Category Archives: Post-Medieval

Reversal of Fortune (1621)

Fortune Theatre window, St Giles Cripplegate

On this day in 1621, the “Fortune Theatre”, built by “Good Master” Edward Alleyn in 1600, burnt down …

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The site of the theatre is marked by a plaque on Fortune Street.

Edward Alleyn and Fortune Theatre windows, St Giles Cripplegate.JPG

Both the theatre and Alleyn are commemorated in a stained glass window in the church of St Giles Cripplegate.

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Alleyn is also commemorated by a statue in Dulwich College.

Readers interested in further information on the theatre and on the contemporary scene are referred to Julian Bowsher’s excellent recent book entitled “Shakespeare’s London Theatreland” (Museum of London Archaeology, 2012).

“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”.

“Pride’s purge” (1648)

Cromwell dissolving the Long Parliament (Andrew Gow, 1907)

On this day in 1648, during the English Civil War, the Parliamentarian Colonel Thomas Pride expelled over one hundred Presbyterian Members of the “Long Parliament” from the Houses of Parliament, in what became known as “Pride’s Purge” (*).  The remaining Members, constituting the “Rump Parliament”, then instigated the legal proceedings against the King, Charles I, that led to his trial for treason, and eventually to his execution.

(*) At this time, the King and supporting Royalists were Episcopalians (who believed in the supremacy of the Bishops), and opposing Parliamentarians were divided among two factions, Independents and Presbyterians (who did not).  The Independents mistrusted the English Presbyterians because their Scottish counterparts had earlier entered into an alliance with the King.

“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”.

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (d. 1530) 

1 - A seventeenth-century portrait of Wolsey.jpg

On this day in 1530 died Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry VIII’s Archbishop of York, Lord Chancellor and, in practice, alter rex, or “other king”.

2 - A twentieth-century depiction of Henry and Catherine appearing before Wolsey and the Legatine Court.jpg

Wolsey  had been en route from York to London, where he had been due to face a trial for treason  over his failure to  secure an annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon (so as to enable him to marry Anne Boleyn).  Among his last words were the following: “Had I but served my God with but half the zeal as I served my king [in his “Great Matter”], He would not in mine age have left me naked to mine enemies”.

3 - The Field of Cloth-of-Gold

The most of Wolsey’s many notable services to the state included arranging the “Anglo-French Treaty” in 1514, and the “Treaty of London” – essentially a pan-European non-aggression pact – in 1518, as well as the “Field of Cloth-of-Gold” (Camp du Drap d’Or) in  1520.

“The queen removed from the Lord North’s palace” (Henry Machyn, 1558)

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

“The 28th day of November the queen removed to the Tower from the Lord North’s palace, [which] was the Charterhouse.  All the streets unto the Tower … new gravelled.  Her Grace rode through Barbican and Cripplegate, by London Wall unto Bishopsgate, and up to Leadenhall and through Gracechurch Street and Fenchurch Street; and afore rode gentlemen and many knights and lords, and after came all the trumpets blowing, and then came all the heralds in array; and my Lord of Pembroke bore the queen’s sword; and then came her Grace on horseback, apparelled in purple velvet with a scarf about her neck, and the sergeants of arms about her Grace; and next after her rode Sir Robert Dudley the Master of her Horse; and so the guard with halberds.  And there was such shooting of guns as never was heard afore; so to the Tower, with all the nobles … ”.

London’s “Little Ice Age” and the Great “Frost Fairs”

The Frozen Thames in 1677

On this day in 1434 a severe frost set in in London that was to last until the February of the following year, and the Thames froze over.

Further records indicate that in all the river froze  over  nearly forty  times between 1142 and 1895, and that it became the site of impromptu “Frost Fairs” in 1564-65, 1683-84, 1715-16, 1739-40, 1788-89 and 1813-14.

Frost Fair on the Thames at Temple Steps (1684).jpg

In 1683-84 an entire street of stalls was set up on the frozen river, together with a press printing souvenir papers, one of which, entitled “A Winter Wonder of the Thames Frozen Over with Remarks on the Resort thereon” asked “ … [W]ho’d believe to see revived there in January, Bartholomew Fair?”.  The ice was evidently so thick that it was even possible to roast an ox on it!    In 1788-89, there was, according to the all-knowing Encyclopaedia of London, “one continual scene of merriment and jollity” on the frozen river from Redriff to  as far up as  Putney.

Frost Fair in 1814.jpg

And in 1813-14, thousands  attended the greatest fair of the nineteenth  century, although only after navigating a gap in the ice created by temporarily unemployed watermen, who demanded a fee of twopence for their assistance!  Then, in 1831, the  demolition of the Old London Bridge, which had  nineteen arches, and the construction of the new one, which only had five, allowed  the rate of flow of the river  to increase to the extent that it became  much less susceptible to freezing  over.

Readers interested in further details are referred to The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys (Union Books, 2007), and Frost Fairs on the Frozen Thames by Nicholas Reed (Lilburne Press, 2002).