Category Archives: Tudor

Life and death in Tudor London (Henry Machyn, 1563)


On this day in 1563, Henry Machyn wrote in his diary:

“One master Lynsey armourer dwelling in Bishope-gate street did hang himself in a privy house for he had his office taken away from him … .  The same day there was a maid dwelling in Hay lane … did fall out of a window and break her neck.  The same day … in saint Martens there was a woman dwelling there took a pair of shearers for to have cut her throat, but she missed the pipe in her … madness, and … a day after … died … ”.

Machyn, who lived from 1496/1498–1563, was  a merchant-taylor or clothier but is now best known as a diarist or chronicler.  His  Diary, written between 1550-1563, contains descriptions of such  important events in Tudor history as the Reformation, and the conversion of the country to Protestantism, under Henry VIII, and the reversion to Catholicism under Henry’s daughter Mary.  Judging from his actions, as well as from  the tone of the Chronicle, Machyn would appear to have been at least  a closet Catholic.  In 1561, he committed the sinful act of “spyking serten [slanderous] words against Veron the [Protestant] preacher”, for which he paid penance at St Paul’s Cross.


“Ye should do very well to inhibit all plays” (Edmund Grindal, 1564)


On this day in 1564, Edmund Grindal (then Bishop of London and later  Archbishop of Canterbury) wrote in a letter to William Cecil, the  First Baron  Burghley or Burleigh (a statesman and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I through much of her reign):

 “Mr Calfhill this morning showed me your letter to him, wherein ye wish some politic orders to be devised against infection.  I think it very necessary … .  By search I do perceive that there is no one thing … more like to have renewed this contagion than the practice of an idle sort of people which have been infamous in all commonweals: I mean these histriones, common players, who now daily, but specifically on holidays, set up bills, whereunto the youth resorteth excessively and there taketh infection: besides that God’s word by their impure mouths is profaned … .  For remedy whereof in my judgement, ye should do very well to … inhibit all plays for one whole year (and if it were for ever, it were not amiss) within the City or three miles’ compass, upon pains as well to the players as to the owners of the houses where they play their lewd interludes”.

The post-Medieval theatre scene in London is discussed on various of our walks, including the “Tudor and Stuart London” and “Tudor and Stuart 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 (

The execution of Lady Jane Grey (1554)

A romanticised view of the execution of Lady Jane Grey, by Delaroche

On this day in 1554, Lady Jane Grey was executed on the orders of Queen Mary.  She  had previously been proclaimed Queen on July 10th, 1553 (see July 10th posting), only to be usurped by Mary nine days later on July 19th (see July 19th posting), and   tried and convicted of high treason on November 13th.  This was despite the previous King, Edward VI, having in his will  nominated her  as his preferred successor to the throne (she being a fellow  Protestant; Mary,  a Catholic).

Lady Jane’s father, Henry Grey, was  executed a matter of a few days later, on February 23rd, for his role in “Wyatt’s Rebellion” (see also February 3rd posting).


Essex’s rebellion (1601)

The death of Essex from a broadside

On this day in 1601, Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex, allegedly led an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the then Queen,  Elizabeth I, and her court, a treasonous act for which he was later tried, convicted and, on February 25th, beheaded (at the Tower of London).  Four of his supporters, Sir Christopher Blount, Sir Henry Cuffe, Sir Charles Danvers and Sir Gelli Meyrick,  were also executed, on March 5th, although all the  others, including the Earl of Southampton, were spared.

A painting of Essex

Essex had earlier been publicly disgraced and politically and financially ruined by being placed under house arrest and removed from his office as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, for  failing to execute Elizabeth’s orders to him to suppress an insurrection in that country (led by the Earls of Tyrone).  It was in Essex House – on the Strand – that he hatched his crackpot  plot.  On February 7th, 1601 he took a boat from Essex Steps to the “Globe” in Southwark to bribe Shakespeare’s “Lord Chancellor’s Men” to stage a special performance of “Richard II”, overplaying the scene in which the King was deposed, with a view to encouraging support among the watching crowd.  The plan began to backfire on the morning of the fateful following day, February 8th, when four of the Queen’s men arrived to arrest him, and he was forced to take them hostage (one of them being Thomas Egerton, the 1st Viscount Brackley, the Lord Keeper).  However, he decided to carry   on regardless, and, with some two hundred followers, marched from Essex House upon the City.  When  they  arrived at the gates, they met with a hostile reception, having by that time  already been denounced as traitors (by Robert Cecil, the 1st Earl of Salisbury, the  Secretary of State).  At this, most of Essex’s  supporters deserted him, and he was forced to return to Essex House, where after a short siege, during which he attempted to destroy any evidence that might incriminate him, he found himself forced to surrender to the Queen’s men (under the  Earl of Nottingham).

The site of Essex House is visited 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 (


John Rogers – the first of the “Marian martyrs” – is burned at the stake in Smithfield (1555)


John Rogers, the vicar of the church of St Sepulchre without Newgate, was burned at the stake in Smithfield on this day in 1555.  He was the first of many “Marian martyrs”, put to death for their perceived heretical Protestantism during the reign  – and counter-Reformation – of the Catholic Queen Mary.


According to the account in John Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs”:

“Now when the time came that he, being delivered to the sheriffs, should be brought out of Newgate to Smithfield, the place of his execution, first came to him master Woodroofe, one of the aforesaid sheriffs, and calling master Rogers unto him, asked him if he would revoke his abominable doctrine, and his evil opinion of the sacrament of the altar. Master Rogers answered and said, “That which I have preached I will seal with my blood.” “Then,” quoth master Woodroofe, “thou art a heretic.” “That shall be known,” quoth Rogers, “at the day of judgment.” “Well,” quoth master Woodroofe, “I will never pray for thee.” “But I will pray for you,” quoth master Rogers; and so was brought the same day, which was Monday the 4th of February, by the sheriffs toward Smithfield, saying the psalm “Miserere” by the way, all the people wonderfully rejoicing at his constancy, with great praises and thanks to God for the same. And there, in the presence of master Rochester, comptroller of the queen’s household, sir Richard Southwell, both the sheriffs, and a wonderful number of people, the fire was put unto him; and when it had taken hold both upon his legs and shoulders, he, as one feeling no smart, washed his hands in the flame, as though it had been in cold water. And, after lifting up his hands unto heaven, not removing the same until such time as the devouring fire had consumed them – most mildly this happy martyr yielded up his spirit into the hands of his heavenly Father. A little before his burning at the stake, his pardon was brought, if he would have recanted, but he utterly refused. He was the first proto-martyr of all the blessed company that suffered in queen Mary’s time, that gave the first adventure upon the fire. His wife and children, being eleven in number, and ten able to go, and one sucking on her breast, met him by the way as he went towards Smithfield. This sorrowful sight of his own flesh and blood could nothing move him; but that he constantly and cheerfully took his death, with wonderful patience, in the defence and quarrel of Christ’s gospel.”

Protestant martyrs plaque, West Smithfield - Copy.JPG

The site is visited on our “Historic Smithfield … ” standard walk, and on our “Post-Medieval [Tudor and Stuart] 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 (

Wyatt’s Rebellion


In late 1553 to early 1554,  Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger plotted a rebellion against the Queen, Mary, and in particular her plan  to marry the Catholic King of Spain, Philip (*).

The aims of the rebellion were  to overthrow Mary; to put in her place her half-sister Elizabeth; and to have Elizabeth marry the Protestant Earl of Devon, Edward Courtenay.

These aims were to be achieved by force of arms, with each of the four main rebel leaders responsible for assembling  an army in his respective corner of the country before marching on London: Wyatt in Kent; Henry Grey (the father of Lady Jane Grey), the Duke of Suffolk, in Leicestershire; Sir James Croft in Herefordshire; and Sir Peter Carew in Devon.

In the event, only Wyatt succeeded in raising much of a rebel  army, which grew further on its march to London through desertions from forces sent to oppose it, and eventually became some four thousand strong.

The  army arrived in Southwark on this day, February 3rd, in 1554, to find its way into the City of London blocked at London Bridge by further forces, responding to Mary’s stirring rallying-call at the Guildhall two days earlier (the army  was also  threatened by cannon in the Tower of London, commanded by the Lieutenant of the Tower, John Bruges or Brydges, who intimated that he was prepared to put them to use).   It then  withdrew, wheeled west to Kingston to cross the river there, marched back east and  attempted to enter the City again at Ludgate, on February 7th or 8th (sources differ)where it was again faced down, and where it broke up.

After the failure of his rebellion, Wyatt was tortured at the Tower before being tried, convicted and eventually executed (on April 11th).  His torturers had evidently hoped that he would somehow implicate Elizabeth, but he did not.  Elizabeth was herself temporarily imprisoned in the Tower while her supposed complicity was further investigated, but none was ever  proven.  She eventually became Queen after Mary’s death in 1558, and restored to the Wyatt family the titles and lands that Mary  had confiscated after the failed rebellion of four years before, including Allington Castle near Maidstone (substantially destroyed in a fire in the seventeenth century, and subsequently restored in the twentieth).

The Tower of London, where Wyatt was executed, 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 (

(*) His  father,  Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder (1503-1542), was, among other things, a fine  poet, widely credited with introducing the Petrarchan sonnet into English literature.  Wyatt the Elder was himself twice imprisoned in the Tower, the first time, in 1536, for his supposed adultery with Anne Boleyn.

The death of Henry VIII

An Allegory of Reformation.png

On this day in 1547, Henry VIII “dyed at hys most princely howse at Westminster, comenly called Yorkeplace or Whytehall”  (Stow).

There is an extraordinary at least broadly contemporary anonymous painting of the scene in the National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square.  It is entitled “An Allegory of Reformation”, and depicts  on the left Henry on his death-bed handing his kingly power, and with it the responsibility for the defence of the Protestant faith, to the central figure of his young son, the future Edward VI – with a defeated Catholic Pope at his feet!  Standing to Edward’s left is  his  uncle, Edward Seymour, First Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector.  Seated round a table, under a painting of image-breaking, are: in white vestments, Thomas  Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury; with a grey beard, John Russell, First Earl of Bedford and Lord Privy Seal; and five further gentlemen whose identities are either disputed or altogether unknown.

The site of Whitehall Palace is visited on our “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey” standard walk, and on our “Tudor and Stuart  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 (