London at the Time of Richard III

Richards arrival in 1483 Some sights of the City

On May 3, 1483, Richard duke of Gloucester, with his twelve-year old nephew, the new King Edward V, the duke of Buckingham, and some 500 northern troops arrived at Harringhay Park on the northern outskirts of London. They were met and escorted to the City by the mayor, Edmund Shaw, the sheriffs William White and John Matthew (Spelling modernized), and the twenty-five aldermen, all attired in their scarlet robes of state, plus representatives of the Livery Companies dressed in violet - some 100 in all on horseback. Richard and his northern retainers offered a stark contrast in their solid black livery, while the young king wore blue velvet.

As this colorful cavalcade turned south, they looked down upon the medieval City of London, at once quaint and beautiful with an ever-varying skyline of gabled roof tops, pinnacles, towers, and steeples. As they neared the City they passed the vast expanse of the priory of St. Bartholomew, then the great medieval wall loomed before them, twenty-two feet high, and stretching around three sides of the city for two miles and 605 feet. The procession passed into London through Aldersgate, one of the seven large gates that pierced the wall. On their left the wall turned sharply north, then turned again east and circled around to the Tower with four great gates: Cripplegate, Moorgate, Bishopsgate, Aldgate and the small Postern by the Tower. On their right the wall made three sharp turns as it proceeded to the Thames with two great gates: Newgate and Ludgate.

After passing through Aldersgate, the procession continued down St. Martins Lane. On their left was the Collegiate Church of St. Martin-le-Grand, chief sanctuary within the walls of London and crowded with debtors and criminals. They turned left at Bladder Street which opened into the wide cobblestone market place street called Chepeside, the pride of London, lined with fair houses containing commodious shops. The parade moved past the Great Cross at the end of Wood Street, erected by Edward I to honor his queen Eleanor. The base of the Cross was carved purbeck marble surmounted by a wooden cross covered with lead and gilt. The Cross was surrounded by stalls known as the Stations in Chepe, that sold small goods like pens and ink (the origin of our terms Stationer and Stationery).

Beyond the Cross, they entered the area of the Chepe which was sometimes used for tournaments, with Goldsmiths Row and the Mermaid Tavern. Here they passed around the Standard, a tall stone erection of unknown origin, regarded as the Citys place of sacrifice, where capital punishment was carried out. On their right stood the Church of St. Mary-le-Bow, so called because it was built on arches. The famous Bow Bells rang the curfew every night at nine of the clock. Beyond Bow Church were the shops of the mercers, who sold fabric, thread, pins, needles, brushes, combs, mirrors, etc. The famous mercer shop, Le Crowne, which stood at the entrance to the churchyard, was still there in the nineteenth century.

The Great Conduit, which provided the citys most imposing water supply, stood where the street name changed to Poultry. The sweet water was brought through lead pipers from the Tyburn, and gushed out through brass taps set in the great castellated stone conduit. On state occasions the taps ran with wine instead of water. The Poultry ran into an open space called the Stocks Market with stalls of fishmongers, butchers and poulterers.

As the cavalcade moved along through the crowds, Richard pointed to his nephew and shouted again and again, Behold your Prince and Sovereign Lord!

The procession turned down Walbrook, then right to Budge Row and Watling Street. The streets were filled with quaint ever-varying houses. Every house was different from its neighbor in design, height and the details of its carved crossbeams and woodwork, its chimney pots and gargoyles. Each house rose two to three stories, with each story extending out over the lower one. The houses were half-timbered, gabled and set back from the street in varying depths. Every house had a garden, no matter how small. The houses of the nobles, the rich merchants, the craftsmen, and the poor were all jumbled together; there were no special neighborhoods. Since there were no street numbers, many of the householders hung out large picturesque signs which identified their house and obstructed traffic.

The parade ended at Old St. Pauls Cathedral atop Ludgate Hill, where a mass was said for the new king. The Norman Cathedral of St. Paul was the greatest building in London, with the longest nave of any church in Christendom and a spire reaching nearly 500 feet from the center of its roof, crowned by a copper guilt eagle. Like all Norman churches, it was very grand and very simple, with sturdy columns and rounded arches. The rose window in the eastern end was the largest and most beautiful in Europe. In the vast nave were the tombs of many knights with their helmets, swords and shields suspended above their reclining effigies. The nave continued unobstructed into the choir and chancel with the bishops throne and the stalls of the canons and the 200 chantry priests. Beyond the choir, the sanctuary, and finally the Lady Chapel from which you could look back 722 feet through the Cathedral - the length of over two and a half football fields!

St. Pauls churchyard was surrounded by a six-gated wall and was filled with a varied collection of structures: the cloister with a fine library, a charnel house, a chapel, a bell tower, a college, the Chapter House, and in the northeast corner, Pauls Cross, a tall outdoor pulpit where the most influential sermons were preached. On June 22, 1483, Dr. Ralph Shaw would mount Pauls Cross to preach a sermon alleging that king Edward IV was a bastard.

Just outside the Cathedral wall on the northwest side of Paternoster Street was the Bishop of Londons Palace, where young king Edward was to stay for the next few weeks.

Richard proceeded to his London residence, Crosby Place by Bishopsgate. As he rode up Bishopsgate Street he came to the timbered facade and then passed through a lofty gothic archway into the central courtyard. On the north side stood the great stone hall, which measured 69 feet by 27 feet with a lofty scissor beam ceiling 38 feet above the floor. At the end of the hall was an exquisite oriel window overlooking Great St. Helens Church. (Crosby Hall has been moved to Cheyne Walk and Danvers Street by the Thames, once part of Sir Thomas Mores garden. When I visited the Hall in 1989, it belonged to the University Women of England. Since then it has been purchased by a private citizen.) Opposite the great hall, there was a beautiful chapel with other outbuildings and a garden. Crosby Place, built in 1471 by John Crosby, mercer, alderman, ambassador, and knight of the realm, was a particularly elegant example of a rich merchants home.

As Richard settled into his panelled chamber for a good nights rest, he looked forward to presiding over his first Council Meeting on the morrow at the Bishops Palace and to the events of the next weeks which would lead him to his destiny.

to be continued-

© 1994 Marion Harris>

Sources

Davey, Richard, The Pageant of London,
Vol I, London, 1906, (Chapters 11 and 15).

Fabyan, Robert, The New Chronicles of England and France,
London, 1516, (pages 667-668).

Kendall, Paul Murray, The Yorkest Age,
London 1970, (Chapter 4).

St. Aubyn, Giles, The Year of Three Kings,
New York, 1983, (Chapter 4).

Stow, John, A Survey of London,
London, 1598.