A History of London

This "History" was written as a companion to showing students around London.  It is fairly accurate but some of the descriptions are a little flippant.  For fact it might receive 90% from a history teacher but not for presentation.  On the other hand, a novelist might give it better marks.  Acknowledgements then to Jean Plaidy from whom some of the "fiction" came.

You may help yourself to the content but please acknowledge.




A History of London


Once upon a time, about 10,000 years ago, the island we know as Great Britain was joined to Europe and what we now call the North Sea was the estuary of the Rhine and the Thames, plus all of the other rivers flowing eastwards into the sea in that area.

The peninsular slowly became an island with a race of proud Celtic people living there.   They were separated from their nearest kin, those of Lesser Britain, now Britanny in France, by a fairly wide channel of water, which is now called the English Channel if you live in England or La Manche if you are on the other side.

Perhaps nothing happened in science in those years but one must make mention of two people.    Erastothenes measured the radius of the earth centuries before Copernicus and centuries before Columbus.     Democritus postulated the atomic theory, centuries before Dalton and centuries before Avogadro.    Both of them were more or less ignored.

Nothing need be noted about Great Britain until 55BC when Julius Caesar looked across the Channel and decided to spend the summer there.   This he did without problems with the locals and then went home for the winter.   It is of note that he had as much difficulty crossing the Channel as is had by current day travelers who still shun the Channel Tunnel or the airlines.  In the next year he returned for the last time.   If any of you have spent the summer in SE England you will realise why he did not come back.   He was also detained by other matters.   (See Julius Caesar, Act III, scene i).

It was not until 43 AD when Emperor Claudius was not seated very well in Rome that another force was sent to Britain.  You will see an effigy of the then Emperor of Rome near Tower Bridge station.   You could swear that Goscinny and Uderzo had used this as their model for Julius Caesar.   At this time there may have only been a few hundred families living in peace in the SE of Britain.

This time the Romans came for keeps and moved in with their armies.   Naturally the Brits were not too keen on this and some rather nasty skirmishes eventuated.   The bravest of the brave was the widow of the king of Colchester (now in Essex), old King Cole perhaps, who led the last uprising.    Boadicia gave no quarter and rode against the Romans in 60 AD with knives on the axles of her chariot.    You will see a statue of her on the Embankment next to Westminster Bridge.   The Romans were not very pleased about this skirmish and wiped out quite a few Britons in retribution.

The Romans won the day in England but not over all of the Island.   Under Emperor Hadrian in about 120 AD they built a wall to keep in (or out, depending on whose side you are on) the Scots and meanwhile the Welsh disappeared into their mountains.    The residual British accepted their overlords and became Romanised.    In the mean time things in Rome took a turn for the worse and the Roman legions in Britain slowly became identified with the British.    After about 400 years the leadership from Rome broke down and the Brits were on their own.

One must look at the River Thames.   The estuary of the river narrows rapidly and therefore creates very high tides.   The River itself, which drains from west to east, is tidal nearly to Hampton Court in the west.   The surrounding country is fairly flat and mostly, in those days, marshland.    What we now know as Westminster was a swamp.   There is one exception to this, which you will discover if you stand near London Bridge station, and that is there was one spot where the River could be forded at low tide.    The north side was above water and there was an island on the south side.    The Brits and the Romans settled on the north bank at this place and called it Londinium and the semicircle about the northern end of this ford became the city.    The first wooden Bridge was built in about 90 AD.    The Romans built a wall around Londinium, about 1 mile in diameter in about 200AD.    The easternmost point is at Tower Bridge where you can see relics of the wall.   Trace the wall along streets like Houndsditch, London Wall and so on until you reach the river again near Blackfriars.     See the names of the gates like Aldgate, Aldersgate, Newgate, Bishopsgate, Barbican, Ludgate and so on.   The names of the little churches still show the history like “St Botolph’s outside Bishopsgate”.   The first stone London Bridge was built around 1200 and lasted 600 years.

As the island sinks into the North Sea at the rate of about a centimetre a year, the high tides in the Thames become higher.   This hardly sounds a lot but when one remembers that the bridges and embankments choke the river and the tunnels etc under the waterline make London very susceptible to flood, it is easy to see why London has had to build a barrier against flood tides.    This is downstream from Woolwich, to the east, and you may see it from Greenwich.    2,000 years ago the River was about 300m wide.   It is now about 100m wide.     The Strand, in Central London, would have once been, as its name suggests, the frontage to the river.   It is now perhaps 500m from the river.

The next few centuries were not good for the little island.   Repeated attacks by the Jutes, Angles, Saxons and Vikings resulted in a new race of people who we can call the English (Angle-ish) taking over the Eastern part of the island.   Just as they would become localised another lot would arrive and so on.   This is how we have counties and regions with names like Essex (East Saxons) and Anglia.    Londinium was sacked in about 350 and there is reason to believe that the city was deserted from 410 to 450 AD

Somewhere, in the dark ages, there may have been an Arthur and a Merlin and a round table and the Knights of Pendragon Castle.   The stories grew and changed over the centuries.

St Augustine came to Britain in about the eighth century AD and converted it to Christianity

Feast days make an interesting study.   Certainly no-one knows on which day Christ was born because the calendar as we know it was not fixed.   The Julian calendar came into effect around the days of Emperor Augustus who claimed the month of August and required that it have no less than 31 days thus pinching a day from February.    The early Christians would have used the existing pagan festivities on which to base their own and what better way than to usurp the midwinter festival which is in late December.    But wait, don’t forget that by about 1500 the calendar was well out of synch and the new Gregorian calendar (1582) needed to add 12 days to make up for the error.    This confused 25 December with 6 January which is still celebrated as Christmas by some Eastern Christians and is Drei Konig, Three Kings Day, in Germany.    Hence the Twelve Days of Christmas.     White Christmas was a regular occurrence in London once.    12 days earlier it is less likely to snow.     St Nicholas appears in most European countries and has been appropriated as Santa Claus by English speaking countries.    Coca Cola dressed him in red about 50 years ago.   Prince Albert brought the Christmas Tree to England about 150 years ago.

When the good Lord created Scotland he gave it beautiful scenery, a wonderful climate, mountains, rivers, wildlife, etc.   The angels questioned the Lord and asked him if he was not giving the Scots too much.    “No” was the reply.   “Just wait until you see whom I am giving to them as neighbours”.

Around the tenth century unification of England and Britain became a reality and figures like Alfred the Great appeared in the line of Wessex kings.    Tracing descendants of Alfred brings us to Edward the Confessor who was perhaps the first substantive ruler of England.   He was a pious man and seems to have been better disposed to be a monk than a king.   Edward ruled from 1046 to 1066 and in that time saw the establishment of Westminster Abbey, a church in the marshes of Westminster.   To ensure that the church would last the foundations were dug down to bedrock some 30 metres below ground.     The pillars that you see today are those started back in the eleventh century and the building as you see it was completed in the thirteenth century.     A recent check showed the building to be as solid as one would hope but, just in case, metal cross members were set up inside.   Structurally they were never needed but they have proved a godsend to the TV and lighting people who otherwise would have had nothing on which to string their cables.

The bones of St Edward the Confessor today lie in that Abbey and are the oldest relics.

During the time of Edward, Duncan was King of Scotland and then succeeded by Macbeth in 40 AD.   Later Malcolm III, son of Duncan, became King of Scotland.  History books have little to say about Lady Macbeth.

Edward made the mistake of promising twice.   He promised England to his brother in law, Harold.    He also promised it to William, Duke of Normandy.     Harold had the advantage of being on site in 1066 when Edward died but he was then attacked in the north east by the Vikings.   No sooner had he taken his army up to York when William landed in the south, near Hastings.   Harold beat off the Vikings and then tramped south.    William was too clever for Harold and Harold had the misfortune, on 2 November, to collect an arrow in the eye, which was fatal, as it normally would be. “On ‘is ‘orse, with ‘is ‘awk in ‘is ‘and”.   You can visit the battlefield, near a town called Battle, near Hastings, in Kent.


England was William’s.    He was crowned on 25 December 1066.  There is a model of William in Madame Toussaud’s.   How they found out what he looked like, who knows.

William I was a very thorough king by all accounts.   After his arrival he built a motel which was to be just inside the London Wall on the Thames which stands to this day and has been inhabited by some of England’s best known dignitaries, with and without their heads, or a promise of keeping them.    The Kings of England lived in the White Tower of the Tower of London until the days of Charles I.

William collected on his MacIntosh an inventory of everything owned by everyone in England.   This all by definition belonged to the king.   You can probably see a copy of the Doomsday Book in the British Museum today.

Before William, England would have spoken many languages, based on Latin, Celtic, Norse and many more.   In 1066 is imposed upon all of this the official language of the Normans, which would have resembled what we think of as French and derived in part from Latin.

For the next couple of hundred years the tenacity of William and his descendants was demonstrated.   They were still there.    You can see models of the later kings in Madame Toussaud's and read about them in any history book.   The laws of England today date from the death of Henry II in 1189.

Of course the barons believed that they held all the power but so did the King, and confrontation was the order of the day.    Many of these kings spent money on European wars and had to extract this money from their loyal subjects.   One such king, Richard I, was lost in Europe for many years after a crusade to the holy land.   His wicked brother John, whom Robin Hood tormented, was finally invited by the barons to an afternoon picnic on the island of Runnymede, in the Thames down toward Windsor, in 1215 and was confronted with the Magna Carta, a sort of Bill of Rights.   You can find a couple of these originals in England but a better one is on show in the National Library in Canberra.    John was not forced to sign this but it is difficult to imagine him catching the last train back to London if he had not.

The Magna Carta made life easier for the barons but the king still survived.    The people were not even considered in those days.

Windsor Castle was first built by William in 1080 as part of the outer defences of London.   It was primarily a fortress, built of timber.     Henry II (c 1160) began to replace the outer walls by stone and built the Round Tower.   Henry III (c 1220) continued the expansion including the wall which faces the High St and the Royal Chapel which is now the Albert Memorial Chapel.     The next major construction was by Edward III, who converted Windsor to a Gothic Palace and installed the seat of the Order of the Garter.     St George’s Chapel was built by Edward IV (c 1470), St George being the patron saint of the Order of the Garter.

(Trains go from Paddington to Windsor and you can buy an extension on a 6 zone ticket.    St George’s Chapel, one of the key points, is closed on Sunday.   The gates close at 1600)

For the next two and a half centuries England muddled on with a general running battle between king and the barons being the order of the day.   If there was a disputed inheritance of the king then the barons would side with one or the other and generally live in a state of war.    This is why it was so important for a king to have an undisputed male heir.   A female heir was of no use in those conditions.

Some kings were of note.    Richard II, who had, as a teenager, quelled the peasant’s revolt, had too many boyfriends for the likes of the barons and was forced to abdicate in 1399.   That was not enough because in the following year they killed him by burning out his bowels with a red hot poker, without leaving a mark on his body.   His screams could be heard from outside the walls of Pontefract Castle.  

Henry III decided to create a coronation chair upon which to crown his son, Edward I, to occur in 1272.   This chair was made of wood, covered in gold and what have you.  It must have been an amazing object.    Every Sovereign of England since that day    (The exceptions are Edward IV and Edward VII who were not crowned at all) has been crowned on that chair.   Today it is a wooden chair in Westminster Abbey, but even more important now than it was then.   Cromwell, of whom you will hear later, stripped it to the bare wood and tossed it out to Westminster Hall.   It was discovered later as a dining room chair in a nearby school.    It is now covered in graffiti.  Even 50 years ago one could still sit on it as a tourist.    It has only left the Abbey on one other occasion, during the blitz in World War II.   The chair once contained the Stone of Scone (in Scotland) which is alleged to be the stone of Jacob and Isaac in the Old Testament.   Drop it in a stonemason’s yard today and you would lose it.    The Scots pinched it back in the nineteen sixties but it (which “it”?) has since been recovered.   Tony Blair gave it back to the Scots on the condition that he could borrow it for Coronations.

Henry IV was a pious man and founded both Eton College and Kings College Cambridge during his reign, 1399 to 1413.    He provided free places at Eton for 70 boys, chosen on merit from all over England.   The 70 King’s scholars still exist today although Eton has over 600 boys.    Eton College Chapel, across the River from Windsor, can be visited any day.    Wills and Harry went there.    They would invite some of their mates on a Sunday afternoon to go with them across the River to visit Grandma.   Henry may have been the founder of the NYSF principles.

In 1385 Bishop Wyckeham set up Winchester College with a similar 70 places.  He followed this with new College, Cambridge.   The purpose of these schools was to prepare sufficient men for the priesthood, since so many had died during the recent Black Death.   Winchester today has over 660 boys but still the 70 “scholars”.
Infighting continued in England for many years culminating in the wars of the Roses, between the Rose of York and the Rose of Lancaster which began in earnest in 1455. This blue finally reached its conclusion in the year 1485 when Henry Tudor (Lancastrian) won the battle of Bosworth Field over yet another wicked King Richard, Richard III, and became the undisputed King of England, Henry VII.    “My horse, my horse, my kingdom for a horse.”     This wicked Richard was in 1483 given the custody of his young nephews, one of whom was King Edward V.    Somehow or other Richard lost the Princes in the tower and took over himself.   The bones of the little Princes were allegedly found in the tower in the nineteenth century.


Henry Tudor was clever enough to marry the heir of the other side of the argument, Elizabeth of York, which further cemented his claims and certainly those of his sons.     Playing cards were invented just at that time and the face of Elizabeth of York, alias Mrs Henry Tudor, appears on all playing cards to this day.   It is alleged that the 4 kings in the pack are faces of famous kings like Charlemagne, Ghengis Khan, Attila the Hun and so on.   Any confirmatory evidence of this would be welcome.  Note that although Elizabeth would have been called “Queen Elizabeth” as a courtesy title, she was not Queen of England.   This applied also to the wife of George VI who on his death became Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.    On the other hand, the husband of a queen does not become king.   Phillip has been languishing as Duke of Edinburgh for over half a century.

The battle of Bosworth Field marked the end of the Middle Ages in England if such a fixed break can be defined.

Let us pause a moment to see what else is happening in the world around 1485.

The University of St Andrews, which for a few years was overpopulated by scheming girls, was founded in 1413.

Gutenburg invented printing in 1425 and printed the Bible in 1455.    William Caxton printed “Morte d’Arthur” in 1485.

In 1487, Diaz sailed around the Cape of Good Hope.   In 1492 Columbus proved that there was land on the other side of the Atlantic, even though he did not then reach the American continent.

In 1494 the Treaty of Tordesillas established that the Spanish had the right to all lands to the west of 57 degrees west of Greenwich and the Portugese worked east wards.   Join a discussion on the meaning of this to the founding of Australia.    More later.

In 1503, Leonardo di Vinci, having already made some revolutionary scientific discoveries (and designs) painted the Mona Lisa, which is in the Louvre in Paris.   In 1504 Michelangelo carved the statue of David which can be found in Florence.

Back to London.    Henry Tudor, Henry VII, had 2 sons, Arthur and Henry, and two daughters, Margaret and Mary .    Arthur was a pious but weak lad and preferred the church to statesmanship.    Perhaps he was also a vegetarian.     Son Henry was a big boy and liked to play soldiers.    Unfortunately for son Henry, Arthur was older and destined to be King of England.   Son Henry grew to be huge man, even by today’s standards.   His armour is in the Tower of London and shows how big he was.   The cod-piece will give you an idea of his opinion of himself.

Arthur, at about age 12, married Catherine of Aragon, a very noble lady from Spain.    Ultimately brother Henry’s wishes were fulfilled when Arthur departed this world in 1502 and left Catherine behind.    When father Henry (VII) died, in 1509, son Henry became Henry VIII without question.   Henry wanted Catherine too, but marriage with your brother’s widow is frowned upon.   Henry phoned up the Pope and probably for a small consideration was granted permission to marry her.    Henry would now appear to have everything he wanted, except male heirs.   Catherine gave him none.   All she gave him was one daughter, Mary.   Yes, indeed, so you should shudder at the mention of that name.

If one analyses the situation one would probably ascribe the blame for no heirs to Henry after a life of high living.   So Henry once again sends an email to the Pope and this time asks that the marriage be annulled.     Now, when you ask for a special favour and then come back a few years later and ask for a reversal of that favour, you are not likely to win, even more so when you are involving the King of Spain’s daughter.     “I had a little nut tree, nothing would it bear..…”

Precedent for Henry was being set in Europe.    In 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church, which became the foundation of Protestantism, refuting the authority of the Pope.    In 1534 Henry took the law into his own hands and disenfranchised the Pope.   No doubt the Pope was quick in responding with like.   Henry made himself head of the English (Anglican) Church and removed any possible obstacle to putting aside Catherine, which he promptly did.   A by-product of this was that the good Roman Catholic people of England promptly found themselves to be Protestant, ……or else.

Henry benefited in other ways from this change.    The richest landholder in the realm was undoubtedly the Church.   As head of the Church, Henry became overlord of this wealth.    Consequentially the monastries, convents and churches of England were relieved of much of this wealth.

Henry had a good friend in Thomas Moore whom he first made chancellor and then Archbishop of Canterbury.   In his urge to please his liege King, Thomas gave Hampton Court Palace to Henry and Henry lived there for much of his life.     The Palace can still be visited and seen as it was in those days.   (train from Waterloo platform 11 to Hampton Court, inside zone 6).   Thomas, as Archbishop, found it difficult to meet many of Henry’s demands and ultimately found his head severed from his shoulders.   That is a steep price to pay to be made a saint.
The story of Henry’s subsequent five wives (6 in all; divorced, beheaded, died, divorced beheaded, survived) was shown on SBS in early 2002 and all are shown by Madame Toussaud, although it is difficult to imagine them all being together.   All of this palaver was caused by the need to have an undisputed male heir.

When Henry finally died in 1547, after 38 years on the throne, he was succeeded by his only son, Edward VI, son of wife number 3, Jane Seymour.    Edward survived for 6 years and finally went to meet his (Anglican) maker.

Enter Mary, daughter of Catherine, Queen Mary I, Mary Tudor, Bloody Mary.      Mary was now an elderly lady, (not unexpected if you have had FIVE step mothers) known commonly as “the farmer’s wife” because of her appearance.

The leading Anglicans wheeled in Lady Jane Grey to the Tower to be Queen of England.   Mary waited outside London.    Jane was the daughter of the sister of Henry VIII, Auntie Mary this time.    They alleged that all of Henry’s children were illegitimate, probably with good reason.   Any port in a storm.    Lady Jane’s supporters, rallied in the Tower, sent three bishops to preach to the people at St Paul’s.   The bishops instead ran to Mary.  

“Three Blind Mice, See how they run,
They all ran after the farmer’s wife
She cut off their tales with the carving knife…..”

Not only did Mary do in the bishops, she came to London and executed Lady Jane Grey and her husband.  Poor Jane lasted 9 days and she was but 15.

Mary’s sister, Elizabeth was given a room in the Tower, downstairs.

England is now Roman again.

“Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.”

It would not have been comfortable living in England in those days.   Perhaps Lewis Carrol’s Queen of Hearts (with grandmother Elizabeth’s face) was a parody on Mary I.  (You can find Lewis Carrol in Westminster Abbey.)

Mary I was queen for 5 years and when she died, in 1558, enter Elizabeth.   Elizabeth was the daughter of Anne Boleyn (wife number 2) and of course she was Anglican.    Back we all go.

Elizabeth was obsessed with making sure that there were no aspirants for the throne who would try to bump her off.   She got in first and locked them all in the tower, one by one.   The last and most spectacular was Mary, Queen of Scots, who was the daughter of the aforementioned Auntie Margaret.   She had married James IV of Scotland and was relatively untouchable until the Scots tossed her out for reasons of their own and once she fell into the hands of good cousin Elizabeth she was put in the Tower for years and finally relieved of her head.     You will find Mary Queen of Scots in the Westminster Abbey.    Whether her head is there you can work out for yourself.

Elizabeth was queen for what was one of the greatest advances in history of the British nation.    In the days of Henry VII, Britain was still obsessed with fighting the French.  Over the next hundred years England became a major maritime power, Drake sailed around the world in the Golden Hind (which is on the south bank of the River, near the Globe Theatre) and English colonies were set up in America.    During the time of the Tudors, 1485 to 1603, the population of London grew from perhaps 50,000 to over 200,000.

Elizabeth’s time was the time of Shakespeare.    Shakespeare wrote about many of Elizabeth’s forebears, some of which was fact, some was imagination.   Above all, Shakespeare wrote in the English language, a language which had developed in the 400 years since William the Conqueror.    Remember how Henry Higgins (in reality George Bernard Shaw) described this language.    It has changed very little in the past 400 years.   Of course you would be thought some sort of freak if you walked the streets today speaking Shakespearean English but you would still be understood.    Henry VI (part I), the first play, was written in 1589, Romeo and Juliet in 1595 and Hamlet in 1600.    The original Globe Theatre was built in 1599.

In Elizabeth’s time science was becoming restless but it was not strong enough to overcome dogma.   Aristotlean and theist teachings were not to be questioned.    Observation occasionally led to formulation of description such as by Kepler but none spoke of CAUSE.   Galileo is yet to come.

Music of those days was “Old English”.   It is alleged that Henry VIII wrote “Greensleeves”.   We have not yet come to the time of Bach or Telemann.

Elizabeth stands high in Mme Toussaud’s.   Think why women dressed like that in those days.   They were sewn into their clothes.   Women did not wear knickers, they did not come in until Queen Victoria’s day.

Elizabeth died in 1603 after 45 years as Queen of England, unmarried and therefore without children.   You will find Mary and Elizabeth lying side by side in Westminster Abbey, midst many messages of reconciliation.    They undoubtedly hated one another.

When Elizabeth died she had no relatives, or none that she could have reached.   With her died the last of the Tudor monarchs.

Coming to us is now the most intriguing part of British monarchial history, the Stuarts.


The next in line as king of England was now James IV of Scotland, James Stuart, grandson of Mary Queen of Scots and thus great grandson of Auntie Margaret.   He was rushed to London to take up residence as James I of England.   Scotland and England now had the same King.    The Scottish parliament still existed so England and Scotland were two separate entities.     They purely had the same King.

To say James was not very popular was probably an understatement but nothing compared with his son Charles who became Charles I.   The Stuarts believed in the divine right of kings, infallibility it is called today.   The people of England did not!   Nor did they like Charles and he finally told parliament to get lost and dissolved them.    This is not very different from what happened to Gough Whitlam in 1975.   Gough only had to contend with John Kerr and Malcolm Fraser but Charles had to face Oliver Cromwell.   Cromwell took over as Lord Protector of England in 1646, gave Charles a room in William’s motel and finally relieved Charles of his head in 1649.    He was beheaded in Whitehall and buried in St George’s Chapel at Windsor.

During this time science began to question the law of God as it was then interpreted.   Galileo told us of a heliocentric solar system and was locked up for life.   Copernicus was careful enough not to publish until he died.   Bruno had the same ideas and was burned at the stake.

England was a Republic.    Isaac Newton was born on 25 December 1642 (the year Galileo died) and thus would never as a child have remembered a king.   Newton worked through this period and was first renowned for publishing his treatise on light.   In somewhere around 1685 Newton published “Principia”.   The best that text books can say about Newton is that he was not a very pleasant man.

Newton’s three laws of motion were probably all plagiarised, mostly from Galileo and perhaps from Hooke.   He did however, make the world aware of them.   His Law of Gravitation was straight genius, based on the work of Kepler and Copernicus.   How many years would it have taken for another to arrive at the same conclusion?  Many!   Newton invented differential calculus. Leibnitz at the same time in Germany invented integral calculus.

Cromwell was an avid anti-papist and anti-royalist.   For the second time all of the “idolatry” of the church, the Anglican church now, was attacked.   The crown jewels for taken and melted down, churches were stripped of their riches, all references to kings in the church were removed and crosses were reduced.    If you compare today a church in France with a similar age church in England you will see a huge difference in the ornamentation.   They developed at the same time but have had the “idolatry” stripped.    References to heaven, hell, purgatory, etc. abound in European catholic churches but are much more sparse in England  (and with us)  thanks to Cromwell.   In the Tower there is only one item in the crown jewels which pre-dates Cromwell.   See if you can pick it.

By 1660 the public was sick of Cromwell, he would not let people enjoy themselves. England brought back Charles’ son as Charles II in 1660 midst much rejoicing.  

Charles obviously insisted on the restoration of his “rights” and had all of the crown jewels remade.   Most of the earlier “treasures” in the Tower date from 1662.

This can be read as a warning to the anti-monarchists.   We might not like the way the Queen or the Governor General is appointed but be content that they have no mandate from the people.   They cannot demand anything on the basis that they are elected.    Were we to have a popularly elected President he could claim a mandate of more than 50% of the votes.   Even the PM cannot claim this.   Hence a President could demand a palace, a 747, royal treatment and the works.      An elected President would not cost just as much as an appointed Governor General but probably a bloody sight more.

During Cromwell’s time, Windsor was used as a prison.   Charles took a fancy to Windsor (it is not surprising that he did not want to live in the Tower where his dad had lived) and was determined to re-instate Windsor as his principal non-metropolitan palace.   Most of the state apartments as seen today are as created by Charles II.

England was not faring very well with plague.   It is estimated that one third of England’s population died of plague, carried by rats.

“Ring a ring of roses,
Pocket full of posies, 
ah tishoo, ah tishoo, we all fall down”

Newton was sent out into the country to escape the plague and was hit on the head by an apple, mass 0.1 kg, gravitational force 1 Newton.   (The French did not invent the metric system until 1790).

Then one day in 1666 the king’s baker down near London Bridge left the gas turned up for too long and started the Great Fire of London.    Well, that did the trick.   It burnt the whole of London, which was wooden.  No-one was willing to have their house bulldozed as a firebreak and it just kept going.   Charles could not care as he lived in a house made of brick.

The fire burned out the rats and the plague was over.    The Monument, built by Christopher Wren in 1669, celebrates the fire.   Get off a District train at Monument and climb the 467? steps for 50p and see the second best view of London.

Charles II commissioned Wren to rebuild St Paul’s Cathedral, on of the 4 largest domes in the world, commenced in 1675 and taking 35 years to build.   There had been a cathedral church on the site to St Paul since 604AD.    St Paul’s is the seat of the Bishop on London.    Many will remember St Paul’s as the location of the marriage of Charles and Diana.    Westminster Abbey was too small.

The height of the cross at the top of St Paul’s is 111 metres and it requires 530 steps to reach the Golden Gallery of the Cupola, 543 on the way down.

St Paul’s is open every day for visiting (not Sunday) until 1600.   The best entry is via the crypt, go left as you are facing the front entrance.   See the best view of London from the cupola, right up on top, the unchallenged best view of London.

Charles decreed that the new London was to be built of stone and that there may be no thatched roofs.   The only building in London today (in Southwark, not in the City of London) is the Globe theatre and that has special conditions placed on the thatch.

The weather was a lot colder in those days.   The longest recorded period of freezing of the Thames was from the beginning of December 1683 to 4 February 1684.   It does not freeze today but with the river being narrower, faster and dirtier this may be no surprise.

Charles might have been a bit of a prig but he had some idea of science.   England was a bit behind the Spanish and Portuguese in establishing colonies, mainly because the others were already “there”.   To reproduce these feats one had to know where one was and this meant that one had to know one’s longditude.    Charles was told that a good astronomical almanac would be all they needed, so he set up the Royal Observatory in Greenwich and appointed one James Flamsteed as Astronomer Royal.   You can see the observatory and see its history by visiting Greenwich.   (train from London Bridge, zone 2)     What is more, entry is free.

Flamsteed was a perfectionist.   No mud-map was he going to draw, so he died without finishing the job.   Later, further Astronomers Royal were appointed to do the job.

Brother James (James II) was later persuaded to offer a prize of £20,000, around half a million of anyone’s money today, to anyone who could solve the longditude problem.    John Harrison came up with a clock which could be used in all weathers but the then Astronomer Royal, Neville Maskelin, wanted the prize for his still uncompleted almanac.  No doubt Newton, who at the end of the century was living in the Tower as Master of the Royal Mint, had a finger in the pie too.  By the time Harrison had completed his fourth clock which lost only 52 seconds on a three month trip to the West Indies, he was over 80 years of age and only received the prize through the intercession of George III.   You can read more about this in the book “Longditude”.    More about the clock later.

Charles II lasted 25 years (1660 - 1685) and was replaced by his brother James II (who would now also be James V of Scotland, remember).   James was an arrogant man, just look at him in the paintings you will see at Windsor, Hampton Court and Buckingham Palace.

James II was a Roman Catholic and when his wife produced a son as the otherwise undisputed heir to the throne the people made it so hot for him that after 4 years he fled England.  

In 1707 England and Scotland united as one nation as the Kingdom of Great Britain.   The Scottish parliament was dissolved.   The Union Jack was made up of the combined flags of St George of England and St Andrew of Scotland.    Later, in 1801 Ireland was officially included in the Union, styled “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”, was the flag of St Patrick added to make what we know as the Union Jack.    The Republic of Ireland, Eire, was formed in 1917 when the nation became “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.   When England plays football it plays under the red cross on white of St George.    Only again in 2001 was the Scottish Parliament recreated.    There is also now a Welsh assembly.     It is worthy of note that the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, while being subservient to the Sovereign of England, are not part of the UK and hence not part of the EU.

James’ Protestant daughter Mary who had married her protestant cousin William of Orange (in what is now Holland) were invited in 1689 to take over as Mary II and William III jointly.     This was on the condition that the sovereign was not above the laws of the land.   This second reformation gave rise to the constitutional monarchy as it has evolved today.

In 1701 parliament passed the Act of Succession.   It bars from the royal accession any member of the Royal Family who married a Roman Catholic.    This law is still in force today!

William preferred Hampton Court to Windsor and he, and the next few generations lived there, possibly because it was still inside zone 6.

William and Mary had no children and Anne, Mary’s sister successor, was not able to produce living off-spring.   Anne apparently lived on Smith’s Crisps and Cadbury’s chocolate. When Anne died the throne passed to the nearest protestant male heir who was George, the Elector of Hannover, great great grandson of James I, once more a descendant of Auntie Margaret Tudor.  


George I did not like England, did not speak English and did not live in England very much.   His son George II was little better and his son, Frederick, was not clever enough to survive long enough to inherit so the throne passed to George’s grandson, George III, and we are in 1760.

George preferred Windsor and moved there in 1789.   He did the place up a bit and allowed entry to the public.

George III was to reign for 60 years and see England through an interesting time.

Let us start with exploration.    The Royal Society of London decided that it wished to check astronomical predictions and decided to send one James Cook to Tahiti to do this…… while he was there (the South Pacific is a big “there” so he was to drop in on Australia and claim it for George).    Now Cook was perhaps the greatest navigator and cartographer the world has ever known but he was aided by one thing.   He had Harrison’s clock.   If you do your sums you will find that Harrison’s clock was accepted by the Royal Navy at precisely the time that Cook needed it.   The Royal Society would not have been able to time the transit of Venus if Cook had not such an accurate clock.

But there was more.    Have you yet solved the riddle of the pope’s boundary line?     That line is now the boundary between Western Australia and South Australia.    The Spaniards came westwards the Pacific much further north and never found Australia.   The Portuguese came across from India and their easternmost base, on the western side of the line was, wait for it, East Timor.   In the late 20th century, battles were fought over this little ex-colony, this little Roman Catholic enclave in a Muslim world, but never was mentioned the historical significance of this outpost.   It is inconceivable that the Portuguese did not sail over to Broome for a picnic or go for an excursion through Torres Strait to Cairns and Townsville.    

In 1524 an expedition sailed, with 3 ships, down the east coast of Australia and as far around as Warrnambool.   Here they met with some catastrophe as one of their ships is buried under the sand, one was wrecked.   They wintered near Pt Hicks and returned to Timor.

But the Portuguese had to be careful and never tell the Spaniards or the Spaniards may have begun to cross the line in the other direction, like in Brazil.   Hence the Portuguese government confiscated all maps and documents of every ship returning to Lisbon and locked them up in the Library.   And where is that library today?   It is under the rubble of the Lisbon earthquake of 1 November 1755.    But some of it would have slipped through and some of it would have found its way to the Royal Navy in London and. into the hands of James Cook.    Cook was not just a brilliant navigator.   He was born at the right time as well.

There is no doubt that Cook had one of these Portuguese maps.   He crossed the Pacific and arrived precisely at the point where the continent turns away from the weather.   He sailed north with the knowledge of where the inlets were (in his log).   When he foundered on the Endeavour Reef he did not retrace his steps, nor sail for the closest point on the coast but further north to the only estuary of note on that part of the coast.   He arrived at Cape York, how was he to know it was the northernmost point, and claimed everything across to the line of the Treaty of Tordesillas for King George.   He did not claim the Portuguese territory.    Then he sailed home without bothering to look at anything else.

Why do we call him Captain Cook, when he was a lieutenant, while everyone else gets a first name.   Matthew Flinders, Arthur Phillip, Joseph Banks, Charles Sturt, but Captain Cook.

Then there were the American colonies.   George and his ministers were pretty insensitive about the feelings of the colonials and he was quite happy to have them contribute to the revenues of England.   The Americans were not happy about this and signed a piece of paper in 1776 telling England to get lost.   England was not happy but the result was an independent United States of America with its 11 original states, now up to 50.    George managed to hang on to what we now know as Canada after Wolf had thrashed the pants off the Frogs and sent them packing.   A big statue of General Wolf stands on the hill at Greenwich and an even bigger one confronts you in Westminster Abbey.   The Brits foolishly let the Frogs keep the islands of St Pierre and Miquelon in the St Lawrence estuary, right in the middle of the fishing grounds and the entry to Canada.    More will be heard of these islands in the future.   Well, George now had no-where to send his convicts whom he had previously used to populate the American colonies.   So he sent Governor Philip to Botany Bay in 1788 to find another home for these people.   We know the rest.    A statue of Arthur Philip exists Bath of all places.

Then there was Napoleon.   Napoleon was an orderly man and was very tired of the crazy lack of uniformity of the different countries of Europe.  He had great ideas of an orderly world, but unfortunately others did not feel the same way about this.    He created the metric system for instance, with the metre being defined by a line through Paris.   His only recourse was to force these other countries to listen to him so his power began to expand.    By about 1810 he was Emperor of all of Europe, except Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and Great Britain.   Then he made the mistake of marching on Moscow and the Russian winter, with Alexander’s help, beat him (as immortalised by Tchaikovski in the 1812 overture) and finally he was wiped out by the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo in about 1815.   Wellington’s victory is celebrated by the Marble arch in west London, and you can see Wellington with Napoleon in Madame Toussaud’s.

When you meet someone you stick out your right hand to shake his, you run him through with your sword which is in your right hand or you unhorse him with your lance.   This requires that you stay to your left.    Travel was becoming better organised in the late 18th century and rules had to be made to facilitate it.   This was right up Napoleon’s ally.    The Brits had obviously adopted this “keep to the left” rule and Napoleon, while wanting uniformity, was not going to follow the British.   From that time onwards the Europeans (except in Sweden until only recently) have driven on the right.   Similarly the Americas were out to do anything contrary to the British and did much the same thing.   Today only Britain and the post 1800 loyal colonies drive on the left.

George III began to go bananas in the last years of his reign.   The cause is known but it is a bit late to do anything now.   His son, George, Prince of Wales, was appointed Prince Regent and enjoyed the privileges but without the responsibility.   Regency architecture, Regent St London, and many other good things in British life, come from that period.

When George III died in 1820, the world was at peace, or as much as it ever has been.

Windsor was again extensively renovated by George IV and many of the artistic treasures were amassed by him.   He moved into Windsor in 1828. 

George IV had no legitimate heirs, nor did his next brother, William.   They both had lots of illegitimate kids but they don’t count.    George married Charlotte and William married Adelaide but since they were both old men they had no off-spring.  William succeeded George IV and when Colonel Light arrived in Adelaide in December 1836 (all South Australians have no difficulty in remembering the ratio of a proton to an electron mass), he was quick to call his capital city Adelaide after the Queen and King William St as its main thoroughfare.

William lived long enough to ensure that his niece, daughter of his next youngest brother was already 18 years of age, having been born on 24 May 1819, and could accede to the throne without having the need for a regent.


In 1837, Victoria became, by the Grace of God, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India, unquestioned Sovereign of the British Empire and Defender of the Faith.

The guidebook tells us that Windsor Castle reached its apogee in the days of Queen Victoria.     It was essentially the centre of the largest empire that the world has ever known.    Heads of State from all over the world were received here by Victoria, many of them being Victoria’s relations and latterly her descendants.   Victoria reigned for over 60 years, lasting long enough to sign into law the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia.   How this slipped past her is a mystery as it contains an elected upper house, the Australian senate.   This was unheard of outside the US.   There are only 7 constitutions older than the Australian, those of UK (unwritten), US, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland and Thailand.   We should be proud of our constitution and not seek to chuck it out.   Victoria did not live to see Australia come to pass.

Victoria was followed by her son Edward VII, grandson George V. great grandson Edward VII, great grandson George VI and great great grand daughter Elizabeth II.

If you were the Prince of Wales today, what name would you adopt on becoming King.   He has already said he does not want to be Charles III and follow the other two, the same would go for James.   He has sons called William and Henry so he will not go that way.   The first John is hardly anyone to be proud of and no-one remembers Stephen.  Great Uncle David (Edward VIII) was hardly a role model so he will most likely copy Grandfather Bertie (George VI) and become George VII.

On 20 November 1992 a disastrous fire broke out at Windsor.   It spread rapidly through the roof and destroyed the ceilings in St George’s Hall and the grand reception room.   The staff and residents spent hours moving out on to the grass priceless works of art.   Fortunately most of the room were empty as they were being rewired and only two major works of art were lost, both being too big to move.    Repairs were funded by opening Buckingham Palace to visitors each August (which still continues) and were completed within 5 years.   Those areas damaged which were of artistic and historic significance were restored to their original form but some, which were probably historic patch-ups were rebuilt to harmonious new designs in a modern Gothic matching the tradition of the Castle.    Certainly the wiring, the plumbing and the security systems would be more up-to-date.    Today it is impossible to see where the fire occurred except for a plaque commemorating the completion of the renovations, which just happened to coincide with the 50th wedding anniversary of Elizabeth and Phillip.

One must see London to appreciate it.   There is so much history dripping off everything.   The tale above should help you to enjoy it.