In 1518 the English Cardinal Wolsey had negotiated the Treaty of London, a non-aggression pact that was signed by the twenty major European powers of the time. However, peace held for barely a year before two of the signatories went to war and Wolsey began to arrange meetings between Henry VIII and the other monarchs to salvage the agreement.
Francis I of France was barely three years younger than Henry and, like his English counterpart, was keen to display the grandeur of his court. Consequently both men approached their forthcoming meeting as an opportunity to outshine the other, resulting in a more than two week long festival of riches and entertainment.
The meeting took place between the communes of Ardres in France and Guîne, which at the time was under English rule. Both rulers erected lavish temporary palaces and pavilions due to the castles in the nearby communes being in a poor state of repair. The extensive use of cloth of gold, which was woven with real gold thread and silk, would later give the site of the meeting its name. The extravagance of the two kings knew no bounds, with Henry’s encampment featuring a gilt fountain that ran with wine and claret.
The event also featured such competitions as jousting and wrestling, with Henry being defeated by Francis in the latter. Yet despite the joviality provided by these games and other entertainment including banquets and exotic animals, the meeting ended on 24 June with little political progress. Less than three weeks later Henry signed an alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Francis’ main rival on the continent.
On the 31st May 1669, Samuel Pepys wrote the final entry of his famous diary. He stopped writing due to fear that he was losing his eyesight, but went on to live for another 34 years without developing any eye problems.
Pepys began writing his diary in January 1660, and since it was first published it has become an important source for historians studying the period of the Restoration. It is also invaluable for its detailed eyewitness accounts of key events in London’s history such as the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London.
That Pepys recorded even the smallest and seemingly trivial pieces information is what makes his diary so enormously useful to historians. His is the most complete and detailed record of daily life that we have access to, and Pepys’ frankness – presumably because he never intended for the diary to be published – exposes elements of life that professional memoirs would normally try to ignore.
This isn’t to say that Pepys’ diary is perfect. He was, after all, a member of the upper-middle class and became one of the most celebrated and important civil servants of his time. But his detailed observations on life have seen him referred to by many as the greatest diarist of all time.
By the time Pepys stopped writing his diary on the 31st May 1669, he had written over a million words of shorthand that were bound into six volumes. They are now housed alongside the rest of Pepys’ library containing 3,000 books at Magdalen College, Cambridge.
The Peasants’ Revolt was triggered when John Bampton arrived in Essex to investigate non-payment of the poll tax.
Although sparked by the introduction of a new poll tax, the roots of the Peasants’ Revolt lay in the dramatic social and economic upheaval that had emerged after the devastation of the Black Death. The plague had reached England in 1348 and soon wiped out up to half of the entire population. In the aftermath the surviving peasantry had demanded better wages and conditions, so grew increasingly angry at the government’s attempts to limit such changes.
This resentment was aggravated by the introduction of taxes to fund the English campaign against France in the Hundred Years’ War. Richard II was only ten years old when he inherited the throne in 1377 and his government forged ahead with the introduction of a new poll tax. By the time Parliament passed a third poll tax in 1380 the situation was incredibly volatile.
Many people, especially those in the south-east of the country, refused to pay. This prompted the government to begin investigating those who had not paid. John Bampton and his clerks were greeted by a crowd of villagers determined not to pay any further taxes and, after the officials attempted to arrest their leader, violence broke out.
The revolt quickly spread from Essex to Kent and beyond. Tax collectors and landlords were attacked, while tax records and registers were destroyed. By the time the crowds reached London in mid-June, Wat Tyler had emerged as leader of the Kentish rebels.
After rejecting a series of royal charters granted at Mile End the previous day, Tyler presented a comprehensive set of demands to Richard on 15th June at Smithfield. Tyler was later attacked and killed by members of the royal party, heralding the collapse of the revolt.
On the 27th May 1199 King John was crowned at Westminster Abbey. The previous king, his brother Richard, had died after being shot in the shoulder by a crossbow. John ruled for seventeen years before contracting dysentery while in Kings Lynn, an illness from which he later died. John’s reign saw him lose control of the Angevin Empire, lose the crown jewels in the mud of East Anglia, and lose significant monarchical power under the terms of the Magna Carta.
John’s claim to the throne wasn’t entirely clear-cut since Arthur, the son of John’s older brother Geoffrey, was another possible heir. His claim was also supported by a large contingent of French nobles, and the French king Phillip II himself, who hoped to fragment the Angevin Empire. This laid the foundations for John’s ongoing struggles in mainland Europe, which gradually eroded his control over the lands of the Angevin Empire.
The fact that John succeeded in his bid to be crowned was significant. Medieval monarchs got their legal authority from their coronation, where they swore the coronation oath and were then anointed, girted, crowned, invested and enthroned. However, although the coronation gave the King the legal authority to rule the country, it was still based on him abiding by the coronation oath. Rebellious barons argued that John failed to do this since, like his predecessors, he sometimes took executive decisions on the basis that the king was above the law. This set in motion calls for a ‘law of the land’ that was to result in the Magna Carta.
On the 19th May 1536, Anne Boleyn – Henry VIII’s second wife and mother of the future Elizabeth I – was beheaded in the Tower of London, having been found guilty of adultery, treason, and incest.
Although found unanimously guilty by a jury of 27 peers, the evidence against her was questionable. Only one person accused of an affair with Anne admitted his guilt, and this was allegedly extracted under torture. Some historians believe that her involvement in court politics led the influential Thomas Cromwell to engineer her downfall. Meanwhile, other historians point to the problem of her not having bourn the king a male heir. A series of miscarriages in the months prior to her arrest further suggested she wouldn’t do so in the future. The lack of a son from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had originally driven Henry to find a new wife. Anne found herself in a precarious situation. She gave birth to a stillborn son in January 1536, and soon afterwards Henry took Jane Seymour – one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting – as a mistress.
Since she was queen, the Treason Act meant that the queen’s infidelity was treasonous. The punishment for a woman was burning alive, but Henry commuted it to beheading and had an expert French swordsman brought over to carry out the execution with a single stroke.
Anne maintained her innocence to the end. She was buried in an unmarked grave, but the site was identified in 1876 and is now marked with a marble slab.
British inventor Edwin Budding went into partnership with foundry owner John Ferrabee to manufacture the world’s first lawn mower.
Edwin Budding grew up near the Gloucestershire town of Stroud, where he often saw teams of labourers using scythes to manually cut the lawns of the landed gentry. The labour-intensive nature of this work would later inspire him to create the ubiquitous machine.
Having begun work in an iron foundry as a pattern maker, Budding came across a mechanical napping machine created by John Lewis in 1815 that was used to trim fibres from the surface of woven cloth to produce an even finish. Later developments to this machine used a cylindrical cutting blade that directly influenced Budding’s lawn mower design.
Powered by a large iron roller and a series of gears that span the cutting cylinder close to a knife plate, Budding’s mower was pushed from behind. A second roller could be adjusted to alter the cutting height, while the clippings were flung into a collection box at the front.
On 18 May Budding signed an agreement with John Ferrabee, owner of the Phoenix Iron Works at the nearby town of Thrupp, to manufacture the machine. One of the first models was sold to Regent’s Park Zoological Gardens in London where the head gardener reported that the new lawn mower allowed two men to do as much work as six or eight men with scythes.
Ferrabee subsequently licensed other manufacturers to produce Budding mowers, while Budding returned to inventing. He went on to create the first adjustable spanner in 1842.
A boycott against the Bristol Omnibus Company in England was launched due to their racist employment policy.
Around 3,000 people of West Indian origin lived in the city of Bristol in 1963, predominantly around the St Pauls area. There was not yet any legislation against discriminating on racial grounds so it was common in both housing and employment, while so-called “coloureds” often suffered violence at the hands of gangs of white Teddy Boys.
In 1955, the same year as the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama, the Transport and General Workers Union that represented bus drivers had reportedly passed a resolution that “coloured” workers should not be employed. The management of the Bristol Omnibus Company shared this attitude. Consequently, despite an acute labour shortage in the early 1960s, it was impossible to get a job on a bus crew unless you were white.
A group of West Indian men formed an action group to challenge the situation. In April 1963 the London-accented Paul Stephenson telephoned the bus company and set up an interview for Guy Bailey, a young man of West Indian heritage. He was turned away from the interview because he was black. At a press conference in his flat on 29 April, Stephenson called for people to boycott the bus company until the “colour bar” was abolished.
The boycott, which was supported by people across the city as well as the press, succeeded. On 28 August, the same day that Martin Luther King made his “I Have a Dream” speech, the company’s management announced the end of its discriminatory employment policy. The city’s first non-white bus conductor began work the following month.
The industrial revolution, combined with the first of the Enclosure Acts, had seen the earnings of poor farmers plummet. With the radicalism of the French Revolution still fresh in people’s minds, the Swing Riots of the early 1830s had seen agricultural workers turn to violent protest. Adding to tensions between land owners and workers, the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1825 effectively legalised the creation of trade unions.
By 1834 farm workers in the Dorset village of Tolpuddle were being paid just 7 shillings per week, three shillings less than the average agricultural labourer’s wage. Six men consequently formed the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers under the leadership of George Loveless, in protest at the reduction in pay.
Part of the society’s initiation ceremony involved swearing a secret oath, something that was illegal under the Unlawful Oaths Act of 1797. Local magistrate and landowner James Frampton was consequently able to take the six men to court, where they were convicted by a jury of 12 landowners and sentenced to seven years transportation by Judge Sir John Williams on 18 March 1834.
The sentence was greeted with uproar from the British public who collected 800,000 signatures calling for their release. 100,000 people took part in a march calling for the same and two years after their conviction the new Home Secretary, Lord John Russell, granted them pardons. The Tolpuddle Martyrs eventually returned home, but five of six soon left England and emigrated to Canada while the sixth, James Hammet, stayed in Dorset until his death in 1891.
Jews first began to arrive in England following the Norman conquest. Primarily serving as moneylenders due to strict Catholic laws about usury, anti-Jewish sentiment had begun to grow by the time of Richard I’s coronation on 3 September 1189.
That day witnessed anti-Semitic rioting that led to the deaths of around 30 Jews after they were denied entry to the coronation banquet. Although Richard later explicitly stated that Jews in England should not be harmed, violence surfaced again and slowly spread north after he departed for the Holy Land on the Third Crusade.
In March the anti-Semitic attacks reached York. In the midst of a raging fire, the cause of which is unknown, a mob looted the house and killed the family of Benedict, a wealthy Jew who had been mortally wounded in the London pogrom. Fearing for their lives, the rest of the Jewish population of the city, numbering in the region of 150 people, fled to the well-defended Clifford’s Tower.
Having been granted access by the warden, the fearful Jews later locked him out while an armed mob surrounded the tower. Trapped inside, and faced with either forced conversion to Christianity or death at the hands of the angry crowd, most of the Jews chose to die at their own hand. Many fathers killed their wives and children before committing suicide. The tower was then set on fire.
Although some Jews took up the offer of safe passage in return for their conversion, they were all killed by the crowd. Led by Richard Malebisse and other members of the local gentry, the mob then moved to York Minster where they burned the records of loans made to local residents by the Jews, effectively cancelling their debts.
On the 13th February 1689, William and Mary became co-regents of the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland after agreeing to the Declaration of Right. On the 5th November the previous year William, the head of state of the Dutch Republic, landed at Torbay after being invited by a group of English Parliamentarians to invade England. His Dutch fleet and army went on to oust the Catholic King James II, his wife Mary’s father, in the so-called Glorious Revolution. James was allowed to flee the country and later took up exile in France.
The Declaration of Right, which became a Bill after it was formally passed on the 16th December, joined other documents such as Magna Carta and the Petition of Right as a central part of the uncodified British constitution. The Declaration placed limits on the monarch’s power and confirmed Parliament’s own rights, ensuring that it was free to function without royal interference. Furthermore, it banned Catholics from the throne.
Parliament originally only wanted to offer the crown to Mary, with William as Prince Consort, but the couple pressed for co-regency. Parliament agreed, and so on the 13th February the couple was declared king and queen. Their coronation took place on the 11th April.
The Glorious Revolution was not seen as such by everyone. The Bill of Right was both politically and religiously divisive, laying the foundations for generations of conflict. Beginning with the Williamite–Jacobite War that confirmed British and Protestant rule in Ireland, the Protestant Ascendancy established political, economic and social domination of the country for over two centuries.