Tag Archives: Tower Hill

My City of Ruins (Samuel Pepys, John Evelyn and William Taswell, 1666)

Minecraft

On this day in 1666, in the immediate aftermath of the Great Fire, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“Up by five o’clock; and, blessed be God! find all well; and by water to [Paul’s] Wharfe.  Walked thence, and saw all the towne burned, and a miserable sight of Paul’s church, with all the roofs fallen, and the body of the quire fallen into St Fayth’s; Paul’s school also, Ludgate, and Fleet Street. My father’s house, and the church, and a good part of the Temple the like.”

And went on to write, equally if not more fretfully:

“I home late to Sir W. Pen’s, who did give me a bed … ; … but still both sleeping and waking had a fear of fire in my heart, that I took little rest.  People do all the world over cry out of the simplicity of my Lord Mayor in … this business of the fire, laying it all upon him.  A proclamation is come out for markets to be kept at Leadenhall and … several other places about the town; and Tower Hill, and all churches to be set open to receive poor people”.

John Evelyn wrote:

“I wente this morning on foote from White hall as far as London bridge, thro the Late fleete streete, Ludgate hill, by St Paules, Cheape side, Exchange, Bishopsgate, Aldersgate, & out to Morefields, thence thro Cornehill, &c; with extraordinary difficulty, clambring over mountains of yet smoking rubbish, & frequently mistaking where I was, the ground under my feet so hot, as made me not only Sweate, but even burnt the soles of my shoes … : in the meane time his Majestie got to the Tower by Water, to demolish the houses about … which …  had they taken fire, & attaq’d the white Towre, where the Magazines of Powder lay, would undoubtedly have not onely … destroyed  all the bridge, but sunke … all the vessels in the river, & renderd … demolition …  even …  at many miles distance:

At my return I was infinitely concerned to find that goodly Church of St Paules now a sad ruine, & that beautiful Portico (for structure comparable to any in Europe, as not long before repaird by the late King) now rent in pieces, flakes of vast Stone Split in sunder, & nothing remaining intire but the Inscription of the Architrave which …  had not one letter of it defac’d: which I could not but take notice of: It was astonishing to see what immense stones the heat had in a manner Calcin’d, so as all the ornaments, Columns, freezes, Capitels & projectures of massie Portland stone flew off, even to the very roofe, where a Sheete of Leade covering no lesse than 6 akers by measure, being totally mealted, the ruines of the Vaulted roof, falling brake into St Faithes, which being filled with …  books … belonging to the Stationers … carried thither for safty, they were all consumed burning for a week following: It is also observable, that the lead over the Altar …  was untouch’d: and among the divers monuments, the body of one Bishop, remained intire.

Thus lay in ashes that most venerable Church, one of the antientest Pieces of early Piety in the Christian world, beside neere 100 more: The lead, yronworke, bells, plate &c all mealted: the exquisitely wrought Mercers Chapell, the Sumptuous Exchange, the august fabrique of Christ church, all the rest of the Companies Halls, sumptuous buildings, Arches, Enteries, all in dust.  The fountains dried up & ruind, whilst the very waters remained boiling; the Voragos of subterranean Cellars, Wells & Dungeons, formerly Warehouses, still burning in stench & dark clouds of smoke like hell, so as in five or six miles traversing about, I did not see one load of timber unconsum’d, nor many stones but were calcind white as snow, so as the people who now walked about the ruines, appeard like men in some dismal desart, or rather in some greate City, lay’d waste by an impetuous & cruel Enemy …

Sir Tho: Greshams Statue, though falln to the ground from its nich in the R: Exchange remain’d intire, when all those of the Kings since the Conquest were broken to pieces: also the Standard in Cornehill, & Q: Elizabeths Effigies, with some armes on Ludgate continud with but little detriment, whilst the vast yron Chaines of the Cittie streets, vast hinges, barrs & gates of Prisons were many of them mealted, & reduc’d to cinders by the vehement heats: nor was I yet able to pass through any of the narrower streets, but kept to the widest, the ground & aire, smoake & fiery vapour, continued so intense, my hair being almost seinged … : … nor could one have possibly knowne where he was, but for the ruines of some church, or hall, that had some remarkable towre or pinnacle remaining … ”.

And the  schoolboy William Taswell, on encountering the body of  one of the few recorded victims of the fire:

“Soon after sunrising I endeavoured to reach St Paul’s.  The ground was so hot as almost to scorch my shoes; and the air so intensely warm that unless I had stopped some time upon the Fleet Bridge to rest myself, I must have fainted … .  … And now … I perceived the metal belonging  to the bells melting; the ruinous conditions of the walls; whole heaps of stone of a large circumference tumbling down with a great noise … , ready to crush he to death.  [N]ear the east walls … a human body presented itself to me, parched up, as it were, with the flames; whole as to skin, meagre as to flesh, yellow as to colour.  This was an old decrepit woman who fled here for safety, imagining the flames could not have reached her …  . Her clothes were burned, and evry limb reduced to a coal”.

 

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 execution of Bishop John Fisher (1535)

Fisher, as portrayed by Holbein

On this day in 1535, the 65 year old Bishop and  Cardinal John Fisher was executed for “misprision of treason”, for refusing to accept Henry VIII as the Supreme Head of the Church in England.  (The notoriously vengeful King had never forgiven Fisher for siding against him in the long-running dispute over his proposed divorce from Katherine of Aragon, and for arguing against him, and  for the indissolubility of marriage –  a principle that the Bishop swore he was prepared to die for – before the Papal  Legate in Blackfriars in 1529).  The Bishop had been tried and convicted at Westminster Hall on 17th June.  He had originally been sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 24th June, but when the King realised that this was the feast of St John the Baptist, he changed the date, reasoning that if he did not the public might forever associate John Fisher with his patronal namesake.  The Bishop  was eventually beheaded at Tower Hill on 22nd June (the feast of the first English Christian martyr, St Alban).  His head is said to have been shown to Anne Boleyn, who had expressed a desire to see it, and it was then stuck on a pole on London Bridge.

Fisher banner, All Hallows by the Tower.JPG

His body was buried in All Hallows-by-the-Tower (although later  reburied in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula inside the Tower).

By all accounts, the  Bishop met his death in a state of anticipation that was at times almost joyous.  According to one:

“[W]hen they reached the scaffold, the rough men of his escort offered to help him up the ladder. But he smiled at them: ‘Nay, … ye shall see me go up to my death well enough myself; without help’.  And forthwith he began to climb, almost nimbly. As he reached the top the sun appeared from behind the clouds, and its light shone upon his face. He was heard to murmur some words from Psalm 33 … .   The masked headsman knelt …  to ask his pardon. And again the cardinal’s manliness dictated every word of his answer: ‘I forgive thee with all my heart, and I trust on Our Lord Thou shalt see me die even lustily’.   Then they stripped him …  and … a  gasp of pity went up at the sight of his …  body, nothing …  but skin and bones …  the flesh clean wasted away; and a very image of death … .  He was offered a final chance to save his life by acknowledging the royal supremacy, but …  turned to the crowd, and …  spoke these words: ‘Christian people, I am come hither to die for the faith of Christ’s Catholic Church, and I thank God hitherto my courage hath served me well … , so that …  I have not feared death; wherefore I desire you help me … with your prayers, that at the very …  instant of my death’s stroke, …  I then faint not in …  fear; and I pray God save the king and the realm, and …  send the king a good counsel’.   The …  courage of his spirit triumphing over the obvious weakness of his body, amazed them all, and a murmur of admiration was still rustling the crowd when they saw him go down on his knees and begin to pray. … Then he …  put his wasted neck upon the low block”.

Bishop John Fisher is honoured as a Saint by both the Catholic Church and the Church of England, alongside Sir Thomas More.  The Catholic Church beatified him in 1886, and canonised him in 1935, and celebrates his feast day on 22nd June, the day of his execution.  The Church of England added him to the Calendar of Saints and Heroes in 1980, and celebrates his feast day on 6th July, the day of More’s execution.

Site of execution, Tower Hill.JPG

 

The execution of Harry Vane (Samuel Pepys, 1662)

Henry_Vane_the_Younger_by_Sir_Peter_Lely

On this day in 1662, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“[A]bout eleven o’clock, … we all went out to the Tower-hill; and there, over against the scaffold, made on purpose this day, saw Sir Harry Vane brought.  A very great press of people.  He made a long speech, many times interrupted by the Sheriff and others there; and they would have taken the paper out of his hand, but he would not let it go. … [So] trumpets were brought that he might not be heard.  Then he prayed, and so fitted himself, and received the blow … ”.

Vane had been one of the so-called “regicides” who had signed Charles I’s death-warrant during the Civil War.  Most of the surviving regicides were rounded up and executed by Charles’s son, Charles II, after he was restored to the throne in 1660.

“O put not your trust in princes”

Presentation1

On this day in 1641, Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford and Lord Deputy of Ireland, an ardent supporter of the King, Charles I, in his power struggle with Parliament in the period leading up to the Civil War, was executed for high treason on Tower Hill (specifically, for allegedly saying to the King “You have an army in Ireland you may employ here to reduce this kingdom”).

His last words, taken from the Psalms, were:

“O put not your trust in Princes, nor in any child of man; for there is no help in them”.

A not particularly oblique reference to the sense of betrayal he felt toward the King, who had promised him that he “should not suffer in his person, honour or fortune”; and then, when expedient, signed his death warrant!

site-of-execution-of-thomas-wentworth-tower-hill

 

Wyatt’s Rebellion

sir-thomas-wyatt-the-younger-by-hans-holbein

In late 1553 to early 1554,  Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger plotted a rebellion against the Queen, Mary, and in particular her plan  to marry the Catholic King of Spain, Philip (*).

The aims of the rebellion were  to overthrow Mary; to put in her place her half-sister Elizabeth; and to have Elizabeth marry the Protestant Earl of Devon, Edward Courtenay.

These aims were to be achieved by force of arms, with each of the four main rebel leaders responsible for assembling  an army in his respective corner of the country before marching on London: Wyatt in Kent; Henry Grey (the father of Lady Jane Grey), the Duke of Suffolk, in Leicestershire; Sir James Croft in Herefordshire; and Sir Peter Carew in Devon.

In the event, only Wyatt succeeded in raising much of a rebel  army, which grew further on its march to London through desertions from forces sent to oppose it, and eventually became some four thousand strong.

The  army arrived in Southwark on this day, February 3rd, in 1554, to find its way into the City of London blocked at London Bridge by further forces, responding to Mary’s stirring rallying-call at the Guildhall two days earlier (the army  was also  threatened by cannon in the Tower of London, commanded by the Lieutenant of the Tower, John Bruges or Brydges, who intimated that he was prepared to put them to use).   It then  withdrew, wheeled west to Kingston to cross the river there, marched back east and  attempted to enter the City again at Ludgate, on February 7th or 8th (sources differ)where it was again faced down, and where it broke up.

After the failure of his rebellion, Wyatt was tortured at the Tower before being tried, convicted and eventually executed (on April 11th).  His torturers had evidently hoped that he would somehow implicate Elizabeth, but he did not.  Elizabeth was herself temporarily imprisoned in the Tower while her supposed complicity was further investigated, but none was ever  proven.  She eventually became Queen after Mary’s death in 1558, and restored to the Wyatt family the titles and lands that Mary  had confiscated after the failed rebellion of four years before, including Allington Castle near Maidstone (substantially destroyed in a fire in the seventeenth century, and subsequently restored in the twentieth).

(*) His  father,  Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder (1503-1542), was, among other things, a fine  poet, widely credited with introducing the Petrarchan sonnet into English literature.  Wyatt the Elder was himself twice imprisoned in the Tower, the first time, in 1536, for his supposed adultery with Anne Boleyn.

The execution of Archbishop William Laud (1645)

Portrait of Laud, church of St Katharine Cree

On this day in 1645, during the Civil War, Archbishop William Laud was executed on Tower Hill for high treason.  After his execution, his headless body was temporarily buried in the church of All Hallows by the Tower before being moved to its final resting place in the chapel of St John’s College, Oxford.

Laud had previously been made Bishop of London in 1628, and Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, and become known for his “High Church” views, and his fierce opposition to and persecution of Puritans.  While Bishop of London, he had consecrated the newly-rebuilt church of St Katharine Cree in 1631.  He had also commissioned Inigo Jones to undertake restoration works on St Paul’s Cathedral.

Site of Laud's execution, Tower Hill