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Walking London’s Walls

Recently, I walked the route of London’s old city walls using an app called Relive to trace and then map my walk. The stone walls, which surrounded London to the east, north and west were built early in the third century when Britain was under Roman rule. They were maintained and used throughout the Middle Ages, only becoming obsolete in the sixteenth century. The route...

Murder in Canterbury Cathedral

As King Henry II passed December 1170 in Normandy, France, he began to receive reports of Thomas Becket’s inflammatory behaviour in England. Because many of our sources for the denouement of the quarrel between Henry and Becket are contradictory, the exact sequence of events is hard to reconstruct with certainty. It seems that Henry, although a man famous for his temper, was not provoked to anger – initially...

Return of the Archbishop: Thomas Becket lands in England

On 30 November 1170, that is 850 years ago today, Thomas Becket set sail for England from Wissant in the county of Boulogne. On 1 December he landed at Sandwich in Kent. He had not set foot in England for six years following his clash with King Henry II and subsequent exile. He came back to a mixed reception. Becket’s biographers play up the warmth shown to him by the...

The Coronation of Henry the Young King

In my last blog on the dispute between King Henry II and Thomas Becket, we saw how formidable a character Henry was. He had, by the age of twenty-one, assumed power in territories which stretched from Hadrian’s Wall in the north to the Pyrenees in the south and, throughout his reign, he impressed friend and foe alike with his energy and intelligence. His ascent to the throne...

Andrew Ziminski, The Stone Mason: A History of Building Britain (John Murray, London; 2020)

It is undeniably the case that university-educated scholars have been responsible for the majority of written research into the buildings and architectural practices of the past. Consequently, when stone masons have been the subject of academic study, the focus has often been, primarily, on the masons’ intellectual role as designers of the medieval buildings which we see today. We should, of course, be grateful to historians...

David Carpenter, Henry III 1207-1258 (Yale University Press, 2020)

For over thirty years, as part of its ‘English Monarchs Series’ exploring the history of the ‘longest permanent governing institution in Europe’, Yale University Press has published biographies of English kings and queens. These books are rightly considered to offer not only the best and fullest biographies of the men and women who have occupied the throne of England, but also a window through which...

Wren’s Masons: The Strongs and the Rebuilding of London after the Great Fire

As is well known, London was destroyed by fire in September 1666. By the time the conflagration had ended, some eighty-seven parish churches, along with St Paul's Cathedral, were no more. All the city's main public buildings, including the Royal Exchange and Guildhall, as well as forty-four livery companies' halls were smoking ruins. Over 13,000 private homes, too, had been razed to the ground. The...

Finding the Traces of London’s Huguenots

Angers is a pretty, prosperous city in the province formerly known as Anjou in western France. Unlike Cologne, Antwerp or Amsterdam, it is not a city which one immediately connects with the history of London. True, for a brief period in the Middle Ages, three kings of England, Henry II, Richard I and John were also the counts of Anjou, but there is little evidence...

The Restoration of Canterbury Cathedral

‘While Thomas lives you will have neither peace nor quiet nor see good days’. We know not who supposedly uttered these words to King Henry II (1154-89) about his troublesome archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket (d. 1170), but whoever it was, they had arguably more perspicacity than the two protagonists themselves. Henry was one of England’s greatest monarchs. He was a man filled with seemingly...

The Mayor, the King, and the Conditions of Loyalty

‘Lord, as long as you are willing to be a good king and lord to us, we will be faithful and devoted to you.’ With these words, on 17 March 1265, Thomas fitz Thomas, a draper and mayor of London, told the king of England to his face that the Londoners’ loyalty to him as their king was conditional on his proving himself as a good...