Tag Archives: Bishopsgate

MEDIEVAL LONDON  contd.

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Another in the  series of posts taken from  my forthcoming book, “The Flower Of All Cities” …

Lancastrian and Yorkist History, and the Wars of the Roses

The Lancastrian Henry of Bolingbroke was formally crowned King Henry IV, after the deposition of Richard II, on the feast day of St Edward the Confessor, October 13th (although technically the heir-presumptive had been Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, who was descended from Edward III).  The Welsh Revolt against English rule broke out during  his reign, in 1400, and ended during that of his son Henry V in 1415, in defeat for the rebels.  Its principal leader, Owain Glyndwr, the anglicised version of whose name is Owen Glendower, went into hiding in 1415, never to be seen or heard of again (Owain’s lieutenant Rhys Ddu was   captured on a raid into Shropshire in 1410, brought to London, “laid on a hurdle and so drawn forth to Tyburn through the City”,  and there “hanged and let down again”, and “his head … smitten off and his body quartered and sent to four towns and his head set on London Bridge”).  Owain’s daughter Catrin and her children had previously been captured by the English at the Siege of Harlech in 1409.    They  had then been taken to London, where they were imprisoned in the Tower, and at least most if not all of them died there in 1413, under circumstances best described as “mysterious” (the children had a claim to the English throne through their late father the aforementioned Edmund Mortimer, and some suspect that they were done to death so as to prevent them from making any such claim).  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). 

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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”.

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The  attempt of the  Lollard Revolt of 1413/4 to overthrow the established church came to nothing when the supporters of the movement, gathered at St Giles-in-the-Fields on the western outskirts of the City of London, were betrayed and dispersed.  Its  local leader, Sir John Oldcastle, was later put to death at St Giles – by hanging in chains over a slow fire – in 1417 (another Lollard Priest, William Taylor, was burnt at the stake for heresy in West Smithfield in 1423).

Henry V was crowned King in 1413.

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A month after his famous victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, he  made a triumphal return to London (image courtesy of “Look and Learn” (www.lookandlearn.com)).  An anonymous author wrote the following eye-witness account:  “[T]he citizens went out to meet the King at the brow of Blackheath, … the mayor and … aldermen in scarlet, and the … lesser citizens in red cloaks with red-and-white party-coloured hoods, to the number of about 20,000 … . And when the King came through the midst of them … and the citizens had given glory and honour to God, and congratulations to the King … the citizens rode before him towards the city, and the King followed … .   When they arrived at the … bridge … there placed on the top of the tower was  an enormous figure, with … the keys of the city hanging from a staff in his … hand … .  … And when they reached the … aqueduct in Cornhill they found the tower hidden under a scarlet cloth stretched in the form of a tent, on spears hidden under the cloth.  Surrounding … were the arms of St George, St Edward, St Edmund and of England, … inset with this pious legend: ‘Since the King hopes in the Lord and in the mercy of the highest, he shall not be moved’.  Under a covering was a band of venerable white-haired prophets, … who released, when the King came by, sparrows and other small birds in great cloud as a …  thanksgiving to God for the victory He had given …, while [they] sang in a sweet voice … [a] psalm … .  Then they went on to the tower of the conduit at the entrance to Cheapside which was decked with an awning of green … and erected to resemble a building.  … And when they came to the [Eleanor] cross in Cheapside … it was hidden by a beautiful castle of wood … .  … And when they came to the tower the conduit at the exit to Cheapside towards St Paul’s, … above the tower was stretched a canopy sky-blue in colour … and the top … was adorned by an archangel in shining gold … .  Below … was a figure of majesty represented by a sun darting out flashing rays … . … Such was the dense throng of people in Cheapside … that a bigger or more impressive crowd had never gathered before in London.  But the King himself went along, amidst … the citizens, dressed in a purple robe, not with a haughty look and a pompous train … but with a serious countenance and a reverend pace accompanied by only a few of his most faithful servants; following him, guarded by knights, were the captured dukes, counts and the marshal.   From his silent face and … sober pace it could be inferred that the King … was giving thanks and glory to God alone and not to man.  And when he had visited the sanctuary of SS Peter and Paul [Westminster Abbey], he rode away to his palace of Westminster, escorted by his citizens”.

Henry VI was crowned King in 1422.  During the course of his reign, in  1450 Jack Cade, alias Mortimer,  and thousands of armed supporters entered London “to punish evil ministers and procure a redress of grievances”.

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Cade went on to strike  the “London Stone” on Cannon Street  with his sword, and declare himself “Lord of this City” (an  act immortalised by Shakespeare in “Henry VI, Part II”); 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, the citizens drove him and his followers from the City, after a pitched battle on London Bridge, during which scores of combatants were killed.  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.  Thus ended the “Harvest of the Heads”.

The Yorkist Edward IV  was crowned King in 1461, after the overthrow of the Lancastrian Henry VI during the Wars of the Roses; Edward V in 1483; and Richard III in 1483.  Note, though, that for a brief  period in 1470-1, Edward IV was forced into exile, following a falling-out with two of his principal supporters, his brother George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, otherwise known as “Warwick the Kingmaker”, and that during this period Henry VI was readepted to the throne.

During the Wars of the Roses, between the Lancastrians and Yorkists, between 1455-85, London was an important centre of  political machination; and the Tower, at least according to some accounts, the scene  of a series of chilling politically motivated murders, in forgotten dreadful cubicles behind  great  locked doors.  It appears  that Henry VI was done to death here, possibly on the orders of Edward IV, in 1471; and that George, Duke of Clarence was done to death here, possibly on the orders either of his elder brother, Edward IV, or his younger brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester,  in 1478 (by drowning in a butt of Malmsey wine).  It also appears that the  recently-deceased Edward IV’s sons, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, the “Princes in the Tower”, were done to death here, possibly on the orders of their uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester  – the future Richard III – in 1483.   Certainly, the deaths of his nephews removed any obstacles standing between the ambitious Richard and the crown, which he was duly eventually offered in Baynard’s Castle, in 1483.

There was, though, some military action on the outskirts of London, in the Battles of  St Albans in 1455 and 1461, and  of  Barnet in 1471.

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The Battle of Barnet was fought on April 14th, 1471, between  a Yorkist army under Edward IV, and a Lancastrian army  under the  Earl of Warwick.  Earlier, Edward had sallied forth from Bishopsgate in the City of London, and marched ten miles or so up the Great North Road to meet Warwick’s advance from the north, battle lines being drawn a little to the north of Barnet, at that time  a small market own in Hertfordshire: the Yorkists to the south; the Lancastrians to the north.  The night before the day of the battle, the two sides bombarded each other with artillery fire, such that on the morning of the day of the battle, the air was thick with smoke as well as fog, and visibility was poor.  Historical written accounts of the battle are correspondingly unclear, and no systematic archaeological survey of the battle site has  yet been undertaken that might clarify the course of events (as in the cases of Towton and Bosworth Field).  The consensus view among historians is that the Lancastrian army got the better of the early exchanges, its right, under the Earl of Oxford, turning the Yorkist left, forcing it to flee to the south, and then pursuing it into Barnet, and ransacking the town.  Oxford’s men later  returned to the field of battle from the south, only to be fired on by their fellow Lancastrians, under Montague, who in the smoke, fog and general confusion had mistaken them for Yorkists (their banners also evidently resembled those of the Yorkists).  The Lancastrians were then themselves turned by the Yorkists, and pursued and routed; Warwick was killed in the ensuing melee, as depicted in the “Ghent Manuscript”; and the Yorkists won a decisive victory.  John Paston, a Lancastrian, wrote in a letter to his mother: “[M]y brother … is alive and fareth well, and in no peril of death: nevertheless he is hurt with an Arrow on his right arm, beneath the elbow; and I have sent him to a Surgeon, which hath dressed him, and he telleth me that he trusteth that he shall be whole within right short time … .  [A]s for me, I am in good case blessed be God; and in no jeopardy of my life … .  [T]he world, I assure you, is right queasy … [unsettled]”. Most of the dead, from both sides, numbering somewhere between 1,500-4,000, were buried on  the battlefield, possibly where the essentially late fifteenth-century Monken Hadley Church now stands (Fabian’s “Great Chronicle of London” refers to the construction of a “lytyll Chappell” at the burial site).  However,  some noblemen were taken back to London to be buried in Austin Friars Priory; and Warwick’s body was for a while put on display in St Paul’s, where, according to von Wesel, it was seen by “many thousands”. 

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The battlefield site is marked by an eighteenth-century obelisk monument bearing the inscription “Here was fought the Famous Battle Between Edward the 4th and the Earl of Warwick on April 14th, 1471, in which the Earl was Defeated and Slain”.  Many of the artefacts recovered from the site over the centuries may be seen in the Barnet Museum, including cannonballs, various types of arrowhead, and spurs.  The Battle of Barnet  was reportedly  one of the earliest engagements to have involved the use of handguns, although as yet no physical evidence has been recovered to substantiate the written reports.  “Warkworth’s Chronicle” recounts that Edward had “300 Flemings handgunners”, armed with arquebusses, in his army.

There was also some action in the City.  On July 2nd,  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 (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”).  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.

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And on May 14th,  1471, shortly after the Battle of Barnet, London’s  by then Yorkist garrison was bombarded and then assaulted, as the contemporary “Chronicle of London” put it, “on alle sydys”, by Lancastrian forces  under the privateer Thomas Nevill, illegitimate son of William Nevill, Lord Fauconberg, and otherwise known as the Bastard Fauconberg. In response, the  Mayor, John Stockton,  and his Sheriffs, John Crosby and John Ward,  rode from gate to gate to rally the City’s  defences, “in alle haast with a Trumpett” (Crosby was later knighted for his role in the City’s defence: his memorial in the church of St Helen Bishopsgate shows him in armour).  And for the most part the defences held firm.  Aldgate came under the most sustained attack, “with mighty shott of hand Gunnys & sharp shott of arrowis”.  Indeed, some attackers even  managed to enter the City there, only to be held up by defenders under the Recorder of the City, Thomas Ursewyk, and an Alderman named John Basset, and then to be forced to retreat  by the arrival of defensive reinforcements from the Tower of London, “which dyscomffortid the Rebellys”.  The attack had failed, and the attackers who had evaded capture took to their ships, and sailed out to the safety of the Thames estuary.  Many  of those  who had been captured  were summarily executed, including Spysyng and Quyntyn.

Experiences of the theatre in Post-Medieval London 

Thomas Platter

In  1599, Thomas Platter, a Swiss visitor to London, wrote:

“After dinner on the 21st of September, at about two o’clock, I went with my companions over the water [to Southwark], and in the strewn roof-house [?The Globe] saw the tragedy of the first Emperor Julius with at least fifteen characters very well acted.  At the end … they danced according to their custom with extreme elegance.  Two in men’s clothes and two in women’s gave this performance, in wonderful combination with each other”.

And:

“On another occasion, I saw … a comedy; if I remember right, in Bishopsgate.  Here they represented various nations, with whom … and Englishman fought … , and overcame them all except the German … .  [H]e outwitted the German … .

[E]very day at two o’clock  … two and sometimes three comedies are performed, at separate places, wherewith folk make merry together, and whichever does best gets the greatest audience.

… What they … produce daily by way of mirth … every one knows well, who has happened to see them … playing … .

With such …  pastimes … the English spend their time; … [and] …  learn what is going on in  other lands … ”.

Others took  much less  favourable views of the theatres, and  of the  badly-behaved crowds that they attracted.

The Lord Mayor and Aldermen made repeated efforts to have them closed down, on one occasion petitioning the Privy Council as follows:

“We have signified to your Honours many times heretofore the great inconvenience which we find to grow by the common exercise of stage-plays.  We presumed to do so, … being persuaded … that neither in polity nor in religion are they to be suffered in a Christian commonwealth, … containing nothing but profane fables, lascivious matters, cozening devices, and scurrilous behaviours … .  Among other inconveniences it is not the least that they give opportunity to the … evil-disposed and ungodly people that are within and about this city to assemble themselves … for … lewd and ungodly practices … .  For avoiding whereof we are now again most humble and earnest suitors to your honours to direct … letters … to the justices of peace of Surrey and Middlesex for the present stay and final suppression of the said stage-plays, as well at the Theatre, Curtain and Bankside as in all other places in and about the city … ”.

Indeed, the theatres were eventually temporarily closed down by the Puritans in the 1640s to 1650s, during the  Civil War and succeeding Commonwealth and Protectorate, only reopening in the 1660s, after the Restoration of the Monarchy.

 

My City of Ruins (Samuel Pepys, John Evelyn and William Taswell, 1666)

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On this day in 1666, in the immediate aftermath of the Great Fire, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“Up by five o’clock; and, blessed be God! find all well; and by water to [Paul’s] Wharfe.  Walked thence, and saw all the towne burned, and a miserable sight of Paul’s church, with all the roofs fallen, and the body of the quire fallen into St Fayth’s; Paul’s school also, Ludgate, and Fleet Street. My father’s house, and the church, and a good part of the Temple the like.”

And went on to write, equally if not more fretfully:

“I home late to Sir W. Pen’s, who did give me a bed … ; … but still both sleeping and waking had a fear of fire in my heart, that I took little rest.  People do all the world over cry out of the simplicity of my Lord Mayor in … this business of the fire, laying it all upon him.  A proclamation is come out for markets to be kept at Leadenhall and … several other places about the town; and Tower Hill, and all churches to be set open to receive poor people”.

John Evelyn wrote:

“I wente this morning on foote from White hall as far as London bridge, thro the Late fleete streete, Ludgate hill, by St Paules, Cheape side, Exchange, Bishopsgate, Aldersgate, & out to Morefields, thence thro Cornehill, &c; with extraordinary difficulty, clambring over mountains of yet smoking rubbish, & frequently mistaking where I was, the ground under my feet so hot, as made me not only Sweate, but even burnt the soles of my shoes … : in the meane time his Majestie got to the Tower by Water, to demolish the houses about … which …  had they taken fire, & attaq’d the white Towre, where the Magazines of Powder lay, would undoubtedly have not onely … destroyed  all the bridge, but sunke … all the vessels in the river, & renderd … demolition …  even …  at many miles distance:

At my return I was infinitely concerned to find that goodly Church of St Paules now a sad ruine, & that beautiful Portico (for structure comparable to any in Europe, as not long before repaird by the late King) now rent in pieces, flakes of vast Stone Split in sunder, & nothing remaining intire but the Inscription of the Architrave which …  had not one letter of it defac’d: which I could not but take notice of: It was astonishing to see what immense stones the heat had in a manner Calcin’d, so as all the ornaments, Columns, freezes, Capitels & projectures of massie Portland stone flew off, even to the very roofe, where a Sheete of Leade covering no lesse than 6 akers by measure, being totally mealted, the ruines of the Vaulted roof, falling brake into St Faithes, which being filled with …  books … belonging to the Stationers … carried thither for safty, they were all consumed burning for a week following: It is also observable, that the lead over the Altar …  was untouch’d: and among the divers monuments, the body of one Bishop, remained intire.

Thus lay in ashes that most venerable Church, one of the antientest Pieces of early Piety in the Christian world, beside neere 100 more: The lead, yronworke, bells, plate &c all mealted: the exquisitely wrought Mercers Chapell, the Sumptuous Exchange, the august fabrique of Christ church, all the rest of the Companies Halls, sumptuous buildings, Arches, Enteries, all in dust.  The fountains dried up & ruind, whilst the very waters remained boiling; the Voragos of subterranean Cellars, Wells & Dungeons, formerly Warehouses, still burning in stench & dark clouds of smoke like hell, so as in five or six miles traversing about, I did not see one load of timber unconsum’d, nor many stones but were calcind white as snow, so as the people who now walked about the ruines, appeard like men in some dismal desart, or rather in some greate City, lay’d waste by an impetuous & cruel Enemy …

Sir Tho: Greshams Statue, though falln to the ground from its nich in the R: Exchange remain’d intire, when all those of the Kings since the Conquest were broken to pieces: also the Standard in Cornehill, & Q: Elizabeths Effigies, with some armes on Ludgate continud with but little detriment, whilst the vast yron Chaines of the Cittie streets, vast hinges, barrs & gates of Prisons were many of them mealted, & reduc’d to cinders by the vehement heats: nor was I yet able to pass through any of the narrower streets, but kept to the widest, the ground & aire, smoake & fiery vapour, continued so intense, my hair being almost seinged … : … nor could one have possibly knowne where he was, but for the ruines of some church, or hall, that had some remarkable towre or pinnacle remaining … ”.

And the  schoolboy William Taswell, on encountering the body of  one of the few recorded victims of the fire:

“Soon after sunrising I endeavoured to reach St Paul’s.  The ground was so hot as almost to scorch my shoes; and the air so intensely warm that unless I had stopped some time upon the Fleet Bridge to rest myself, I must have fainted … .  … And now … I perceived the metal belonging  to the bells melting; the ruinous conditions of the walls; whole heaps of stone of a large circumference tumbling down with a great noise … , ready to crush he to death.  [N]ear the east walls … a human body presented itself to me, parched up, as it were, with the flames; whole as to skin, meagre as to flesh, yellow as to colour.  This was an old decrepit woman who fled here for safety, imagining the flames could not have reached her …  . Her clothes were burned, and evry limb reduced to a coal”.

 

The Great Fire of London contd. (Samuel Pepys, 1666)

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On this day in 1666, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“Up about five o’clock … , … to go out, … to see how the fire is, to … Bishop’s-gate, where no fire had been near, and now there is one broke out: which did give great grounds to people, and to me too, to think that there is some kind of plot in this, … but … we did put it out in a little time; so that all was well again”.

 

The execution of Sir Thomas More (1535)

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On this day in 1535, the former Lord Chancellor, also lawyer, humanist, social philosopher, author (of “Utopia”) and “Man for All Seasons” Sir, now Saint,  Thomas More was beheaded on  Tower Hill  for High Treason,  for refusing to take an oath acknowledging the King, Henry VIII, rather than the Pope, as the Supreme Head of the Church in England (being  “the king’s good servant, but God’s first”).

His son-in-law William Roper wrote of the event:

“And soe was he brought by Mr Lievetenaunt out of the Towre, and thence led towards the place of execution, where goinge upp the Scaffold, which was so weake that it was readie to fall, he sayde … ‘I pray you, I pray you, Mr Lievetenaunt, see me safe upp, and for my cominge downe let mee shift for my selfe’.  Then desired he all the people thereaboutes to pray for him, and to beare witnesse with him, that he should suffer death in and for the faith of the holie Catholique Church, which done hee kneeled downe, and after his prayers sayed, hee turned to the executioner, and with a cheerful Countenance spake unto him, ‘Plucke up thy spirittes, man, and be not affrayed to do thine office … ’.  Soe passed Sir Thomas Moore out of this world to God … ”.

More’s  headless corpse was buried in an unmarked grave in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London.  His head was put on a pike on London Bridge.  It was later retrieved by his daughter Meg Roper, the wife of William, and buried in the Roper family vault in the church of St Dunstan in Canterbury.

1 - Plaque marking site of More's birthplace on Milk Street

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There are plaques in the City marking the sites of More’s birth on Milk Street and of his death on Tower Hill.

4 - Statue of More on Carey Street

5 - Statue of More outside Chelsea Old Church

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There are  also statues of him to the west of the City, one on Carey Street just off Chancery Lane, and another outside Chelsea Old Church; and a  memorial to him inside Chelsea Old Church.

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Crosby Hall, where he lived between 1523-4, was moved from its past location in Bishopsgate to its present one opposite Chelsea Old Church in 1910.