Abdication, seals, and Piccadilly

This day in London history: On 11 December 1688 James II is said to have abdicated the throne by throwing the Great Seal of the Realm into the River Thames. However, cynics say that if the story is true, the seal was certainly recovered: his successors, his daughter Mary and her cousin and husband William used the same seal, adapted to show a dual monarchy.

The Great Seal of the Realm is used to symbolize the reigning monarch’s seal of approval on important documents of state. In theory there is one per sovereign but another abdicating king, Edward VIII, who gave up the throne so he could marry Wallis Simpson, never had his own seal. On the other hand, Queen Victoria had to have four as they wore out.

There is a Duke Street that leads off Piccadilly; this was named as a compliment to James Stuart, who was the Duke of York before he was king. Benjamin Franklin used to stay at lodgings in a Duke Street off Oxford Circus, which may or may not have been named after James II; Franklin’s landlady was supposed to have enjoyed his company so much that she reduced his rent by over 50% to lure him to stay on.

Piccadilly itself takes its name from an item of clothing: In the 17th century a ‘pickadil’ was defined as “that round hem or several divisions set together about the skirt of a garment or other thing; also a kind of stiff collar, made in the fashion of a band”.

A rebellion, a beheading and an oak tree

This day in London history: on 26 November 1688 King James II of England and James VII of Scotland, younger brother and heir of Charles II, retreated back to London. He had set out to meet and defeat William of Orange who, by invitation from English politicians, was invading England.

James had recently been provided with an heir in the form of his son James Francis Edward, who has gone down in history as ‘The Old Pretender’, and the political forces were strongly opposed to a Catholic monarch. William later became joint monarch with his wife and cousin Mary, thus providing England with a Protestant monarch.

One of James’s main opponents was his own nephew, James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and illegitimate son of Charles II. Monmouth had headed the Monmouth rebellion, losing his own head in the process.

There is an Allgood Street in London, formerly named Henrietta Street, and with somewhat scandalous associations. Henrietta Wentworth (1660-1686) was the 6th Baroness Wentworth and, though due to marry Richard Tufton, 5th Earl of Thanet, took up with the already-married Duke of Monmouth, and used her jewels and wealth to help fund Monmouth’s unsuccessful attempts to capture the throne.

Monmouth was beheaded in July 1685 and Henrietta died the following year, supposedly from a broken heart. Her mother had an elaborate monument built to Henrietta’s memory in the church at Toddington, the Wentworth’s estate in Bedfordshire. However, a more personal and touching memorial existed in the form of her name, carved by Monmouth, on an oak tree in the Toddington estate. The tree became known locally as the Monmouth Oak.