Tudor London was the largest city in Western Europe during the time of the Tudor monarchs. The London of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I was dirty and potentially dangerous, but it still acted like a magnet attracting many people to it who wanted to find their fame and especially their fortune there.
London was a city of great contrasts. On the old London Bridge could be found fashionable houses of wealthy merchants and shops selling their expensive wares. But at one end of the bridge, the so-called Bridge Gate, would be displayed the rotting heads of those men beheaded for treason and similar crimes. The rich tended to travel by boat for two reasons:
2) Streets that were narrow were also difficult to actually travel along. Traveling by boat was simply quicker than traveling by foot.
London was full of entertainment in Tudor times. Bear baiting could be found in the city. The theatres were popular and full on most nights. Like today, London had many inns and alehouses throughout it and drinking was as popular then as it is today!
London was also the most important trading city in Tudor England. Many ships lined the banks of the River Thames, ready to off-load their goods or to export goods to Europe. The writer Thomas Platter wrote:
The Exchange, where the prices were set for many commodities, including wool, was in the heart of the City. It could accommodate about 200 merchants who gathered at about 11.00 in the morning and traded until about 6.00 when the Exchange shut for the day.
Fire was also a great fear. Tudor London was effectively a wooden city and the fact that the city escaped a major fire disaster under the Tudors was mainly due to good luck rather than anything else – luck that deserted London in 1666.
Punishment for those who committed crime was harsh. Those who made the law based their beliefs on what they felt was simple logic:
There were few rich people in London
There was no police force to ensure the safety of the rich
The rich made the laws as judges were rich men and those in Parliament were also rich and frequently judges themselves
Therefore, if the punishment for even the most trivial of crimes was very harsh, the poor would be put off of getting involved in crime.
Therefore, the theft of even small things could end in a death sentence.
Executions were done outside of London in what is now Hyde Park. This site was chosen for one simple reason: executions were popular events and attracted many people. The city authorities did not want a large group of drinking spectators gathering actually in the city in case such a gathering got out of hand and caused problems for the authorities. Unruly or exuberant behaviour was easier to control in open spaces such as Hyde Park.
For many, London was a harsh city to live in. There was little done to help the poor and this could have only been done if the rich (who made the laws) voted to tax themselves – something they were unwilling to do. We do not even know the population of London at this time as a census of the city’s population would not take place for a number of centuries. For many, London was never to become to city that was paved with gold where they would find their fortune.