This week we’re starting a new series in honour of the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta in which we look back at the London of 1215. First up we take a look at the Tower of London which was a smaller version of the complex of buildings which today exists on the site.
By 1215, the Tower of London – the fortress first constructed on the orders of William the Conqueror – had already existed for more than 100 years, nestled into a corner of the city’s walls which had existed since Roman times.
Then, as now, the White Tower – initially itself known as the Tower of London, it was later dubbed the White Tower thanks to the whitewash used to cover the Kentish limestone to protect it from the weather (and for its visual impact) – stood at the heart of the complex. Unlike today’s building, it lacked the large windows which date from the early 18th century, and while the towers were believed to be capped with cones, the present cupolas date from the reign of King Henry VIII.
While it had long been surrounded by a palisade and ditch, in 1189, King Richard I’s chancellor William Longchamp, the Bishop of Ely, had begun to extend the castle’s defences while the king was on crusade (in fact, the first siege of the Tower took place in 1191 when the then Prince John did so in opposition to Longchamp’s regime – it only lasted three days before Longchamp surrendered).
This extension, which was completed by King John following his accession to the throne in 1199, saw the size of the bailey around the White Tower doubled and a new curtain wall and towers – including the Bell Tower – built around its outer perimeter with a ditch below (the ruins of the Wardrobe Tower, just to the east of the White Tower show where the original Roman-era wall ran).
But it wasn’t until the reign of King John’s son, King Henry III, that the royal palace which now stands on the river side of the White Tower was constructed. Until that point – and at the time of the signing of the Magna Carta – the royal apartments remained within the White Tower itself, located on the upper floor.
Like those of the garrison commander known as the constable (located on the entrance level), the king’s apartments would have consisted of a hall and a large chamber, which may have been divided into smaller chambers with wooden partitions as well as a chapel (on the upper level this was the still existing Chapel of St John the Evangelist, although it would have then been more more richly decorated). Unlike the lower levels, the king’s level was of double height with a gallery (this level now has its own full floor).
The royal apartments had a variety of uses – as well as a residence and refuge for the king, they were also at times a place to keep high profile prisoners such as the Bishop of Durham, Ranulf Flambard, who was imprisoned on the orders of King Henry I (and who escaped from an upper window on a rope which had been smuggled in to him and fled to Normandy).
It is also worth noting that while King John apparently kept exotic animals at the Tower, it is his son, King Henry III who is usually credited with founding the Royal Menagerie there.
And it was his son, King Edward I, who expanded the Tower to its current size of about 18 acres by rebuilding the western section of the inner ward and adding the outer ward.
WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £24.50 adults; £11 children under 15; £18.70 concessions; £60.70 for a family (discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.
October 19, 2012
A relic of the early medieval age, the late 12th century Temple Church in the City of London is a marvel in its own right, its circular nave modelled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (for more on its history, see our earlier entry here). But it’s inside the round church – once based inside property that formed the London headquarters of the Templar Knights – that we are concerned with in this piece – for there can be found are series of remarkable effigies of knights which date from the 13th century.
There are nine effigies in all (and one grave cover) and, having survived the Great Fire of 1666, most of them were damaged during World War II when, in a bombing raid on 10th May, 1941, the roof was set alight and came crashing down on top of them. They have since been repaired, using as much of the original material as possible, and still make an imposing sight redolent with the history they depict.
Pre-eminent (at least in his lifetime) among those depicted is William Marshal, the 1st Earl of Pembroke (1146 -1219) and an advisor of kings including King Henry II, King Richard ‘the Lionheart’ and King John who was named Regent during the infancy of King Henry III.
One of the most influential men of his age (described by early thirteenth century Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, as the “greatest knight who ever lived”), he lies in the southern group of effigies near his sons William, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (1190-1231) and Gilbert, the 4th Earl of Pembroke (1194-1241). (The 3rd Earl of Pembroke, Richard, was the second son of William – he died after being captured during fighting in Ireland and was buried in Kilkenny). Another of this group is believed t0 depict Robert, Lord de Ros, one of the 25 barons to guarantee the observance of the Magna Carta, signed by King John in 1215.
The only identified effigy in the northern group is that of Geoffrey de Mandeville, the 1st Earl of Essex and a man known for the cruelties he inflicted during the troubled reign of King Stephen (he shifted his allegiances between King Stephen and his rival, the Empress Matilda several times), particularly in the eastern counties where he seized Ramsey Abbey near Peterborough to use as his base.
Interestingly, none of the men named was a Templar but are believed to have been benefactors of the Templar Knights. Some of those shown are cross-legged but whether this denotes a crusader or not remains a matter of debate.
WHERE: Off Fleet Street and down Inner Temple Lane (nearest tube station is Temple); WHEN: Check website for times; COST: £4 (free to under 18s, seniors); WEBSITE: www.templechurch.com.
Around London – Crown Jewels polished for Diamond Jubilee; Diana’s dresses at Kensington Palace; a plaque for Ziggy Stardust; and At Home with the World…
March 29, 2012
• A revamped Crown Jewels display opens today at the Tower of London to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The new display features graphics, music and newly restored film footage and will focus on the coronation ceremony as its central theme, exploring how the regalia are used in the ceremony. The regalia – which includes some of the most extraordinary diamonds in the world such as the Star of Africa and Koh-i-Nur – is being displayed in the order in which it is used at the coronation ceremony. The Crown Jewels have been on show to the public at the Tower of London since at least 1661 after they were remade for King Charles II’s coronation. The previous collection had been largely destroyed in the Civil War although some pieces survived including a gilt silver spoon probably made for King Henry II or King Richard I (the “Lionheart”). For more information, see www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/.
• Five dresses worn by Diana, Princess of Wales, have gone on display at Kensington Palace which re-opened to the public this week following a £12 million overhaul. The five dresses include a black silk taffeta gown (designed by Emanuel) which Diana wore to a fundraising event at the Goldsmith’s Hall in 1981 – her first official engagement with Prince Charles as well as a formal dinner dress of ivory silk (Catherine Walker) created for a State Banquet for the King and Queen of Malaysia in 1993 and a black ribbed silk shift evening dress (Gianni Versace) worn to the London premiere of Apollo 13 in Hammersmith in 1995. For more on the revamp of the palace see our earlier post. Or visit www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/.
• A plaque commemorating the site where the iconic image for the cover of David Bowie’s 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars was photographed has been unveiled in the West End. The plaque at the somewhat innocuous site at 23 Heddon Street, just off Regent Street, was installed by the Crown Estate and unveiled this week by Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet. The image for the album cover was shot by the late photographer Brian Ward who managed to persuade Bowie to step outside the ‘studio’ space he had rented upstairs despite the fact it was a cold, wet January night.
• On Now: At Home with the World. This exhibition at the Geoffrye Museum explores the cosmopolitan nature of London’s homes over the past 400 years and looks at how diverse cultures have helped shaped the homes – covering everything from Chinese porcelain and the tea craze of the 1700s to the use of Islamic and Indian patterns in the 1800s, the popularity of Scandinavian and American design in the 1900s and the globalism of today. The period rooms on show at the museum have been reinterpreted to highlight the international influences. This is one of a series of Stories of the World: London exhibitions taking place across the city which are exploring four aspects of life – home, identity, journeys and place – as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad program. Runs until 9th September. Entry is free. For more, see www.geffrye-museum.org.uk.
May 3, 2011
In the first of a series in Famous Londoners looking at past mayors of London, we profile the first person recorded as having that title, Henry Fitz-Ailwyn (also known as Henry Fitz-Ailwin). While his name might not be familiar to us today, it’s clear than in the 12th century, he was a personage to be reckoned with.
Believed to have been born in the 1130s or 40s, Fitz-Ailwyn is said to have been the son of a wealthy Londoner. Apparently involved in the cloth trade, possibly as a draper, he owned property in several counties and in what was Candlewick Street in London (now named Cannon Street).
Records show he was a London alderman in 1168 and later served as mayor, thanks apparently to the support of King Richard I (the dates are uncertain – some claim he took up the post in 1194 but the City of London Corporation records his tenure as 1189 to 1211).
Among his claims to fame are that he issued London’s first building regulations (concerning the need to build in stone) after a fire in 1212 destroyed parts of the city (although he apparently had no powers to enforce them).
Fitz-Ailwyn died the same year and is noted by the Museum of London as “the only mayor ever to serve in office for a full life term”.
His name is commemorated in a window at the Guildhall and by a statue which stands on the exterior of one of the step buildings at Holborn Viaduct (pictured).