London in the Time of the Tudors: Henry VII – Part Two

Title: London in the Time of the Tudors

Author: Sir Walter Besant

Public Domain

Listen to PART ONE here:


Hi, I’m historian Christine Morgan and welcome to A Brief History. On this episode we continue the story of Henry VII from the book London in the Time of Tudors. In part one we left off with the wedding of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales and his Spanish princess, Katherine of Aragon…

After the ceremony a splendid feast was held, with dancing and disguisings. Holinshed concludes his account of the wedding by an anecdote which, if true, proves that the Princess was truly the wife of Arthur. The day after, the Royal party went to Westminster, where there were tournaments and great rejoicings. The Prince died five months afterwards. Another royal wedding, held on the 25th January 1502, caused even greater rejoicing. It was that of the Princess Margaret with the King of Scotland; a marriage which promised peace and goodwill between the two nations; a promise which has been fulfilled in a manner unexpected, by the failure of the male line of Tudors. One observes how strong the desire of Henry VII. was to conciliate the goodwill of London. He borrowed money from the City over and over again, but he always repaid these loans. The exactions that we find recorded are chiefly those of his old age—when he was fifty-two years of age, which was old for that time, when he had grown covetous. He could be ostentatious when show was wanted, witness the marriage of Prince Arthur with Katherine. He could also entertain with regal splendour, witness the Christmas cheer he offered to the Mayor and Aldermen.

“Henry VII., in the ninth Year of his Reign, holding his Feast of Christmas at Westminster, on the twelfth Day, feasted Ralph Anstry, then Mayor of London, and his Brethren the Aldermen, with other Commoners in great number; and, after Dinner, dubbing the Mayor Knight, caused him with his Brethren to stay and behold the Disguisings and other Disports in the Night following, shewed in the great Hall, which was richly hanged with Arras, and staged about on both sides; which Disports being ended, in the Morning, the King, the Queen, the Embassadors, and other Estates, being set at a Table of Stone, sixty knights and esquires served sixty Dishes to the King’s Mess, and as many to the Queen’s (neither Flesh nor Fish), and served the Mayor with twenty-four Dishes to his Mess, of the same manner, with sundry Wines in most plenteous wise. And, finally, the King and Queen being conveyed, with great Lights, into the Palace, the Mayor, with his Company, in Barges, returned and came to London by Break of the next day.” (Maitland, vol. i. p. 218.)

Henry VII. was respected and feared, rather than loved. He kept his word; if he borrowed he paid back; he was not savage or murderous; and he was a great lover of the fine arts. But the chief glory of his reign is that he enforced order throughout the realm: it is his chief glory, because order is a most difficult thing to enforce at a time when the people have been flying to arms on every possible occasion for forty years. In the rising of Lambert Simnel; in that of Perkin Warbeck; in the strange determination of the Cornishmen to march upon London,—one can see the natural result of a long civil war. Men become, very easily, ready to refer everything to the arbitration of battle; in such arbitration anything may happen. It was such arbitration that set Edward up and pulled Henry down, and then reversed the arrangement. It was such arbitration that placed the crown on Henry Tudor’s head. Why should not young Perkin step into a throne as Richard, Duke of York? Henry accepted the arbitrament of battle, defeated his rival, and dispersed the rebel armies one after the other. One would think that the spirit of rebellion would be quickly daunted by so many reverses. It was not so; for nearly a hundred years later there were rebellions. They broke out again and again: the people could not lose that trick of flying to arms; the barons could not understand that their power was gone; the memory still survived of princes dragged down, and princes set up, as Fortune turned the way of Victory.

Henry, like all the Tudors, was arbitrary: he had no intention of being ruled by the City; by his agents Empson and Dudley he levied fines right and left upon the wealthier merchants; he put the Mayor and the Sheriffs in the Marshalsea on a trumped-up charge, and they had to pay a fine of £1400 before he would let them out. He seized Christopher Hawes, Alderman, and put him also in prison, but the poor man died of terror and grief. He imprisoned William Capel, Alderman, who refused to pay a fine of £2000 for his liberty, and remained in prison till the King died. Lawrence Aylmer, ex-Mayor, was also imprisoned in the Compter, where he remained till the King’s death. Henry understood very clearly that with a full Treasury many things are possible that are impossible with empty coffers. He accumulated, therefore, a tremendous hoard: it is said to have amounted to one million eight hundred thousand pounds in money, plate, and jewels.

The events which belong especially to London in this reign, as we have seen, were not numerous, nor were they of enduring importance. As regards building, the King pulled down a chapel and a house—the house where Chaucer once lived—at the west end of Westminster Abbey, and built the Chapel called after his name; the Cross of Westchepe was finished and put up; Baynard’s Castle was rebuilt, “not after the former manner with embellishments and Towers,” but more convenient. It was the time when the castle was passing into the country house; it became now a large and handsome palace, built round two courts facing the river, much like those palaces built along the Strand, but without any garden except the courts.

The City showed more than its usual jealousy of strangers when in 1486 it passed an Ordinance that “no apprentice should be taken nor Freedom given, but to such as were gentlemen born, agreeable to the clause in the oath given to every Freeman at the time he was made Free.”… “You shall take no Apprentice but if he be free born.” These are Maitland’s words. The statement is surely absurd. For suppose such a regulation to hold good for the wholesale distributing Companies, how could it be sustained in the case of the Craft Companies? Did a gentleman’s son ever become a working blacksmith or a journeyman saddler? Another kind of jealousy was shown by the City when they passed an Act which prohibited any citizen under penalty of £100 (one-third to be given the Informer) for taking any goods or merchandise to any Fair or Market within the Kingdom, for the term of seven years. What did it mean? That the country merchants should come to London for their wares? Parliament set aside this Regulation the following year.

A sanitary edict was passed to the effect that no animals should be killed within the City. There is no information as to the length of time that this edict was obeyed, if it were ever obeyed at all.

In 1503 the King showed his opinion of the authority of the City when he granted a Charter to the Company of Merchant Taylors which practically placed them outside the jurisdiction of the Mayor. Some of the other Companies, perceiving that, if this new independence were granted everywhere, there would be an end of the City, joined in a petition to Parliament for placing them formally under the authority of the Mayor and Aldermen. The City got a Charter from the King in 1505. The Charter, which cost 5000 marks, was especially levelled against recent encroachments of foreigners in buying and selling, and was drawn up to the same effect, and partly in the same words, as the Fifth and last Charter of King Edward the Third. Thus the conclusion of Edward’s Charter was as follows:—

“We … have granted to the said Mayor, etc., that no strangers shall from henceforth sell any Wares in the same City or Suburbs thereof by Retail, nor shall keep any House, nor be any Broker in the said City or Suburbs thereof, saving always the merchants of High Almaine, etc.”

Henry’s Charter was as follows:—

“That of all Time, of which the Memory of Man is not to the contrary, for the Commonweal of the Realm and City aforesaid, it hath been used, and by Authority of Parliament approved and confirmed, that no Stranger from the Liberty of the City may buy or sell, from any Stranger from the Liberties of the same City, any Merchandize or Wares within the Liberties of the same City, upon Forfeiture of the same.”

A curious story of this reign relates how the King, to use a homely proverb, cut off his nose to spite his face. For the conduct of Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, in acknowledging the Pretender, so incensed him against the Flemings that he banished them all. No doubt he inflicted hardship upon the Flemings, but he also—which he had not intended—deprived the Merchant Adventurers of London of their principal trade. The Hanseatic Merchants, perceiving the possible advantage to themselves, imported vast quantities of Flemish produce. Then the ’prentices rose and broke into the Gildhalla Teutonicorum—the Steelyard—pillaging the rooms and warehouses. There was a free fight in Thames Street, and after a time the rioters were dispersed. Some were taken prisoners and a few hanged. As nothing more is said about the Flemings, one supposes that they all came back again.

There had been grave complaints about the perjuries of Juries in the City. The Jurymen took bribes to favour one cause or the other. It was therefore enacted:—

“That, for the future, no Person or Persons be impannelled or sworn into any jury or Inquest in any of the City Courts, unless he be worth forty Marks; and if the Cause to be tried amount to that Sum, then no Person shall be admitted as a Juror worth less than one hundred Marks; and every Person so qualified, refusing to serve as a Juryman, for the first Default to forfeit one Shilling, the second two, and every one after to double the Sum, for the Use of the City.”

“And when upon Trial it shall be found, that a Petty Jury have brought in an unjust Verdict, then every Member of the same to Forfeit twenty pounds, or more, according to the Discretion of the Court of Lord-Mayor and Aldermen; and also each Person so offending to suffer six Months’ imprisonment, or less, at the Discretion of the said Mayor and Aldermen, without Bail or Mainprize, and for ever after to be rendered incapable of serving in any jury.”

“And if upon Enquiry it be found, that any Juror has taken Money as a Bribe, or other Reward, or Promise of Reward, to favour either Plaintiff or Defendant in the Cause to be tried by him then, and in every such case, the Person so offending to forfeit and pay to the Party by him thus injured ten times the Value of such Sum or Reward by him taken, and also to suffer imprisonment as already mentioned, and besides, to be disabled from ever serving in that Capacity; and that every Person or Persons guilty of bribing any Juror, shall likewise forfeit ten times the value given, and suffer imprisonment as aforesaid.” (Maitland, vol. i. p. 219.)

Fortifications commanding roads and approaches to the City were erected in the year 1496, especially on the south side, in order to defend the City against the Cornish rebels. It is quite possible that some of them remained, and that some of the supposed works of 1642 were only a restoration or a rebuilding of forts and bastions on the same places. In the year 1498 many gardens in Finsbury Fields were thrown into a spacious Field for the use of the London Archers or Trained bands. This field is now the Artillery Ground with Bunhill Fields Cemetery. In 1501 the Lord Mayor erected Kitchens and Offices in the Guildhall, by means of which he entertained the Aldermen and the principal citizens.

Towards the end of his reign, the King, finding himself afflicted with an incurable disease, took steps in the nature of atonement for his sins. He issued a general pardon to all men for offences committed against his laws—thieves, murderers, and certain others excepted. He paid the fees of prisoners who were kept in gaol for want of money to discharge their fees; he also paid the debts of all those who were confined in the “counters” of Ludgate, i.e. the free men of the City, for sums of forty shillings and under; and some he relieved that were confined for as much as ten pounds. “Hereupon,” says Holinshed, “there were processions daily in every City and parish to pray to Almighty God for his restoring to health and long continuance in the same.” But in vain; for the disease continued and the King died.

Here is a note on the first visit of Henry the Eighth to the City:—

“Prince Henry, who afterwards succeeded his father on the throne as King Henry VIII., but was at the time a child of seven years, paid a visit to the City (30 Oct. 1498), where he received a hearty welcome, and was presented by the Recorder, on behalf of the citizens, with a pair of gilt goblets. In reply to the Recorder, who in presenting this ‘litell and powre’ gift, promised to remember his grace with a better at some future time, the prince made the following short speech:—

‘Fader Maire, I thank you and your Brethren here present of this greate and kynd remembraunce which I trist in tyme comyng to deserve. And for asmoche as I can not give unto you according thankes, I shall pray the Kynges Grace to thank you, and for my partye I shall not forget yor kyndnesse.’” (Sharpe, London and the Kingdom, vol. i. p. 334.)

The funeral of the King was most sumptuous.

“His corpse was conveyed from Richmond to St. Paul’s on the 9th May, being met on its way at St. George’s Bar, in Southwark, by the mayor, aldermen, and a suite of 104 commoners, all in black clothing and all on horseback. The streets were lined with other members of the companies bearing torches, the lowest craft occupying the first place. Next after the freemen of the city came the ‘strangers’—Easterlings, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Venetians, Genoese, Florentines and ‘Lukeners’—on horseback and on foot, also bearing torches. These took up their position in Gracechurch Street. Cornhill was occupied by the lower crafts, ordered in such a way that ‘the most worshipful crafts’ stood next unto ‘Paules.’ A similar order was preserved the next day, when the corpse was removed from Saint Paul’s to Westminster. The lowest crafts were placed nearest to the Cathedral, and the most worshipful next to Temple Bar, where the civic escort terminated. The mayor and aldermen proceeded to Westminster by water, to attend the ‘masse and offering.’ The mayor, with his mace in his hand, made his offering next after the Lord Chamberlain; those aldermen who had passed the chair offered next after the Knights of the Garter, and before all ‘knights for the body’; whilst the aldermen who had not yet served as mayor made their offering after the knights.” (Ibid. p. 341.)

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