In brief – Early-Stuart London

The procession of Marie de Medici, widow of the late King Henry IV of France, passes the Eleanor Cross and the Standard in Cheapside, 1638. By that stage in Marie’s life the once powerful Queen of France was living in exile and came to England seeking refuge, which she was granted by King Charles I and her daughter Queen Henrietta Maria. The illustration is from the book ‘Histoire de l’Entrée de la Reyne Mère du Roy tres-chrestien dans la Grande-Bretagne’ by Jean Puget de la Serre, which recounts Marie’s travels.

London’s ever-increasing population required greater quantities of fresh water. In 1613 Hugh Myddleton completed the New River, a forty-mile long canal from springs in Hertfordshire to a reservoir at Islington. From there wooden pipes supplied fresh water to premises throughout much of the City.

The old medieval St. Paul’s Cathedral was in a poor state by the 17th century. The building had long been used as a place to meet and shelter and had degenerated into as much of a market as a place of worship, complete with traders, pickpockets and others. Money was raised and a new portico created for the west door, designed by Inigo Jones. The work began in 1633 and took ten years to complete, interrupted by the Civil War.

Any history of late 16th and early 17th century London invariably features the name of John Donne, the well-connected poet and later Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Much of his early life is known through the biography by his friend, the ironmonger Izaak Walton. Donne was buried in St. Paul’s and his monument is one of the few parts of the building that survived the Great Fire of 1666. Walton’s The Compleat Angler, still in print today, is the English language’s non-religious book in continuous publication for the longest period.

John Tradescant, gardener to Secretary of State Robert Cecil, was able to travel abroad and bring back new types of exotic plant never previously seen in England. In 1620 he leased a house at Lambeth, which became known as ‘the Ark’, where he created a garden and began a collection of curios. After Tradescant’s death the lawyer Elias Ashmole catalogued the collection, calling the Ark a ‘museum’. Some of the collection went on to form the basis of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford.

King James lapsed into senility in later life, with many of his duties carried out by Prince Charles and the Duke of Buckingham. He died at Theobalds in Hertfordshire in 1625. James presided over a largely peaceful mainland kingdom and was able to bequeath his son and successor Charles a secure throne. The personality of Charles contrasted with both his father and his son. He suffered from a stutter and lacked communication skills, leaving many of his decisions unexplained and open to interpretation and misunderstanding. He was also stubborn, lacked political sensibility, diplomacy and flexibility, often taking extreme positions without compromise. He presided over a very private and insular royal court that became increasingly detached from the realities of government and politics.

With the introduction of horse-drawn carriages in the 16th century the City’s medieval streets were becoming ever-more congested. At the beginning of the 17th century the first carriages for hire – known as ‘hackney carriages’ – were introduced into London. In 1634 the first taxi stand, a fixed point from where a carriage could be hired, was set up on the Strand. Sedan chairs were first used to carry passengers in London in 1635. Long-distance stagecoaches began to operate between London and various towns during the 17th century.

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