1902 Encyclopedia > London > London History (cont.) - Plantagenet Period (1154-1485)

(Part 36)


London History (cont.) - Plantagenet Period (1154-1485)

Henry II. appears to have been to a certain extent prejudiced against the citizens of London on account of their attitude towards his mother, and he treated them with some severity. On several occasions he exacted large sums from the city, which, although they were emphemistically styled dona, cannot be considered as free gifts. The severity appears to have been to have been necessary, and was attended with good results. The streets were in a most dangerous condition at night, and bands of a hundred and more would sally forth to rob the houses of the wealthy. In 1175 some of these men were taken prisoners, and one of them was found to be a citizen of good credit and considerable wealth named "John the Olde." He offered the king five hundred marks for his life, but Henry was inflexible, and after the man had been hanged the city became more quiet. In 1176 the rebuilding of London Bridge with stone was commenced by Peter of Cole-church. This was the bridge which after much subsequent tinkering was pulled down early in the present century. It consisted of twenty stone arches and a drawbridge. There was a gatehouse at each end and a chapel or crypt in the center, dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury, in which Peter of Colechurch the architect was buried in 1205. In 1184 the Knights Templars removed from Holborn to the New Temple in Fleet Street, and in following year the beautiful Temple church was built. All this activity of building proves that the citizens were wealthy and their city handsome. This is corroborated by the interesting work of Fitzstephen, the monk of Canterbury, which was written at this time. Fitzstephen has left us the first picture of London, and a very vivid one it is. He speaks of its wealth, commerce, grandeur, and magnificence, - of the mildness of the climate, the beauty of the gardens, the sweet, clear, and salubrious springs, the flowing streams, and the pleasant clack of the water-mills. Even the vast forest of Middlesex, with its densely wooded thickets, its coverts of game, stags, fallow deer, boards, and wild bulls is pressed into the description to give a contrast which shall enhance the prosperous beauty of the city itself. Fitzstephen’s account of the sports of the people is particularly interesting. He tells how, when the great marsh that washed the walls of the city on the north (Moorfields) was frozen over, the young men went out to slide and skate and sport on the ice. Skates made of bones have been dug up of late years in this district. This sport was allowed to fall into disuse, and was not again prevalent until it was introduced from Holland after the Restoration. In the first year of Richard I. the court of aldermen ordained that for the future houses should not be built of wood, but that they should have an outside wall of stone raised 16 feet from the ground, and be covered with slate or baked tile. This ordinance must have fallen into densetude, for the houses continued largely to the built of wood. We learn that most of the houses were plastered and whitewashed. One of the earliest objections which the Londoners made to the use of sea-coal was that the smoke from it blackened the white walls of their buildings. The first mayor of London was Henry Fitz Alwin, who was elected in 1189, and held the office until 1212.

London had to pay heavily towards Richard’s ransom; and, when the king made his triumphal entry into London after his release from imprisonment, a German nobleman is said to have remarked that had the emperor known of the wealth of England he would have insisted on a larger sum. The Londoners were the more glad to welcome Richard back in that the head of the regency, Longschamp, bishop of Ely, was very unpopular from the encroachments he made upon the city with his works at the Tower. The first charter by which the city claims the jurisdiction and conservancy of the river Thames was granted by Richard I. John granted several charters to the city, and it as expressly stipulated in Magna Charta that the city of London should have all its ancient privileges and free customs. The citizens opposed the king during the wars of the barons. In the year 1215 the barons having received intelligence secretly that they might enter London with ease through Aldgate, which was then in a very ruinous state, removed their camp from Bedford to Ware, and shortly after marched into the city in the night-time. having succeeded in their object, they determined that so important a gate should no longer remain in a defenceless condition. They therefore spoiled the religious houses and robbed the monastery coffers in order to have means wherewith to rebuild it. Much of the material was obtained from the destroyed houses of the unfortunate Jews, but the stone for the bulwarks was obtained from Caen, and the small bricks or tiles from Flanders. The church of St Mary Overy (now St Saviors), Southwark, was begun in the year 1208, and in 1221 the foundation stone of the lady chapel at Westminster Abbey was laid by Henry III. We have alluded to the great change in the aspect of London and its surroundings made during the Norman periodby the establihsmnet of a large number of monasteries. A still more important change in the configuration of the interior of London was made in the 13th century, when the various orders of the friars established themselves there. The Benedictine monks preferred secluded sites; the Augustinians did not cultivate seclusion so strictly; but the friars chose the interior of towns by preference. The Black, Preaching, or Dominican Friars settled near Holborn, in hat was afterwards Lincoln’s Inn, in 1121, and removed to the ward of Castle Baynard in 1276, whe the city wall was rebuilt to enlarge their boundaries. The district where the friary was built still retains its name. In 1224 John Iwyn or Erwin made over to the Grey Friars (or Franciscans) an estate situated in the ward of Farringdon Within and in the parish of St Nicholas in the Shambles, and on this site the first convent of the order was erected. The site is now occupied by the Blue Coat School. In 1241 the White Friars or Carmelites settled in a precinct or liberty between Fleet Street and the Strand which still retains their name. In 1253 the Austin Friars or Friars Eremites were founded in Broad Street ward, and the last of these friaries to be established was that of the Crutched or Crossed Friars in 1298. By the establishment of these religious houses two-thirds of the entire area of London was occupied by convents and hospitals. This is the most marked characteristic of Plantagenet London. We have no record of the date at which Temple Bar first marked out the extent of the liberties of the city, but as late as the end of the 14th century Fleet Street was described as being in the suburbs. During the Norman period the road from the city to Westminster was quite open, but soon afterwards a commencement was made in building. The Savoy was built in 1245 by Peter, earl of Savoy and Richmond, uncle of Eleanor, wife of Henry III., and in this king’s reign the friars of the order of St Mary de Arena are supposed to have established themselves near the site of Durham House (now the Adelhi). About the same time William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, founded and endowed a hospital and convent called St Mary Rouncivale at he village of Charing, so that in Henry III.’s reign there must have been several houses on the line of route to Westminster. Fitzstephen describes the latter place as follows: - "On the west also, higher up the bank of the river, the royal palace rears its lead, and incomparable structure, furnished with a breastwork and bastions, situated in a populous suburb, at a distance of two miles from the city." In the reign of Edward I. the mayor offended the king, and the citizens were for a time deprived of their right of electing their chief magistrate. Gregory de Rokesley the mayor, the sheriffs, the aldermen, and other dignitaries of the city were summoned to appear on the 29th June 1285 before John de Kirkeby, treasurer, and the other justiciars of the king in the Tower of London for the purpose of holding inquests there. Now the mayor held that he was not bound to answer such a summons as this unless he had forty days’ notice, so he resigned his mayoralty at Allhallows, barking, and delivered the common seal of the city to Stephen Aswy and other aldermen, an then entered the Tower with the rest as an alderman only. This action incensed the king greatly, man john de Kirkeby was commanded to take over the mayoralty, a warden being appointed by the royal authority. This arrangement continued until 1297, when Edward granted the prayer of the citizens, and allowed them again to elect a mayor. Royal wardens had filled the mayor’s seat from 1265 to 1268, but in the first charter of Edward I. the following concession was made: - "Also that the liberties of the city of London shall not be taken into the hand of his lordship the king for any personal trespass or personal judgment of any officer of the said city; and that no warden shall in the same on such pretext be appointed" (Liber Albus, translated by Riley, pp. 14,131). In 1285 the first attempt was made to supply London with water artificially, and the great conduit in West Cheap (or Cheapside) was commenced. This lead cistern, which was castellated with stone, was supplied with water conveyed in leaden pipes from Tyburn. Soon afterwards a nobler building was erected in Cheapside. In 1290 the beloved Eleanor of Castile died, and her husband erected stone crosses where her body had rested. Two of these crosses were in London, and there is some little difficulty in understanding why the two stations were so near each other. It has been suggested that the body really rested at St Paul’s Cathedral. Cheapside Cross was erected by Michael of Canterbury, and cost 300 pounds, and Charing Cross, the most sumptuous of the series, cost 450 pounds. it was commenced by Richard de Crundale, and completed after his death by Roger de Crundale. In this same year (1290) the Jews were expelled from England. The district in London in which they had lived since William the conqueror’s day came to be called the Old Jewry, but when the Jews returned to England after many centuries of exile most of them settled in the neighborhood of Aldgate.

Smithfield is mentioned by Fitzstephen as a market for horses, and from this writer we obtain its correct etymology (the smooth field). As early as the reign of Henry III. it had become known as the place for execution. Close by a grove of elm trees that gave their name to the place Sir William Wallace was executed in the year 1305, and there also Mortimer experienced a similar fate five and twenty years afterwards. The history of Smithfield from that day has been a record of executions, jousts, and markets.

In 1313 the celebrated order of the Knights Templar fell, and Edward II gave their house in Fleet Street to Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke. At the earl’s death the property passed to the Knights of St John f Jerusalem, who leased the Inner and Middle Temples to the students of the common law and the Outer Temple to Walter Stapleton, bishop of Exeter, and lord treasurer. The Charterhouse stands on a piece of ground which had been used in 1349 as a burial-place for the thousands who died in that year of the plague. In 1371 Sir Walter Manny founded there a priory of Carthusian monks.

One of those pageants for which the streets of London were so famous took place in 1356 when Edward the Black Prince brought the French king John a prisoner from the battle of Poitiers. It is not necessary to do more than allude to this here, as the incident is a part of English history.

We have now arrived at the period of one of the greatest Londoners that ever lived. The life of Geoffrey Chaucer throws a living interest around the several places with which he was associated. His father was a vintner in Thames Street, the garden of whose house was bounded by the Wall Brook. In 1374 Chaucer was appointed comptroller of the customs, and in the same year he went to live in the dwelling-house above the gate of Aldgate. In 1389 he was appointed clerk of the works at Westminster, the Tower of London, and other places. In March 1390 we find him on the Thames bank repair commission, and in May of the same year he was employed in setting up scaffolds in Smithfield for Richard II. and his queen (Anne of Bohemia) to see the jousts at that place. His duties took him to the mews for the king’s falcons at Charing Cross, and in 1390 he was robbed of some of the king’s money on the high road at Westminster. We thus see that traces of the "morning star of English poetry" are to be found in all parts of London.

In 1381 another of the stirring incidents of English history occurred in London. The threatening insurrection of Wat Tyler was suppressed when the leader was killed by Sir William Walworth in Smithfield. Before that the rebels had done great ddamage to property in London and Southwark. About this time two very important public works were commenced. Westminster Hall was repaired by Richard II. in 1397; the walls were carried up 2 feet higher, the windows were altered, and a new roof constructed. In 1411 the Guildhall was built, and the courts were removed from Aldermanbury.

During the troubles f the 15th century the authorities had seen the necessity of paying more attention to the security of the gates and walls of the city, and when Thomas Nevil, son of Thomas, Lord Fauconbergh, made his attack upon London in 1471 he experienced a very spirited resistance. He first attempted to land from his ships in the city, but the Thames side from Baynard’s Castle to the Tower was so well fortified that he had to seek a quieter and less prepared position. he then set upon the several gates in succession, and was repulsed at all. On the 11th of May he made a desperate attack upon aldgate, followed by 500 men. He won the bulwarks and some of his followers entered into the city, but the portcullis being let down these were cut off from their own party and were slain by the enemy. The portcullis was drawn up, and the besieged issued forth against the rebels, who were soon forced to fly.

When Richard, duke of Gloucester, laid his plans for seziing the crown, he obtained the countenance of the lord mayor, Sir Edmund Shaw, whose brother Dr Shaw praised Richard at paul’s Cross. Crosby Hall, in Bishopsgate Street, then lately built, was made the lodging of the Protector. There he acted the accessible prince in the eyes of the people, for the last of the Plantagenets was another of the usurpers who found favor in the eyes of the men of London. His day, however, was short, and with the battle of Bosworth ends Plantagenet London.

Read the rest of this article:
London - Table of Contents

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-21 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries