Another in the occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …
London Stone (Henry VI Part II)
The so-called “London Stone” now stands at 111 Cannon Street, although unfortunately in an easily overlooked position at street level.
From 1798 it had been incorporated into the south wall of the church of St Swithin London Stone, and was preserved when the church was demolished in 1957, according to a stipulation in the conditions for the redevelopment of the site.
Previous to that it had stood in the middle of the street, and was apparently used as a place from which to make important public pronouncements throughout the Middle Ages, being evidently richly endowed with symbolic significance.
During the failed rebellion of 1450 that ended with the “Harvest of the Heads” of the leaders, one of the same, Jack Cade, alias Mortimer, struck the stone with his sword, and declared himself to be “Lord of this City”, an act immortalised thus by Shakespeare in “Henry VI, Part II”, Act IV, Scene VI (London, Cannon Street): “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”.
The first (Lord) Mayor of London, appointed in 1189, was Henry Fitz-Ailwyn de Londonestone, who evidently hailed from hereabouts. And the recorded history of the stone extends back even beyond the Medieval period and into the Saxon: it is referred to in a document of Athelstan, the first Saxon King of All England (924-39). Indeed, it is possible, although not proven, that before that, it was associated in some way with the Roman “Governor’s Palace” complex that once stood nearby, and now forms part of a Scheduled Ancient Monument substantially under Cannon Street Station (it has been postulated, plausibly, that it served as a milliarium, or centre-stone, from which Roman roads radiated and distances were measured). According to one of many romantic myths surrounding the stone, it was the very one which Brutus used to mark the city of Troia Nova, and “So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish”. As Leo Hollis put it, in his book “The Stones of London”: “We will never know [its true origin], and perhaps that is as it should be”.