Category Archives: Historical Events

1666: Great Fire of London

Great Fire of London
London Ravaged by Fire

In the latter years of the 17thcentury, London had grown in size to become the largest city in London, with an estimated 80,000 inhabitants.

The city was surrounded by a ring of suburbs where many people were known to live.  The City of London had become the commercial heart of the capital, and was by far the largest market and busiest port in England.

The layout of the city was one of narrow, winding and cobbled alleys, and many buildings were constructed from wood with thatched roofs.  So fires were common in the city, which were known to house the poor, with their open fireplaces, candles and ovens.

In those day’s there was no fire brigade to call in for help, yet the River Thames would have been a great help, for those who lived on the river’s edge.  Yet they ran a service known as “Trained Bands” who watched out for fires, and the public banded together to fight fires.

1666, had been a long and dry summer, and buildings were tinder dry.  In the early hours of Monday 3rdSeptember, at Thomas Farriner’s Bakery in Pudding Lane a fire broke out.

It took an hour before the parish constable arrived, to find neighbours dousing the fire with water, but observed it was having little effect on the flames as it licked at the adjoining houses.  He wanted to demolish the adjoining houses, but the householders protested.

The Lord Mayor, Sir Thomas Blood, was summoned, for he had the authority to order the destruction, as a matter of law.

By now more experienced firefighters were battling with the fire, but wanted him to order the destruction of adjoining properties.  Yet he refused to give the order, as many of the properties in question were rented, and finding the owners could be difficult at such short notice.  He made a comment “Pish! A woman could piss it out” and left… I bet he regretted his decision that day.

On the Sunday after the outbreak, Samuel Pepys a senior Naval Officer at that time, observed from the Tower of London: Some churches, about three hundred houses had been destroyed, and some houses on London Bridge had been completely destroyed whilst others still burned.

So it was, Samuel Pepys made a report to the King and the Duke of York, of what he observed.  The order was given to pull down the burning houses, and any adjoining houses to stop the spread of the fire.  By mid-morning, attempts to put out the fire had been suspended as people gathered together their belongings, and headed away from the fire.

King Charles II sailed down from Whitehall to inspect the scene for himself.  The Lord Mayor had been ordered to pull down the houses, but many were still left standing, forcing the King to order mass destruction of property to the west of the fire… yet, it was too little too late, it was obvious the fire was now out of control.

Some eighteen hours after the alarm had been raised; the fire had become a raging firestorm, burning anything that stood in its way.

By dawn on Monday 3rdSeptember, the fire was expanding towards the north and west, and south of the banks of the River Thames.  Then later turned north, heading for the financial part of the city; home to the banking institutions.  This led to a rush upon the banks, and the removal of the gold; the wealth of the city and the country lay in its strong rooms.

The Royal Exchange caught fire by mid-afternoon, and within hours is was nothing more than a smoking shell.

Boats and carts laden down with peoples goods, headed out of the reach of the fire, to the open fields and beyond, where tents and shelters were being erected … what a spectacle what a backdrop … as London burnt.

King Charles put his brother, James the Duke of York in charge of operations to stop this fire and save as much of London.  He pressed ganged lower class people into the job, paying them well and feeding them, thus creating teams of fire fighters, battling against this raging fire destroying the heart of the city.  His actions won him the hearts of the people, in his defence of the city.

On Tuesday 4thSeptember, James believed he had created a natural firebreak, as his fire fighters made their stand at Fleet Bridge down to the River Thames, and his River Fleet would form a firebreak.   As the fire approached, a gust of wind helped the fire on, and it jumped over his men, and they were forced to run for their lives.

No one believed St.Pauls Cathedral would fall foul to this fire.  Yet early evening it licked at its walls, then melted its roof tiles, within hours it was nothing more than a ruin.

The fire was on a direct course for the Tower of London, with its large stores of gunpowder.  The garrison knew what would happen if the fire reached the gunpowder.  So they created their own firebreak against the oncoming fire by blowing up houses on a large scale in the vicinity to halt the advance of the fire.  By Wednesday 5thSeptember the firebreak began to take effect as the wind died down.

The Great Fire of London saw the destruction of 13,500 houses, 87 churches, The Royal Exchange, St.Pauls Cathedral, Bridewell Palace, City Prisons and the list goes on.  London was destroyed by natural causes, but loss of life was few, according to the records only sixteen died.

King Charles II appointed six commissioners to redesign the city, built out of brick with larger roadways. Sir Christopher Wren was appointed to design and oversee the construction of 50 churches and St.Paul’s Cathedral, which must be considered one of his highest achievements.

The Great Plague of 1665, ran rampant across the City of London, and is responsible for the deaths of some 200,000 souls.  In 1666 fire ravaged London, destroying much of its unsanitary houses, rats, fleas and diseases.

London was rebuilt, and so a new era began in its life.

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The Kingdom of Great Britain

Map of England

On the 24thMarch 1603, Queen Elizabeth I of the House of Tudor died, leaving no heir to the English throne.  King James VI of Scotland, son of Mary, Queen of Scots and great-grandson of Mary Tudor, became King James I of England.

Since 1603, when England and Scotland had been ruled by the same King, many attempts had been undertaken to unite the kingdoms into one voice.

On the 1stMay 1707, the “Kingdom of Great Britain,” came into force, with the “Treaty of Union,” binding two ancient kingdoms into one; England and Scotland. This new kingdom, had a new flag, comprising of the crosses of St.George and St.Andrew.

English and Scottish Parliaments were abolished, only to be replaced by the “Parliament of Great Britain. The English held 513 seats plus 196 in the Lords, whilst the Scots held 45 seats plus 16 in the Lords.  As the Scots held the smaller number of seats, they only paid a fortieth of the British Tax bill, as they were now part of the British Tax System.

Scottish taxes north of the border had been relatively low, compared with those in the south.  Now they had to pay their share of England’s eighteen million pond debt, which sent uproar across the land.

With the Scots up in arms, and the ink on the agreement; union of the two countries barely dry. Something had to be done to sweeten the deal.  So it was the English Exchequer granted a tax concession on salt and malt, along with a payment just short of £400,000 pounds.  In August of 1707, the promised payment arrived by wagons, and only one quarter was paid in gold and silver ingots.  The balance was paid in paper money, Scotland was not happy by any means.

Towards the end of 1707, the Scottish Privy Council was abolished, and a new Treason Act for Scotland was introduced in 1709, based on English forms of law.  This was in clear breach of the treaty, and Scottish nobles felt betrayed.

One case in breach of the treaty: In 1711, an Anglican Clergyman was convicted for using the English Prayer Book, and had his sentence overturned by the House of Lords.  By 1715 London’s interference into how Scotland was run, led to conflict among its people.

After Scotland’s union with England in 1707, trade with France went on the decline, but the Scots still had a yearning for the finer things in life; French Brandy and Silks. Higher customs duties led to a rise in smuggling.

In 1713, a bill was put forward, calling for the abolishment of the Union, by an unhappy Scotland, but was defeated in the House of Lords by only four votes.

Ghosts of Culloden

Battle of Culloden
Battle of Culloden

Culloden moor – site of the last battle on British soil, has its share of ghostly traditions, perhaps befitting for the scene of so much bloodshed and slaughter.

The Battle of Culloden – April 16th 1746 – marked the fall of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, which sought to restore the Stuart monarchy to the throne. In barely 40 minutes of fighting, the massed army of Bonnie Prince Charlie had been slaughtered by government troops (which also contained Scottish clans) led by Prince William the Duke of Cumberland.

The odds were already stacked against them, the boggy, rain sodden ground of the moor was not suited to the Highland charge, they were vastly outnumbered, and they were exhausted after a many days marching back from England where they had failed to muster the support they badly needed to ensure victory. They had also launched a surprise attack on their foes during the night which had ended without them even coming into contact with the Duke’s men.

The battle started with an exchange of artillery that quickly became a one sided affair, as the Jacobite gunners were vastly outnumbered and outclassed. Twenty minutes of constant bombardment decimated the Jacobite lines as they awaited the order to charge. Bonnie Prince Charlie took no part in the battle, and with no leader to sound orders their hesitations was to play a large part in their defeat. When they finally did charge – taking it under their own initiative – the slaughter continued, those who did not die in a volley of bullets and grapeshot, were cut down when they reached the lines. The government troops used a new way of meeting the Highland charge, each soldier stabbed at the man to the right of those they faced directly, so their bayonet would pierce under the man’s raised sword arm, and avoid the targe, the highlander’s small shields most often held in the left hand.

There was no mercy for the wounded soldiers, many were slaughtered where they had fallen, and those who had managed to flee were hunted down and executed. Bonnie Prince Charlie managed to evade the Government forces, and after five months on the run throughout the Highlands, escaped to Italy via the Isle of Skye, never to return.

Ghostly Traditions

There is a tradition of haunted battle sites in Britain and Culloden is no exception, ghostly soldiers are supposed to appear on the anniversary of the battle on the 16th of April, and the cries of battle and the clash of steel have also been reported.

The spectre of one of the Highlanders is also said to frequent the area, he is tall in stature with drawn features – he is supposed to say, “defeated” in hushed tones when encountered. One woman visiting the moor from Edinburgh in August 1936 lifted a tartan cloth covering one of the mounds – which mark the Jacobite graves – to discover an apparition of a dead Highlander underneath it. Another tradition attached to these grave mounds is that birds do not sing in their vicinity, perhaps hushed by the ominous atmosphere.

There are numerous wells dotted around the area, on the battle site itself and nearby. St Mary’s Well is said to be haunted by the ghosts of the dead highlanders, and a Clootie Well in Culloden wood is festooned with brightly coloured rags, offerings from people wishing to be cured of ailments.

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The Magna Carta

King John signs Magna Carta
Signing of the Magna Carta

Plantagenet King John formally signed the Magna Carta on the 15thJune 1215 at Runnymede.  The final version was not issued until 1225, by his son King Henry III.

(1) FIRST, THAT WE HAVE GRANTED TO GOD, and by this present charter have confirmed for us and our heirs in perpetuity, that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired. That we wish this so to be observed, appears from the fact that of our own free will, before the outbreak of the present dispute between us and our barons, we granted and confirmed by charter the freedom of the Church’s elections – a right reckoned to be of the greatest necessity and importance to it – and caused this to be confirmed by Pope Innocent III. This freedom we shall observe ourselves, and desire to be observed in good faith by our heirs in perpetuity.

TO ALL FREE MEN OF OUR KINGDOM we have also granted, for us and our heirs for ever, all the liberties written out below, to have and to keep for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs:

(2) If any earl, baron, or other person that holds lands directly of the Crown, for military service, shall die, and at his death his heir shall be of full age and owe a ‘relief’, the heir shall have his inheritance on payment of the ancient scale of ‘relief’. That is to say, the heir or heirs of an earl shall pay £100 for the entire earl’s barony, the heir or heirs of a knight 100s. at most for the entire knight’s ‘fee’, and any man that owes less shall pay less, in accordance with the ancient usage of ‘fees’

(3) But if the heir of such a person is under age and a ward, when he comes of age he shall have his inheritance without ‘relief’ or fine.

(4) The guardian of the land of an heir who is under age shall take from it only reasonable revenues, customary dues, and feudal services. He shall do this without destruction or damage to men or property. If we have given the guardianship of the land to a sheriff, or to any person answerable to us for the revenues, and he commits destruction or damage, we will exact compensation from him, and the land shall be entrusted to two worthy and prudent men of the same ‘fee’, who shall be answerable to us for the revenues, or to the person to whom we have assigned them. If we have given or sold to anyone the guardianship of such land, and he causes destruction or damage, he shall lose the guardianship of it, and it shall be handed over to two worthy and prudent men of the same ‘fee’, who shall be similarly answerable to us.

(5) For so long as a guardian has guardianship of such land, he shall maintain the houses, parks, fish preserves, ponds, mills, and everything else pertaining to it, from the revenues of the land itself. When the heir comes of age, he shall restore the whole land to him, stocked with plough teams and such implements of husbandry as the season demands and the revenues from the land can reasonably bear.

(6) Heirs may be given in marriage, but not to someone of lower social standing. Before a marriage takes place, it shall be made known to the heir’s next-of-kin.

(7) At her husband’s death, a widow may have her marriage portion and inheritance at once and without trouble. She shall pay nothing for her dower, marriage portion, or any inheritance that she and her husband held jointly on the day of his death. She may remain in her husband’s house for forty days after his death, and within this period her dower shall be assigned to her.

(8) No widow shall be compelled to marry, so long as she wishes to remain without a husband. But she must give security that she will not marry without royal consent, if she holds her lands of the Crown, or without the consent of whatever other lord she may hold them of.

(9) Neither we nor our officials will seize any land or rent in payment of a debt, so long as the debtor has movable goods sufficient to discharge the debt. A debtor’s sureties shall not be distrained upon so long as the debtor himself can discharge his debt. If, for lack of means, the debtor is unable to discharge his debt, his sureties shall be answerable for it. If they so desire, they may have the debtor’s lands and rents until they have received satisfaction for the debt that they paid for him, unless the debtor can show that he has settled his obligations to them.

(10) If anyone who has borrowed a sum of money from Jews dies before the debt has been repaid, his heir shall pay no interest on the debt for so long as he remains under age, irrespective of whom he holds his lands. If such a debt falls into the hands of the Crown, it will take nothing except the principal sum specified in the bond.

(11) If a man dies owing money to Jews, his wife may have her dower and pay nothing towards the debt from it. If he leaves children that are under age, their needs may also be provided for on a scale appropriate to the size of his holding of lands. The debt is to be paid out of the residue, reserving the service due to his feudal lords. Debts owed to persons other than Jews are to be dealt with similarly.

(12) No ‘scutage’ or ‘aid’ may be levied in our kingdom without its general consent, unless it is for the ransom of our person, to make our eldest son a knight, and (once) to marry our eldest daughter. For these purposes only a reasonable ‘aid’ may be levied. ‘Aids’ from the city of London are to be treated similarly.

(13) The city of London shall enjoy all its ancient liberties and free customs, both by land and by water. We also will and grant that all other cities, boroughs, towns, and ports shall enjoy all their liberties and free customs.

(14) To obtain the general consent of the realm for the assessment of an ‘aid’ – except in the three cases specified above – or a ‘scutage’, we will cause the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, and greater barons to be summoned individually by letter. To those who hold lands directly of us we will cause a general summons to be issued, through the sheriffs and other officials, to come together on a fixed day (of which at least forty days notice shall be given) and at a fixed place. In all letters of summons, the cause of the summons will be stated. When a summons has been issued, the business appointed for the day shall go forward in accordance with the resolution of those present, even if not all those who were summoned have appeared.

(15) In future we will allow no one to levy an ‘aid’ from his free men, except to ransom his person, to make his eldest son a knight, and (once) to marry his eldest daughter. For these purposes only a reasonable ‘aid’ may be levied.

(16) No man shall be forced to perform more service for a knight’s ‘fee’, or other free holding of land, than is due from it.

(17) Ordinary lawsuits shall not follow the royal court around, but shall be held in a fixed place.

(18) Inquests of novel disseisin, mort d’ancestor, and darrein presentment shall be taken only in their proper county court. We ourselves, or in our absence abroad our chief justice, will send two justices to each county four times a year, and these justices, with four knights of the county elected by the county itself, shall hold the assizes in the county court, on the day and in the place where the court meets.

(19) If any assizes cannot be taken on the day of the county court, as many knights and freeholders shall afterwards remain behind, of those who have attended the court, as will suffice for the administration of justice, having regard to the volume of business to be done.

(20) For a trivial offence, a free man shall be fined only in proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious offence correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood. In the same way, a merchant shall be spared his merchandise, and a villein the implements of his husbandry, if they fall upon the mercy of a royal court. None of these fines shall be imposed except by the assessment on oath of reputable men of the neighbourhood.

(21) Earls and barons shall be fined only by their equals, and in proportion to the gravity of their offence.

(22) A fine imposed upon the lay property of a clerk in holy orders shall be assessed upon the same principles, without reference to the value of his ecclesiastical benefice.

(23) No town or person shall be forced to build bridges over rivers except those with an ancient obligation to do so.

(24) No sheriff, constable, coroners, or other royal officials are to hold lawsuits that should be held by the royal justices.

(25) Every county, hundred, wapentake, and riding shall remain at its ancient rent, without increase, except the royal demesne manors.

(26) If at the death of a man who holds a lay ‘fee’ of the Crown, a sheriff or royal official produces royal letters patent of summons for a debt due to the Crown, it shall be lawful for them to seize and list movable goods found in the lay ‘fee’ of the dead man to the value of the debt, as assessed by worthy men. Nothing shall be removed until the whole debt is paid, when the residue shall be given over to the executors to carry out the dead man’s will. If no debt is due to the Crown, all the movable goods shall be regarded as the property of the dead man, except the reasonable shares of his wife and children.

(27) If a free man dies intestate, his movable goods are to be distributed by his next-of-kin and friends, under the supervision of the Church. The rights of his debtors are to be preserved.

(28) No constable or other royal official shall take corn or other movable goods from any man without immediate payment, unless the seller voluntarily offers postponement of this.

(29) No constable may compel a knight to pay money for castle-guard if the knight is willing to undertake the guard in person, or with reasonable excuse to supply some other fit man to do it. A knight taken or sent on military service shall be excused from castle-guard for the period of this service.

(30) No sheriff, royal official, or other person shall take horses or carts for transport from any free man, without his consent.

(31) Neither we nor any royal official will take wood for our castle, or for any other purpose, without the consent of the owner.

(32) We will not keep the lands of people convicted of felony in our hand for longer than a year and a day, after which they shall be returned to the lords of the ‘fees’ concerned.

(33) All fish-weirs shall be removed from the Thames, the Medway, and throughout the whole of England, except on the sea coast.

(34) The writ called precipe shall not in future be issued to anyone in respect of any holding of land, if a free man could thereby be deprived of the right of trial in his own lord’s court.

(35) There shall be standard measures of wine, ale, and corn (the London quarter), throughout the kingdom. There shall also be a standard width of dyed cloth, russet, and haberject, namely two ells within the selvedges. Weights are to be standardised similarly.

(36) In future nothing shall be paid or accepted for the issue of a writ of inquisition of life or limbs. It shall be given gratis, and not refused.

(37) If a man holds land of the Crown by ‘fee-farm’, ‘socage’, or ‘burgage’, and also holds land of someone else for knight’s service, we will not have guardianship of his heir, nor of the land that belongs to the other person’s ‘fee’, by virtue of the ‘fee-farm’, ‘socage’, or ‘burgage’, unless the ‘fee-farm’ owes knight’s service. We will not have the guardianship of a man’s heir, or of land that he holds of someone else, by reason of any small property that he may hold of the Crown for a service of knives, arrows, or the like.

(38) In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.

(39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

(40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

(41) All merchants may enter or leave England unharmed and without fear, and may stay or travel within it, by land or water, for purposes of trade, free from all illegal exactions, in accordance with ancient and lawful customs. This, however, does not apply in time of war to merchants from a country that is at war with us. Any such merchants found in our country at the outbreak of war shall be detained without injury to their persons or property, until we or our chief justice have discovered how our own merchants are being treated in the country at war with us. If our own merchants are safe they shall be safe too.

(42) In future it shall be lawful for any man to leave and return to our kingdom unharmed and without fear, by land or water, preserving his allegiance to us, except in time of war, for some short period, for the common benefit of the realm. People that have been imprisoned or outlawed in accordance with the law of the land, people from a country that is at war with us, and merchants – who shall be dealt with as stated above – are excepted from this provision.

(43) If a man holds lands of any ‘escheat’ such as the ‘honour’ of Wallingford, Nottingham, Boulogne, Lancaster, or of other ‘escheats’ in our hand that are baronies, at his death his heir shall give us only the ‘relief’ and service that he would have made to the baron, had the barony been in the baron’s hand. We will hold the ‘escheat’ in the same manner as the baron held it.

(44) People who live outside the forest need not in future appear before the royal justices of the forest in answer to general summonses, unless they are actually involved in proceedings or are sureties for someone who has been seized for a forest offence.

(45) We will appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs, or other officials, only men that know the law of the realm and are minded to keep it well.

(46) All barons who have founded abbeys, and have charters of English kings or ancient tenure as evidence of this, may have guardianship of them when there is no abbot, as is their due.

(47) All forests that have been created in our reign shall at once be disafforested. River-banks that have been enclosed in our reign shall be treated similarly.

(48) All evil customs relating to forests and warrens, foresters, warreners, sheriffs and their servants, or river-banks and their wardens, are at once to be investigated in every county by twelve sworn knights of the county, and within forty days of their enquiry the evil customs are to be abolished completely and irrevocably. But we, or our chief justice if we are not in England, are first to be informed.

(49) We will at once return all hostages and charters delivered up to us by Englishmen as security for peace or for loyal service.

(50) We will remove completely from their offices the kinsmen of Gerard de Athée, and in future they shall hold no offices in England. The people in question are Engelard de Cigogné, Peter, Guy, and Andrew de Chanceaux, Guy de Cigogné, Geoffrey de Martigny and his brothers, Philip Marc and his brothers, with Geoffrey his nephew, and all their followers.

(51) As soon as peace is restored, we will remove from the kingdom all the foreign knights, bowmen, their attendants, and the mercenaries that have come to it, to its harm, with horses and arms.

(52) To any man whom we have deprived or dispossessed of lands, castles, liberties, or rights, without the lawful judgement of his equals, we will at once restore these. In cases of dispute the matter shall be resolved by the judgement of the twenty-five barons referred to below in the clause for securing the peace. In cases, however, where a man was deprived or dispossessed of something without the lawful judgement of his equals by our father King Henry or our brother King Richard, and it remains in our hands or is held by others under our warranty, we shall have respite for the period commonly allowed to Crusaders, unless a lawsuit had been begun, or an enquiry had been made at our order, before we took the Cross as a Crusader. On our return from the Crusade, or if we abandon it, we will at once render justice in full.

(53) We shall have similar respite in rendering justice in connexion with forests that are to be disafforested, or to remain forests, when these were first afforested by our father Henry or our brother Richard; with the guardianship of lands in another person’s ‘fee’, when we have hitherto had this by virtue of a ‘fee’ held of us for knight’s service by a third party; and with abbeys founded in another person’s ‘fee’, in which the lord of the ‘fee’ claims to own a right. On our return from the Crusade, or if we abandon it, we will at once do full justice to complaints about these matters.

(54) No one shall be arrested or imprisoned on the appeal of a woman for the death of any person except her husband.

(55) All fines that have been given to us unjustly and against the law of the land, and all fines that we have exacted unjustly, shall be entirely remitted or the matter decided by a majority judgement of the twenty-five barons referred to below in the clause for securing the peace together with Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, if he can be present, and such others as he wishes to bring with him. If the archbishop cannot be present, proceedings shall continue without him, provided that if any of the twenty-five barons has been involved in a similar suit himself, his judgement shall be set aside, and someone else chosen and sworn in his place, as a substitute for the single occasion, by the rest of the twenty-five.

(56) If we have deprived or dispossessed any Welshmen of lands, liberties, or anything else in England or in Wales, without the lawful judgement of their equals, these are at once to be returned to them. A dispute on this point shall be determined in the Marches by the judgement of equals. English law shall apply to holdings of land in England, Welsh law to those in Wales, and the law of the Marches to those in the Marches. The Welsh shall treat us and ours in the same way.

(57) In cases where a Welshman was deprived or dispossessed of anything, without the lawful judgement of his equals, by our father King Henry or our brother King Richard, and it remains in our hands or is held by others under our warranty, we shall have respite for the period commonly allowed to Crusaders, unless a lawsuit had been begun, or an enquiry had been made at our order, before we took the Cross as a Crusader. But on our return from the Crusade, or if we abandon it, we will at once do full justice according to the laws of Wales and the said regions.

(58) We will at once return the son of Llywelyn, all Welsh hostages, and the charters delivered to us as security for the peace.

(59) With regard to the return of the sisters and hostages of Alexander, king of Scotland, his liberties and his rights, we will treat him in the same way as our other barons of England, unless it appears from the charters that we hold from his father William, formerly king of Scotland, that he should be treated otherwise. This matter shall be resolved by the judgement of his equals in our court.

(60) All these customs and liberties that we have granted shall be observed in our kingdom in so far as concerns our own relations with our subjects. Let all men of our kingdom, whether clergy or laymen, observe them similarly in their relations with their own men.

(61) SINCE WE HAVE GRANTED ALL THESE THINGS for God, for the better ordering of our kingdom, and to allay the discord that has arisen between us and our barons, and since we desire that they shall be enjoyed in their entirety, with lasting strength, for ever, we give and grant to the barons the following security:

The barons shall elect twenty-five of their number to keep, and cause to be observed with all their might, the peace and liberties granted and confirmed to them by this charter.

If we, our chief justice, our officials, or any of our servants offend in any respect against any man, or transgress any of the articles of the peace or of this security, and the offence is made known to four of the said twenty-five barons, they shall come to us – or in our absence from the kingdom to the chief justice – to declare it and claim immediate redress. If we, or in our absence abroad the chief justice, make no redress within forty days, reckoning from the day on which the offence was declared to us or to him, the four barons shall refer the matter to the rest of the twenty-five barons, who may distrain upon and assail us in every way possible, with the support of the whole community of the land, by seizing our castles, lands, possessions, or anything else saving only our own person and those of the queen and our children, until they have secured such redress as they have determined upon. Having secured the redress, they may then resume their normal obedience to us.

Any man who so desires may take an oath to obey the commands of the twenty-five barons for the achievement of these ends, and to join with them in assailing us to the utmost of his power. We give public and free permission to take this oath to any man who so desires, and at no time will we prohibit any man from taking it. Indeed, we will compel any of our subjects who are unwilling to take it to swear it at our command.

If one of the twenty-five barons dies or leaves the country, or is prevented in any other way from discharging his duties, the rest of them shall choose another baron in his place, at their discretion, who shall be duly sworn in as they were.

In the event of disagreement among the twenty-five barons on any matter referred to them for decision, the verdict of the majority present shall have the same validity as a unanimous verdict of the whole twenty-five, whether these were all present or some of those summoned were unwilling or unable to appear.

The twenty-five barons shall swear to obey all the above articles faithfully, and shall cause them to be obeyed by others to the best of their power.

We will not seek to procure from anyone, either by our own efforts or those of a third party, anything by which any part of these concessions or liberties might be revoked or diminished. Should such a thing be procured, it shall be null and void and we will at no time make use of it, either ourselves or through a third party.

(62) We have remitted and pardoned fully to all men any ill-will, hurt, or grudges that have arisen between us and our subjects, whether clergy or laymen, since the beginning of the dispute. We have in addition remitted fully, and for our own part have also pardoned, to all clergy and laymen any offences committed as a result of the said dispute between Easter in the sixteenth year of our reign (i.e. 1215) and the restoration of peace.

In addition we have caused letters patent to be made for the barons, bearing witness to this security and to the concessions set out above, over the seals of Stephen archbishop of Canterbury, Henry archbishop of Dublin, the other bishops named above, and Master Pandulf.

(63) IT IS ACCORDINGLY OUR WISH AND COMMAND that the English Church shall be free, and that men in our kingdom shall have and keep all these liberties, rights, and concessions, well and peaceably in their fullness and entirety for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all things and all places for ever.

Both we and the barons have sworn that all this shall be observed in good faith and without deceit. Witness the above-mentioned people and many others.

The Great Charter of English Liberty (The Magna Carta) granted by King John at Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines, on June 15th1215.

The English Reformation

English Reformation

If we ask the question, what if Henry VIII had not taken Catherine of Aragon to be his wife, would England have been a happier place to live?

The twelve-year-old Catherine of Aragon, had been betrothed to Henry’s older brother; Arthur. Catherine, aged sixteen, married the fifteen-year-old Arthur on the 14thNovember 1501 at St.Paul’s Cathedral. Arthur died a few months later, leaving a young wife.

Henry became the next in line, to the English throne, and sought to take Arthur’s widow, Catherine of Aragon as his wife.

Catherine stated that her marriage to Arthus had not been consummated, and the Pope gave her the permission she sought, to marry Arthur’s brother Henry, the new heir to the English throne.

Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon married the new King of England; Henry VIII on the 11thJune 1509 at Friary Church in Greenwich.

Henry became obsessed, a desire to have a son to carry on the House of Tudor.  This was not to be with Catherine, for she produced many children, and all but one died; Mary her daughter who would become heir to the English throne.

Henry felt he had no choice, but to cast his wife and Queen aside, and seek another wife…  Henry knew the Roman Catholic Church would not approve his request for a divorce.  Maybe an annulment, based on the grounds, that his entire marriage to Catherine his brother’s widow, would be deemed invalid in the eyes of God!

Men of God, argued about his request.  On one side, one group maintained a marriage is a marriage for life, whilst the other side believed; a marriage is only a marriage if it has been consummated.  Two quotations were put forward by men of God from the Bible.

Book of Leviticus: You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife: she is your brother’s nakedness…  If a man takes your brother’s wife, it is impurity: he has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.

Book of Deuteronomy: If brother’s dwell together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married outside the family to a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go into her, and take her as his wife.

Henry opted for the side which suited him best, and the Pope took the other side.  A stalemate had come to pass, and Henry took advantage of the Reformation, as it gained ground in Europe, by making himself “Supreme Head of the Church of England,” in 1531.  In the year 1533, the Archbishop of Canterbury declared the marriage between Henry and Catherine was void.

Barely three months earlier, Henry had secretly married Anne Boleyn.  She gave birth to a daughter; Elizabeth, and shortly thereafter was executed on Tower Hill, making way for him to marry Jane Seymour,  She who would bless Henry with a child, a long awaited son and heir; Edward VI.

Henry VIII, the Head of the Church of England, set about the destruction of England’s monasteries between 1536-1541.  So it was, the “Dissolution of the Monasteries” was so ordered by Henry VIII, for it was said, England’s monasteries owned a quarter of England’s wealth.

Finally it came to pass, the translation of the Bible into the English language, was officially sanctioned, with the first becoming available in 1539…  It was the duty of every church, to provide the English Bible for one and all to read.

King Henry VIII died on the 28thJanuary 1547, and was succeeded by his nine year old son; Edward VI.

Edward’s advisers believed in the reform of England’s Parish Churches, and were responsible for a directive, calling for the destruction of all things of a corrupt nature.  So it was, altars were replaced with communion tables, paintings trashed, statues destroyed, glass smashed and shrines removed.

England became a truly Protestant land during the short reign of Edward VI (1547-1553).  Edward and his advisers will be remembered, for they pushed forward the use of the “Book of Common Prayer” in 1549, and church services in England.  The practice of Catholic trappings, such as clerical vestments, church decorations and feasts dedicated to saints were reformed or abolished.

A succession crisis loomed over England in the opening months of 1553, with the young King Edward VI seriously ill, and death seemed the only outcome.

If we refer to the Last Will and Testament of King Henry VIII, he left additional instructions within. In the event that his son Edward VI should die without male heirs, England’s crown would pass first to Mary then Elizabeth.

On the 21stMay 1553, Guildford Dudley the son of the Duke of Northumberland, took the King’s cousin; Lady Jane Grey as his wife.  On the 12th June the dying Edward VI, had letters drawn up and signed off by him on the 13thJune, counter signed by 100 people (Councillors, Civic Dignitaries, Peers and Household Officers) on the 17thJune detailing who his successor would be.

On Thursday the 6thJuly, the Tudor Monarch King Edward VI died at Greenwich.  Two prominent claimants existed to England’s throne; the Catholic Mary Tudor, heir by law according to Henry VIII’s last wishes and Lady Jane Grey according to the wishes of Edward VI.

The death of Edward VI was not announced for four days to enable preparations be made for the ascension of Lady Jane Grey, daughter-in-law of the Duke of Northumberland. On the 9thJuly Bishop Ridley announced that both Elizabeth the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, along with Mary the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, were bastards in the eyes of Parliament.

On the 10thJuly, the death of King Edward VI was announced, and Lady Jane Grey travelled by barge to the Tower of London where she was received as Queen.  That very same day she was proclaimed Queen at Cheapside.

Mary hearing Lady Jane Grey had been proclaimed Queen by England’s people mobilised her forces in East Anglia.

On the 12thJuly, the Duke of Northumberland’s forces left London to face Mary’s forces on the battlefield.  With Northumberland away from London, his councillors defected and proclaimed Mary as the true Queen of England on the 19thJuly.  Northumberland realised his cause was lost had no choice but to surrender. On the 23rdJuly Northumberland surrendered at Cambridge to Mary… no blood had been spilt.

On the 8thAugust 1553 King Edward VI was buried at Westminster Abbey.  On the 10thAugust Mary held an obsequy (Medieval Latin funeral rites), and on the 11thheld a requiem mass for him at the Tower of London.

On the 18thAugust, Mary issued a proclamation calling upon her subjects to follow her religion; Roman Catholic.  It wasn’t long before Mary became unpopular with her people; by burning Protestant martyrs to bring England under the rule of Rome.

On the 1stOctober 1553, Mary was crowned Queen Mary I of England at Westminster Abbey.

On the 12thFebruary 1554, Lady Jane and her husband Lord Guildford Dudley were beheaded at the Tower of London.

The Execution of Lady Jane from the Chronicle of Queen Jane:

She being nothing at all abashed… neither with the sight of the dead carcass of her husband (Lord Guildford Dudley) she said…  “Good people, I am come hither to die, and by law condemned to the same.  The fact indeed, against the Queen’s highness was unlawful, and the consenting thereunto by me: but touching the procurement and the desire thereof by me or on my (behalf, I do wash my hands thereof in innocence, before God, and the face of you, good Christian people, this day,” and therewith she wrung her hands, in which she had her book…  Then she said the psalm of Miserere me i Deus, in English, in most devout manner, to the end…

Then the hangman kneeled down, and asked her forgiveness, whom she forgave most willingly.  Then he willed her to stand upon the straw; which doing, she saw the block.  Then she said “I pray you dispatch me quickly…” She tied the kercher (handkerchief) about her eyes: then feel for the block said.  “What shall I do?  Where is it?” One of the standers-by guiding her there unto, she laid her head upon the block, and stretched forth her body and said.  “Lord into thy hands I commend my spirit!”  And so she ended.

For a short time, Mary had achieved England’s reunion with Rome and the restoration of Catholic Worship. Condemned by ardent Protestants, it was popular with many of her subjects.  Priests were permitted to perform Catholic rituals.  Mary’s burnings proved brutal but an effective means of bringing people back to the Catholic faith.

On the 17thNovember 1558, Queen Mary I of England died, and on the 13thDecember a requiem mass was held, and on the 14thDecember she was buried at Westminster Abbey.

With the death of Queen Mary I, Henry II of France made unsuccessful attempts to persuade the Pope to recognise Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth’s cousin as Queen of England.

On the 12thJanuary 1559, Elizabeth travelled from Whitehall to the Tower of London by barge along the River Thames.  On the 14thJanuary, Elizabeth’s coronation procession travelled through the city of London, greeted by pageants that praised her dynasty and Protestant religion.  On the 15thJanuary, Elizabeth was crowned Queen Elizabeth I of England at Westminster Abbey by Bishop Oglethorpe.

Elizabeth like her father; Henry VIII became Head of the Church of England.  She inherited a country divided over religion; Catholic and Protestant.  Elizabeth set about tearing down Catholicism in England and promoting Protestant beliefs during her reign.

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Norman History: Mary of Blois

Mary of Blois
Mary of Blois

Mary was born in Blois, France in 1136.  Her parents were Stephen of Blois and Matilda of Boulogne, the grand-daughter of St.Margaret, Queen of Scotland.  From an early age Mary’s future had been mapped out for her, she would become a child of God, and would enter the church.

From an early age she entered Stratford Convent in London, with nuns from St.Sulpice in Rennes.  Her life in the church would take a dramatic change of direction, not of her choice.  Her brother would die, and events that followed led to her abduction, and marriage.

With the death of King Henry I, Stephen quickly snatched the English crown from Empress Matilda, she being Henry’s legitimate child and designated heir.  England’s nobles backed Stephen’s actions, not wanting to be ruled by a Queen.

Some twenty years of bloodshed followed, as Stephen and Matilda took the country into a state of Civil War, each believing they be the rightful King or Queen of England.

Henry, the Count of Anjou and Matilda’s son made several unsuccessful incursions against Stephen. Finally Stephen and Henry made an agreement, upon Stephen’s death; the English crown would pass to Henry, and not Stephen’s children.  It was an admittance by Stephen that the true heir upon the death of Henry I was Matilda.

Stephen of Blois and Matilda of Boulogne were blessed with three children:

  • Eustace IV being the eldest became the Count of Boulogne, and held the title until his death in 1153.
  • William was born around 1134 and went on to marry Isabel de Warenne in 1149, heiress to William de Warenne (3rdEarl of Surrey). In 1153 became Count of Boulogne.  With clergy assistance made a deal with Henry of Anjou, by waving his rights to the English crown in return be rfecognised as the Count of Boulogne and Earl of Surrey and all lands that go with said title.
  • Mary whose holy life had started out at the convent in Stratford was moved to a new convent, founded by her parents for her at Lillechurch, Higham in Kent, a sister convent of St.Sulpice. The 1155-1158 Charter of Henry II, granted Lillechurch to Mary and her nuns, which suggested Mary held a position of authority.  Prior to 1160 Mary became the Abbess of Romsey Abbey.

Mary’s brother, William the Count of Boulogne, died in 1159 during the Siege of Toulouse, and was succeeded by his sister Mary.  Mary’s life was turned upside down, for she was a child of God, and now she was a great heiress, the Countess of Boulogne, and through her father she had a rival claim to the English throne.

Mary became a rich prize, and Mathew of Alsace, second son to the Count of Flanders, abducted her from Romsey, and forced her into marriage with him.  There was much outrage amongst the clergy, for marriage with a nun was a breach against Cannon Law.  The Pope showed his displeasure by imposing an interdict on Mathew of Alsace. In time the marriage was allowed to stand by order of the Pope following years of disapproval.

Mathew of Alsace, he who forced Mary into marriage with him, proved to be an unscrupulous husband in the eyes of Henry II.  Mathew made claim to Mortain land held by Henry II, which should have been Mary’s by right of inheritance.  An agreement was forged; Mathew would renounce any claims of his wife’s estate, that were in royal hands in return for £1000.

Mary had little love for Henry II, believing he be involved in her abduction and marriage against her will.

Mary and Mathew had two daughters: Ida and Matilda.  Mathew divorced Mary in 1170 at the request of his dying father and Emperor; Frederick Barbarossa. The aim of the divorce was to get the interdict placed on him at the time of his marriage lifted.

The interdict placed on Mathew was finally lifted by the Pope when Mary returned to convent life. Mary became a Benedictine nun at St.Austrebert, Montreuil.  She lived out the remainder of her years at the convent and died in July 1182.

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Historic Tudor Law

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King Henry VIII

Henry VIII came to the throne on the 21stApril 1509, upon the death of his father, Henry VII.  On the 24thJune 1509, Henry married his brother Arthur’s widow, Catharine of Aragon after receiving special dispensation to marry her from the pope, and they had one child; Mary.

His appointed nominee Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the son of a Suffolk wool merchant, handled the administration of the state. Later, was to become Bishop of London, Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor, and at one time considered more powerful than the king himself.

His zest for a male heir and son to the English Throne, led to his request to have his first marriage to Catherine, annulled.

Cardinal Wolsey was dispatched to Rome to mediate on his behalf, with the Pope.  English Tudor King; Henry VIII was refused the right to have his marriage to Catharine of Aragon annulled by the Pope.  He who sought to marry Anne Boleyn…he who sought a male heir.

Cardinal Wolsey’s failure had a consequence to pay, he was replaced by Thomas Moore, but all too quickly he opposed the divorce, and paid for his opposition with his head.

Bad feelings erupted between Henry and the Church in Rome.  In 1534 an act was passed making Henry head of the Church of England, not the Pope.

Henry then used Parliament to achieve his goal, by declaring his first marriage be void, leaving him free to marry Anne Boleyn.  She who had promised Henry an heir received disapproval from him, by giving birth to a daughter.

Henry held resentment towards the churches wealth and power, until it finally erupted with the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538.

For it was in 1538, Henry took his most forceful step against the power of the church.  The start of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  To avoid a mass outcry, smaller and less provincial houses had their property confiscated by the crown, and their buildings destroyed beyond use. The larger houses followed in 1539.

Henry’s resentment at the churches wealth and power, led to his decision in an effort to suppress the Monasteries.  Much of their wealth found it’s way directly or indirectly into the royal treasury.  Monastery buildings were sold to the wealthy gentry.  Those who bought monastic property or lands were more inclined to support Henry in his break with Rome, if it was in their self-interest.

Those who benefited by the Dissolution was not the King, for in his haste to acquire funds, sold off monastic land at a fraction of its true worth.  This led to a new class of person, becoming one of a selected breed of gentry in this our land.

One Tudor Legacy… When local rectors owned land in the parish, they were held responsible for repairing the chancel using money produced from the land.  Monasteries often acquired this land together with the responsibility for paying for the repair of the chancel.  When Henry VIII sold the monasteries land, the liability to pay for the repair of the chancel remained with the land sold.

Move through history some 480 years, we find some 500,000 property owners are affected by the Dissolution of the Monasteries to this day by a historic law known as “The Chancel Repair.”

Property owners became liable for keeping the Chancel – Altar area – Choir stalls and east end of building in good repair, wind-proofed and water tight.

What had become a blessing for vicars, knowing there is an archaic fund out there to pay repair bills, has become a curse for local residents whose property fall within these boundaries.

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