Tag Archives: Tower of London

The Tower of London

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

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The Tower of London (Henry VI Part I; Henry VI Part II; Henry VI Part III; Richard II; Richard III)

The Tower of London was originally built under William I, William II and Henry I in the late eleventh to earliest twelfth century, between 1076-1101 (keep), and added to by Henry III in the late thirteenth (inner curtain wall), Edward I in the late thirteenth to early fourteenth (outer curtain wall), and a succession of later kings and queens, many of whom used it as a royal residence, through to the seventeenth.  The chapel of St Peter ad Vincula within is arguably of even older, Saxon origin.

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The Tower features in the earliest known painting of London, by an unknown artist, dating to the late fifteenth century, and commissioned to illustrate a book of poems written by Charles, Duc d’Orleans, who was imprisoned here for twenty-five years after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

Hundreds were imprisoned here over the centuries; and scores tortured, and/or executed,  in a variety of horrible ways.  One wonders how much better a world it would have been if all the imaginative effort expended in  devising means of inflicting suffering had instead been channelled elsewhere.

 

Fall from grace (Archbishop William Laud, 1640)

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On this day in 1640, Archbishop William Laud was arrested, and wrote in his diary:

“I was accused by the House of Commons for high treason, without any particular charge laid against me … .  Soon after, the charge was brought into the Upper House [of Lords] … .  I was presently committed to the Gentleman Usher, but was permitted to go in his company to my house in Lambeth for …  such papers as pertained to my defence … .  I stayed in Lambeth till the evening to avoid the gazing of the people … .  As I went to my barge, hundreds of my poor neighbours stood there and prayed for my safety and return to my house, for which I bless God and them”.

Laud was later imprisoned in the Tower of London, early in 1641.

Laud's trial in the House of Lords

After the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642, he was tried  for and convicted of high treason in the House of Lords, in 1643-4, and eventually executed on Tower Hill, in 1645.   Among the charges levelled  against him were:  “That, by false erroneous doctrines, and other sinister ways and means, he went about to subvert religion, established in this kingdom, and to set up popery and superstition in the church … .  […] That to suppress preaching, he hath suspended divers good and honest ministers, and hath used unlawful means, by letters, and otherwise, to set all bishops to suppress them.  […] That, to save and preserve himself from being questioned and sentenced from these and other his traiterous designs, from the first year of his now Majesty’s reign, until now, he hath laboured to subvert the rights of parliamentary proceedings, and to incense his Majesty against parliaments … .”

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.

Some of the many executions in Tudor and Stuart London

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On this day in 1541, according to the account given by Charles Wriothesley in his “Chronicle of England during the Reigns of the Tudors …”:

The Executions of Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham

“Culpeper [Thomas Culpeper, Gentleman of the Privy Chamber] and Dereham [Francis Dereham, Secretary to Henry VIII’s fifth wife Catherine Howard] were drawn from the Tower of London to Tyburn, and there Culpeper, after an exhortation made to the people to pray for him, he standing on the ground by the gallows, kneeled down and had his head stricken off; and then Dereham was hanged, membered, bowelled, headed, and quartered [for high treason against the King’s majesty in misdemeanour with the Queen].  Culpeper’s body buried at St Pulchre’s church by Newgate, their heads set on London Bridge”.

Also on this day in 1541, according to Wriothesley:

“Rafe Egerton, … one of my Lord Chancellor’s servants, and … Thomas Herman, sometime servant with Fleetwood, one of my Lord Chancellor’s gentlemen, were drawn from the Tower … to Tyburn, and there hanged and quartered for counterfeiting the King’s Great Seal”.

The Execution of John Roberts

And on this day in 1610, the Roman Catholic Priest – and since 1970 Saint – John Roberts was taken to be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn for contravening the “Act Forbidding Priests to Minister in England”.  In the event, the crowd, who revered him for the work he had done among them during an outbreak of  the plague in 1603, saw to it that he died by hanging and was spared  the suffering of drawing  and quartering.  What could be  salvaged of his body was taken to the Benedictine priory he had founded at Douai in northern France.  One of his finger bones is preserved as a holy relic in Tyburn Convent.

The execution of Walter Raleigh (1618)

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The Devonian landed-gentleman, writer, poet,  court favourite,  politician, soldier, spy and explorer Walter Ralegh was executed on this day in 1618.

Ralegh was granted a Royal Charter by Elizabeth I in 1584 to explore, colonise and rule any “remote, heathen and barbarous lands, countries and territories, not actually possessed of any Christian Prince or inhabited by Christian People [in the New World]”,  in return for one-fifth of all the gold and silver that might be mined there.  He first organised, although did not himself participate in, two voyages to Roanoke in Virginia in the 1580s, in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to establish an English colony in North America, under the governorship of John White (it was not until 1607 that a successful colony was to become  established, at Jamestown in Virginia).   White first went out to Roanoke in 1587, but returned to England shortly afterwards in order to pick up further supplies.  He had intended to go back again within the year, but, for various reasons, was not actually able to do so until three years later than planned.  When he finally did arrive back in Roanoke, he found no trace of the colony or of the colonists, other than the word  “CROATOAN” carved into tree trunks.   Ralegh then himself participated in a voyage in  1595 in search of “El Dorado”, the fabled city of gold in South America, again with no success.  In between times,   in 1591,  he had been temporarily imprisoned in the Tower of London, for having married Elizabeth Throckmorton, one of Elizabeth I’s  ladies-in-waiting, without first having sought the Queen’s express permission.  Later, after  Elizabeth I died, and James I succeeded her to the throne, Ralegh was imprisoned again, this time on the altogether more serious charge of complicity in the so-called “Main Plot” against the new King in 1603 (which sought to remove him and replace hm with his cousin Arbella Stuart).  He was eventually pardoned and released from captivity in 1616, in order to undertake a second voyage in search of “El Dorado”.  This time, he did find gold, albeit by the expedient of ransacking a Spanish outpost, in violation of the terms not only of his pardon, but also of   the Treaty of London of 1604, that had brought to an end the long-running Anglo-Spanish War.  On his eventual return to England in 1618, he was arrested and executed in Westminster Palace Yard, essentially to appease the Spanish.

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There is a portrait of Ralegh,  by an unknown artist of the  English School, in the National Portrait Gallery.  It depicts a handsome  man wearing an embroidered and padded white doublet, and a sable-trimmed and pearl-studded cloak, in the Queen’s colours of black and white.  Ralegh is of  course remembered  for supposedly once having made the chivalrous gesture of casting  one of his cloaks upon a puddle  so as to allow the Queen to walk over it without getting her feet wet.  He is also widely credited with  having supposedly introduced the potato, and tobacco, to England

A visit to the Tower (Frederic Gershow, 1602)

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On this day in 1602, Frederic Gershow, the secretary to Philipp Julius, the Duke of Stettin-Pomerania, wrote, in his diary:

“[H]is princely Grace, having obtained permission, visited the Tower of London, an old but strong castle built by Julius Caesar [sic], where they keep the prisoners.  At first we were led into a long hall, full of harness, maybe for a hundred thousand men, as one might say; but this armour was not properly arranged, nor kept clean”.

Tower Armoury

 

 

City of London Buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1666

ChurchesOf the 97 parish churches within the walls of the City of London at the time of the Great Fire of 1666, only 8, namely, All Hallows Barking, All Hallows Staining, St Alphage, St Andrew Undershaft, St Ethelburga, St Helen, St Katharine Cree, and St Olave Hart Street, survived,  and still survive, with at least some pre-Great Fire structures standing, above ground (*).

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Of the secular buildings, only the Tower of London and the Guildhall, and parts of the Merchant Taylors’ and Apothecaries’ Livery Company Halls, and of the “Olde Wine Shades” public house, still survive.

(*) A further 5 churches, namely All Hallows on the Wall, St James Duke’s Place, St Katherine Coleman, St Martin Outwich and St Peter-le-Poer, also survived  the fire but were either rebuilt or demolished afterwards.

And 84 were burnt down in the fire, of which 49 were rebuilt afterwards, and 35 were not.

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

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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”.