Book 1, Ch. 7: Henry VII and Henry VIII

A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by R Baldwin, London, 1773.

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John Noorthouck, 'Book 1, Ch. 7: Henry VII and Henry VIII', A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark, (London, 1773), pp. 106-122. British History Online [accessed 25 June 2024].

John Noorthouck. "Book 1, Ch. 7: Henry VII and Henry VIII", in A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark, (London, 1773) 106-122. British History Online, accessed June 25, 2024,

Noorthouck, John. "Book 1, Ch. 7: Henry VII and Henry VIII", A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark, (London, 1773). 106-122. British History Online. Web. 25 June 2024,

In this section


From the accession of Henry VII. to the death of Henry VIII.

The battle at Bosworth finally decided the disputes between the houses of York and Lancaster, in which so much English blood had been shed. Henry VII. was the victorious representative of the house of Lancaster, and the male heirs of Edward IV. being now dead, he united the claims of both houses by a marriage with the princess Elizabeth.

As the cultivation of trade and arts had enabled the common people to acquire property, the encrease and circulation of money by a general industry, produced a relaxation of the feudal tyranny which tied the villain to the land, and gave rise to personal freedom. The mode of subordination altered accordingly; rents were given in lieu of services, and the husbandman tilling land for his own profit, agriculture was proportionably improved, to the greater profit of the lord as well as the tenant. In this slight review, the art of printing must not be overlooked: letters released from their long confinement in the cloister, began now to spread abroad; men became thinking beings, and civilization thus powerfully assisted, made a greater progress during the century following the importation of that useful art, than it had done in all the centuries from the Norman invasion down to that time.

Shortly after Henry came to London, a new and till then unknown distemper attacked the city, called the sweating sickness. It began the 21st of September, and continued to the end of October: it is said to have first appeared among the troops he brought with him from France. In that short time it destroyed many thousands of persons, and, among the rest, three lord mayors, and three sheriffs. It proved mortal in twenty four hours; but those who survived that time generally recovered. It returned four times in sixty-six years, and being supposed peculiar to England and Englishmen was termed Sudor Anglicanus; but Dr. Mead has controverted that opinion.

Henry had recourse to the city of London for a loan of 6000 marks, to discharge the debts incurred in France to equip himself for his late expedition. The citizens were rather backward in parting with their money to a king to whose disposition they were as yet strangers: however they raised half the sum, and his majesty established his credit by punctual payment at the stipulated time.

The cross in West Cheap or Cheapside, which had been magnificently restored, was finished at the private expence of particular citizens; among which the name of John Fisher a mercer, is recorded, for having given 600 marks. Among other regulations an act of common council passed this year to prevent improper persons obtaining the freedom of the corporation; and it is probable from this circumstance, that the country people, seeing the great chance of rising in circumstances by trade, were generally desirous to make their children citizens of London. This city law imported, that no apprentice should be taken, or the freedom given, excepting they were gentlemen born; agreeable to that clause in the freeman's oath, which says "Ye shall take none apprentice but if he be free born; that is to say, no bondsman's son, nor the son of an alien."


Another act of common council was passed in 1487 calculated to draw a resort to the city, by prohibiting the citizens from carrying goods to any market or fair within the kingdom for seven years; but this was deemed so oppressive, that it was set aside by parliament. (fn. 1) The king rebuilt Baynard's castle this year, not as before, with towers and battlements, but fit for a princely habitation.

The king's marriage with Elizabeth of the house of York, was such a favourite point with the nation, who hoped thereby to consolidate both pretensions, that it was with great disgust the people saw the king so far retain his early party-prepossessions and political jealousy as not only to treat her harshly, but to shew a reluctance to conferring on her the ceremony of coronation. Edward Plantagenet, earl of Warwick, son of the duke of Clarence, had been kept imprisoned in Yorkshire, by Richard III. Henry no less suspicious, removed him to the Tower, where he still retained him in confinement. A report had spread of his escape from thence; and this report was made use of by one Richard Simon an Oxford priest, as the foundation of a plan to disturb Henry's government, countenanced as was thought, by the queen dowager, in resentment for her daughter's ill usage. Lambert Simnel, a baker's son, was instructed to personate Warwick in Ireland, where his father had been much respected. Here the people crouded under his standard, and proclaimed him king by the name of Edward VI. Henry confined the queen dowager in a nunnery, and seized her lands and revenue: and, to convince the people of the imposture, caused the unhappy young earl to be conducted publickly through the city to St. Paul's church; and thence back to his prison. Lambert landed in England, was defeated by the king at the battle of Stoke; was pardoned, employed as a scullion in the king's kitchen, and afterward made one of his falconers.


In 1488 the king applied to the city for 4000l. on the plea of assisting the duke of Brittany then oppressed by the French king, which he readily obtained, with 2000l. more: yet he suffered him to be reduced, and the dutchy to be annexed to France. The parliament this year taking into consideration the stench and filth occasioned by the slaughter-houses in London, passed an act to prevent the killing of beasts within the walls of London, or any other walled town. (fn. 2) The same parliament confirmed the city's right to the conservation of breaches in the Thames, so far as the tide ebbed and flowed. (fn. 3)


Henry's ruling vice was avarice; and in 1492 he levied a benevolence on his subjects on the pretence of a French war, the most popular plea he could make use of; and this imposition was so highly rated by the assessors, that the city of London alone, including the contributions of the aldermen, produced nearly 15,000l. Archbishop Morton the chancellor, on this occasion made use of a dilemma that no one could evade; if the parties applied to, lived frugally, they were told their parsimony must undoubtedly have made them wealthy; if they lived generously, they were assessed accordingly, as opulent persons. (fn. 4)

The countenance shewn by the dutchess of Burgundy in Flanders to Perkin Warbec, who personated the duke of York, murdered by Richard in the Tower; induced Henry to banish all Flemings from London, to recal his own subjects from Flanders, and to cut off all commerce with the Low Countries. While the English Merchant-adventurers were great sufferers by this prohibition, the Hanseatic merchants availed themselves much of a circumstance which threw the trade with Flanders into their hands. A riot ensued; their warehouses at the Still-yard were plundered; but assistance being procured by water from Southwark, and the lord mayor bringing a body of armed men to protect them, the rioters were dispersed, and those of them that were taken were brought to justice.


In the year 1494 was published a Chronicle of England and France collected by Robert Fabian alderman and sheriff of London; from whose work many particulars respecting English affairs, have been taken by later historians.

Henry in the ninth year of his reign gave an entertainment to the magistrates and principal citizens of London on Twelfth day at Westminster. After dinner he knighted Ralph Austrey the mayor, and detained him and his brethren to see the pastimes in Westminster-hall at night, when it was richly hung with tapestry and staged on both sides. After the sports, the king, queen, and courtiers, being seated at a table of stone, sixty knights with their esquires served sixty dishes to the king's mess, as many to the queen's, with twenty four to the mayor, neither of fish or flesh; with plenty of wine. At break of day the king and queen retired, and the citizens returned home in their barges.

As there is no character more respectable than an upright lawyer, so there is no character more infamous and terrible than one who employs the forms of justice to the oppression of mankind. The king's passion for money was notorious; and he found two fit instruments to gratify his insatiable covetousness, in Empson and Dudley, two prostitute lawyers, who, by the most arbitrary proceedings upon the penal statutes, fines, forfeitures, and compositions, preyed upon the people to fill their master's coffers. Sir William Capel, an alderman of London was fined 2700l. but by great intercession it was compounded for 1600l. and this, which was the first remarkable instance of their oppression, soon became a precedent for extending the practice of legal extortion. "That extream "justice is extream injustice, is an adage well known, and this shews the happiness of trials by juries," to interpose between the subject and the rigour of law. But proud as we may well be of this privilege, it proves of little security in iniquitous times. Those causes which came to a hearing were tried by packed juries, who were either bribed or intimidated: and these practices became so flagrant as to call for the interposition of parliament; which limited the qualifications of London jurymen, and laid penalties on default of appearance, unjust verdicts, and on the receiving and giving bribes. (fn. 5)


The system of rapacity pursued by Henry excited general murmurs and discontent; an insurrection of Cornishmen was headed by the Lord Audley, who marched them up, hoping to meet with a reinforcement as they passed, especially from Kent. The mayor and sheriffs took proper precautions for the security of the city, until the king brought southward an army levied to oppose the Scots; and with this force he routed the insurgents on Blackheath.


Certain grounds on the north side of Chiswell-street, and in the manor of Finsbury, were, in the year 1498, converted into a spacious field, inclosed for the use of the London archers, or trained bands, and denominated the Artilleryground, where they are still mustered and exercised at stated times. Other parts northward of the Artillery-ground were used during the great plague in 1665, as a common cemetery; and the Diffenters of London now have a burial-ground on the same spot.

The Flemish merchants, who severely felt their prohibition from all commerce with England, prevailed on the archduke Philip to send commissioners to London to treat of an accommodation: the Flemish court agreed that all English rebels should be excluded the Low Countries; with other articles, for the mutual security of their commercial interests: this treaty was so agreeable to the Flemings, that it was dignified with the name of Intercursus Magnus, the Great Treaty; and the intercourse was resumed with much joy on both sides (fn. 6). Perkin Warbec thus deprived of a retreat in Flanders, and also in Scotland, hid himself for a while in Ireland; till at last, willing to try his fortune among the still discontented Cornishmen, he landed in the west of England under the title of Richard IV. Numbers flocking to his standard, he besieged Exeter; but the king marching against him, he despaired of success, and took sanctuary at Beaulieu, in the New Forest. He surrendered himself at length, under promise of pardon, was conducted through the streets of London in a kind of mock triumph, and imprisoned. Mr. Walpole's supposition, that he might have been the true duke of York, is discredited by a confession which was now obtained from him, and published for the satisfaction of the nation. He made his escape; but, being retaken, was, for greater contempt, set in the stocks, and obliged to read his confession aloud to the people, and was then confined in the Tower. Here he entered into a correspondence with the unhappy earl of Warwick, whose long imprisonment had impaired his faculties, and a scheme was concerted for the recovery of their liberty, for which they were both executed (fn. 7).




The plague made such ravages in the kingdom in 1500, and particularly in London, that the king, after shifting from place to place, removed with the queen over to Calais for greater security. Here he had an interview with Philip archduke of Austria, whose whole behaviour shewed an earnest desire to cultivate a friendship with England. The king so far honoured the city of London, as to send an account of this meeting to the lord-mayor and aldermen. A marriage was concluded in 1501 between Arthur prince of Wales, and Catharine the Infanta of Spain: she made her public entry October 4, and was received by the magistrates of London in their formalities with great pomp. But the young prince died a few months afterward, leaving the succession to the kingdom, and to his widow, open to his brother Henry; for the king, unwilling to lose her dowry, forced his second son to marry her, and procured a papal dispensation for that purpose. This event, without any thanks being due to any of the parties, prepared the way for one of the most happy revolutions this kingdom ever experienced, as will appear in due time.

Sir John Shaw, the lord-mayor for this year, first introduced the custom of his brethren the aldermen attending their mayor on horseback to the river, when he took barge for Westminster: he also, by a contribution from the city companies, built proper offices at Guildhall for public entertainments, which, for want of these conveniences, had been hitherto given at Grocers-hall.

In this year was also celebrated the marriage of the princess Margaret, by proxy, with James IV. of Scotland; which laid the first foundation of the future union of two kingdoms, that had hitherto been at continual variance, though their situation so naturally dictated an union of interests. It was objected to Henry in council, that by this marriage England might fall under the dominion of Scotland; but the king acutely replied, "that in such case Scotland would only become an accession to England; for that the greater would draw the less (fn. 8)." He this year took down a chapel of the Virgin Mary, and a tavern, at the eastern end of Westminster abbey, and at the expence of 14,000l. erected that noble chapel which still bears his name.

Fleet dyke or ditch, part of the antient river Wells, was this year well cleansed and rendered navigable for barges up to Old born, or Holborn bridge; and that noxious place called Houndsditch, part of the city ditch under the eastern wall, so called from the filth, carrion, and dead dogs usually cast there, was arched over and paved. The company of Taylors, first incorporated by Edward IV. were now re-incorporated by the name of Merchant Taylors.


The city obtained a charter of confirmation in 1505, dated July 23d, in the 20th of Henry VII. but the greedy king exacted 5000 marks for the purchase of it. The principal objects of this charter were to restrain the encroachments of foreign merchants on the franchises and customs of the citizens; and to regulate the qualifications of brokers: what relates to these two points will be found in the Appendix No. XXXVI.

King Henry this year also confirmed to the merchants trading with woollen cloths to the Netherlands, all their former privileges, by the name now first given to them, of—"the fellowship of Merchants Adventurers of England." At the same time the Stillyard merchants were prohibited from carrying English cloths to the place of residence of the Merchants Adventurers in the Low Countries: and the aldermen of the Stillyard were obliged to enter into a recognizance of 2000 marks for the observance of this restriction (fn. 9)


When bad men draw toward their latter end, they are often seen to attempt redeeming their characters rather than atoning for their faults, by acts of piety and ostentatious charity. Thus it fared with Henry; who having amassed prodigious wealth by private oppression, now thought it high time to apply some part of it to efface the odium of the means by which he acquired the whole. While his extortions were carrying on with one hand by the means of Empson and Dudley, he employed the other in endowing religious foundations, in giving liberal alms; and in 1507, he discharged, at his own cost, all those prisoners in London whose debts did not exceed forty shillings. How little real expence he put himself to on these hypocritical occasions, may be easily conceived, when we find that Thomas Knesworth, who had been mayor two years before, and Richard Shoare and Roger Grove his sheriffs, were dragged to the Marshalsea on the plea of abuses in the exercises of their respective offices; and, without any legal process, were obliged to purchase their freedom, by the payment of 1400 l. Christopher Haws, alderman, being seized in like manner, and dreading the hands he fell into, died of grief. Sir William Capel, who served lord-mayor in 1503, was seized in 1508, on an accusation of neglect in prosecuting some coiners, and fined 2000 l. but not submitting to such arbitrary proceedings, he was detained in prison; until the death of the king delivered him and many others from their apprehensions of this species of violence.

St. Paul's school was about this time founded by Dr. Collet, dean of St. Paul's, who appointed salaries for the masters, &c. under the regulation of the company of mercers.

By the operation of commerce, and the many deaths and confiscations during the late civil wars, the feudal establishment was now nearly destroyed; Henry's suspicious temper co-operated to reduce the power of the nobles, as he found his security and the regal power much strengthened by these means; thus serving his people without being influenced by their welfare as an object. The commercial system was also favoured in this reign, by the memorable discovery of America, by Christopher Columbus, which opened a field for traffic, manufactures and colonization, the limits of which remain yet unknown. Though Henry missed the honour of being the patron of this discovery, he neglected not the improvement of it: he fitted out Sebastian Cabot, who discovered the main land of North America in 1498, where our colonies now flourish to that degree, as almost to rival the mother country that gave them being.

Brick and stone were, as yet, very seldom employed, except in public buildings; the rest were either cottages with mud walls in the country, or timber and lath houses in towns: gentlemens houses indeed came to be strongly framed with oak, and the intervals filled with brick and mortar (fn. 10).


By the death of prince Arthur, already mentioned, the crown came to Henry VIII. whose accession, April 22, 1509, was celebrated with great joy, by a people wearied with oppression. He immediately cleared the streets of London of foreign vagrants; and endeared himself to his new subjects, by committing Sir Richard Empson, knt. and Edward Dudley, esq. serjeant at law, to the Tower. To screen his father's character, by whose secret orders they had acted, they were not charged with the abuse of their profession, but with a conspiracy against the government (fn. 11); a charge which, whether just or not, their jurors were in no humour to acquit them of: their condemnation was confirmed by an attainder in parliament, and they were beheaded on Tower-Hill; while their inferior agents were pilloried and exposed to public disgrace.

Henry proved himself a prodigal young heir; and his taste for gaiety speedily dissipated the great treasure his father had so carefully collected, in tilts, tournaments, and other magnificent amusements suited to that age.

The care of watching the city was then properly executed by the citizens, of every ward, themselves, under due regulations; and they had stately processions or marches yearly, on the vigil of St. John the baptist, and on that of St. Peter and St. Paul. Henry, on the eve of St. John, 1510, disguised in the habit of one of his yeomen of the guard, came into the city to see this nocturnal pomp; and was so well pleased with it, that on the eve of St. Peter following, he brought his queen, attended by the principal nobility, into Cheapside to see it also.


The next year Roger Achily lord-mayor caused Leadenhall to be stored with grain, to guard against a scarcity. In this mayoralty Moorfields were levelled, with proper causeways and bridges carried over them, for the conveniency of passengers.

Learning now began to assume some form, and the art of healing to engage the attention of legislature, who restrained the practice to licensed professors, to guard the subject from quacks and empirics. In the 3d of Henry VIII. it was provided, that no one should practise physic and surgery within the city of London, or seven miles round, without being first examined and approved by the bishop of London, or dean of St. Paul's, they calling to their assistance four of the faculty (fn. 12).


The sheriffs of London and Middlesex were, in 1512, first impowered by parliament to impannel jurors for the city courts, under certain qualifications mentioned in the statute (fn. 13).

The growing attention to agriculture had caused the landholders of the villages of Islington, Hoxton, and Shoreditch, in the neighbourhood of the city, to inclose their grounds: the citizens were hereby restrained in their field exercises and sports, which, if they pursued, they were indicted for trespasses. The populace were enraged, and excited to a riot, by a fellow disguised in a merry Andrew's coat, who ran up and down the streets calling for spades and shovels: with which implements they soon levelled the new banks and ditches. A commission was granted by the king to inquire into this disorder, and the city magistrates were reprimanded for their inattention in suffering it. But it is observable, that the populace at all times, in all places, preserve an obstinate attachment to old customs, and shew a corresponding inveteracy against every innovation, even for the most obvious improvements; which frequently require force to carry them into execution.


Every thing in this world is continually fluctuating; corporations had now answered the first end of their creation: their exclusive privileges had sheltered and protected artisans against the feudal claims; but that tyranny was now no more; and the limitations of these seminaries of traders began, under the increase of traffic, to operate to their disadvantage. Strangers shut out of corporations, settled round the walls; hence the trade without, being clear from municipal restrictions and burdens, grew formidable to the trade carried on within. This now began to be the case with London; foreigners to their jurisdiction, whether natives or not, were always regarded with a jealous antipathy, and were frequently sufferers by tumultuous violence. A remarkable instance of this nature happened in 1517, when the usual pastimes on May-day were converted, by the London servants and apprentices, watermen, and other working people, into an outrageous insurrection against foreigners. Preparatory to this commotion, one John Lincoln, a broker, engaged Dr. Bell, who was to preach a Spital sermon in Easter week, to inflame the people by a representation of the grievances the London artificers suffered from the strangers who settled round the city, and from the commerce carried on by foreign merchants (fn. 14). The heart-burnings thus excited discovering many indications of an approaching tumult, some riotous persons were committed to prison, and instructions given to the citizens to take care of their servants. Whether they were unwilling or unable to restrain their dependants, is uncertain; but on May eve the tumult began: the croud gathered from all parts; their companions were forcibly taken from prison, and then running to the out parts, they plundered and destroyed the houses and warehouses of strangers and foreigners until the dawn of day. About three o'clock the mob began to disperse; and then the magistrates seized and committed about 300 of them to several prisons. Cardinal Wolsey, who was then minister, sent some forces into the city; but the disorder being over, nothing remained but to punish those who had been secured for the parts they had acted in it.

A commission was directed to the duke of Norfolk and other noblemen to try the rioters; some of whom were executed on moveable gibbets, which were drawn from street to street for that purpose, to extend the terror of the punishment. But the numbers now in custody were so great, that they were brought before the king in Westminster-hall, to the number of 400, among which were eleven women; they appeared in their shirts, bound with ropes, and with halters about their necks, imploring the king for mercy: after a very severe reproof he pronounced their pardon, and upon being thus favourably dismissed, they tossed up their halters with great shouts of God save the king! The day on which this riot happened, was long known by the name of Evil May day, and in great measure checked the future May games which used to be exhibited on setting up the great shaft or May-pole in Leadenhall-street, before the church thence termed the church of St. Andrew Undershaft.

The magistrates of London were not restored to the king's favour, but through the means of cardinal Wolsey, who had an entire ascendancy over Henry, and was thought to have been well paid by them, for his good offices on the occasion.

On the 1st of February this year, an act of common-council erected the first court of Requests, otherwise termed a court of Conscience, in the city of London. It was ordered by this act, "That the lord-mayor and aldermen for the time being, should monthly assign and appoint, two aldermen and four discreet commoners, to sit at Guildhall in a judicial manner twice a week, viz. on Wednesdays and Saturdays, there to hear and determine all matters brought before them, between party and party, being citizens and freemen of London, in all cases where the due debt or damage did not exceed forty shillings." This act was to continue in force for two years, but being found very salutary in preventing trivial litigations in higher and more expensive courts, it was continued by the same authority until it was made perpetual by king James I.

This year the sweating sickness again made its appearance, and destroyed great numbers of citizens. As did the plague soon after in 1521.


The sessions for the peace of London, had hitherto been kept at the monastery of St. Martin le Grand, which being out of the liberty of the city, was found inconvenient and thought dishonourable; the king was therefore petitioned in 1519, for a repeal of that part of the charter of Edward III. by which they were so held. He granted a charter, Appendix No. XXXVII. which removed the sessions to Guildhall. The physicians also this year obtained a charter of incorporation, which gave them authority to examine and license all practitioners of physic within seven miles round the city. See p. 113. ante.


The commercial treaty termed Intercursus Magnus, see p. 110. was in the year 1520, renewed between Henry VIII. and the emperor Charles V. for five years certain (fn. 15).

An interview having been projected between Henry VIII. and Francis I. of France, at Calais, the emperor Charles V. was resolved to be beforehand with Francis, and on his way from Spain to the Low Countries landed unexpectedly at Dover (fn. 16). His chief view was to gain over Wolsey to his interest, to whom both these princes paid their court. Charles was magnificently entertained, though he staid but four days in England.


In 1521, Henry entered the lists of controversy against Martin Luther, the reformer; he wrote against his tenets, and sent a copy of his work to pope Leo, who, in honour of his zeal, conferred on him the title of "Defender of the Faith;" a title still retained by the kings of England, though the first possessor of it so soon forfeited it, by disowning the authority that gave it. Luther replied with some acrimony, and was generally thought to have gained the victory.



The emperor paid Henry another visit in 1522, and was entertained at Greenwich, London, and Windsor; he staid six weeks in England, and was installed a knight of the Garter (fn. 17). London had also the honour of receiving Christian king of Denmark, with his queen, the same year. The result of this visit from Charles was a French war; to carry on which, he had recourse, in 1525, to the levy of a benevolence : but this arbitrary exaction, being first opposed in London, was withstood by the whole kingdom (fn. 18). The plague this year occasioned the city to be so deserted, that the Michaelmas term was adjourned, and the ensuing Christmas was denominated the still Christmas.

By a statute restraining aliens with regard to the number of apprentices and journeymen, and granting powers to the corporations of handicrafts for the examining and stamping their works; (fn. 19) we have the extent of the suburbs of London, at that time expressed, over which the jurisdiction of the wardens of these companies were by that act extended. Their limits of examination reached "two miles from the city; viz. within the town of Westminster, the parishes of St. Martin in the fields, our lady of the Strand, St. Clements Danes without Temple Bar, St. Giles in the fields, St. Andrew Holborn, the town and borough of Southwark, Shoreditch, Whitechapel parish, St. John's Street, (in Clerkenwell) Clerkenwell parish, St. Botolph without Aldgate, St. Katharine's near the Tower of London, and Bermondsey street." This is esteemed an accurate view of the several suburbs of London in the year 1524. But all these suburbs were not yet united to each other by a contiguity of dwellings, as appears by a map of London published about 1560, which is still extant: for St. Giles was then stiled the town of St. Giles, great part of St. Martin's parish was literally in the fields, as was the upper part of St. Andrew's Holborn, with Westminster, Clerkenwell, Shoreditch and Whitechapel; and the street called the Strand, was chiefly taken up by the houses of nobility with large adjoining gardens.


The sweating sickness returned in 1528, and again carried off great numbers of the Londoners; and thereby prevented the annual grand march of the city watch; which, on account of its great expence, was discontinued for the remainder of this reign.

The legality of the king's marriage with Catharine of Arragon, his brother Arthur's widow, now became an object of serious discussion. It had been concluded on by his father on mercenary motives; but, on his death-bed, he had directed his son not to finish an alliance exposed to so many objections. Henry's youth and dissipation had however made him overlook his scruples, until they were revived by those of the rest of the world. The states of Castille opposed the emperor's marriage with the princess Mary, Henry's daughter, on the plea of her illegitimacy; which was again urged by the French ambassador, when a negociation was opened for betrothing her to Francis, or to the duke of Orleans (fn. 20) : but what probably weighed most with Henry, in attempting a divorce, were that the queen was older than himself by six years, he was impatient of having male issue, and her growing infirmities rendered her person less acceptable. Being also a great casuist, the early death of all their children, but this daughter, armed him farther with the curse in the Mosaical law against those who espouse their brother's widow. (fn. 21) Nor were the people totally indifferent in this matter; they had wofully felt the evils resulting from disputed successions to the crown, and were desirous of any event which might secure the national tranquillity in future.

When Henry applied to pope Clement for a divorce, that pontiff was so unfortunately circumstanced, that the emperor Charles, who was then in fact his master, withheld him from granting the full powers required; his conduct was therefore ambiguous, but he sent over cardinal Campeggio with a commission to him and Wolsey to try the validity of the kings marriage. The court sat in Blackfriars London May 31. 1529: the queen was cited before it: she appeared; and, after a pathetic speech, refused submission to the court, but appealed to Rome: and the emperor, who as her nephew was unwilling to see her repudiated, prevailed on the pope to revoke his commission. This event was followed by the disgrace of cardinal Wolsey; and Sir Thomas More was appointed chancellor in his room.

Henry, disappointed in his application to the pope, referred the case of his marriage to the most eminent universities abroad and at home, who pronounced it invalid; as did the convocations of York and Canterbury. Thus fortified, he again applied to the pope, who cited him to appear at Rome, either personally or by proxy; Henry refused the condition, and his quarrel with the pope, gave strength to the national disgusts against the arbitrary exercise of the papal authority over the English church and people. The king married the lady Anne Boleyn, who was brought from Greenwich to London with great magnificence: several laws were passed to loosen the connexions of the nation with the see of Rome; but what chiefly contributed to prepare the people for an alteration of religion, while the king continued attached to the papal doctrines, was, that Tindal and other English reformers, then refugees at Antwerp, not only wrote and circulated books against the corruptions of the church of Rome, but actually made a translation of the scriptures into the vulgar tongue. This great work was at first inaccurately executed; and Tindal was too poor to sacrifice the first impression: he was however enabled to print a more correct edition by the zeal of Tonstal bishop of London, who hoping to discourage these innovations, bought up all the copies he could procure, and burnt them publickly at Paul's Cross (fn. 22).


A patent having been granted by the king in the 13th year of his reign to Sir William Sidney, constituting him keeper of the great beam, or common balance of weight in the city of London; he in the 22d of his reign revoked this grant by a charter (See Appendix No. XXXVIII.) which restored that office in full right to the corporation.


By an act of parliament passed about this time, all butchers meat was first directed to be sold by weight; and no person was to take above one half-penny per pound for beef or pork, nor above three farthings for mutton or veal (fn. 23). But such fixed prices not accommodating themselves to the fluctuations of seasonable or unseasonable years, this limitation was afterward justly repealed, and the regulation of prices referred to a committee of the privy council. At this time the number of butchers in London and its suburbs did not exceed eighty, each of whom killed nine oxen a week, which in forty-six weeks, none being then killed in Lent, amount to 33,120 oxen yearly (fn. 24).

The same parliament (fn. 25) directed the Strand to be paved by the owners of the adjoining lands; and by another act (fn. 26) all Holborn, between the bridge and the bars, and the streets of Southwark, were also ordered to be paved.


The king's marriage and the measures pursued by parliament derogatory to the papal authority, had so irritated the conclave at Rome, that the king's marriage with Catharine of Arragon was pronounced valid, and he was declared excommunicated if he refused to adhere to it. Henry was no way disconcerted by this denunciation; for, supported by his parliament and the English clergy, he totally deprived it of all force by a bold stroke; and, to compleat his title as Defender of the Faith, took the supremacy of the church into his own hands: so strenuously did he assert his character as head of the church, that Fisher bishop of Rochester, and Sir Thomas More lord chancellor, were both beheaded on Tower hill for refusing their assent to it.


The common council of London in the year 1535 granted two fifteenths for bringing water from Hackney to Aldgate, where a conduit was erected for the use of the eastern part of the city.


In virtue of his newly assumed ecclesiastical character, Henry determined on the suppression of religious houses, whose revenues were applied to the support of idleness and superstition, both of them equally destructive to the true interests of society. Cromwel, then secretary of state, was constituted vicar general to carry this reform into execution. By the suppression of 376 of the lesser monasteries, the king became possessed of their revenues to the amount of 32,000 l. a year; beside their plate and goods, which were estimated at 100,000 l. more (fn. 27). Among these were the convents of St. Thomas a Becket, the Blackfriars, Whitefriars, Greyfriars, and the Carthusian monks of the Charter house, in London.


Queen Anne Boleyn, who had brought the king a daughter, afterward our famous queen Elizabeth, had by an indiscreet levity of behaviour, excited the king's jealousy; and his love at the same time being tranferred to another object, she had the formality of a trial previous to her execution, and he married the lady Jane Seymour, the very next day. This indecent precipitation has been justly remarked as a strong evidence of the innocence of this unfortunate lady. Queen Jane gratified the king's ardent desire of having a son, by the birth of prince Edward, who succeeded him; but she died in child-bed.


An act of parliament (fn. 28) had passed for the preservation of the banks of the Thames; and ordering all ships that took in ballast in the river, to take for parcel thereof, the gravel and sand of the shelfs, between Greenwich and Richmond. In pursuance of this statute for the conservation of the navigation of the river, the court of common council passed an act to enforce the observance of it, which still remains not only unrepealed, but by the present complaints of the state of this river also unexecuted. That such bye law may be the more publickly known to be in being, and to shew the care our forefathers took of the river, it is inserted in the Appendix No XXXIX.

We are told that the court of common council had so high an opinion of the sagacity of one Paul Wythyn Pool, that they made an order dated October 22d. 1539, which gave him the privilege of being present at all their meetings and debates; an irregularity, which had he been a natural born subject, might have been avoided by taking him into the corporation, and procuring his election as a member. But this circumstance does not appear.

England had long been famous for archery; several laws had been made from time to time for the promotion of this art, and for the importation and manufacture of bows and arrows. Henry was himself fond of the exercise: he used to go to Mile End to see the London archers at their sports; and in the 29th year of his reign he granted them a charter of incorporation, by the name of the fraternity of St. George. On this occasion the following anecdote is perserved. Henry having appointed a shooting match at Windsor, one Barlow a citizen of London, and inhabitant of Shoreditch, out-shot all the rest; which pleased the king so much, that he told Barlow, he should be called the duke of Shoreditch: this nominal dignity was long preserved by the captain of the London archers, who used to summon the officers of his several divisions, by the stile of the marquisses of Barlow, Clerkenwell, Islington, Hoxton, and Shacklewell; the earl of Pancras, &c. The use of fire arms has however long since supplanted that of bows and arrows all over Europe, and even among those nations elsewhere that carry on any intercourse with Europeans.

A translation of the scriptures had been agreed to by the convocation, which was finished and printed at Paris in the year 1538; by which we learn that the French were as yet better printers than the English: but Henry was very cautious in publishing it. A copy was only allowed to some parish churches, where it was fixed to a chain, and by proclamation the people were exhorted to use it moderately, for the increase of virtue and not of strife (fn. 29). Several points of reformation had been agreed too, and the king entered into a negociation for an union with the German protestants; (fn. 30) but he was so much a theologian himself, that no agreement could take place between them. A new visitation was appointed of all the remaining monasteries ; the consequences of which being foreseen, most of the abbots were induced to surrender their houses into the king's hands: such also of the monks as had adopted the reformed doctrines and wished to be released from their vows, chearfully concurred; so that in less than two years Henry got possession of all their revenues. To reconcile the people to this measure, their relics, and miraculous tricks, with the immoral lives of the friars, were exposed to public derision. Among the rest, a great wooden idol called Darvel Gatherin, was brought From Wales to London, where it was cut up and employed to burn friar Forest, (fn. 31) who was thus wantonly executed for denying the supremacy of our English pope, Henry. The whole revenue of the religious foundations that had been destroyed, amounted to the enormous sum of 161,100l. (fn. 32) and the king took effectual care to interest his subjects in the support of these alterations, by granting, selling, and exchanging the lands, to his favourites and courtiers.

But though these alterations were advantageous to the nation in general, by shutting out the pope, and by dispersing the wealth accumulated by the clergy; Henry, who was bigotted to the doctrine of the real presence, was found as intolerant as the infallible pontiff at Rome, and was so much the more terrible by being nearer at hand. He engaged in a public disputation in Westminster hall, with one Lambert a school-master in London; who though not convinced, could not fail of being silenced by so formidable an opponent, armed with all the powers of magistracy. It was not to be imagined that Henry the supream head of the church, had any other view in this disputation, than to shew how well he was qualified by his learning, to sustain that high character. To compleat his mean triumph, Lambert was burnt at a slow fire: and about the same time six Dutch anabaptists were treated in the same unchristian like manner; three men and a woman being burnt at Paul's cross, and a man and woman in Smithfield. (fn. 33)

Neither consistency nor constancy made any part of Henry's character: while he denied the papal authority, he supported with bigotted superstition many tenets which flowed from that source; he destroyed monastic institutions, while he maintained the obligation of vows of chastity; and while he punished heretics against his new model of popery with unrelenting fury, he seemed to give a latitude to private judgement by extending the free use of the bible to all families: a cruel indulgence, as it only prepared those who profited by it, to be brought to the stake.


The death of his queen Jane Seymour was succeeded by Henry's marriage with the princess Anne of Cleves; who was sent over and received with great pomp. He was scrupulous in his choice, and loved women who were largely made like himself; but when she arrived, he thought her too large and coarse, swore she was a great Flanders mare; and, to increase his mortification, she could speak nothing but Dutch, of which he did not understand a word. He compleated his marriage however; but when Cromwel asked him next morning how he liked his spouse, he replied that he hated her worse than ever. She was therefore divorced, and he married the lady Catharine Howard.

Three catholics and three protestants this year suffered for heresy; and as if it was intended to manifest the absurdity of this indiscriminate cruelty, they were drawn to the place of execution on three hurdles, a catholic and a protestant on each: the catholic sufferers exclaimed bitterly on this disgrace. (fn. 34)


Notwithstanding Henry took so much irregular trouble to fix himself comfortably in the matrimonial state, he was destined to be unfortunate in his wives: Catharine Howard was discovered to be a woman of dissolute manners, who had criminal attachments both before and since her marriage; and being brought to trial, she was beheaded on Tower-Hill, and her paramours were also executed. He now married a widow, Catharine Parr, the relict of lord Latimer, who had the good fortune to survive so fickle and dangerous a husband.


A great mortality happening among the cattle in 1543, a sumptuary law was made by the common council of London to restrain luxurious feasting: it was ordained, that the lord-mayor should not have more than seven dishes at dinner or supper; aldermen and sheriffs were limited to six, the swordbearer to four, and the mayor's and sheriffs' officers to three; upon penalty of 40 s. for every supernumerary dish. Beside this restriction, they were prohibited after the ensuing Easter, from buying either swan, crane, or bustard, under a penalty of 20 s. for every such bird.

The plague rendered London so dangerous this year, that the term was adjourned to St. Alban's; as appears by an inscription still remaining in the abbey church there.

The conveniences of trade now called for an attention to the bad state of the streets; and the parliament ordered, that the street from Aldgate to Whitechapel church, Chancery-lane, High Holborn, Gray's-Inn-lane, Fetter-lane, and Shoe-lane, should be paved with stone (fn. 35). This was followed by an act for paving the streets called Whitecross-street, Chiswell-street, Grub-street, Shoreditch, Goswell-street, St. John's-street, Cowcross-street, Wych-street, Holywell-street near St. Clement's Danes, the Strand from Temple-Bar to Strand-bridge, Petty-France in Westminster, Water-lane in Fleet-street, Long-lane in Smithfield, and the Butcher-Row without Temple-Bar. The mayor and aldermen were impowered to punish defaulters in paving the streets; as also to make and repair the city conduits (fn. 36).


The twelve city companies in 1545 advanced the king 21,263 l. 6 s. 8d. upon a mortgage of crown lands, toward the charges of his war with Scotland. After that, he determined to raise a farther sum by a benevolence, and sent commissioners into the city to assess the Londoners. Alderman Richard Read not only objected to this arbitrary measure, but positively refused to pay the sum demanded of him; for which, Henry, whose tyrannical spirit would endure no opposition, enrolled him as a foot soldier, and sent him to Scotland with the army, where, after great hardships, he was taken prisoner, and obliged to pay a considerable ransom for his liberty.


Henry's brutal zeal was, the next year, exercised against Anne Ascue, a young lady of the queen's court; who was accused of denying his favourite position of the real presence in the sacrament. She was most inhumanly put to the rack in the Tower, to make her discover her patrons at court, among whom the queen herself was not entirely clear from suspicion of being the chief; but her inflexible constancy and fidelity reflected no less honour on the unhappy sufferer, than shame on her tyrannical persecutor. She was condemned to be burned alive, and was so dislocated by the torture she had been put to, that she was obliged to be carried to the stake in a chair. She suffered with three other heretics who had all offended in the same delicate point (fn. 37).


Though the citizens had displeased the king by their opposition to the benevolence, they recovered his good opinion by raising and fitting out a regiment of foot, consisting of 1000 men, which they sent to reinforce his army then in France. A conduit was this year erected in Lothbury, for water brought from the spring of Dame Annis the Clear, at Hoxton. Henry died January 28, 1547.

A military spirit was kept up among the people during this reign; every man was ordered to have a bow (fn. 38); butts were erected in every parish; and frequent musters and arrays were made of the people even in time of peace. They were thus kept ready for defence in time of danger, and the city of London was alone able to muster 15,000 men (fn. 39).

The first legal rate of interest for money was fixed in 1546, and limited to ten per cent. (fn. 40); and the first law respecting bankrupts occurs in this reign (fn. 41). Which two circumstances were sure indications of the great increase of mercantile connexions.

So little were vegetables cultivated, or gardening understood as yet, that in the year 1509, queen Catharine could not procure a sallad, till Henry sent to the Netherlands, and engaged a gardener to come over to raise the proper articles here (fn. 42).


  • 1. Stat. 3. Hen. VII. c. 9.
  • 2. 4 Hen. VII. c. 3.
  • 3. 4 Hen. VII. c. 15.
  • 4. Hume.
  • 5. Stat. 11 Hen. VII. c. 21.
  • 6. Hume and Anderson vol. I. p. 319.
  • 7. Hume.
  • 8. Anderson from Verulam.
  • 9. Anderson, vol. I. p. 333.
  • 10. Anderson, vol. I. p. 337.
  • 11. Hume.
  • 12. 3 Hen. VIII. c. 11.
  • 13. 4 Hen. VIII. c. 3.
  • 14. Anderson, vol. I. p. 348.
  • 15. Anderson, vol. I. p. 350.
  • 16. Hume, Robertson.
  • 17. Idem; Anderson.
  • 18. Maitland, from Hall's Chron.
  • 19. 11 and 15 Hen. VIII. c. 2.
  • 20. Hume.
  • 21. Levit. XX, 21. Had Henry however been disposed to justify this marriage, the same authority would have afforded him a direct precept for it. Deut. XXV, 5.
  • 22. Hume.
  • 23. Stat. 24 Hen. VIII. c. 3.
  • 24. Anderson vol. I. p. 362.
  • 25. c. 11.
  • 26. 25 Hen. VIII. c. 8.
  • 27. Hume.
  • 28. 27 Hen. VIII. c. 18.
  • 29. Hume.
  • 30. The reformers in Germany obtained the name of Protestants, by their solemn protest against the decree of the diet at Spires, which prohibited all innovations in religion, before the meeting of a general council. See Robertson's Charles V. vol. II. p. 327.
  • 31. Hume.
  • 32. Hume.
  • 33. Idem.
  • 34. Idem.
  • 35. 32 Hen. VIII. c. 17.
  • 36. Stat. 34 & 35 Hen. VIII. c. 11.
  • 37. Hume.
  • 38. 3 Hen. VIII. c. 3.
  • 39. Hume.
  • 40. 37 Hen. VIII. c. 9.
  • 41. 34 & 35 Hen. VIII. c. 4.
  • 42. Anderson, vol. J. p. 338.