Category Archives: Rebellious London

Jack Cade’s rebellion (1450)

Jack Cade's rebellion.JPG

On this day in 1450 Jack Cade, alias Mortimer,  and thousands of armed supporters entered London “to punish evil ministers and procure a redress of grievances”.  Cade went on to strike  the “London Stone” on Cannon Street  with his sword, and declare himself “Lord of this City” (*); and in this capacity to oversee the show-trial at the Guildhall and subsequent execution on Cheapside of the corrupt Lord High Treasurer, James Fiennes, Baron of Saye and Sele, and his son-in-law William Crowmer.    Unfortunately for Cade, in succeeding days he lost what support he had for his cause among the citizens of London, as his followers descended into drunken  rioting and looting in the City.  Eventually, on July 8th, the citizens drove him and his followers from the City, after a pitched battle on London Bridge, during which scores of combatants were killed (**).

(*) An act  immortalised thus by Shakespeare in “Henry VI Part II”, Act IV, Scene VI:

“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.  And now, henceforward, it shall be treason for any that calls me other than Lord Mortimer”.

(**) Cade was later captured and executed in Sussex,  whereupon  his   body was brought to London and beheaded and quartered in the King’s Bench Prison in Southwark, and his head was put upon a pike on London Bridge.

Use of a chemical weapon  in Medieval London (1460)

During “The Wars of the Roses”, between 1455-85, London was an important centre of political machination, and the Tower, the scene of a series of chilling politically motivated murders, in forgotten dreadful cubicles behind great locked doors.

There was also some actual action in the City; and indeed there were pitched battles on its outskirts, at St Alban’s in 1455 and 1461, and  at Barnet in 1471.

Wildfire being let loose from a flame-thrower

On this day in 1460, a Yorkist army arrived at the gates of London, and was admitted by Aldermen sympathetic to their cause.  At this, the Lancastrian garrison in the Tower, under Thomas, the Seventh Baron Scales, indiscriminately opened fire on the City in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to prevent its  occupation, using both  conventional and  chemical weapons from the Royal Armoury, causing both combatant and civilian  casualties,  and occasioning extreme public outrage, ultimately resulting in Scales’s  summary execution (*).  The chemical weapon, let loose from a  primitive and unreliable flame-thrower, was  “Greek fire” or “wildfire”, which may be  thought of as a form of napalm, that stuck and set fire to  everything – and everyone –  it came into contact with, and flared  up even more fiercely if water was cast onto it (*).

(*) As a contemporary chronicler put it: “They that were within the Tower cast wildfire into the City, and shot in small guns, and burned and hurt men and women and children in the streets”.

 

Be of good comfort, brother

1 - Burning of Protestants at Stratford.jpg

On this day in 1556, during the Counter-Reformation, some 20000 people gathered in Stratford to witness the burning at the stake by the Catholic Queen Mary Tudor of thirteen Protestants (eleven men and two women) accused of  heresy.

2 - Memorial to the Protestant martyrs ar Stratford.JPG

There is a memorial to the martyrs outside the church of St John in Stratford.

3 - Burning of Protestants at Smithfield

A number of Protestant heretics were also burned at the stake by Mary  in West Smithfield, many of whom were later buried in the nearby church of St James  in Clerkenwell.

4 - Memorial to Protestant martyrs at West Smithfield

There is a memorial to three of them, namely, John Bradford, John Philpot and John Rogers,  in West Smithfield …

Martyrs - Copy

… and another in the church of St James in Clerkenwell.

John Foxe gives an account of the burning of Bradford in his “Book of Martyrs”, published in 1563, which reads as follows:

“ … When Bradford and Leaf came to the Stake … , they lay flat on their faces, praying to themselves the space of a minute of an hour.  Then one of the Sheriffs said … , Arise and make an end … .  At that word they both stood … and … Bradford took a Fagot in his hand, and kissed it, and so likewise the Stake.  … And so … Bradford went to the Stake: and holding up his hands, and casting his countenance to Heaven, he said thus, O England, England, repent thee of thy sins, repent thee of thy sins.  Beware of Idolatry, beware of false Antichrists, take heed they do not deceive you.  And … one of the Officers … made the fire … .  [And] Bradford … asked all the world forgiveness, and forgave all the world, and prayed the people to pray with him, and turned … unto the young man that suffered with him, and said, Be of good comfort Brother; for we shall have a merry Supper with the Lord this night: And so spake no more words that any man did hear … ”.

By way of balance, there are various memorials to Catholics executed by the Protestant Tudors in the Charterhouse and in the church of St Etheldreda in Holborn.  And there is another, near the site of the infamous “Tyburn Tree”, on Tyburn Convent.

 

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.  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.

Site of execution, Tower Hill.JPG

 

“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”.

(*) 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)

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 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.

 

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

(*) 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.

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”.

Cromwell, Palace of Westminster.JPG