Category Archives: Restoration

The Royal Society (1660)

Hooke entertaining friends to dinner - Copy.jpg

On this day in 1660 was founded the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, nowadays generally known simply as the Royal Society.  The purpose of the Society, according to its Charter, was and is “To improve the knowledge of all natural things, and all useful Arts, manufactures, Mechanick practises, Engines and Inventions by Experiments – (not meddling with Divinity, Metaphysics, Moralls, Politicks, Grammar [or spelling, presumably], Rhetorick or Logick)”.

The founder members of the Society included Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle, Robert Moray, John Wilkins, and William, Viscount Brouncker.   Christopher Wren was an architect and a  member of an aristocratic family who had finally found favour in the Restoration, after years in the wilderness during the Protectorate and Commonwealth.  He was also an anatomist and astronomer (one wonders whether he, like Sartre’s autodidact, acquired his learning by reading an encyclopaedia, starting with the letter “A”); a follower of the “New Philosophy” of Francis Bacon; and, in short, an archetypal (English) Renaissance Man.    Hooke was another architect, who worked alongside Wren on the reconstruction of London following the Great Fire of 1666.  He was also a pioneer microscopist and polymath, although curmudgeonly as well as brilliant, and memorably described by  Samuel Pepys as  “the most,  and promises the least, of any man in the world that I ever saw”.

The Society’s first meetings were held at Gresham College, founded by a bequest by the financier and philanthropist Thomas Gresham, on the site of his house on Bishopsgate (now occupied by Tower 42).   Available to it here was not only a  room for its meetings, but also a separate room for its anniversary elections, another for its Repository and Museum of Curiosities, a Gallery, and a Great Hall.  Meetings were temporarily suspended in 1665 on account of the outbreak of Plague, and then temporarily moved to Arundel House after the Great Fire of 1666, when  the business of Gresham’s Exchange (the Royal Exchange), which had been burnt down, was moved to Gresham College, which had survived.

The Society’s meeting place and headquarters was later at Crane Court, from 1710-1780, at Somerset House,  from 1780-1857, and at Burlington House, from 1857-1967, and  has been at Carlton House Terrace since 1967.

Queen Henrietta Maria returns from exile (Samuel Pepys, 1660)

 

Anthony van Dyck's portrait of Henrietta Maria.jpg

On this day in 1660, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“So to White Hall, where when I came I saw the boats going very thick to Lambeth, and all the stairs to be full of people.  I was told the Queen [Henrietta Maria of France, the widow of the executed Charles I, and the mother of the then recently restored Charles II] was a-coming [home from the continent, where she had been in exile since her husband’s execution]; so I got a sculler for sixpence to carry me thither and back again, but I could not get to see the Queen; so came back, and to my Lord’s, … and I supt with him, he being very merry  … .  [Eventually] … I took leave of my Lord and Lady, and …  coach …  home … .  So to bed.  I observed this night very few bonfires in the City, not above three in all London, for the Queen’s coming; whereby I guess that (as I believed before) her coming do please but very few”.

 

The execution of Robert Hubert (1666)

The execution of Robert Hubert at Tyburn

On this day in 1666, one Robert Hubert was hanged at Tyburn for  allegedly having deliberately started  the Great Fire of London the previous month.  As his dead body was being taken down to be handed to the Company of Barber-Surgeons for dissection, it was torn limb from limb by an angry  mob of Londoners.

Although the fire is now almost universally regarded as having been brought about by “the hand of God”, or perhaps more accurately, the  negligence of Thomas Farriner or Farynor, who owned the bakery on Pudding Lane where it started, it was at the time, a time when the  tide of xenophobic sentiment in England  was running more than usually high, widely regarded as having been brought about by a foreign hand (*).   In its aftermath, Hubert, a watchmaker from Rouen in Normandy in France, quickly – and almost certainly “under duress” – confessed to having  set the fire while  acting as an agent of the Pope (he  was actually not a Catholic, but a Huguenot, or Protestant).  He was equally expeditiously convicted of the supposed crime – by a jury containing members of Farriner’s family – who had their own dark reasons for wanting to attach  the blame for the fire to  such a convenient scapegoat.  After his execution,  exculpatory evidence came to light that he had been aboard a Swedish ship called the Maid of Stockholm at the time of the outbreak of the fire.

(*) Indeed, until   as recently as 1830, the inscription on the Monument to the Great Fire included lines to that effect!

 

“The town begins to be lively again” (Samuel Pepys, 1665)

Lord have mercy on London.jpg

On this day in 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“The ‘Change pretty full, and the town begins to be lively again”.

The “Great Plague” was now well past its peak, and some semblance of normality was beginning to return to a stricken city.  The “Great Plague” killed at least 70000 people in London, and possibly as many as 100000 – far more than the “Black Death” of 1348-9, although far fewer in proportion to the overall population.  The “Bills of Mortality” show that of the 70000 recorded Plague deaths, only 10000 were in the 97 parishes within the walls of the City  – possibly because a significant proportion  of those inhabitants who could afford to do so had fled to the country.   The remaining 60,000  Plague deaths were in the 16 parishes without the walls, the 5 in Westminster, and the 12 in Middlesex and Surrey (St Giles Cripplegate, St Giles-in-the-Fields, St Margaret Westminster, St Martin-in-the-Fields, and Stepney, where there were “pest-houses”, were among the worst affected, with a total of well over 20,000 deaths – 6,500 of them in Stepney alone).  The bodies of the Plague victims were buried either in parish churchyards or in emergency “plague pits”, the latter including those of Tothill Fields in Westminster, to the west; Bedlam, Bunhill Fields and  Holywell Mount, to the north; Aldgate and the  Stepney pest-fields, to the east; and Crossbones Graveyard and Deadman’s Place, to the south.

“I went to see Harrison hanged, drawn and quartered” (Samuel Pepys, 1660)

On this day in 1660, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“[I]n the morning … I went out to Charing Cross, to see Major-general Harrison hanged, drawn and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition.  He was presently cut down, and his head and heart shown to the people, at which there was great shouts of joy.   It is said, that he said he was sure to come  shortly at the right hand of  Christ to judge them that now had judged him … .  Thus it was my chance to see … the first blood shed in revenge for the blood of the King [Charles I] at Charing Cross. Setting up shelves in my study”.

Harrison

Thomas Harrison was   one of a number of the signatories to the death warrant of Charles I at the end of the Civil War in 1649 – otherwise known as “regicides” – to be  hunted down and executed by Charles II after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660.

“The Mortality is less this week” (Samuel Pepys, 1665)

1 - Lord have mercy on London

On this day in 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“The Bill [of Mortality], blessed be God! is less this week by 740 of what is was the last”.

The “Great Plague” was finally past its peak, although it had still not yet run its entire course.   It eventually killed at least 70000 people in London, and possibly as many as 100000 – far more than the “Black Death” of 1348-9, although far fewer in proportion to the overall population.  The “Bills of Mortality” show that of the 70000 recorded Plague deaths, only 10000 were in the 97 parishes within the walls of the City  – possibly because a significant proportion  of those inhabitants who could afford to do so had fled to the country.    The remaining 60,000  Plague deaths were in the 16 parishes without the walls, the 5 in Westminster, and the 12 in Middlesex and Surrey (St Giles Cripplegate, St Giles-in-the-Fields, St Margaret Westminster, St Martin-in-the-Fields, and Stepney, where there were “pest-houses”, were among the worst affected, with a total of well over 20,000 deaths – 6,500 of them in Stepney alone).  The bodies of the Plague victims were buried either in parish churchyards or in emergency “plague pits”, the latter including those of Tothill Fields in Westminster, to the west; Bedlam, Bunhill Fields and  Holywell Mount, to the north; Aldgate and the  Stepney pest-fields, to the east; and Crossbones Graveyard and Deadman’s Place, to the south.

“In magnificent fashion his majesty entered … the city of London” (Anonymous, 1660)

Charles II coronation portrait by John Michael Wright

Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts of events in the history of London, this one of  the return to the City  of Prince Charles in 1660,  from an unnamed source:

“On Tuesday, May the 29th (which happily fell out to be the anniversary of his majesty’s birth-day), he set forth of Rochester in his coach; but afterwards he took horse on the farther side of Black-heath … .

… [P]roceeding towards London, there were placed in Deptford … above an hundred proper maids, … who, having prepared many flaskets …, which … were full of flowers and sweet herbs, strowed the way before him as he rode.

From thence he came to St George’s Fields in Southwark, where the lord mayor and aldermen of London … waited for him in a large tent, hung with tapestry; in which they had placed a chair of state … .  When he came thither, the lord mayor presented him with the city sword, and the recorder made a speech to him; which being done, he alighted, and went into the tent, where a noble banquet was prepared for him … .

In magnificent fashion his majesty entered the borough of Southwark, about half an hour past three of the clock … ; and, within an hour after, the city of London at the bridge; where he found the windows and streets exceedingly thronged with people to behold him; and the walls adorned with hangings … ; and in many places … loud musick; all the conduits … running claret wine; and the … companies in their liveries … ; as also the trained bands … standing along the streets … , welcoming him with joyful acclamations.

And within the rails where Charing-cross formerly was, a stand of six-hundred pikes, consisting of knights and gentlemen, as had been officers of the armies of his majesty of blessed memory … .

From which place, … his majesty … entered Whitehall at seven of the clock, the people making loud shouts, and the horse and foot several vollies of shot, at this his happy arrival.  Where …  parliament received him, and kissed his royal hand.  At the same time … the Reverend Bishops … , with divers of the long oppressed orthodox clergy, met in that royal chapel of king Henry the Seventh, at Westminster [Abbey], there also sang Te Deum, & c. in praise and thanks to Almighty God, for … his … deliverance of his majesty from many dangers, and … restoring him to rule these kingdoms, according to his just and undoubted right”.

May 29th was made a public holiday, “to be for ever kept as a Day of Thanksgiving for our Redemption from Tyranny and the King’s Return to his Government, he entering London that day”.  Although the public holiday, popularly known as “Oak Apple Day” or, more rarely, “Royal Oak Day”, was abolished in 1859, May 29th is  still marked by celebrations at  the Royal Hospital Chelsea, which was founded by Charles II in 1681.