Tag Archives: Charles I

London prepares for Civil War (Giovanni Giustiniani, 1642)

The Civil War star fort at Vauxhall, as depicted in c. 1800.jpg

On this day in 1642, Giovanni Giustiniani, the Venetian ambassador to the court of Charles I, wrote in a letter to the Doge and Senate of Venice:

“They do not cease to provide with energy for the defence of London … .  They have sent a number of parliamentarians to the surrounding provinces with instructions to get together the largest numbers they can of their trained bands, with the intention of despatching these subsequently to where the remains of the parliamentary army are quartered.  They have brought a number of the companies of these trained bands … into this city.  All the troops are kept constantly at arms.  There is no street, however little frequented, that is not barricaded …, and every post is guarded … .  At the approaches to London, they are putting up trenches and small forts of earthwork [“Lines of Communication”], at which a great number of people are at work, including the women and … children.  They have issued a new manifesto to the people full of the usual representations against the … king, for the purpose of arousing their enthusiasm still more in the support of this cause”.

George Vertue's plan of London's Civil War defences.jpg

Whitehall Palace (1529)

On this day in 1529, the Tudor King, Henry VIII appropriated the thirteenth-century York Place, which had  originally been built for the Archbishops of York, from the then Archbishop, Cardinal Wolsey, and he renamed it Whitehall Palace (whence, from Shakespeare’s “King Henry the Eighth”, “You must no more call it York Place: that is past; For since the Cardinal fell that title’s lost.  ‘Tis now the King’s and called Whitehall”).   Whitehall Palace essentially came to take the place of the  Old Palace of Westminster, large parts of which had been rendered unusable by a fire in 1512.

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It was considerably extended by Henry VIII and later by his daughter Queen Elizabeth I, and  by the Stuart Kings  James I, Charles I and Charles II.  It was undamaged in the Great Fire of 1666, but substantially burnt down in another fire in 1698.

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Detail from Rubens's ceiling

Essentially only the Banqueting House, built for James I by  Inigo Jones in 1622, and notable as the first Renaissance building in London, with a ceiling by Rubens, still stands (together with “Henry VIII’s wine cellar” in the nearby Ministry of Defence building in Horse Guards’ Avenue, the site of his tilt-yard in Horse Guards’ Parade, part of his tennis court  in the Cabinet Office at No. 70 Whitehall, and “Queen Mary’s Steps”, built in 1691, on the Embankment).  The Holbein Gate, built in 1532, and notable as the probable  place of the clandestine marriage of Henry and Anne Boleyn in 1533,  survived  both fires, but was demolished in 1759.

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Charles I was executed outside the Banqueting House in 1649.

The “Lion Sermon” and the church of St Katharine Cree

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Gayer plaque, St Katharine Cree

The “Lion Sermon” is given at the church of St Katharine Cree on the  Thursday nearest to this day each year, and  has been since 1643, in remembrance of the Merchant Adventurer (of the Levant Company) and later Lord Mayor of London Sir John Gayer being spared by a lion in Syria on October 16th of that year.  I attended the 371st “Lion Sermon” in the church of St Katharine Cree on  Leadenhall Street.    It was by Shami Chakrabarti, the Director of Liberty, and on the subject of, and I paraphrase,  “Freedom, and what it means in the metaphorical Lion’s Den of the modern world”.   Freedom, and the  Human Rights of Dignity, Equality and Fairness (“and the greatest of these is Equality”).  Admirable sentiments, especially resonant in a church that at the time of the Civil War in the 1640s stood for the supposed “divine” rights of the king over those of the commoner.

The church itself was originally built in the grounds of Holy Trinity Priory sometime before 1291 (being mentioned in the Taxatio Ecclesiastica of Pope Nicholas IV), and possibly around 1280, and rebuilt between  1500-4, in the Gothic style, and again between 1628-31, this time in the Renaissance style.  It was undamaged by the Great Fire of 1666, although later required to be restored  in 1878-9, and again, after being damaged by bombing in the Blitz of the Second World War, in  1956-62.   The interior contains some Gothic elements, such as the east window, in the form of an elaborately stylised Katharine Wheel, and the intricately ribbed ceiling; and some Renaissance ones, such as the Corinthian columns in the nave.  It also contains monuments to Sir Nicholas Throkmorton (d. 1570) as well as to  Sir  John Gayer (d. 1649).  The church was  consecrated in 1631 by Archbishop Laud, who went on to be executed in 1645 for his close association with the then-king, Charles I, and for his persecution of Puritans. The Father Smith organ, once played by Purcell and Handel, dates to 1686.

“O put not your trust in princes”

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On this day in 1641, Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford and Lord Deputy of Ireland, an ardent supporter of the King, Charles I, in his power struggle with Parliament in the period leading up to the Civil War, was executed for high treason on Tower Hill (specifically, for allegedly saying to the King “You have an army in Ireland you may employ here to reduce this kingdom”).

His last words, taken from the Psalms, were:

“O put not your trust in Princes, nor in any child of man; for there is no help in them”.

A not particularly oblique reference to the sense of betrayal he felt toward the King, who had promised him that he “should not suffer in his person, honour or fortune”; and then, when expedient, signed his death warrant!

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The Restoration of the Monarchy (1660)

Charles II coronation portrait by John Michael Wright

On this day in 1660, The “Convention Parliament” restored the monarchy to Prince Charles, making him King Charles II.

Charles II then went on to have executed almost all the surviving “regicides”, who had signed his father Charles I’s death warrant, thereby violating the terms of his own “Declaration of Breda”, which had promised a pardon for all crimes committed during the Civil War and inter-regnum.

 

Theobalds House

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A “prodigy-house” called  Theobalds House was built at the heart of a Hertfordshire park-estate in 1564-85, by William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, one of Elizabeth I’s most trusted advisers (the queen is known to have visited him here on a number of occasions).  After William’s death in 1598, it passed to his son Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury; in 1607, to James I; and after James’s death here in 1625, to his son Charles I.   It was substantially demolished in 1650, during the Commonwealth that came into being after Charles’s  execution in 1649.  Some  romantic ruins remain.

A new house called The Cedars was built, a little to the north-west of Theobalds House, in 1762, by the then owner, George Prescott (the estate in the meantime having  had passed through the hands of the Dukes of Albemarle, who were granted it  after the Restoration of the Monarchy, and the Earls of Portland).  The house later passed through the Prescott family, and thence, in 1820, to the Meuxes  (*).  When Hadworth Meux died in 1929, it  became in turn a hotel, a school, and adult education centre, and a conference centre, and as of 2015 is once more a hotel.

(*) The Meuxes, of brewery fame, made extensive alterations and added extensions to the house during the nineteenth century.  In 1888, Lady Meux, a banjo-playing former barmaid, re-erected at its  entrance Christopher Wren’s Temple Bar, a gate-house that had  formerly stood between Fleet Street in the  City of London and the Strand in Westminster (until it had to be taken down to allow for the free flow of traffic).  Temple Bar was moved again in 2004, this time  back to the City of London, to Paternoster Square, just north-west of St Paul’s Cathedral.

 

 

The execution of Charles I

The execution of Charles I

On this day in 1649, Charles I was executed for treason outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall  …

It was a freezing cold day, so he put on an extra shirt,  that no-one might see him shiver, and think him scared (“the season is so sharp as probably may make me shake, which some observers may imagine proceeds from fear [and] I would have no such imputation”).  Eventually, after what must have been a harrowing wait, at 2pm, he delivered an almost inaudible address to the crowd, and at the end proclaimed  “I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown, where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world”.  He then made a silent prayer,  laid his head upon the block, and had it stricken from his body.  Whereupon, according to an eye-witness account by one Philip Henry, “there was such a Grone given by the Thousands there present, as I never heard before & desire I may never hear again”.  The usually ubiquitous John Evelyn was pointedly not among those who bore witness to the event, writing in his diary: “The Villanie of the Rebells proceeding now so far as to Trie, Condemne, & Murder our excellent King … struck me with such horror that I kept the day of his Martyrdom a fast, & would not be present, at that execrable wickednesse … ”.