Treason, adultery and a hanging at Tyburn

This day in London history: the same day, 29 November, 200 years apart, saw the death of two men who were declared to be traitors to their king. Roger Mortimer was executed by hanging at Tyburn on this day in 1330 and Cardinal Wolsey died in London on this day in 1530. He was en route to the Tower of London to be executed for treason but died of ill health on the way.

The Tyburn gallows

Roger Mortimer, along with Humphrey de Bohun, both of whom were appointed as Marcher Lords to guard the English borders against the Welsh, led a revolt against Edward II. It was Edward’s father who had been so successful in besieging the Welsh, but the son, allegedly bisexual, was unable to refuse his favourites even the most outlandish requests.

Hugh Despenser the Younger was one such favourite, leading to the revolt being called the Despenser War. Although the revolt was unsuccessful, ending up with Mortimer being imprisoned in the Tower, he was able to escape and fled to France where he took up with Edward’s wife, Isabella. The pair returned to England, where they had Edward imprisoned, and his son made king.

The lovers, however, were the true power behind the throne; however, in due course, Mortimer was imprisoned by the young king, Isabella’s son, condemned, and hanged at Tyburn as a commoner, stripped of his property and left to hang in full view on the gallows for two days and nights.

In Wolsey’s case, he had been unable to have Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled so that Anne Boleyn; Anne was said to be outraged at this and convinced Henry that Wolsey was deliberately obstructing their marriage, and the Cardinal was stripped of his property.

Wolsey may be as famous for his last words as for all of his diplomatic work: he said, ruefully: “If I had served my God as diligently as I did my king, He would not have given me over in my grey hairs.”

Nag’s Head Fable: consecration in a pub

This day in London’s history: on the 17th of November 1558 Mary Tudor (Mary I or Bloody Mary) died after a second phantom pregnancy. Mary had been desperate to have a child and after her death, her prayer book was found to be sodden with tears on the pages devoted to prayers for women in labour. Dying childless and in pain, possibly from some form of ovarian cancer, she reluctantly agreed that her half-sister Elizabeth should take over the throne, hoping that her sister would continue the Catholic practices that she had so fervently (and bloodily) instituted.

However, in 1559, the third Act of Uniformity was passed, repealing all the Catholic practices that had been re-established by Mary Tudor, and regulating ecclesiastical discipline for the next century. As a result, many of the Marian bishops vacated their sees, making it difficult for Elizabeth, as she had planned for Matthew Parker, chaplain to Ann Boleyn (the queen’s mother), to become the Archbishop of Canterbury. The story goes that, as there was a lack of officials in the church to preside at Parker’s consecration, he was irregularly consecrated at the Nags Head Tavern.

Some spoilsports point out that the story of consecration in a tavern is, entirely apocryphal and that Parker was actually consecrated at Lambeth Palace by four bishops who had held sees in the reign of Edward VI. Still, it is possible that those involved in the consecration did dine at the tavern afterwards.

The ‘Nag’s Head Fable’ was started up in 1604 by a Jesuit aptly named C Holywood, in an attempt to challenge the validity of the Apostolic Succession, which states that the continuing line of Christ’s teachings from the apostles is transmitted only through episcopal consecration.