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In William Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 2, the character Jack Cade declares himself Lord Mortimer of London by striking London Stone and then sitting upon the stone to declare his royalty. While it makes a dramatic scene for a theatrical play, this story was based in actual history and the way Shakespeare tells the story tells us as modern theater goers something interesting about the Tudor opinion of the real Jack Cade that was present as Shakespeare was writing. While Shakespeare seems to base his plays, and his portrayal of Jack Cade, on the history of Holinshed’s Chronicles, there are some first hand accounts of people who witnessed Jack Cade’s procession into London from actual history, as well as some variances between Shakespeare’s quarto and folio versions of Henry VI Part 2 which shine light on exactly what Shakespeare thought about his colorful figure from English history.
London Stone that Jack Cade chooses to strike as he declares himself Lord of the city was more than just a passing fictional narrative by Shakespeare. The real London Stone was a major landmark for England, with native travellers using it in a similar fashion to how Big Ben is used today–people all over the world not only recognized this stop in London as a representative of England herself, but many foreign dignitaries from the 16th century went out of their way to visit London Stone as an important stop on their visit to the city.
Here today to walk us through some of the portraits of Jack Cade from Shakespeare’s lifetime as well as additional items from the Medieval Collections at the Museum of London to tell us the real story of London Stone and its place in the popular culture from Shakespeare’s lifetime is our guest, John Clark
John Clark was for many years curator of the medieval collections of the Museum of London. He worked on the design of the Museum of London’s first medieval gallery when the Museum opened in 1976, and carried out projects to update the gallery (1996-1999), particularly the displays dealing with Anglo-Saxon London. He produced a number of temporary exhibitions, including ‘Alfred the Great 849-899: London’s forgotten king’ (1999) and ‘Chaucer’s Londoners: “a compaignye of sondry folk”’ (2000). He was lead curator on the project to create the Museum’s present Medieval London gallery, opened in 2005 and replacing that of 1976. Since his retirement in 2009 he has maintained his connection with the Museum, with the honorary title of Curator Emeritus. He is also an Honorary Reader at University College London, Institute of Archaeology.
Having published The Medieval Horse and its Equipment c1150–c1450 (Medieval Finds from Excavations in London) in 1995 (a standard work, still in print) he continues research into the development of medieval (and later) horse equipment.
He has long had an interest in the relationship between London’s ‘real’ history and the legends that have grown up about the city, and in the ways Londoners have interpreted the physical remains of London’s past. He has published articles on this theme, on the mythology of London Stone, on Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account of the foundation of London as ‘New Troy’, on the supposed Temple of Diana on the site of St Paul’s Cathedral, and on ‘Gog and Magog’ (the City Giants), and has lectured widely on these and other topics.
In this episode, I’ll be asking John Clark about :
On a map from the 1550s, about 10 years before Shakespeare was born, London Stone is identified as a key landmark. Would 16th century travellers, and by extension Shakespeare’s theater audience, have known where this Stone was and what it represented?
Does Jack Cade strike the stone with a sword or with a staff?
John writes about a house being built “at London Stone” where London’s first mayor resided in the 12th century during the reign of Richard I. John, is there an association between London Stone and the office of mayor?
… and more!
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London Stone was a major London landmark
You can see the remains of London Stone in the Museum of London today. When Shakespeare was alive, London Stone had a prominent position as a major landmark for London (both for people who lived there as well as travellers). John Stow in his survey of London 1598 wrote that London Stone was located on Canon street in the roadway. John Clark explains that
“there was a great stone pitched upright, dig in the ground, bound with iron bard…It was there in Shakespeare's time. It became an obstacle to traffic, so eventually it was moved.”
When they decided to move London Stone, they gave it a position of relative prominence. John explains that they
“Fixed [London Stone] into a cavity in the wall of the church. 3 ft high 2ft across, and 1 ft back to front. By the 19th c just the top bit was left.Very small. Stayed until second world war, the Blitz, Dec 1940, when the church was burnt out. The ruins, with London Stone still there, stayed until about 1960 when the church was demolished. [At this point,] London Stone [was] re-errected in the office building, where it remained] until 2015, [when] that building was demolished, [and] they built a new one. Portland Stone, this is outside Canon street railway station.”
Map from the 1550s Identifies London Stone
On a map from the 1550s, about 10 years before Shakespeare was born, London Stone is identified as a key landmark (shown above). Travellers, and even Shakespeare's theater audience, would have known of, and used, London Stone as a navigational landmark getting around the city. As John shares, London Stone,
Became a tourist attraction. Mentioned in poems, everyone knew where it was. In the play, An Englishman for My Money, [there is] a scene when a group of foreign visitors toured around London in pitch darkness and they bump into London Stone. [The] Audience [would respond,] “We know where that is!”- nobody actually knew it’s origin, or what it’s purpose was. Strange stories circulated, but several foreign visitors in the 1580s-early 1600s came to see it when they visited London. [They had been] told it was the centre of the city, etc. Great history, proclamations were made, but no evidence any of these are true.
London Stone, Cannon Street, London, in its current casing, unveiled in October 2018 | Photo taken by GrindtXX | Used under attribution license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International | Original Source | Accessed November 2020.
Jack Cade Striking London Stone
As Shakespeareeans, we associate Cade’s striking of London Stone with Shakespeare’s play Henry VI Part 2, and therefore, often as a fictional event. However, in actual history, there was a real Jack Cade and reportedly, he actually did strike London Stone. John explains,
Jack Cade was a bit biased and Shakespeare was a bit biased about him in Henry VI Part II. Cade was a real person and he really did strike the stone when he came to Lnodon, if we trust the Chronicles. In 1450, [there were] outcries against Henry VI's government, producing an armed uprising in Kent, which was lead by Jack Cade who took the name John Mortimer. Claiming relationship to Richard Mortimer, popular Duke of York. Black Heath, just like in the Peasant’s Revolts in years before, but this wasn’t a peasant’s uprising, this was fairly wealthy yeoman farmers, townsfolk, middle-range gentry that joined the campaign. They gathered in July 2 or 3 (chronicles disagree) crossed London Bridge and entered London, welcomed by some who were on their side. At first, Jack Cade rode through London and when he got to London stone, he got his staff and struck London Stone and delaried now is Mortimer Lord of this city.
There is some debate about exactly what Jack Cade used to strike London Stone, and Shakespeare's version of this tale is no help because his works contradict one another depending on which version of Henry VI Part II you reference to make a determination. John explains,
[According to] Edward Hall, [Cade] struck it with a sword. The two facts Shakespeare knew was that it was a sword and the cry “Now is Mortimer Lord of the city” [as written in] the earliest printed version of the play Henry VI Part II, 3rd quarto, [Shakespeare writes that Cade] struck it with a sword. [It is] Only [the] first folio edition 1623 that it suddenly becomes a staff, so someone’s been editing it. Whether Shakespeare decided at some point that a staff was better than a sword, or if someone turned it into a staff. [According to] Tudor and Jacobean artists, [the] sword bearer walked in front, carrying the state sword, emblem of office, in that sense, Jack Cade would have used a sword not a staff.
Why was Jack Cade striking the stone in the first place? What significance did it hold to physically strike the stone? John explains, “Public theater–intelligent chap, geared up to be a leader of people, build an image of himself. Entirely possible he was striking it to make a point, not because there was a tradition there. Before Shakespeare got there, Jack Cade was a bit of an actor himself.”
The rebel Jack Cade seats himself on London Stone, in William Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 2 (Act 4, Scene 6). Illustration by Sir John Gilbert (1817-97) in Works of William Shakespeare (London: Routledge, 1881) vol 8. | 1881 | editor:Howard Staunton; artist Sir John Gilbert (1817-1897) | Public Domain | Original Source | Accessed November 2020
Shakespeare Embellished Jack Cade
After he strikes the stone, in the play, Jack Cade goes on to sit on the stone as if it were a royal throne. This part of history is more contested than the striking of the stone. John explains,
Dragging the body of the royal treasurer around the streets of London, and particular about the route taken by Cade, beheaded at cheapside, dragged westeward out through newgate, through ludgate, along candlewick street (by London Stone) around a great stone, striking it with his sword (John Bennet), was this Jack Cade doing the same thing twice? He doesn’t know, but obviously very symbolic event. Nobody asked him why he did it. None of the chroniclers actually define a reason. He made proclamations, but not about conduits running with wine, but restraining his followers from looting, and he proclaimed it from London Bridge, not London Stone, and he did not in real life inaugurate a reign, and the conduits run with wine was a royal prerogative, and Cade talks about treason, and this story from Shakespeare is emphasizing his own view of Cade claiming royal privileges, chroniclers don’t make him do that in the same way, theatrical, but tilmately fiction. Played for laughs by Shakespeare.
Books & Resources John Clark Recommends
To explore Shakespeare’s London in depth, go to the Map of Early Modern London https://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/map.htm – a digitised version of the so-called ‘Agas’ map, one of the earliest maps of London, first printed from woodblocks in about 1561. You can zoom in, and click on buildings or places that interest you, to open up information panels and links to more detailed descriptions. The excellent ‘London Stone’ article is at https://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/LOND2.htm.
London Stone has a website londonstone.org.uk
If you want a modern printed map of Tudor London (c. 1520) there’s the British Historic Towns Atlas map, recently revised and updated http://www.historictownsatlas.org.uk/content/tudor-london
For an authoritative account of Jack Cade’s rebellion see I M W Harvey Jack Cade’s Rebellion of 1450 Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991 – https://oxford.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198201601.001.0001/acprof-9780198201601.
For London Stone, my own article ‘Jack Cade at London Stone’ (published in 2007) is available online at https://www.academia.edu/5908301/Jack_Cade_at_London_Stone
Harvey also wrote the article on Cade for H C G Matthew & Brian Harrison (eds) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, on line edn, ed David Cannadine – see http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/4292
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