Category Archives: Rebellious London

The execution of Bishop John Fisher (1535)

Fisher, as portrayed by Holbein

On this day in 1535, the 65 year old Bishop and  Cardinal John Fisher was executed for “misprision of treason”, for refusing to accept Henry VIII as the Supreme Head of the Church in England.  (The notoriously vengeful King had never forgiven Fisher for siding against him in the long-running dispute over his proposed divorce from Katherine of Aragon, and for arguing against him, and  for the indissolubility of marriage –  a principle that the Bishop swore he was prepared to die for – before the Papal  Legate in Blackfriars in 1529).  The Bishop had been tried and convicted at Westminster Hall on 17th June.  He had originally been sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 24th June, but when the King realised that this was the feast of St John the Baptist, he changed the date, reasoning that if he did not the public might forever associate John Fisher with his patronal namesake.  The Bishop  was eventually beheaded at Tower Hill on 22nd June (the feast of the first English Christian martyr, St Alban).  His head is said to have been shown to Anne Boleyn, who had expressed a desire to see it, and it was then stuck on a pole on London Bridge.

Fisher banner, All Hallows by the Tower.JPG

His body was buried in All Hallows-by-the-Tower (although later  reburied in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula inside the Tower).

By all accounts, the  Bishop met his death in a state of anticipation that was at times almost joyous.  According to one:

“[W]hen they reached the scaffold, the rough men of his escort offered to help him up the ladder. But he smiled at them: ‘Nay, … ye shall see me go up to my death well enough myself; without help’.  And forthwith he began to climb, almost nimbly. As he reached the top the sun appeared from behind the clouds, and its light shone upon his face. He was heard to murmur some words from Psalm 33 … .   The masked headsman knelt …  to ask his pardon. And again the cardinal’s manliness dictated every word of his answer: ‘I forgive thee with all my heart, and I trust on Our Lord Thou shalt see me die even lustily’.   Then they stripped him …  and … a  gasp of pity went up at the sight of his …  body, nothing …  but skin and bones …  the flesh clean wasted away; and a very image of death … .  He was offered a final chance to save his life by acknowledging the royal supremacy, but …  turned to the crowd, and …  spoke these words: ‘Christian people, I am come hither to die for the faith of Christ’s Catholic Church, and I thank God hitherto my courage hath served me well … , so that …  I have not feared death; wherefore I desire you help me … with your prayers, that at the very …  instant of my death’s stroke, …  I then faint not in …  fear; and I pray God save the king and the realm, and …  send the king a good counsel’.   The …  courage of his spirit triumphing over the obvious weakness of his body, amazed them all, and a murmur of admiration was still rustling the crowd when they saw him go down on his knees and begin to pray. … Then he …  put his wasted neck upon the low block”.

Bishop John Fisher is honoured as a Saint by both the Catholic Church and the Church of England, alongside Sir Thomas More (see also July 6th posting).  The Catholic Church beatified him in 1886, and canonised him in 1935, and celebrates his feast day on 22nd June, the day of his execution.  The Church of England added him to the Calendar of Saints and Heroes in 1980, and celebrates his feast day on 6th July, the day of More’s execution (see July 6th posting).

Site of execution, Tower Hill.JPG

Tower Hill, where Fisher was executed, is visited on our “London Wall” and “Tower to Temple” standard walks, and on our “Medieval London”, “Medieval City Highlights”, “Tudor and Stuart London”, “Tudor and Stuart City Highlights” 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).

“Three monks of the London Charterhouse were hanged, drawn and quartered” (1535)

carthusian_3.jpg

According to one – harsh – contemporary account, on this day in 1535:

“On the xix day of June, three monks of the London Charterhouse were hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn  – their quarters set up about London for denying the king to be supreme head of the Church (*). Their names were William Exmewe, Humphrey Middlemore and Sebastian Newdigate (**). These men were arraigned at Westminster and had behaved themselves very stiffly and stubbornly. When they heard their indictment read about how traitorously they had spoken against the King’s Majesty, his crown and dignity, they neither blushed nor bashed at it, but very foolishly and hypocritically acknowledged their treason which maliciously they announced, having no learning for their defence, but rather being asked many questions, they used a malicious silence, thinking as by their examinations afterward in the  Tower of London it did appear for they said they thought those men, which was Lord Cromwell and others that there sat upon them in judgement, to be heretics and not of the Church of God, and therefore not worthy to be either answered or spoken unto. And therefore as they deserved they received as you have heard before”.

(*) See also May 4th posting on “The martyrdom of John Houghton, the  Prior of the London Charterhouse”.

(**) Newdigate was a personal friend of the King, Henry VIII, but refused to take the oath acknowledging him as the supreme head of the church, despite being implored by him to do so, on two separate occasions.

“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 Harry Vane (Samuel Pepys, 1662)

Henry_Vane_the_Younger_by_Sir_Peter_Lely

On this day in 1662, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“[A]bout eleven o’clock, … we all went out to the Tower-hill; and there, over against the scaffold, made on purpose this day, saw Sir Harry Vane brought.  A very great press of people.  He made a long speech, many times interrupted by the Sheriff and others there; and they would have taken the paper out of his hand, but he would not let it go. … [So] trumpets were brought that he might not be heard.  Then he prayed, and so fitted himself, and received the blow … ”.

Vane had been one of the so-called “regicides” who had signed Charles I’s death-warrant during the Civil War.  Most of the surviving regicides were rounded up and executed by Charles’s son, Charles II, after he was restored to the throne in 1660.

Tower Hill is visited on various of our walks, including the “Tudor and Stuart London”, “Tudor and Stuart City Highlights” 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).

Civil War and Commonwealth

Cromwell, Palace of Westminster.JPG

Charles I, St Margaret Westminster.JPG

On this day in 1649,  at what was effectively the end of the Civil War, the Long  Parliament passed an Act making England  a Commonwealth and Free State “where Parliament would constitute the officers and ministers of the people without any kings or lords”.

Sites associated with the Civil War and Commonwealth are visited on various of our walks, including the  “Tudor and Stuart London”, “Tudor and Stuart City Highlights” 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).

Cromwell, Palace of Westminster.JPG