Tag Archives: Tower of London

The execution of Thomas Cromwell (1540)

Thomas Cromwell, as portrayed by Holbein in c1533.jpg

On this day in 1540, Henry VIII’s Chief Minister Thomas Cromwell was beheaded at Tower Hill on trumped-up charges of treason and heresy, having earlier been attainted, or  in other words essentially found guilty without trial.  He had finally fallen out of favour, and victim to the sort of court intrigue that to that date he had himself customarily been behind, over his ill-advised choice of Anne of Cleves as the new wife for the King.

The lawyer, politician and chronicler Edward Hall recorded Cromwell’s last words, as follows:

“I am come hether to dye, …  for …  I am by the Lawe comdempned to die, and thanke my lorde God that hath appoynted me this deathe, for myne offence: For … I have lived a synner, and offended my Lorde God, for the whiche I aske hym hartely forgevenes. And …  beyng but of a base degree, …  have offended my prince, for the whiche I aske hym hartely forgevenes, and beseche you all to praie to God with me, that he will forgeve me. O father forgeve me. O sonne forgeve me, O holy Ghost forgeve me: O thre persons in one God forgeve me. And now I praie you that be here, to beare me record, I die in the Catholicke faithe … .  Many hath sclaundered me, and reported that I have … mainteigned evill opinions, whiche is untrue, but I confesse that like as God by his holy spirite, doth instruct us in the truthe, so the devill is redy to seduce us, and I have been seduced: but beare me witnes that I dye in the Catholicke faithe … . And I hartely desire you to praie for the Kynges grace, that he maie long …  reigne over you. And once again I desire you to pray for me, that so long as life remaigneth in this fleshe, I waver nothyng in my faithe”.

Hall also recorded, as follows:

“[H]e … committed his soule, into the handes of God, and so paciently suffered the stroke of the axe, by a ragged and Boocherly miser, whiche very ungoodly perfourmed [botched] the Office [Execution]”.

Plaque marking site of execution on Tower Hill.JPG

 

Mary seizes the throne (Henry Machyn, 1553)

Queen Mary - quite scary

Henry Machyn wrote in his diary in 1553:

“The xix day of July was … Mare proclamyd qwene … , [as the] sister of the late kyng Edward the vi and daughter unto the nobull Henry  the viii … , and … ther was … song, and … belles ryngyng thrugh London, and bone-fyres, and tabuls in evere strett, and wyne and beer and alle, … and ther was money cast a-way”.

Meantime, Lady Jane Grey, who had acceded to the throne only nine days previously, was imprisoned in the Tower.  She was later tried and convicted on a charge of treason on November 13th, 1553, and eventually executed on February 12th, 1554.

 

 

Burnt for her beliefs (Anne Askew, 1546)

Anne_Askew_burning

On this day in 1546, in the final full year of Henry VIII’s reign, 25-year-old Anne Askew was burnt at the stake at West Smithfield for heresy, for preaching against the then still orthodox  belief in transubstantiation.  She had previously been racked in the Tower of London – the only woman to have suffered both fates.  And she had to be carried to,  and seated at,  the stake.

The Protestant martyrologist John Foxe, in his “Book of Martyrs” of 1563,  gives the following as Anne Askew’s own account  ..

“They said to me there, that I was a heretic, and condemned by the law, if I would stand in my opinion. I answered, that I was no heretic, neither yet deserved I any death by the law of God. But, as concerning the faith which I uttered and wrote to the council, I would not, I said, deny it, because I knew it true. Then would they needs know, if I would deny the sacrament to be Christ’s body and blood. I said, ‘Yea: for the same Son of God that was born of the Virgin Mary, is now glorious in heaven, and will come again from thence at the latter day like as he went up. And as for that ye call your God …  a piece of bread … ,  …  let it but lie in the box three months, and it will be mouldy, and so turn to nothing that is good. Whereupon I am persuaded that it cannot be God.’

…  Then they did put me on the rack, because I confessed no ladies or gentlewomen to be of my opinion, and thereon they kept me a long time; and because I lay still, and did not cry, my lord chancellor [Sir Thomas Wriothesley] and Master Rich [Sir Richard Rich] took pains to rack me with their own hands, till I was nigh dead.  Then the lieutenant caused me to be loosed from the rack. Incontinently I swooned, and then they recovered me again. After that I sat two long hours reasoning with my lord chancellor upon the bare floor; where he, with many flattering words, persuaded me to leave my opinion. But my Lord God (I thank his everlasting goodness) gave me grace to persevere, and will do, I hope, to the very end.”

 

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.

 

Use of a chemical weapon  in Medieval London (1460)

During “The Wars of the Roses”, between 1455-85, London was an important centre of political machination, and the Tower, the scene of a series of chilling politically motivated murders, in forgotten dreadful cubicles behind great locked doors.

There was also some actual action in the City; and indeed there were pitched battles on its outskirts, at St Alban’s in 1455 and 1461, and  at Barnet in 1471.

Wildfire being let loose from a flame-thrower

On this day in 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 (*).  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 (*).

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

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 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 the 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 named 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.