Tag Archives: Palace of Westminster

The Palace of Westminster

Another in the  occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …

The Palace of Westminster (Henry IV Part I; Henry IV Part II; Henry V; Henry VI Part I; Henry VI Part II; Henry VI Part III; King John; Richard II; Richard  III)

The old Palace of Westminster was purportedly originally built for Cnut in around 1016, and subsequently rebuilt by Edward “The Confessor”, in 1042-65, and extended by succeeding kings, with Parliament meeting in Westminster Hall from 1265, and then in the secularised Royal Chapel of St Stephen from 1547/8.

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Thomas More - Copy.JPG

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Some of the palace complex was destroyed in a fire in 1512; and most of what remained in another fire in 1834, with essentially only Westminster Hall and the Jewel Tower surviving, together with parts of the Royal Chapel of St Stephen, including the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft.

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The new palace was built by Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin, in the Victorian Gothic style, between 1840-58.

Westminster Hall was originally built as a royal residence cum banqueting house by William II in 1097-99, and subsequently rebuilt,  with a spectacular hammerbeam roof by Hugh Herland and Henry Yevele, for Richard II, in 1394-1401.  It survived the fires of 1512 and 1834, but was damaged during the Blitz of the Second World War, and has since been  further damaged by Death Watch Beetle, the infestation thought to have taken hold in  timbers that had become soaked during the war-time fire-fighting (note also, though, that Westminster was historically particularly prone to floods, Matthew Paris describing one such in 1241, during which “people rode into the great hall on horseback”).  What is widely regarded as the first representative Parliament, convened by Simon de Montfort, was held here in 1265.

Henry V’s triumphal return to London after Agincourt (1415)

The Look and Learn version of events.jpg

Image courtesy of “Look and Learn” (www.lookandlearn.com)

On this day in 1415 took place Henry V’s triumphal return to  London after his famous  victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt on October 25th.  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 20000 … . 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, he rode away to his palace of Westminster, escorted by his citizens”.

The Gunpowder Plot (Sir Edward Hoby, 1605)

The Gunpowder Plotters, with Fawkes third from the right

On this day in 1605 was discovered “a most horrible conspiracy of the Papish against the King [James I]” to blow up the Houses of Parliament in the Palace of Westminster, for their roles in which Guy Fawkes and his fellows were cruelly put to death.   (The discoverer, one Thomas Knyvet(t), the Keeper of Whitehall Palace, was rewarded by the granting of  an extension of the lease on his house, in what was to become Downing Street).

Sir Edward Hoby (*) wrote of the event:

“On the 5th of November we began our Parliament, to which the King [James I] should have come in person, but refrained, through a practice but that morning discovered.  The plot was to have blown up the King at such time as he should have been set in his royal throne, accompanied by his children, Nobility and Commons and … Bishops, Judges and Doctors, at one instant and blast and to have ruined the whole estate and kingdom of England.  And for the effecting of this there was placed under the Parliament house [Palace of Westminster], where the king should sit, some 30 barrels of gunpowder … .

… In a vault under the parliament chamber before spoken of one Johnson [Guy Fawkes’s  assumed name] was found … who, after being brought into … the court, and there demanded if he were not sorry for his so foul and heinous a treason, answered he was sorry for nothing but that the act was not performed.  Being replied unto him that no doubt there had been a number in that place of his own [Catholic] religion, how in conscience he could do them hurt, he answered a few might well perish to have the rest taken away.  … When he was brought into the King’s presence, the King asked him how he could conspire so hideous a treason against his children and so many innocent souls which never offended him? He answered that … a dangerous disease required a desperate remedy”.

Sir Edward Hoby, as portrayed in 1583

(*) Hoby (1560-1617) was a scholar and a courtier during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I.  He was the son-in-law of Elizabeth’s cousin Henry Carey, the First Baron Brunsdon, and the nephew of her chief advisor William Cecil, the First Baron  Burghley or Burleigh.

 

 

 

 

Westminster Hall

1 - Exterior of Westminster Hall

2 - Interior of Westminster Hall.JPG

On this day in 1265, Simon de Montfort convened what is widely regarded as England’s first representative Parliament at Westminster Hall (before 1265, Parliament, or its precursor, had met in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey, and after 1548, it met in the then-secularised Royal Chapel of St Stephen in the Palace of Westminster).

3 - Trial of Charles I in Westminster Hall (1649)

Also, on this day in 1649, the trial for treason of Charles I began here.

Westminster Hall was originally built as a royal residence cum banqueting house by William II, Rufus,  in 1097-99; and rebuilt, with a spectacular hammerbeam roof, by Hugh Herland and Henry Yevele, for Richard II, in 1394-1401.  It once formed part of the Old Palace of Westminster, work on which is believed to have begun, under Cnut, as long ago as 1016.  Together  with the adjacent Jewel Tower, it is essentially the only part of the old palace to have survived the terrible fires of 1512 and 1834 (the present, new palace was built, in the Victorian Gothic style, between 1837-70).  It was itself damaged by fire during the Blitz of the Second World War, and has since been further damaged by Death Watch Beetle, the infestation thought to have taken hold in  timbers that had become soaked during the war-time fire-fighting.