Tag Archives: London Bridge

Jack Cade’s rebellion (1450)

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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.

English Pride Dented On St George’s Day (1390)

The joust on London Bridge on St George's Day, 1390

On this day, St George’s Day, in 1390, English pride was  dented by the defeat of the Englishman Lord Welles by the Scotsman Sir David Lindsay in a friendly joust in front of King Richard (II) – on London Bridge!  As Gordon Home put it in his Medieval London, citing  the primary source of Hector Boece:

“At the sound of the trumpets the two champions hurled themselves at each other, and either splintered his lance without effect in dismounting his adversary.  Welles had directed his spear at his opponent’s head and hit him fairly on the visor, but the Scottish champion kept his seat so steadily that some of the spectators … shouted out that Lindsay had strapped himself to his saddle.  Thereupon the gallant Scot proved his honesty by vaulting to the ground and on to his horse’s back again in his heavy armour.  A second course followed with equal fortune, but at the third Welles was fairly overthrown.  The victor at once dismounted, and in the best spirit went to assist his fallen opponent …  [and] … never failed to call daily upon him during such time as he was confined to bed by the bruises and the severe shock of the fall”.

 

The execution of Elizabeth Barton, the “Holy Maid of Kent” (1534)

Elizabeth Barton

On this day in 1534, Elizabeth Barton, otherwise known as the “Holy Maid of Kent”, was hanged and beheaded at Tyburn for treason, for having earlier prophesied that if the king, Henry VIII, were to break from  the Catholic Church and divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn,  he would die, and be sent to Hell (*).  Her head was impaled on a spike on London Bridge, and the rest of her body buried in Greyfriars Church (now Christ Church Greyfriars or Christ Church Newgate Street).

Elizabeth had been born in the parish of Adlington in Kent in 1506, and reportedly begun to experience visions prophesying the future in 1525.  Thousands of ordinary folk came to believe in her prophesies.  Some of the highest in the land also came to believe in her, including Bishop John Fisher, Archbishop William Warham, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the second most powerful man in England after the king, and indeed, if only for a short while, while she spoke for him, the notoriously fickle king himself.  However, as soon as  she started speaking against the king, he turned against her, and his agents, including Thomas Cromwell,  arranged for her to be condemned without trial, by a Bill of Attainder.

(*) Also on this same day in 1534, prominent citizens of London were required to swear the Oath to the  Succession, acknowledging Anne as Henry’s lawful queen, and any children they might have as lawful heirs to the throne.

St Magnus the Martyr

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On this day in either 1117 or 1118 (sources differ), Magnus Erlendssen, the piously Christian Earl of Orkney, was murdered on the island of Egilsay.

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The City of London church dedicated to him was probably originally built in the twelfth century, sometime after his sanctification in  1135.  It was subsequently rebuilt by Christopher Wren between 1671-87, after having been burned down in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and despite eighteenth- to twentieth- century modifications and restorations  retains much of the  “inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold” alluded to by T.S. Eliot in his 1922 poem “The Waste Land”.

Miles Coverdale (1487-1569), who, with William Tyndale, published the first authorised version of the Bible in English in 1539, and who was church rector here between 1564-66, is buried here.  Henry Yevele (c. 1320-1400), who was the master mason to three successive kings, Edward III, Richard II and Henry IV, between c. 1360-1400, during which time he either built or rebuilt much of Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster,  is also buried here.

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Among the many treasures inside the church are: a modern statue and stained-glass window depicting St Magnus in a horned Viking helmet …

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… further modern stained-glass windows depicting the churches of St Margaret New Fish Street and St Michael Crooked Lane, burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, and the chapel of St Thomas a Becket on Old London Bridge, demolished in 1831 …

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… and a modern scale-model of the bridge as it would have looked in its Medieval heyday.

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On the outside wall is a Corporation Blue Plaque marking the approach to the Old London Bridge, built between 1179-1206.

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Nearby are some stones from the bridge, and a timber from the Roman wharf purporting to date to 78, but in fact recently shown on tree-ring evidence to date to 62, i.e., the year after the destruction of Roman Londinium during the Boudiccan Revolt.

 

Wyatt’s Rebellion (1554)

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On this day in 1554, on Tower Hill, Sir Thomas Wyatt was beheaded and quartered for high treason for his part in “Wyatt’s 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 February 3rd, 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.  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).

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(*) Note, incidentally, that Wyatt’s father, also Sir Thomas (1503-1542), was among other things a fine  poet, widely credited with introducing the sonnet into English literature.

 

Wyatt’s Rebellion

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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).

(*) 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.

Blessing of the River Thames

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Next Sunday is the day of the annual ceremony of the “Blessing of the River Thames”.  Representatives from the church of St Magnus the Martyr and from Southwark Cathedral will process from their respective starting points on the north and south banks of the Thames to meet at a point midway across the river on London Bridge.  There, at 12:30, they will jointly conduct a short religious service blessing the river, during which a wooden cross will be cast into it.

A Latter-Day Pilgrimage from London to Canterbury – London to Shooters Hill

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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas (a) Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on Tuesday 29th December, 1170 (by knights acting on what they had interpreted as an instruction from the  King, Henry II).  The site became an important one of pilgrimage throughout the later Middle Ages (the penitent Henry making the journey barefoot in 1174, the year after Thomas was made a saint).  The practice of pilgrimage ceased after the Reformation and Dissolution under Henry VIII in the sixteenth century, but may be said to have resumed in later  centuries.  Research published by the Chaucer Society in the nineteenth century suggests that the route taken by pilgrims from London to Canterbury ran more less along the line of the old Roman road of Watling Street – or its modern equivalent, the A2 – through Dartford, Rochester and Faversham (note in this context that Rochester is mentioned in the Monk’s prologue, Sittingbourne in the Wife of Bath’s prologue, and Boughton-under-Blean, which is near Faversham, in the Canon Yeoman’s prologue, in “The Canterbury Tales”).  Further research from this time suggests that the journey along this – sixty-mile or so – route would probably have taken four days, with overnight stops at each of the three aforementioned towns (where suitable accommodation was available).  I follow in the pilgrims’  tracks …

City of London

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Thomas Becket was born on Cheapside  in the City of London in circa 1120, the son of Gilbert, a merchant of Norman ancestry, and Matilda.  He was educated at Merton Priory, and later at one of the  grammar schools    in London, possibly St Paul’s, before entering the church, and eventually rising to become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162.

There is a chapel dedicated to him inside the Mercers’ Livery Company Hall at the corner of Cheapside and Ironmonger Lane.

London Bridge

“Old” London Bridge was rebuilt, by Peter, chaplain of St Mary Colechurch, in 1176-1209, and stood until 1831 (an alcove still survives in the grounds of Guy’s  Hospital).

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There were scores of buildings on it then, including a chapel dedicated to St Thomas (depicted in a stained glass window in the church of St Magus the Martyr).

Southwark

Southwark was first recorded as “Sudwerca” in the “Domesday Book” of 1086, taking its name from the Old English “suth”, and “weorc”, meaning defensive work or fort, in reference to the Roman defences south of the river.  It  was unaffected by the Great Fire of London in 1666, the southward progress of which across the river was halted at a gap in the buildings on London Bridge that formed a natural firebreak.  However, it suffered its own Great Fire in 1676.

Historically, Southwark was a so-called “liberty”, free of many  of the regulations governing life in the City across the river.  Over time it  became one of the poor places in which it, the rich City, attempted to locate  – and forget – some of its more “undesirable” buildings (including prisons such as the Clink, King’s Bench, Marshalsea and White Lion), industries (including tanning) and activities (including – in the numerous “stews” – prostitution, animal-baiting, and the performance of stage plays, all of which attracted large and unruly crowds).

Southwark Cathedral

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What is now Southwark Cathedral was originally founded as a nunnery in 606, becoming the priory of St Mary Overie in 1106, the  parish church of St Saviour  following the Dissolution in 1540, and Southwark Cathedral and the Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie in 1905.  Being over  the “rie” or river, the church was undamaged in the Great Fire, and also survived the bombing of the Blitz.  Some elements of the present structure are survivors  from the  twelfth century building, although most are from the thirteenth or early fifteenth rebuilds following fires in 1212 and 1390 (the former of which, incidentally, reportedly killed 3000 people).  The interior contains  many memorials, including a wooden effigy of a knight buried in around 1275, and the tomb of Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626), who was responsible for the translation of the Authorised or King James Version of the Bible.

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What was St Mary’s re-established its  public infirmary as St Thomas’s Hospital in the early thirteenth century (the hospital later relocated to Lambeth).

Winchester  Palace

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On nearby Clink Street are the remains of Winchester Palace (and also the site of the Clink Prison).  The palace was originally built in the twelfth century by King Stephen’s brother Henry de Blois, the Bishop of Winchester (at this time, Southwark was in the Diocese of Winchester).  It was subsequently rebuilt in the late thirteenth to fourteenth century, and remained in use until the time of the Civil War in the seventeenth, when it was portioned off.  It was substantially destroyed by a fire in the nineteenth century, with only parts of the Great Hall surviving to this day.  The Great Hall dates to the twelfth century, circa 1144; the “Rose Window” to the fourteenth (and possibly to the Bishopric of William of Wykeham, circa 1367-98).

Borough High Street

Borough  was first recorded as “Southwarke borrow” in 1559, taking its name from the Old English  “burh”.  Borough High Street is  part of, and was once known as,  Stane Street, the Roman road to the south, and Borough Market was first established in the thirteenth century.

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Famously, there were some  fifty  inns and other drinking establishments on and around Borough High Street at the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, including the “Tabard” and  “White Hart”, which were known to and written about by Chaucer and Shakespeare.  They all survived that fire, although many were burnt down in the  Great Fire of Southwark in 1676.  The “Tabard” and the “White Hart” were later rebuilt, but  no longer stand, having been demolished in the late nineteenth century.   The “George”, originally built sometime before 1542, was also rebuilt after the Great Fire of Southwark, in 1677, as a galleried inn, and still stands.

Crossbones Graveyard

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Just off Borough High Street, at the corner of  Union Street and Redcross Way, is the unconsecrated burial ground known as the “Crossbones Graveyard”.  Here from Medieval times were interred the “Outcast Dead”, including the “Winchester Geese”, which is to say women who worked as prostitutes in brothels or “stews” licensed by the Bishops of Winchester.  An “Ordinance for the Governance of the Stews” was  issued  by King Henry II in 1161.

Tabard Street

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The church of St George the Martyr, at the corner  of Borough High Street and Tabard Street, was originally built in the twelfth century,  and rebuilt in the fourteenth (and again in the eighteenth, in the Neo-Classical style).  Henry V was met here by the Aldermen and Mayor of London upon his triumphal return from the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

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Old Kent Road

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The “Thomas a Becket” public house on the Old Kent Road stands on the site of the “St Thomas a Watering”, alluded to as follows in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”:

“And forth we rode a little more than pace

Unto the watering of St Thomas … ”

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A little further east is the former North Peckham Civic Centre, featuring a fine mosaic mural by Adam Kossowski depicting, among other things, that very scene.

Deptford

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Deptford was first recorded as “Depeford” in 1293, taking name from the Old English “deop”, meaning deep, and “ford” (across the Ravensbourne).  The church of St Nicholas was originally built at least as long ago as the twelfth century, and  subsequently rebuilt in the fourteenth, and again in the late seventeenth, in 1697, only to be badly damaged during the Blitz.  The fourteenth-century tower still stands.  Christopher Marlowe is buried in the churchyard.

Blackheath

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Extraordinarily, in the Middle Ages, no fewer than three rebel armies gathered on the high windswept at the top of  Blackheath Hill preparatory to marching on London: the first under Wat Tyler during the  “Peasants’ Revolt”, in 1381; the second under Jack Cade, in 1450; and the third under Michael Joseph and Thomas Flamank  during the “Cornish Revolt”, in 1497.

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Shooters Hill

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Shooters Hill is one of the highest points in, and  at the outermost  edge of, London, and commands fine  views of the city to the west …

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… and of the open countryside of Kent to the east.

Bohemian Medieval London (Wenzel Schaseck and Gabriel Tetzel, 1465)

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Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts and descriptions of the historic City of London,  this one written by Wenzel Schaseck from Birkov in what is now the Czech Republic, who visited London – as part of the  diplomatic delegation of Leo of Rozmital – in 1465 …

“London is a grand and beautiful city and has two castles. In the first, located at the very end of the city surrounded by the ocean’s gulf, lives the English King. He was present at the time of our arrival. Across the gulf there is a bridge made of stone and quite long, and houses have been built on both sides of it stretching its full length. I have never seen such a quantity of kite birds as I have here. Harming them is forbidden and is punishable by death”.

… and this one by Gabriel Tetzel, from Grafenberg in what is now Germany,   who also visited London – as part of the same delegation –  in 1465 …

“We have passed through Canterbury through the English kingdom all the way to the capital, which is home to the English King. Its name is London and it is a very vigorous and busy city, conducting trade with all lands. In this city there are many craftsmen, and mainly goldsmiths and drapers, beautiful women and expensive food”.

“London Bridge is broken down”

Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts of events in the history of London …

Mural on Site of church of St Olave, Southwark

In  1014, according to the “Olaf Sagas”, the Norwegian Olaf Haraldsson, an ally of the English King Ethelred II, “The Unready” in his fight against the Danish Vikings,  destroyed London Bridge and the Viking army assembled on it by pulling it down with ropes tied to his long-boats.

In 1225, Snorri Sturluson wrote an account of the event based on the “Olaf Sagas”, which reads (in translation) as follows:

Olaf, and the Northmen’s fleet with him, rowed … under the bridge, laid their cables around the piles which supported it, and then rowed off … as hard as they could down the stream.  … Now …  the piles being …  broken, the bridge gave way; and a great part of the men upon it fell into the river, and all the others … surrendered … , and took Ethelred to be their king.  So says Ottar Svarte:

‘London Bridge is broken down.

Gold is won, and bright renown.

Shields resounding, War-horns sounding,

Hild is shouting in the din!

Arrows singing, Mail-coats ringing –

Odin makes our Olaf win!’

Stained glass window with St Olav(e) in left panel, church of St Olave Hart Street

Detail from stained glass window below

Olaf went on to become King Olaf II of Norway in 1015, and Saint Olaf or Olav(e), to whom a number of London churches were to be dedicated, after he was martyred at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030.

Stained glass window with St Olav(e) in left panel, church of St Olave Hart Street

Stained glass window with St Olav(e) in left panel, church of St Olave Hart Street

Mural on Site of church of St Olave, Southwark

Mural on Site of church of St Olave, Southwark