Everyday Life in Tudor London: Life in the City of Thomas Cromwell, William Shakespeare & Anne Boleyn by Stephen Porter

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Everyday Life in Tudor London: Life in the City of Thomas Cromwell, William Shakespeare & Anne Boleyn by Stephen Porter

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Category: History
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: In recent years there have been many new biographies of the Tudor monarchs and leading personalities, so a book on the period in England focusing on life in London is more than welcome. The period in England marked a transition in so many ways from the medieval period to a new era, so it is only right that somebody should at last have examined what effect that should have had on our capital city. This very readable account is ideal for the general rather than the academic reader.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: November 2016
Publisher: Amberley
ISBN: 978-1445645865

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The Tudor period in England marked a transition in so many ways from the medieval period to a new era, and so it is only right that somebody should at last have examined what effect that should have had on our capital city. After the instability of the Wars of the Roses, a period of consolidation set in and London was at last established as the seat of royalty and government, as well as the centre of cultural life and commercial activity.

In twelve chapters, this book takes a more or less thematic approach to the subject. The opening pages compare London’s domestic dominance in terms of size and wealth in comparison to other English regional centres such as Norwich, York and Coventry. In terms of population it had recently recovered from the Black Death which had depleted its population by perhaps more than a half. Not only that, but after his victory at the battle of Bosworth in 1485 Henry Tudor, now King Henry VII, needed to placate the city which had long had a reputation for favouring the Yorkists, and he knew he could not govern successfully without its consent and financial support. He was not the only one to discover that Londoners were evidently an individually-minded crowd. Italian merchants complained that they had ‘fierce tempers and wicked dispositions’, despised people from abroad, and acted as though there were no men other than themselves, and no other country but England.

Sometimes the ‘fierce tempers’ exploded into civil unrest. In 1517 the Evil May Day riot broke out, a forerunner of the hate crimes of our own time. Allegedly incited either by an inflammatory sermon by a preacher who ‘commenced abusing strangers in the town’, for depriving British people of their industry, or by a servant of the French ambassador who took two doves from a stallholder without paying for them, a band of apprentices attacked French and Flemish artificers and mechanics and their houses. Nobody was killed, though several were injured and much damage was caused. Order was restored after nearly three hundred people had been arrested, with fifteen of the worst offenders executed. In later years there were the insurrections against authority led by Sir Thomas Wyatt and, towards the end of the Elizabethan age, that of the ill-advised Earl of Essex and his followers.

Succeeding chapters discuss in turn commercial life, continental connections and trade with the rest of Europe; how sickness and epidemics spread across the city, less severely than the Black Death but nevertheless a danger to be reckoned with; and, perhaps in spite of it, how the population grew in the second half of the sixteenth century, with administration becoming increasingly complex and difficult. I found one of the most interesting chapters was that relating to recreation, show and music in the capital, when everyone had a choice of visiting the royal menagerie in the Tower, watching acrobats and jugglers in the streets, playing football and other ball games, gambling, or en joying the work of itinerant musicians. In addition to these activities, every year there were the processions, pageantry and entertainments accompanying the Lord Mayor’s show, which attracted large crowds every autumn.

By the end of the Tudor era, the City had undergone considerable changes. It increased in size as the suburbs spread outwards, with everyday activity in the streets, markets, shops and workshops increasing, and the streets becoming ever more crowded. Meanwhile and the monasteries came into lay ownership with new uses, while the Royal Exchange was built, while several schools and the first playhouses were erected.

The text is supplemented with two sections of plates, one in colour and one in black and white. In recent years we have not gone for want of Tudor biographies, so this enthralling work makes an ideal complement with regard to the social history element. It is a very readable and reasonably short account, pitched more at the general than the academic reader.

If it appeals, then we also recommend a more general account, London: The Concise Biography by Peter Ackroyd or alternatively, one which covers an overlapping, more succinct time frame, London: A Social and Cultural History, 1550-1750 by Robert O Bucholz and Joseph P Ward.

Buy Everyday Life in Tudor London: Life in the City of Thomas Cromwell, William Shakespeare & Anne Boleyn by Stephen Porter at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Everyday Life in Tudor London: Life in the City of Thomas Cromwell, William Shakespeare & Anne Boleyn by Stephen Porter at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Everyday Life in Tudor London: Life in the City of Thomas Cromwell, William Shakespeare & Anne Boleyn by Stephen Porter at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Everyday Life in Tudor London: Life in the City of Thomas Cromwell, William Shakespeare & Anne Boleyn by Stephen Porter at Amazon.com.

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