Shirts, gridirons, and roses

Charles I
Charles I

On 27 March 1625 Charles I, king of England, Ireland, and Scotland, ascended the throne; he reigned until he was beheaded in January 1649. He belongs on the list of people with truly famous last words: he is said to have requested an extra shirt for his execution, carried out in cold weather. “The season is so sharp as probably may make me shake,” he said, “which some observers may imagine proceeds from fear. I would have no such imputation.”

Before the king’s execution, his physician – and the man who discovered the circulation of the blood – William Harvey, along with his brother, moved to Laurence Pountney Hill in the City of London.

St Lawrence's martyrdom
The martyrdom of St Lawrence

The hill takes its name from the nearby church of St Laurence, once called St Laurence next the Thames in 1275, which burned down in the Great Fire. St Lawrence was a Spanish saint who believed more in the spirit than the display of his faith; when asked to hand over the treasures of his church he indicated the beggars upon whom he had spent them. His persecutors were not amused and he was subjected to the particularly unpleasant fate of being broiled alive upon a gridiron. (Other famous last words: apparently he said, partway through his torture, “I’m well done. Turn me over!”)

The ‘Pountney’ comes from Sir John de Polteney, a prominent citizen of London and four times Mayor in the 1330s. (One London historian observed acidly: “The ‘l’ in his name has, for some reason, probably a mistaken idea of euphony, has been displaced by ‘n’ in the naming of the locality”.)

Sir John owned a mansion near to the church and leased it in 1348 to the Earl of Hereford and Essex for the rent of one rose per annum. The house later belonged to the Duke of Suffolk and was known as the ‘Manor of the Rose’ (mentioned as such in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII).

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