Forty-three letters written by Queen Elizabeth I and her senior advisors concerning the imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots, have been donated to the British Library. Many of the 43 letters were written to Sir Ralph Sadler, who held the Scottish Queen in custody at Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire between 1584-85 prior to her execution in 1587. Four of the letters are signed by Queen Elizabeth I and others are written in the hand of Chief Minister Lord Burghley and Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham. The collection has been on loan to the library for a number of years but has now been gifted by the industrialist and philanthropist Mark Pigott to the American Trust for the British Library. The library plans to digitise the letters and make them available on its Digitised Manuscripts website.

The alteration of books through customisation, decoration or disguise is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Guildhall Library on Monday. Books: Used and Abused shows how some books have been used as notepads or expanding files while others have become containers. A free ‘book surgery’ advice session will be held at the library on 22nd February for people to learn about their own ‘used and abused’ books and how to repair them. Runs until 9th March. Entry is free (booking required for the free advice session). For more, head here.

•  Sir Mark Rylance will bring the words of Shakespeare to life in six special performances at Westminster Abbey this April. All Places that the Eye of Heaven Visits will feature a cast of 23 actors from Shakespeare’s Globe performing extracts from some of the Bard’s most famous plays and poetry. The performances will occur over 26th to 28th April. Tickets go on sale on 29th January via the  Shakespeare’s Globe box office.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

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Charterhouse-Square-GardensThe final in our series on historic garden squares in London (for this year, anyway), we’re taking a look at Charterhouse Square.

The five sided square, located just to the east of Smithfield, takes its name from a Carthusian monastery which was established in 1371 on what is now its north side. Prior to this, what is now the square had from 1348 served as a location for a plaque burial pit (a number of skeletons from the plaque pit have been unearthed as part of the Crossrail project – for our earlier story on this, follow this link).

The monastery was dissolved in 1537 after the monk’s refused to recognise King Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy (some were later executed at Tyburn) and it was subsequently transformed into a manor house with Thomas Howard, the 4th Duke of Norfolk, among its residents over the years (in fact he was imprisoned there around 1570 for allegedly plotting to marry Mary, Queen of Scots – he was later executed by Queen Elizabeth I for treason).

Under the will of Thomas Sutton, an almshouse and school was subsequently established on the site – the almshouse remains there while the school, whose students had included Methodism founder John Wesley and writer William Makepeace Thackeray, moved out to Godalming in Surrey in 1872. As well as the almshouse (which is open for guided tours, check this site for details), some of the buildings are now occupied by medical related institutions.

In the 1600s, the square was also home to numerous other large residences among them Rutland House, which had been the residence of the Venetian ambassador. It lost its aristocratic inhabitants in the ensuing centuries but remained mainly residential up until the late 19th century when it gradually became taken over by businesses and other organisations. Interesting to note is that the east side of the square is still home to the residential unit complex known as Florin Court, better known as Whitehaven Mansions, the home of Hercule Poirot in the TV series which bears his name.

The area of the garden square itself was variously referred to as the Charterhouse Churchyard, the Charterhouse Yard and Charterhouse Close over the years and has gone through numerous incarnations with efforts to improve and formalise its look dating back to at least the 16th century. It was at least partly enclosed by the late 1600s and the fences replaced several times, notably in 1742 when an Act of Parliament was passed allowing residents to fine those who entered without authorisation. The enclosing fences have since been modified several more times.

One of the major changes to the shape of the square occurred in 1860 when the Metropolitan Railway was extended between Farringdon and Moorgate. It was at this time that the road surface which surrounds the central garden, which has a Grade II heritage listing, was laid down.

Today the gardens in the centre of the square remain under the management of the Charterhouse (and hence aren’t open to the general public except on tours) but even without a tour it’s still a quiet place to walk around the outside of, evoking a strong sense of years gone past.

And so we come to the final instalment in our series on King James I’s London. This week we’re looking at Westminster Abbey’s Lady Chapel where King James I – who was crowned in Westminster Abbey in 1603 – was laid to rest after his death in 1625.

But before we turn to James himself, it’s worth noting that several members of his immediate family are also buried in the abbey’s Lady Chapel (pictured). These include his eldest son, Henry Fredrick, Prince of Wales, who died in 1612 at the age of 18 (and thus opened the way for his younger brother Charles to become King Charles I). He is buried in the south aisle of the magnificent Lady Chapel which had been added at the behest of King Henry VII between 1503 and 1519 and replaced a 13th century chapel.

Three of James’ daughters are also buried in the Lady Chapel – Mary, who died in 1607, aged two, and Sophia, who died in 1606, aged just three days old. Both of them have monuments in the north aisle while their sister Elizabeth, wife of King Fredrick V of Bohemia, who died much later in 1662, is buried near her brother Henry Fitzpatrick.

As we’ve previously mentioned, King James I also outlived his wife, Queen Anne of Denmark, who died of dropsy at Hampton Court Palace on 2nd March, 1619, at the age of 43. She lay in state at Somerset House until her funeral on 13th May and was then buried in the south-eastern area of the Lady Chapel where her gravesite is marked by a modern stone bearing her name. Her wooden funeral effigy is one of a collection which can still be seen in the Abbey’s Museum.

After James himself died on 27th March, 1625, he was laid in the vault beneath King Henry VII’s monument beside Elizabeth of York, Henry’s wife. No monument was erected to mark his passing save for a modern inscription placed nearby (in fact Queen Elizabeth I was the last monarch to be buried with a monument above the site – see below).

It’s also worth noting that in 1612 – nine years into his reign – James arranged for the body of his mother – Mary, Queen of Scots, who was executed in 1587 on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I – to be transferred from its resting place in Peterborough Cathedral to the south aisle of the Lady Chapel where he had an elaborate tomb erected featuring an elegant white marble effigy showing her wearing a coif, ruff and long mantle.

In the north aisle, James had previously erected a marble monument to his predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I and had her body moved from where it had lain in the vault of her grandfather, King Henry VIII, to a place beneath the new monument. Her half-sister, Queen Mary I, is also buried beneath the monument.

That’s the final in our series on King James I’s London – it’s by no means a comprehensive look at significant sites in the early Stuart period and we shall be looking at more from the period down the track, but it’s a good start. Our new special series starts next week. 

WHERE: Westminster Abbey, Westminster (nearest Tube station is Westminster or St James’s Park); WHEN: Open to tourists everyday except Sunday  (times vary so check the website); COST: £16 an adult/£13 concessions/£6 schoolchildren (11-18 years), free for children aged under 11/£38 for a family (two adults, two children); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org