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London: 2000 years of history (channel 5)

Who let Dan Jones out? At least, as in his last outing, he is accompanied both by a historian (Suzannah Lipscomb) and an engineer (Rob Bell), narrating and illustrating almost two millennia of the city’s past.

In the first episode, we were taken through the walled city of “Londinium” being built and rebuilt after Boudicca’s revolt. Whilst Bell showed us the Kent stone from which the original Tower was built, we were told about the Ampitheatre and the remains, near Spitalfields, that include the “Lamb Street Teenager” and the slaves that helped to build the city, strategically located on the Thames. Some archaeology has resulted from the building of Crossrail.
As Roman Britain ended and the Anglo-Saxons arrived, their original city (“Londonwych”) was on a smaller scale. Viking raids followed and Alfred moved the city inside the Roman walls as “Londonburgh”, as broken glass and pottery found near Covent Garden testifies, with the previous entity further east now being known as Aldwych. Although the Vikings took the city, Ethelred II reconquered it and destroyed London Bridge as well.
The programme finished with William I’s coronation on Christmas Day 1066, followed by his rebuilding of the Tower with Norman stone, not to be confused with this historian, with the domes later added by Henry VIII.

The second episode showed us Westminster Abbey, later to be rebuilt at great expense by  Henry III, in a smaller city then separate from London, where every coronation since Harold II has taken place, followed by Westminster Hall, where Wallace, Fawkes and Charles I were all sentenced to death. Half of the evolving city’s population fell victim to the Black Death, after which Richard Whittington, younger son of a Gloucestershire knight, really did serve as Mayor three or four times under Richard II and Henry IV. The population then increased exponentially to the days of the wealthy Cardinal Wolsey, who built Whitehall Palace before falling from Henry VIII’s favour, so Henry and his successors occupied it from 1530 until the fire of 1698. This part ended with Elizabeth I knighting Drake aboard the Golden Hind.

Week three covered the Great Fire, which the trio had previously examined in much greater detail, although they did mention Pepys’ description, the probable origin in a Monument Lane bakery, the timber-framed buildings of the old city and the easterly wind that spread the fire. Although we can see the new St. Paul’s today, Wren’s original plan for the area was even more radical, featuring a Glasgow-style grid of streets. London then expanded to the west for merchants and their imports via the Thames, whilst the poor stayed in the east where gin was popular. In the nineteenth century, industrialisation caused the city’s population to rise rapidly, although smog became a factor.
London Bridge became the city’s first rail terminus, in 1836, before Euston was built and Paddington was soon added to serve Brunel’s Great Western lines. The steep hills of Hampstead were overcome through a man-made valley, as Bell showed by visiting the abandoned Highgate station, allowing London to expand to the north. Poor water hygiene caused a cholera outbreak, which Bazalgette’s civil engineering solved with pumping stations, sewers and the reclaiming of land. Heavy traffic then necessitated the strengthening of the ancient bridges. The reclaimed land (Embankment) and Great Fire site (Monument) are both remembered on the Underground map.

The series concluded by pointing out that road congestion was quite possibly worse in 1860 than it is now, as trains were banned from running within two miles of the epicentre at street level. The solution was to run them underground, with the Metropolitan line being started first by “cut and cover” and the Northern line, authentically bored, to follow. Residents moved out of the first engineered areas to the east, leaving Shoreditch and Whitechapel overcrowded with twice the mortality level of London as a whole. By 1890, the capital had five million residents and Charles Booth’s “poverty map” highlighted a quarter of these, with the worst cases in the East End, where “Jack the Ripper” preyed on some of them. From the maps, living conditions were addressed and the worst slums demolished. Following Edward VII’s accession in January 1901, recognisable modern buildings such as Admiralty Arch, the MI5 building and the War Office arose. Visitors could stay in hotels such as the Savoy and shop at Selfridges as we can do today. Suffragettes were active before the First World War, during which they suspended their activities and many worked in armaments manufacture, for instance at the Royal Ordnance factory known as the Woolwich Arsenal.
Air warfare came to London with Zeppelin bombs in 1915. In the remainder of the conflict, there were thirty raids killing forty thousand people, including thirty children at Poplar in 1917. Armistice Day was followed by the “Spanish ‘flu”, which was generally three times as deadly as the war itself, with some 20,000 deaths in London alone. In the following years, houses were built along the expanded Metropolitan Lane, taking in towns such as Pinner and Harrow, and advertised in a “Metroland” magazine to raise the population to 8.6 million. The Blitz brought the Second World War to London a year after the start but, importantly, after the corrugated tin structures known as Anderson shelters were made available. It happened on fifty-seven consecutive nights in the first instance and a total of two million homes were damaged or destroyed. Replacing these and housing Commonwealth immigration from 1948 was hampered by the Green Belt so that London could no longer expand outwards, only upwards. As freight expanded, containers could no longer fit into the Thames so the docks were less busy from the sixties, in favour of more coastal ports. However, Docklands regeneration was initiated in the eighties as the City was pushed eastwards to Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs. In a further effort to relieve congestion, the great Crossrail project opens later this year with twenty six miles of new tunnels, forty-two metres below ground, providing a unique archaeological opportunity to view London’s past.

In conclusion, it is possible to enjoy a history programme with Dan Jones, so long as he has at least two colleagues and cannot simply indulge his prejudices against particular figures. The second half of the series was more a social and economic history, which is a further restraint.

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A lesson in disposing of That Urn…!

Henry_VII_Chapel_Westminster_Abbey-1000x520

Here is an excellent account of That Urn at Westminster Abbey. It demolishes all the “Tudor” flimflam, and entertains as it does so. Read, enjoy and digest, in connection with this.

No more chocolate-box boys in the Tower, PLEASE….!

 

And to cap it all, we even have Kittens in the Tower!

Kittens in the Tower

Oh, for heaven’s sake!

Right, there is a famous “story” about one of our 15th-century princes of Wales, specifically Edward of Lancaster (or Westminster), seven-year-old son and heir of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. The fame goes that after the 2nd Battle of St Albans, which his side won, his mother asked him to decide the fate of two opposition knights who had been found guarding his father, the captive, rather weak-minded Henry VI. Little Edward chose to have their heads lopped off, even though his father protested. The prince was to eventually come off worst at the Battle of Tewkesbury, at the age of eighteen. (There are various versions of how he died, and at whose hand.)

Royal boys had armour in those days, and there are examples in the White Tower. Was Edward wearing something like this at the time of his supposed seven-year-old bloodthirstiness?

Well, of course, no one knows if the story is true. If it is, the adjective “bloodthirsty” is well earned where Edward of Lancaster is concerned. If it’s untrue, well, he is exonerated. But, given all the ferocious training young aristocratic and royal boys had to go through from the age of seven, he would certainly have already been faced with the brutal reality of medieval warfare. They all were. They learned to handle weapons that could kill, and were shown exactly how to put an end to an opponent. Some idea of this can be seen at http://www.lordsandladies.org/knighthood-training.htm and the following illustrations show more.

quintain - 3stages of knighthood

be master of all this

Imagine our little boys being confronted with such an armoury, and told they will be expected to be master of it all before they’re even men. Imagine them even being sent away to strangers to start learning how to shed blood. Unthinkable.

Like Edward of Lancaster, Richard of Gloucester (the future Richard III) is another example of this same rigorous knightly tuition from the age of seven, and learned every battle skill he might ever need. And he was very good at it. By seventeen he had his own independent command, and took part in the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. It was expected of him, and he met the challenge.

The boys in the Tower were Richard’s nephews. The elder was another Edward, Prince of Wales of questionable legitimacy (there are considerable doubts that Henry VI was Edward of Lancaster’s father), and was coming up for thirteen when he and his younger brother Richard of Shrewsbury (aged ten) were ensconced in the royal apartments of the Tower in 1483, after their father’s unexpected death. Both boys would have been well into their training.

They were princes of the blood. They were educated, conditioned with a sense of their superiority and importance, and learning the hows and ways of defending themselves in battle. So, in my opinion, big-eyed, clingy, vulnerable, little golden angels they were not. Yet all we see are paintings that follow the same melted-marshmallow theme.

Do we ever see similar gushing illustrations of little eight-year-old Richard of Gloucester, in exile, clinging to his not-much-older brother George of Clarence after the deaths of their father and another elder brother, Edmund? No. Why? Because there are Tudor pawmarks all over the advent of the nauseating chocolate-box images. For the advent of everything concerning the boys of 1483, in fact. There is no evidence that they were killed at all, let alone by their wicked Uncle Richard. And they weren’t in a dungeon in the tower, they were in the royal palace apartments. Theories of their fate abound, of course, but that is not of concern here. And—whisper it loudly!—the Tudors themselves weren’t without good motive for despatching the boys.

Anyway, if I never see another sugary portrait of these yucky little angels, I will be well pleased.

(On another note entirely, there is another Murrey and Blue post about how portraits can influence us. See https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/can-a-picture-paint-a-thousand-words/)

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