The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 1

Allen, Thomas


History of London from the departure of the Romans till the time of the Conquest.

History of London from the departure of the Romans till the time of the Conquest.


When Britain was deserted by the Romans in the early part of the century, and the ancient inhabitants were left to conduct their own affairs, London once more became a British town. Though this period of British history is very obscure, it is an acknowledged fact, that Vortigern, a British chieftain, obtained the sovereignty of the southern part of the island, and made a notable use of his authority, by adopting those measures which terminated in the subjugation of what is now called England, by the Jutes, Saxons, and Angles, piratical tribes of adventurers from Germany, who had long been formidable enemies of the provincial Britons. Hengist, leader of the of these bands of invaders, soon obtained possession of the county of Kent; and though he had been originally invited hither to assist Vortigern in repelling the attacks of the Picts and Scots, yet he, ere long, turned his arms against the Britons themselves. It appears from the Saxon Chronicle, that in , a British army having been defeated at (Crayford) in Kent, retreated to London. About years after this battle, Hengist made himself master of this city, and kept possession of it, probably, till his death, A. D. . It was then recaptured by the British king Ambrosius, the successor of Vortigern, and continued to belong to the Britons during a great part of the century.



The Saxon kingdom of Essex having been established some years: and London, though in what manner, or at what particular period, has not been ascertained, becoming subject to that state, its walls and fortifications, doubtless, preserved it from the ravages that had been inflicted in most other parts of the island, whilst its favourable situation for commerce contributed to increase its population.

After the partial conversion of the East Saxons to Christianity, in the time of king Sebert, nephew to Ethelbert, king of Kent, the latter monarch, to whom all the country south of the river Humber was feudatory, erected a cathedral church on the site of , about the year ; London having been chosen for a bishop's see by Augustine, the

Apostle of the English,

and Mellitus, of the companions of his mission, having been nominated bishop in . Bede, in mentioning this fact, describes London as an

emporium of many nations, who arrived thither by land and by sea.

On the decease of Ethelbert, and Sebert, king of the East Saxons, in , their subjects relapsed into paganism; and the bishop was expelled from his see by the sons of Sebert, to whom he had refused the communion of the Sacrament, unless they would also consent to be baptised.

During the confused period of the Saxon Heptarchy, but very few notices of London seem to have been recorded. In , it was ravaged by the plague; and in , , and , it suffered greatly from fires: in that of , it was almost wholly burnt down, and numbers of the inhabitants perished in the flames.

It has been stated by Noorthouck, and other writers on the history of London, that on the dissolution of the Heptarchy, and union of the Saxon kingdom under Egbert, in , London was appointed to be the royal residence: Pennant says, that the great Alfred

made it the capital of all England;

yet both these assertions are erroneous; for the seat of government, for more than centuries after the period spoken of, was continued at Winchester, which, having long been the residence of the West Saxon sovereigns, became naturally the metropolis of the kingdom, after the Saxon states were rendered feudatory by Egbert. That London was still advancing in consequence, may, however, be presumed, from the circumstance of a , or meeting of wise men, having been held here in , to consult on the best means of repelling the Danes, who had now begun to desolate the country by their ravages. At this assembly, Egbert himself was present, together with Ethelwolf, his son; Withlaf,


the tributary king of Mercia, and most of the prelates and great men of the realm; yet their deliberations were but of little effect for the Danes, who swarmed over the island like devouring locusts, plundered the city twice within the ensuing years, and massacred numbers of its inhabitants. The time of their obtaining possession was in , when they committed, says Rapin,

unheard--of cruelties, sacking the city, and murdering most of the inhabitants;

the next was in , or , when having landed from a fleet of sail, they pillaged and laid waste by fire, both London and Canterbury. In the same year, however, their whole army was routed at Okely, in Surrey, after a most sanguinary and bloody conflict, in which but very few Danes escaped the sword.

This victory freed the country from its ravagers till about , when the Danes renewed their invasions, and being continually reinforced by fresh bodies from beyond sea, they were enabled to obtain a permanent settlement in England in the reign of Ethelred the ; though not till they had fought many desperate battles with that sovereign, and with the great Alfred his brother. In the year , Alfred having recently succeeded to the crown, was constrained to make a treaty with the Danes, who, retiring to London, which they had again taken in the late wars, made it a place of arms, and garrisoned it.

During the following or years, all the resources of Alfred's genius were brought into exertion by Danish perfidy and rapine; yet, after many struggles, and various successes, he at length obtained a decided superiority. This was principally accomplished by the creation of a fleet, with which he frequently chased the foe from his shores, or overwhelmed them in the deep. To this measure of the truest policy, he united the further of securing the interior of the kingdom, by building or repairing castles and walled towns; and knowing the importance of London, both from its extent and situation, he forced it to surrender, after a short siege, conducted with great bravery, about the year . Immediately afterwards, he repaired and strengthened the walled fortifications, and after erecting some additional buildings, conferred the government of the city, with extraordinary powers, on his son-in-law, Ethelred, whom he at the same time made earl of Mercia, in hopes that it would afford him a secure retreat against both his foreign and domestic enemies.

The Danes, not yet giving up their lucrative hopes of subduing England, landed in a considerable body, under their general Haesten, on the Essex shore, below Tilbury, within the mouth of the Thames; and erected a strong castle at (now South Bemfleet, near the isle of Canvey, in Essex); from which


they made frequent excursions, committing great ravages in the neighbouring country. This roused the vigilant Alfred, who dispatched against them his son-in-law Ethelred, governor of London, with such expedition, and an army joined by a select body of citizens, that they came up with the enemy before they had been able to make any considerable advance; engaged, and routed them; and laying siege to their castle, took it and a very rich booty therein, together with the wife and sons of Haesten, who were brought prisoners to London. In this battle, the citizens signalized themselves with the greatest intrepidity.

London was now fast rising in maritime and political consequence; for we find that king Athelstan, who succeeded Edward the Elder in , had a palace in London; though the principal residence of the Saxon monarchs was still at Winchester.

Maitland says,

The city about this time, being recovered from its late sufferings by the Danes, seems to have been in as flourishing a condition as any other place in the kingdom; for, by a law of Athelstan's, which appointed a certain number of coiners to each of the principal cities of England, no less than


were allowed to London, which was considerably more than was allotted to any other town, Canterbury excepted; for which the same number was appointed.

In the year , king Edmund held a wittenagemot, or parliament, in this city; wherein divers laws were passed, chiefly relating to ecclesiastical affairs.

In , a very malignant fever raged in London, which carried off a great number of people; and, in the same year, was consumed by fire. Land then sold at per acre.

In the year of king Ethelred, A. D. , this city was almost wholly destroyed by fire. In this disastrous reign, the city was several times assaulted by the Danes, but the assailants were always repulsed by the determined bravery of the inhabitants.

The Danes returning again in , Ethelred fitted out a numerous fleet at London, to prevent their landing, and gave the command thereof to the ealdermen Ealfrick and Thorod, and the bishops Elstane and Escwige; who, being almost come up with the enemy's fleet, the treacherous Ealfrick, by a private signal cautioned them to provide for their security; and in the night preceding the intended engagement, deserted with his ship, and perfidiously joined the enemy, whereby they had an opportunity of escaping. The desertion of Ealfrick was no sooner known than a signal was given to pursue; and coming up with the rear of the Danes, of their ships was taken. And after the return of their fleet, a squadron of Londoners fell in with the enemy's


East-Anglian squadron, which they bravely attacked; and after a desperate engagement, wherein some thousands were killed took the ship of the infamous traitor Ealfrick, himself narrowly escaping.

years after, Anlaf and Sweyn, kings of Norway and Denmark, arrived before the city with a fleet of ships, and attacked the same with an intent to sack and burn it. But the citizens, in its defence, behaving with the greatest intrepidity, the enemy, after many sharp and desperate assaults, meeting with no success, raised the siege; but, to revenge themselves for the great loss they had sustained, they ravaged the counties of Middlesex, Essex, Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire, committing the most unheard--of cruelties, and destroying all with fire and sword.

In the year an ox was sold at ; a cow at ; a sheep at ; and a swine at .

Ethelred, with a policy as unwise as cowardly, sought to purchase the departure of the Danes, by presenting them with large sums of money; and for this purpose, he established that oppressive pate, called This tax appears to have been imposed in a national council, or wittenagemot, assembled at London, where Ethelred usually resided.

Though this purchase cost the nation dear, yet the people imagined themselves happy, in having got rid of their cruel and merciless enemies; as they expected and hoped soon to repair by peace the damage sustained by war. But this dear-bought peace proved of no long duration; for Ethelred, by a perfidious act of cruelty, brought upon himself and the nation the resentment of Sweyn, king of Denmark, a resentment that was but too well justified; for that barbarous prince caused all the Danes in England to be massacred, without distinction of age or sex ; among whom was the princess Gunilda, Sweyn's sister, with her


husband Palingus, who, soon after their arrival in this kingdom, had embraced the Christian faith, and became guarantees or hostages for the observation of the peace lately concluded with their nation.

Sweyn, king of Denmark, in the fell spirit of revenge for the death of his sister Gunilda, who was among the number put to death under the cruel orders of Ethelred, carried fire and desolation for successive years through almost every part of the island; and when, at length, he had partly satiated his vengeance, and returned to Denmark, the work of destruction was still continued by fresh bodies of his countrymen. The calamities spread through the land by these sanguinary invaders, were augmented by domestic treason, and by the weakness of Ethelred, who, having lost nearly the whole of his dominions except London, once more resorted to the measure of bribing the Danes to quit the kingdom; and this they agreed to do, on receiving the enormous sum, at that period, of

In the same year (), Sweyn entered the river Humber with a powerful fleet, and having overrun all the northern and midland parts of the country, invested London, where the cowardly Ethelred had taken refuge. The citizens bravely defended themselves; and Sweyn being ill-provided with necessaries for a long siege, drew off into Wessex, to pursue his accustomed ravages. Meeting with no opposition, he marched a time towards London, and whilst making preparations to re-invest it with additional vigour, he was informed, that Ethelred after having suffered his realm to be desolated by the retaliation of the Danes, had retired to Normandy, leaving his capital city and distressed country to the insatiate barbarity of the conquerors. London, thus deserted, was compelled to open her portals to her bitterest enemies; and, with her, England submitted to the Danish yoke; and, shortly afterwards, Sweyn was proclaimed king of England, no daring to dispute his assumption to that dignity.

On the death of Sweyn, and the accession of Canute, his son, in the following year (), the English resolved to attempt to free themselves from bondage; and London, as it had been the last to submit, so also was it among the to throw off the yoke of servitude. Ethelred was recalled, and Canute was compelled in his turn to quit the kingdom; though, to this step, he was partly induced by events in Denmark, where Harold, his younger brother, having been left regent, had possessed himself of the throne.

Ethelred still continued to disregard the interests of his subjects, and the general murmur emboldened Canute to hasten his preparations for a new invasion. Landing at Sandwich in , that warlike chief found his conquests facilitated by the treachery


of the duke of Mercia, who deserted to the Danes with a large force; and all the address of prince Edmund was unable to retrieve the disorders generated by the imbecility of Ethelred, his father, who kept himself shut up in London; and dying in a short time, was succeeded by the gallant Edmund, who was crowned in London amidst the fervent acclamations of the citizens.

Though his rival Canute had been crowned at Southampton, he soon taught that monarch to experience that the golden prize was not easily to be obtained; for Edmund, immediately on his accession, marched into the western provinces to consolidate the scattered remains of his royal inheritance. In his absence, Canute laid siege to the capital; which, by its intrepidity, baffled all his endeavours to reduce it, till Edmund, with the force he had collected, flew to its relief.

Canute having thus lost his aim, he used many stratagems to surprise the enemy, or draw him off from London; and this last project succeeding, he went and laid siege a time to the city. It was probably on this occasion, that Canute, after having fitted out a considerable fleet to reduce London, the chief support of his competitor, found, on his arrival, that he could not pass the bridge, the citizens having strongly fortified it; he therefore set about cutting a canal through the marshes, on the south side of the river Thames, that he might invest the city on all sides, and by preventing supplies from entering, to facilitate its reduction, By a diligent search of several days, Mr. Maitland conceived he discovered the vestiges and length of this artificial water-course; its

outflux from the river Thames was where the great wet dock below


is situate; whence, running due west by the


-houses in Rotherhithe-fields, it continues its course by a gentle winding to the drain windmill; and with a west-north-west course, passing St. Thomas a Waterings by an easy turning, it crosses the Deptford Toad a little to the southeast of the

Lock Hospital

, at the lower end of

Kent Street

; and, proceeding to

Newington Butts

, intersects the road a little south of the turnpike; whence, continuing its course by the Black Prince in


, it runs west and by south through the Spring Garden at


, to it influx into the Thames at the lower end of



Mr. Maitland enquired of a carpenter of the name of Webster, who was employed in making the great wet dock at in , and who remembered that in the course of that work, a considerable body of faggots and stakes were discovered, which Mr. Maitland considers as part of the works intended to strengthen the banks of the canal.



That there might have been such a water-course, as Mr. Maitland terms it, from the wet dock at Deptford, round by St. Thomas a Watering and , quite up to , and into the Thames at Chelsea-reach, is allowed by many eminent antiquaries.

In a letter from Dr. Wallis to Mr. Pepys, in , he says,

But when the time, and expense, and needless labour such a canal must have required, to make it navigable for vessels that had been able to transport an army from the northern seas is considered, and the little time the Danes had to execute such a design in the enemy's country, there appear great obstacles against the opinion, that the water course above described was the canal by which the Danish fleet sailed or were towed to the west side of the bridge. Another author supposed, that the cut made by Canute began at the dock, near to the place called at this time , in ; and from thence, in a small semicircle by Hill, in , into the Thames again at , above bridge. But Mr. Buckmaster, an ingenious and intelligent inhabitant of , controverts both these hypotheses; observing, that in the old plans of London, the end of appears to be defended by a wall, with towers at different distances, extended, so as to take in and cover the bishop of Winchester's palace, &c.; which wall was called the south-work, or out-work to the south. Now, this work extending. so far, destroys the idea of Canute's trench ending at Saint Saviour's dock (which was made so for a ferry before the bridge was built), as Canute must have destroyed this south work before he could have made his trench. He is equally against the former; but thinks the trench begun at was continued through -foot Lane in , to the end of , where a bridge is built over it, and thence to , on the north side of the new road, into Fields, and terminated


below the king's barge house. Mr. Buckmaster then remarks on the and its ditches, and considers his line of canal to be pretty accurate by the sewers being left so wide. His, certainly, is the most probable course.

I conceive it can be traced from the north side of the , by the Elephant and Castle inn, on the south side of the Fishmongers' almshouses; here, Mr. Maitland says, is a moorish ground, with a small water-course, denominated the river Tygris, which is part of Cnut's trench or canal already mentioned. But what supports this supposition of Maitland's is, that during the year , an extensive sewer was made along this road; in the course of which, a few feet south of the almshouses, were discovered several stakes driven into the ground several feet below the surface, and evidently intended to protect an embankment; a piece of of those stakes I have in my possession, excessively hard, and capable of a high polish, the colour black. This, certainly, corroborates Maitland so far. From here, the trench ran along at the back of the houses in the Lambeth-road, and what forms the boundary between the parishes of and Saint George's, , pursuing its course along the north side of . Here we lose it; but it most probably went into the Thames, between and ; but certainly not so low as Mr. Maitland has placed it.

Mr. Nichols conceived it went north of the palace, a little beyond the king's barge-house: and, he says, the ditches are still said to remain. (.)

Canute was again unsuccessful; for the Londoners defended themselves till Edmund advanced to their relief, and

chased the Danes to their ships.

Soon afterwards, both armies met in the field; and king Edmund, but for the defection of Edric Streon, earl of Mercia, his traitorous relation, would have obtained a complete victory: as it was, night parted the combatants; and Canute, retreating to his ships, rowed along the coast for some time, till, thinking that his absence might have excited a false security in the inhabitants, he suddenly returned, and once more laid siege to London, but with the same ill success as before.

The war between these princes was terminated by a treaty of partition. which left Edmund in possession of London and all the country south of the Thames. On the murder of the Saxon king, which immediately followed, through the base Edric's contrivance, Canute claimed the dominion of the whole kingdom, which was awarded to him in a general council held in London, in .

Canute, now sole monarch of England, resolved, by all political means, to maintain his possession of the throne; and in order to secure the hearts of his new subjects, he married Emma,


Ethelred's widow; and to convince them that he had their interest as much at heart as any of the English kings, his predecessors, disbanded his army, and sent back his fleet to Denmark, and threw himself entirely upon the affections of his new people. This confidence so highly pleased the parliament, then convened in London, that, to enable him to put his designs in execution, they granted him , a prodigious sum at that time! , part whereof, was raised in all the several parts of England, exclusive of London, which alone raised of the whole sum. Whereby is shewn the great opulency of this city at that time; for if we may reckon the riches thereof upon the foot of this subsidy, it must have been possessed of above part of the wealth of the whole kingdom. And this vast sum granted to Canute, according to the prices of lands and provisions then, must have been equal to that of millions at present.

This year also was distinguished for the well-merited punishment of the traitor Edric Streon; who, at the

feast of Christmas,

which Canute kept in this city, had the temerity to reproach his sovereign with not having enough rewarded him

for ridding him of such a formidable rival as Edmund had been.

Canute immediately ordered him to be put to death, for daring to avow so black a crime

Upon the death of Canute, a wittenagemot, or convention of wise men, was held at Oxford; where earl Leofric, and most of the Thanes on the north side of the river Thames, with the of London, chose Harold their king. Liðrmen is by the translator of the Saxon Annals rendered , i. e. Mariners. This translation seems very inconsistent with the honour of the city, to chuse only of its fraternities to represent it on so solemn an occasion: but, taking liðrmen to mean pilots, (which the directors or governors of cities may not improperly be called) I am of opinion, that the city representatives at Oxford were the magistrates, and not the mariners, of London. Be that as it will, it suffices to show, that this city then was of such distinction, grandeur, and power, that no national affair of consequence was transacted without its assent: for in this case the Saxon annals are very plain,


that none else were admitted into this electoral convention, but the nobility and the liðrmen of London.

After the death of Harold, the nobility, assisted by the citizens of London, sent messengers to Hardacanute, (son of Canute, by Emma, relict of Ethelred) then with his mother at Bruges, in Flanders, intreating him to come over and receive the crown.

Upon the demise of Hardacanute, another general council of the clergy and people, held in this city in , Edward, surnamed the Confessor, son to Ethelred the , was chosen king through the address and influence of earl Goodwin. In another great council held in London anno , ships of war were ordered to be fitted out, to protect the coasts against the Danish piracies.

From the account given in Stow's Annals from Marianus, of the contests between earl Goodwin and king Edward, it appears that the Earl had a house in ; and that, after he had assembled a fleet and army in , he sailed through on the south side, for the purpose of attacking the royal fleet, then consisting of sail, and lying at .

His armie,

says the historian,

placing it selfe upon the bankes side, made shewe of a thicke and terrible battayle:

but the great men on both sides interfering, to prevent the effusion of blood, an accommodation was effected, and Goodwin was restored to his former honours and possessions. of the last acts of Edward's life, was the rebuilding of , which he designed for his sepulchre; and on the completion of the Abbey church in , he summoned a general assembly to meet at London, to increase the solemnity of its dedication. His decease, within a few days afterwards, led the way to the accession of Harold, earl Goodwin's son, who had sufficient interest to prevail on the assembly which Edward had summoned, and at which all the bishops and great men of the kingdom were present, to elect him for their sovereign, though in opposition to the superior claims which hereditary descent gave to Edgar Atheling.

The decisive battle of Hastings was the end of the Saxon monarchy in England, which had continued for more than years. London had now attained a considerable degree of consequence, and from this period we may justly consider it the metropolis of England.


[] Hist. Eccles. lib. ii. ch. 3. Bede's words are, Londinia civitas est, super ripam praesati fluminis [Thamesis] posita, et ipsa multorum emporium populorum terra marique venientium.

[] Hist. Eccles. lib. ii. cap. 5.

[] Sim Dun. Hist. Brayley's London, i. 104.

[] Spel. Con. An 833.

[] Hist. of Eng. i. 84.

[] Asser. and Sax. Ann. page 255: Henry of Huntingdon says but 250 sail, p. 348.

[] Asser. Flor. Wor.

[] Chron. Sax. A. D. 894.

[] Brompt. Chron. A. D. 945.

[] Brompt. Chron. Leg. Adel.

[] Chron. Sax.

[] Ibid.

[] Chron. Preci, A. D. 1000.

[] For the payment of the Dane-gelt, every hide of land in the kingdom was taxed twelve-pence yearly; and as the whole number of hides was computed to be 243,600, the produce of the tax, at one shilling, was 12,100 Saxon pounds; which was equal in quantity of silver to about 36,540l. sterling, and equivalent in efficiency to about 400,000l. according to the present value of money. At different periods, Dane-gelt was raised from one up to seven shillings the hide of land, according to the exigencies of the government, or rather, to the rapacity or generosity of the reigning prince. While the Danish visits were annually repeated, the Saxon sovereign could put little into his coffers of the surplus of the tax, as the whole, and sometimes more, was expended in fighting or bribing the invaders; but when the government of the country became Danish, Dane-gelt became one of the principal sources of revenue to the crown. Edward the Confessor remitted it wholly, but it was levied again under William the Norman and William Rufus; it was once more remitted by Henry the First, and at length finally, by king Stephen, seventy years after the Conquest.-Henry's History of Great Britain, Vol. I and Rapin's Hist. Vol. I p. 119, note.

[] Chron. Sax.

[] Brayley's London, i. 109.--This is the first coronation ceremony recorded to have been performed in the metropolis.

[] Rapin's History, i. 123.

[] Maitland, ed. 1739, p. 26.

[] History of Lambeth.

[] Chron. Sax. Maitland.

[] William of Malmesbury and Matthew of Westminster affirm, that he was beheaded in the king's palace, and that his body was cast out of a window into the Thames. Brompton says, that his head was fixed on the highest gate in London by Canute's order; Henry of Huntingdon says, on the highest tower in London.-Vide Rapin.

[] Chron. Sax. A. D. 1036.

[] Flor. Wig. Chron. lib. 2. Sim. Dunelm. Hist. A. D. 1039.

[] Stow's Ann. p. 121

[] Ibid, p. 122.

This object is in collection Subject Temporal Permanent URL
Component ID:
To Cite:
TARC Citation Guide    EndNote
Detailed Rights
View all images in this book
 Title Page
 Chapter I: History of London and its environs, from the earliest period of authentic record to the defeat of the Britons by Suetonius
Chapter II: Historical account of Roman London, with notices of remains discovered.
 Chapter III: History of London from the departure of the Romans till the time of the Conquest
 Chapter IV: History of London from the Conquest to the reign of Henry the Third
 Chapter V: History of London from the reign of Henry the Third to the reign of Edward the Second
 Chapter VI: History of London from the reign of Edward the Second to the reign of Richard the Second
 Chapter VII: History of London from the reign of Henry the Fourth to the reign of Edward the Fourth
 Chapter VIII: History of London from the reign of Edward the Fourth to the reign of Henry the Eighth
 Chapter IX: History of London during the reign of Henry the Eighth
 Chapter X: History of London from the reign of Edward the Sixth to the accession of Elizabeth
Chapter XI: History of London, during the reign of Elizabeth.
 Chapter XII: History of London during the reign of James the First
Chapter XIII: History of London during the Reign of Charles the First
 Chapter XIV: History of London during the Commonwealth and the reign of Charles the Second
 Chapter XV: History of London during the reign of James the Second