In and Out of London Or, the Half-holidays of a Town Clerk
Loftie, W. J.
IN the two previous chapters I have endeavoured to give some account of the City in the time of Henry V. and his immediate predecessors and successors, and also of the manners and customs of the people by whom it was inhabited. In the following pages I propose to conclude my account of London four centuries ago by a few extracts from its history under the rule of the family which it is usual now to call that of Plantagenet, a name which would scarcely have been recognised by any of them. It is not on record that any king ever used the name.
Henry II., who ascended the throne in , was the first of the family to reign in England. He had an hereditary quarrel with the citizens. It was chiefly, if not altogether, owing to their election of King Stephen, whose right to the crown was of the faintest kind, that Henry's mother, the Empress Maud, was kept out of her just inheritance; and he was not likely to neglect such a good excuse for plundering the wealthy burghers. We are not surprised, therefore, to find that a contribution of 1,000 marks was exacted in . A mark is the third of a pound, and a pound then was worth nearly £20 now. Again, they had to pay the same sum in , and in the following year, besides a contribution of £666 13s. 4d. towards the expenses of Henry's expedition to Ireland.
And Henry's extortions are only a specimen of what London had often to endure from his descendants. On the other hand, the citizens obtained from the needy kings grants of privileges and exemptions from service, which laid the foundation of their subsequent liberties. One curious consequence of this relation between the kings and the London merchants was, that those sovereigns who had no hereditary right to the throne were generally the most popular in the City, because they sought to strengthen their position by conciliating the powerful and wealthy citizens. So that those kings whose title was worst were generally the best sovereigns, or at least the best liked in London; and
|this we find to have been especially the case with Henry IV., Henry V., and Richard III. It always seemed that those kings were the strongest who supported the privileges of the City, and that the best hereditary right was not sufficient to counterbalance neglect of this principle. The weakest were those who, like Henry III., Richard II., and Henry VI., notwithstanding the prestige of a lengthened succession in their family, were induced to build on their hereditary rights, instead of preserving their personal popularity. The success of Richard III. was wholly owing to recollection of this fact; and, indeed, the same may be said of Edward IV., who, although his right to the throne was undoubted, lost no opportunity of strengthening his position in the affections of the London people. And I must not neglect in this place to mention that, according to many authorities, it was by grant from Richard III. that the chief magistrate became a Mayor.|
We cannot obtain a better idea of the relative positions of the King and the citizens, than by seeing how Henry III. treated them during the mayoralty of Sir Thomas Fitz-Thomas, who was elected to that office in , and again during each of the two following years. He was a bold man, and opposed the oppressions of the Court with all his power. For this he is maligned by the contemporary historians; and it is not easy to discover his really brave and noble conduct under the accounts they give of him. In Henry paid a visit to the
City; and, seated in state in St. Paul's Cathedral,
he received the unwilling homage of the citizens, to
whom his visit boded no good. |
to quote from the Chronicle,
Sir Thomas is not the only mayor who is said to have spoken such words as these to his sovereign. A similar expression is to be seen on the monument of Alderman Beckford, in the Guildhall. He is said, but on questionable authority, to have spoken thus to George III.
Henry was deeply offended at the mayor's speech; and when, in the following year, the citizens again elected Fitz-Thomas, he determined to humble them by force of arms. It seemed to him a thing not to be borne that they should be able to call their earnings their own, or to elect again a mayor who had so deeply insulted their king as only to promise him obedience during his good behaviour! He therefore called to him at Windsor all the earls and barons whom he could persuade to support his cause; and pronouncing the citizens his foes, he prepared to besiege London. They in the meanwhile, knowing the King's ungovernable temper, and knowing, moreover, that they could not but lose in any
|struggle with so powerful an adversary, determined to throw themselves on his mercy, and make the best terms they could.|
The King's terms were very hard,-they were to surrender to him unconditionally. This they at length agreed to do. The agreement was drawn up and sealed, and now Henry showed his real designs. He summoned the mayor and principal citizens to Windsor, offering them letters of safe-conduct, which, as you will see, he had not the slightest idea of observing. When they reached the castle, late on a Sunday afternoon, he kept them waiting until the evening, when he sent them a message that he could not see them until the morrow; at the same time they were invited to enter, and were lodged in what is now the Round Tower or Keep. There they waited that night and the following day till evening, when they were separated and put into different prisons within the castle. The safe-conduct went for nought.
In the meantime the King and his knights started for London, where the citizens, suspecting nothing, were awaiting the return of Fitz-Thomas and their other friends. The King called them all his enemies, and, riding with his soldiers through the streets, treated them as if he had conquered them in war and by force of arms. He immediately seized violently no fewer than sixty houses of those who had offended him, and gave them to his own followers, turning the unhappy inhabitants out-of-doors. He then went on through the City to the Tower, and
|appointed the constable, Sir Hugh Fitz-Otes, or Otho, to govern London as warden or seneschal, suspending the office of mayor altogether.|
When the unfortunate deputation had been imprisoned at Windsor for about three weeks, they were liberated-all, that is, except five, who were detained there for nearly three months, and only set at liberty when the citizens had paid the enormous fine of 20,000 marks, equal to not less than £100,000 of our money. Besides this, the prisoners were obliged to make over their lands and possessions to the King, who granted them as he pleased to his knights. These citizens were always afterwards known on this account as the disherisoned, or those whose inheritance had been taken away.
Henry continued to govern the City by wardens for five years, much against the will of the people, who demanded only Sir Thomas Fitz-Thomas for their ruler, and who were therefore constantly in hot water during the time the wardens continued to hold power. They at that time called themselves by the proud name of and in those hanging days showed no slight amount of courage and constancy in the cause of their rights and liberties against the usurpations of the Court. But now a new actor appeared on the scene. Gilbert, third Earl of Gloucester, of the Clare family-like his father Richard, second Earl, and his grandfather, one of the famous Magna Charta barons-had always been attached to the popular
|cause in the civil commotions of the reign of Henry III. He went by the name of the on account of his hair or of his armour, or possibly of both. Just at this time he had raised a force in support of the barons against the King; and having been summoned by the Pope's legate, who then resided at the Tower, to answer before him for disturbing the peace of the kingdom, he came indeed, but brought with him his army, and took possession of the City. He then set himself to bring the government into better order, and if possible to make peace between the King and his subjects. His notions of justice were peculiar, and his method of carrying out his decrees rough and ready. Certainly he seems to have been at least impartial, and many stories have been told of his summary mode of dealing with all disturbers of the peace. He caused daily proclamation to be made against acts of depredation, and did not spare some of his own soldiers who had been concerned in a fatal quarrel with certain of the citizens; he had four of them tied hand foot and thrown headlong into the Thames. Eventually a peace was patched up between the King and the citizens; and Gloucester's rule in the City, after having lasted about six weeks, came to an end. It was this same earl who was Montfort's friend, and who afterwards, by his timely action and decision, secured the succession of the Crusader, Edward I., during his absence in Palestine, on his father's death.|
Early in , Henry III. renewed the City charter, under certain conditions. What became of Sir Thomas Fitz-Thomas is not ascertainable. He had probably died, either during his confinement or soon after. In a list was made of those banished during this contest, and his name does not occur among the number.
This is only one example of Henry's method of treating the Londoners. They were objects of continual persecution on his part, chiefly because of their wealth, and the jealousy with which they guarded any encroachment on their liberties. The King was in continual pecuniary difficulties. The expenses he incurred by his lavish gifts to the needy foreigners who came over to England with his wife, Eleanor of Provence; and especially to her uncle, Peter de Savoy; coupled with his own reckless profusion and the great buildings which he erected- including his palace at Westminster and the Abbey there-all caused him to seek any method of persuasion or oppression by which he might obtain money. During some of his periodical difficulties he was advised to sell his jewels, which were of great value. he asked. " was the reply. he cried in a fury, It will not, however,
|surprise us to find him thus complaining of poverty when we remember some of his extravagances. Thus in he spent on the buildings at Westminster upwards of £40,000 in modern reckoning; and in he assigned £2,591, equal to about £50,000 modern, which was due to the treasury from the widow of one David, a Jew of Oxford, to the building of the Abbey.|
The most remarkable events in the City during the reign of Edward I. were connected with the Scotch wars in which that king engaged. On August 23, , Sir William Wallace, who had been brought from Scotland a few days before, was hanged at in ; his body was quartered, and his limbs were sent to different Scotch towns, while his head was placed upon London Bridge. A little later in the same year, Fraser, a servant of Wallace, and two other Scotch knights, were executed in the same cruel manner, the body of Fraser, however, being burnt; and in the following year another unfortunate Scot, the Earl of Athol, shared the same fate. Nor did. Edward's severity rest here, but in , shortly before his own death, a brother of Wallace, together with two brothers of Robert Bruce, were hanged at the same place and under similarly barbarous circumstances.
London was always deeply interested in the wars. The money with which any expedition was paid for came out of the pockets of London merchants.
|Nor was this the only reason for their warlike spirit. We find that almost all the armour, which was then so important a means of defence, came from the City. On hearing of the invasion of Louis the Dauphin, in the early part of the reign of Henry III., the merchants sent the King 60,000 coats of mail. The citizens themselves were-all, at least, who could bear arms-accustomed to martial exercises, and took part in most of the expeditions to France under Edward III. and Henry V.; and in the wars of the Roses they were equally active, either on one side or other, or else in their own defence. Thus, during a meeting of the heads of the rival parties, attended by a large number of followers, order was kept in the City by the mayor with 5,000 men, completely armed, whilst three aldermen watched with another force of 2,000 during the night. Of all the City companies, that of the Armourers was of the most importance, and even the great Edward himself was a member of it. Every king of England since his time has belonged to some City company. Edward's French wars were always popular in the City, and the armourers no doubt derived the greatest benefit from them. Iron in those days came from the hills and valleys of Sussex and Kent, which were full of small furnaces for extracting the precious ore from the red earth. Remains of their shallow pits and burnt-out fires are often met with; and it may be of interest in this place to mention that Walter the Smith, otherwise known|
|as Wat Tyler, of Hilliard, who, in the early part of the reign of Richard II., headed the Kentish insurrection, was one of these iron-founders. Perhaps also we may note here, that the dagger or sword in the City arms, generally supposed to have been granted by Richard to Sir William Walworth for his assistance in putting down this rebellion, had been there long before, and perhaps referred to past services of the citizens in furnishing arms; or more likely to St. Paul, the City's patron saint, whose emblem it was. When the Black Prince and his prisoner, John, King of France, made their public entry into London after the battle of Poitiers, in , we read that the London authorities met him at Southwark, gorgeously apparelled, and conducted him in state through the City to the Savoy; but the most remarkable part of the show on that occasion was, not so much the tapestry hanging from every window, the showers of roses, or the sanded streets, but the extraordinary quantity of arms-bows, arrows, spears, and swords-exhibited by the citizens in token of their warlike proclivities. It was at this time that Sir John Picard, the mayor, entertained four kings-namely, those of England, France, Scotland, and Cyprus-at a banquet in the City.|
During the reign of Edward III. cannon were first used, and a manufactory established in the Tower by the King, for powder for his engines,-
In we read of saltpetre and other ingredients being purchased,
Edward seems to have superintended this and all other preparations for his expeditions himself; and to this fact we must attribute in a great measure his success. There is a curious story of his unexpected return one day from Ghent, where he had been with his army. He found to his surprise that the Tower was unguarded, the constable being and the deputy absent, as well as many of the inferior officers. In great wrath he sent for the mayor, and charged him, as he valued his head, to arrest and bring before him that same night nine persons who had neglected their duty, and whose names he gave him. They were immediately arrested and given up to the King for punishment- all but one, Sir John de Molins, who took to flight. To those who surrendered Edward acted with great moderation. They were imprisoned for a short time, and then pardoned; but we may be sure they never again obtained employment in any situation of trust. He acted quite differently towards Sir John de Molins. His flight was attributed to a consciousness of having committed treason, and, by the King's decree, his goods were confiscated without delay. A large quantity of treasure which he had laid up at the Temple in Fleet-street was immediately seized. About the same time the King paid a sudden visit to St. Alban's Abbey, as he had reasons for suspecting the complicity of the abbot in Sir John's disappearance. Edward obliged the
|frightened monks, who, it seems, had heard nothing of the occurrences at the Tower, to open all their secret recesses and places of concealment. The abbot showed him all without reserve, except one room, which he declared was fastened up. asked the King. replied the unconscious abbot. " said the King; and sending for a smith, he had the lock broken, and seized a large treasure.|
A terrible tragedy took place in . The circumstances are singularly illustrative of the manners and superstitions of the times. Henry VI. had been from his childhood weak both in mind and body. He was now nineteen years of age, and, his health not improving as he grew older, a rumour was spread abroad among the common people, by which it was insinuated that some of the King's relations were anxious to shorten his life, in order that they might themselves reap the advantage of succeeding him. By the arts of Cardinal Beaufort suspicion was directed to the Duke of Gloucester, who was Henry's uncle, being one of the sons of Henry IV. He was accused of various treasonable crimes, but the Cardinal failed to substantiate his charges. He determined, however, to obtain the destruction of the Duke, with whom he had been long at open feud. The means he adopted gave him, as a cardinal and a bishop, the greatest advantage in the contest. He fixed upon the Duke's wife as the object of persecution.
She was accused |
by which was meant witchcraft or sorcery, together with a charge of heresy and treason.
It was alleged that, in conjunction with a priest named Bullingbrook and two other men, together with a reputed witch named Margery Jordan, she had caused a waxen figure resembling the King to be made; that the conspirators intended, by placing this figure, after certain magical ceremonies, in front of a large fire, to melt it by degrees; and it was stated, and fully believed by the great majority of the people, that, if she had been permitted to treat the effigy in this manner, the King would have also wasted away and been consumed gradually. She was brought up at Guildhall and tried, with her alleged associates; and full confirmation of her crime was extorted from Bullingbrook, who, probably in hope of pardon, deposed that the Duchess had consulted him on certain questions regarding her own fortunes, and had asked him to discover
This admission was supposed to point to her desire of the crown for her husband: after a short trial, however, she was acquitted of the treason, but found guilty of consulting with the sorcerers, and condemned to do public penance and to suffer a lifelong imprisonment. Stow gives the following account of the manner in which her penance was performed:
-the position of which landing-place is still marked by Swan Wharf, where the river-steamers land their passengers--
On the following day, the 18th, the unfortunate Bullingbrook was dragged to , and, notwithstanding his confession, was hanged and quartered, having first, on his way, standing on a high scaffold in St. Paul's Churchyard, abjured
The unhappy woman Jordan was at the same time burnt in , whilst the Duchess was banished to the Isle of Man, and remained there in perpetual imprisonment until her death.
Shortly after these events, Henry married Margaret of Anjou, who siding with the Cardinal against Gloucester, the Duke's destructionwas finally accomplished.
|In he was arrested at Bury St. Edmund's, and murdered the following day in prison. Some accounts, however, relate that his death was caused by disease, aggravated by the excitement of his arrest. As if to justify the Duke's enemies, his servants, to the number of five, were condemned to death, and really hanged at , care being taken that their ropes should be cut so as to avert their death, and their pardon was produced at the same moment. It shows the barbarity of the times, that these unfortunate men, who had committed no crime, were stripped of all they possessed, their very clothes being taken from them by the hangman and his assistants.|
I have already spoken of Crosby House; and in my account of St. Helen's I shall have occasion to speak of it again. In it was laid one of the last scenes in which the expiring race of Plantagenet took part. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, youngest brother of Edward IV., resided here in , and here, a little later, he accomplished the deposition of his nephew, the young Edward V. Hall, the Chronicler, from whom Shakespeare has adapted the story of his "Richard III.," narrates the circumstances very fully.
Thus Richard gradually matured the plans which he had formed, and mounted the tottering throne. It is curious to remark that, even if the family of Edward IV. had been set aside, Richard would not have been the next heir, but Edward Earl of Warwick, the son of his brother George, Duke of Clarence. This unhappy boy spent almost all his life in the Tower. The accession of Henry VII. brought him no relief. He was the last male of his house, and in shared the fate of so many of his family.
After this time Crosby Hall was inhabited successively by many eminent persons; and it is not a little curious to find among the number
the patroness of Ben Jonson, and, through him, possibly of a more famous person than either-William Shakespeare, who had a house nearly opposite in the same street, and who had no doubt many opportunities of studying here the scene of his great historical tragedy.