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  • Writer's pictureErin

Stuart London 1603 - 1714

Updated: May 27, 2018

One of my favourite periods in history, filled with plenty of drama. From plots against the king, a fire starting in a bakers oven completely destroying the city and then then the plague...

The Stuart era begins with James VI of Scotland crowned James I of England in 1603, but lets fast forward to the first exciting thing to happen at the time; the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, still celebrated today on the 5th of November. After Elizabeth I died childless and James took over the throne, Catholics hoped that he would restore the Catholic church, but that wasn't to be. Several plots against James I were rumoured, but none of them came as close as the one made famous by Guy Fawkes. The plan was actually organised by Robert Catesby, and his aim was to blow up the Houses of Parliament during the State Opening of Englands Parliament on the 5th of November 1605. The group of plotters rented a house near Parliament and began smuggling barrels of gunpowder into the cellar of Parliament. As November the 5th approached, a member of Parliament received an anonymous letter warning him not to attend the State Opening and he alerted his seniors. Guy Fawkes was discovered lurking in the cellars, which then led to the discovery of the gunpowder. The men were tried and executed and the king ordered a day of celebration marked by the lighting of bonfires. The cellars are still searched every year as part of tradition!

Charles I becomes king in 1625, and by 1629 he dissolves Parliament and begins his 11 year personal rule.

The start of the English Civil War begins in 1642, initiated by the arrest of John Pym, the leader of the Long Parliament. The Royalists were defeated in 1645-46 and in 1647 Charles surrenders to the Scots, who in turn hand him over to Parliament. The king escaped and the unrest continued, particularly involving Oliver Cromwell, who went on to become Lord Protector. London is forced to follow puritan beliefs, with theatres, playhouses, seasonal celebrations, makeup and colourful outfits being banned (including the Globe Theatre being destroyed). Charles is executed in 1649 outside the Banqueting House on Whitehall, after being put on trial for treason. On the day he is said to have worn two heavy shirts so he didn't shiver and the crowd think he was afraid!

1660 - Restoration of the Monarchy, when King Charles II returns as the monarch, but London was about to enter some of the darkest times it had yet to witnessed. The Great Plague arrived in London in 1665, with a death toll estimated at 100,000, followed by the Great Fire of London in 1666. Although it is commonly perceived that only a few people died (there were six recorded deaths) it has recently been challenged. The deaths of the poor and middle class weren't recorded at the time and because of the intense of the fire, many bodies would have been cremated leaving no trace.

The city was destroyed, and in the aftermath Charles II called for the plans to redesign London, having ideas of beautiful boulevards and and grand streets... very different from the small narrow medieval style previously. But inhabitants rushed back and to reclaim their land in the same medieval footprint.

1688 - 89, The Glorious Revolution saw the overthrow of James II (who came to throne in 1685), and so the crowning of William Orange (III) and wife Mary II. From now on the English monarchy rules in partnership with Parliament. In 1702 William III dies after being thrown from his horse when it tripped over a molehill in Hyde Park - today there is an equestrian statue of him by John Bacon Junior, complete with mole hill bizarrely. His sister in law Anne comes to the throne. Under her rule England and Scotland officially became one country - Great Britain (1707) St Pauls Cathedral is completed by Christopher Wren (1710) and the first race meeting at Ascot is held (1711).

1714 sees the end of the Stuart reign when Anne dies with no surviving children. Under the terms of the Act of Succession of 1701, she is succeeded by George I Elector of Hanover - the first of the Hanoverian monarchs.

Where to see Stuart London today? - St Pauls Cathedral - Hyde Park - London Monument - Banqueting House - Queens House, Greenwich


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