Another in the series of posts taken from my forthcoming book, “The Flower Of All Cities” …
The first of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Conquest, visited in 1066.
The Norman William the Bastard, the Conqueror, was crowned King William I of England in Westminster Abbey in 1066. Orderic Vitalis wrote in his “Historia Ecclesiastica” 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 of such misdeeds, never again trusted the Normans who seemed to have betrayed them, but nursed their anger and bided their time to take revenge”.
The following year, William granted the City of London a Charter, which read, in translation (from Old English rather than French): “William King greets William the Bishop and Geoffrey the Portreeve and all the citizens in London, French and English, in friendly fashion; and I inform you that it is my will that your laws and customs be preserved as they were in King Edward’s day, that every son shall be his father’s heir after his father’s death; and that I will not that any man do wrong to you. God yield you.” The so-called “William Charter” is now in the London Metropolitan Archives.
Two of William’s sons went on to be crowned King: William II , in 1087; and Henry I, in 1100.
The second Horseman of the Apocalypse, War, visited for the first time in “The Anarchy” of 1135-41, “when Christ and his Saints slept”, and there was prolonged and bloody fighting over the succession to the throne following the death of Henry I. Henry’s only legitimate son had died earlier, aboard the “White Ship”, and his daughter, Empress Matilda, and his nephew, Stephen of Blois, laid rival claims. London lay under Stephen’s control, and when Matilda attempted to seize control of the capital after he was captured at the Battle of Lincoln in 1141, it resisted, and she withdrew. London then turned its support to Stephen’s wife Maud, and back to the man himself once he was released from captivity.