Tag Archives: Smithfield

MEDIEVAL LONDON  contd.

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

Plantagenet History

The  Angevin or Plantagenet Henry, son of Geoffrey V of Anjou and Matilda, was crowned King Henry II when Stephen died in 1154.

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The elder of Henry’s surviving sons was crowned King Richard I in 1189.  According to one account, which now  resides in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the coronation ceremony was accompanied by “evil omens”, including the presence of a  bat fluttering around the King’s head during the crowning, and the mysterious pealing of bells.  Shortly afterwards, representatives  of the Jewish community, who had been barred from the ceremony, arrived at the abbey to present gifts and their respects to the newly-crowned King, only to beaten and stripped by the King’s men, and thrown out onto the street.  Tragically, this came to be taken as a licence to attack the entire – sizeable – Jewish  population of London.  According to Roger of Howden, in his “Gesta Regis Ricardi”, the “jealous and bigoted” citizens went on to kill many, including Jacob of Orleans, a respected scholar, to burn  the houses of many others, and to force  the remainder to seek sanctuary in the Tower of London, or to flee the city altogether, until it was safe to return.  And according to Richard of Devizes, “On the very day of the coronation, about that solemn hour in which the Son was immolated to the Father, a sacrifice of the Jews … was commenced in the city of London, and so long was the duration … that the holocaust could scarcely be accomplished the ensuing day … ”.  A horrified Richard was forced  to issue a writ ordering the cessation of the  persecution of the Jews (he also  allowed those who had been forcibly converted to Christianity to  revert to Judaism).  He also ordered the execution of those  guilty of the most egregious offences against them.

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Later in 1189, Richard  appointed the  first (Lord) Mayor of London, Henry FitzAilwyn de Londonestone, in effect to run the City.

Later in Richard’s reign, in 1196, according to an  account given by Roger of Wendover:  “About this time there arose a dispute in the city of London between the poor and the  rich on account of the tallage, which was exacted by the King’s agents for the benefit of the exchequer: for the principal men of the city, whom we call mayors and aldermen, having held a deliberation at their hustings, wished to preserve themselves from the burden, and to oppress the poorer classes.  Wherefore William FitzRobert [also rendered as FitzOsbert], surnamed ‘with the beard’ [William Longbeard] … called the mayors of the city traitors to our lord the King for the cause above mentioned; and the disturbances were so great in the city that recourse was had to arms.  … [T]he King, his ministers, and the chief men of the city charged the whole crime on William.  As the King’s party were about to arrest him, he … escaped, defending himself with nothing but a knife, and flying into the church of St Mary of the Arches [St Mary-le-Bow], demanded the protection of our Lord, St Mary, and her church, saying that he had resisted an unjust decree for no other purpose than that all might bear an equal share of the public burden, and contribute according to their means.  His expostulations, however, were not listened to, … and the archbishop [Walter] … ordered that he should be dragged from the church to take a trial, because he had created a sedition … among the people of the city.  When this was told to William, he took refuge in the tower of the church, for he knew that the mayors … sought to take away his life.  In their obstinacy they applied fire, and sacreligiously burned down a great part of the church.  Thus William was forced to leave … , … seized, … and … conveyed away to the Tower of London.  Soon after, … he was … dragged, tied to a horse’s tail, through the middle of  London to Ulmet [Tyburn] … : after which he was  hung in chains on a gallows.   … With him were also hanged nine of his neighbours or of his family, who espoused his cause”.  According to other contemporary sources, William Longbeard was “in origin one of the most noble citizens of London”, but nonetheless became “the champion of the poor, it being his wish that every person, both rich and poor, should give according to his property and means, for all the necessities of the state”.  In one remarkable and radical speech that provoked outrage and fear throughout the Establishment, he proclaimed: “I am the saviour of the poor.  Oh poor, who have experienced the heaviness of rich men’s hands, drink from my wells the waters of the doctrine of salvation, and … do this joyfully, for the time of your visitation is at hand.  For I will divide … the humble and faithful people from the haughty and treacherous … , as light from darkness”.

John   was crowned King in 1199.  In 1215, he   granted the City of London the right to elect its own Mayor: the “Mayoral Charter” is now in the Guildhall.

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The prestige of the position was such that the by-then Mayor, William Hardel(l),  was invited by John to be  a witness to the sealing of, and indeed an Enforcer or Surety of, the Magna Carta, at Runnymede in Surrey, later in 1215.  This was after rebel barons had entered London to force John’s hand.  Ralph of Coggeshall wrote: “With alliances sworn with the citizens of London via go-betweens, … the barons came to London and seized it without opposition, the citizens being busy at Mass. Having entered, the barons captured all of the King’s supporters whom they found, depriving them of their goods. They broke into the houses of the Jews, rifling store-houses and strong boxes, and having spent much time in this holy work, abundantly restuffed their own empty purses. Robert FitzWalter, Marshal of the Army of God and Holy Church, and Geoffrey de Mandeville, earl of Essex and Gloucester, vigilantly and daily reinforced the City walls with stones taken from the houses of the Jews. They could not, however, take the Tower of London, defended against them by a small but brave garrison. As soon as it became known, far and wide, that the barons had seized the royal metropolis, all, save only the earls of Warenne, Arundel, Chester, Pembroke, Ferrers and Salisbury, and amongst the barons only William Brewer … defected to the baronial party; … so that …  the King was seized with such terror that he now dared travel no further than Windsor”.

The First Barons’ War broke out still later in  1215, when it became clear that when John  had no intention of abiding  by the terms of the Magna Carta.   When John died in 1216, the barons refused to recognise his son Henry III as King, and instead supported  the rival claim to the title of the French King Philippe II’s son Louis, also known as the Dauphin.  The Dauphin and barons suffered a heavy military defeat at the Battle of Lincoln in 1217, after which they were forced to retreat to their power-base in London, there  to await reinforcements from France, which in the event never arrived, the transporting  fleet  being intercepted en route.  Incidentally, two prominent Londoners were captured at the battle, namely  the aforementioned Robert FitzWalter, formerly of Baynard’s Castle, and Richard de Montfichet, of Montfichet’s Tower, both of which  had been demolished on John’s orders after the baronial conspiracy of 1212, in which FitzWalter had been implicated.  The Dauphin then agreed to  relinquish  his claim to England and end the war, by signing the so-called Treaty of Lambeth, brokered by William Marshall, later in 1217 (there is a famous alabaster effigy of Marshall in Temple Church).  In exchange, the barons and people were given back the liberties that had been taken away under John’s unjust rule.  The Second Barons’ War broke out in 1264.   As in the case of the First Baron’s War, London remained a barons’ stronghold essentially throughout.  Following his victory at the Battle of Lewes in 1264, during which the King, Henry III was captured, the barons’ leader, Simon de Montfort convened what is widely regarded as England’s first representative Parliament in Westminster Hall in 1265 (before this date,  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).  De Montfort was killed, and Henry freed from captivity, at the Battle of Evesham later in 1265, which left the royalists holding the upper hand until the eventual cessation of hostilities, according to  the terms of the Dictum of Kenilworth,  in 1267.

The  third Horseman  of the Apocalypse, Famine,  visited during the reign of Henry III in 1257/8,  and again during the reign of Edward II in 1314-7.  The City of London was subject to a famine of Biblical proportions in  1257/8, as indeed were the entire country and continent.  The “Chronicles of the Mayors and Sheriffs” for 1257/8 record that: “In this year, there was a failure of the crops; upon which … a famine ensued, to such a degree that the people from the villages resorted to the City for food; and there, upon the famine waxing still greater, many thousand people perished … ”.

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It is likely that many of the many thousands of individuals buried in the crypt-cum-charnel house of St Mary Spital, which have recently been shown to date to the middle of the thirteenth century, died during this famine.  As to the underlying cause, it has been speculated to have been brought about by a “volcanic winter” following the explosive  eruption of Mount Samalas on the island of Lombok in Indonesia in 1257.  Another famine, albeit less well documented in London, affected  the country and continent between 1314-7.  It, too, appears to have been associated with – prolonged – bad weather, even in supposed summer months, and associated harvest failure, and to have been compounded by livestock disease and death (“murrain”).  Initially, it was the poor who were  particularly badly affected, being unable to afford to pay a premium for increasingly scarce  foodstuffs, and indeed even for the staple, bread, especially after attempts to restrict its price ultimately proved unsuccessful.   But, by the summer  of 1315, there was essentially nothing for anyone rich or poor to eat anywhere in St Albans, even the King, Edward II, and his court, who visited the town in  August.  As to the underlying cause in this case,  it has been speculated to have been brought about by either a short-term cooling spike caused by another volcanic eruption, perhaps of Mount Tarawera in New Zealand, or a long-term climatic cooling trend at the transition from the “Medieval Warm Period” into the “Little Ice Age”, or or a superposition of the two.  The balance between sufficiency and deficiency of food supply  was always extremely precarious, and easily tipped.

The First War of Scottish Independence began with the English conquest of Scotland during the reign of Edward I in 1296, and lasted until the restoration of independence, either  de facto after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, or de jure after the  Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton during the reign of Edward II in 1328.

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One of the principal Scottish leaders, William Wallace (“Braveheart”), was captured  by the English at Robroyson near Glasgow in 1305.  He was then taken to London, where he was hanged, drawn and quartered for high treason in West Smithfield.

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The  fourth and final  Horseman of the Apocalypse, Plague, visited during the reign of Edward III in 1348-9, and again  in 1361 (the so-called “Pestis Secunda”, or “Second Plague”), 1368  (the “Third Plague”), 1375 (the “Fourth Plague”), and during the reign of the Lancastrian King Henry VI in 1433-5.  And death followed.  It is estimated that around half of the population of the City of London, or 40,000 people, died in the 1348-9 outbreak that came to be known as the “Black Death”.  Twenty-six out of the fifty monks of Westminster Abbey died, and were buried in the  cloister (the abbot, Simon Bircheston, also died, and was buried separately, near the Chapter House door, alongside earlier abbots of the late eleventh to twelfth centuries, his epitaph reading in part: “May this blessed father now flourish with the kind Fathers in the presence of God”).  The contemporary chronicler Robert of Avesbury wrote: “The pestilence which had first broken out in the land occupied by the Saracens became so much stronger that, sparing no dominion, it visited with the scourge of sudden death the various parts of all the Kingdoms … .  [I]t began in England in Dorsetshire … in the year of the Lord 1348, and immediately advancing from place to place it attacked men without warning … .  Very many of those who were attacked in the morning it carried out of human affairs before noon.  And no one whom it willed to die did it permit to live longer than three or four days.  …  And about the Feast of All Saints [November 1st, 1348], reaching London, it deprived many of their life daily, and increased to so great an extent that from the feast of the Purification [February 2nd, 1349] till after Easter [April 12th, 1349] there were more than two hundred bodies of those who had died buried daily in the cemetery which had been then recently made near Smithfield, besides the bodies which were in other graveyards … .  The grace of the Holy Spirit finally intervening, …  about the feast of Whitsunday [May 31st, 1349], it ceased at London … ”.  He also wrote: “In that same year of 1349, about Michaelmas, over six hundred [flagellants]  came to London from Flanders … .  Sometimes at St Paul’s and sometimes at other points in the city they made two daily public appearances … .  …   Each had in his right hand a scourge with three tails. Each tail had a knot and through the middle of it there were sometimes sharp nails fixed. They marched naked in a file one behind the other and whipped themselves with these scourges on their naked and bleeding bodies.  Four of them would chant in their native tongue and, another four would chant in response like a litany. Thrice they would all cast themselves on the ground in this sort of procession, stretching out their hands like the arms of a cross”.  The horror of the Black Death can only be imagined.  The many thousands of dead were buried, with more or less ceremony, in “plague pits” in East Smithfield, in what were to become the grounds of the Cistercian abbey of St Mary Graces, founded in 1350; and at West Smithfield, in what were to become the grounds of the Carthusian monastery of Charterhouse, founded in 1371 (as Stow put it, “A great pestilence … overspread all England, so wasting the people that scarce the tenth person of all sorts was left alive, and churchyards were not sufficient to receive the dead, but men were forced to choose out certain fields for burial”).    Some have recently been unearthed in archaeological excavations, and on analysis have been found to contain traces of the plague bacillus Yersinia pestis.

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In the immediate aftermath of the “Black Death” of 1348-9, the demand for labour came to greatly exceed the supply, City- and country- wide.  At the same time, the work-force had its wages frozen,  under the “Ordinance of Labourers” of 1349; and then became subject to understandably even more unpopular, and extremely unjustly enforced,  Poll Taxes,  in  1377, 1379 and 1381.  Civil unrest followed in the “Peasants’ Revolt” of 1381.  This came to a head in a confrontation, at West Smithfield, between on the one side  a thousands-strong peasant mob, and on the other, heavily-armed knights and henchmen, officers of the City, and the  then boy-King Richard II.  By this time, the  mob had already slaked its blood-thirst by sacking some Establishment buildings in the City, including the Tower of London and John of Gaunt’s Savoy Palace, and killing many  of their occupants, together with many other innocent by-standers – especially foreigners.  Among  the dead were Robert Hales, the Lord High Treasurer, who had introduced the Poll Tax, and Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury; both unceremoniously beheaded on Tower Hill.  As well as being the Treasurer, Hales was also the Prior of the Priory of St John in Clerkenwell.  Its  buildings, too, were  deliberately targeted during the revolt.  It is significant that no attempt was made to harm the King, whose perceived status from birth was not only royal but also essentially divine and sacrosanct, as indicated by the symbology of the Wilton Diptych (in the National Gallery).  The  French chronicler Jean  Froissart (c.1337-c.1405) wrote, in the second of his “Chroniques”, completed in 1388:  “This day all the rabble … assembled under Wat Tyler, John Straw and John Ball, at a place called Smithfield … . There were present about 20,000, … breakfasting, and drinking Rhenish wine and Malmsey Madeira … without paying for anything … . [W]hen the King, attended by sixty horses, … arrived before the Abbey of St Bartholomew, … and saw the crowd of people, he stopped, saying that he would …  endeavour to appease them. Wat Tyler … was only desirous of a riot … .   … The Mayor of London [the fishmonger William Walworth], with about twelve men, rode forward, armed under their robes, …  seeing Tyler’s manner of behaving, … .  [T]he Mayor, … supported by the King, … then drew a kind of scimitar [now in the Fishmongers’ Hall], and struck Tyler such a blow on the head as felled him to his horse’s feet.  As soon as the rebel was down, he was surrounded on all sides, in order that his own men might not see him; and one of the King’s squires, by name John Standwich, immediately leaped from his horse, and drawing his sword, thrust it into his belly, so that he died.  When the rebels found that their leader was dead, they drew up in a sort of battle array, each man having his bow bent before him.  The King at this time … hazarded much, though it turned out most fortunately for him; for … he left his attendants, giving orders that no one should follow him, and riding up to the rebels, … said ‘Gentlemen,   … I am your King, remain peaceable’.  The greater part, on hearing these words, were quite ashamed, and those among them who were inclined for peace began to slip away …  ”.

Two further crises followed the “Peasants’ Revolt” during the course of Richard II’s reign, as chronicled by Froissart.  The first was a series of  power-struggles with Parliament, and with his uncle, Thomas of Woodstock, the Duke of  Gloucester, and the other Lords Appellant, in 1386-8.  At this time, the King, and his Chancellor, Michael de la Pole, sought an unprecedentedly high  rise in taxes to continue to fund the war against France that had begun in 1337 (and that would only end in 1453, which is why it is now known as the “Hundred Years War”).  Parliament – the “Wonderful Parliament” – refused to give its consent unless the  unpopular Chancellor was removed from power, whereupon the King famously responded that he would not dismiss as much as a scullion from his kitchen at the request of Parliament, and only eventually acceded to the request when threatened with deposition.  Richard  was so incensed by this curbing of his prerogative powers that he sought, and secured,  a legal ruling from Chief Justice Robert Tresilian to the effect that Parliament’s conduct in the matter had been unlawful and treasonable.  He also went on a “gyration” of the country to garner support for his cause, and began to establish a military power-base in the north, at  Chester.  On his return to London, he found himself  confronted by the Dukes of Gloucester, Arundel and Warwick, and that they had in turn brought an appeal of treason against de la Pole, Tresiilan and two other loyalists, Nicholas Brembre, the Mayor of London, and Alexander Neville, the Archbishop of York.  According to Froissart, the King had earlier been advised by Brembre that “many Londoners” supported him,  encouraging him march on the capital, “to test the temper of the citizens”, with “fifteen thousand men …  under … [his] ….  banners”, whereas in the event, Londoners resisted his advance, and Brembre  fled to Wales, but was  “found and captured”, and subsequently  “beheaded in the capital”, on February 20th, 1388.  The King attempted to delay the trial proceedings in anticipation of the arrival of supporting troops from Chester, whereupon Gloucester, Arundel and Warwick joined forces with the Earl of Derby (Henry Bolingbroke), and the Earl of Nottingham, to form the Lords Appellant, and intercepted, and routed, the King’s troops at Radcot Bridge.  At this, Richard no longer had any choice but to comply with the appellants’ demands.  Tresilian and Brembre were executed, and de la Pole, who had fled the country, was sentenced to death in absentia, by the “Merciless Parliament” of 1388.  The King’s  circle of favourites was broken.

The second crisis of the latter part of Richard’s reign witnessed  the King’s eventual decline and deposition, between  1397-9.  It began with his attempt to re-assert his authority after the first crisis, in the so-called “Tyranny”.  In 1397, he had Gloucester, Arundel and Warwick arrested on charges of treason: Gloucester either died or was killed on the King’s instructions, while awaiting trial;   Arundel was tried,  convicted  and   executed; and Warwick tried, convicted and sentenced to death, although his sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.  The King then set about the systematic persecution of the appellants’ supporters, fining them, and at the same time distributing largesse to his own followers.  And in 1398, he convened a packed “Parliament of Shrewsbury”, which  overturned all the earlier rulings of the “Merciless Parliament”, and essentially made the King once more an absolute monarch. However, the House of Lancaster, personified by John of Gaunt and his son Henry Bolingbroke, now Earl of Hereford, remained a formidable opponent to the King.  Richard attempted to resolve this outstanding issue by ordering   Bolingbroke into exile in France, initially   for ten years, and eventually  for life.   But in 1399, Bolingbroke returned from exile,  to mount a challenge to the King, landing in the north of England, and there forging an important strategic  alliance with Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland.  He, Bolingbroke, then marched south with a strong and ever-growing force, encountering little Royalist resistance along the way, the King and much of the  nobility being in  Ireland.  When the King eventually returned to England, he found himself facing overwhelming odds, and was forced to surrender himself to Bolingbroke, who had him imprisoned in the Tower of London, and eventually deposed, after hearings before  by an assembly of Lords and Commons at Westminster Hall, on October 1st,  1399.  He, Richard, is thought to have been allowed to starve to death in captivity in Pontefract Castle on or around February 14th, 1400.

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The execution of  Margery Jordemaine, the “Witch of Eye” (1441)

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“There was a Beldame called the wytch of Ey

Old mother Madge her neyghbours did hir name

Which wrought wonders in countryes by heresaye.

Both feendes and fayries her charmyng would obay

And dead corpsis from grave she could uprere.

Suche an inchauntresse, as that tyme had no peere”.

On this day in 1441, Margery Jordemaine, the so-called “Witch of Eye” was burnt at the stake at Smithfield for alleged treason – specifically, for her part in a conspiracy  to kill the then King, Henry VI,  through witchcraft.  The event went on to be immortalised by Shakespeare in his play about the king.

Contrary to popular belief, the burning of witches was evidently  a comparatively rare event in Medieval England.  Malcolm Gaskill, in his book Witchfinders, published in 2005, records  that only 3 witches were burned in England between 1440-1650 (although also that a further 200 were hanged).

The martyrdom of John Forest (1538)

Martyrdom of John Forest

On this day in 1538, the Franciscan Friar John Forest was burned at the stake in Smithfield for refusing to take an oath acknowledging the King – Henry VIII – as the Supreme Head of the Church in England (it is said that fuel for the fire was provided by a statue of St Derfel from the pilgrimage site of Llandderfel in North Wales, which it had been prophesied would “one day set a forest on fire”).   Forest had been a confessor to Henry  first wife, Catherine of Aragon (*), and in 1532 had publicly spoken out against his plans to divorce her (from the open-air pulpit at St Paul’s Cross).

(*) There was a Franciscan Friary attached to the Royal Palace at Greenwich.

“The fame of the city of London” (William FitzStephen)

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Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts and descriptions of the historic City of London, this memorable –  if gushing – one from the prologue to William Fitzstephen’s “Vita Sancti Thomae” or “Life of St. Thomas [Becket]”, probably penned in the 1170s or early 1180s  …

The fame of the city of London

Among the splendid cities of the world that have achieved celebrity, the city of London – seat of the English monarchy – is one whose renown is more widespread, whose money and merchandize go further afield, and which stands head and shoulders above the others. It is fortunate in the wholesomeness of its climate, the devotion of its Christians, the strength of its fortifications, its well-situated location, the respectability of its citizens, and the propriety of their wives. Furthermore it takes great pleasure in its sports and is prolific in producing men of superior quality.  Each of which characteristic I shall address in turn.

The mild climate

There, without question, “the mild sky doth soften hearts of men”, not so that they become “weak slaves of lust”, but so that they are not brutal and uncivilized, instead being of a kind-hearted and generous disposition.

Christian worship there

The bishopric is seated in the church of St Paul  there. At one time it was a metropolitan see, and it is believed that it will be again – if the citizens return to this island –  unless perhaps the title of archbishop, which the Blessed Martyr Thomas held, should preserve that status in Canterbury, which has it now. Since St. Thomas has graced both of those cities – London in the early part of his life, and Canterbury in the later part – each has just grounds to argue against the other, with regard to [a claim on?] that saint. In relation to Christian worship, there are also in London and in its suburbs thirteen conventual churches and one hundred and twenty-six  lesser, parish churches.

The setting and security of the city

On the east side stands the royal fortress [Tower of London], of tremendous size and strength, whose walls and floors rise up from the deepest foundations – the mortar being mixed with animal’s blood. On the west side are two heavily fortified castles [Baynard and Mountfichet].  Running continuously around the north side is the city wall, high and wide, punctuated at intervals with turrets, and with seven double-gated entranceways. Similarly, London had wall and turrets on its south side; but that greatest of rivers, the Thames, which teems with fish, through the ebb and flow of the tide lapping against the wall, has over time undermined it and caused it to collapse.  In addition, further to the west, two miles from the city and linked to it by a populous suburb,  there rises above the bank of that river the king’s palace, a structure without equal, with inner and outer fortifications.

The cultivated gardens

Beyond the suburban houses on every side and adjacent to each other, the citizens have beautiful and spacious gardens, planted with trees.

The pastures

To the north there are tilled fields, pastures, and pleasant, level meadows with streams flowing through them, where watermill wheels turned by the current make a pleasing sound. Not far off spreads out a vast forest, its copses dense with foliage concealing wild animals – stags, does, boars, and wild bulls.

The fields

The arable fields of the city are not gravelly and parched, but are like the fertile fields of Asia which “make glad the crops”; their cultivation fills the granaries “with sheaves of Ceres’ stalk”.

The spring waters

There are also in the northern suburbs of London springs of high quality, with water that is sweet, wholesome, clear, and “whose runnels ripple amid pebbles bright”. Among which Holywell, Clerkenwell and St. Clement’s Well have a particular reputation; they receive throngs of visitors and are especially frequented by students and young men of the city, who head out on summer evenings to take the air. Truly, a good city – if it has a good lord.

The reputation of the citizens

The city has won repute for its men and glory for its martial prowess, and has a very large population; so that, during the ruinous wars of the time of King Stephen, it was able to marshal an estimated 20,000 cavalry and 60,000 infantry fit for battle. The citizens of London are universally renowned and talked about for their superiority over those of other cities in the refinement of their dress, manners, and dining.

Proper behaviour

The married women of the city are true Sabines.

The schools

The three principal churches of London – St. Paul’s (seat of the bishop), Holy Trinity, and St. Martin’s – possess schools, by ancient right and privilege. But, thanks to the support of a number of those scholarly men who have won renown and distinction in the study of philosophy, there are other schools licensed there.  On holy days, the schoolmasters assemble their students at the churches associated with the particular festival, for purposes of a training exercise. There the students debate, some using demonstrative rhetoric, others using dialectical logic. Yet others “hurtle enthymemes”, while those who are more advanced employ syllogisms. Some undergo the debating exercise just to be put through their paces, it being like a wrestling match of the intellect; for others it is to help perfect their skills in determining the truth. The contrivances of sophists receive credit for the torrent and flow of their arguments. Others apply false logic. Occasionally some speakers strive to persuade by delivering rhetorical orations, taking care to observe the rules of their art and not to leave out anything related to them. Boys from different schools fling versified arguments against each other, disputing matters of grammatical principles or rules governing the use of the future or past tenses. There are those who make use of epigrams, rhymes, and metrical verse – types of sarcasm traditionally heard at street-corners; with “Fescennine License”, they freely ridicule their associates, without naming names. They hurl “abuse and jibes”; with Socratic wit they take digs at the character flaws of their fellows, or even their elders, and “bite more keenly even than Theon’s  tooth” with their “bold dithyrambs”. The audience being “ready to laugh their fill”, “with wrinkling nose repeat the loud guffaw”.

The daily routine of the city

Every morning you can find those carrying on their various trades, those selling specific types of goods, and those who hire themselves out as labourers, each in their particular locations engaged in their tasks. Nor should I forget to mention that there is in London, on the river bank amidst the ships, the wine for sale, and the storerooms for wine, a public cookshop.   On a daily basis there, depending on the season, can be found fried or boiled foods and dishes, fish large and small, meat – lower quality for the poor, finer cuts for the wealthy – game and fowl (large and small). If friends arrive unexpectedly at the home of some citizen and they, tired and hungry after their journey, prefer not to wait until food may be got in and cooked, or “till servants bring water for hands and bread”, they can in the meantime pay a quick visit to the riverside, where anything they might desire is immediately available. No matter how great the number of soldiers or travellers coming in or going out of the city, at whatever hour of day or night, so that those arriving do not have to go without a meal for too long or those departing leave on empty stomachs, they can choose to detour there and take whatever refreshment each needs. Those with a fancy for delicacies can obtain for themselves the meat of goose,  guinea-hen or woodcock – finding what they’re after is no great chore, since all the delicacies are set out in front of them. This is an exemplar of a public cookshop that provides a service to a city and is an asset to city life. Hence, as we read in Plato’s Gorgias, cookery is a flattery and imitation of medicine, the fourth of the arts of civic life.

Smithfield

In a suburb immediately outside one of the gates there is field that is smooth, both in name and in fact. Every Friday (unless it is an important holy day requiring solemnity) crowds are drawn to the show and sale of fine horses. This attracts the earls, barons and knights who are then in the city, along with many citizens, whether to buy or just to watch. It is a delight to see the palfreys trotting gently around, the blood pumping in their veins, their coats glistening with sweat, as they alternately raise then lower both feet on one side together. Then to see the horses more suitable for squires, rougher yet quicker in their movements, simultaneously lifting one set of feet and setting down the opposite set. After that the high-bred young colts, not yet trained or broken, “high-stepping with elastic tread”. Next packhorses, with robust and powerful legs. Then expensive war horses, tall and graceful, “with quivering ears, high necks and plump buttocks”. Prospective buyers watch as all are put through their paces: first, their trot, followed by their gallop (in which their two sets of legs, front and rear, are thrust out forwards and backwards, in opposition to each other).  On occasions when a race is about to be held between these chargers – or perhaps other steeds who, like their kind, are strong enough to bear riders and lively enough to race – the fact is loudly proclaimed and a warning goes up to clear lesser horses out of the way. Two or sometimes three boys prepare themselves to take part as riders in such contests between the fleet-footed creatures. Skilled in controlling horses, they “curb their untamed mouths with jagged bits”; their biggest challenge is to prevent one of their competitors from taking the lead in the race.  The horses too, in their own way, psych themselves up for the contest: “their limbs tremble; impatient of delay, they cannot stand still”. When the starting signal is given, they leap forward and race off with as much speed and determination as they can muster. The riders, eager for glory and hoping for victory, try to outdo one another in using spurs, switches or cries of encouragement to urge the horses to go faster. You start to believe that “all things are in motion”, as Heraclitus put it, and lose faith in Zeno’s theory that motion is impossible – so that no-one could ever reach the end of a racetrack!  In a separate part [of Smithfield] are located the goods that country folk are selling: agricultural implements, pigs with long flanks, cows with swollen udders, “woolly flocks and bodies huge of kine”. Also to be found there are mares suited for pulling ploughs, sledges, and two-horse carts; some have bellies swollen with foetuses, while around others already wander their newborn – frisky foals who stick close to their mothers.

Ships and commerce

Middlemen from every nation under heaven are pleased to bring to the city ships full of merchandize:

“Gold from Arabia; from Sabaea spice and incense; from the Scythians arms of steel
well-tempered; oil from the rich groves of palm that spring from the fat lands of Babylon; fine gems from Nile; from China crimson silks; French wines; and sable, vair and miniver from the far lands where Russ and Norseman dwell”.

According to the chroniclers, London is far older than Rome. For it was founded by the same race of Trojans, but by Brutus prior to Rome’s foundation by Romulus and Remus. Consequently both still have in common  the same ancient laws and institutions. The one, just like the other, is divided into wards.  In place of consuls, London has sheriffs chosen annually. It has a senatorial order and lesser officials. It has a system of sewers and conduits in the streets. Judicial pleas, arguments, and deliberations each have assigned places, their courts. It has days fixed by custom  for the holding of assemblies.

 Religious observances

I cannot think of any city more commendable for the habits of its citizens in attending church, in observing the divine festivals, in giving alms, in providing hospitality, in formalizing betrothals, in contracting marriages, in celebrating weddings, in throwing banquets, in keeping guests entertained, as well as in attention to the burial and funeral needs of the deceased. The only problems that plague London are the idiots who drink to excess and the frequency of fires.  To all this I should add that almost all the bishops, abbots, and lords of England are residents and, for all practical purposes, citizens  of London. They have imposing houses there, where they stay and make lavish expenditures when summoned to the city by the king or archbishop to take part in councils or important gatherings, or when they come to deal with private business.

Recreational activities

Let us look more closely now at the city’s recreations, since it is not productive for urban society to be always serious or practical – it also needs to smile and have fun. In relation to which, on the signet seals of the High Pontiffs, down to the time of Pope Leo, there was engraved on one side Peter the fisherman and over him a key, as though it were being passed down from heaven by the hand of God; around which, the motto “For me thou lef’st the ship; take thou the key”. While on the other side was engraved a city, with the words “Golden Rome”. Again, it was said in praise of Rome and Caesar Augustus:  “All night it rains; with dawn the shows return.  Caesar, thou shar’st thine empery with Jove.”

Miracle plays

In place of such theatrical performances and plays, London has religious drama portraying the miracles performed by the Holy Confessors or the sufferings endured by martyrs illustrating their constancy.

Cockfighting and ball games

Let us begin with boys’ games (for we were all boys once). Each year on the day called “Carnival” schoolboys bring fighting-cocks to their schoolmaster, and the entire morning is given over to the boyish sport, for there is a school holiday for purpose of the cock fights.  After lunch all the youth of the city go out into the fields to take part in a ball game.   The students of each school have their own ball; the workers from each city craft are also carrying their balls. Older citizens, fathers, and wealthy citizens come on horseback to watch their juniors competing, and to relive their own youth vicariously: you can see their inner passions aroused as they watch the action and get caught up in the fun being had by the carefree adolescents.

War games in the fields

Every Sunday in Lent, after lunch, a “fresh swarm of young gentles” goes out into the fields on chargers and “steeds skilled in the contest”, each being “apt and schooled to wheel in circles round”. Crowds of the lay sons of citizens pour through the city gates armed with military spears and shields; the younger carry spears whose metal point has been removed. “They wake war’s semblance” and practise military exercises. With a view to joining in the combats, there come many of the king’s entourage, when he is in residence; and from the households of earls and barons, young men not yet invested with knighthood. Each is consumed by a hope for a victory. The fierce horses whinny, “their limbs tremble; they champ the bit; impatient of delay they cannot stand still”.   When finally “the hoof of trampling steed careers along”, the young horsemen have divided themselves into troops; some unhorse their comrades and speed past, while others chase those who retreat, but fail to catch them.

Naval exercises

At Easter they hold games that are a sort of naval tournament. A shield being securely fastened to a mast fixed mid-river, a young man standing in the prow of a small boat, propelled by the current and by several rowers, has to strike that shield with a lance. If he can splinter the lance by striking it against the shield and manage to avoid being thrown off his feet, his prayers have been answered and his objective achieved. If on the other hand the lance strikes it square on without breaking, he’ll be cast into the fast-flowing river, and the boat will move on beyond him. However, there are anchored on either side two boats holding several young men to pluck out of the river any contestant who has taken a plunge, once his head emerges above water-level or “once more bubbles on the topmost wave”. On the bridge and on galleries overlooking the river are numerous spectators, “ready to laugh their fill”.

Summer games, such as wrestling and the like

On festival days throughout the summer young men exercise through sports such as athletics,  archery, wrestling, shot-put, throwing javelins (by use of a strap) beyond a marker, and duelling with bucklers. “Cytherea leads the dance of maidens and the earth is smitten with free foot at moonrise”.

Winter baiting of boars, bull and bears with dogs

On most festival days during winter, before lunch, boars foaming at the mouth and hogs armed with “tusks lightning-swift” fight for their lives; they’ll soon be bacon. And fat bulls with horns or monstrous bears, under restraints, are set to fight against hounds.

Games on the ice

When the great marsh [Moor Field] that laps up against the northern walls of the city is frozen, large numbers of the younger crowd go there to play about on the ice. Some, after building up speed with a run, facing sideways and their feet placed apart, slide along for a long distance. Others make seats for themselves out of ice-slabs almost as large as millstones, and are dragged along by several others who hold their hands and run in front. Moving so quickly, the feet of some slip out from under them and inevitably they fall down flat. Others are more skilled at frolicking on the ice: they equip each of their feet with an animal’s shin-bone, attaching it to the underside of their footwear; using hand-held poles reinforced with metal tips, which they periodically thrust against the ice, they propel themselves along as swiftly as a bird in flight or a bolt shot from a crossbow. But sometimes two, by accord, beginning far apart, charge each other from opposite directions and, raising their poles, strike each other with them. One or both are knocked down, not without injury, since after falling their impetus carries them off some distance and any part of their head that touches the ice is badly scratched and scraped. Often someone breaks a leg or an arm, if he falls onto it. But youth are driven to show off and demonstrate their superiority, so they are inclined to these mock battles, to steel themselves for real combat.

Those who amuse themselves with birds of prey

Many citizens enjoy sports involving high-flying birds – falcons, hawks and the like – or hounds for hunting in the woods. The citizens have hunting rights in Middlesex, Hertfordshire, throughout the Chilterns, and in Kent as far as the river Cray. The Londoners, in a time when they used to be called Trinovantes, repulsed Caius Julius Caesar, who “rejoiced to make no way save with the spilth of blood”. Regarding which, Lucan writes: “To the Britons whom he sought, he showed his coward back”.

Sons and daughters of the city of London

The city of London has been the birthplace of a number of persons who brought under their rule many kingdoms and the Roman empire, and many others who, through their excellent qualities, have been “raised to the Gods as lords of earth”, just as had been promised to Brutus by Apollo’s oracle:

“Brutus, past Gaul beneath the set of sun, there lies an isle in Ocean ringed with waters.  This seek; for there shall be thine age-long home. Here for thy sons shall rise a second Troy, here from thy blood shall monarchs spring, to whom all earth subdued shall its obeisance make.”

During Christian times it gave birth to the noble emperor Constantine, who dedicated the city of Rome and all symbols of empire to God, St. Peter, and Silvester the Roman pope, to whom he showed his subordination by holding his stirrup; he preferred the title Defender of the Holy Roman Church, rather than the traditional one of emperor. So that the peace of His Eminence the Pope should not be disturbed by the hurly-burly of worldly affairs occasioned by his presence, Constantine entirely withdrew from the city he had handed over to the Pope, and built the city of Byzantium for himself.

In modern times, London has produced majestic and celebrated rulers: the Empress Matilda, King Henry III, and the blessed Thomas the archbishop, Christ’s glorious martyr, “than whom she bore no whiter soul nor one more dear” to all good people in the whole of the Latinized world”.