THE BRITISH MUSEUM
Great Russell Street, London, WC18 3DG.
UPPER LEVEL, ROOM 41. SUTTON HOO & EUROPE AD 300/1100
The centuries AD 33-1100 witnessed great change in Europe. the Roman Empire broke down in the West, but continued as the Byzantine Empire in the East. People, objects and ideas travelled across the continent, while Christianity and Islam emerged as major religions. By 1100, the precursors of several modern states had developed. Europe as we know today was taking shape. Room 41 gives an overview of the period and its peoples. its unparalled collections range from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea, and from North Africa to Scandinavia. The gallery`s centre piece is the Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk. one of the most spectacular and important discoveries in British archaeology.
Daily 10.00 – 1730hrs
Most galleries opened until 20.30hrs Fridays, except Good Friday.
Closed 24, 25, & 26th December, 1st January.
Be aware that some galleries maybe closed for maintenance or long-term refurbishment.
Admission is free, but, exhibitions have a charge.
The Museum has catered for the disabled.
tel +44(0)20 7323 8299 for any enquiries of this nature.
There is a restaurant and cafes within the museum.
There are several shops in the Museum.
There are several shops with the museum, each selling items of different themes.
Holburn 500m. Central & Piccadilly lines.
Tottenham Court Road 500m. Central & Northern lines.
Russell Square 800m. Piccadilly line.
Goodge Street 800m. Northern line.
1. 7. 8. 19. 25. 38. 55. 98 242. Stop on New Oxford Street.
10. 14. 24. 73. 134. 390. Stop northbound on Tottenham Court Road.
Southbound on Gower Street.
59. 68. X68. 91. 169. 188. Stop on Southampton Row.
There are bike racks inside the Museum gates on Great Russell Street.
Santander Cycle hire
The nearest docking station is just outside the museum gates on the corner of Great Russell Street and Montague Place.
Remember the Museum is in the Congestion Charge Zone, which operates between 07.00 – 18.00hrs Mon – Fri £11.50p per day.
Parking there is little on-street parking. The nearest car park to the Museum is located at Bloomsbury Square, WC1A – 2RJ.
Disabled parking – There is limited parking in the Museum`s forecourt for visitors.
Tel +44(0)20 7232 8299 at least 24hrs before your visit, you will be asked for the registration number, make and model of your vehicle and the date of your visit.
MUSEUM OF LONDON
150, London Wall, London, EC2Y-5HN
web-site www.museum of London
Here there are Anglo-Saxon/Englisc artifacts and history.
10.00 – 18.00hrs daily
Closed 24 – 26th December.
RESTUARANT AND CAFE
These are both within the museum.
A well stocked shop within the museum.
There is a car-park below the museum, do not forget the Congestion Charge.
Liverpool Street & Thameslink Farringdon Station.
Nos 4, 8, 25, 56, 100, 172, 242, 521.
there is a Santander cycle docking rack nearby.
ANGLO-SAXON/ENGLISC HISTORY OF LONDON
ROMAN LONDON 67 B.C. – 410A.D.
Two thousand years ago London was really British. In the year 67 B.C., few if any foreigners lived in it. Whatever faults it may be said to have possessed, it was decidedly British.
A pleasant little town. There was not much more than three hundred acres/121ha of it. Directly north of the Thames all that was London stretched between two slopes that might almost have been called hills. The river Fleet coursed down one and the Walbrook down the other side of these hills, both eventually joining the Thames. They still do so after two thousand years, but is has to be underground.
The Fleet and the Walbrook have long since emulated the Styx of ancient times. Perhaps they, too, eventually find their way to the abode of the terrible god Pluto? If they do, it is noteworthy that they discharge a timely office on the way, for both serve to keep the foundations of St. Paul’s Cathedral in a moist and therefore satisfactory condition. It will be a sorry day for Wren’s masterpiece that witnesses the diversion or the dry-up of either of them.
At the time this story begins both rivers were full of trout. it may have been a trifle marshy on the banks, but there is reason to believe that the general statements about pre-Roman London (so far as its bogs are concerned) have been some what exaggerated. It is more likely that the subsoil was chiefly sand and gravel resting on the firm blue London Clay. There is geological evidence of this.
The little town occupied a splendid position. Nobody could have been credited with enough foresight to point to it and prophesy that one day it would be the metropolis of the western world (1930s), but it must have appealed to Britons as having considerable natural advantages.
Actually it took very little sailing-time to reach the fine estuary that faced the Continent – that faced the whole wide world. it seemed to those simple souls that all the world lay somewhere outside the great estuary of the Thames. The land lying directly about the estuary was probably higher than now. How much higher is a matter for conjecture, but geological evidence points to considerable subsidence during the centuries.
The tides may not have come up very far. Chelsea Reach, for example, was probably not affected by tidal changes. The river at that point was quieter altogether.
Fish abounded in it. For that matter, fishing was profitably indulged in up to the time of the Stuarts. Fishing craft, as well as humble little huts on the river-side, must have presented a picturesque appearance with woods and patches of furze dotted here and there in irregular profusion.
The Walbrook, or Waelbroc, rose in Shoreditch and emptied itself into the Thames at Dowgate, slightly west of where Cannon Street station now stands. Its course was not much more than a couple of miles/kms but it brought a fair amount of water, particularly as tributaries from Moorgate flowed into it somewhere south of Finsbury Circus. Another rivulet crossed the site of Coleman Street. Still another flowed between Cornhill and Gracechurch Street, bisecting the actual line of King William Street. such names as these were not then known; they are given here as a guide to the mental eye.
The Tyburn must have flowed even in those days. It rose in Hampstead. After coursing over Belsize Lane, slightly west of where King Henry’s Road now is, it crossed Avenue Road to Acacia Road. It then flowed along Upper Baker Street and continued somewhat irregularly until it crossed Oxford Street. It then proceeded down South Molton Street, over Piccadily, across Green Park and so to the Thames. To Londoners of that age it must have been a mere country stream – but there it was and its waters were sweet and good to drink.
The Westbourne also rose in Hampstead. It crossed Edgware Road, spreading into a shallow bay-water. Hence Bayswater. When Hyde Park was made, the Westbourne was dammed up to form the Serpentine. It still leaves the Park underground, crossing under Kensington Road at Knightsbridge and falling into the Thames at Ranelagh Sewer.
The Fleet and the Holebourne (meaning the stream flowing in a hollow) were perhaps better known. The Fleet flowed between the sites of St. Pancras and King’s Cross stations, along Farringdon Road. It joined the Thames at Blackfriars.
The actual names of these rivers appear for the first time at various periods in London’s history. It is quite impossible to say when they were so named, or by whom. On the other hand, their antiquity can hardly be doubted; for this reason they are mentioned here as being part of the natural scenery of London two thousand years ago. They still exist, but only as subterranean streams.
Why London was so called is one of the difficult points about it to decide. To suggest that the Romans called it Londinium, and that subsequently we altered it to London, is not enough. Neither is it in accordance with fact. It is certain that London had a name long before the Romans ever set foot on British soil, but what, exactly, it was called is not easy to determine.
In any event it may be taken for granted that London is neither a variation nor even an abbreviation of Londinium. The word is probably old Celtic, once spelt Londinion. Londinium would be natural pronunciation for the Roman to adopt. They would call it that almost unconsciously.
In an effort to establish a Celtic origin for the name of our capital city it has been suggested that the word was once Llyn-din; llyn to mean a lake and din a fort. Apart from the fact that London had no lake (though it may have possessed a fort), llyn is a modern Welsh word. It is hardly reasonable to conclude that modern Welsh was the general language in London two thousand years ago.
Another derivation suggests that lon is short for longa, which in Old Celtic meant a ship. Don was taken to be dunon, meaning fort. If that was so the Romans should have made Longodunum out of it, or something very similar. The lake-fort idea would have resulted in Lindodunum.
There is an Old Celtic adjective having the meaning of fierce or, better, commanding. That word is Londos. London could owe its name to this word. Whatever may be the truth of this, the Romans would no doubt have latinized the name as they found it when they arrived here with Julius Caesar in 55 B.C. They were not the inventors of the word. How long Britons had lived in their little town before the coming of the Romans must ever be a matter of discussion. It is therefore enough to mention that Pytheas, the Greek explorer, who (according to his own account) traversed the whole island about 300 B.C., said he liked the people he met in Britain, particularly the Cornish.
Some of the later Greek geographers doubted the word of Pytheas, and suggested he did not traverse anything like the whole of Britain on foot. Neither did they credit his accounts of what he had seen. Pytheas, however, declared (amongst other things) that he found the Britons civil and ready to trade. this would seem to suggest that our forefathers in those remote times were not as uncouth as some historians have led us to believe.
It is very probable that London was a prosperous centre long before the Romans arrival, as the British had been trading with the world outside, with trading with such things as tin from Cornwall, copper from the Orme in north Wales and flints from Grimm Graves in East Anglia and much more, Tacitus who in 61 A.D., that London was an important centre of commerce, implying that trade was well established for some time, the Romans had come over the make use of this especially the grain for the empire.
At all events it is quite certain that in 55 B.C. Julius Caesar found enough to interest him. He admired the granaries in Kent and the state of the corn. also he complimented Britain on the solidity of its buildings, which he considered equal or even superior to those he had seen in Gaul. no doubt he handled our gold coins up to 120 grains. That they represented considerable purchasing power must have been obvious to him.
Moreover, Caesar considered Londoners well dressed, a little addicted to using woad-stain, perhaps, but not otherwise amiss. This is saying a good deal, because Caesar himself knew something about fashion. He was pleasurably surprised to find people wearing quite good linen, warm wool for the winter, and leather garments decently cut with buttons as fasteners.
British tankards, bowls, and cups, beautifully ornamented and in bronze, were in common use and would seem to point to at least an elementary culture.
The farmers of the district were evidently flourishing. Caesar observed cattle and livestock generally on his way to London. He had already admired the ships, even though he was annoyed by the fact by the fact that they were too lofty to be comfortably boarded from the decks of Roman galleys; but ships having sides of a foot/.30m thick, and of good British oak, were not to be despised. Caesar further noted the use of iron bolts and nails. Some of these vessels must have been two hundred tons/203.210kg at least; as many as a hundred and twenty men could be taken aboard in case of hostilities.
Caesar’s first landing in Britain occurred on 26th August, 55 B.C. It has been said that he had heard of the excellence of British oysters, which have been found within the Roman Empire, farmed from the rivers of the Thames estuary.
His first coming was obviously a visit to obtain some idea of the nature of the country as well as to estimate the strength of such opposition as he was likely to encounter, we must remember that British troops had been coming over to Gaul to help their friends in the fight against the Romans, so it was in the interest of the Romans to stem this tide of help. He may not have been surprised that he found Cassivellaunus more than a match for him. At all events, he hastily retired. his second attempt, the following spring, met with better success. It was on a larger scale altogether. This time Caesar brought five legions and two thousand cavalry for the project his flotilla of eight hundred ships doubtless presenting an imposing appearance. Most of these ships were shallow-draft barges constructed for the purpose during the previous winter.
Caesar says very little about his experiences until he reached the Thames, where he observed the Britons massed on the opposite bank. This was barricaded with long wooden pikes. By questioning prisoners-how he managed to understand them has always remained something of mystery-he discovered that similar pikes were secreted just beneath the water. despite this, he crossed and proceeded towards London by a commercial track eventually to become famous as the arterial Watling Street.
It is indeed unfortunate for us that Caesar did not leave a closer description of his activities or of what he saw. As he came over Shooter’s Hill towards Greenwich he must have had a very fair view of the estuary which, at high tide, probably appeared to be a wide stretch.
He did observe that there was, as far as he could tell, only one place where he might safely ford the Thames, but that ‘only with difficulty.’ He must have guessed that there would be several places higher up the river, but if the country was really marshy as some have thought it to have been he may have decided not to risk taking an army further west. also the question of opposition in the woods by those who naturally had knowledge of them may have been a deterrent.
Exactly where he forded the river has been the subject of discussion. Halliford, Sunbury-even Kingston, Petersham, and Brentford, have been suggested. Sunbury was a guess on the part of Napoleon and may be dismissed as unlikely. It is much more probable he crossed quite near Westminster, because it is on record that a ford existed there in Mediaeval times. furthermore, relics of various kinds have been found there. Skulls of the British and Roman type, as well as implements of warfare and part of a Roman military boot, suggest a skirmish of some kind.
Ii is more then probable Caesar’s own engineers built the first permanent bridge over the Thames. Caesar himself has left no record of having done so, admittedly; on the other hand, he rather fancied himself and considered it dissonant with Roman dignity to proceed over a river by any other means.
At all events, that was his attitude when he crossed the Rhine. He has described the building of the Rhine bridge, which he completed in ten days, quite fully. Fully for him, that is. Caesar was not a man of many words if they had to be written words. After his army and accoutrements had safely passed over he ordered the bridge to be destroyed. If he could build a bridge the Rhine, which at that particular point must be more than double the width of the Thames at Westminster or Chelsea, surely he would not have thought twice about bridging the British river with only half the amount of water to deal with?
At this point we can leave him-the more so as he left Britain, never to return. Before departing he imposed a tribute, but whether it was ever paid seems doubtful. Strabo says it was, but others disagree with that view. Hostages were held against default, a fact which might or might not have been a deciding factor in the situation.
Life was not held in too high esteem in those days. If we are to believe Strabo, customs on imports and exports were demanded and paid at most Gallic ports.
After Caesar left it was a case of Britain for the British. No Roman set foot in this island for ninety years. Caesar could not, in his wildest dreams, have considered the campaign a success, but it is a wonder he did not make a third attempt to bring Britain within the sway of the mighty Roman Empire, for he was then at the apex of his career.
He seems to have spent his time busily. The year 46 B.C., has come down to us as the longest on record on account of Caesar’s having inserted sixty-seven extra days into it so that the calendar should synchronize with the sun. the year was known as the Year of Confusion. Even so, as Caesar and his friend Sosignes argued, it was a deal better than continuing as they were, which meant postponing the vernal equinox from March 25 to about the middle of May. Whether the year 46 B.C., had 432 days in it so far as London was concerned is not easy to say, but it is quite likely that some sort of adjustment was made.
There was a humorous side to it. July was named after Julius Caesar; August was so called after the Emperor Augustus. Caesar lengthened July to thirty-one days, which resulted in Augustus subsequently lengthening August to thirty-one days. He said he objected to Caesar’s month being longer than his. Consequently February had its twenty-ninth day abstracted so that August might be the same length as July. This accounts for the fact that July and August are the only successive months of the year having thirty-one days-and that to satisfy the vanity of Roman Empire.
The next visitor from Rome to London was the Emperor Claudius who had good reasons for completing what Caesar had left undone. Claudius was a genial soul, quite unlike most of his predecessors. He hated warfare and preferred to preside over administrative councils.
Unfortunately for him, his predecessor had left him a bad legacy. Caligula was hardly sane. He had already lowered Roman prestige in London by a strange military action. He had landed a large army on the coast of Gaul, only to withdraw it again seemingly without reason. It is almost certain that if tribute had been paid by the people of London in the past it was then withheld. Britons decided to risk such consequences as there might be from default.
Roman Emperors in those days were expected to be war-lords and to live in uniform, at least during certain seasons of the year. Claudius hated uniform and had no interest in visiting camps for purposes of inspection. The rough legionaries-the Tommies Atkinses of the period-had in consequences no great use for Claudius. Even Caligula-mad though he was-used to show himself a soldier by turning up occasionally in military attire. From all accounts he presented a grotesque appearance, but the legionaries forgave him that. They probably extracted a certain amount of amusement out of him.
The legionaries themselves would have been content with an occasional inspection of the frontier camps. Most of them were too comfortable to require to be moved. On the other hand, high military officials had expansive ideas for the Roman Empire. Claudius was accordingly pressed into doing something definite.
If Claudius had any private reason for sending an army to Britain it was to suppress the Druids. For some reason he hated Druidism, which had by that time spread to Rome. A State reason was undoubtedly that some of the British Princes had been amassing considerable wealth. Prasutagus, King of the Iceni and husband of the notorious boadicca, was one.
When it was known at the camps that Claudius was really in earnest, and that sixty thousand men were to be sent to Britain (which was reputed to have an appalling climate) there was very nearly a mutiny. Claudius made no attempt personally to smooth matters out. That delicate task he turned over to the veteran Plautius, a general deeply respected by all ranks. Plautius did what was required and appointed young Vespasian-later to be himself a Caesar in Rome-as his second in command. They sailed and eventually reached London.
Not without opposition, of course. Plautius and Vespasion each took one side of the Thames and sat down to wait. The campaign deteriorated into a miserable guerilla warfare. Nothing particular exciting happened until the revolt of Boudicca in 62 A.D., when London and Verulam (St. Albans) were burnt out.
From London’s point of view one of the spectacles of the project was the entry of the Emperor into the town. Claudius set the fashion in male attire immediately he appeared; Londoners had never seen such a purple cloak. Neither had they beheld such uniforms. They could not all expect to dress in the purple of an Emperor of Rome, but they admired the colour and subsequently learned how to strike variations of it for their own private use. The pageant was staged to perfection and made a deep impression.
Where the final battle to effect into London was actually fought is difficult to say with certainty. It is, however, quite certain that the Romans camped between the Fleet and the Walbrook-in other words, upon the site of St.Paul’s Churchyard. Wren came upon what may have been relics of the Roman army some centuries later.
After Queen Boudicca’s unfortunate affair and subsequent suicide, (she and her daughters were raped by Roman soldiers after the death of her husband as came to take their claim of the wealth of her husband, she was rightfully angering with her treatment and looked for revenge until on this, taking suicide on her utter defeat by the Romans, Claudius at the time was up at Angelsey destroying the Driuds). London enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity. Roman rule had its disadvantages, but there is evidence that Londoners made strides in trade.
It is difficult to give a clear account of anything that happened between Boudicca’s death in 62 A.D., until the close of the third century because no classic writer mentioned London or its people. By piecing together such geological evidence as is available it seems safe to say that London town was at that time very little larger than Hyde Park and not unlike it in shape. Fifty thousand souls must have been the full population.
The walls were erected after the sack of London by Boudicca. The north wall probably ran along the course of Cornhill and Leadenhall street. Another ran from the site of the Tower to Aldgate, bending round by Bishopsgate, when it ran east to St. Giles’s churchyard. Here it turned south to Falcon Square ; to the west by Aldgate round the site of Greyfriars towards Gilspur Street ; then south to Ludgate and down to the river. Pieces of the wall are still to be seen in various parts of the city. London Stone, near Cannon Street Station, is generally supposed to have been the centre point from which distances were measured Wren, however, thought it to have been part of some statue or ornament in the Forum.
In times of peace London went about its daily business with a good will. Large supplies of food and milk arrived daily at one or other of the gates, and were probably put under examination before being allowed to proceed although under military rule, it is true to say that London was by no means a military centre, more like an administrative centre-the Civil Capital of the Roman Province of Britain. This meant more than south-east Britain-at least, it did by the time Hadrian built his famous wall from the Solway to the Tyne. The country had been divided much the same as what the BBC had divided up into regionals, with London being the chief centre of administration.
At the beginning of the fourth century the Emperor Diocletian, realizing that the cost of living in London was extraordinarily high, (very similar to today in 2018) contrived to spare little time from his favourite occupation of harassing the Christians and devoting himself to standardizing prices of commodities, settling wages, and other such matters. The list of his findings was exhibited, but that seemed to be all. It was found to be impractical-not to be wondered at, seeing whence it came-and was eventually ignored ; but during the reign of Constantine the town of London as a commercial centre was particularly active.
The Roman occupation of London lasted sufficiently long to seem to each rising generation to have existed always. Londoners must have learned, almost in their infancy, to respect the Prefect who was at the head of affairs and directly responsible to the Emperor in all matters affecting the place and its people. Their fathers, at all events, entertained a healthy respect for the Quae-stores, who collected the taxes with untiring energy and regularity. Some of the money thus collected was handed over to the Aediles, who maintained the public buildings and looked after the roads. There is no doubt that a road-fund existed in Roman times.
The Praefectus Vigilum was the Chief Constable. The Praefectus Annonae was the Director of Food Supplies. The latter probably had his offices not far from Ludgate, the gate leading out of the western side of the town. It may have been nothing more than a postern, but the Ludgate was a strange-looking erection. The image of the Celtic god Lud, no beauty, was permitted to decorate it. Whether the Romans admired him or not is, of course, not on record. Perhaps the fact that they allowed him to remain there instead of replacing him with a mercury or an Apollo proves they did.
The Romans were a clean people. The Britons were probably not. Baths were built in several parts of the town, the largest of which was the one near Ludgate. It is quite likely that, at first, Britons regarded these baths as a luxury rather than as a necessity, but there is no doubt that the Romans taught them a good deal in elementary hygiene. A Roman bath still exists in Strand Lane.
The Streets of London at this period were extraordinarily narrow. It is difficult to reconcile a sixteen-foot/4.8m way with the type of building that evidently was erected. Sixteen feet/4.8m seems narrow indeed when one thinks of the height of some of the better buildings. It has been proved that the height was not inconsiderable.
To cross the bridge into London from the Surrey side a few years after the Roman occupation must have been interesting. There was much to see. A temple, here and there, to Diana or Apollo ; a forum ; a good theatre ; possibly an acropolis. These must have stood out against some of the immature constructions remaining from earlier times.
Villas near the river, with their reddish-brown tiles, warmed the scene in the light of the setting sun. some of these houses were worth a visit, those of the richer merchants being resplendent with really beautiful mosaic floors. On entering a man’s dining-room one would find that the floor offered a fairly good representation of the god Bacchus riding a tiger. such things were common.
If we are to believe the tradition of St. Peter’s, Cornhill, it was possible to attend divine service at a Christian church in the year 179-to wit, at that same St. Peter’s Cornhill. It would be safer, however, not to believe the tradition. It is doubtful whether Christianity was represented in London much before the end of the third century.
So far as St. Paul’s is concerned, tradition has it that the earliest building on the site was a Roman temple dedicated to the worship of Diana. It is more than likely that a temple did stand there, particularly as it was a suitable height between the rivers Fleet and Walbrook, but there is no direct evidence in favour of the theory. Historians have referred to a certain bishop, Restitutus by name, who converted this temple into a Christian church but, again, there is nothing definite to relate regarding him.
The custom of early to bed and early to rise was one which the people of London followed closely in those days, particularly in the winter when use had to be made of every scrap of available light. Perhaps street-lighting was allowed ; if so, by oil lamps. Bronze lamps have been found during excavations at most periods. Some are of considerable size and capable of producing a fair light. Tallow candles were used by the poor.
We are left in ignorance of the furniture of the period. Nothing in the way of chairs or tables have survived. Bronze bells and ornaments have been found in plenty. Also a quantity of pottery. Red glazed-ware, probably sent over from Gaul ‘ knives, spoons, and two-pronged forks ; silver plate ; boots and shoes without heels ; jewellery.
Amusements were naturally simple and elementary in appeal, but there does not seem to have been much dancing. The Romans either considered it undignified or else barbaric; probably both. Whether plays were popular at the amphitheatre excepting in the summer would seem doubtful. It could hardly have been possible to heat the building. The theatre, by the way, stood between the town walls and the Fleet inlet.
House-heating was affected by hypocaust, an invention ascribed to Sergius Orata about a hundred years before Christ. It was used in Italy for heating baths. Probably in London also. Romano-British houses of the better type were not considered complete without a workable hypocausis. This was an external furnace capable of driving hot gases through flues in the walls. Sometimes they passed to a central flue from which branches led to subsidiary flues built into walls. The flues were composed of tiles, and the system can be accurately described as that of central heating. The resultant smoke was reduced to a minimum, but as the furnace chimney could not have been high there may have been smoke nuisance. Even so, we may conclude that there no London fogs in those days, though mists may have been common near the river at certain times of the year.
In the summer Roman London was delighted. A walk along the banks of the Thames meant disturbing beaver and bittern. If Londoners required a little mire excitement, a picnic in St. John’s Wood or on Hampstead Heath, walking out at Ludgate and past the cemeteries, might have resulted in an encounter with wild boar, even wolves.
In the sweet air of the early morning one could walk along to Chelsea Reach and watch salmon being caught. For a few pence one could purchase trout and ensure an appetizing breakfast. To walk home along the open Strand from which the view to the southward was as attractive as it was extensive, the hills of Surrey standing out in clear perspective; to wander along the pretty lane of Fleet Street which led down a gentle slope past the River of Wells; to enter the town itself through Ludgate, past the Temple, the Forum, the Theatre should have been an aesthetic pleasure. London certainly possessed all the charm of a prosperous country town.
Upon the reoccupation following the sacking by Boadicca, which was only effected gradually, a general scheme of reconstruction on more ‘modern’ lines was thought out. Naturally enough Londoners wanted to build new London of stone to replace the beautiful and imposing buildings they had learned to love.
Britons and Romans were enemies no longer. They had shared common adversity. There may have been private indignation amongst the British residents when they thought of all that had caused Boadicca to revolt, but so far as their homes were concerned – and home interests have ever been deep interests – they were no worse off than the Romans.
When it came to putting ideas into actual practice it was found that there was a serious shortage of stone. The nearest quarries were at Merstham in Surrey; the next nearest were those at Maidstone for Kentish rag. Nobody had the heart, much less the money, to venture to send to either place for material wherewith to build their new homes and public places. There was too much danger in leaving the district. Rumours were abroad that life and limb were not safe anywhere.
There was only one remedy – to improvise brickyards locally. Brick earth was to be had in plenty; thus new London was chiefly brick-built. Stone saved from former wreckages was used for important buildings which were thus faced, but London was otherwise a brick-built town.
Londoners were disheartened. Even the Roman survivors seem to have given up all thought of beautifying the town as only they knew how. The common sorrow and misery may have brought Britons closer to those whose fathers had conquered their fathers, but no doubt they thought, with embittered feelings. of the Londinium of earlier days. It could hardly have occurred to them that Britannia ruled no waves, though it may have been recognized that Rome was still the hub of the universe. These were days when early Britons first became mellowed with classic Latin, when rich colours from foreign lands first delighted a simple people.
Roman rule was not without fault in many ways. Even so, at the best it was better than anything we had known. Hatred of foreign military domination had its counterpart in love. Many Romano-British marriages may have been happy enough. If the children featurally resembled their Roman fathers they may have been dark, with blue but more often brown eyes. If they resembled their British mothers they invariably had fair hair, and eyes as blue as the sky reflected in the clear waters of the Thames.
Then came the days when Rome herself was in peril. In 407 the legionaries were recalled from Britain. when Roman administration had gone there was nothing to take its place. Many wives had to part from their husbands; others, more fortunate, were allowed to go to Italy to begin life over again.
Once the native element was free, Roman laws and customs – to a certain extent the language – began to disappear, but Londoners could never forget the Romans. Too much remained, even now, of which full use was still made: roads, bridges, lighthouses, drainage works, fortresses.
Christianity had come. A few enthusiasts thought it had come to stay, but in 303 a desolating persecution under Diocletian unnerved every one. St. Alban was the first martyr, at Verulam, a place ever to be called St. Albans in memory of him. In 314, however, Britain boasted its own bishops at councils on the Continent. The Council of Arles was attended by the Bishops of London, York, and Lincoln. The Church in Britain assented to the findings of the Council of Nicea in 325, and British Bishops were present at the Council of Rimini in 359.
Never in its history was Britain so unsafe, so open to foreign attack. Never was London, as an administrative centre, so helpless. for generations no Briton had been permitted to raise a finger in the government of the land or its capital. It naturally followed that there was now nobody capable of doing anything definite. What happened was only what could have happened under such conditions; Britain, like an uncared-for rose, began to slip back to type. The old tribal instincts had never really died, because such things are of the blood and take ages to suppress.
As it turned out, there was not time in which to degenerate in this fashion for the next few years. London was to live through exiting times. Even so, it is a wonder the Romans did not make a more lasting impression on the inhabitants of Britain, if only on account of their having ruled for so long a period.
Britons may not have been impressionable in those days. At all events, the history of our race points to a systematic rejection of Latin influences, unless introduced by Englishmen. Sir Christopher Wren brought about a renascence in architecture based directly on Romanesque lines. It was accepted because he did it, but Romanesque architecture has never been popular outside London. So far as the larger provincial towns are concerned the natural tendency has been to revert to Gothic, especially in ecclesiastical architecture.
Wren brought London of 1700 nearer in appearance to Londinium of 400 than it had been for a thousand years. He built after what he called ‘the good Roman fashion.’ Had he lived in Londinium, even ten years after the Romans had left it, he would have found much with which he agreed professionally. On the other hand, he would have found it anything but Roman in thought. Half a generation after the Romans went back to Italy the native instincts of all true Britons had reasserted themselves. Times were rapidly changing.
ANGLO-SAXON/ENGLISC LONDON 410 – 1016A.D.
Obscurity envelops London and doings of Londoners practically from the hour the Romans left it until the coming of Augustine. We must be content to regard the town as Romano-British with less and less accent on the Romano and more and more on the British as the years rolled on; but when the Saxons came it was still a Romano-British army that fought them.
The Latin language was certainly no longer a barrier. The Britishers probably regarded the Romans who remained much as we regard the Welsh in these days. While we have not the slightest objection to their Celtic inflection, we instantly complain if they conduct their conversation in the actual Welsh language. It must have been the same with the British and Romans in those days. The Romans might speak British/Welsh with a foreign accent, they might even occasionally postpone their verbs to the end of their sentences, but so long as they did not expect the natives of Britain to talk Latin, all was well.
In the absence of ‘news’ all we can do is to suppose that Londoners jogged on as best they could do for the next few years. Such men as wee sufficiently capable must have made a show of taking responsibility, but I think it is true to suggest that the difficulties of government were great. Had the people been assured of peace they might have found a way to prosperity, but, unfortunately, peace in those days was a rare condition.
The British King Vortigern (whom the Romans seem to have called Guorthigirnus, and who occasionally referred to himself in legal documents as Wrytgeorn) seems to have made a brave attempt to keeping some sort of order. Hardly had he settled himself on his throne, so to speak, when news came that the Picts and Scots were about to invade his territory. Realizing the strength or, perhaps better, the weakness of his army, Vortigern called in the help of the sea pirates Hengist and Horsa, described by Bede as ‘Jutes belonging to a tribe’ from which Jutland takes its name.
Calling in sea-pirates seems to us to be a doubtful measure. Probably it seemed so to Votigern, but, from what I can make out from contemporary accounts, there was no choice in the matter. Something had to be done, and done quickly. The project, as a matter of fact, was a decided success. The Picts and Scots were made to behave themselves. Contemporary accounts say that the pirates were duly thanked for their services and given Thanet as their reward. It is also referred they were quartered there.
This seems to me to be rather strange. Why should they have been quartered in Thanet whilst in operation against northern enemies? It appears to be true, however, that neither Hengist nor Horsa were satisfied with Thanet. They quarrelled with Vortigern over Kent. When he refused to present it to them they annexed it with an insolence that may not have surprised him. His view was that it was almost as bad to have them there as the Picts and Scots. Horsa was eventually killed. Hengist, according to the Saxon Chronicle, reigned in his stead until 488. In Historia Brittonum it is stated that Vortigern married Hengist’s daughter, but that is the only authority.
The Saxon conquest followed. The coming of the Saxons is no part of the history of London, for which reason an account of it is withheld here. It is sufficient for the purpose of this book to make some attempt to describe London under the Anglo-Saxon system, the basis of society.
It will be appreciated that the majority of folk lived on the land in those days, including many actually resident in London. The beginning of the Saxon system seemed fair enough inasmuch as every one was treated more or less alike. Each family was given a hide of land, about forty acres/16 ha. Families of one kin formed a mark or township, so called from the tun or enclosure surrounding any group of dwellings.
Several townships formed a hundred. Several hundreds formed a shire with an independent organization. A system of shires formed a kingdom. The Kingship was elective, but nobody unable to prove direct descent from the god Woden was chosen. How such genealogy was established is a question to which I have not been able to find an answer.
Londoners in Saxon times belonged to one of three classes. Of these the highest were the Eorls, or nobles. Directly below them were the Ceorls, a class of simple freemen. They were quite distinct from the Thralls who were nothing better than slaves. Every Ceorl, as a freeman, was a full citizen and was privileged to have a voice in the assemblies and an independent share of the land.
The Thralls had no rights whatever. Their lot was indeed a poor one. Even the Serfs, a class that grew up between the Thralls and Ceorl, had a better time inasmuch as they could till the land for their own benefit, even if they could not actually own it. The Serfs ultimately became a large and not unimportant section of the community. As the population increased so it was found necessary to increase this class which had to learn to support itself.
The plan worked admirably. The Serfs kept the land of their lords in good condition, grew vegetables for their own purpose, worked for a little money on special schemes which the owners of the land might have in view, and made themselves generally useful. They were favoured by law inasmuch as they could claim protection of their masters. The privilege meant much to them.
The most praiseworthy quality about the Saxon system lay in the fact that a man might work and get on in life. This may not have applied to the Thralls or slaves; one fears they remained more or less as they were, but it was possible, in London especially, for an ambitious Ceorl to climb the social ladder.
A Lord in those days was a loaf-giver. The term lord means that, the Anglo-Saxon word being Hlaford. Each of these lords collected a band of followers whom he called his Thegns and whom he fed, lodged, and clothed; also he paid them for various work they did on his land.
The Thegns rather fancied themselves. In course of time they managed to form a clique of their own. They were made to take responsibility in their work, and were indeed lords of all they surveyed in their own particular branch of their over-lords’ property. The consequence was that, in Alfred’s reign, any Ceorl who managed to acquire five hides of land became thegn-worthy, and leased further land from one of the nobles. Success in this direction might further mean that the Thegn, in course of time, became eorl-worthy, and was at last ‘somebody’ in Saxon society. The Thegns were undoubtedly the nouveau riche of those days.
London prospered under the system. Acquisition of land in the near vicinity lad to the formation of little townships that ultimately became suburbs. It should be interesting to Londoners of the present day to know how many districts in and around the metropolis existed in Saxon times.
Wimbledon, seems to have thrived in very early days. It was the scene of a battle between Ceawlin, King of Wessex, and Athelberht of Kent. Athelberht was the aggressor and also the sufferer: he only just escaped with his life.
Wimbledon, as a word, had undergone several changes in spelling, but the original form was probably Wibbandun, In Domesday it is mentioned as forming part of the manor of Mortlake. Its further history shows that Henry VIII in a generous mood settled it for life on Catherine Parr; Queen Henrietta, wife of Charles I, also possessed it for some time. It was incorporated in 1905.
Woolwich existed in Roman time. Edward the Martyr made some sort of grant of it to the Abbey of St. Peter’s at Ghent, about the year 964, by which time it was an attractive little hamlet. A Roman cemetery stood on the site of the present arsenal.
Woolwich grew slowly. Even as late as 1500 it was still a small fishing village, but soon afterwards a dockyard was built there and it became a naval station. Pepys speaks of it frequently, especially when he himself was Secretary of the Admiralty. Ships had been built there, however, since the time of Henry VII. Woolwich did not become a Royal arsenal until 1805.
Hammersmith was once ‘a place with a haven,’ possessing the picturesque and dignified name of Hermondewode. It is to be regretted that the name was not perpetuated, but in mediaeval times it was changed to Hammersmith, the isle of Hame. It was occupied by the Danish invaders of 879 as their headquarters.
From the earliest times the manor of Patricsey, or Peter’s Island, belonged to the Abbey of Westminster. When Henry VIII suppressed the monasteries it reverted to the Crown. We now call it Battersea. Much the same sort of thing to us as Wanstead. Stede, or Sted, is a place.
The change of names has rarely been for the better. I personally, regret Hampstead having been made of the pretty word – Hemstede, meaning a homestead. Also I deplore the fact that Finsbury did not remain Vinesbury, as it once was. Again, the charming village of Syenes suffered when its name became Schene, pronounced Shayn; but it suffered still more when it was transmutted to Sheen. The actual village and district was rechristened ‘Richmond” by Henty VII, who was himself Duke of Richmond in Yorkshire. Charles the First, by the way, was responsible fpr the park.
Acton may have existed in Saxon times, but I cannot find any mention of it. In 1220 the name appears as Oaktown, owing to the presence of an extensive forest in the district. Wandsworth is mentioned in Domesday; it was a hamlet built round the river Wandle, a tributary to the Thames.
Blackheath has considerable claim to antiquity, the more so because it was actually crossed by the Roman Watling Street. Wat Tyler fought there in 1381; Jack Cade knew it in 1450; Charles I played golf on it in 1646.
Even Hendon was known in Saxon times, the manor belonging to the Abbot of Westminster. Finchley is much younger. It seems to have become famous as the haunt of both Dick Turpin and Jack Sheppard. The latter was caught there in 1724, but the district was still dangerous to traverse alone at night in 1800.
Hackney is not spoken of earlier than the thirteenth century, but it existed in Saxon times, a fact proved by the finding of even Roman relics in the Marshes. The word was then Hackenaye or more often Hacquenye. in 1290 the Bishop of London was lord of the manor there. Like Finchley’s, its reputation as a haunt of highwaymen was an evil one.
Tooting is mentioned in Domesday as Totinges. Streatham is, however, mediaeval. There was a medicinal spring at Sydenham in the time of Elizabeth, and a spa, called Beulah Spa, existed at Norwood in Stuart days. That word was obviously Northwood at first. There happened to be a fine forest of oaks there.
Plumstead is practically Roman. The Danes used it as an encampment and for centuries it remained a prosperous little fishing village. Henry VIII, Mary, and Elizabeth were born at Greenwich; Edward VI died there. Charles I lived at Greenwich Palace before the outbreak of Civil War; Cromwell occupied it during the Commonwealth. After the Restoration Charles II pulled down most of the building – all except what was called the Queen’s House. Wren wanted to demolish the latter, but Mary II would hear of it. That accounts for Wren’s having conformed to the design of what was already standing in his time. Greenwich Hospital is now a Naval College. (National Naval Museum)
There is a mention of Rotherhithe in Domesday. It was a once Saxon manor. Putney (in Domesday, Puteles) was included in the manor of Wimbledon. Harold owned all the fishing at Putney. Elizabeth frequently visited Putney Palace. In the garden of the Green Man at Dulwich (a noted hostelry) there was once a spring producing spa-water, but Dulwich itself may have existed in Saxon days. Peckham is actually mentioned in Domesday as Pecheham. The name of Camberwell does not appear in early history at all. Barking Abbey belonged to the Benedictine nuns in Saxon times. It was destroyed by the Vikings in 870.
other districts, not actually known to the Saxons, may be mentioned here in no particular order. Tottenham, visited by Henry VIII in 1514; Kilburn, famous for its tea gardens in 1773 and as late as 1829; Kilburn Priory flourished in 1376; Walthamstow, a pretty hamlet in 1500; Leyton, where John Strype (the famous archaeologist) was nominally vicar under Charles II (he was never actually inducted, it seems); Chiswick, in the wilds of the country in the thirteenth, and Ealing in the twelfth century; Pimlico, named after a rascally Italian tavern-proprietor who made some famous ale there in the days of Charles I.
It is now time to consider some of the interesting personalities who took a hand in affairs from the time London recovered from the sack by Boadicca until the end of 1016 when the Danes came.
The first, and in some respects one of the most commanding, was Athelberht, fourth King of Kent. Bede says his supremacy in 597 stretched over every English kingdom as far as the Humber. The point to relate about him here is that through his influence Augustine was guaranteed a safe passage to Canterbury. Athelberth was also directly responsible for the appointment of the good Mellitus as Bishop of London.
This was important for London, inasmuch as Athelberht and Mellitus between them designed the first St. Paul’s. Unfortunately we know very little about this, the first of three cathedrals to be built on the same site, the date of its completion being no more certain that of its laying foundation-stone. All that is certain is that it passed through many vicissitudes during a life of roughly four and a half centuries. it was destroyed by fir in 1087. What happened after that belongs to French-Norman history and will be related in the right place.
Mellitus was sent here by Pope Gregory who had, for some time, shown interest in the people of England. Gregory was a man of extraordinary insight, and Mellitus was not chosen by him without foresight. As for Athelberht, his reign lasted fifty-six years. Before he died he completed a code of laws to regulate the administration of justice. The document is still in existence and is probably the oldest in the English language.
whether Alfred the Great did very much for London, as a town and as a centre of administration, is not easy to say with certainty. On the other hand, he did so much for England that it seems impossible that London did not benefit. His complete integrity and superb statesmanship (if such a term can be used of such a period) were enough to make him really great. A lesser man might have been dimmed by legend and lore. There has been enough about him to make him to make him as misty as a Greek god. His piety and deep scholarship left a mark on the intellectual section of the community in London inasmuch as he translated most of Bede’s work; Alfred’s knowledge of Latin was in advance of that of any other man of his day. No doubt he would have spent more time in London than he did had the Danes let him. As it was, he was either crushing them or recovering from a crushing of their infliction.
In 959 the Bishop of London was no less a person than Saint Dunstan himself. Christianity had by this time become more or less firmly established, and Dunstan was a great leader of thought. Whether his position as Bishop of London was a political one or not seems to be doubtful, but after his translation to the archbishopric of Canterbury he was easily the most powerful man in the country.
For nearly two centuries Church and State had grown up side by side. Priests of recent appointment were English, no longer Roman. English customs connected with religion were formed and practiced during this period. Fir instance, the season of Yule, an Anglo-Saxon word once connected with a somewhat elaborate festival of sun-worship, has long since been associated with the Christmas of the Church. Until well into the fourth century, January the sixth, the Feast of Epipthany, had been the chief festival in this part of the year. Until the year 354 it had served as Christmas Day, as indeed it still does in the Armenian Church. The Twelfth Night of our own mediaeval days.
The change-over to December 25, the date of the solar festival in Rome before the advent of Christianity, was not made without opposition, nor without suggestions of alternative dates such as November 17, April 19, and May 20.
Christmas in London of Saxon days was a civic as well as an ecclesiastical feast. Even kissing under the mistletoe was a popular custom. The Anglo-Saxon form of a word mistletoe was Mistel-tan. Tan, or teinn, meant a twig; mistel was a diminutive of the German mist, signifying refuse, the connection probably being the slime in the berries.
A branch of the plant was held above the head of the person about to be kissed, the words Was Hael! (Be in Good Health!) being spoken as a sort of half-jesting benediction. The words may be examined with interest. A more modern form of them may be recognized in the now obsolescent wassail. to wassail is to drink the health of some person or cause, especially in the particular type of spiced wine drunk at Christmas in Saxon times.
One of the earliest descriptions comes from the pen of Hengist, already mentioned. He describes a reception given to the King Vortigern whom, as his prospective son-in-law (if we are to credit Historia Brittonum), he had invited to spend Christmas with him. Hengist relates how the beautiful Rowena entered the King’s apartment bearing a wassail-bowl. Dropping on to one knee, she hailed the King thus: ‘Was Hael Hlarford Cyning! In English: Be in health, my lord the King!’
The custom spread but, like all customs eventually adopted by children, it suffered distortion. It soon developed into one of children carrying a wassail-bowl of evergreens, singing carols the while. The custom is still retained in parts of Yorkshire, but the wassail-bowl has become a vessel-cup.
It is doubtful whether the waits sang carols in London so early as this, but the words comes directly from the Saxon wacan, to watch or wake. In the fourteenth century the waits were actually watchmen who sounded the night-hours on a musical instrument. There is an entry in the black book of expenses of Edward IV in which provision is made for a wait that shall nightly sound the watch withyn thysse courte 4 times from Shreve Thorsday to Mychelmas. The stipend for this post was fourpence a day, with a personal allowance of half a loaf and half a gallon of ale. It was not until the sixteenth century that the waits became minstrels instead of watchmen and minstrels combined. There is evidence that in early times, although seriously engaged in sounding the night-hours, the waits were attached to the court in lighter duties. The association of the London Waits (in their pretty blue gowns and red-and-silver sleeves) with Christmas came about naturally enough. Christmas in Elizabethan times was marked by every possible sound of revelling and music-making. In the eighteenth century the waits became much as they are now.
To give the history of Easter as a festival, though interesting in every way, does not lie within the confines of this work. On the other hand, it must be observed that, owing to varying methods of calculation, it was a common occurrence in Saxon England to have two Easters, one for the south and the other for the north-west, including Wales. Thus, in 651, Bede says that Queen Eanfleda was fasting and keeping what she believed to be Palm Sunday in London, while her husband Oswy, King of Northumbria, was feasting and celebrating Easter merely because he happened to be in a different part of the country.
The observance of Whitsun – Hwita Sunnandaeg of Saxon times – was a venture (so far as the Church in England was concerned) at this period. White chrisoms, worn by those about to be baptized – it must be remembered that Whitsun was the fashionable season for entry into the Church – gave rise to the name White Sunday.
Despite the influence of the Church at large, Saxon England was anything but one politically. Neither can it be said that London’s examples were followed to any extent in the country generally. When London exerted its influence it had to be through religion alone.
So that when infanticide and the putting-way of a wife at will was made illegal, it was entirely through the influence of the Bishops who denounced in no uncertain terms both gluttony and drunkenness. Furthermore, they established fasts and forbade Sunday labour. As they had already established strict laws as to behaviour in the London streets of a Sunday it may be said that, on the whole, London was orderly.
Perhaps one of the best moves of all was the full protection of the slave. A slave used to live in fear that his children would be kidnapped and sold. The Bishops now sought to protect him, not only from this but from being himself sold out of the land in which he was a slave. Furthermore, penance was demanded from his master for his murder. Sometimes he was even allowed the right of purchasing his freedom, but I have found no serious attempt by the Bishops to abolish slavery, despite definite evidence proving their attitude towards it.
It is interesting to note here that the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666 were but repetitions of history. In 961 there was a serious outbreak of plague in London, following by a devastating fire. This fire did much damage to St. Paul’s, but this seems to have been repaired at once by citizens who exhibited a marked public spirit.
In 982 another and worse fire occurred. This completely obliterated any Roman features that may have remained in Saxon London. There cannot have been too much time to set about restoring London after this fire, because the history of the town from then until 1016 is little else than a records of raids. Even so, there were good times in the reign of Edward the Martyr, a master hand at converting the prosperity of his reign into personal pomp and circumstance.
It is not certain how Edward regarded Dunstan’s fight with the clergy, who insisted on disregarding the vows of celibacy, but a great deal of publicity was given to the matter at the time. Dunstan was very determined, and London saw a good deal of both him and the King.
Edward owed his coronation to Dunstan. Unfortunately, he was the victim of the perfidy of his step-mother, who was directly responsible for his being stabbed. She wished to ensure the succession of her son, afterwards known as Athelred the Redeless or (more commonly but also more inaccurately) the Unready. The word really means counsel-lacking.
The Danish invasions proved to be expensive for Londoners. Athelred was incessantly badgered by the Danes for the payment of Danegeld, and London was expected to contribute a large share of what seems to have been a very heavy tax. Athelred eventually agreed to a wholesale massacre of the Danes on November 13 1002, the festival of St. Brice. Among the dead was Gunhild, sister of Sweyn, king of Denmark. Her death led to an invasion, first by Sweyn himself, and secondly by his son Canute (Cnut).
The citizens of London were forced to acknowledge Canute. There was no alternative. Their great hero, Edmund Ironside, failed to drive him out, even though he won the first seven battles with no little distinction. The loss of life, it was said, was heavier than in the case of Athelred’s shameful massacre.
Sweyn’s triumph was short-lived. He was actually acknowledged ‘full king of England,’ but died at Gainsborough a week later. Athelred was the invited by the nobles to return from Normandy whither he had fled to be safe. He was informed he might return and take possession of his kingdom, but was given to understand quite plainly that he must govern more sincerely and a deal more justly then he had done in the past. Otherwise no condition were imposed.
A miserable period for London followed. Athelred returned, but the Danish army in England refused to acknowledge him and proclaimed Canute, North of Watling Street the Danes held everything, and Canute was determined to go on. He had no mind to lose a kingdom for the want of struggling for it. Athelred’s timely death more or less put an end to that part of the warfare.
It was then that Edmund Ironside stepped in. The Saxons adored him. He was their hero. They desired to elect him their King, the more so he had twice relieved London from siege. Ironside was willing enough, and proposed to settle the dispute between himself and Canute by a personal duel, but the latter declined, pointing out that he was not of sufficient build and strength in comparison with the sturdy Saxon. He suggested a wiser and better course to be an equal division of the kingdom.
This proposal was hailed with delight by both armies, everybody being heartily sick of fighting. It was thereupon agreed that Edmund should have London and the South, Canute to reign over the North, Edmund, however, died suddenly two months later. Whether he was murdered or not is a mystery, there being even a doubt as to whetehr he died in London or Oxford. At all events, Canute was proclaimed King of England.
Up to now the Danish Prince had behaved as might be expected of a conqueror in those days. Londoners, who had suffered from several sieges at his hands, were consequently disheartened at the prospect of his coming. The misery of the past few years had told upon the residents.
Was London never to be free from raids? There had hardly been time to put the place in order after the fire. Also the mortality from plague, still lingering here and there, was none too comforting. Danish Princess had a bad name in London, and this particular one seemed very powerful. All sorts of rumours were spread in the town. Taxation would be unbearable; trade depression would continue.
Had they known it, they need had no fear. This young man from Denmark – he was only twenty-two – was to be the kindest, wisest, and most thoughtful ruler London had known since the days of good King Alfred.
That there was some reason for doubting him at the outset is plain enough. nobody could swear he knew what happened to Edmund Ironside. He had simply disappeared. On the other hand, there was no possible doubt as to what had happened to his brother Edwy. He had been brutally murdered. Every one knew that. Edmund’s sons had been packed off to Hungary as exiles, together with all nobles Canute had cause to suspect of treachery. It is not to be wondered at if Londoners talked in whispers in their cottages. Walls had ears in those days, and it did not pay to be accused of holding a seditious meeting in one’s house.
So London was sceptical. Then the news flashed across the town that Canute was about to marry Emma of Normandy. That relieved the tension somewhat; Emma was a favourite with Londoners. So that when Canute arrived, and politely requested to be crowned in the English fashion, London offered no resistance.
The climax came when prominent citizens were asked to be present and, more still, when they were offered good government positions by the new king who, it must be admitted, had captured every one by his appearance. On the other hand, it was noted that Ealdormen of royal blood had been removed and nominees of Canute put in their places. Still, what matter? Altogether, they thought, things might be worse. Perhaps they could really look forward to peace and prosperity; perhaps it was at long last true that better times were in store for London and its people.
When Canute appeared riding horseback in the streets of London he found his progress slow, for the citizens thronged the streets to cheer him on his way. Could anything good come out of Denmark? The question was asked often enough those first few days. As a matter of fact, a great deal of good was to come out of Denmark but, later, much that was not so good. At all events, King Canute created a sensation at his coming which, had London only known it, was as nothing in comparison with the profound gloom at his departing.
DANISH LONDON 1017 – 1043 A.D.
National Councils, even if regarded as parliaments pure and simple, would seem comparatively modern in origin. History, however, points to the contrary, for the Witenagemot (pronounced witten-ah-gemoat and often shortened to witan) met regularly in Saxon times. Witan, from witena, signifies wise men; gemot is a meeting. The assembly of the Wise.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives evidence that in the early days of the Witan, that is to say in the seventh century, these councils were attended by all and sundry. Judging from the evidence given they were lively meetings. Every one who had an opinion to express managed to get his say in somehow, even if he were immediately howled down by the rest of the members.
This type of meeting undoubtedly was the survival of the folkmoot (or folkmote) the origin of which is lost in antiquity. All freemen attended a folkmoot, but it is difficult to believe that much business was transacted. By the time Canute came to the throne the folkmoot had become the shiremoot, a sort of county meeting.
The Witenagemot was by no means an assembly of the freemen in general. Quite the contrary, it was not easy to gain election to its membership. A mental qualification (relatively more searching than any similar qualification for parliament in these days) had to be vouched for. To be a member of the Witan one had to be a thinker in Saxon times; one had to be something of a scholar; one had to be a fluent speaker.
The only meeting of this character at which all and sundry might attend were those of exceptional interest, such as the election of a King. Now that England at last owned one monarch the Witan superseded the folkmoot, which was now regarded as unnecessary to the government of the country.
The witan, therefore, must be regarded as the parliament of the age, but it must here be pointed out that it went out of use after the French-Norman Conquest/Crusade. William the Bastard did not approve of ‘assemblies of the wise.’ He considered his own wisdom sufficient for the needs of all men, (he had introduced fully feudalism where he was the only man in charge, like the new church of the Roman Catholic Church which destroyed the English Western Rite Orthodox Church)
While the Witan was in existence it served a good purpose. If the King happened to be strong-minded and forceful in character the Witan hardly functioned at all. If, on the other hand, he was found to be weak and vacillating the Witan bristled up in splendid style and took a definite hand in the management of affairs.
A distinguished Witan existed in the time of Alfred, who held the members in high esteem. Perhaps his Witan was the most exemplary of all time. At all events, he framed his laws entirely with its consent, and after deliberating on even the finest details.
The composition of the Witan varied a little, but it can be taken to have generally consisted of the King and his sons, the bishops and ealdormen, sometimes the abbots, under-kings when they existed, and a number of ministri, or ministers. These last-named were generally the King’s thegns.
There was no fixed place of meeting for a Witan. The assembly met wherever the King happened to be, but it met at least three times a year-more if anything happened to occur.
A brilliant Witan was called at Luton in November 931. Present were the King (Ethelstan), two Welsh Princes, seventeen Bishops, fifteen Ealdormen, five Abbots, and fifteen Ministri.
Great excitement prevailed in London when the news spread that Canute had summoned a large Witan to meet him. It might have been a folkmoot judging by the crowds in the streets of the town. Canute, however, gave strict orders that respectful behaviour was to be maintained, and citizens were permitted to watch the procession of fair-haired officials through the streets. If the day was sunny the sight must indeed have been attractive.
As soon as the meeting opened it was obvious that the astute Canute had nothing to hide. He spoke plainly, but courteously. He told them he wished them to regard him less as conqueror than as a friend. Naturally (he considered) one of the first matters on the agenda must be the settling of the succession of the crown. Once that was over, he thought they could pass on to other and more interesting matters. He continued by an amazing speech in which he discussed the question of the royal succession as though it could not possibly be regarded in any other light than one entirely favourable to himself. In fact he swept the councillors off their feet.
One of them had the pluck to stand up and mention the arrangement that had been made between Edmund Ironside and his Majesty over the division of the kingdom. Canute smiled. That was the very question he was coming to. He thanked the member for reminding him of it. Had anything been done on the matter? Canute knew he was on dangerous ground here. If only a single member had the pluck to say ‘yes’ a hot discussion would have followed, and something would have been said about the sons and brothers of Edmund Ironside. Canute knew how London had adored Edmund and (one suppose) had not forgotten he had refused to meet this Saxon hero in a personal duel.
Even so, Canute waited for his reply, challenging every member to look him in the face. Then one of the members tremblingly suggested that the King should be named the guardian of Edmund’s children. In other words, if King Canute would take the matter into his own hands entirely the Witan would signify their gratitude. Had Canute heard them – perhaps only an hour before – telling each other that this new King would have to be made to understand that Ironside’s children, &c. &c. . . . but there! Canute’s personally had won them completely.
The King now intimated that the Witan would like him to take the oath. Oaths had been taken before, some of them thought. And to what purpose? But could any one possibly doubt the integrity of this handsome young man, who rose with such dignity of grace to swear to rule justly and wisely and, above all, peaceably? Not even the oldest of them could call to mind a similar instance. They listened to him as he solemnly swore the oath, and then waited in silence.
Canute rose and walked round the assembly, smiling at each member with whom he shook hands. ‘Clasping their hands with his naked hand’ is the contemporary account. I take it I may use the more modern phrase.
Canute was certainly a just man. He was kind as far as his Viking blood allowed him, but he was true to his breeding when he saw nothing against having Ironside’s two infants sons, Edmund and Edward, put to death. He would have argued that they might be innocent now but, later on, they might become a menace. It was, however, an act of decency on his part (according to his way of thinking) to have this done abroad rather than in England. He therefore made preparations to send them to Denmark. Fortunately for them, the Swedish King, moved by their innocence and attractive appearance – they were lovely children – sent them to the court of Hungary where he knew they would at least be well looked after, and also safe from Canute. Edmund died early and violently, but Edward married a daughter of the German King.
One of the most interesting psychological studies in the history of England as it affects London is the gradual change of heart in Canute. His worst defect was his hot temper, the cause of more than homicide laid to his account. Neither was he above maiming hostages, a delicate art he had learned from his Viking forefather. So far as London was concerned, Canute came, saw, and conquered.
Once safe on the throne there was nothing of the conqueror about him. Londoners were loud in their praises. He told them over and over again to forget that he was a conqueror and try to remember that he was endeavouring to do his duty as a ruler and advisor. Gradually the people took courage. It was felt that Canute’s presence in their midst added an air of distinction to the town of London. Citizens felt they were being neither degraded nor oppressed, the more so because it was a common sight to see the King stopping his horse to chat to some of his subjects, or to give a coin to a beggar.
The King was, London noticed, gradually displacing Danes and appointing Englishmen wherever he could. When he announced he intended to send the Danish Army home, citizens were simply amazed. He kept a picked guard of Danes and English combined. The few Danes that remained had been chosen by him for their bravery and for no other reason. Any soldier could apply for admission into the King’s guard, but the standard was high.
London was delighted. When Canute appointed Godwin to be Earl of the West Saxons, there were wild demonstrations of joy. Godwin was popular in London. When Canute was asked why he had made the appointment, he replied that it was for no reason other than that he considered Godwin a man of outstanding character. Godwin enters London’s history at a later date.
When Malcolm of Scotland suggested Canute to be a usurper, and that the throne of England belonged to the legitimate heir of King Ethelred, Canute showed his teeth. No doubt he realized that Malcolm was only voicing the opinions of his wife; he knew, of course, that Queen Margaret was the daughter of Edward. All the same, he collected a strong army and settled the matter there and then. There was no further expression of opinion on the part of the King of Scotland.
Once back in London, Canute went on with his work of peace. It was said that the humblest subject, living in a cottage on the banks of the Thames, might call and ask to see the King, and be sure of a welcome.
Canute was musical. Nothing appealed to him more than to have singers round him. Many were the sing-songs of Danish and Saxon folk-songs held at his court. He even wrote lyrics for the composers of the day. His latest poem was always sure of a success. IT was learnt and recited at court before obtaining general vogue in London.
Wrote the King:
‘Merily sung the Monks within Ely’
When Canute the King rowed thereby.
Row, my Knights, row near the land
And hear we these Monks’ song.’
Some one set it to a tune of sorts, and the streets of London resounded with it.
Canute liked the monks and spent much time with them. Their influence on him was wonderfully strong. So much so that he began to think over his past deeds, some of which had been hard enough. As he could not undo them, he set out on a pilgrimage to Rome with a wallet on his back and a staff in his hand. London missed him sorely, but it is on record that London’s loss was other towns; gain. Canute went into every church on the road between the Low Countries and Rome, never forgetting to leave some remembrance of his visit. ‘God bless the King of the English!’ was the saying of the hour.
That he was sincere can never be questioned. In a remarkable letter sent to London from Rome he says:
‘I have vowed to God to lead a right life in all things, to rule justly and piously my realms and subjects, and to administer just judgement to all. If, in time that is passed, and in violence and carelessness of youth, I have violated justice, it is my intention, by the help of God, to make full compensation. . . . I want no money raised by injustice.’
No wonder they thought the sun shone out of him! No wonder they thought he could stay the ebb and flow of the sea! His death on November 12, 1035, cast a deep gloom over the capital of England. Citizens went into real mourning, and many were the tears that were shed as his body passed through the streets of Shaftsbury. He was buried at Winchester.
London had grown considerably during Canute’s reign. Building operations of all kinds had been going on ceaselessly. A tour of Danish London would have taken the visitor some time, even had he devoted his time solely to an examination of the churches. London has always been a city of towers; Danish London was no exception.
Thorough English in appearance must have been St. Dunstan’s, named after the great Bishop. There is evidence to prove that it was standing in 1012. St. Edmund’s was another to remind citizens of past history. St. Mildred’s, Bread Street, and St. Olave’s, Hart Street, were first built in this period. St. Benet Fink (Fink was the name of the builder) was begun if not finished in Canute’s day. It was burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666 and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, but it no longer stands, having been destroyed in 1843 for the Royal Exchange. I give this piece of information with reserve; accounts seem to differ as to when fink actually lived.
At all events, churches like St. Margaret Patens, St. Mary Somerset, St. Mary Woolnoth, or Wulfnoth, with their strange ‘surnames’ (generally after the builder or benefactor), seems to have flourished in Danish and early French-Norman London. As for St. Mary Aldermary, it was then called the Elder Mary Church, a name given to it early in the reign of the Conqueror when St. Mary-le-Bow (so novel with its crypt) caused a distinction to be made between the two churches dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.
Mention has already been made of St. Peter’s, Cornhill, whose traditional founding was believed to go back as far as 179. That, of course, is open to question, but by the time Canute came to England it presented quite a mature appearance, St. Michael’s cannot have been very new-looking; records place it well back in Saxon times.
I hoped (when I began the research for these early chapters) to be able to indicate the dates of construction of many of the city churches with something approaching accuracy. Experience, however, has taught me that safety lies in the discovery of the first mention of a church in historical records and a supposition that it must have been built at least a few years previously. Whereas there maybe an isolated instance, here and there, of a definite date being known of the foundation of a church (such as St. Bartholomew-the-Great, Smithfield – definitely dated 1123), in by far the majority of cases it is difficult to get nearer than half a century.
Even so, it is possible to get some sort of view of ecclesiastical London in the days of good King Canute. Many churches must have existed in his time, or soon after it, there are merely names now. If I only mention those rebuilt by Wren, but no longer existing, it should be enough to show that Danish and French-Norman London must have been a city of spires or, more correctly, one of towers.
St. Christopher-le-Stocks, ultimately destroyed to make way for the Bank of England, was one of Wren’s first considerations merely an account of its importance and antiquity. St. Olave Jewry; St. Dionis Backchurch; St. Mildred, Poultry; St. Michael, Queenhithe; St. Michael Bassihaw; St. Mary Magdalen, Knightrider Street; St. Antholin, Watling Street, were all rebuilt by Wren, but subsequently destroyed (from one cause or another) between 1876 and 1886. St. Michael, Crooked Lane, was pulled down in 1831 to make way for the new approach to London Bridge; St.. Bartholomew-by-the-Exchange in 1841 for the Sun Fire Office Chronologically speaking, to mention St. Giles’s Cripplegate (not a Wren building), is to be slightly ahead of time but, as I am likely to be both ahead and behind in some of those mentioned above, it can hardly matter. The year 1090 is definitely the date of the founding of St. Giles’s. Its founder was Alfune, a man connected in some way with St. Bartholomew’s hospital. The church, now appearing in the late perpendicular style, was extensively repaired in 1360, but was partly destroyed by fire in 1554. It escaped destruction in 1666.
In 1090, on November 16, a terrible gale struck London. Six hundred houses were blown down, some of the wooden structures on the river-side being washed out to sea. St. Mary-le-Bow was entirely destroyed by this gale, but rebuilt soon after. Thus the present church (of Wren’s building) is the third on the site.
Thus far nothing has been said about Westminster. Saxon Westminster was but a slight development of Roman Westminster. In these days it is a city in the administrative county of London, bounded on the east by the city proper, on the south by the river, on the north by Paddington, St. Marylebone, and Holborn, and on the west by Chelsea and Kensington.
In early ties the Thames was bordered by a great fen on both sides. The river actually washed the shore of an island – just where the Abbey now stands. This island was anything from three-quarters to a mile in circumference, and was known as Thorney Island, or the Bramble Islet. Various channels were made by streams from Hampstead, the Tyburn being the largest.
Tradition has it that King Lucius founded a church on Thorney Island about the year 170, but no one of importance in the architectural world has ever given credence to the legend. Sir Christopher Wren was very definite. I here quote his opinion as expressed in a report to the Dean of Westminster (Bishop Atterbury) in 1713. The text of this report appears in full in my biography of Wren. (Sir Christopher Wren, His Life and Times (Methuen, 1932). I quote his opinions here, which I place side by side with what purport to be historical statements. Wren says:
‘That a Temple of Apollo was here in Thorney Island (the Place recently called where the church now stands) and ruined by an earthquake in the Reign of the Emperor Antoninus Pius, I cannot readily agree.’
Further on in the report:
‘To pass over the fabulous Account that King Lucius first formed a little church here, A.D. 170, out of the Ruines of the Temple of Apollo, destroyed by an Earthquake a little before: but it is recorded with better Authority, that Sebert, King of the East-Saxons, built a Monastery and Church here in 605, which being destroyed by the Danes was, about 360 Years after, repaired by the pious King Edgar.’
Wren evidently believed in this latter church, for he continues: ‘This, it is probable, was a strong good building, after the Mode of that Age, not much altered from the Roman.’
Stow says it was erected ‘to the honour of God and St. Peter, on the west side of the City of London.’ There is also a beautiful and splendid legend recording a visit from St. Peter himself at the dedication of this church.
Sebert was a good-living, pious Christian, but his sons reverted to idolatry and left the church to the tender mercies of the Danes. Later, in 785, King Offa of Mercia granted the conveyance of certain lands by charter to the monastery of St. Peter. King Edgar (referred to by Wren) undoubtedly restored the church. It is also supposed that he made some attempt by charter to define the boundaries of Westminster as a district. Roughly, this meant that it extended south from what is now the Marble Arch to the Thames, and east to the city boundary – to the river Fleet, in other words.
Edward the Confessor began the erection of a beautiful new church in 1050. On this point Wren says:
‘King Edward the Confessor, repaired, if not wholly rebuilt this Abbey church of King Edgar, of which a description by Mr Camden was published 1606.’
From what ‘Mr Camden’ says the church was cruciform with one central and two western towers. It was not completed until after Edward’s death, but the consecration was solemnized in 1065. some accounts give 1065, in which case Edward was not present at the consecration as he died on January 5 of that year. Other writers give the year definitely as 1065, from which it may be inferred that Edward saw his Abbey opened for service. It is difficult to decide the point.
This brings up the building of Westminster Abbey to the period under review, slightly ahead of it, in fact. The story of how Edward came to build the Abbey as follows in the next chapter.
Another quite ancient-looking structure by this time must have been the Tower. Even if we do not pay much attention to the possibility of there having been an early Roman fortress on the site of the Tower Hill, we can hardly disregard the Roman work here. In Canute’s days the tower was looked upon as being quite useful in its way, but by no means impenetrable as a fortress. It was garrisoned.
William the Conqueror/Crusader held no good opinion of its invulnerability. it may have been that the Bishop of Rochester (Gundwulf) first suggested to him that the fortress should be added to. Whatever Gundwulf may or may not have been to the Church as a divine, he certainly understood architecture. White Tower stands for ever to his credit. Wren profoundly admired it. He was responsible for a restoration of the exterior.
Wren also affected some repairs to the interior of the magnificent French-Norman chapel of St. John. While his workmen were engaged at the foot of the staircase leading to the chapel, a wooden chest was discovered. This proved to contain the bones of two children, thought to be those of the two princes, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York. A royal warrant (Charles II) addressed to ‘Sir Christopher Wren, Knight, Surveyor-General of His Majesty’s Works, was worded thus:
‘To signify His Majesty’s Pleasure that you provide a White Marble Coffin for the supposed Bodies of the two Princes lately found in the Tower of London, and that you cause the same to be interred in Henry the Seventh’s Chapel, or such convenient Place as the Dean of Westminster shall appoint: and this shall be your Warrant. Given under my hand, the 18th day of February 1674.’ ‘Arlington’
The chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula does not belong to the Danish period; it was not built until well into the fourteenth century. It is therefore somewhat difficult to visualize the Tower as it appeared in the days of Canute, so much having been built on since; but in 1080 the White Tower, just finished, must have been an object of admiration.
The death of Canute caused the greatest confusion and consternation in London. Apart from the fact that every citizen felt he or she had lost a friend, it was generally thought that there would be trouble over the succession. Canute had left the kingdom by will to Hardicanute, his son by Emma. London, led by the Earl Godwin, thoroughly approved. The only feeling amongst responsible citizens was of apprehension, because nobody knew anything about him. Very few could boast they had even seen Canute’s son. Nevertheless, Canute the King had wished him to succeed, and that was enough for London.
Unfortunately, Harold Harefoot (Hardicanute’s illegitimate brother) seemed likely to make trouble. He was very well known as it happened, particularly in the north. In other circumstances Harold might have been welcome in London, but as Canute had expressed definite wishes in the matter nothing more was to be said.
Above all, London was desirous of avoiding civil was in any shape or form. To avoid it, Godwin suggested a perfectly legal course – a reference to the Witan. When the meeting was called nobody seemed to have anything original to say, and it was finally decided to resort to the old division by the course of the Thames. Hardicanute to take power over London and the south. It was pathetic, really. Any suggestion that would keep the peace, no matter at what cost, was put forward for discussion.
While all this was going on the banished Princes, Alfred and Edward, fancied their own chances. Alfred went so far as to land and seek his mother’s help. He was kidnapped on the road and sent to London. Harold personally insulted him, an action that brought him into strong disfavour with Londoners who, in any event, objected to his presence there. The wretched Prince was forced to ride naked to Ely, with his feet tied together under the horse’s body. A mock court, composed of Danes, was set up. As a result of their findings Alfred’s eyes were torn out. Fortunately for him, he died a few days later.
Godwin was blamed for most of this, and there is little doubt that he could have prevented it, but the Witan acquitted him of all complicity or direct guilt, largely because of his allegiance to Hardicanute. Still, for all that, the guilt remained in the eyes of London citizens.
It now seemed as though civil war was inevitable. Judging from contemporary accounts, it would have been possible to have interviewed personally every resident in London without fear of a denial of Hardicanute, so long as the interview took place within the four walls of his house. In the streets, however, there were shouts proclaiming Harold ‘King of all England.’
What about legislative authority? That was the question on every one’s lips. What was the Witan doing? The answer was that the Witan was doing nothing, and Londoners began to feel that their council had very little power when it came to the point.
The fact was that Canute had seen to that for them. His personality had been so forceful – even though so pleasant and reassuring – that the Witan had unconsciously reflected his views. Now he was not there to advise or dictate, nobody felt secure. The Witan, however, held its own in one matter; it refused to sanction the accession of Harold Harefoot. Citizens were heartened by this show of strength, but only a little. Members of the council were pestered out of session hours to do something definite, but such promises as were given seemed to come to nothing at the next meeting. They had lost Canute, and they were feeling the full force of that loss now.
Nevertheless, a profound impression was created when it became known that the Archbishop of Canterbury had taken a definite line. People could hardly believe their ears when assured that the Archbishop had actually refused to crown Harold. Archbishop Elnoth was a strong-minded soul who feared God, but no man. He met Harold with perfect composure. Instead of performing the office of coronation, he calmly produced the crown and sceptre (which had been in his keeping ever since the death of Canute) and laid them on the altar.
‘Harold,’ he said, ;I will neither give them to thee nor prevent thee from taking the ensigns of royalty; but I will not bless thee, nor shall any Bishop consecrate thee on the throne of England.
It must have been a scene worth witnessing. Harold begged Elnoth to reconsider his decision, but the ols man shook his head. ‘No,; said he. ‘I have decided.’ Harold thereupon raised the crown and placed it on his own head. Elnoth left him without a word.
The effect of all this in London was profound. Londoners were expected to own a self-crowned King, a monarch whom the Church despised and refused to acknowledge. Had Hardicanute put in an appearance the tension might have been relieved. They would have fought for Canute’s son. As for Harold himself, he simply vanished. Passionately devoted to hunting, he preferred the country to London. It was said that he rarely needed a horse, so swiftly could he run in pursuit of game. Hence the cognomen Harold Harefoot. Such achievements were well thought of in those days; even so, Harold gained nothing by his powers in this respect.
Hardicanute was in Bruges. What sort or rumour reached him is not on record, but it must have been fairly wild because he began preparations to invade England, despite the fact that he was heir to its throne. Just as he was preparing to set out, news reached London that Harold was dead. Instantly the two factions in London, thankful to have avoided war, in favour of Hardicanute, and a deputation of English and Danish thegns left for Bruges to invite him to ascend the English throne peaceably.
What their opinion of Hardicanute was when they actually came face to face with him has not been recorded, but the shrewd amongst them must have summed him up fairly well. Hardicanute was a hard drinker; his friends were like him. He would come, he said, but they must come too.
There were misgivings in London when he arrived with a long train of Danish chieftains and courtiers, but there was no doubt as to what to expect when it was known that he intended to keep a large standing army composed entirely of Danes. When it was found that he intended to pay for the army by enforcement of the hated Danegeld, there were riots. Things came to a head in Worcester when two of the King’s collectors were murdered. As a revenge Worcester was burnt out and the surrounding land laid waste.
The Church had, of course, acknowledged Hardicanute. He had been crowned with considerable pomp. When the monks found that they had to sell their chalices from the altar to pay their Danegeld, resentment rose to its height.
Nobody regretted the death of Harold, but nobody admired Hardicanute for having his body dug up from its grave, beheaded and thrown into the Thames. Godwin was compelled to assist in the gruesome disinterment – another cause for disgust, because Godwin was still liked in London. Whether it became widely known at the time that the body had been recovered by fishermen and secretly interred in the churchyard of St. Clement Danes in the Strand is not certain, but it has been recorded by early writers.
Godwin now suddenly lost his popularity in London. The old murder of Alfred was now openly flung in his teeth. Had Alfred been alive, he might have been on the throne instead of this drunken Dane, was the opinion of most people. Godwin, by means of his own oath and those many peers, as well as a magnificent present to Hardicanute (who was merely out to gain anything there was to gain), secured an acquittal. Public opinion, however, remained unchanged. Even so, Godwin was yet to be a power in the land.
As for Hardicanute, he devoted himself mainly to eating and drinking. It was said that no two other men combined could eat more or drink more than he could at a sitting. Gormandizing consequently became the fashion of London’s society. Banquets were held night after night in fashionable houses. It was said that the King never refused an invitation to dine out, and that hosts having the honour of entertaining him always provided extra viands.
Table manners were at a discount, seemingly. In place of rules of etiquette a few admonitions occasionally found their way into script. The following extracts are from quite an early source:
‘Byt not thy brede, but breke as myche as thou wilt ete. Do not cram thy cheeks out wyth food lyke an ape. Dry thy mouthe when thou schall drynke. If thou spit over the borde or ells upon it, thou schalle be holden an uncurtayse mon.’
‘Clense nit thy teethe at mete with knyfe, styk or wande, or drynke with food in thy mouthe.’
A little verse on the subject may be entertaining:
‘Not smackynge thy lyppes as commonly do hogges, Nor gnawynge the bones as it were dogges. Such rudeness abhorre, such beastlynes flie, At the table behave thyself mannerly.
‘Pyke not thy teethe at the table syttyne. Let not thyne elbowe nor thy fyst Upon the table whylis thuo etist. Bulk (belch) not as a beene were yn thy throte.
‘Thy spone with pottage to full do not fyll, For fylyne the cloth if thou fortune to spyll. For rudnes it is thy pottage to sup, Or speak to any, his head in the cup. Nor suppe not with great sowndynge, Nother potage not other thynge.’
Whether any of the foregoing applied directly to Hardicanute and his gormandizing friends is hard to say. He reigned if such a term may be used of him, for less then two years. He ended his days as he would have wished. He had accepted an invitation to honour a wedding-feast of one of his Danish thegns at Clapham. The revelry went on far into the night. The King, no doubt feeling it his duty as chief guest, stood up to make a right royal and jovial speech in honour of the occasion, but fell to the ground, cup in hand. He was removed to an adjoining room, but death followed in a few moments. Thus the last of the Danish kings of England died drunk.
No doubt the news was received with anything but regret. For all that there must have been the extraordinary tension ever present at the death of a sovereign, hated or loved. such a tension would exist today. It was felt at the death of Queen Victoria and at that of King Edward VII. Perhaps it will always be felt.
In this instance there must have been more apprehension than usual, because the last of the Danish had gone. Nobody, I imagine, cast back in his thoughts to the bygones Roman London, but the oldest of the residents could recall Saxon London. It may have been that the shrewdest had visions of an English London, with an English King on the throne.
At the best, he was to be only half-English (had they known it) and decidedly French-Norman in feeling. Nobody could have been expected to realize that his accession was the beginning of the French-Norman Conquest/Crusade, but Londoners were ready to welcome almost anybody except a Dane. So passed England into the reign of Edward the Confessor.
ENGLISH 1042 – 1066 A.D
Of the three periods of London’s history reviewed up to this point, it has hardly been possible to call one English. This first was plainly Romano-British, the second was Saxon (even if modified by the prefix Anglo or though they regarded themselves as Englisc, Anglo-Saxon is used by historians and in part French-Norman PR) and the third (owing to the influence of Hardicanute) could only be described as Danish.
Most writers in dealing with the twenty-four years that elapsed between the death of the last Danish King and the coming of the first French-Norman Roman Catholic King, have been inclined to look upon the period as that of a Saxon restoration.
It would be nearer the truth to regard the coming of Edward the Confessor as the beginning of the French-Norman Conquest/Crusade (the real reason for the Conquest/Crusade will be dealt with at the end of this chapter) especially as he nominated the Duke of Normandy as his successor (he may nominate if he ever did so, but it is up to the Witan’s final say as the best man for the position as King which was Earl Harold Godwinson who was crowned King on Epiphany the day after the King Edward’s passing when all the Witan was there for the Epiphany celebration so could make the decision there and then which was for Earl Harold to become King of England not the usurper from France whose liege lord was the King of France which the Northmen swore allegiance too when the took up the land what was to become Normandy which covered the estuary of the River Seinne and thus protected Paris from future raids by fellow Northmen/Norsemen, the same as what the Lady of Mercia did in the past to protect Chester the only difference she new how to deal with them when they broke this agreement she had them slaughtered when they attacked Chester between the two gates of that great city), but I have not pressed that view too far in this chapter, because I found evidence of so much that was unquestionably English. If only on account of Harold’s bringing the period to a close in 1066, I feel English influence to be too strong to ignore. I have therefor decided, with all respect to other views, to regard London in the days of Edward the Confessor, the more unfortunate Harold, (the last Crown King of Orthodox England), as an English London.
Edward had lived in French-Normandy since quite early youth. For this reason it may not have been surprising to Londoners that their new King should be French-Norman in sympathy, or that he should speak a foreign language more fluently than their own. There is evidence that they liked what they already knew of him, but even if it had not been so they must have felt that the Earl Godwin was likely to have a great deal to say in the new government. Every one knew that Edward was Godwin’s nominee.
The general rules of succession had been passed over. That must have been obvious to evert citizen. Rumour had it that there was not much likelihood of opposition from the Danes, who had no great descendant of Canute to propose. Hardicanute’s friends had never been popular, and were now informed that they could do worse than go back to Denmark. London certainly had had more than enough for them.
Perhaps it was fortunate that Edward was in England at the time of Hardicanute’s death. The roystering Dane had sent for him (for some reason best known to himself), and had given him a warm welcome. In what light the simple and pious Edward regarded the Danish King is not on record, but it may be guessed fairly accurately.
Godwin’s position in London had taken a turn for the better, but that murder of Alfred still hung round him. Many citizens refused to have anything to do with him, and awkward questions were being asked. Why was Godwin so much in earnest over Edward? There must be something behind it, was the general opinion. Godwin had changed sides so frequently. Not without success, everyone admitted. Godwin generally suited himself; that was what it amounted to. He had managed to persuade Canute to create him Earl of Wessex and Kent, by virtue of which office he now controlled practically the whole of the south of England.
A fluent speaker, too, London was amazed at his rhetoric. He had spoken for two solid hours at a meeting of the Witan, and had insisted that Edward should be King. A few had murmured against him and were now feeling uncomfortable about it. Godwin had eyed them carefully, and had told his clerk to take their names down. Perhaps they guessed what was in store for them. It was in store for them whether they guessed it or not; every man of them had been marked down for banishment. Godwin spared none. He drove them all into exile immediately after Edward’s proclamation. As for Edward himself, despite what Godwin had done for him, nothing could blot out that murder of Alfred.
It may have been that he had supped of an evening with some of the better-class citizens and had discussed Godwin freely; at all events he distrusted the Earl immediately he heard that his cause had been taken up by him. knowing that Godwin had feathered his own nest by annexing extended territory, fresh honours, and increased general power, Edward imagined he had met a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Godwin, if not actually sheep-like, was certainly lamb-like. He was extremely affable, and took an early opportunity of seeking Edward alone. He knelt before him, swore fealty, and implored forgiveness of the past. He protested his innocence regarding the murder of Alfred. He looked into Edward’s eyes and knew he was looking into the eyes of a weak man. Had it been Canute’s steely gaze he would have looked at the door while he told his lie. Nobody ever lied successfully to Canute.
Edward smiled weakly, and offered his forgiveness quietly and very formally. Godwin knew the value of such forgiveness, but seemed overcome by the King’s clemency. So much so that he declared the one dream of his life to be that the King should marry his daughter Eadgyth. No doubt Edward felt that Godwin, not daring to make an attempt to become King himself, thought the next best thing was to see his daughter became Queen.
Eadgyth – perhaps she might be called Edith – was a beautiful woman, with a grace of carriage greatly admired in London. She was pleasant in manner, cheerful, intellectual, pious, generous. There was nothing of her father about her.
It is amazing that Edward could think of taking to wife the daughter of the man he hated with all his soul. Why he married her has never transpired, for he certainly never loved her. He treated her with complete indifference from the hour she became his wife. Even so, his treatment of Edith was nothing compared with his treatment of his mother, whom he firmly believed to have been concerned in Alfred’s murder. In this instance he made Godwin do his bidding; he, Earl Leofric, and Earl Siward were forced by Edward to disband Emma’s court. This, Edward assured them, was his reply for having been banished to Normandy to languish for want of money.
I have given these details as an indication of one side of Edward’s character, and also to show how London regarded him. The whole affair was, of course, public property. On the other hand, it must be remembered that, ultimately, Edward was regarded by Londoners as possessing sterling qualities. They realized his piety, and knew it not to be an affection. Edward, though morose and inclined to shun society, was at least sincere. Otherwise, of course, he would hardly have been surnamed the ‘Confessor.’
That he regarded his exile in Normandy bitterly is not to be doubted, but he formed a close attachment to those around him there. After all, the French-Normans had been good to him. They had given him food and shelter when his own mother had forsaken him. He went there at thirteen. He was now over forty.
Londoners were apt to regard him as foreign in habit and thought. He seemed to speak French very well and English very badly, a fact that rather turned them against him. Another cause for discontent was the presence of Edward’s French-Norman friends. London was not at all pleased when the archbishopric of Canterbury was given to Robert of Jumieges. Furthermore, English nobles living in London found themselves excluded from court functions. Indeed, it was said that, however good one’s French might be, there was little hope of success at court.
Again, it was noted that Edward used the French-Norman style of writing in all documents. He admitted he preferred it to the English style. The introduction of the Great Seal was his idea also. It was used in place of the English cross.
The general resentment showed how really English London was. The majority those who had sufficient means to be fashionable, when it was found that the were having their tunics, streamers and mufflers cut in the latest French-Norman fashion.
Godwin was outspoken on the subject more than once. It paid him to be. He knew that by displaying a little tact he could win London to him again. He thereupon set his face against everything French-Norman, taking good care to be personally dressed in the Saxon style. He never ceased to vilify Edward wherever he dared, and naturally made much of the King’s treatment of his daughter.
Matters came to a head in 1051 when the Count of Bologne visited the King. A quick-witted man, he noticed favouritism at court the first night he arrived, but he brought himself into deep disfavour by treating with ill-concealed contempt all Englishmen with whom he came in contact.
London watched his departure with no regret. On his return to Normandy he slept at Canterbury, proceeding to Dover the following morning. A mile out of the town he halted, left his travelling horse and mounted a war charger, dressed in mail. His retainers did likewise. The people of Dover were naturally furious at witnessing what purports to be a sort of triumphal entry of a French-Norman count, particularly as they were treated to much uncalled for insolence. When it came to choosing the best private residences in which to stay the night, one of the French-Norman retainers was hurled to the ground by an infuriated householder. A fight ensued and the French-Norman was killed. The Count, on hearing of the incident, rode up to the house with his men, entered, and slew the Englishman on his own hearth. The party then galloped through the streets, striking many of the townspeople with their swords and crushing to death several children.
This naturally led to massed resistance in which the English gave a good account of themselves. Many French-Normans were killed, and Count Eustace was prevented from embarking. He thereupon galloped back to lay his complaint before the King. Edward, believing every word of the Count’s description, ordered Godwin to punish the people of Dover. The Earl, in whose government the town lay, definitely refused. ‘It ill becomes you,’ he told the King, ‘to condemn, without a hearing, men whom it is your duty to protest.’
Edward’s reply was to threaten Godwin with banishment. Godwin turned on his heel and left the King’s presence without a word.
That night he armed. There is no doubt that Edward played his cards exceedingly well. London was the centre of his armed forces, but he kept his court at Gloucester. He was ready for Godwin when Godwin was ready for him. Meanwhile the court became more French-Norman than ever. Duke William arrived on a visit, and was made much of by the King. Londoners had an opportunity of seeing the Duke, who rode in and out of the town daily. They recognized him again, later – when he came as William the Conqueror/Crusader.
The next event of interest for London was the return of Godwin, who sailed up the Thames to Southwark. His popularity returned with him for the officers and men of the royal ships, instead of attacking, went over solidly to his cause. The citizens of London followed their example with amazing enthusiasm, and the cry was ‘London for the English!’
Godwin sent a polite and respectful message to Edward, requesting complete restoration of his territories and honours, promising peaceful submission in return. Edward refused. Godwin had to use all his influence to prevent bloodshed. This he was able to do, and at last Edward gave way. There was a feigned reconciliation, and Godwin was invited to visit the King at Windsor.
It seems that Edward could never forget the murder of Alfred. One night, at dinner, he referred to it. According to Henry of Huntingdon, Godwin said: “O King . . . if I have contributed even indirectly to his cruel fate, may God choke me with this morsel of bread.’ According to the story he ate the piece of bread and was choked. This account, though substantiated by other chroniclers of the period, is hardly good enough to stand. It is, however, based upon fact. Godwin did die at the King’s table, probably of apoplexy.
Thus far, King Edward has not appeared in a very favourable light. On the other hand, it is certain he had much to endure from Godwin. his French-Norman sympathies were hardly his fault. He had been sent to France as an exile when, in these days, he would have been leaving his preparatory school. He had never known family life, much less his mother’s love. He as delicate, even fragile. He was studious, and above all, deeply religious.
It is therefore not surprising that at twenty he seriously considered entering a monastery and forgetting he was heir to a throne. He seems to have altered his feelings – at least, the more definite of them – by the time he was thirty, but he still desired to be left to his religious observances.
Some time during exile he vowed that if he should ever sit on the throne of his fathers he would undertake a solemn pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Peter at Rome. He undoubtedly came to England with that idea in view. Godwin, however, told him that his absence from England might have serious results, and virtually forbade him to go.
Edward, conscientious over a matter of this kind, petitioned the Pope for absolution from his vow. The Pope’s reply absolved him only on condition he built a monastery and an abbey church to be dedicated to St. Peter in Westminster. Edward promised the Pope to do thus, and made the building of Westminster Abbey his life’s work.
Whether there was much of Sebert’s church left, or what the condition of it was , if it still stood, is more than history relates. We can safely disregard the church supposedly built by King Lucius, even if we incline to the view that Sebert built one, and that it was subsequently restored by King Edgar. In any event, we are in complete ignorance as to its form and size.
‘King Edward the Confessor repaired if not wholly rebuilt this Abbey-Church of King Edgar,’ says Wren. I am personally of opinion that he did ‘wholly rebuild’ it, because the Pope asked definitely that a church should be built. Nothing was said about restoring an existing building.
Of the Confessor’s church nothing now exists above ground. Wren says it was cruciform, with a central and two western towers. He further describes it as lofty, vaulted with square and uniform ribs. Also, he considers, there was an apse at the east end. The roof was timber, covered with lead.
Wren points out that these ancient buildings were without buttresses, relying upon the thickness of their walls for strength and durability. The windows, he says, were very narrow and generally latticed. He notes that it was not until the days of Henry III that it became the custom to erect chapels to the Blessed Virgin, but observing that, in his opinion, a chapel did exist behind the altar in Edward’s time. He adds that the foundations of it were ‘under the steps of King Henry the Seventh’s Chapel.
So that, excepting as an interesting point in the history of Westminster, the Abbey Church of St. Peter no longer links it name with that of Edward the Confessor. We are left to imagine him riding daily to the scene of construction, conferring with his master-designers and masons. It is probably true to say that hardly a stone was set in its place that the King had not seen. No doubt the Confessor’s church was beautiful, because it was modelled on the best he had seen in Normandy. Its stained-glass windows, depicting passages in the life of Christ and St. Peter himself, were probably more attractive than some of the appalling glass to be seen in London in these days. It is even said that the church contained ‘a magnificent organ.’ Organs, indeed in the days of English London. Still, it is to be expected that Westminster Church would have the best of what there was to have.
The vestments used are likely to have been really magnificent. Embroidery was an art understood in those days. The procession of priests, with clouds of incense rising to the dim roof, with the choir chanting the purest of plain song, must have created a wonderful scene as they approached the high altar for Mass.
The Abbey was indeed an ornament to what had once been the Bramble Islet. Canute had built himself a palace not far away, its southern windows commanding an extensive view of the Surrey hills. Both Hardicanute and Harold had lived in it in turn.
Apart from the irritation caused by Edward’s French-Norman sympathies, and French-Norman accent when talking, London society was peaceable in these early English days. Everybody had to work hard, because everything was homemade. A man’s wife made every stitch of clothing worn by herself, her husband, and her children. A London business man prided himself that he always looked smart, and expected his wife to be decently garbed when he entertained friends.
Food was to be had in plenty, and was probably cheap. There is every reason to believe that the markets were full of it. They ate more at a sitting than we eat all day; obesity was common, but seemingly admired. Households utensils could be bought in ‘Chepe,’ but they were more often home-made. The average Londoner was good at making most things in common use. He even forged the tools with which he made them.
The only real problem was salt. That had to be bartered for. Nobody could do without it. I doubt if you or I would have relished some of London’s salted meat in the days of Edward the Confessor. Anthropology teaches us that men’s palates change with the passage of time. In English London of the eleventh century, when a man salted his family joint he did not use half-measures. It was salt. Even his barley bread would have dried up our mouths most unpleasantly.
Perhaps the Londoner assuaged what must have been an acute thirst for drinking a tankard or two of mead, pigment, or morat. Mead was generally a home product. It was made from a simple recipe of honey, strongly fermented, and water. Its sweetness may have acted as an antidote to the salt. Pigment was more of a luxury. Made with honey and spiced wine, it left a burning sensation in the mouth. Morat could be really strong. The presence of mulberries mixed with the honey accounted for the fact.
Beef, mutton, pork, gam, plenty of fresh eggs and good butter, as well as fresh fish and most kinds of fruit, were to be found on every citizen’s table. Even the poor fed well.
Where the great difference lay between rich and poor it was the decoration of the houses. In quite early days it was the fashion to spend lavishly on mural decoration. The Romans had taught us to be house-proud. Consequently, the walls of an average London villa in English London were hung with beautiful tapestries, generally of silk, and always strong in colour. An Englishman in London of those days prided himself on buying colours one could see. He had no use for your delicate shades! He was something of a carpenter – a furniture-designer, too. Benches, seats, and chairs were handsomely carved. Tables were often inlaid. Silver and gold inlays were common in the houses of the rich. Also your Londoner knew something about landscape-gardening. If he could beg or buy a piece of stone from a builder, he set to work to fashion a bird-bath, even a statue if his skill warranted it. He went in for shrubs and flowering plants. He found the London clay to suit his roses no less than we have done since.
Mirrors became fashionable in London during this period. Everybody who could afford a mirror for his hall or dining-room bought one, or else the silver wherewith to fashion it. These polished silver reflectors were amazingly accurate. Distortion through faulty craftsmanship was comparatively rare.
rich hangings for the bedroom had been brought in by the Romans. In English London they were highly in vogue, with a tendency to considerable elaboration and strength of colour. The rich washed in silver bowls; the poor were content with bone. Glass before the French-Norman Conquest/Crusade was good and not too clear. After the French-Normans arrived it improved vastly. In fact, some of it was a sort of crystal, capable of being polished to a high degree. About twelve precious stones were known, but these were denied all except the wealthy. If a man stole anything in those days he paid dearly for his dishonesty. There were burglaries of course; fully two-thirds of them were to obtain a gem of some kind.
It was the fashion to take warm baths. The Romans had not come in vain. At this period Londoners, going entirely by fashion and vogue, suddenly became scrupulously clean. Had it been the fashion to be dirty, nothing would have persuaded a citizen to take a bath, hot or cold. Fashion was not merely a Dame in those days; she was a Queen. Cold baths were considered a penance, and the taking of them was often commanded by priests after confession.
Most of the Romans baths were sunk in the floors, but the fashion in English London, except perhaps with those who still inclined towards keeping up what (to them) were old customs, was to use large washing-tubs hung from the ceiling by chains and pulleys. The general custom had a homely touch about it. Two or three people bathed at the same time.
Soap did not come into general use in England until as late as 1824, when the establishment of the Leblanc soda process brought about the manufacture of it on a large scale. On the other hand, Pliny speaks of two kinds of soap, hard and soft, as used by the Germans in the second century. He considers it to have been a Gallic invention for giving a bright hue to the hair. Shampooing was certainly known to the Romans.
Whether soap was used in London by the Romans is not clear. hot sponges and scented herbs were used to ‘rince’ the body, but whether these were ideal as a dirt-remover is another matter. A kind of soap existed in the thirteenth century made from beech ash and goats tallow. Olive oil as an ingredient, so popular today in certain widely-advertised soaps, is not a modern invention by any means. It was introduced into London from Marseilles quite early in the fourteenth century. The real popularity of soap began when Leblanc made caustic soda from common salt. The point is interesting as an example of a common and indispensable commodity being of comparatively recent development.
We now come to the famous year – 1066 in which so much happened in London. On the fifth of it Edward the Confessor died. He had been failing for sometime. Despite absolution from the Pope regarding his proposed pilgrimage from Rome, despite the fact that he had kept his promise to build Westminster Abbey (now consecrated for public worship), Edward felt he must go to Rome before he died. Godwin, it will be remembered, prevented him the first time; now the Witan definitely refused to allow him to leave England, pointing out that he had no children, and that there would be trouble over the succession in the event of his death abroad.
As usual, Edward obeyed. He had none too much strength to spare, and had long given up permitting himself the luxury of losing his temper, but the question of a successor to the throne of England naturally occupied his thoughts a good deal. Plainly, he wanted Duke William to succeed, but realized that French-Norman influence in London had decreased during the past few years.
He then made what at first proved a popular move. An embassy was sent to Germany to invite Edward the Atheling (or the Outlaw, as he was then known) requesting that he might be restored to the care of England. Edward came immediately with his wife Agatha and three attractive-looking children – Edgar, Margaret, and Christina. London literally shouted for joy. The old race of English Kings was to be restored. For years Londoners had sung songs about Edmund Ironside, and how he had fought the ‘Devils of Danes.’ They had never forgotten him. To have his son and grandchildren safely in London was almost mare than they could bear. Edward was thoroughly lionized, we may be sure.
Then it all seemed to go wrong. For some reason Edward did not receive them in his presence. Nobody could understand why. Those who liked Edward sought to defend him by saying he was ill and disinclined for company; those who liked him less said he was guilty of bad form. Before they had sorted out all the rumours it was made known that the royal visitor was dead. A magnificent funeral and burial in St. Paul’s followed, but London was still sorely puzzled. Strange he should die so suddenly; a young man, too! Why did the King not receive him? Something must be wrong. Foul play? Such were the rumours in London.
The suggestions were by no means unconnected with Godwin’s son Harold. Everybody knew he was keeping a watchful eye on events. Was it true that Harold had poisoned the young Prince? Some said yes; others were not so certain. It was never proved either way. Neither is there any reason for us to think that Harold was even indirectly responsible for Edward’s death; the Atheling may not have been as robust as he looked. The event was regarded in London with suspicion, naturally enough; all we can do is to note the fact and leave it at that.
Another point is that the death of the Confessor benefited William of Normandy just as much as Harold himself. If there was going to be any dispute it would be between those two. If the Prince was really murdered – there is no evidence that he was – it may have been at the hands of the emissaries of William and not Harold at all.
At all events there it was, and Edward was very ill. When required to take an intelligent interest in State affairs he was found to be merely childish. Consequently, it was difficult to get his attention when asked definitely to name his successor. That seems to me explain the two accounts by contemporary writers. The Norman chroniclers say definitely that Edward named William. They also declare that, when Harold practically forced an entry into the dying King’s bedroom, Edward spoke very clearly and distinctly.
‘I have bequeathed my kingdom to William,’ he is reported to have said. On the English side the writers are equally definite in declaring that Edward named Harold, and that he told the bishops he considered no one more fitted to govern than the son of the great Godwin.
The point is too interesting to dismiss without a little speculation. Personally, I thinks the Normans were right and the English wrong. Edward never forgot the goodness of the Normans to him in his early life. why should he name Godwin’s son? His own death was so near that he must have decided that it did not matter now how definitely he showed his real Norman sympathies. After having examined the evidence with interest and not a little curiosity. I have come to the conclusion that William of Normandy was the rightful heir to the English throne. That is admitting, of course that the method of allowing, and even expecting a king without personal issue to name his successor is to be accepted. I have accepted the method because is was the custom.
The question is: Would Edward name William, whom he had welcomed as a guest within the last few years, and who was related to many kind friends in Normandy whom Edward still remembered with affection, or would he name the son of a man he had hated with all his soul? The question seems to me capable of one answer only. I cannot believe that Edward named Harold.
If the case is as I have put it, our attitude towards William the Conqueror/Crusader is a mistaken one. The one date in history we all remember is 1066. Most of us, even those who take no real interest in historical matters, know something about the battle of Hastings; moreover, we think of poor Harold falling at his standard, pierced in the right eye by a dropping arrow, and are apt to regard him as one of our own putting up a magnificemt fight against a foreign intruder.
We can still afford to appraise Harold’s personal valour. Neither need we blame him for opposing the foreigner. We should have done the same ourselves in those days. A kingdom at stake has always been good enough. One fights for a kingship. It may have been that there was a doubt as to what Edward actually said. He was known to be childish at the time. If so, it may have been a case of fighting it out. Logical, and not altogether unreasonable, in the human aspect.
The battle at Senlac was a magnificent affair. No one denies that it began at nine and lasted until half-past four without stop. Where we have to be careful is in our judgement of the result. We ought to regard it less a case of the victory over an oppressed Englishman by a domineering usurper than as the defeat of a brave man who thought his chances of a throne were good enough to stake his life on, even if he knew in his own mind that he was not the rightful heir by the laws then appertaining.
That, I feel, is the fairest way to think of Harold. It certainly stretches a point of law in his favour. If, on the other hand, the Norman account is true, and Harold fought with knowledge that he had broken a solemn oath, we must modify our view still more. An oath is an oath. I am not in a position to say whether the story is true or not. I can only give it as I found it in writings of the period. The story is entirely Norman in origin; the English writers do not confirm it in any way.
The story is this: Harold went to Normandy to obtain release of his brother Wulfnoth and his nephew Hakon, hostages for the Godwin family in the custody of William. During a ride with Harold on horseback, William said: ‘When Edward and I lived together as brothers under the same roof he promised me that if he ever became King of England he would name me his successor.’ If Edward promised this to William he was exceeding his right in advance, so to speak, because if had had children there would have been no question about it. The eldest of them would have succeeded. However, William continued: ‘Harold, I want you to help me in the fulfilment of this promise. If I obtain the kingdom by your aid, whatever you wish shall be granted.’
Harold, knowing his life and liberty were more or less in William’s hands, agreed to do what he could. William thereupon proceeded to demand that Harold should fortify Dover Castle and hand it over to him; that he should show his goodwill by marrying William’s daughter Adele; that he should leave one of the hostages he had come over to claim; finally, that he should send his sister over to Normandy to marry one of William’s chiefs.
Harold promised, but William was not satisfied with a mere verbal assent. In those days the only way to terrify a man into keeping a promise was to prevail upon him to swear an oath on the relics of the Saints. That, usually, had the desired effect. Although exposing the real crafty character of the Norman Duke, his own chroniclers describe a scene at Bayeux closely.
William sent to the churches for all the relics of the Saints, which he placed in a large box. He then called a great assembly in his council chamber and seated himself on a chair of State, magnificently clad with a diadem on his head and a jewelled sword by his side. When Harold entered he rose and addressed him.
‘Earl Harold,’ he said. ‘I require you to confirm by oath your promises to me.’ Harold was handed a missal and seeing no alternative, swore. The book was laid down on a rich cloth after the oath was taken. The book was then removed and with it the cloth. Underneath were the relics of the Saints over which Harold Godwinson had sworn away a kingdom.
No English writer of the period gives one word of this. It is entirely Norman in origin. If true, it hardly redounds to William’s credit, the coarseness of the trick being its own condemnation. On the other hand, Harold may have fought at Senlac with a memory of what should have been binding.
If the Norman account is not true we fall back upon the position as the Confessor left it. William was heir to the throne. I regret my inability to discover who first called William by the title of Conqueror. To my may of thinking the title suggests a wrong set of circumstances, even though the actual sequence of events at Senlac makes him the victor of the battle. The fact remains that it does look at though William were merely claiming what was his. The word in those days, meant the Gainer in any event, so that perhaps he may be allowed to retain his title.
He certainly arrived in London as a conqueror/Crusader, even though he delayed his actual entry for a few days after London had succumbed to what would have been an unpleasant siege had there been resistance on their part. William had burned Southwark to matchwood on his way, and had been as far as Berkhampsted to the north, and Sussex to the south, in order to prevent supplies reaching London. There is no doubt that the south of England felt the full significance of the Conquest/Crusade.
Londoners had no reason to be otherwise than proud of the defences against William. They gave in at the last rather than submit to months of siege. They watched with interest and no little disgust some rapid building on what was afterwards known as Tower Hill. No one was allowed to go near the Tower, but it was soon made known that William was encamped somewhere outside the walls and that a fortress was being built for his reception. He was evidently taking no risks. About the third week in December the fortress was ready, and William arrived while London slept. The next news was that he would be crowned in King Edward’s new Abbey church in Westminster on Christmas Day.
Most of London spent Christmas in the streets. Everybody turned out to see the pageantry. The streets of the city – it was not technically a city yet, but the term is not amiss here – and the suburbs, as well as all approaches to the Abbey, were lined with double rows of soldiers. William rode through them, entered the Abbey, followed by priests and monks. A good many English were persuaded to attend. William thought it would look well to be surrounded by his new subjects.
The coronation began impressively, which was more than it ended. At the beginning the Bishop of Coutnaces asked the Normans in their tongue if they would receive William as their King. The Archbishop of York asked the same questions of the English, speaking, of course, in that language. The affirmative answer rang through the Abbey, So loud was the cheering that William’s Norman cavalry, on guard outside the Abbey, heard it.
Unfortunately they mistook it for a cry of alarm raised by their compatriots within. Being under orders to remain on the alert and act quickly should occasion require, they rushed to the nearest houses to the Abbey and set fire to them. Others entered the church, brandishing their swords. Smoke from the burning dwellings, fanned by a strong breeze from then river, poured into the Abbey where the confusion was now greater than outside. The Normans thought a rising had taken place. The English thought they had been tricked and were about to be massacred. Altogether the scene was one of intense alarm and terror. The Abbey was soon cleared, every door being opened t let the terrified congregation out into the street. William alone remained, with the Archbishop of York and a few priests, to finish his coronation despite the apparently bad omen. Then he hurried outside and took part in quelling the disturbance.
Whether compensation was offered to the householders who saw their homes burned down before their eyes on Christmas Day is not on record, but citizens who took leave to be sceptical where William’s oath of rule justly and tolerantly was concerned might be forgiven, one would think. William swore to treat the English as the best of their English Kings had done, but whether London believed that or not, it must have been evident that London was no longer English London, and that it was indeed laid under a foreign yoke.
There seemed nothing for it now but to await events and hope that some measurement of peace and prosperity would come their way. Naturally, there would be changes in almost every department of social and municipal life, for Edward, with all his Norman sympathies, had never even tried to efface English customs outside his court. The court was Norman, but London was English. Now it looked as though London was likely to be as severely under military rule as it had been with the Romans came. The more optimistic of the residents thought William might carry out his oath, but the one point upon which London as a whole agreed was that of taxation. What would it cost London to pay for the doubtful pleasure of so powerful a King in its midst? That question was discussed at the dining-table every responsible household, but it was a question to which it was not easy to find an answer.
This is the orthodox history of the Conquest/Crusade of England by the French-Norman Duke of Normandy, but there is another reason for this battle and the profound changes it brought in Europe.
Reference from the Englisc side.
History of Normandy, which was created in 911 between Rollo, ‘later Robert of Normandy’ the Viking/Northman and the King of the West Franks ‘later the King of France’ Charles the Simple, by the signing of the Treaty of Saint-Clair-Sur-Epte where the King gave Normandy in vassalage to the Normans whilst the Normans gave homage and fealty to the King, this stopped raids on Paris by Rollo and other Vikings as the estuary of the River Sienne is in Normandy, so the Normans took the King of the Franks/France as their liege lord.
The Roman Catholic Church was formed in 1054 when the Pope broke away from its roots of Orthodoxy being the ‘Western Rite Holy Orthodox Church’ before in the West of Europe, whilst in the East of Europe the Eastern Holy Roman Orthodox Church, there were differences, like the Greek language in the east and the Latin language in the West, but the Liturgy was the same, but the style was different, hence why we had Theodore one the greatest Archbishop of Canterbury who came from the East demonstrating East and West working together. The Pope was a Patriarch/Father of Rome, one of five patriarchs, Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria, he is first of five but all are equal in status.
From the churches inception there was great change and the Pope who did this was Gregory VII ‘Hildebrand Bonizi’, he needed a strong arm to push these policies forward, up till then it had been the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire who had been crowned with the first Emperor Charlemagne but as they were ‘Western Rite’ and the Pope wanted to destroy this and replace it with the newly instigated Roman Catholic Church, he alighted upon the French-Normans who were willing to do his bidding and why the Duke of Normandy had the Papal banner at the battle of Hastings/Senlac Ridge, they were now fighting for the Pope not the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, many Englisc warriors went to Europe to fight for the Emperor, that is where Hereward the Wake was in Europe fighting for the Emperor and came back too late to fight the usurper, he fought well but his forces were too small.
So what do we have on the battle field of Senlac Ridge. King Harold II Orthodox King of England, officially crowned King at Westminster Abbey, and the Duke of Normandy held in vassalage to the King of France, the duke was now a Roman Catholic and fought for this new faith and on winning the battle, the enforcement of the Roman Catholic Church on the Englisc and feudalism by the French-Normans as they tried to eliminate the Englisc and its heritage from the landscape of England, hence why so many castles and cathedrals who dominated the land of England, this in time collapsed with the Reformation and the English Civil War.
The battle of Senlac Ridge was the First Conquest/Crusade by the French-Normans, they even tried to take the crown of France for themselves and used English and Welsh troops and in the end lost with fall of Calais the last colony of the Normans in France, the French finally got rid of them but not the ensuing Kings from England who were finally ousted after the hundred wars and went back to England and started the War of the Roses and so back to the final finale of the Normans was the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the ransacking of the New Rome of Constantinople the greatest Christian city in the world and the imposition of the Roman Catholic Church on the people, but in time this was rejected and their faith was rejuvenated as of old, this crusade was instigated by the Douge of Venice who died on the campaign of sacrilege of this great city and is now buried in the church of Hagia Sophie in Constantinople, a fitting place for what he had done, The Turks when they eventually conquered Constantinople found a chaff of once was a great city destroyed by the Roman Catholic Normans, not the Muslims who had to reinvigorate it.
The idea of Pope Gregory VII ‘Hildebrand’ was to become the new Roman Emperor by using the Christian faith and the use of the willing French-Normans as his henchmen, in England we see the results of this daily in parliament where division is normal and confrontation is the order of the day and how we are governed and with this a church which has fallen away because of a Pope who thought he could rule the world both physical and spiritual and take the place of Christ.
For further study of this pivotal time in history, read the ‘Fall of Orthodox England.’ on the other web-site which is on the timeline page.