Today (January 19) in London History – London’s historical winds can be chilling

Yet another January insurrection. This one took place in 1661. It was foiled. The leader – Thomas Venner – was hanged, drawn and quartered on January 19, 1661.


It was the last gasp of Puritanism.

Pretty much off our historical radar today. But maybe worth reviving, worth telling. 

It’s January, 1661. It’s been just about a decade since the end of the Civil War.

Cromwell’s been dead a couple of years. The Restoration’s happened. Charles II is on the throne.

There was what might be called an amnesty for Rank and file republicans. Not for the regicides themselves – but for their foot soldiers, yes. 

So most of those foot soldiers had pretty made their peace with the turn of events.

The notable exception was one Thomas Venner and his small group of followers – about 50 men in total. Venner was a retired London cooper.

He and his cohorts were fanatics. They were a sect. They were called the Fifth Monarchy Men. 

Extraordinary that a cooper and his followers could be well enough versed in history to know about the fallen monarchies of Assyria, Persia, Greece and Rome. That’s four monarchies.

When Cooper and his 50 followers brought about their revolution that would, they believed, usher in an eternal age of saints that would be, well, the fifth monarchy.

They met and laid their plans in Swan Alley, off Coleman Street. Usual thing, you know this tale it ever so slightly changes the way you see that part of London when you’re down that way.

Anyway, insurrection day for them was January 6th. Which of course will have all kinds of resonances for Americans, given what happened at the U.S. capitol building on January 6, 2021.

In the words of historian John Richardson, the pep talk Venner gave his people “worked them into a frenzy.” They charged out to do what they had to do to usher in the eternal age of saints. In the event, what they had to do, in the first instance, was kill a man in St. Paul’s Churchyard. He was the first of two victims that night. They confronted him, he expressed loyalty to the king, they killed him. 

In no time at all, the authorities were alerted. And in hot pursuit. Armed, trained bands went after the Fifth Monarchy Men. To give them their due, Venner and his men were resourceful and fleet of foot. They went in and out of city gates. They eluded their pursuers. They got away. Though they had to kill a second man to make their escape. He’d tried to stop them. They killed him. 

They made their way up to St. John’s Wood. And then to Hornsey. And finally they pitched camp up on the northern heights of what is today Hampstead Heath. Up by Kenwood. From there they could look down and see London, that cauldron of ungodliness and wickedness and evil that stood between them and the eternal age of saints. 

I don’t know if there were any cooler heads in the troupe. If there were, they didn’t prevail. A few days later they worked themselves up again and mounted their second attack. Came down like the wolf on the fold, or so they thought. Of course it was suicidal. Far worse odds than the charge of the Light Brigade.

They were easily routed. Some were killed or wounded. Survivors, including Thomas Venner, were caught. 

Which brings us to our anniversary, to this day in London history. January 19th, 1661.

Thomas Venner gets to meet his maker. He’s hanged, drawn and quartered. 

And where? Where else – Coleman Street. That was fairly common practice – executing people at the scene of their crime. It was a way of underlining the message. Somebody did a very bad thing here in Coleman Street. He plotted treason here. And in consequence he’s going to die a hideous death here. This is what happens to traitors. Come and watch the fun.

London. It’s seen it all. They can be pretty chilling, some of its historical winds. 

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