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London is a port of the River Thames, the capital of England, and has a recorded history that goes back centuries.

History of London[]

According to the legendary Historia Regum Britanniae, of Geoffrey of Monmouth, London was founded by Brutus of Troy after he defeated the incumbent giants Gog and Magog and was known as Caer Troia, Troia Nova, or New Troy, which, according to a pseudo-etymology, was corrupted to Trinovantum. Geoffrey provided prehistoric London with a rich array of legendary kings, such as King Lud who, he claims, renamed the town CaerLudein, from which London was derived, and was buried at Ludgate.

During prehistoric times, London was most likely a rural area with scattered settlement. There may have been important settlements at Egham and Brentford, and there was a hillfort at Uppall, but no city in the area of the Roman London, the present day city of London.

Roman London[]

Londinium was established as a civilian town by the Romans about seven years after the invasion of AD 43. Early Roman London occupied a relatively small area. In around AD 60, it was sacked by the Iceni led by their queen Boudicca. However, the city was quickly rebuilt as a planned Roman town and recovered after perhaps 10 years, the city growing rapidly over the following decades. During the 2nd century Londinium was at its height and replaced Colchester as the capital of Roman Britain (Britannia). Its population was around 60,000 inhabitants. It boasted major public buildings, including the largest basilica north of the Alps, a governor's palace, temples, bath houses, amphitheatre and a large fort for the city garrison. Political instability and recession from the 3rd century onwards, however, led to a slow decline.

At some time between 190 and 225 AD the Romans built the defensive London Wall around the landward side of the city. The wall was about 2 miles long, 20 feet high, and 8 feet thick.

In the late 3rd century, Londinium was raided on several occasions by Saxons. This led from around 255 onwards to the construction of an additional riverside wall. The wall would define London's perimeters for centuries to come. Six of the traditional seven city gates of London are of Roman origin, namely: Ludgate, Newgate, Aldersgate, Cripplegate, Bishopsgate and Aldgate (Moorgate is the exception, being of more recent origin).

By the 5th century the Roman Empire was in rapid decline, and in 410 AD the Roman occupation of Britain came to an end. Following this, the Roman city went into rapid decline and by the end of the century had been practically abandoned.

Anglo-Saxon London[]

Following the virtual abandonment of the Roman city, the area's strategic location on the River Thames meant that the site was not deserted for long. From the late 5th century, Anglo-Saxons began to inhabit the area. Although early Anglo-Saxon settlement avoided the area immediately around Londinium, the Roman walls remained intact, and there was occupation on a small scale of much of the hinterland on both sides of the river. This was for some time have been an active frontier between Saxons and Britons.

By the 7th century a village and trading centre named Lundenwic, was established approximately one mile to the west of Londinium (named Lundenburh or "London Fort" by the Saxons,) probably using the mouth of the River Fleet as a trading ship and fishing boat harbour. Lundenwic in the early eighth century was described by the Venerable Bede as "a trading centre for many nations who visit it by land and sea". The word "wic" was an Old English word for 'trading town,' so Lundenwic literally meant 'London trading town'.

By about 600 AD Anglo-Saxon England had become divided into a number of small kingdoms, the Heptarchy. From the mid-6th century, the London area was incorporated into the East Saxon kingdom, which extended as far west as St. Albans and included all of later Middlesex, and probably Surrey for a time.

In 604 Saeberht of the East Saxons converted to Christianity and London received Mellitus, its first post-Roman bishop. At this time Essex owed allegiance to the Bretwalda Ethelbert of Kent, and it was under Ethelbert that Mellitus founded the first St. Paul's Cathedral on the site of an old Roman Temple of Diana. This was only a modest church at first and may well have been destroyed after he was expelled from the city by Saeberht's pagan successors in 616. Christianity did not return until around 675 when Theodore of Tarsus installed Saint Eorconweald as bishop.

The new town came under direct Mercian control in 670 as the East Saxon kingdom of which it had once been part was gradually reduced in size and status. After the death of the Mercian king Offa in 796, control of London was disputed between Mercia and Wessex.

Danish Attacks[]

Attacks by Vikings became increasingly common from around 830 onwards. London was attacked in 842 in a raid that was described by a chronicler as the "great slaughter". In 851 another raid on London, reputedly involving 350 ships, came to plunder the city.

In 865 a great heathen army launched a large scale invasion of East Anglia and soon overran East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria and came close to controlling most of England. By 871 they had reached London, and are believed to have camped within the old Roman walls during the winter of that year. Although it is unclear what happened during this time, London may have come under Viking control for a period.

In 878 however, English forces led by King Alfred the Great defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Edington and forced the Viking leader Guthrum to sue for peace. The Treaty of Wedmore and the later Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum divided England into Alfred's Saxon controlled kingdom and Danish controlled Danelaw.


English rule in London was restored by 886. King Alfred quickly set about establishing fortified towns or "Burhs" across England to improve defences, London was no exception. Within ten years, settlement within the old Roman walls was re-established, but known as Lundenburh. The Roman walls were repaired and the defensive ditch re-cut. This move was effectively the beginning of the present City of London, the boundaries of which are still to some extent defined by the ancient city walls. As the focus of the city was moved back to within the old Roman walls, the older settlement of Lundenwic was largely abandoned and gained the name of Ealdwic or "old settlement".

Tenth Century London[]

Alfred appointed his son-in-law Earl Aethelred of Mercia, who was the heir to the destroyed Kingdom of Mercia, as Governor of London and established two defended Boroughs to defend the bridge which was probably rebuilt at this time. The southern end of the Bridge was established as the Borough of Southwark or Suthringa Geworc (defensive work of the men of Surrey) as it was originally known. From this point, the City of London began to develop its own unique local government.

After Aethelred's death, London came under the direct control of English kings. The Kingdom of England established by Alfred was expanded by his son Edward the Elder who won back much land from Danish control. By the early 10th century London had become an important commercial centre. Although the capital of the Kingdom of England was in Winchester, London became increasingly important as a political centre. King Athelstan held many Royal Councils in London and issued laws from there. King Ethelred the Unready favoured London as his capital and issued the Laws of London there in 978.

The Vikings Return[]

It was during the reign of Ethelred that Viking raids began again, led by King Sveinn Forkbeard of Denmark. London was attacked unsuccessfully in 994, but numerous raids followed. By 1013 London underwent a long siege and Ethelred fled abroad. King Sveinn died but his son Canute continued the attacks, and the following year overran the city.

Ethelred returned with his ally Olaf of Norway to reclaim London. A Norse saga tells of a battle during the Viking occupation where Ethelred returned to attack Viking-occupied London. According to the saga, the Danes lined London Bridge and showered the attackers with spears. Undaunted, the attackers pulled the roofs off nearby houses and held them over their heads in the boats. Thus protected, they were able to get close enough to the bridge to attach ropes to the piers and pull the bridge down, thus ending the Viking occupation of London.

Following Ethelred's death in 1016, his son Edmund Ironside was declared king. The Vikings however returned and again placed London under siege. Initially the city's defenders were able to hold back the invaders. However, Edmund was eventually forced to share power with Canute. When Edmund died Canute became the sole King of England. After two short-lived Danish kings, Harald Harefoot and Harthacanute,) the Anglo-Saxon line was restored when Canute's stepson Edward the Confessor took up the throne in 1042.

The Norman Invasion[]

Following Edward's death, no clear heir was apparent, and his cousin, William of Normandy, claimed the throne. The Royal Council, however, met in the city and elected the dead King's brother-in-law, Harold Godwinson as King. He was crowned in Westminster Abbey. William, outraged by this, then sent an army to invade England.

William, Duke of Normandy, killed king Harold in the Battle of Hastings. Although he burnt down Southwark, south of the bridge, he avoided London, instead waiting to the north-west at Berkhamsted until the city officials in London recognised him as King. They quickly did so, and William responded by granting the city a formal charter.

Under William (now known as William the Conqueror) several royal forts were constructed along the riverfront of London (the Tower of London, Baynard's Castle and Montfichet's Castle) to defend against seaborne attacks by Vikings and prevent rebellions. William the Conqueror also granted a charter in 1067 upholding previous Saxon rights, privileges and laws. Its growing self-government became firm with election rights granted by King John in [1199]] and 1215.

After the Conquest[]

In 1097 William II Rufus, the son of William the Conqueror began the construction of Westminster Hall, which would become the basis of the Palace of Westminster which, throughout the period, was the prime royal residence. In 1176 construction began on London Bridge (completed in 1209,) which was built on the site of several earlier wooden bridges. This bridge remains until the present day.

May 1216 saw the last time that London was truly occupied by a continental armed force, during the First Barons' War. This was when the young Louis VIII of France marched through the streets to St. Paul's Cathedral. Throughout the city and in the cathedral he was celebrated as the new ruler.

It was expected that this would free the English from the tyranny of King John, but this was only temporary. The barons supporting the 29-year old French prince decided to throw their support back to an English king when John died. Over the next several hundred years, London would shake off the heavy French cultural and linguistic influence which had been there since the times of the Norman conquest.

During the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 led by Wat Tyler, London was invaded. A group of peasants stormed the Tower of London and executed the Lord Chancellor, Archbishop Simon Sudbury, and the Lord Treasurer. The peasants looted the city and set fire to numerous buildings. Tyler was stabbed to death by the Lord Mayor William Walworth in a confrontation at Smithfield, thus ending the revolt.

Growth of London[]

During the medieval period London grew up in two different parts. The nearby up-river town of Westminster became the Royal capital and centre of government, whereas the City of London became the centre of commerce and trade. Trade and commerce grew steadily during the Middle Ages, and London grew rapidly as a result. In 1100 London's population was little more than 15,000. By 1300 it had grown to roughly 80,000. Trade in London was organised into various guilds, which effectively controlled the city, and elected the Lord Mayor of the City of London.

London iss made up of narrow and twisting streets, and most of the buildings are made from combustible materials such as wood and straw, which made fire a constant threat. Sanitation in London was poor. London lost at least half of its population during the Black Death in the mid-14th century.

See Also[]