Today (February 19) in London History – the procession & discovering a lost London

Thanks to a royal procession on February 19, 1547, we have a unique 16th-century view of London’s main street. And that’s the subject of today’s Today in London History podcast.


The procession lasted five hours. It departed from the Tower of London. Made its way along Cheapside, London’s main street, in American parlance. Through Ludgate and down Ludgate Hill. Across the Fleet River and along Fleet Street to Temple Bar. Through Temple Bar to the Strand. Along the Strand to Whitehall and Westminster Palace. It was February 19th, 1547.

The star attraction was a nine-year-old boy. He was called England’s treasure. His father had died three weeks previously. His father was King Henry VIII. The little boy would be crowned the next day, February 20th. Crowned King Edward VI.

He and his sister Elizabeth had clung to each other, sobbing, when they were told on January 29th that their father had died and the little boy was king. 

That was in Enfield, north of London. 

Two days later the boy-king was taken to the Tower of London. Following tradition, he resided there until the procession on the 19th and his coronation the following day. 

How short-lived were the tears of the 29th. His reception into London on the 31st enthralled the little boy. “His grace had great felicity,” said an eyewitness, at the roaring salute of “a great shotte of guns” from ships in the Thames. 

The extraordinary procession on the 19th was in keeping with protocol – it was a grand piece of royal theatre, staged so the new king could show himself to his people. 

The king was attended by noblemen, eminent churchmen and hundreds of horsemen. Edward was clad in a brilliant attire of white velvet and cloth of silver and gold, all of it thick-set with patterned knots of diamonds and pearls.

The procession garment was just a foretaste. At his coronation, Edward would walk beneath a canopy of crimson silk and cloth of gold topped by silver bells; he wore a crimson satin robe trimmed with gold silk lace costing £118 16s. 8d. and a pair of ‘Sabatons’ of cloth of gold. (If a Tudor workman wanted to buy that crimson satin robe trimmed with gold silk lace it would cost him about 25 years of wages.) 

On horseback, the boy king rode beneath a fringed canopy borne by four mounted men. He was flanked by his Master of the Horse Sir Anthony Browne and Lord Protector Edward Hertford, newly made the Duke of Somerset. Directly in front of his royal highness was the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, who had baptised him nine years before. The Archbishop was preceded by the nobles and bishops. The clergy wore white rochets, black scarves and flat caps. Gentlemen at Arms walked along beside. A spare horse – a backup – trailed the cynosure of all eyes, the boy-king under his canopy.

The Yeomen of the Guard brought up the rear of the procession.

Spectators, Londoners – the various crafts in their liveries – lined Cheapside. Behind them, huddled masses of houses. More houses on the far side of Cheapside, between it and the River Thames. In the foreground over the way, lining Cheapside, very grand, four-storey houses. They were the houses and business premisses of goldsmiths. Their wares were proudly displayed in open shop fronts. From upper windows any number of women folk and children looked out at the procession. 

Arching across the Thames, London bridge. Boats on the Thames. Just a few houses and St Mary Overie – Southwark Cathedral today – on the Bankside. Behind them, some trees. And then open fields and rolling hills and in the distance the horizon. 

What else? The cross in Cheapside. The boy-king is just now passing it. Up ahead, old St Paul’s cathedral.

And the boy’s favourite part of the procession? No question about it, the show put on when the procession went past St. Paul’s. Namely the antics of a professional tumbler. A witness tells us the king “laughed right heartily” when the acrobat fell upon a featherbed and a mattress after sliding headfirst down a cable from the top of St. Paul’s.

What a sight the procession must have been. 

Here’s one of several contemporary accounts.

“The nynetenth daie of Februarie the Kinges Majestie rode from the Towre to Westminster through the cittie of London, which was rychly hanged with riche cloathes and divers pageantes, the conduites running wyne, the craftes standing in their raills, and the aldermen, the lord major riding in a crymosin velvett gowne with a rych collar of goulde, with a mase in his hand, afore the King; and, when his Majestie came where the aldermen stode, the Recorder made a proposition to his Majestie, and after the Chamberlaine gave his Majestie a purse of cloath of gould for a present from the cittie, which he thanckfullie tooke.”

Any takeaways? Yes, seven, I think. 1. the boy-king was named after Edward the Confessor. 2. He was born on the 12th of October 1537. 3. His mother, Jane Seymour, and father Henry VIII were fifth cousins. His mother died 12 days after the birth of her son. But the baby boy flourished. The world was told: ’Our Prince … is in good health, and sucketh like a child of his puissance’. That was what was important. His departed mother had done her job. 4. By the time he was three years old his suitability for marriage had already made him – I’m quoting – “the greatest person in Christendom.”

5. When he was six years old he was betrothed to Mary Queen of Scots. She was seven months old. Had history taken a different course, had he lived – Mary Queen of Scots might have held on to her head. 

6. He took after his father – I have my doubts whether being Mrs. Edward VI would have had much to recommend it. When he was four years old he was taken ill. The royal physician asked the child if he “felt any disposition to vomit.” The four-year-old replied, “go away fool.” His biographers tell us that youthful stubbornness would later become ferocious.

7. That nine-year-old boy had just six years to live.

But back to that most halcyon of days, February 19th, 1547. Back to that most wondrous, five-hour royal procession from the Tower of London to Westminster Palace.

How wonderful would it be to be able to see it.

Steady now – we can see it.

Turns out there was a co-eval painting of the scene. A co-eval painting that was lost. But before it was lost – and about 250 years after the coronation procession – an engraving was made from the painting. The engraving has survived. And, yes, I’d missed it. But thanks to this Today in London History project I found it. I know about it. You want it in one word? The word is “thrilled.” I’m thrilled to have made its discovery, to have it in my London arsenal from here on out. 

For that matter, anybody can look it up. I’m not going to reproduce it – and quote-unquote publish it here – not going to do so for obvious reasons. But I am going to show it on my relevant walks. As one commentator put it, the painting – and thus the engraving – was unique. Especially its view of Cheapside with its goldsmiths’ shops. Last – but certainly not least – this extraordinary illustration shows us the whole route of the procession. How so? The artist had no qualms at all about foregoing perspective, that’s how so. He compresses all the localities on that long route in order to show us the entire route. It’s an extraordinary creation. A tour de force. My walkers are going to love it. 

This discovery alone – and it’s one of many – has made this project worthwhile. It’s made me glad I’ve invested, so far, about 250 hours and a lot of effort in the enterprise. It’s been worth it 1) because of intrinsic interest and 2) because it’s raised my game as a guide – given me riches that I can show people as opposed to saying, “well, it’s a modern office today but what stood here on February 19th, 1547 was” – and off we go into the realm of word-picture-painting. And nothing wrong with that – especially when it’s done well – the human voice can be so nourishing – but to be able to show as well as tell – that’s the ten out of ten in this game. Anything else? Just this. One of the wellsprings for this project is the personal challenge element. I wanted to see if it were possible. See if I could do it. See if I could turn out a year’s worth of Today in London History episodes. So far so good. And the other well-spring is a walker I’ve got to know – and admire very much – over this plague-stricken two year period. Christopher Day. Like me, he’s no youngster. Out of the blue Christopher took up running hundreds of days ago. Does five kilometres or so every single morning – day in and day out. Never misses. Does it with style. Every day he wears the colours of a different nation. And finishes with the flag of that nation like a shawl around his shoulders. Christopher’s an inspiration. I – we – partly have him to thank for this Today in London in History project. I’m lucky to have got to know him. Today in London History is my version of Christopher’s morning run.

And that’s today’s jaunt through London history. Good night from London. See ya tomorrow. 


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