Exchanges, decapitations, and Throgmorton Street

Royal Exchange aerial view
Royal Exchange aerial view

This day in London history: on 23 1571 January Queen Elizabeth I awarded the Exchange its Royal title. The Exchange was founded in 1565 by Sir Thomas Gresham to act as a centre of commerce for the city. The original building was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and it was then rebuilt in 1669, providing the beginnings of today’s Stock Exchange.

In 1697 an Act of Parliament imposed heavy penalties on unlicensed brokers, as well as fixing the number of brokers at 100. This led to many stockbrokers leaving (or being forced to leave) the Exchange and transacting their business in local coffee houses, Jonathan’s Coffee House in particular.

In the 18th century, a new and more formal Stock Exchange was opened, occupying part of Throgmorton Street. The street itself is named for Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, diplomatist and a relative of Catherine Parr.

Nicholas Throckmorton
Sir Nicholas Throckmorton

Throckmorton managed to survive several monarchs: he was among those who signed the document that limited the succession of the throne to Lady Jane Grey and her descendants. His support of Jane was not entirely sincere, however: he also made sure not to lose the good will of Mary, and was able to maintain a staunch Protestant for the whole of his life.

The closest Sir Nicholas came to real danger was being sent to the Tower for a time in 1544, having been accused of complicity in Wyatt’s rebellion. He was acquitted, however, and managed to see another monarch (Elizabeth) succeed to the throne. He also survived to become one of her favourite ministers, and it is alleged that he was poisoned by Dudley, another of the queen’s favourites.

Bess Throckmorton
Bess Throckmorton

Throckmorton’s daughter Elizabeth (Bess) was a maid of honour to Queen Elizabeth; when she had an affair with yet another of the queen’s favourites – Sir Walter Ralegh – they were both sent to the Tower in 1592. Queen Elizabeth relented before long, however, and Ralegh married Bess Throckmorton soon after their release.

The Raleghs were a devoted couple; in her case, perhaps too devoted. When Ralegh’s charm no longer worked on his queen and he was executed, his wife had his head embalmed and she carried it around with her, for the rest of her life, in a red leather bag.

John Stow’s father had a house in Throckmorton Street; when Thomas Cromwell wished to extend his nearby garden, in order to make room for the extension, he dug up Stow senior’s house, put it on rollers and moved it out of the way with so much as a ‘by your leave’. According to Stow junior, “this house they loosed from the ground, and bare upon rollers into my father’s garden twenty-two feet, ere my father heard thereof; no warning was given him”.

Thomas Cromwell by Holbein
Thomas Cromwell by Holbein

Cromwell got his comeuppance eventually: he was executed in 1540 (though not for moving the Stow house). He was accused of a long list of  crimes including treason, heresy, corruption, and plotting to marry Lady Mary Tudor. He suffered a gruesome decapitation at the hands of an incompetent executioner; according to a contemporary chronicler, Edward Halle, he “paciently suffered the stroke of the axe, by a ragged Boocherly miser whiche very ungoodly perfourmed the Office”. After the execution, his head was displayed on a spike on London Bridge.

Drapers Hall interior
Drapers’ Hall Interior

The Drapers’ Company – the third of the livery companies – took over Cromwell’s house along with the nefariously extended garden. The company’s hall still stands there at one Throgmorton Avenue, a private road that runs from Throgmorton Street to London Wall. At the other end is the Carpenters’ Company.


Hares and heretics in Bloody Mary’s reign

This day in London’s history: on the 12th of November 1555, the English Parliament, under Queen Mary I, re-established Catholicism. They had already restored the old heresy laws, and high-profile Protestants were executed by being burnt at the stake. The body count of Protestants executed in the reign of ‘Bloody Mary’  was around 280.

Among those who were burnt at the stake were the bishops Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, known as the Oxford Martyrs. (And, according to some, the inspiration for the nursery rhyme ‘Three Blind Mice’.)

A key figure in Mary’s government was Sir Nicholas Hare, described by the 19th-century writer Walter Thornbury in Volume I of the wonderful six-volume work Old and New London (Thornbury wrote volumes I and II; Edward Walford the last four), as “Privy Councillor to Henry VIII, the despotic, and Master of Rolls to Queen Mary, the cruel”.

Thornbury’s remarks were in the context of explaining the reason behind the name Hare Court, part of London’s Inner Temple; Sir Nicholas paid for the building of the court, which was mentioned in the poem ‘Dispensary’ by Sir Samuel Garth.

Hare was involved in getting the Treason Act of 1551-2 passed and presided over the trial of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, who committed the grave sin of imagining the queen’s death. Despite Hare’s best efforts (he refused to examine one of Throckmorton’s witnesses), Sir Nicholas the defendant was acquitted.

The restoration of Catholicism lasted only a short time; in 1558, on Mary’s death her half-sister Elizabeth I reversed it.