Tag Archives: Westminster Abbey

“In magnificent fashion his majesty entered … the city of London” (Anonymous, 1660)


Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts of events in the history of London, this one of  the return to the City  of Prince Charles in 1660 (see also April 25th and May 8th postings),  from an unnamed source:

“On Tuesday, May the 29th (which happily fell out to be the anniversary of his majesty’s birth-day), he set forth of Rochester in his coach; but afterwards he took horse on the farther side of Black-heath … .

… [P]roceeding towards London, there were placed in Deptford … above an hundred proper maids, … who, having prepared many flaskets …, which … were full of flowers and sweet herbs, strowed the way before him as he rode.

From thence he came to St George’s Fields in Southwark, where the lord mayor and aldermen of London … waited for him in a large tent, hung with tapestry; in which they had placed a chair of state … .  When he came thither, the lord mayor presented him with the city sword, and the recorder made a speech to him; which being done, he alighted, and went into the tent, where a noble banquet was prepared for him … .

In magnificent fashion his majesty entered the borough of Southwark, about half an hour past three of the clock … ; and, within an hour after, the city of London at the bridge; where he found the windows and streets exceedingly thronged with people to behold him; and the walls adorned with hangings … ; and in many places … loud musick; all the conduits … running claret wine; and the … companies in their liveries … ; as also the trained bands … standing along the streets … , welcoming him with joyful acclamations.

And within the rails where Charing-cross formerly was, a stand of six-hundred pikes, consisting of knights and gentlemen, as had been officers of the armies of his majesty of blessed memory … .

From which place, … his majesty … entered Whitehall at seven of the clock, the people making loud shouts, and the horse and foot several vollies of shot, at this his happy arrival.  Where …  parliament received him, and kissed his royal hand.  At the same time … the Reverend Bishops … , with divers of the long oppressed orthodox clergy, met in that royal chapel of king Henry the Seventh, at Westminster [Abbey], there also sang Te Deum, & c. in praise and thanks to Almighty God, for … his … deliverance of his majesty from many dangers, and … restoring him to rule these kingdoms, according to his just and undoubted right”.

May 29th was made a public holiday, “to be for ever kept as a Day of Thanksgiving for our Redemption from Tyranny and the King’s Return to his Government, he entering London that day”.  Although the public holiday, popularly known as “Oak Apple Day” or, more rarely, “Royal Oak Day”, was abolished in 1859, May 29th is  still marked by celebrations at  the Royal Hospital Chelsea, which was founded by Charles II in 1681.

Westminster Abbey, where the King went on to be formally crowned in April 23rd, 1661, is  visited, although not entered, on our “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London”, “Medieval City Highlights” and “Legal 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).

 “Coronacon Day” (1661)

Charles II coronation portrait by John Michael Wright.jpg

On this  day in 1661, Charles II was formally crowned king at Westminster Abbey.

Samuel Pepys wrote of the occasion in his diary:

“About 4 I rose and got to the Abbey, … and ..,  with a great deal of patience I sat … till 11 before the King came in. And a great pleasure it was to see the Abbey raised in the middle, all covered with red, and a throne (that is a chair) and footstool on the top of it; and all the officers of all kinds, so much as the very fidlers, in red vests.

At last comes in the Dean and Prebends of Westminster, with the Bishops (many of them in cloth of gold copes), and after them the Nobility, all in their Parliament robes, which was a most magnificent sight. Then the Duke, and the King with a scepter (carried by my Lord Sandwich) and sword and mond  before him, and the crown too.

The King in his robes, bare-headed, which was very fine. And after all had placed themselves, there was a sermon and the service; and then in the Quire at the high altar, the King passed through all the ceremonies of the Coronacon, which to my great grief I and most in the Abbey could not see. The crown being put upon his head, a great shout begun, and he came forth to the throne, and there passed more ceremonies: as taking the oath, and having things read to him by the Bishop; and his lords (who put on their caps as soon as the King put on his crown),  and bishops come, and kneeled before him.

And three times the King at Arms went to the three open places on the scaffold, and proclaimed, that if any one could show any reason why Charles Stewart should not be King of England, that now he should come and speak.

And a Generall Pardon also was read by the Lord Chancellor, and meddalls flung up and down by my Lord Cornwallis, of silver, but I could not come by any.

But so great a noise that I could make but little of the musique; and indeed, it was lost to every body. But I had so great a lust to [piss] that I went out a little while before the King had done all his ceremonies, and went round the Abbey to Westminster Hall, all the way within rayles, and 10,000 people, with the ground covered with blue cloth; and scaffolds all the way. Into the Hall I got, where it was very fine with hangings and scaffolds one upon another full of brave ladies; and my wife in one little one, on the right hand.

Here I staid walking up and down, and at last upon one of the side stalls I stood and saw the King come in with all the persons (but the soldiers) that were yesterday in the cavalcade; and a most pleasant sight it was to see them in their several robes. And the King came in with his crown on, and his sceptre in his hand, under a canopy borne up by six silver staves, carried by Barons of the Cinque Ports, and little bells at every end.

And after a long time, he got up to the farther end, and all set themselves down at their several tables; and that was also a brave sight: and the King’s first course carried up by the Knights of the Bath.  And many fine ceremonies there was of the Heralds leading up people before him, and bowing; and my Lord of Albemarle’s, going to the kitchin and eat a bit of the first dish that was to go to the King’s table.

But, above all, was these three Lords, Northumberland, and Suffolk, and the Duke of Ormond,  coming before the courses on horseback, and staying so all dinner-time, and at last to bring up the King’s Champion, all in armour on horseback, with his spear and targett carried before him. And a Herald proclaims “That if any dare deny Charles Stewart to be lawful King of England, here was a Champion that would fight with him;” and with these words, the Champion flings down his gauntlet, and all this he do three times in his going up towards the King’s table. At last when he is come, the King drinks to him, and then sends him the cup which is of gold, and he drinks it off, and then rides back again with the cup in his hand.

I went from table to table to see the Bishops and all others at their dinner, and was infinitely pleased with it. And at the Lords’ table, I met with William Howe, and he spoke to my Lord for me, and he did give me four rabbits and a pullet, and so I got it and Mr. Creed and I got  Mr. Michell to give us some bread, and so we at a stall eat it, as every body else did what they could get.

I took a great deal of pleasure to go up and down, and look upon the ladies, and to hear the musique of all sorts, but above all, the 24 violins.

About six at night they had dined, and I went …  to Mr. Bowyer’s.

…  At Mr. Bowyer’s, a great deal of company, some I knew, others I did not. Here we staid upon the leads and below till it was late, expecting to see the fire-works,  but they were not performed to-night: only the City had a light like a glory round about it with bonfires.

…  And …  after a little stay more I took my wife …  to Axe-yard, in which at the further end there were three great bonfires, and a great many great gallants, men and women; and they laid hold of us, and would have us drink the King’s health upon our knees, kneeling upon a faggot, which we all did, they drinking to us one after another. Which we thought a strange frolique; but these gallants continued thus a great while, and I wondered to see how the ladies did tipple.

At last I sent my wife … to bed, and Mr. Hunt  and I went in with Mr. Thornbury  (who did give the company all their wine, he being yeoman of the wine-cellar to the King) to his house; and there, with his wife and two of his sisters, and some gallant sparks that were there, we drank the King’s health, and nothing else, till one of the gentlemen fell down stark drunk, and there lay spewing; and I went to my Lord’s pretty well. … Thus did the day end with joy every where; and blessed be God, I have not heard of any mischance to any body through it all … .

… Now, after all this, I can say that, besides the pleasure of the sight of these glorious things, I may now shut my eyes against any other objects, nor for the future trouble myself to see things of state and show, as being sure never to see the like again in this world”.

Westminster Abbey and Westminster Hall are visited, although not entered, on various of our walks, including the “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey – Priories, Palaces and Parliament” standard walk, and the “Medieval London” and Tudor and Stuart 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 consecration of Westminster Abbey (1065)


Westminster Abbey was consecrated on this day  in 1065 (see also December 17th and December 25th postings).

A monk of St Bertin’s Abbey wrote of its construction:

“Outside the walls of London … stood a monastery [founded by Bishop Dunstan under King Edgar the Peaceable and] dedicated to St Peter, but insignificant in buildings … .  … The king [Edward the Confessor], therefore  … gave his attention to that place, for it both lay hard by the famous and rich town and also was a delightful spot, … [and] … decided to have his burial place there [he was to die on January 5th, 1066].  Accordingly, he ordered that out of the tithes of all his revenues should be started the building of a noble edifice, worthy of the Prince of the Apostles; so that, after the transient journey of this life, God would look kindly upon him, both for the sake of his goodness and because of the gift of lands and ornaments with which he intended to ennoble the place.  And … there was no weighing of the costs, … so long as it proved  worthy of … God and St Peter”.

Westminster Abbey is visited – although not entered – on our “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London” themed special.

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  coronation of William the Conqueror  (Orderic Vitalis, 1066)


On this day in 1066, William I was crowned king of England in Westminster Abbey.  One Orderic Vitalis wrote of the occasion:

“So at last on Christmas Day …, the English assembled at London for the king’s coronation, and a strong guard of Norman men-at-arms and knights was posted round the minster to prevent any treachery or disorder.  And, in the presence of the bishops, abbots, and nobles of the whole realm of Albion, Archbishop Ealdred consecrated William duke of Normandy king of the English and placed the royal crown on his head.  This was done in the abbey church of St Peter the chief of the apostles, called Westminster, where the body of King Edward [the Confessor] lies honourably buried.

But at the prompting of the devil, who hates everything good, a sudden disaster and portent of future catastrophes occurred.  For when Archbishop Ealdred asked the English, and Geoffrey bishop of Coutances asked the Normans, if they would accept William as their king, all of them gladly shouted out with one voice if not one language that they would.  The armed guard outside, hearing the tumult …, imagined that some treachery was afoot, and rashly set fire to some of the buildings.  The fire spread rapidly …, the crowd who had been rejoicing … took fright and throngs of men and women of every rank and condition ran out of the church in frantic haste.  Only the bishop and a few clergy and monks remained, … and with difficulty completed the consecration of the king who was trembling from head to foot.

… The English, after hearing of the perpetration if such misdeeds, never again trusted the Normans who seemed to have betrayed them, but nursed their anger and bided their time to take revenge”.

Westminster Abbey is visited – although not entered – on our “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London” themed special.

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).

Robbing Peter to pay Paul (Westminster Abbey)

On this day in 1540, the Abbey Church of St Peter Westminster was made a Cathedral with its own See.   Not long afterwards, it was incorporated into the Diocese of London, and much of its estate was sold off to pay for repairs to St Paul’s – hence the expression, “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.  It is now a “Royal Peculiar”.

The abbey was originally founded, as the Benedictine monastery of St Peter, by the Bishop of London, Dunstan, under the Saxon King Edgar, in 960, on what was then Thorney Island – according to legend, on the site of a church founded by Sebert in around 604 (the same year that St Paul’s was founded).


3 - Henry III's thirteenth-century Chapter House (left) and Henry VII's early sixteenth-century Lady Chapel (right).JPG

It was rebuilt under Edward, “The Confessor”, in the years up to 1065, rebuilt again,  in the Early Gothic style, under Henry III, in the mid thirteenth century, …

4 - Henry VII's early sixteenth-century Lady Chapel.jpg

5 - Wonderful grotesques on Henry VII's early sixteenth-century Lady Chapel  .JPG

… and extended, in the Late Gothic style, under a succession of kings, including Henry VII, in the late fourteenth to early sixteenth (in part by the master mason Henry Yevele).

6 - Hawksmoor's eighteenth-century west towers.jpg


The present structure is essentially surviving thirteenth- to sixteenth- century,  although with some eighteenth-century additions in the form of  the west towers,  by Hawksmoor, and some twentieth-century  additions and restorations.  There are a great many important monuments in the interior, including those of no fewer than seventeen monarchs.  An equally large number of important state occasions have been held in the abbey, including all of the Coronations since that of the first Norman King, William I, the Conqueror, in 1066.  The fore-runner of Parliament, the “Great Council”, first met in the Chapter House here in 1257, only later moving to nearby Westminster Hall.

Westminster Abbey is visited – although not entered – on our “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London” themed special.

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).


Henry V’s triumphal return to London after Agincourt (1415)

Unidentified king being greeted by dignatories

On this day in 1415 took place Henry V’s triumphal return to  London after his famous  victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt on October 25th.  An anonymous author wrote the following eye-witness account:

“[T]he citizens went out to meet the king at the brow of Blackheath, … the mayor and … aldermen in scarlet, and the … lesser citizens in red cloaks with red-and-white party-coloured hoods, to the number of about 20000 … . And when the king came through the midst of them … and the citizens had given glory and honour to God, and congratulations to the king … the citizens rode before him towards the city, and the king followed … .

When they arrived at the … bridge … there placed on the top of the tower was  an enormous figure, with … the keys of the city hanging from a staff in his … hand … .

… And when they reached the … aqueduct in Cornhill they found the tower hidden under a scarlet cloth stretched in the form of a tent, on spears hidden under the cloth.  Surrounding … were the arms of St George, St Edward, St Edmund and of England, … inset with this pious legend: ‘Since the king hopes in the Lord and in the mercy of the highest, he shall not be moved’.  Under a covering was a band of venerable white-haired prophets, … who released, when the king came by, sparrows and other small birds in great cloud as a …  thanksgiving to God for the victory He had given …, while [they] sang in a sweet voice … [a] psalm … .

Then they went on to the tower of the conduit at the entrance to Cheapside which was decked with an awning of green … and erected to resemble a building.

… And when they came to the [Eleanor] cross in Cheapside … it was hidden by a beautiful castle of wood … .

… And when they came to the tower the conduit at the exit to Cheapside towards St Paul’s, … above the tower was stretched a canopy sky-blue in colour … and the top … was adorned by an archangel in shining gold … .  Below … was a figure of majesty represented by a sun darting out flashing rays … .

… Such was the dense throng of people in Cheapside … that a bigger or more impressive crowd had never gathered before in London.

But the king himself went along, amidst … the citizens, dressed in a purple robe, not with a haughty look and a pompous train … but with a serious countenance and a reverend pace accompanied by only a few of his most faithful servants; following him, guarded by knights, were the captured dukes, counts and the marshal.   From his silent face and … sober pace it could be inferred that the king … was giving thanks and glory to God alone and not to man.  And when he had visited the sanctuary of SS Peter and Paul, he rode away to his palace of Westminster, escorted by his citizens”.

Henry VII’s Lady Chapel, Westminster Abbey

This year sees the 500th anniversary of the consecration of Henry VII’s Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey.  The anniversary  is being commemorated by a series of events at the Abbey.  Last night’s event was  a *free* lecture by Christopher Wilson, Emeritus Professor of Architectural History at University College London, on the architecture and fittings of the Lady Chapel, entitled “Of suche as apperteigne to the gifte of a Prince”.

It appears from the sparse surviving documentation that work on the Lady Chapel began in 1503, almost certainly under the supervision of the Master Mason Robert Jannings, and was substantially complete by 1508.  The Lady Chapel is the very pinnacle of the Perpendicular Gothic, and in its time, it was referred to – by John Leland – as “orbis miraculum” (“the wonder of the world”).

1 - General view of interior (by Canaletto)

Perhaps the most famous feature of the  interior is the truly spectacular fan-vaulted ceiling, from which  pendants drip like drops of Christ’s blood.  The similarly delicately-wrought and life-like statuary is almost certainly the work of Brabantian masters.

On the outside, too, the “domelets” resemble those in depictions of Jerusalem in Netherlandish paintings.

The Lady Chapel houses the tombs of Henry VII and his wife,  in the apse, and also those  of Edward VI, Elizabeth I, Mary I, James I and Charles II.  It was evidently also originally intended to re-house the tomb to Henry VI, but that lies still in   St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, as it has since 1484.

Westminster Abbey is visited – although not entered – on our “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London” themed special.

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, by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com), or by phone (020-8998-3051).