Category Archives: Medieval

St Etheldreda (and Ely Palace)

Today is the Feast of St Etheldreda, who was the Abbess of Ely in the seventh century …

The church of St Etheldreda

Easily  overlooked on account of its tucked-away location on Ely Place, the  church of St Etheldreda was originally built as a private chapel in Ely Palace (see below), owned by the Bishops of Ely,  in  around 1293, and pressed into service as an Anglican church after the Reformation.  It was undamaged  in the  Great Fire of 1666, although it has been somewhat modified subsequently.  It was “restored to the old faith” in 1874.

1 - The decorated Gothic exterior of the church of St Etheldreda.JPG

The exterior  is a rare, restrained  and fine surviving example of the Decorated Gothic style of ecclesiastical architecture.

2 - The interior of the church, with effigies of Catholic martyrs on the walls.JPG

The interior contains a number of memorials to Catholic martyrs, including John Houghton, Prior of Charterhouse, who was hanged, drawn and quartered  at Tyburn in 1535 for challenging King Henry VIII’s  supremacy over the Church.

Ely Palace

Reconstruction of Ely Palace.JPG

John of Gaunt lived in Ely Palace after his own Savoy Palace was destroyed in the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 (see June 15th posting).

John of Gaunt

In a scene in Shakespeare’s  “Richard II”, set here, he uttered the immortal words:

“This royal throne of kings, this sceptr’d isle,|This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,|This other Eden, demi-paradise,|This fortress built by Nature for herself|Against infection and the hand of war,|This happy breed of men, this little world,|This precious stone set in the silver sea,|Which serves it in the office of a wall,|Or as a moat defensive to a house,|Against the envy of less happier lands,|This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”.

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.  One such, in 1531, attended by the then king, Henry VIII and his queen,  Catherine of Aragon, is said to have lasted for five days!  According to surviving records, the guests managed to get  through 24 oxen, 51 cows, 91 pigs, 100 sheep, 168 swans, 444 pigeons, 720 chickens and over 4000 larks!

Sir Christopher Hatton.jpg

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.

The church and the site of the palace are  visited on our “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London”  themed special.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

 

 

 

 

“The Exile’s Silent Lament” – London connections to the Welsh Revolt (1400-1415)

Following on from the earlier posting on London connections to the Cornish Revolt …

The Welsh freedom-fighter Owain Glyndwr’s daughter Catrin and her children were captured by the English at the Siege of Harlech in 1409.    They  were  then brought to London and imprisoned in the Tower, and at least most if not all of them died there in 1413, under circumstances best described as “mysterious” (*).  Surviving records indicate that Catrin and two of her daughters were buried not in the Tower but in the churchyard of St Swithin London Stone on the other side of the city (there are no records of what became of her other daughter or of her son Lionel).

Catrin Glyndwr memorial.jpg

A modern Gelligaer bluestone sculpture by Nic Stradlyn-John and Richard Renshaw, inscribed with a Welsh englyn by Menna Elfyn, marks the spot.  Freely (by me) rendered into English, the  englyn reads: “In the Tower, now her home,|Her heart-song turns to longing:|The exile’s silent lament”.

The Tower of London is visited – although not entered – on various of our walks, including the  “London Wall” and “Tower to Temple” standard walks, and the  “Medieval London”, “Medieval City Highlights” and “Rebellious London”  themed specials.

The churchyard of St Swithin London Stone is visited on our “Tower to Temple” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London”, “Medieval City Highlights” and “Rebellious London” themed specials.   (The church itself was substantially destroyed in the bombing of the Second World War, and subsequently demolished).

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

(*) The children had a claim to the English throne through their late father Edmund Mortimer (who was descended from Edward III).  Some suspect that they were done to death so as to prevent them from making any such claim.

 

The Battle of Deptford Bridge (1497)

Commemorative plaque on Blackheath, put up on 500th anniversary of Battle.jpg

On or around this day in 1497, around 10000 – lightly – armed Cornish rebels gathered on Blackheath preparatory to marching on London to protest against oppressive royal rule and punitive taxation (suspension of the privileges of the “Stannary Charter” of 1305).  Unfortunately for them, they failed to rally  any support there from the Kentish, who were rightly fearful of a reprisal of the sort that had been meted out to them for their support of the Peasants’ Revolt in  1381 and Jack Cade’s rebellion in 1450.  It was thus a comparatively  weak force, further diluted by desertion,  that eventually lighted out  for London, and certainly one that was easily crushed by the king’s 20000-strong professional army  at the Battle of Deptford Bridge (also known as the Battle of Blackheath).  Contemporary records indicate that between two hundred and two thousand Cornishmen were killed in the battle, along with between eight and three hundred of the king’s men.  The principal rebel leaders   Michael Joseph the Smith (An Gof) and Thomas Flamank were  captured at the battle and hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn ten days later, whereupon their heads were put up on pike-staffs on London Bridge.  Flamank was quoted as saying  “Speak the truth and only then can you be free of your chains”.  Nonetheless, the persecution and pauperisation of the Cornish continued for many years to come.

The Cornish Revolt is discussed on our “Rebellious London” themed special.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

Summer of Blood (1381)

The death of Wat Tyler

On this day in 1381, the so-called Peasants’ Revolt came to an end when one of its leaders  was killed at West Smithfield (*).

According to the French chronicler Jean  Froissart (c.1337-c.1405), writing in the second of his “Chroniques”, completed in 1388:

“This day all the rabble … assembled under Wat Tyler, John [Jack] Straw and John Ball, at a place called Smithfield … . There were present about 20,000, … breakfasting, and drinking Rhenish wine and Malmsey Madeira … without paying for anything … . [W]hen the King [Richard II], attended by sixty horses, … arrived before the Abbey of St Bartholomew, … and saw the crowd of people, he stopped, saying that he would …  endeavour to appease them. Wat Tyler … was only desirous of a riot … .   … The Mayor of London [William Walworth], with about twelve men, rode forward, armed under their robes, …  seeing Tyler’s manner of behaving, … .  [T]he Mayor, … supported by the King, … then drew a kind of scimitar, and struck Tyler such a blow on the head as felled him to his horse’s feet.  As soon as the rebel was down, he was surrounded on all sides, in order that his own men might not see him; and one of the King’s squires, by name John Standwich, immediately leaped from his horse, and drawing his sword, thrust it into his belly, so that he died.  When the rebels found that their leader was dead, they drew up in a sort of battle array, each man having his bow bent before him.  The King at this time … hazarded much, though it turned out most fortunately for him; for … he left his attendants, giving orders that no one should follow him, and riding up to the rebels, … said ‘Gentlemen,   … I am your King, remain peaceable’.  The greater part, on hearing these words, were quite ashamed, and those among them who were inclined for peace began to slip away …  ”.

Recently-erected memorial

West Smithfield  is visited on our “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London” and “Rebellious London” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

(*) On preceding days,  the  mob had attacked  a number of Establishment buildings in and around the City, including the Tower of London and John of Gaunt’s Savoy Palace, and killed many  of their occupants.  Among  the dead were Robert Hales, the Lord High Treasurer, who had introduced the Poll Tax that had triggered the rebellion; and Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The execution of Lord Chamberlain Hastings (1483)

Lord Hastings

On this day in 1483, Lord Chamberlain Hastings was summarily beheaded in the Tower of London on the orders of the Duke of Gloucester, purportedly for plotting to kill him.  The death of Hastings removed one of the last obstacles standing between the ambitious Gloucester and the crown (Hastings having been  a supporter of the rival claimant, the recently deceased Edward IV’s son, also named Edward – one of the similarly ill-fated “Princes in the Tower”).  Gloucester was duly offered the crown in Baynard’s Castle on June 26th – becoming Richard III.

The Tower of London and Baynard’s Castle are visited on various of our walks, including the “Medieval London” and “Medieval City Highlights” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

The “Knollys Rose” ceremony

The Knollys Rose.jpg

The procession leaves the church of All Hallows

The annual “Knollys Rose” ceremony will take place a week today, on Wednesday 20th June, at 10:45.  A single red rose  will be  processed, amid much pomp, through the streets from  All Hallows-by-the-Tower to the Mansion House,  there to be presented, on the   altar cushion from the church, to the Lord Mayor of London.

The ceremony dates back to  1381, when Lady Constance Knollys built a footbridge from her house to the opposite side of  Seething Lane without first seeking the Medieval equivalent of planning permission, and was fined a single red rose by the then Lord Mayor, Sir William Walworth.  Walworth just happened to be a friend of Lady Constance’s husband, Sir Robert Knollys (a soldier, who at the time of the incident was fighting alongside John of Gaunt  in the Hundred Years War against the French).

The church of All Hallows is visited, although generally not entered, on   our “London Wall” and “Tower to Temple” standard walks, and on our “Dark Age London”, “Medieval London”, “Medieval City Highlights” and “Great Fire of London” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

Lightning strikes “old” St Paul’s – again (1561)

3 - Visscher panorama of 1616 showing old St Paul's without spire

On this day in 1561, “old” St Paul’s Cathedral (*) lost its spire in a lightning strike (see also February 1st and July 2nd postings).  The following is an account of the event from a  news-sheet of the time:

“… [B]etween one and two of the clock at afternoon was seen a marvellous great fiery lightning, and immediately ensued a most terrible hideous crack of thunder such as seldom hath been heard, and that by estimation of sense, directly over the City of London.  … Divers persons in time of the said tempest being on the river of Thames, and others being in the fields near adjoining to the City affirmed that they saw a long and spear-pointed flame of fire (as it were) run through the top of the broach or shaft of Paul’s steeple, from the east westward.  And some of the parish of St Martin’s [Ludgate] being then in the street did feel a marvellous strong air or whirlwind with a smell like brimstone coming from Paul’s Church. …  Between four and five of the clock a smoke was espied … to break out under the bowl of the said shaft … .  But suddenly after, as it were in a moment, the flame broke forth in a circle like a garland round about the broach, … and increased in such wise that within a quarter of an hour or a little more, the cross and the eagle on the top fell down upon the south cross aisle … .

Some there were, pretending experience in wars, that counselled the remnants of the steeple to be shot down with cannons, which counsel was not liked … .  Others perceiving the steeple to be past all recovery, considering the hugeness of the fire and the dropping of the lead, thought best to get ladders and scale the church, and with axes to hew down a space of the roof of the church to stay the fire, at the least to save some part of the church: which was concluded”.

“Old” St Paul’s was built in the Norman, or Romanesque, to Early Gothic styles in the years after  1087 by the  Bishop, Maurice and his successors; rebuilt and extended in the Gothic style in 1221-1240,  and in the “New Work” of 1269-1332; renovated in the Renaissance  style by Inigo Jones in 1633-1641, and again by Wren, after the Civil War, during which it had been occupied by  Parliamentary troops and horses, in 1660; and burnt down in  the Great Fire of 1666.  There is a model of Old St Paul’s in the Museum of London.  It was clearly an impressive building, measuring some 600’ in length, and rising to a height of between 460-520’ (estimates vary),  inclusive of the spire.  As John Denham wrote in 1624:   “That sacred pile, so vast, so high/That whether ‘tis a part of earth or sky/Uncertain seems, and may be thought a proud/Aspiring mountain or descending cloud … ”.

St Paul’s Cathedral is visited, although not entered, on our  “London Wall”, “Tower to Temple”, “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn” and “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey” standard walks, and on our “Dark Age London”, “Medieval London”, “Medieval City Highlights”, “Tudor and Stuart London”, “Tudor and Stuart City Highlights”, “Great Fire of London” and “Lost Wren Churches” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

(*) The name is something of a misnomer, as by the time it was built, there had already been three cathedrals on the site, built in 604, 675 and 962 (see also December 2nd posting).