The Guildhall in London - Anne Askew and other martyrs
"Its long record of national events"
And it shall come to pass at the same time when Gog shall come against the land of Israel, saith the Lord God, that my fury shall come up in my face." - The Bible, the Prophet Ezekiel 38: 18 (King James Version)
"It is a great pleasure once again for Prince Philip and me to be in this historic building to add another anniversary celebration to its long record of national events." - Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom speaking on the occasion of a gathering in the Guildhall, London, to mark her Golden Jubilee on 4 June 2002.
One wonders, on reading those words, if Her Majesty had in mind the bloody years to which the Guildhall contributed, especially from 1546 to 1606, when a number of people, including a 17-year-old Queen of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury, were tried, mostly on charges of treason, and executed as a result of the trials.
The present Guildhall (which the meanest Flemish city would despise) was "builded new," whatever that might imply, according to our venerable guide, in 1411 (12th of Henry IV.), by Thomas Knoles, the mayor, and his brethren the aldermen, and "from a little cottage it grew into a great house." - from Old and New London by Walter Thornbury ('Guildhall', Old and New London: Volume 1 (1878), pp. 383-396. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=45052 Date accessed: 27 May 2009.)
Anne Askew - Protestant martyr
"Scenes other than banquets rise to the mind's eye we see Anne Askew arraigned in the Guildhall for 'speaking against the sacrament of the altar,' and condemned to be burnt alive as a heretic at Smithfield." - from The Guildhall of the City of London compiled by John James Baddeley (1899).
The first person in the unfortunate line of people tried in the Guildhall in those years was Protestant martyr Anne Askew. Anne was the only woman known to have been taken to the torture chamber in the White Tower of the Tower of London and "put to the question", the contemporary euphemism for torture. The White Tower was built by William the Conqueror in 1078 as much to protect himself and his fellow Normans from the people of London as to protect the city from external invasion.
Anne was the daughter of Sir William Askew, who forced her to marry the man originally betrothed to her older sister Martha when Martha died before her marriage. So at 15 Anne found herself married to Thomas Kyme, a man whom she did not love and whose surname she refused to adopt.
In the face of the disapproval of her husband, Anne went to London from her Lincolnshire home to preach against the doctrine of Transubstantiation. When she returned home her husband threw her out of their home, so she went back to London to continue her fiercely Protestant preaching. She was arrested and sent home to her husband, but she escaped and again went to London to continue her preaching.
The substance of her preaching was essentially, "But as touching the holy and blessed supper of the Lord, I believe it to be a most necessary remembrance of his glorious sufferings and death. Moreover, I believe as much therein as my eternal and only Redeemer, Jesus Christ, would [that] I should believe. Finally, I believe all those scriptures to be true [which] he has confirmed with his precious blood."
For a second time Anne was arrested and this time she was tried in the Guildhall on charges of heresy. During the trial she was asked by the Lord Mayor of London, "You foolish woman, do you say that the priests cannot make the body of Christ?"
Her response was typically forthright: "I say so, my Lord; for I have read that God made man; but that man can make God, I never read, nor, I suppose, ever shall read."
Anne was thrown into a dungeon in the Tower of London and tortured. She was asked to name other Protestants who believed as she did, but refused to do so. She was stretched on the rack, but in spite of the pain she steadfastly refused to name any names.
While in the Tower Anne wrote a ballad about her experiences, one stanza of which read:
I now rejoice in heart
And Hope bid me do so
For Christ will take my part
And ease me of my woe.
On 18 June 1546 Anne Askew was sentenced to be executed by burning alive at Smithfield. The sentence was carried out on 16 July 1546. She had to be carried to the pyre in a chair as she could not walk because of the effects of the rack.
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Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, the Renaissance Poet
The next victim brought to trial in the Guildhall was Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, who, with his friend Sir Thomas Wyatt, was a leading light in poetry in England. The two noblemen and poets were the first to use the "Italian" poetic form of the sonnet.
Two of Surrey's cousins were married to Henry VIII - Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Both were executed by Henry.
Surrey and his father were imprisoned by Henry who was convinced that they were plotting to prevent Henry's son Edward from acceding to the throne. They were tried in the Guildhall on charges of treason and sentenced to death on 13 January 1547. The sentence on Surrey was carried out on Tower Hill six days later. Surrey's father escaped execution because Henry died before signing the death warrant. Surrey was therefore the last person executed by Henry.
One of Surrey's poems, entitled "The Ages of Man", began with these lines:
Laid in my quiet bed, in study as I were,
I saw within my troubled head a heap of thoughts appear,
And every thought did show so lively in mine eyes,
That now I sigh'd, and then I smil'd, as cause of thought did rise.
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The Nine Day Queen
The next two victims of trials at the Guildhall were perhaps the saddest - the famous Lady Jane Grey and her husband Lord Guilford Dudley.
Lady Jane, who was born either towards the end of 1536 or early in 1537, at Bradgate Park in Leicestershire, to Henry Grey, the Marquess of Dorset and his wife, Lady Frances. Lady Jane and her two sisters were grandnieces of King Henry VIII through Lady Frances, who was a member of the House of Tudor, as she was the daughter of Henry's younger sister Mary.
Lady Jane became a committed Protestant through the private tutors who taught her the classical and contemporary languages. At the age of 10 she was sent to live with Catherine Parr, the wife of King Henry VIII, and there she got to know her cousins, the children of the Royal household, among them the future boy king Edward VI, who acceded to the throne at the age of nine after the death of his father King Henry VIII. He reigned, with the help of a Council of Regency, until his own death at the age of 15. In his will he named his cousin, the Protestant Lady Jane, as his successor instead of his Catholic sister Mary. Due to all manner of intrigue Mary eventually was proclaimed Queen, after Jane herself had been de facto queen for all of about nine days.
Lady Jane and her husband appeared in the Guildhall on trial for high treason on 13 November 1553 and were sentenced to death. They were held in the Tower of London until 12 February 1554. That morning Guilford was taken to the place of public executions on Tower Hill and beheaded. His remains were brought back to the Tower in a horse and cart, past the place where Jane was waiting for her turn. She was then taken to Tower Green within the Tower precinct for a private execution, a priviliege only accorded to royalty. This was at the express wish of Queen Mary, who wanted in this way to show her respect for Lady Jane. Some respect!
A contemporary account of the execution described the final moments of the sad young Queen, still a teenager:
Then the hangman kneeled down, and asked her forgiveness, whom she gave 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.' Then she kneeled down, saying, 'Will you take it off before I lay me down?' and the hangman answered her, 'No, madame.' She tied the kercher about her eyes; then feeling for the block said, 'What shall I do? Where is it?' One of the standers-by guiding her thereto, she laid her head down upon the block, and stretched forth her body and said: 'Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit!' And so she ended.
Throckmorton's lucky escape
The next trial at the Guildhall was of Thomas Throckmorton, who was also accused of treason, being suspected of complicity in the so-called Wyatt's Rebellion, an uprising led by four leading Protestant citizens who were opposed to the Catholic Queen Mary and wanted to replace her with her half-sister, Elizabeth.
Throckmorton had tried to keep in with both Mary and Jane during the latter's short-lived reign, but his Protestant sympathies were too well known and it is likely that he did, at least tacitly, support the Wyatt rebels. He was tried in the Guildhall on 17 April 1554 before a hostile court but somehow managed to convince the jury of his innocence. However, one of the judges, Sir Roger Cholmeley, was keen to impress Queen Mary and had the jury thrown into prison and fined, and had Throckmorton himself held in the Tower. In the following year Throckmorton was released and went into exile in France, where he stayed until he was granted a pardon in 1557.
After his return to England he was employed by Mary and when Elizabeth became Queen his star rose dramatically on account of his acquaintance with her. In this time he also became acquainted with the other Mary, the tragic Queen of Scots.
Archbishop of the Reformation in England
By these two places of the holy Scriptures, it is most euident that Kings, Queenes, and other Princes ( for hee speaketh of authoritie and power, be it in men or women) are ordeined of GOD, are to bee obeyed and honoured of their subiects: that such subiects, as are disobedient or rebellious against their Princes, disobey GOD, and procure their owne damnation: that the gouernment of Princes is a great blessing of GOD, giuen for the common wealth, specially of the good and godly: For the comfort and cherishing of whom GOD giueth and setteth vp princes: and on the contrary part, to the feare and for the punishment of the euill and wicked.
Downloaded from http://www.anglicanlibrary.org/homilies/bk2hom21.htm
So ironic that the person who wrote these words condemning rebellion was himself tried for treason and found guilty. He appeared in the Guildhall on these charges in November 1553, at the same time as Lady Jane Grey. He was also found guilty and kept in the Tower awaiting execution. However the Privy Council ordered that he be sent to Bocardo Prison in Oxford.
While in that prison Cranmer was tried for heresy along with Bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley at the official church of Oxford University, the Church of St Mary the Virgin The three were found guilty as charged and sentenced to be burnt at the stake. The sentences on Ridley and Latimer were carried out on 16 October 1555 and on Cranmer on 21 March 1556.
Cranmer's legacy to the world and the church is the great Anglican Book of Common Prayer which had a crucial role, along with Shakespeare and the King James Version of the Bible, in the development of modern English.
Catholic martyrs in the reign of Elizabeth
When Elizabeth, daughter of King Henry VIII and the unfortunate Anne Boleyn, came to the throne in September 1533 after the death of Mary, the hunting season on Protestants closed and Catholics became the prey, and many were hauled into the Guildhall to face trial on various charges, usually again of treason.
Sometime on the night of 24 May 1570 a copy of Pope Pius V's Bull entitled Regnans in Excelsis , which had been issued on 25 February, was attached to the gates of the palace of the Bishop of London. This was seen as an act of treason as the Bull went directly against the Act of Supremacy, passed in 1559 by Elizabeth's Parliament which re-established the independence of the English Church after Mary's return of the English Church to Rome's authority. The Bull proclaimed Elizabeth a heretic and freed Catholics from her authority.
Copies of the Bull was obtained by one John Felton in Calais and he had given one to his friend William Mellowes. This copy was found on Mellowes who then implicated Felton who was arrested on 26 May. Felton confessed and indeed boasted of what he had done, though his boasting did not save him from being racked. He was tried in the Guildhall, found guilty on 4 August and hanged on 8 August in St Paul's Churchyard.
Another Catholic tried in the Guildhall on suspicion of plotting to poison the Queen was her personal physician, a Portuguese exile suspected by the Inquisition of being a Marrano. Tha Marranos were Christianised Jews, also known in Portugal as Cristãos novos (New Christians), who were thought to continue the practice of their Jewish faith in secret. The term "Marrano" was derogatory and meant pig.
This physician, whose name was Rodrigo Lopes, had made his home in London in 1559 and had become wealthy. However, in October 1593 a conspiracy in favour of the pretender to the Portuguese throne, Dom Antonio, came to light and Lopes was implicated. It was alleged that he had supplied poison to the conspirators, poison which was to be used to kill the Queen. He was arrested on New Year's Day and after a trial in the Guildhall was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. This was a particularly cruel form of execution which was reserved for those men who were found guilty of high treason. Women found guilty of high treason were burnt at the stake.
The sentence was expressed thusly: "That they should return to the place from whence they came, from thence be drawn to the Common place of Execution upon Hurdles, and there to be Hanged by the Necks, then cut down alive, their Privy-Members cut off, and Bowels taken out to be burned before their Faces, their Heads to be severed from their Bodies, and their Bodies divided into four parts, to be disposed of as the King should think fit."
The sentence on Lopes was carried out on 7 June 1594.
Some authorities maintain that Lopes was the model for Shakespeare's Shylock in the Merchant of Venice, which might have been written between 1594 and 1597.
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Guildhall trials in the time of James I: "Remember, remember the fifth of November"
James, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, became King of England and Ireland on 24 March 1603 after the death of Elizabeth, the last Tudor monarch. James had been king of Scotland since he was 13 months old, and he remained King of Scotland after becoming King of England and Ireland.
James, in spite of his mother's religion, had been raised a Protestant and so continued the religious orientation of the English throne set by Elizabeth.
A group of Catholics, under the leadership of Robert Catesby, plotted from May 1604 to assassinate James. Catesby was a wealthy gentleman with strong Catholic beliefs and he had sheltered in his home many priests, including Fr Henry Garnet, who would later be tried in the Guildhall in relation to the plot.
The plot was to blow up the Houses of Parliament when James would open the session. The opening of Parliament was delayed several times mainly due to an outbreak of the plague. The conspirators managed to lease a storage area under the House of Lords chamber where they placed 36 barrels of gunpowder.
The gunpowder was discovered on the night of 4 November 1605 and one of the conspirators, the one whose name is always attached to the plot, Guy Fawkes, was arrested on the scene.
Fr Garnet had been the confessor of several of the plotters and had advised them against going ahead with the plot. He was nonetheless arrested and brought to trial in the Guildhall on 28 March 1606. His trial was a travesty of justice and the court did not adhere to its own rules of procedure. His guilt was assumed and the verdict, which the jury reached after deliberating for only 15 minutes, a foregone conclusion, especially in the light of the strongly anti-Catholic public opinion resulting from the plot.
Fr Garnet was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered and the sentence was carried out in St Paul's Churchyard on 3 May 1606.
On the scaffold, Fr Garnet, according to a contemporary account, said: "I always disapproved of tumults and seditions against the king, and if this crime of the powder treason had been completed I should have abhorred it with my whole soul and conscience."
A story was put about after the execution that some of Garnet's blood had dropped on a piece of the straw placed there, a story which is known as "The Face in the Straw."
In his book Old and New London, published in 1878, Walter Thornbury describes how this story came about:: The "face in the straw" was a miracle said to be performed at Garnet's death. The original fabricator of the miracle of the straw was one John Wilkinson, a young Roman Catholic, who at the time of Garnet's trial and execution was about to pass over into France, to commence his studies at the Jesuits' College at St. Omer's." Wilkinson went to St Paul's Churchyard to witness the execution and obtained a piece of the straw which was in the basket containing Garnett's head. The straw was placed in a bottle and some days later, Wilkinson reported he had "distinctly perceived in it a human countenance, which others also, coming in as casual spectators, or expressly called by us as witnesses, likewise beheld at that time."
The PostcardsClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Guildhall itself
Parts of the Guildhall were built starting in 1411 and it was the only non-ecclesiastical stone building to survive the Great Fire of 1666. It is still used for official functions, such as the one at which Her Majesty made the speech quoted at the beginning of this article.
The building was again damaged during a fire-raid by the Luftwaffe in World War II, on the night of 19/30 December 1940. The damage, which was mainly to the timber roof restored by architect Sir Horace Jones in 1866. The damage was repaired in 1954.
The accompanying postcards, from the J Arthur Dixon Company and dating from perhaps the 1960s, are what spurred my research into the story of the Guildhall. The postcards are numbered "LON 1968" to "LON 1972" - these numbers being reference numbers and not dates, I believe.
The first card shows the monument to Sir Winston Churchill on the North Wall of the Guildhall and next to it the monument to Admiral Viscount Nelson. This latter is rather acidly described by Walter Thornbury in his book Old and New London (1878):
"Nelson's fame is very imperfectly honoured by a pile of allegory, erected in 1811 by the entirely forgotten Mr. James Smith, for £4,442 7s. 4d. This deplorable mass of stone consists of a huge figure of Neptune looking at Britannia, who is mournfully contemplating a very small profile relief of the departed hero, on a small dusty medallion about the size of a maid-servant's locket. To crown all this tame stuff there are some flags and trophies, and a pyramid, on which the City of London (female figure) is writing the words "Nile, Copenhagen, Trafalgar." With admirable taste the sculptor, who knew what his female figures were, has turned the City of London with her back to the spectator. At the base of this absurd monument two sailors watch over a bas-relief of the battle of Trafalgar, which certainly no one of taste would steal. The inscription is from the florid pen of Sheridan."
The second card has this caption: "Looking west towards the gallery with musicians' gallery above. The stone arch roof, the fifth to rest on the mediaeval walls, was built in 1954 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott."
The third card has the caption: "Looking east towards the dais as set out for a meeting of the Court of Commons Council. The shields of the the 83 Livery Companies of the City of London can be seen in the roof."
The fourth card is of the giants Gog and Magog: "Gog (here seen on the left) and Magog, the mythical giants who have figured in London pageants for over four centuries. The present figures, carved by David Evans, replace those destroyed in 1940."
The fifth card is of the crypt and is captioned: "This eastern half of the 15th Century Crypt survived the Great Fire of 1666 and the bombing of 1940, and was restored in 1961. It is the most extensive medieval crypt in London. The pillars of of Purbeck marble."