A Minute History Of London
Plague. Fire. Hell, even the occasional civil war! London is a history nerd’s all-you-can-eat buffet. And its history goes a little something like this…
WAS FOUNDED ‘CAUSE:
London was first established by the Romans around AD43, before being burnt to the ground by the Celtic queen Boudicea (who we all secretly want to be) in AD60. The Romans managed to reclaim it and press on however, and within a couple of centuries London was established as a thriving economic hub.
After this illustrious era of Roman Britain, there followed this strange time called the Dark Ages of which we know little. There are vague archaeological suggestions of a collapsed Roman economy struggling on, a regression towards a more base existence and even a potential slave trade. The legend of King Arthur stems from this time, if you’re after a more Disney-ified mental picture.
Next up were the Saxons, followed by the Normans. This was when feudalism (kings, nobles and peasants) was established as the British political system and the rise of Christianity as a defining national religion began. It was also the time of the Vikings, and the Saxon kings struggle with raids for centuries.
The Normans took the country in a dramatic victory at the Battle of Hastings and hello new King William the Conqueror! This marked the birth of the more modern history of England: successions of kings, a medieval society and a (mostly) united England. The Normans were also the first to establish the Tower of London.
Now we’ve moved into full medieval history. This was when the succession of Richard’s and Henry’s and Edward’s began. It saw structured internal and international trade begin in earnest and it was during this era that the Magna Carta was signed; the first limit to monarchy power. When you’re traveling London, you’ll probably notice that a lot of old churches were first built in this time period.
This gave rise to my personal favourite period: the Tudors (if you’re looking for a good TV show with a lot of shirtless Jonathon Rhys Meyers give the Tudors watch). You’ve probably heard of Henry VIII who had six wives, but there were some more major political changes in this period too.
England broke away from the Catholic church, alliances were formed and broken and formed again with France and Spain, and critical new technologies such as the printing press were created. Following Henry were his daughters, Bloody Mary who attempted a violent return to Catholicism (and failed), and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was the first queen to rule alone without a husband and she brought England into a ‘Golden Age’.
After the Tudors were the Stuarts, an equally ruthless and somehow even more grandiose line of monarchs. They were the first line of monarchs to really risk losing their throne to rebellion. Oliver Cromwell very nearly succeeded, and forced the monarchy to accept some limitations on their power, with Charles II being restored to the throne just before the Great Plague and the Great Fire (bad omens much?).
After the Stuarts were the Georgians, also known as the Hanoverian’s. They were less stubborn than the Stuarts and allowed certain concessions to be made to the parliament and the people that limited their power. This was a time of fabulous and ostentatious architecture which can be distinctively seen around London still.
We’re nearly at modern London, hold on. Next up was the Industrial Revolution and the long reign of Queen Victoria. If you’re a tragic-love-story type of guy, the story of Victoria and Albert is heartbreaking — though the V&A art museum is a must see.
Colonialism was in full swing by now and all sorts of wares from across the globe along with all the new machinery was brought together for the Great Exhibition of 1851, a grand display of British dominance. An unfortunate side effect of sewage plumbing was the contamination of the Thames leading to a horrific cholera outbreak in 1833.
AAAAND we’ve made it to ‘modern history’. This is where we have King George VI and, after him, Queen Elizabeth II.
England began to (though somewhat slowly) face modern ideologies of a Constitutional Monarchy and women’s liberation movements. The architecture has also become rapidly modernised (the gherkin as an example) whilst somehow not challenging the older structures.
Globalisation has well and truly cemented London as an economic and cultural capital of the world, a melting pot of businessmen and tourists and locals and students. If you wander around the city, you can see all the evidence of the different layers of history that made London, from Rome to modernity.