No, no…I don’t mean getting rained on. I’m talking about reveling in the sights of England. I’ve just come back from 16 days in the homeland of my crusader knights. In 1189, before they’d met, Henry & Stephan were in London, which has little resemblance to 2013 London.
Though kings and queens have been crowned at Westminster since 1066, construction on the building we 2013 visitors recognize didn’t begin until 1245. Henry & Stephan would have seen a large stone church known as Edward’s Abbey when Richard the Lionheart was crowned.
William the Conqueror began construction on the White Tower within a few years of the Conquest in 1066. It had to be an impressive building, looming over other structures. According to the official Tower of London website, it was 118ft x 106ft across and 90ft at its tallest point, surrounded by Roman walls on 2 sides and deep ditches.
Henry first visited London when he was 10, around 1180. Can you imagine what a young boy from the countryside, some 125 miles to the north, would have thought of the Tower? Of course, he had been to Lincoln, which was home to an impressive cathedral, at least until 1185 when an earthquake damaged it. (Rebuilding began in 1192.) And Lincoln Castle had been built in the 11th century. Maybe Henry wouldn’t have been impressed by the White Tower after all.
There was a thriving community in parts of Southwark in the 1190s. In The Greatest Knight, Elizabeth Chadwick writes of a “notorious district of brothels, bathhouses, and cookshops” on the south side of the Thames River across from the “respectable side of [London].”
Stephan would have frequented the area, but not our young and innocent Henry, who’d been in the company of his father on previous trips to London. And neither knight would have seen a play at the Globe. The theatre wasn’t built until 1599 and was destroyed by fire during a performance of Henry VIII in 1613 when a cannon misfired! The current Globe is located less than a quarter mile from the original site.
Here are a few other sites of present-day London I saw on this trip that Henry and Stephan would not have seen. I bet they would’ve enjoyed the full English breakfast from Speedy’s Cafe (a Sherlock BBC filming location)!