Tag Archives: Westminster Hall

“London is drowning and I live by the river” (Matthew Paris, 1241)

Horse in water

On this day, the Feast of St Edmund, in 1241, began  a great rain-storm.   Matthew Paris wrote:

“[D]istinct thunder attended by lightning, a sad presage of the approach of a lengthened tempest, alarmed the hearts and ears of mortals; nor was the warning false, for it was followed by continued unseasonable weather, and by an unpleasant and disturbed state of the air, which continued for several days.  Such deluges of rain fell, that the river Thames, overflowing its usual bounds and its ancient banks, spread itself over the country towards Lambeth … and took possession, far and wide, of the houses and fields in that part.  Owing to the inundation of the water, people rode into the great hall at Westminster on horseback.  … Thus the year passed away, … generating epidemics and quartan agues [outbreaks of a strain of malaria characterised by a fever every fourth day, caused by the parasitic protozoan Plasmodium malariae, in turn transmitted by the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito]”.

Matthew Paris was a Benedictine monk, scribe, illuminator of manuscripts and chronicler, based at St Albans Abbey. He was of French origin.

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

 

Westminster Hall

1 - Exterior of Westminster Hall

2 - Interior of Westminster Hall.JPG

On this day in 1265, Simon de Montfort convened what is widely regarded as England’s first representative Parliament at Westminster Hall (before 1265, Parliament, or its precursor, had met in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey, and after 1548, it met in the then-secularised Royal Chapel of St Stephen in the Palace of Westminster).

3 - Trial of Charles I in Westminster Hall (1649)

Also, on this day in 1649, the trial for treason of Charles I began here.

Westminster Hall was originally built as a royal residence cum banqueting house by William II, Rufus,  in 1097-99; and rebuilt, with a spectacular hammerbeam roof, by Hugh Herland and Henry Yevele, for Richard II, in 1394-1401.  It once formed part of the Old Palace of Westminster, work on which is believed to have begun, under Cnut, as long ago as 1016.  Together  with the adjacent Jewel Tower, it is essentially the only part of the old palace to have survived the terrible fires of 1512 and 1834 (the present, new palace was built, in the Victorian Gothic style, between 1837-70).  It was itself damaged by fire during the Blitz of the Second World War, and has since been further damaged by Death Watch Beetle, the infestation thought to have taken hold in  timbers that had become soaked during the war-time fire-fighting.

 

The Mother of Parliaments

The Ship of State
Forever teatime

Today (3rd October) I went on a tour of the Houses of Parliament,  also known as The Palace of Westminster (*).  I found it a strangely moving experience, simply being in the space where so much history has been made.  And felt a particularly strong  surge of emotion on being reminded by the guide of Charles I’s  attempted unconstitutional arrest of five Members of Parliament here in 1642 – essentially the last in the series of events that led to the Civil War.  One of the said “Five  Members” was my distant relative John Hampden, who went on to fight on the Parliamentarian side in the War, and was mortally wounded at the Battle of Chalgrove Field. 

The Old Palace was purportedly originally built for Cnut in around 1016, and subsequently rebuilt by Edward, “the Confessor” in 1042-65, and extended by succeeding kings, with Westminster Hall eventually becoming the seat of Parliament, to be succeeded, in 1548, by the then-secularised Royal Chapel of St. Stephen.

Westminster Hall exterior
Westminster Hall interior
Some of  the palace complex was  destroyed in a fire in 1512; and most of what remained, in another, in 1834, with essentially only Westminster Hall and the Jewel Tower surviving to this day, together with parts of the Royal Chapel of St. Stephen, including the St Mary Undercroft.
Jewel Tower exterior
Jewel Tower interior
Westminster Hall was originally built as a royal residence cum banqueting house by William II, Rufus,  in 1097-9; and rebuilt, with a spectacular hammerbeam roof, by Henry Yevele, for Richard II, in 1394-1401.  The Jewel Tower was originally built by Henry Yevele, for Edward III, in 1365-6.
The New Palace was built by Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin, in the Victorian Gothic style, in 1837-58.
Victoran Gothic extravagance
Victorian Gothic aspiration

(*) For those wanting to see inside the Palace of Westminster – here is a link to the official website with details of how to book …
http://www.parliament.uk/visiting/visiting-and-tours/