I am delighted to be part of Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger’s book tour, in which they will be visiting various blogs and discussing Henry VIII and his wives for their new book In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII.
A Royal Procession and the Frozen Thames by Natalie Grueninger
On Friday, 22 December 1536, Londoners were treated to a magnificent spectacle. Henry VIII, together with his wife of six months, Jane Seymour, the king’s eldest daughter, Mary, and a number of great lords and ladies, processed through the richly decorated streets of the City. The court was on its way from Westminster to Greenwich Palace, where it would remain for the Christmas festivities.
The people of London braved the biting cold to watch the procession ride by, greeting their monarchs with blessings and well wishes. Perhaps they also reflected on how quickly—and often brutally— the fortunes of those around the throne could change. Just the previous year, Queen Anne Boleyn had reigned over the Christmas celebrations alongside King Henry, a son and heir to the Tudor throne cradled deep in her belly, and the fiery-haired Princess Elizabeth the apple of her father’s eye. But now, all that had changed and Anne lay rotting in a hastily dug grave at the Tower of London, while her former lady-in-waiting Jane, stood in her place. The Lady Mary, whose obstinacy had earned her father’s wrath, was now welcomed back into his good graces after finally being persuaded to swear the Oath of Supremacy recognising the king as supreme head of the church in England, and her own illegitimacy.
While it was usual for the court to travel from Westminster to Greenwich by barge, on this occasion the weather made it impossible. It was a particularly bitter winter and the Thames had frozen over, (partially attributed to the structure of the old bridge and the closely spaced piers that supported it, which slowed down the flow of the river), leaving the royal party no choice but to ride.
According to the sixteenth century historian Edward Hall,
This yere in Decembre was the Thamis of London all frozen ouer, wherefore the kynges Maiestie with his beautifull spouse quene Jane, roade throughout the citie of London to Grenewich.
The Chronicler and Windsor Herald, Charles Wriothesley, writing about the same event, furnishes us with greater detail. After knighting the Lord Mayor of London, ‘Mr Ralfe Waren’, in his ‘great Chamber of Presence at Westminster’:
… the Kinge’s Grace, the Queen’s Grace, and my ladye Marye, the kings daughter, tooke their horses at the sayde Pallase of Westmynster accompanied with a goodlye company of lords, ladyes, and gentellmen, and so roode from thense through the cittye of London to Grenwych, the mayre rydinge afore the kinge with a mase in his hand, as his livetanante of his greate Chamber of London, with all the aldermen in their order, the Cittye of London beinge caste with gravel in the streets from Temple Barr to the bridg-foote in Southwarke, and all the streets richlye behangd with riche gold and arras; the 4 orders of fryars standing in Flett Streete in coopes of gold with crosses and candlesticks and sensers to sense the kinge and queene as they rode by them; the Bishop of London, the Abbott of Waltham, the Abbott of Towre Hill, beinge mytherd, with all Powles quier standing at the west doore of Powles in rich coopes sensing the kinge and queene as they passed by them, and from the north doore of Powles churchyard next Cheep to the bridge-foote, 2 preistes of everye parishe churche in London standing in coopes with the best crosse of everye parishe churche and candylshickes and sensers, and all the craftes of the cittie standing in their best liveryes with hoodes on their sholders, which was a goodlye sight to beholde. The cause of the kings rydinge through London was because the Tames was so frosynne that there might no boots [boats] go there on for yse [ice].
From this account, we know that Henry, Jane and Mary rode from Westminster Palace to old St Paul’s Cathedral, via Temple Bar and Fleet Street. They would have entered the churchyard via Ludgate in the west, passing by the great west doors of the cathedral, where the choir and others awaited them. From there, they exited through Paul’s gate to the north and continued onto Cheapside. Although not recorded, it’s likely that the royal party then took the common processional route, and continued along Cornhill and Gracechurch Street, and then down Fish Street Hill and across the London Bridge to the bridge-foot in Southwark, which Wriothesley does specifically mention. Another possibility is that they used Lombard Street rather than Cornhill, as this would have been faster. Once across the Thames, the party would then have made their way to Greenwich.
While neither of the aforementioned accounts specifies how the royal party got across the Thames, some historians have speculated that rather than use the bridge, they may have ridden across the frozen surface of the river. This was certainly not the first time the river had turned to ice, although it appears this was the only time it occurred during the reign of Henry VIII. In the winter of 1281-2,
King Edward kept his feast of Christmas at Worcester. From this Christmas till the purification of Our Lady, there was such a frost and snow, as no man living could remember the like, where through, five arches of London Bridge, and all Rochester Bridge were borne downe, and carried away with the streame, and the like happened to many bridges in England. And not long after men passed over the Thamis between Westminster and Lambeth, and likewise over the river of Medway… (Stow’s Annales)
So there appears to have already been a tradition of traversing the ice during these freezes, it certainly became popular from the seventeenth century onwards, with a number of fairs known as ‘Frost Fairs’ taking place on the river’s icy surface between 1607 and 1814. The English writer and diarist John Evelyn described the 1683-84 fair in some detail. He wrote:
Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple, and from several other staires to and fro, as in the streetes, sliding with skeetes, a bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cookes, tipling and other lewd places, so that it seemed a bacchanalian triumph or carnival on the water, whilst it was a severe judgement on the land, the trees not onely splitting as if lightning-struck, but men and cattle perishing in divers[e] places, and the very seas so lock’d up with ice, that no vessels could stir out or come in.
While it sounds jovial, these great spectacles could also clearly be very dangerous. Ben Johnson in his article The Thames Frost Fairs, writes of how ‘during the fair of 1739 a whole swathe of ice gave away and swallowed up tents and businesses as well as people.’
One imagines that King Henry VIII and his court might have preferred the relative stability of the medieval London Bridge to the precarious frozen river. Furthermore, Hall and Wriothesley make no mention of it in their accounts—it seems likely they would have, had the entire court galloped across the ice—and in a letter written by John Husee to Lady Lisle on Christmas Day 1536, he reports that ‘the King and Queen rode through London on Friday, very merry and triumphantly,’ but nothing further.
In Volume 3 of The Lives of the Queens of England by Agnes and Elizabeth Strickland, published in the late 19th century, the authors state that Jane Seymour, ‘crossed the frozen Thames to Greenwich-Palace in the severe January of 1536-7, on horseback, with the king, attended by the whole court.’ Unfortunately, the authors do not cite the source of this information, regardless, we find this story repeated online and in various history books. It seems to me unlikely that this could have taken place, especially when we consider that the court travelled to Greenwich on 22 December, not in January, and remained at Greenwich until the middle of February, only then returning to Westminster.
And so, while it’s a wonderful story and certainly fun to imagine Henry and Jane clad in furs, riding across the frozen Thames, trailed by their courtiers, the fact that Wriothesley specifically mentions the ‘bridg-foote in Southwarke’, I think suggests they used London Bridge to cross from London on the north bank, to Southwark on the south side of the Thames. At peak times it could take more than an hour to cross the bridge, as there was only one narrow lane going north and one south, shared by pedestrians, horses and carts, however, the royal entourage’s crossing would have been much swifter.
While researching this post, I also came across several online articles and websites that claim that Henry VIII, rather than ride across the frozen river, travelled from London to Greenwich by sleigh! Again, they do not cite their source… but if you know where this story originated, I’d love to hear from you!
PS. Thank you to author Zoe Bramley for giving up her time to chat with me about the royal party’s possible route through London.
Hall’s Chronicle – Pg. 323
Wriothesley Chronicle – Pg. 59
Old and New London Volume 3
Virtual Paul’s Cross Project
The Thames Frost Fairs by Ben Johnson
December 22, 1536 – The Thames Freezes Over
The Frozen Thames and the Little Ice Age
Norton, E. Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love, Stroud: Amberley 2009.
Weir, A. Henry VIII King & Court, London: Vintage 2008.
About the authors:
Natalie Grueninger is a researcher, writer and educator, who lives in Sydney with her husband and two children.
She graduated from The University of NSW in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts, with majors in English and Spanish and Latin American Studies and received her Bachelor of Teaching from The University of Sydney in 2006.
Natalie has been working in public education since 2006 and is passionate about making learning engaging and accessible for all children.
In 2009 she created On the Tudor Trail (www.onthetudortrail.com), a website dedicated to documenting historic sites and buildings associated with Anne Boleyn and sharing information about the life and times of Henry VIII’s second wife. Natalie is fascinated by all aspects of life in Tudor England and has spent many years researching this period.
Her first non-fiction book, co-authored with Sarah Morris, In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, was published by Amberley Publishing and released in the UK in late 2013. Natalie and Sarah have just finished the second book in the series, In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII, due for publication in the UK on 15 March 2016 and on Amazon US on 19 May 2016.
You’ll find Natalie on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/OntheTudorTrailRetracingthestepsofAnneBoleyn/), Twitter (https://twitter.com/OntheTudorTrail) and Instagram (themosthappy78).
Sarah is a creative soul, as well as an eternal optimist who generally prepares for the worst! She is an advocate of following the heart’s deepest desire as a means to finding peace and happiness. To this end, her writing is a creative expression of her joy of both learning and educating.
Drawn by an inexplicable need to write down the story of Anne Boleyn’s innocence, she published the first volume of her debut novel, Le Temps Viendra: a novel of Anne Boleyn in 2012; the second volume followed in 2013. That same year, her first non-fiction book, co-authored with Natalie Grueninger called, In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, was also published. Hopelessly swept away by an enduring passion for Tudor history and its buildings, her latest book, the second of the In the Footsteps series entitled, In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII, is due to be published by Amberley Publishing in the UK on 15th March 2016 and in the US on 19th May.
She lives in rural Oxfordshire with her beloved dog and travelling companion, Milly.
Buy In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII from:
Amazon US (Released on 19 May 2016)
The Book Depository (Free worldwide shipping)