Tag Archives: Tower of London

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 of 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.

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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 r(see also July 6th posting).  ealm, 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”.

Fisher (right) with More

Bishop John Fisher is honoured as a Saint by both the Catholic Church and the Church of England, alongside Sir Thomas More (see also July 6th posting).  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 (see July 6th posting).

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Tower Hill, where Fisher was executed, is visited on our “London Wall” and “Tower to Temple” standard walks, and on our “Medieval London”, “Medieval City Highlights”, “Tudor and Stuart London”, “Tudor and Stuart City Highlights” and “Rebellious London”  themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

“The Exile’s Silent Lament” – London connections to the Welsh Revolt (1400-1415)

Following on from the earlier posting on London connections to the Cornish Revolt …

The Welsh freedom-fighter Owain Glyndwr’s daughter Catrin and her children were captured by the English at the Siege of Harlech in 1409.    They  were  then brought to London and imprisoned in the Tower, and at least most if not all of them died there in 1413, under circumstances best described as “mysterious” (*).  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).

Catrin Glyndwr memorial.jpg

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 Tower of London is visited – although not entered – on various of our walks, including the  “London Wall” and “Tower to Temple” standard walks, and the  “Medieval London”, “Medieval City Highlights” and “Rebellious London”  themed specials.

The churchyard of St Swithin London Stone is visited on our “Tower to Temple” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London”, “Medieval City Highlights” and “Rebellious London” themed specials.   (The church itself was substantially destroyed in the bombing of the Second World War, and subsequently demolished).

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

(*) The children had a claim to the English throne through their late father Edmund Mortimer (who was descended from Edward III).  Some suspect that they were done to death so as to prevent them from making any such claim.

The execution of Lord Chamberlain Hastings (1483)

Lord Hastings

On this day in 1483, Lord Chamberlain Hastings was summarily beheaded in the Tower of London on the orders of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, purportedly for plotting to kill him.  The death of Hastings removed one of the last obstacles standing between the ambitious Gloucester and the crown (Hastings having been  a supporter of the rival claimant, the recently deceased Edward IV’s son, also Edward – one of the similarly ill-fated “Princes in the Tower”).  Gloucester was duly offered the crown in Baynard’s Castle on June 26th – becoming Richard III.

The Tower of London and Baynard’s Castle are visited on various of our walks, including the “Medieval London” and “Medieval City Highlights” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

Ascension Day – Beating the Bounds of the Parish of All Hallows

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“Beating the Bounds” is an ancient but still practised annual custom, dating back to Medieval times, during which parishes re-affirm their boundaries, at Rogationtide, by processing round them and stopping and beating  each boundary mark with wands.

The City church of All Hallows-by-the-Tower beats its bounds on   Ascension Day.  The  “Beating Party” is made up of students from St Dunstan’s School in Catford, returning to their roots in the parish of St Dunstan-in-the-East to take part in the proceedings.

The party, accompanied by the Clergy from All Hallows, and the Masters of the Livery Companies associated with the church, first boards a boat   to beat the southern boundary mark, in the middle of the Thames! It then returns to dry land, and processes round the remainder of the boundary of the parish, beating the remaining boundary marks – at Custom House, St Dunstan-in-the-East, Plantation House and Knolly’s House – as it goes, before returning to the church for a service of Festal Evensong in the presence of the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs.

Every third year, the party also takes  part in a “Boundary Dispute Ceremony” with the Resident Governor and Yeoman Warders of HM Tower of London, in commemoration of an occasion in 1698 when an actual  fight broke out between the people of the parish and those of the Tower over a long-standing boundary dispute.  As one historical account put it:

“On this occasion the warders used their halberds to some purpose, and several parishioners were seriously injured”.

All Hallows-by-the-Tower is  visited, although not generally entered, on various of our walks, including our “London Wall” and “Tower to Temple” standards, and our “Medieval London” and “Tudor and Stuart London” specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

Rebel Barons capture London (1215)

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On this day in 1215, rebel barons captured London, going  on to force the king, John to set his seal to Magna Carta on the tenth of the following month (*).

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 fitz Walter, 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 in late  1215, when it became clear that when John  had no intention of abiding  by the terms of the charter.   At this time, the  barons sought to have Philippe II’s son Prince Louis of France replace John as king, and indeed welcomed him to London as king in early 1216.  However, when the war ended, by the Treaty of Lambeth, brokered by William Marshall, in 1217, they agreed to accept John’s son Henry III as king (John himself having died in late  1216).

The Bastard Fauconberg’s assault on London (1471)

Siege_of_London_(MS_1168)

During “The Wars of the Roses”, between 1455-85, London was an important centre of political machination, and the Tower, at least according to legend, the scene of a series of chilling politically motivated murders, in forgotten dreadful cubicles behind great locked doors (see also February 18th posting).

There was also some actual action in the City (see also July 2nd  posting); and indeed there were pitched battles on its outskirts, at St Alban’s in 1455 and 1461, and  at Barnet in 1471 (see also April 14th posting).

On May 14th, 1471, London’s  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  Lord 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”.   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.  And within days, Henry VI was apparently also done to death, on the orders of Edward IV, in the Tower.

Aldgate   is visited on our “Aldgate, Bishopsgate and beyond” and “London Wall” standard walks, and on our “Medieval London” and “Medieval City Highlights” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

(*) 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.

Bohemian Medieval London (Wenzel Schaseck and Gabriel Tetzel, 1465)

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Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts and descriptions of the historic City of London,  this one written by Wenzel Schaseck from Birkov in what is now the Czech Republic, who visited London – as part of the  diplomatic delegation of Leo of Rozmital – in 1465 …

“London is a grand and beautiful city and has two castles. In the first, located at the very end of the city surrounded by the ocean’s gulf, lives the English King. He was present at the time of our arrival. Across the gulf there is a bridge made of stone and quite long, and houses have been built on both sides of it stretching its full length. I have never seen such a quantity of kite birds as I have here. Harming them is forbidden and is punishable by death”.

… and this one by Gabriel Tetzel, from Grafenberg in what is now Germany,   who also visited London – as part of the same delegation –  in 1465 …

“We have passed through Canterbury through the English kingdom all the way to the capital, which is home to the English King. Its name is London and it is a very vigorous and busy city, conducting trade with all lands. In this city there are many craftsmen, and mainly goldsmiths and drapers, beautiful women and expensive food”.