February 19, 2016
The Royal Mews – a stables and carriage house – is these days located at Buckingham Palace but prior to being moved there, the Royal Mews, previously usually referred to as the King’s and Queen’s Mews depending who was on the throne, was located on the site where the National Gallery (pictured) and Trafalgar Square now stand.
The name ‘mews’ actually refers to the fact that, from at least the reign of King Richard II in the late 14th century (although official records suggest there may have been a mews on the site as far back as the reign of King Edward I), the royal hawks were initially housed on the site – then in the village of Charing Cross – (the word ‘mew’ refers to the moulting of the birds and originally referred to when they were confined here for that purpose but later come to simply mean the place were the birds were caged).
The title of Keeper of the King’s Mews became a sought-after honour during the 15th century (although largely honorary with the actual work done by deputies) but among those who held the honour were Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known, during the Wars of the Roses as the ‘Kingmaker’.
In 1534, the King’s Mews was destroyed by fire and when it was rebuilt a few years later, it took the form of a stable but kept the original name of mews (although it has been suggested the change of use took place before the fire).
During the Civil War, the Mews were apparently used as a prison by the Parliamentarians for captured Royalists and during the Commonwealth, soldiers were apparently quartered here. Diarist Samuel Pepys also apparently visited several times.
In 1732 the building was again rebuilt, but this time it was to the grand designs of William Kent – images show a grand building with turrets and a great open square before it. In the 1760s, King George III had some of his horses and carriages moved to facilities on the grounds of Buckingham Palace (he had purchased this from the Duke of Buckingham for his wife’s use) but the bulk remained on the Charing Cross site.
In the early 19th century they were opened to the public but in the 1820s, King George IV – making Buckingham Palace his main residence – had the entire stables moved (the Royal Mews which now stand at Buckingham Palace were designed by John Nash and completed in 1825).
The old mews were subsequently demolished and Trafalgar Square – another Nash design – built on the site between 1827 and 1835 while the National Gallery opened in 1838.
November 4, 2015
OK, so not really a battle although it must have felt something like that to those involved (and the ‘battlefield’ turned out to be much of the City itself), the uprising known as Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 saw two great armies march upon London – one from Kent led by Wat Tyler and another from Essex which is said to have been under the command of Jack Straw.
The armies had risen in response to a series of events which they saw as unjust and which trace their origins back to the Black Death. Killing about a third of the population when it struck some 30 years earlier, this had resulted in a growing demand for labourers to work the fields raising, as one might expect, hopes of increased wages and greater freedom of movement among the peasant class.
But to ensure the social order was maintained, authorities had not only put limits on how much farm workers could be paid but ensured long-standing but increasingly unpopular practices – such as serfs being forced to work some time for free for their landlords – were maintained. On top of this came the imposition and enforcement of a series of poll taxes to fund England’s wars with France.
The poll taxes – and the harsh way in which they were enforced – were a step too far and when a tax collector visited the village of Fobbing in Essex in May, 1381, he was shown short shrift and thrown out. The unrest soon spread and by June, the rebels, having rampaged through the countryside were marching on London.
By 12th June, the men from Essex were camped at Mile End while Tyler and his army from Kent were at Blackheath. The next day, after being denied a meeting with the king, the rebels headed into the City where sympathetic Londoners opened the gates. Once inside, they targeted the property of those they deemed responsible for their misfortune, opening prisons and destroying any legal records they could find.
Foremost among the sites attacked and looted was the Palace of Savoy (see our earlier post here), home of the King’s uncle John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and, as the power behind the throne, the man many deemed as the ultimate source of the ills besetting them (John himself had a lucky escape – he was away from the city when the palace was attacked.).
King Richard met with the leaders of the men from Essex on 14th June at their camp at Mile End and, after they pledged their allegiance, agreed to their petitions to abolish serfdom and allow them to sell their labour. But the attacks, meanwhile, were continuing in the City with a group of rebels led by Tyler storming the Tower of London (pictured above) the same day and seizing and beheading the Simon of Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor, along with the Robert Hales, Lord High Treasurer and Prior of St John’s in Clerkenwell – both key figures in the government of the king (you can read more about Simon of Sudbury here).
The following day – 15th June – King Richard again met with the rebel leaders – this time with Wat Tyler, leader of the Kentish band, at Smithfield. It was then that things went awry for the rebels. Apparently enraged by Tyler’s insolence (already stories differ as to exactly why he did so), the Lord Mayor of London, Sir William Walworth (see our earlier post here), stabbed Tyler in the neck. King Richard managed to keep the situation under control until armed troops arrived and after the king declared a general pardon, the rebels dispersed.
Tyler, meanwhile, was taken to St Bartholomew’s Hospital but on the orders of the Lord Mayor was dragged from his bed and beheaded (his head was displayed atop a pole positioned in a field). He was among dozens of the rebels who were subsequently executed for their role in the uprising (leaders Jack Straw and another, John Ball, were among them).
July 3, 2015
We’ve visited Rochester before but given it’s the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta we thought it would be good to take a more in-depth look at Rochester Castle and the events that took place there after the sealing of the “Great Charter”.
Rochester Castle was first built in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings as a Norman stronghold to control the Medway and the Roman road – Watling Street – which crossed it at that point. There was a Roman-era town on the site and it’s likely the first castle – surrounded by a deep ditch and featuring walls of earth topped with timber – was built within the town’s walls – possibly on the site of the existing castle.
Work on a stone castle was started in the late 1080s by Gundulf, the Bishop of Rochester (he also built the first Tower of London), and the castle precincts outer walls still largely follow the line of his original curtain walls. The keep was built by William de Corbeil, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was granted the castle by King Henry I in 1127. It remained in the custody of the archbishops until the events of 1215.
Following the sealing of the Magna Carta in May, relations between King John and the barons soured again into outright civil war with the castle declared for the rebels. In October and November, 1215, it was held for some seven weeks by a force of knights – accounts suggest between 95 and 140 – against the forces of King John. These eventually breached the south curtain wall and after the forces of the knights – who were led by William de Albini and Reginald de Cornhill – retreated to the keep, the king ordered his sappers to work.
The miners were successful in undermining the south-west tower which collapsed along with a large section of the keep (the fat of 40 pigs were apparently used to make sure the fire in the mine was hot enough). The defenders nonetheless kept fighting, retreating further into the remains of the keep, until they were eventually forced to surrender when faced with starvation. King John’s fury at their resistance was said to be great but while some of the defenders lost their hands and feet when they were apparently lopped off on his orders after surrendering, he was convinced to spare the holdouts from being hanged on the spot and merely had them imprisoned.
The tower was later rebuilt by King John’s long ruling son, King Henry III, and you can see its distinct round shape (in contrast with the earlier, square towers) when looking at the keep today. (Incidentally, King John’s siege was the castle’s second major siege – the first had taken place in 1088 when the forces of King William II (Rufus) had besieged the castle which was then held by the rebellious Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux, who was involved in an attempt to put William the Conqueror’s eldest son, Robert, Duke of Normandy, on the throne in place of William (who was the second son). Odo was forced to come to terms and exiled as a result of the siege).
In the hands of the Crown after King John’s siege, the castle was again the site of a siege in 1264 – this time unsuccessful when rebels under the command of Simon de Montfort failed to take it from those of King Henry III (although the garrison was later forced to surrender following events elsewhere).
It was rebuilt and repaired a number of times, including during the reigns of King Edward III and that of King Richard II (during whose reign it was also ransacked in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381). Other kings to visit it over the years included King Henry VII and King Henry VIII.
Already much deteriorated and neglected, in 1610, King James I gave the castle to Sir Anthony Weldon whose family sold off some of the timber and stone to local builders. It survived the Civil War without incident and was used as a public pleasure garden from the 1870s onward before, in 1884, it was sold to the City of Rochester. In 1965 responsibility for its care was given to the Ministry of Public Building and Works. Current managers, English Heritage, took over the site in 1984.
The castle remains an imposing site in Rochester and the outer walls of the keep remain intact even if it’s no more than a shell. Worth the climb to the top simply to take advantage of the spectacular views of the town and cathedral below!
WHERE: Rochester Castle, Rochester, Kent – nearest train station is Rochester (half a mile); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily (until 30th September); COST:£6.20 adults/£3.90 children (aged 5-15) and concessions (free for English Heritage members); WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/rochester-castle.
March 27, 2015
A trade hall for the wool and cloth trade, Blackwell Hall, also known as Bakewell Hall, once stood on the east side of Guildhall Yard in Basinghall Street.
The buttressed stone building – whose previous owners included Thomas Bakewell (from where apparently it gets its name) – is understood to have been purchased by the City of London Corporation during the reign of King Richard II and subsequently established as a cloth market.
‘Factors’ were introduced to act as agents and handle the sale of goods on behalf of the clothiers but shifts in trade – in particular the expansion of northern mills which led to them handling their sales directly – saw the importance of the London-based factors wane.
The structure was rebuilt a couple of times over its lifespan – there are records of a rebuilding in 1588 and again after the Great Fire of 1666 – before it was finally demolished in 1820 to make way for the Bankrupcy Court.
Remains of the foundations were discovered during excavations in Guildhall Yard in 1988.
In this, the final in our series looking at Shakespeare’s London, we take a quick look at some of the plethora of London locations mentioned by the Bard in his historical plays. Some we have already covered, but here are a few more…
• Westminster Abbey (pictured): We’ve already talked about Poet’s Corner but Shakespeare himself makes mention of Westminster Abbey in his plays, notably in Henry VI, Part I, when it’s the scene of Henry V’s funeral. The Jerusalem Chamber, principal room of Cheyneygates, the medieval house of abbots of Westminster is mentioned in Henry IV, Part II.
• The Houses of Parliament: True, the buildings have changed somewhat since Shakespeare’s day but the former Palace of Westminster is the site of scenes in numerous plays including Richard II, Henry IV, Part II and Henry VI, Part III are set. Among rooms mentioned is Westminster Hall which survives today from the original building.
• The Tower of London: As one would expect, this prominent London landmark pops up in several of Shakespeare’s plays including Henry VI, Part I and Richard III where its plays a rather central role – among the events recorded in the latter play are the infamous drowning of Richard III’s elder brother George in a butt of Malmsey wine.
• Ely House: The London residence of the bishops of Ely, this long gone building is mentioned in Richard II (for more on Ely House see our earlier posts on Ye Olde Mitre Tavern here and St Etheldreda’s Church here ).
• The London Stone: Now at 111 Cannon Street, the London Stone originally was located at another location in Cannon Street and its here in Henry VI, Part II, that rebel Jack Cade stops to strike his sword upon the stone (for more on the London Stone, see our earlier post here).
Other London sites mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays include generic “London Streets” (mentioned in a number of plays), “Eastcheap, near the Boar’s Head Tavern” (Henry IV, Part II), the Temple Garden (Henry VI, Part I) and Blackheath (Henry VI, Part II).
July 6, 2012
At one time the grandest of medieval townhouses in London, the history of the Savoy Palace, also known as the Palace of the Savoy, goes back to at least the 13th century.
A mansion was built here by Simon de Montfort, the ill-fated Earl of Leicester, in 1245. Following his death, it and the land between the Strand and the Thames were gifted by King Henry III to Peter, Count of Savoy, and it was renamed the Savoy Palace (apparently originally spelt Savoie).
The uncle of the king’s young wife Eleanor of Provence, Peter had accompanied his niece to London for her wedding to the king at Canterbury Cathedral on 14th January, 1236, and decided to stay. In 1241, the king named him the Earl of Richmond and in 1246 granted him the land upon which the property was built.
After being briefly given to a religious order, Queen Eleanor gifted the property to Prince Edmund (“Edmund Crouchback” – a term referring to his entitlement to wear a crusader’s cross, not a hunchback), the 1st Earl of Lancaster and younger brother to King Edward I.
It was subsequently occupied by Edmund’s successor earls and, later, dukes. Among the ‘guests’ to visit the palace during the 14th century were the French King Jean (John) II, held there for three years following his capture by the Black Prince at the Battle of Poitiers during the Hundred Years War in 1356.
Interestingly, as the property of the Dukes of Lancaster, the precinct around the palace was considered part of County Palatine of Lancaster (created in 1351), meaning that the rule of the dukes was applied here instead of that of the king – a situation which remained in place until the 1800s.
The palace eventually became the property of John of Gaunt, the 2nd Duke of Lancaster and third son of King Edward III. The richest and most powerful man in the kingdom (he was all but king in name during the younger years of King Richard II in whose name he ruled), Gaunt’s home was said to be sumptuous.
It’s perhaps not surprising then that it become a focus of the rebels during the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381 (it had been attacked unsuccessfully a few years earlier). They attacked and destroyed the property, razing it to the ground. (The story includes the tale that 32 men drank themselves to death after becoming trapped in the cellar while the palace burned).
The site, however, continued to be referred to as that of the Savoy and in the early sixteenth century King Henry VII, by order of his will, financed the founding of the Savoy Hospital on the site for the poor people (the Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy is a relic of this building – see our earlier post here). The hospital closed in 1702 and was later demolished (we’ll deal with this in more detail in a later Lost London post).
The site, which stands on the north side of the Thames just west of Waterloo Bridge, is now occupied by the salubrious Savoy Hotel (the entrance of which is pictured above) and the Savoy Theatre, which, like the hotel, was founded by impressario Richard d’Oyly in the 1880s (the theatre was the first building in the country to be entirely lit by electric lighting).
The name of the Savoy Palace is also remembered in street names around the site including Savoy Street, Savoy Hill, Savoy Steps, Savoy Way and Savoy Place.
May 18, 2012
Given we’re marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a look at sites of significance to her story located in London, it’s perhaps only fitting that we take a look at the nearest royal residence outside the city.
Windsor, located as close as half an hour by train from London’s Paddington station (or around 50 minutes to an hour from Waterloo), boasts plenty to see including the historic town centre, nearby Eton, great river and country walks and, of course, Legoland. But today our attention will remain on Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world.
There has been a fortress on this site since shortly after the Norman invasion when in about 1080 King William the Conqueror ordered it constructed on a ridge above the river bank as part of a series of defensive fortifications around London. The earth and timber Norman castle was gradually added to over the years – King Henry I (reigned 1100-1135), the first king to live here, added domestic quarters while King Henry II (reigned 1154-1189) built substantial royal apartments transforming the castle into a palace and began replacing the outer timber walls with stone fortifications as well as rebuilding the Norman Keep as the Round Tower (parts of which still date from this period). King Henry III (reigned 1216-1272) built upon and expanded his work.
But it was in the reign of King Edward III (1307-1327) that the castle was expanded enormously. This included the reconstruction of the lower ward including the rebuilding of the chapel, naming it St George’s (although the current chapel dates from the reign of King Edward IV – 1461-1470), and the reconstruction of the upper ward complete with apartments for him and his wife, Queen Phillipa, arranged around courtyards (although some of the work wasn’t completed until the reign of his successor, King Richard II – 1377-1399). It was also during King Edward III’s reign that the castle became the base for the Order of the Garter (which he created in 1348), a role it still fulfills.
Other works were ordered by successive Tudor monarchs including King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, and Queen Mary I. Parliamentary forces seized the castle during the Civil War (Oliver Cromwell did use it as his headquarters for a time) and Royalists were imprisoned here (King Charles I was in fact buried in a vault beneath St George’s Chapel after his execution having been previously imprisoned here).
The next major additions came in the reign of King Charles II (1660-1685) when the Upper Ward and State Apartments were reconstructed in baroque splendor, the latter complete with splendid murals ceiling paintings by Italian artist Antonio Verro (the murals were later destroyed but some of the ceiling paintings survive).
From the time of King William III (1689-1702), monarchs began spending more time at Hampton Court Palace but the focus returned to Windsor with King George III. He ordered a range of improvements and updates including modernising Frogmore House in the Home Park for his wife Queen Caroline (the property was subsequently used by various royals but no-one currently lives there), but many of these were stopped prematurely due to his illness. His son, King George IV, picked up where his father left off.
In the reign of Queen Victoria, Windsor became the royal family’s principal residence and was visited by heads of state including King Louis Philippe in 1844 and Emperor Napoleon III in 1855. The Queen’s husband, Prince Albert, died here on 14th December, 1861.
King Edward VII (1901-1910) and King George V (1910-1936) both had a hand in redecorating the palace and the Queen’s father, King George VI (1936-1952), was living in the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park when he succeeded to the throne.
In more recent times, the castle was the home to the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret, for much of World War II. The castle suffered its greatest setback in recent times in 1992 when a serious fire broke out in the Queen’s Private Chapel which destroyed several rooms including the ceiling of St George’s Hall which dated from the reign of King George IV. Restoration works took five years to complete.
Today the Queen spends many private weekends at the castle while the court is officially in residence here for a month over the Easter period and during Ascot Week in June – it’s at this time that the Garter Day celebrations take place with the installation of new knights.
The Queen also hosts State Visits here with banquets held in St George’s Hall as well as what are known as a ‘sleep and dine’ in which high profile figures are invited to dinner with the Queen before being shown a special display of items from the Royal Library and then spending the night. The Royal Standard flies from the Round Tower when the Queen is in residence.
As well as touring the State Apartments, the Gallery, Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House (completed in the 1920s for Queen Mary, wife of King George V), and St George’s Chapel, visitors to the castle can experience the Changing of the Guard at 11am every day but Sundays between May and early August (and every second day after that).
WHERE: Windsor (a short walk from either Windsor Central Station or Windsor & Eton Riverside Station); WHEN: 9.45am to 5.15pm until 27th July (times vary after this date – check the website); COST: £17 an adult/£10.20 a child (under 17s – under fives free)/£15.50 concession/£44.75 family (price includes an audio tour); WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/windsorcastle.
December 21, 2011
St Magnus the Martyr has to be one of the most oddly dedicated churches in London. Indeed, for many years there was confusion over which St Magnus it was dedicated to – candidates including a second and a third century martyr and a Viking who was slain in the Orkney Isles around 900 years ago.
Revived interest in the latter St Magnus in the early 20th century thanks to the discovery of his remains hidden in a pillar in the Orkney ‘capital’ of Kirkwall , however, led to a confirmation of the church’s dedication in 1924.
There is believed to have been a church on the site since Roman times (a fact which has contributed to the confusion over it’s more recent dedication) but its first known mention as that of St Magnus is shortly after the Norman Conquest.
The church’s location, on the approach to London Bridge (see the picture, right, of the church tower overlooking the Thames), meant it occupied an important place in the life of medieval London. Following the Reformation, the patronage of the church was held alternately by the Abbey of Bermondsey and the Abbot and Convent of Westminster – this later passed into the hands of the Bishop of London, Edmund Grindall, and it was he who appointed the church’s most famous rector, Miles Coverdale, best remembered today as a Bible translator (there is a large monument to him in the church).
The church had been repaired in the early 17th century but was destroyed completely in the Great Fire of 1666. It was subsequently rebuilt to the designs of the ubiquitous Sir Christopher Wren.
A fire in 1760 did considerable damage to Wren’s building but it was restored and improvements continued to be made on a sporadic basis until 1831 when Sir John Rennie’s new London Bridge was opened and the old bridge demolished, meaning St Magnus no longer occupied the ‘gateway’ position it had for centuries prior.
The church only received relatively minor damage during World War II when a bomb struck London Bridge but was later restored. Features of the church now include the exterior clock, which dates from 1700, and a piece of wood believed to have one formed part of the Roman wharf which has been placed under the porch.
Among those buried at St Magnus’ during medieval times were Henry Yevele, master mason to King Edward III and King Richard II (his monument was destroyed in 1666). The church still has connections to the Fishmonger’s Company and the Plumber’s Company.
WHERE: Lower Thames Street, London (nearest Tube stations are Monument and London Bridge); WHEN: 10am to 4pm Tuesday to Friday; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.stmagnusmartyr.org.uk.
October 17, 2011
Recently making news headlines thanks to the work of Adrienne Barker of the University of Dundee in reconstructing his face, Simon of Sudbury wasn’t born in London and, in fact, spent much of his early life elsewhere. But, as Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury, he was a key figure in the 14th century city and it was in London that he eventually met his grisly death during the Peasant’s Revolt.
Simon Theobold was born around 1316 – the son of a wealthy Norfolk merchant – and, while details of his early life are scant, it has been suggested he studied at Cambridge before eventually entering the service of William Bateman, the Bishop of Norwich. He apparently became caught in the middle of a dispute between the bishop and the Abbot of Bury St Edmunds (the details of which we don’t have time to get into here) and it was this which is said to have led to the issuing of a royal order for his arrest, a move which forced him to flee England for the papal court at Avignon.
He quickly came to the attention of the popes and took on an official role, the reward for which was the income from various positions in the English church including Chancellor of Salisbury. In 1356, Pope Innocent VI sent him on a peace mission to King Edward III and it was during this mission that he came to the attention of the king. Having never been formally outlawed, he was apparently forgiven his earlier crimes and was soon acting on behalf of the king including at the Papal court.
In 1361, Simon was made Bishop of London and spent the next 10 years in the role, as well as continuing to act for the king, notably as a diplomat.
In 1375 following the death of incumbent William Whittelsey, he was elevated to the position of Archbishop of Canterbury. His time as archbishop was somewhat troubled – as well as facing accusations of being too close to the king, he also faced criticism over his treatment of Bible translator John Wycliffe – but it was his role in secular politics which led to his demise.
Following the accession of King Richard II in 1377, in 1380 Simon was appointed chancellor, a position which meant he bore the ultimate responsibility for the imposition of an extremely unpopular new poll tax. In 1381, there were calls for his death at the outbreak of rebellion in Kent, notably when the rebels entered Canterbury Cathedral. But as the crisis now known as the Peasant’s Revolt gained momentum, Sudbury remained with the king in the Tower of London where he apparently counselled a hard line.
King Richard II when to parley with the traitors at Mile End on 14th June and there apparently indicated that action would be taken against traitors around him (Wat Tyler was killed when the king again met the rebels, this time at Smithfield, the following day). A group of rebels subsequently stormed the tower and dragged out Sudbury and the treasurer, Sir Robert Hales. Taken to Tower Hill, they were there beheaded. Sudbury’s head, which apparently had a skullcap nailed to his skull, was impaled on a lance and put on display over London Bridge. His body was buried in Canterbury Cathedral.
The skull, meanwhile, was apparently taken down by a Sudbury man and taken back to his home town where it was kept at St Gregory’s Church. Some 630 years later, following an approach by Sudbury locals, forensic artist Adrienne Barker from the University of Dundee was asked to recontruct Simon’s head.
Following some CT scans of the skull, Barker – who carried out the work as part of her MSc Forensic Art studies under the tutelage of renowned facial reconstruction expert Professor Caroline Wilkinson – used state-of-the-art reconstruction techniques to recreate Sudbury’s facial features and complete a series of 3-D bronze-resin casts of his head. The models, one of which will be on permanent display at St Gregory’s Church in Sudbury alongside Simon’s skull, were unveiled in September.
PICTURE: University of Dundee
August 15, 2011
Twice Lord Mayor of London, Sir William Walworth is best remembered as the man who killed the leader of the Peasant’s Revolt, Wat Tyler.
Believed to have been born in the first half of the 14th century to a couple in Durham, Walworth at some point moved to London where he was apprenticed to the leading fishmonger John Lovekyn (he was also one of London’s biggest exporters of wool).
In 1368, following Lovekyn’s death, Walworth replaced Lovekyn as the alderman of Bridge Ward. Two years later, in 1370, he was elected sheriff and the following year he became an MP (by this stage, he was also already a major lender of money to the crown). Walworth was first elected as mayor in 1374, elected again as an MP in 1377, and again as mayor in 1380.
It was on 13th June, 1381, Walworth, still London’s mayor, led the defence of London Bridge against Wat Tyler and the rebels. He was later with the king, Richard II, when he subsequently met with Tyler and others at Smithfield. During that encounter Walworth stabbed Tyler and killed him, either outright or as a result his wounds. The reason for the killing remains unclear.
Walworth was knighted on the field for his efforts in defending the king during the rebellion and was later involved in restoring the peace in London and in the counties of Kent and Middlesex.
Sir William did marry but he and his wife Margaret, who died in 1394, had no children. Following his death in 1386 at his house in Thames Street (later the Fishmonger’s Hall), he was buried at the church of St Michael, Crooked Lane, to which he had already made some substantial donations.
He subsequently became a hero in popular story-telling and in 1592 was included in Richard Johnson’s book Nine Worthies of London. A wooden statue of him was placed at the Fishmonger’s Hall in 1685. There is a much later statue of Sir William on the Holborn Viaduct (pictured).
July 8, 2011
It’s one of London’s most famous landmarks and, having just undergone a three year, £2 million restoration, we thought it was time to take a look at the origins of the White Tower.
Now the keep of the Tower of London, the White Tower was first built by the Norman King William the Conqueror following his defeat of Saxon King Harold Godwinson and the cream of the Saxon army at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Following his coronation at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, King William then withdrew to Barking Abbey while his men built several temporary strongholds in the city to ensure it wouldn’t cause any trouble – this included an earth and timber keep standing on an artificial mound in the south-east corner of the city’s Roman-era walls.
The White Tower, a permanent structure, replaced this and although the exact date its construction started is unknown, building – under the watchful eye of Gundulf, the Bishop of Rochester, was well underway by the mid-1070s. While the labourers were English, the masons in charge of the building were Norman and then even used some Caen stone imported from William’s homeland (along with Kentish ragstone). By 1097 the tower was complete.
Primarily built as a fortress rather than for comfort, the size of the Tower was intimidating and, at 27.5 metres tall, it would have dominated the skyline for miles. Initial defences surrounding the White Tower included the Roman walls and two ditches although in later years outer walls were added to create the massive fortifications and series of towers one encounters at the site today.
The tower earned its moniker, the White Tower, from the whitewash used on its walls during the reign of King Henry II. The caps on the four turrets which stand at each corner of the tower were originally conical but were replaced with the current onion-shaped domes in the 1500s (the round tower was once home to the Royal Observatory before it moved out to Greenwich). The White Tower’s large external windows are also more modern innovations, these were added in the 1600s by Sir Christopher Wren.
The original entrance to the White Tower was on the first floor, reached by a wooden staircase (that could be removed if necessary), much as it is today while, for security reasons, the internal stone spiral staircase was placed as far from this entry as possible in the north-east turret. A stone forebuilding was later added during the reign of King Henry II but was later demolished.
Inside, accommodation for the king was provided on the second floor – it originally had a gallery above but an extra floor – still there today – was later added. Accommodation for the Tower’s constable was probably on the first floor. Both floors were divided in two – with a large hall on one side and smaller apartments on the other. These rooms now house displays on the Tower’s history – at the present these include the Royal Armouries’ exhibition ‘Power House’.
The White Tower is also home to the Chapel of St John the Evangelist which, made from Caen stone, still looks much the same as it did in Norman times. It was used by the royal family when in residence at the tower but by the reign of King Charles II had become a store for state records. These were removed in 1857. Among some of the events which took place here was the lying in state of Queen Elizabeth of York, wife to King Henry VII, after her death in 1503, and the betrothal of Queen Mary I to Philip of Spain in 1554 (by proxy, Philip was not present). Prince Charles received communion here on his 21st birthday.
Other historic events associated with the White Tower include the apparent murder in 1483 of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ – King Edward V and his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York – while legend says they were killed in the Bloody Tower, the discovery of two skeletons under stairs leading to the chapel during building works in 1674 has led some to believe that they may have been buried here.
It was also in the White Tower that King Richard II was forced to sign away his throne to King Henry IV in 1399 and it was from the White Tower that Gruffydd ap Llywelyn Fawr, the illegitimate son of Welsh Prince Llywelyn the Great, apparently fell to his death while attempting to escape captivity in 1244.
There are tours of the White Tower daily at 10.45am, 12.45pm, and 2.15pm.
WHERE: Tower of London (nearest tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Sunday to Monday (until 31st October); COST: Included in Tower of London admission – £19.80 adults; £10.45 children under 15; £17.05 concessions; £55 for a family (prices include a voluntary donation); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.
April 25, 2011
In the first of a series this week looking at aspects of royal weddings in London in days past, we canvas some of the venues which have hosted the sometimes glittering occasions.
First up is Westminster Abbey (pictured), the location of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding this Friday, which, despite its thousand year history, is only believed to have hosted 15 royal weddings.
Among them is said to have been the wedding of King Henry I to Matilda of Scotland on 11th November, 1100, as well as that of Richard, Earl of Cornwall and brother of King Henry III, who married his second wife, Sanchia of Provence, there on 4th January, 1243, and Joan of Acre, daughter of King Edward I, who married Gilbert, Earl of Gloucester, on 30th April, 1290 (her sister Margaret married John, Duke of Brabant, at the same venue less than three months later). The abbey also hosted the wedding of King Richard II to Anne, daughter of Emperor Charles IV of Bohemia, on 20th January, 1382.
The abbey church has become increasingly favored as a venue for royal weddings in more recent times. Among the most prominent hosted there last century were that of Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI), who married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon on 26th April, 1923 and that of their daughter Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) who married Prince Philip of Greece (later the Duke of Edinburgh) there on 20th November, 1947.
Two of the current Queen’s children were also married there – Princess Anne, who married Captain Mark Phillips on 14th November, 1973, and Prince Andrew, who married Sarah Ferguson on 23rd July 1986. (For more on Royal Weddings at the Abbey, see www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/royals/weddings)
A notable break with the trend in recent times was the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer – they were married in a fairytale ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral on 29th July, 1981.
Other London locations for royal weddings have included the now non-existent Greenwich Palace (King Henry VIII married Katherine of Aragon on 11th June, 1509) and Hampton Court Palace (another of King Henry VIII’s marriages – that in which he was wed to Catherine Parr – was held here in a private chapel on 12th July, 1543).
Along with St George’s Chapel at Windsor, the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace in London was particularly popular in Victorian times – Queen Victoria married Prince Albert there on 10th February, 1840, and their eldest daughter, Princess Victoria, married Prince Frederick (the future German Emperor Frederick III) there on 25th January, 1858. On 6th July, 1893, the chapel also hosted the wedding of the future King George V and Princess Mary of Teck.
PICTURE: Copyright Dean and Chapter of Westminster
February 15, 2011
Best remembered for his landmark Middle English work in The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer is known by many as “the father of English literature”.
But he also had a distinguished career as a diplomat, civil servant and courtier and while much of his life (and death) remain something of a mystery, there’s no doubt that he spent a considerable part of it in London.
Chaucer (the name comes from the Latin for ‘shoemaker’) was born into a wealthy London family sometime between 1340 and 1345 and nothing is known of his early life or education. In 1357 he was working as a page in the household of Elizabeth, Countess of Ulster and daughter-in-law of King Edward III.
Two years later, he travelled in the retinue of the countess’ husband, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, to France with the army of King Edward III but in 1360 was captured near Rheims. He was subsequently ransomed with the king himself contributing to the sum needed.
Soon after Chaucer formally joined King Edward III’s court and was over the next two decades was sent on numerous missions by him to places as far flung as France, Genoa, Florence and possibly Padua (it was on these trips that he was apparently exposed to the writings of men such as Dante, Boccaccio and Froissart).
In 1366 he married Philippa Roet, a lady-in-waiting to Philippa of Hainault, King Edward III’s queen (and, some suggest, the sister to Katherine Swynford, mistress to John of Gaunt). Chaucer and his wife are believed to have three or four children – their son, Thomas, was later chief butler to English kings and served as the Speaker of the House of Commons.
In 1374, Chaucer was appointed as Comptroller of Customs for the Port of London, a post which he held until 1386 or so. It was during this time that he wrote many of his other major works including Parlement of Foules and Troilus and Criseyde (he had written his first major work, The Book of the Duchess, in honor Blanche of Lancaster, the late wife of his friend John of Gaunt sometime earlier following her death in 1369). Chaucer was also known at this time to have lived rent free in an apartment above the now removed Aldgate.
At some time in the 1380s, it is suggested Chaucer moved out to Kent where he is thought to have started work on The Canterbury Tales and where he also served as a local MP. His wife is believed to have died while they were there.
In 1389, he was appointed to the position of Clerk of the King’s Works and oversaw building projects at the Palace of Westminster, St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, and at the Tower of London (building the wharf). Later he served as deputy forester of the royal forest of North Petherton in Somerset.
Chaucer’s name disappears from records in 1400 and he is believed to have died either that year or shortly after. The cause of his death remains unknown although writer Terry Jones, in his book Who Murdered Chaucer?, has suggested Chaucer was murdered in 1402 at the behest of Thomas Arundel, the Archbishop of Canterbury – a claim which has met with short shrift with many.
Chaucer’s remains were later transferred to a more elaborate tomb and he become the first writer to occupy a space in Poet’s Corner – a fitting place for a towering figure of English literature.
PICTURE: Image of Chaucer as a pilgrim from Ellesmere Manuscript in the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. The manuscript is an early publishing of the Canterbury Tales. Source: Wikipedia.
February 14, 2011
• The first recorded written Valentine’s Day card is generally attributed to Charles, the Duke of Orleans, who wrote it to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London following King Henry V’s defeat of the French at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415;
• Geoffrey Chaucer, author of 1382 text Parlement of Foules – a poem written in honor of King Richard II’s engagement to Anne of Bohemia which is generally attributed with first linking St Valentine’s Day and romantic love, was born in and lived in London (although it should be noted that many don’t believe Chaucer was referring to 14th February in his reference but to another day associated with a different St Valentine).
PICTURE: Andrew C. (www.sxc.hu)