Chapel survives.

The Palace of Westminster

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

The Palace of Westminster (Henry IV Part I; Henry IV Part II; Henry V; Henry VI Part I; Henry VI Part II; Henry VI Part III; King John; Richard II; Richard  III)

The old Palace of Westminster was purportedly originally built for Cnut in around 1016, and subsequently rebuilt by Edward “The Confessor”, in 1042-65, and extended by succeeding kings, with Parliament meeting in Westminster Hall from 1265, and then in the secularised Royal Chapel of St Stephen from 1547/8.

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Some of the palace complex was destroyed in a fire in 1512; and most of what remained in another fire in 1834, with essentially only Westminster Hall and the Jewel Tower surviving, together with parts of the Royal Chapel of St Stephen, including the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft.

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The new palace was built by Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin, in the Victorian Gothic style, between 1840-58.

Westminster Hall was originally built as a royal residence cum banqueting house by William II in 1097-99, and subsequently rebuilt,  with a spectacular hammerbeam roof by Hugh Herland and Henry Yevele, for Richard II, in 1394-1401.  It survived the fires of 1512 and 1834, but was damaged during the Blitz of the Second World War, and has since been  further damaged by Death Watch Beetle, the infestation thought to have taken hold in  timbers that had become soaked during the war-time fire-fighting (note also, though, that Westminster was historically particularly prone to floods, Matthew Paris describing one such in 1241, during which “people rode into the great hall on horseback”).  What is widely regarded as the first representative Parliament, convened by Simon de Montfort, was held here in 1265.

London Stone

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

London Stone (Henry VI Part II)

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The so-called “London Stone” now stands at 111  Cannon Street, although unfortunately in an easily overlooked position at street level.

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From 1798 it had  been  incorporated into the south wall of the church of St Swithin London Stone, and was preserved when the church was demolished in 1957, according to a stipulation in the conditions for the redevelopment of the site.

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Previous to that it had stood in the middle of the street, and was apparently used as a place from which to make important public pronouncements throughout the Middle Ages, being evidently richly endowed with  symbolic significance.

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During the failed rebellion of 1450 that ended with the “Harvest of the Heads” of the leaders, one of the same, Jack Cade, alias Mortimer,  struck the stone with his sword, and declared himself to be “Lord of this City”, an act  immortalised thus by Shakespeare in “Henry VI, Part II”, Act IV, Scene VI (London, Cannon Street): “Now is Mortimer Lord of this City.  And here, sitting upon London-stone, I charge and command that, of the city’s cost, the pissing-conduit run nothing but claret wine this first year of our reign”.

The first (Lord) Mayor of London, appointed in 1189, was Henry Fitz-Ailwyn de Londonestone, who evidently hailed from hereabouts.  And the  recorded history of the stone extends back even beyond the Medieval period and into the Saxon: it is referred to in a document of Athelstan, the first  Saxon King of All England (924-39).  Indeed, it is possible, although not proven, that before that, it  was associated in some way with  the Roman “Governor’s Palace” complex that once stood nearby, and now forms part of a Scheduled Ancient Monument substantially under Cannon Street Station (it   has  been postulated, plausibly, that it served as a milliarium, or centre-stone, from which Roman roads radiated and distances were measured).  According to one of many romantic myths surrounding the stone, it was the very one which Brutus used to mark the city of Troia Nova, and “So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish”.  As Leo Hollis put it, in his book “The Stones of London”: “We will never know [its true origin], and perhaps that is as it should be”.

Ely Palace

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

Ely Palace (Richard II)

Ely Palace was originally built in around 1293.  John of Gaunt came to live here after his own Savoy Palace was destroyed in the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381.  In a scene in Shakespeare’s  “Richard II”, he utters his famous dying “This England” speech here.  The palace’s gardens were said to produce the finest strawberries in London, in honour of which a “Strawberrie Fayre” is still held nearby  every June.  In a scene in “Richard III”, Gloster says to Ely: “My Lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn, I saw good strawberries in your garden there; I do beseech you, send me some of them”.

The palace’s Great Hall was famed for its banquets.  According to surviving records, the guests at one such  in 1531, who included  the Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, managed over the course of five days to work their way through 24 oxen, 51 cows, 91 pigs, 100 sheep, 168 swans, 444 pigeons and 720 chickens – not to mention 340 dozen, that is, 4080, larks!

In 1576, the palace was ordered by Elizabeth I to be leased to  her  favourite Sir Christopher Hatton, for a rent of £10 a year, ten loads of hay, and a rose picked at mid-summer.   It remained more or less continuously  in the possession of the Hatton family until the death of the last Lord Hatton in 1772, when it was finally demolished to make way for what is now Hatton Garden.