Tag Archives: Southwark



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

Lancastrian and Yorkist History, and the Wars of the Roses

The Lancastrian Henry of Bolingbroke was formally crowned King Henry IV, after the deposition of Richard II, on the feast day of St Edward the Confessor, October 13th (although technically the heir-presumptive had been Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, who was descended from Edward III).  The Welsh Revolt against English rule broke out during  his reign, in 1400, and ended during that of his son Henry V in 1415, in defeat for the rebels.  Its principal leader, Owain Glyndwr, the anglicised version of whose name is Owen Glendower, went into hiding in 1415, never to be seen or heard of again (Owain’s lieutenant Rhys Ddu was   captured on a raid into Shropshire in 1410, brought to London, “laid on a hurdle and so drawn forth to Tyburn through the City”,  and there “hanged and let down again”, and “his head … smitten off and his body quartered and sent to four towns and his head set on London Bridge”).  Owain’s daughter Catrin and her children had previously been captured by the English at the Siege of Harlech in 1409.    They  had then been taken to London, where they were imprisoned in the Tower, and at least most if not all of them died there in 1413, under circumstances best described as “mysterious” (the children had a claim to the English throne through their late father the aforementioned Edmund Mortimer, and some suspect that they were done to death so as to prevent them from making any such claim).  Surviving records indicate that Catrin and two of her daughters were buried not in the Tower but in the churchyard of St Swithin London Stone on the other side of the city (there are no records of what became of her other daughter, or of her son Lionel). 

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A modern Gelligaer bluestone sculpture by Nic Stradlyn-John and Richard Renshaw, inscribed with a Welsh englyn by Menna Elfyn, marks the spot.  Freely (by me) rendered into English, the  englyn reads: “In the Tower, now her home,|Her heart-song turns to longing:|The exile’s silent lament”.


The  attempt of the  Lollard Revolt of 1413/4 to overthrow the established church came to nothing when the supporters of the movement, gathered at St Giles-in-the-Fields on the western outskirts of the City of London, were betrayed and dispersed.  Its  local leader, Sir John Oldcastle, was later put to death at St Giles – by hanging in chains over a slow fire – in 1417 (another Lollard Priest, William Taylor, was burnt at the stake for heresy in West Smithfield in 1423).

Henry V was crowned King in 1413.


A month after his famous victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, he  made a triumphal return to London (image courtesy of “Look and Learn” (www.lookandlearn.com)).  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 20,000 … . 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 [Westminster Abbey], he rode away to his palace of Westminster, escorted by his citizens”.

Henry VI was crowned King in 1422.  During the course of his reign, 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” (an  act immortalised by Shakespeare in “Henry VI, Part II”); 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, the citizens drove him and his followers from the City, after a pitched battle on London Bridge, during which scores of combatants were killed.  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.  Thus ended the “Harvest of the Heads”.

The Yorkist Edward IV  was crowned King in 1461, after the overthrow of the Lancastrian Henry VI during the Wars of the Roses; Edward V in 1483; and Richard III in 1483.  Note, though, that for a brief  period in 1470-1, Edward IV was forced into exile, following a falling-out with two of his principal supporters, his brother George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, otherwise known as “Warwick the Kingmaker”, and that during this period Henry VI was readepted to the throne.

During the Wars of the Roses, between the Lancastrians and Yorkists, between 1455-85, London was an important centre of  political machination; and the Tower, at least according to some accounts, the scene  of a series of chilling politically motivated murders, in forgotten dreadful cubicles behind  great  locked doors.  It appears  that Henry VI was done to death here, possibly on the orders of Edward IV, in 1471; and that George, Duke of Clarence was done to death here, possibly on the orders either of his elder brother, Edward IV, or his younger brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester,  in 1478 (by drowning in a butt of Malmsey wine).  It also appears that the  recently-deceased Edward IV’s sons, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, the “Princes in the Tower”, were done to death here, possibly on the orders of their uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester  – the future Richard III – in 1483.   Certainly, the deaths of his nephews removed any obstacles standing between the ambitious Richard and the crown, which he was duly eventually offered in Baynard’s Castle, in 1483.

There was, though, some military action on the outskirts of London, in the Battles of  St Albans in 1455 and 1461, and  of  Barnet in 1471.


The Battle of Barnet was fought on April 14th, 1471, between  a Yorkist army under Edward IV, and a Lancastrian army  under the  Earl of Warwick.  Earlier, Edward had sallied forth from Bishopsgate in the City of London, and marched ten miles or so up the Great North Road to meet Warwick’s advance from the north, battle lines being drawn a little to the north of Barnet, at that time  a small market own in Hertfordshire: the Yorkists to the south; the Lancastrians to the north.  The night before the day of the battle, the two sides bombarded each other with artillery fire, such that on the morning of the day of the battle, the air was thick with smoke as well as fog, and visibility was poor.  Historical written accounts of the battle are correspondingly unclear, and no systematic archaeological survey of the battle site has  yet been undertaken that might clarify the course of events (as in the cases of Towton and Bosworth Field).  The consensus view among historians is that the Lancastrian army got the better of the early exchanges, its right, under the Earl of Oxford, turning the Yorkist left, forcing it to flee to the south, and then pursuing it into Barnet, and ransacking the town.  Oxford’s men later  returned to the field of battle from the south, only to be fired on by their fellow Lancastrians, under Montague, who in the smoke, fog and general confusion had mistaken them for Yorkists (their banners also evidently resembled those of the Yorkists).  The Lancastrians were then themselves turned by the Yorkists, and pursued and routed; Warwick was killed in the ensuing melee, as depicted in the “Ghent Manuscript”; and the Yorkists won a decisive victory.  John Paston, a Lancastrian, wrote in a letter to his mother: “[M]y brother … is alive and fareth well, and in no peril of death: nevertheless he is hurt with an Arrow on his right arm, beneath the elbow; and I have sent him to a Surgeon, which hath dressed him, and he telleth me that he trusteth that he shall be whole within right short time … .  [A]s for me, I am in good case blessed be God; and in no jeopardy of my life … .  [T]he world, I assure you, is right queasy … [unsettled]”. Most of the dead, from both sides, numbering somewhere between 1,500-4,000, were buried on  the battlefield, possibly where the essentially late fifteenth-century Monken Hadley Church now stands (Fabian’s “Great Chronicle of London” refers to the construction of a “lytyll Chappell” at the burial site).  However,  some noblemen were taken back to London to be buried in Austin Friars Priory; and Warwick’s body was for a while put on display in St Paul’s, where, according to von Wesel, it was seen by “many thousands”. 

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The battlefield site is marked by an eighteenth-century obelisk monument bearing the inscription “Here was fought the Famous Battle Between Edward the 4th and the Earl of Warwick on April 14th, 1471, in which the Earl was Defeated and Slain”.  Many of the artefacts recovered from the site over the centuries may be seen in the Barnet Museum, including cannonballs, various types of arrowhead, and spurs.  The Battle of Barnet  was reportedly  one of the earliest engagements to have involved the use of handguns, although as yet no physical evidence has been recovered to substantiate the written reports.  “Warkworth’s Chronicle” recounts that Edward had “300 Flemings handgunners”, armed with arquebusses, in his army.

There was also some action in the City.  On July 2nd,  1460,  a Yorkist army arrived at the gates of London, and was admitted by Aldermen sympathetic to their cause.  At this, the Lancastrian garrison in the Tower, under Thomas, the Seventh Baron Scales, indiscriminately opened fire on the City in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to prevent its  occupation, using both  conventional and  chemical weapons from the Royal Armoury, causing both combatant and civilian  casualties,  and occasioning extreme public outrage, ultimately resulting in Scales’s  summary execution (as a contemporary chronicler put it: “They that were within the Tower cast wildfire into the City, and shot in small guns, and burned and hurt men and women and children in the streets”).  The chemical weapon, let loose from a  primitive and unreliable flame-thrower, was  “Greek fire” or “wildfire”, which may be  thought of as a form of napalm, that stuck and set fire to  everything – and everyone –  it came into contact with, and flared  up even more fiercely if water was cast onto it.


And on May 14th,  1471, shortly after the Battle of Barnet, London’s  by then Yorkist garrison was bombarded and then assaulted, as the contemporary “Chronicle of London” put it, “on alle sydys”, by Lancastrian forces  under the privateer Thomas Nevill, illegitimate son of William Nevill, Lord Fauconberg, and otherwise known as the Bastard Fauconberg. In response, the  Mayor, John Stockton,  and his Sheriffs, John Crosby and John Ward,  rode from gate to gate to rally the City’s  defences, “in alle haast with a Trumpett” (Crosby was later knighted for his role in the City’s defence: his memorial in the church of St Helen Bishopsgate shows him in armour).  And for the most part the defences held firm.  Aldgate came under the most sustained attack, “with mighty shott of hand Gunnys & sharp shott of arrowis”.  Indeed, some attackers even  managed to enter the City there, only to be held up by defenders under the Recorder of the City, Thomas Ursewyk, and an Alderman named John Basset, and then to be forced to retreat  by the arrival of defensive reinforcements from the Tower of London, “which dyscomffortid the Rebellys”.  The attack had failed, and the attackers who had evaded capture took to their ships, and sailed out to the safety of the Thames estuary.  Many  of those  who had been captured  were summarily executed, including Spysyng and Quyntyn.

The Great Fire of London (Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, 1666)


On this fateful day in 1666, Samuel Pepys in his diary:

“ …  Jane called us up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire … in the City.  So I rose, and slipped on my night-gown, and went to her window; and thought it to be … far enough off,   and so went to bed again … .  … By and by Jane comes and tells me that … the fire …  is now burning all down Fish Street, by London Bridge.  So I made myself ready … and walked to the Tower; and there got up upon one of the high places … ; and … did see the houses at  that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side of the end of the bridge … .  So down, with my heart full of trouble, to the Lieutenant … , who tells me that it begun … In the King’s bakers in Pudding-lane, and hath burned  St Magnus’s church and most … of Fish-street already.  So I down to the water-side, and there got a boat and … there saw a lamentable fire.   …  Every body endeavouring to remove their goods, and …  bringing them into lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one … stairs, by the waterside, to another.   … Having staid, and in an hour’s time seen the fire rage every way, and nobody, to my sight, endeavouring to quench it, but to remove their goods, and … the wind mighty high and driving it into the City, and everything, after so long a drought, proving combustible … : I to White Hall, … and did tell the King [Charles II] … what I saw; and that, unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down [to create fire-breaks], nothing could stop the fire.  The King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor [the singularly ineffectual Thomas Bloodworth]” and command him to … pull down  [houses].  At last met my Lord Mayor … .  To the King’s message he cried, like a fainting woman ‘Lord, what can I do?  I am spent: people will not obey me.  I have been pulling down   houses; but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it’”.

And John Evelyn wrote:

“This fatal night … began that deplorable fire, neere Fish-streete … : … I … with my Wife & Sonn … went to the bank side in Southwark, where we beheld that dismal spectacle, the whole Citty in dreadfull flames … and … consumed … from the bridge … down to the three Cranes, & so returned exceedingly astonishd, what would become of the rest”.


Celebrating Sir Francis Drake



On this day in 1586, Sir Francis Drake was feted in the Middle Temple on his return from the New World – where he had been busy “privateering” (plundering Spanish possessions).

Drake is also famous as  the first person to circumnavigate the globe, between 1577-80, aboard the “Golden Hind(e)”.  On April 4th, 1581, Elizabeth I visited his ship, which had been “drawn into a creek … at Deptford as a perpetual memorial for having circuited round about the whole earth”, and “consecrated it with great ceremonie, pompe and magnificence eternally to be remembered”; and knighted him.  The ship  remained at Deptford for about 100 years, until it started to disintegrate and had to be broken up.  A  plaque on the water-front there marks the site and commemorates the event.  There is a modern reconstuction of it  in St Mary Overie Dock in  Southwark.


Bear-baiting  in Old London

A Medieval depiction of bear baiting

On this day in 1623, John Chamberlain wrote in a letter to Sir Dudley Carleton:

“The Spanish Ambassador is much delighted in beare baiting: he was the last weeke at Paris garden [in Southwark], where they shewed him all the pleasure they could  … and then turned a white [polar] beare into the Thames, where the dogges baited him swimming, which was the best sport of all”.

The Swiss visitor Thomas Platter had written of the practice of bear-baiting earlier, in 1599:

“Every Sunday [!] and Wednesday in London there are bear-baitings.  … The theatre is circular, with galleries … for spectators, [and] the space … below, beneath the clear sky, … unoccupied. In the middle of this place a large bear on a long rope was bound to a stake, then a number of English mastiffs were brought in and first shown to the bear, which they afterwards baited … .  [N]ow the excellence … of such mastiffs was evinced, for although they were much … mauled by the bear, they did not give in, but had to be pulled off by sheer force … .  The bears’ teeth were not sharp so to they could not injure the dogs; they have them broken short.  When the first mastiffs tired, fresh ones were brought in … .  When the bear was weary, another one was supplied … .  … When this bear was tired, a … bull was brought in … .  Then another powerful bear … .  Lastly they brought in an old blind bear which the boys hit  with … sticks; but he knew how to untie his leash and … ran back to his stall”.

And Henry Machyn, in 1554:

 “The sam day at after-non was a bere-beyten on the Banke syde, and ther the grett blynd bere [whose name was Sackerson] broke losse, and in ronnyng away he chakt a servyng man by the calff of the lege, and bytt a gret pesse away, and after by the hokyll-bone, that with-in iii days after he ded”.

The barbaric practice of animal-baiting began at least as long ago as the Middle Ages: the oldest record of the royal office of “Master of the Bears” is from 1484, during the reign of the last Plantagenet King, Richard III.

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The old  animal-baiting arenas on Bankside in   Southwark eventually closed down in the late seventeeth century, although  at the same time new ones opened up Hockley-in-the-Hole in Clerkenwell, “the home of low-caste sport.  Animal-baiting was only finally outlawed, under the “Cruelty to Animals Act”, in the early nineteenth century, in 1835.


“This Woodden O” (Shakespeare’s “Globe”)

3 - Sam Wanamaker at The Globe, Southwark, in 1947 - Copy

According to the Shakespearean scholar Steve Sohner, on this day in 1599, the original  “Globe” – “Shakespeare’s (own) play-house, and the venue where many of his plays were first performed” – was opened in Southwark.    The original “Globe”  was  built by the theatrical impresario Cuthbert Burbage, using some materials salvaged from his father James’s “The Theatre” in Shoreditch, after the expiry of the lease on that latter property.  It   was later burnt down in a fire in 1613, after sparks from a theatrical cannon set some thatch alight during a performance of Shakespeare’s “Henry the Eighth”; re-built in 1614; fell  into disuse sometime around 1642, when the performance of plays was banned, by order of the Puritans; and was finally demolished in 1644, again by order of the Puritans.

4 - Wanamaker's reconstructed Globe

Also, on this day in 1997, Sam Wanamaker’s reconstructed “Globe” was officially opened by the Queen.


William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

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William Shakespeare was born on or around this day in 1564, and died on this day in 1616.

Although he was born and died in Stratford-upon-Avon, he spent almost the entirety of his productive working life in London, and in truth is much more a London than a Stratford figure. He arrived in London  sometime between 1585 and 1592,  and  lived in the parish of St Helen, near  “The Theatre” and the “Curtain” in Shoreditch, in 1596; in the Liberty of the Clink in Southwark, near   the “Globe”, in 1599; and in Silver Street, near  the  “Blackfriars”, in 1604.

As Peter Ackroyd put it in his marvellous “Shakespeare – The Biography” (Chatto & Windus, 2005), “Shakespeare did not need to address London directly … ; it is the rough cradle of all his drama”.  However, as Hannah Crawforth, Sarah Dustagheer and Jennifer Young suggest in their thoughtful and thought-provoking “Shakespeare in London” (Bloomsbury, 2014), he may have indirectly referenced the violence of Tyburn in “Titus Andronicus”; the political machination of Whitehall in “Richard II”; the class distinction of the Strand in “Romeo and Juliet”; the legal machination of the Inns of Court in “The Merchant of Venice”; the religiosity of St Paul’s Cathedral in “Hamlet”; the madness of Bedlam in “King Lear”; the misery of imprisonment for debt in the King’s Bench Prison in Southwark in “Timon of Athens”; the strange new world of the “cabinet of curiosity” on Lime Street in “The Tempest”; and the rich variety and cosmopolitanism of one of the first true World Cities in the form of an ever-present back-drop.  Moreover, he did set one of his most famous scenes in London, in Ely Palace: that in “Richard II” in which John of Gaunt utters the immortal words:

“This royal throne of kings, this sceptr’d isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi-paradise,

This fortress built by Nature for herself

Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in the silver sea,

Which serves it in the office of a wall,

Or as a moat defensive to a house,

Against the envy of less happier lands,

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”.

3 - Sam Wanamaker at The Globe, Southwark, in 1947

4 - Wanamaker's reconstructed Globe

5 - Wanamaker Playhouse (inside reconstructed Globe), a model for the Blackfriars Theatre.JPG


“Shakespeare’s own play-house” (The Globe)

1 - Sam Wanamaker at the site of the Original Globe in 1947

On this day in 1644, “The Globe” was demolished by order of the Puritan City authorities (and the site redeveloped by Sir Matthew Brand or Brend). The play-house had originally been  built in 1599 by the theatrical impresario Cuthbert Burbage, using some materials salvaged from his father James’s “The Theatre” in Shoreditch, after the expiry of the lease on that latter property.  It had then burnt down in a fire in 1613, after sparks from a theatrical cannon set some thatch alight during a performance of Shakespeare’s “Henry the Eighth”, and been rebuilt in 1614, before falling into disuse sometime around 1642, when the performance of plays was banned by an Act of Parliament forced through by the Puritans (reading, in part: “It is … thought fit, and Ordained, …  That, while these sad … Times …  do continue, Public Stage Plays shall cease, … instead of which are recommended … the profitable and seasonable considerations of Repentance, Reconciliation, and Peace with God, which probably may … bring again Times of Joy and Gladness to these Nations”).

“The Globe” was “Shakespeare’s (own) play-house, and the venue where many of his plays were first performed”.

2 - Wanamaker's reconstructed Globe.jpg