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400 buildings were lost in the Great Fire of London….

Nonsuch House, London Bridge

(following this post about mediaeval London and this one that refers to the fire)

Nonsuch House was a “wildly eccentric, gaudily painted, meticulously carved Renaissance palace…the jewel in the crown of London Bridge. Made entirely from wood it was prefabricated in Holland and erected in 1577-79, replacing the medieval drawbridge gate. At four storeys it was the biggest building on the bridge, straddling the whole street and lurching over the Thames, affording its illustrious occupants spectacular views of the metropolis. Its tulip-bulb cupolas were admired from miles around and there was truly nonsuch like this architectural mongrel anywhere else in London.

“The fire only consumed a modern block of houses at the northern end of London Bridge, separated from the rest by a gap, and so Nonsuch House, built on the 7th and 8th arches from the Southwark end, happily survived – only to be dismantled with the rest of the houses a hundred years later.”

Thus the article below describes the amazing confection that was Nonsuch House.  It did well not to be destroyed between 2-5 September 1666, when the Great Fire of London robbed posterity of some four hundred wonderful buildings. It lasted another century, but many fine, historic buildings came to grief, and the article describes and illustrates a number of them.

This is also well worth a read!

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Rei(g)ned in?

I don’t know how to tell you this but Dan Jones has made further appearances on our television screens this spring. Thankfully, both C5 three-part series have featured him as a sidekick to Suzannah Lipscomb, so his prejudices against various monarchs have had little exercise.
The first of these was about Elizabeth I, featured Lily Cole so the make-up bill was probably limited to a tin or two of Cuprinol. It covered Elizabeth’s life quite well although I learned much less than their series on Henry VIII.
The second series moved on to the Great Fire of London and Jones must be annoyed that he couldn’t vent his theory that Richard III came back to life and carelessly discarded a cigarette butt. By including Rob Bell, an engineer who explained the scientific details of the fire and its effects, in the presentation team makes it much more of a team affair and there was a lot more informative detail from that momentous week. Perhaps it could have been made nine months earlier and broadcast on the 350th anniversary?

 

The Priory of the Knights Hospitaller of St John at Clerkenwell.

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The Great South Gate, now known as St John’s Gate, from an engraving by Wenceslaus Holler

On this day, 30 March 1485,  which fell on a Wednesday (1),  King Richard lll stood in the great hall of the Priory and denied in a ‘loud and distinct voice’ he had ever intended to marry Elizabeth of York (2).  The rest is history and it is the Priory which is my subject here today.

View_of_the_south_front_of_the_St_John's_Gate_Clerkenwell_by_Thomas_Hosmer_Shepherd.jpg

Steel engraving of St John’s Gate by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd 1829-83.  Note the inscription as described by Stow appertaining to the rebuilding completed by Prior Docwrey 1504.

The original Priory  founded about 1100, by Jorden Briset (3)  on a site which covered 10 acres of land, had  a chequered  history,  being burnt down by a mob in the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt , who caused it to burn for seven days allowing noone  to quench the flames,  being  rebuilt,  and  not being finished until 1504.    However it must have been sufficiently grand enough in 1485  for Richard to hold  his  council there.   The Priory’s troubles were not yet over,  later being  suppressed by order of Henry Vlll.   Still,  according to Stow   the priory church and house were ‘preserved from spoil of being pulled down’ and were ’employed as a storehouse for the kings toils and tents for hunting and wars etc.,’ (4) .  Don’t hold your breath though,  for moving on,  in the third year of Henry’s son,  Edward’s reign, ‘the church for the most part, to wit, the body and the side aisles, with the great bell tower, a most curious piece of workmanship, graven, gilt and enamelled, to the great beautifying of the city, and passing all other I have seen, was undermined and blown up with gun powder.  The stone thereof was employed in the building of the Lord Protector’s house at the Strand (me: the first Somerset House and also the porch of Allhallows Church, Gracechurch Street, which sadly was lost in the Great Fire of London)  That part of the choir which remaineth, with some side chapels, was by Cardinal Pole, in the reign of Queen Mary, closed up at the West End and otherwise repaired.  Sir Thomas Tresham, knight, was then made lord prior with restitution of some lands” (5).    Unfortunately this revival of fortunes did not last as the priory was again suppressed in the first years of Elizabeth l’s reign.

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An engraving by Joseph Pennell 1860-1926 in which some the vaulting of the gateway can be seen.

As late as 1878  some of the remains of Prior Docwra’s church had survived in the south and east walls and the capitals and rib mouldings underpinning  the pews (6)  The church was gutted by bombing in 1941 and what we see today is more or less after that date being rebuilt in the 1950s.    The outline of the original round church,  consecrated in 1185,  is marked out in St John’s Square in front of today’s church(7)

Hollar-Church-1053x658.jpgThe priory church of St John from an engraving by Wenseslaus Holler

 

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Outline of the old church which stands in front of today’s church

Today all that  remains of this once magnificent  range of buildings are the Grand South Gate now known as St John’s Gate,  largely reconstructed in the 19th century  and the crypt which has survived beneath the nearby parish church of St John.

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St John’s Gateway as it is today.

So sadly we may not be able today to  stand in the Great Hall as Richard did when his voice, strong and steady, rung out to deny the insidious rumours – for we now know they were indeed just rumours as plans were afoot for him to marry a Portuguese princess and Elizabeth a Duke – but we can most certainly walk through the Great Gateway which Richard rode through that day.

(1) The Itinerary of King Richard lll Rhoda Edwards p34 Mercers Court Minutes pp 173-4

(2) Croyland p.499

(3 ) Stow A survey of London p363

(4)  Stow A Survey of London p 364

(5)  Stow A Survey of London P364

(6)  Prior Thomas Docwra or  Thomas Docwrey as spelt by Stow, was the Prior who            completed the rebuilding in 1504.

(7) St John Clerkenwell Wikipeda

 

Coming up this year:

As you can see, Kit Harrington will soon portray Robert Catesby in a BBC drama about the Gunpowder Plot. Catesby, shot while resisting arrest, was one of 130731-e5cae8c8-18cf-4b66-aa08-3c4ae03e6428the lucky ones. Then again, our folk memory of the seventeenth century is not entirely accurate.

Here it is.

Can’t imagine Margaret Beaufort cosying up to Thomas Stanley, can you?

 

Digital Camera

This link takes you to an article about Medieval Palaces in London, and if you go down the page, you’ll come to a picture of the College of Arms, which moved there (from Coldharbour) in the last quarter of the 15th century. Yes, we all know about THAT!

However, it is interesting that the author writes of Lord and Lady Derby residing there. Of course, to me that means Margaret Beaufort and Thomas Stanley. Can’t imagine them cosying up together, can you? She was too busy refurbishing Coldharbour to her own glory status. His thoughts on his marriage will forever remain unknown, except that it was pretty handy when her boy Henry usurped the throne. Beyond that…it’s anyone’s guess.

Well, that original Derby House burned down in the Great Fire, and the present building is its successor, but in exactly the same place.

http://www.britannia.com/history/londonhistory/lon-pal1.html

The Propaganda of Charles II

charlesiiGuest author Richard Unwin explains the context behind the discovery of those convenient bones:

Charles II came to the throne in 1660 after the period of Commonwealth when England, and particularly its entertainments, had been suppressed by Puritan authority. The security of the new reign was precarious and there were many in the country opposed to a return of the monarchy. The king needed good PR and he began by restoring those entertainments the English had enjoyed before the Civil War, which had been suppressed by the Puritans. The Restored theatres were immediately used to promote Court propaganda and would do so for most of the reign. Theatre had been banned under Cromwell and anyone performing as a player would be thrown into prison. Similar penalties were applied to those who might be in the audience at a performance.
The first playhouse to be constructed in the new reign was The Theatre Royal, at Drury Lane, which opened in 1663. This theatre, though unaffected by the Great Fire of London in 1666, burned down in 1672 as the result of an internal combustion. Because of the demand for entertainment, a new theatre was financed and built on the site of the old one. Thought by some to have been designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the second theatre opened to the public on March 26th 1674; the alleged bones of the Princes in the Tower were discovered just four months later, in July.
Upon the restoration of Charles II, old plays were, at first, resurrected for performance at the new venue. Many of these were rewritten and used as pure propaganda to promote the court of the restored monarch. Shakespeare’s language was out-of-date and soon his plays were being rewritten to suit the tastes of the modern audience. Charles was a devotee of the theatre and we find one of his most famous courtesans, Nell Gwynne as an actress at Drury Lane.
The playhouse at Drury lane was not the only one in Restoration London. There was another: Dorset Garden, also known as the Duke’s Theatre. The duke in question was the duke of York, Charles’ brother and destined to become James II. It was home to the Duke’s Company of players and renowned for its technical innovations, moving scenery and lavish productions. Later, in 1782, the Duke’s Company would merge with the King’s Company and move to Drury Lane, but in 1674 it was vibrant and in open competition for audiences with the Theatre Royal.
Villainy was not long becoming, in the popular public mind, synonymous with Shakespeare’s Richard III due mainly to the supposed murder of his nephews, popularly known as The Princes in the Tower. Sometime in 1661 there was a performance of Shakespeare’s play, the details of which are now lost. The prologue survives and it shows us King Richard presented as a dictator, (metaphorically Oliver Cromwell) set against one Henry Richmond who defeats him to become a benign monarch (King Charles II). It seems that this was propaganda used to promote the new reign. In the year 1667 the Duke’s Company performed a similar play, written by John Caryll. Its title was “The English Princess: or the Death of Richard the Third.” The author was a diplomatist and later became secretary to Mary of Modena, the second wife of James II. This particular play was printed in 1667, 1673 and pertinently, in 1674. Clearly the story of Richard III and the murder of the two Princes in the Tower had much currency throughout the period of the “discovery” of the Westminster bones and was current in the year they were found.
Throughout the reign of Charles II we find the villainous character of Richard III in a variety of plays, none of them Shakespeare’s and with a deliberate political bias. Of course, the character could also be used against the monarchy. In 1680, John Crowne adapted Shakespeare’s Henry the Sixth, Part Two converting it into an anti-catholic rant. It was sub-titled: the Misery of Civil War, performed at the Duke’s Theatre (Dorset Garden) and printed in the same year. In this version of Shakespeare’s play the malign character of the duke of Gloucester (Richard III) is enhanced, his crookback is emphasised and his brothers’ philandering in the play becomes a comment on the current Court. John Crowne, although said to be a favourite of Charles II, was known to have a moral repugnance for his Court. This was politically sensitive as the Exclusion Crisis, an attempt by parliament to prevent the accession of a Catholic monarch, was in full cry in this year.
Almost as if he was deliberately flouting the concerns of his people, his mistress, Louise de Kerouaille was a Catholic and a French spy to boot. She had replaced Barbara Villiers, (Lady Castlemaine) as Charles’ principal mistress. He ran her more or less currently with the actress Nell Gwynne. Bad luck had also brought about the Great Plague of 1665, which only came to an end due to the Great Fire of 1666 when much of the old City of London was consumed in the flames. Charles had also provoked war with the Dutch. The first war had been something of a success, but the second war had gone badly. In the year following the Great Fire, a Dutch fleet had sailed up the Medway and destroyed the British fleet supposed to be safe at anchor at Chatham docks. Ignominiously for the English navy, the Dutch boarded and captured the fleet flagship, the Royal Charles. This was the very vessel that had brought Charles to England from exile. They towed it back to the Netherlands as a trophy where the ship’s coat-of-arms can be seen on display to this day at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It was England’s greatest naval defeat. The Dutch destroyed fifteen ships while the English scuttled others to block the river. The biggest ships, the Royal Oak, the Loyal London, a new ship, and the Royal James were burned. Afterwards, this misfortune, on top of the Catholic question and the scandals of his personal life meant King Charles and his government feared a backlash from the people of England who were becoming increasingly critical of his rule.
By the year 1674 then, we can see that Charles and his government had become highly unpopular and desperately needed to turn the mood of the people towards that which he had enjoyed at the beginning of his reign. We must remember that the Court establishment feared a resurgence of republicanism. At the same time there was the real threat, that Charles’ brother James would succeed him, provoking a Catholic revival and religious conflict. (This did indeed occur and James II’s persecution of Protestants led to his eventual removal and exile – the Glorious Revolution of 1688).
Charles’ strategy at the beginning of his reign had been to use the printed word and public performance in the restored theatres as propaganda to promote his monarchy. Perhaps what had worked in the heady days of the early 1660’s could work in 1674 too? The “chance” discovery of royal bones in the Tower of London, accompanied by a series of plays where the villain was understood metaphorically to be the dictatorial Oliver Cromwell and the possibilities for promoting the monarchy would be obvious to Charles II. Unfortunately what worked in 1660 seems to have failed in 1674. Charles II managed to cling on to his throne until his death in 1685. His brother would be the one to lose it.

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