Tag Archives: Thomas More

The execution of Sir Thomas More (1535)

3 - Holbein's portrait of More

On this day in 1535, the former Lord Chancellor, also lawyer, humanist, social philosopher, author (of “Utopia”) and “Man for All Seasons” Sir, now Saint,  Thomas More was beheaded on  Tower Hill  for High Treason,  for refusing to take an oath acknowledging the King, Henry VIII, rather than the Pope, as the Supreme Head of the Church in England (being  “the king’s good servant, but God’s first”).

His son-in-law William Roper wrote of the event:

“And soe was he brought by Mr Lievetenaunt out of the Towre, and thence led towards the place of execution, where goinge upp the Scaffold, which was so weake that it was readie to fall, he sayde … ‘I pray you, I pray you, Mr Lievetenaunt, see me safe upp, and for my cominge downe let mee shift for my selfe’.  Then desired he all the people thereaboutes to pray for him, and to beare witnesse with him, that he should suffer death in and for the faith of the holie Catholique Church, which done hee kneeled downe, and after his prayers sayed, hee turned to the executioner, and with a cheerful Countenance spake unto him, ‘Plucke up thy spirittes, man, and be not affrayed to do thine office … ’.  Soe passed Sir Thomas Moore out of this world to God … ”.

More’s  headless corpse was buried in an unmarked grave in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London.  His head was put on a pike on London Bridge.  It was later retrieved by his daughter Meg Roper, the wife of William, and buried in the Roper family vault in the church of St Dunstan in Canterbury.

1 - Plaque marking site of More's birthplace on Milk Street

2 - Plaque marking site of More's execution on Tower Hill.jpg

There are plaques in the City marking the sites of More’s birth on Milk Street and of his death on Tower Hill.

4 - Statue of More on Carey Street

5 - Statue of More outside Chelsea Old Church

6 - Memorial to More in Chelsea Old Church.JPG

There are  also statues of him to the west of the City, one on Carey Street just off Chancery Lane, and another outside Chelsea Old Church; and a  memorial to him inside Chelsea Old Church.

7 - The rebuilt Crosby Hall in Chelsea.JPG

Crosby Hall, where he lived between 1523-4, was moved from its past location in Bishopsgate to its present one opposite Chelsea Old Church in 1910.

 

The martyrdom of John Houghton, the  Prior of the London Charterhouse (1535)

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On this day in 1535, John Houghton, the Prior of the London Charterhouse, was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, for refusing to take an oath acknowledging the King – Henry VIII – as the Supreme Head of the Church in England (*).  His last words are reported to have been as follows:

“I beseech all here present to attest for me on the dreadful day of judgement that being about to die I declare that I have refused to comply with the will of His Majesty the King, not from obstinacy, malice or a rebellious spirit, but solely for fear of offending the Supreme Majesty of God”.

Previously, from the window of his cell in the Tower of London, Thomas More had witnessed Houghton, together with two other Carthusian priors, a Bridgettine monk and a secular priest,  being taken to Tyburn, and remarked to his daughter Meg [Roper]: “These blessed Fathers be now as cheerfully going to their deaths as bridegrooms to their marriage” (**).

(*) A further six  monks from the London Charterhouse were executed during the Reformation, and nine died, or rather were allowed to die, of starvation, in gaol at Newgate.

(**) More himself was executed two months later.

The church of All Hallows by the Tower

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On this day in 1650, seven barrels of gunpowder stored by the church of All Hallows by the Tower exploded, destroying fifteen houses, and killing sixty-seven people.

The church was originally built in the Saxon period, and considerably added to in the Medieval.  It was undamaged in the Great  Fire of 1666, thanks to the action of Admiral General Sir William Penn Senior, who ordered  the blowing-up of some surrounding buildings to create a  firebreak, although it nonetheless required to be rebuilt by Pearson in the late nineteenth century. It was then gutted by bombing in the Blitz of 1940-41, when “the tower of the church acted like a chimney, drawing the flames upwards and intensifying them” and “wood blazed, stones calcinated, lead poured down walls and the bells melted”, and rebuilt again by Lord Mottistone in a “happy blend” of Ancient and Neo-Perpendicular styles, and rededicated in 1957.

A fine Saxon arch of around 675, incorporating Roman tiles, survives in the nave; and two Saxon crosses, one of 900 and the other of 1000, in the crypt  (the former plain and simple, and bearing  a Runic inscription, and the latter  beautifully and intricately carved, and bearing  a symbolic depiction of Christ over beasts). Among the  many surviving Medieval to post-Medieval features are: substantial sections of tiled floor; an altar table of stone from the Crusaders’ castle at Atlit below Mount Carmel in the Holy Land; a fine Flemish painted panelled altar-piece, known as the Tate Panel, dating to at least the fifteenth century; numerous sculptures, including a carved wooden one of St James of Compostela, dating to the fifteenth century, and a carved ivory one of Christ salvaged from the flagship of the Spanish Armada in 1588; numerous monuments, including the Croke chest, dating to around 1477, and brasses; and the seventeenth-century tower, from which Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of 1666 (noting in his diary entry for Wednesday 5th September, “I up to the top of Barkinge steeple, and there saw the saddest sight of desolation I ever saw”). Also of note are the pulpit, originally from St Swithin London Stone, and dating to 1678; the exquisitely intricately carved lime-wood font-cover by Grinling Gibbons, dating  to 1682; a series of ornamental sword-rests, dating to the eighteenth century; and, among the Curiosa, numerous large model ships suspended in the south aisle.

On a macabre note, the headless bodies of Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More, beheaded on nearby Tower Hill in 1535, and that of Archbishop William Laud, beheaded  in 1645, were once temporarily buried here before being moved to their  final resting places (Fisher’s and More’s in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London, and Laud’s in the chapel of St John’s College, Oxford).  Admiral William Penn’s son, also named William, was baptised here in 1644.  Famously, he went on to found Pennsylvania in 1681.

 

St Anthony’s Fire and St Anthony’s Hospital

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St Anthony’s Fire, also known as ergotism, was a disease, common in Medieval times, caused by eating – improperly-stored – cereals contaminated by an alkaloid-secreting fungus.  Its symptoms included a rash, fever and delirium (sometimes taken as evidence of bewitchment).

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St Anthony’s Hospital, or the Hospital of St Antoine de Viennois, specialising in the treatment of the disease, was founded on the site of a former synagogue on Threadneedle Street in 1242.  It was later expanded so as to incorporate, in 1429, a hospice; in 1440, a school, where  Thomas More (1478-1535) studied; and, in 1550, a chapel, where Protestant Huguenots, fleeing religious persecution in Catholic France, worshipped.  It was burned down in the  Great Fire of 1666, and subsequently rebuilt, only to be demolished in 1840.

 

All Hallows Barking

The first in a series on City of London buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1666, and that still survive to this day …

all-hallows-barking-6

The church of All Hallows Barking, also known as All Hallows-by-the-Tower, was originally   built in the Saxon period, and considerably added to in the later Medieval and post-Medieval.  It was undamaged in the Great  Fire, thanks to the action of Admiral William Penn (*), who ordered  his men to blow up some  surrounding buildings to create a  firebreak; although it was nonetheless partially rebuilt in the late nineteenth century.

melted-lead-copy

It was then gutted in the Blitz, when “the tower of the church acted like a chimney, drawing the flames upwards and intensifying them” and “wood blazed, stones calcinated, lead poured down walls and the bells melted”, and rebuilt again by Lord Mottistone in a “happy blend” of Ancient and Neo-Perpendicular styles, and rededicated in 1957.

A Saxon arch of around 675 survives in the nave; together with  two Saxon crosses, of 900 and 1000, in the crypt.  The cross of 900 bears a Saxon Runic inscription.  The one of 1000 features on one of its faces a depiction of Christ trampling beasts, a common motif in Dark Age iconography.

Among the  many surviving Medieval – to Post-Medieval – features are an  altar table of stone from the thirteenth-century Crusaders’ castle at At(h)lit below Mount Carmel in the Holy Land; numerous monuments, including brasses to William Tong (d. 1389) and John Bacon (d. 1437), and a canopied tomb to John Croke (d. 1477); a fine Flemish painted panelled altar-piece, known as the Tate Panel, dating to at least the fifteenth century; numerous sculptures, including a carved wooden one of St James of Compostela, dating to the fifteenth century, and a carved ivory one of Christ salvaged from the flagship of the Spanish Armada in 1588; and the seventeenth-century tower, from which Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire.

font-cover-by-grinling-gibbons

Also of note are the pulpit, originally from St Swithin London Stone, dating to 1678; and the exquisitely intricately carved lime-wood font-cover by Grinling Gibbons, dating  to 1682.

On a macabre note, the headless bodies of Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More, beheaded on nearby Tower Hill in 1535, and that of Archbishop William Laud, beheaded  in 1645, were once temporarily buried here before being moved to their  final resting places (Fisher’s and More’s in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London).

(*)  Admiral William Penn’s son, also named William, was baptised here in 1644.  Famously, he went on to found Pennsylvania in 1681.

Chelsea

Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” …

Chelsea was first recorded in an Anglo-Saxon charter of 767 as Caelichyth, probably from the Old English cealc, meaning chalk, and hyth, meaning landing place, and alluding to a site to which chalk was shipped, for use in building, lime manufacture or agriculture.  It was described as a small village on the banks of the Thames in the Domesday Book of 1086, and remained so throughout the later Middle Ages.

Henry VIII's Manor House

In post-Medieval, Tudor  times it came to be known as the “Village of Palaces”, after a number of aristocratic country retreats were built there, including those of  Sir Thomas More, the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl of Shrewsbury and even King Henry VIII himself (all have since been demolished).

Later it became equally fashionable among writers, such as Swift and Carlyle, and artists, such as Whistler and Rossetti.  It became suburbanised in  the nineteenth century, when the river was embanked and better  access roads built (also  the precursor to the present bridge).  It was incorporated into the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in 1965.  The Royal Hospital Chelsea was founded here by Charles II in 1681.

Chelsea Old Church

Chelsea Old Church, also known as All Saints, was probably originally built in the late eighth century (there are records of the Mercian King Offa having held a Synod in Chelsea in 787), although the first  evidentiary record of it is from  1157, and the first record of it as All Saints from 1290.  It has been much modified subsequently, most recently after having suffered severe damage during the bombing of the Blitz of the Second World War.

In the interior, the  chancel dates to the thirteenth century; the north chapel, built for the then Lord of the Manor, to the early fourteenth, circa 1325; the south chapel, rebuilt for Sir Thomas More, to the early sixteenth,  to 1528 (*).

There is a monument to the former Lord Chancellor, also lawyer, humanist, social philosopher, author (of “Utopia”) and “Man for All Seasons” Sir, now Saint,  Thomas More in the sanctuary.  Note, though, that after his execution for treason, for refusing to take an oath acknowledging the King, Henry VIII, rather than the Pope, as the Supreme Head of the Church, in  1535, his decapitated body was buried  in an unmarked grave in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London, and his head, eventually, in the church of St Dunstan in Canterbury.

There are also a number of other fine sixteenth- and seventeenth- century – and later – memorials in the church.

(*) The capitals of the pillars leading to the chancel, traditionally attributed to Holbein, also date to 1528.