Most modern readers of Shakespeare will recognize London Stone as the place where Jack Cade declares himself lord of London and christens himself Lord Mortimer. 4.6 of Henry VI, Part 2 begins at London Stone, where Cade proclaims:
Now is Mortimer [i.e., Cade] lord of this city. And here, sitting upon London Stone, I charge and command that, at the city’s cost, the Pissing Conduit run nothing but claret wine this first year of our reign. And now henceforward it shall be treason for any that calls me other than Lord Mortimer.
The 1594 stage direction in the first quarto (Q1) text of The First Part of the Contention Betwixt the Two Famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster reads “Enter Iacke Cade and the reſt,and ſtrikes his ſword on London ſtone” (sig. G1v). In the 1623 Folio stage direction, Cade “ſtrikes his ſtaffe on London ſtone” (sig. O1r). The incident is recorded in contemporary chronicles. Fabyan’s Chronicle records that Cade “rode thorough dyuers ſtretes of the cytie/and as he came by London ſtone, he ſtrake it with his ſwerde, and ſayd now is Mortymer lorde of this cytie” (sig. 2I5r). Likewise, Holinshed’s Chronicles record that “After that, he [Cade] entred into London, cut the ropes of the draw bridge, & ſtrooke his ſword on London ſtone; ſaieng, Now is Mortimer lord of this citie” (sig. 3O3v). Clearly, London Stone had some cultural significance that made it an appropriate place for a royal challenger to stake his claim. (See also Stow 1.25.)
London Stone was, literally, a stone that stood on the south side of what is now Cannon Street (formerly Candlewick Street). Probably Roman in origin, it is one of London’s oldest relics. On the Agas map, it is visible as a small rectangle between Saint Swithin’s Lane and Walbrook, just below the “nd” consonant cluster in the label “Londonſton.”
Stow frequently assumes his readers’ familiarity with London Stone. He invokes it as a landmark to orient his readers when describing potentially unfamiliar places. In fact, he mentions it at least five times in A Survey before giving a detailed description of London Stone when he gets to Walbrook Ward, where Candlewick Street marks the boundary between Candlewick Street Ward on the north side of the street and Walbrook Ward on the south:
On the south side of this high streete, neare vnto the channell [ie., the gutter, in the middle of the street in Stow’s day] is pitched vpright a great stone called London stone, fixed in the ground verie deepe, fastned with bars of iron, and otherwise so strongly set that if Cartes do runne against it through negligence, the wheeles be broken, and the stone it selfe vnshaken.The cause why this stone was there set, the time when, or other memorie hereof, is none, but that the same hath long continued there is manifest, namely since (or rather before) the time of the conquest: for in the ende of a faire written Gospell booke giuen to Christes Church in Canterburie, by Ethelstane king of the west Saxons [925–940 A.D.], I find noted of landes or rentes in London belonging to the sayd Church, whereof one parcell is described to lie neare unto London stone. Of later time we read that in the yeare of Christ 1135. the first of king Stephen a fire which began in the house of one Ailward, neare vnto London stone consumed all East to Aldgate, in the which fire the Priorie of the holy Trinitie was burnt, and west to S. Erkenwalds shrine in Paules Church: and these be the eldest notes that I reade therof.Some haue saide this stone to be set, as a marke in the middle of the Citie within the walles: but in truth it standeth farre nearer vnto the riuer of Thames, then to the wall of the Citie: some others haue saide the same to be set for the tendering and making of payment by debtors to their creditors, at their appoynted dayes, and times, till of later time, payments were more vsually made at the font in Powles Church, and now most commonly at the Royall Exchange: some againe haue imagined the same to bee set vp by one Iohn or Thomas Londonstone dwelling there agaynst, but more likely it is, that such men haue taken name of the stone, rather then the stone of them, as did Iohn at Noke, Thomas at Stile, William at Wall or at Well, &c.(1.224–25)
Even in Stow’s day, then, the stone was a bit of a mystery. According to A Survey, early modern Londoners thought it might have been a marker of London’s centre, a place for debt repayment, or a personal memorial erected by a man named “Londonstone.” Stow discredits the first and third theories on the origins of the stone and reserves judgement on the second theory. He is probably most correct when he asserts that there is no cultural memory of the origins of the ancient stone.
Its original purpose has been the subject of much speculation by archeologists and historians. It may have been a Roman measuring marker. Smith notes that in 1833, during the construction of London Bridge a section of Roman road was discovered that led in the direction of London Stone (33). Theories going back to the historian William Camden (1551–1623) have it that the Romans measured all distances throughout the island from London Stone (Kingsford 2:316; see also Weinreb and Hibbert 477). Camden took London Stone to “have beene a Milliary, or Milemarke, ſuch as was in the Mercate [i.e., market] place of Rome: From which was taken the dimenſion of all journies every way, conſidering it is in the very mids of the City, as it lyeth in length” (sig. 2M6r). Camden thought the stone predated the wall, thus implicitly addressing Stow’s objection that the stone was not at the midpoint of the city’s north-south axis. Weinreb and Hibbert wondered in 1983 if the stone might be “the rounded top of an early wayside Roman funerary monument, whose base may still await discovery on the south side of Cannon Street” (478). They describe the stone’s current appearance as “weathered Clipsham limestone” with “no markings except a pair of grooves worn in the top” (478). However, archeological evidence from the 1980s seems to confirm Camden’s theory. Shepherd notes that it stood on “the line of the central axis of the supposed [governor’s] palace and on the probable site of the principal entrance to it, where may well have stood a monument or milestone from which distances throughout the province were to be measured” (29n).
The first mayor of London, Henry Fitz-Alwin, lived at London Stone, and the site of his house has been associated with the temporal governance of the city and the livery until the twentieth century. Kingsford traces the history of the site back to Henry Fitz-Alwin (1189?-1211) (Kingsford 2.315–16; Stow 2.149–52). In the possession of the Prior of Tortington for a time, Fitz-Alwin’s house passed to the Earls of Oxford at the dissolution of the religious houses in the sixteenth century. The fifteenth and sixteenth Earls of Oxford (both named John de Vere) made their London home here. Stow tells us in “Of Customs and Orders” that the latter rode to this house with a great retinue of “80. Gentlemen in a liuery of Reading Tawny […] and 100. tall yeomen in the like liuery” (Stow 1.89). The earl’s homecoming must have been quite the spectacle, sure to have made an impact on the denizens of Candlewick Street. Known to Stow’s contemporaries as “Oxford House” or “Oxford place by London Stone” (Stow 1.224, marginalia), the house was then home to two other mayors. Stow tells us: “In this Oxford place sir Ambrose Nicholas [a Salter] kept his Maioralitie [1576–76], and since him the said sir Iohn Hart [Sheriff in 1579-80, Mayor in 1589–90]” (1.224; see 2.184 for dates of office). Sir John Hart’s daughter married Humphrey Smith, Alderman of Walbrook Ward (Kingsford 2.316), and they continued to live at the London Stone address. The house was purchased by the Salters’ Company in 1641 and became the site of their company hall until 1941 (Kingsford 2.316; see also the Salters’ Company online history of their hall).
London Stone was a convenient shorthand address for nearby shops and houses. Stow reports several times that in 1136 “a fire began in the house of one Ailewarde, neare vnto London stone.” This fire burned much of London, spreading to Aldgate in the east and to Paul’s Church in the west, and damaging the timber bridge over the Thames (1.22; see also 1.139 and 1.224–25). At least two seventeenth-century booksellers lived near London Stone, as we can learn from the addresses they included on the title pages of their stock. Phillip Waterhouse had a shop “at the signe of St. Pauls Head in Canon Street neare London Stone” (sig. π1r). The title pages of books dated from 1629 to 1631 indicate the proximity of his shop to London Stone. A slightly later bookseller worked in the vicinity from at least 1643 to 1649. George Lindsey sold books from “his shop overagainst [sic] London-stone” (sig. A1r). Richard West’s Newes from Bartholmew Fayre indicates that there was a tavern named the “Bores head, néere London ſtone” (sig. B1r).
London Stone is mentioned throughout the literature of the period. One of the odder texts in the corpus of early modern London literature is a poem anthropomorphizing London Stone and the Boss at Billingsgate (a water conduit) as a man and woman wishing to marry. London Stone, described as “curtes and gente” (i.e., courteous and gentle) (sig. A5v), defends the reputation of the Boss from those who would slander her(). Another text tells us that London Stone was known across the country to be one of London’s principal sites. The “honeſt Country foole” in Samuel Rowlands “A straunge ſighted Traueller” is taken by his tour guide to the main tourist attractions of London, which included
Great tall Pauls Steeple and the royall-Exchange: / The Boſſe at Billings-gate and London ſtone(sig. D3r).
Stow’s frequent invocations of the stone indicate its importance as a literal and imaginative landmark for Londoners. Like Jack Cade, the fictional Cavaliero Pasquil in Thomas Nashe’s Marprelate countertracts takes London Stone as the ideal place to launch a challenge. At the end of Pasquils retvrne to England, Pasquil asks his imaginary interlocutor Marforius to post a challenge to Martinists on London Stone: “ſet vp this bill at London ſtone. Let it be doone ſollemnly with Drom and Trumpet, and looke you aduance my collours on the top of the ſteeple right ouer againſt it [St. Swithin’s church steeple], that euery one of my Souldiers may keepe his quarter” (sig. D3v). The bill that follows is “Pasqvils Protestation Vppon London Stone”:
I Caualiero Paſquill, the writer of this ſimple hand, a young man, of the age of ſome few hundred yeeres, lately knighted in Englande, with a beetle and a bucking tub, to beat a little reaſon about Martins head, doe make this my Proteſtation vnto the world, that if any man, woman, or childe, haue any thing to ſay againſt Martin the great, or any of his abettors, of what ſtate or calling ſoeuer they be, noble or ignoble, from the very Court-gates to the Coblers ſtall, if it pleaſe them theſe dark Winter-nights, to ſticke vppe their papers vppon London-ſtone, I will there giue my attendance to receiue them, from the day of the date heereof, to the full terme and reuolution of ſeuen yeeres next enſuing. Dated 20. Octobris. Anno Millimo, Quillimo, Trillimo, Per me venturous Paſquill the Caualiero.
This passage suggests that London Stone might have functioned as a gathering place for popular protest and dissemination of information, even though Pasquil does characterize his act of “diſplaying my Banners vpon London-ſtone” as an act of “Soldateſcha bravur” (sig. D4r; i.e., soldier’s courage or bravura). The Earl of Bulloigne’s sons in Thomas Heywood’s The Four Prentices of London (performed 1594; printed 1615) also represent London Stone as a gathering place, although they imagine it as a military recruiting point. When the four brothers, who have left their city apprenticeships to fight for distinction in the crusades, wish for London reinforcements in the battle to come, they think of Eastcheap, Candlewick Street, and London Stone as places where young men might be found in abundance:
Oh that I had with mee
As many good lads, honeſt Prentiſes,
To end this battell, as could wiſh themſelues
Vnder my conduct if they knew me heere;
The doubtfull daies ſucceſſe we need not feare. (sig. D4v)
In the subsequent city comedies and citizen romances that stage London in topographical particularity, the site is a common point of reference. In William Haughton’s Englishmen for My Money (performed 1598; printed 1616), a play widely taken by modern critics to be the first “city comedy,” a central development of the plot entails leading the foreign suitors away from the usurer Pisaro’s house. Once the English suitor Heigham has misled the Italian and French suitors to believe they are in Leadenhall Street and Fenchurch Street respectively, Frisco (servant to Pisaro), although outwitted himself, has a bit of fun with the foreign suitors’ lack of local knowledge. Pretending to lead them from Tower Street to Crutched Friars, Frisco can tell them that their route takes them past London Stone (south-west of Pisaro’s house), Ivy Bridge Lane (far west of the city, running south off the Strand en route to Westminster), and Shoreditch (far north of the City, accessed via Bishopsgate Street). In the late evening dark, Frisco finds his way by touch and smell.
Friſc. I haue the ſcent of London-ſtone as full in my noſe, as Abchurch-lane of mother Walles Paſties: Sirrs feele about, I ſmell London-ſtone.
Frisco is here representing local topographical knowledge as being imbricated in sensory experience that the foreigners do not have. (See my analysis of this passage in Jenstad, “Using Early Modern Maps.”) In Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday (1599), Firk invokes the ubiquitous knowledge of London Stone. Having been told that his nephew intends to marry the next day, Oatley questions Firk’s knowledge:
Oatley. But art thou sure of this?Firk. Am I sure that Paul’s Steeple is a handful higher than London Stone?(16.110–11)
Firk’s reply contains a truism of London cultural knowledge, that Paul’s Steeple is the highest structure in the City. The second item in his comparison has to be equally well known – and known to be much shorter than Paul’s Steeple – in order for his question to be rhetorical.
Over the centuries, London Stone has been moved several times. Stow’s description suggests that its location in the middle of Candlewick Street was a hindrance to traffic flow, but it remained in place until after the Great Fire, which it survived intact. A 1666 elegy for the burned city, Londinenses Lacrymae, mourns the loss of “All things of beauty, ſhatter’d loſt and gone; / Little of London whole but London-ſtone” (sig. A3v). In the post-fire rebuilding, the stone was moved to the north side of Cannon Street, where it was embedded in the wall of St. Swithin’s Church (designed by Sir Christopher Wren). St. Swithin’s was destroyed by bombing in 1941, but London Stone survived (Weinreb and Hibbert 766). (Note that the footnote to the Jack Cade passage in Ronald Knowles’s Arden3 edition of Henry VI, Part 2 erroneously indicates that the stone is still embedded in the wall of the now non-existent St. Swithin’s Church [317 n.0.2].) The Stone was moved to the south side of Cannon Street, where it can be seen today, embedded in a case in the wall of a bank building. Now relegated to a foot-level display case, London Stone has nonetheless played an important part in the cultural imagination of Londoners over many centuries.
- Camden, William. Britain, or A chorographicall description of the most flourishing kingdomes, England, Scotland, and Ireland, and the ilands adjoyning, out of the depth of antiquitie beautified vvith mappes of the severall shires of England: vvritten first in Latine by William Camden Clarenceux K. of A. Translated newly into English by Philémon Holland Doctour in Physick: finally, revised, amended, and enlarged with sundry additions by the said author. London, 1637. STC 4510.8. Print. Rpt. Early English Books Online. Web.
- Cobbes, Edmund. Mundanum speculum, or, The worldlings looking glasse Wherein hee may clearly see what a woefull bargaine he makes if he lose his soule for the game of the vvorld. A worke needfull and necessarie for this carelesse age, wherein many neglect the meanes of their saluation. Preached and now published by Edmund Cobbes, master of the Word of God. London, 1630. STC 5453. Print. Rpt. Early English Books Online. Web.
- Crouch, John. Londinenses Lacrymæ. Londons Second Tears mingled with her Aſhes. London, 1666. Wing C7299. Print. Rpt. Early English Books Online. Web.
- Dekker, Thomas. The Shoemaker’s Holiday. Ed. R.L. Smallwood and Stanley Wells. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1979. Print. The Revels Plays.
- Englands deadly disease to bee sick of a king, or, Religions iust complaint against her enemies the hereticks, who call the diety into question and revoke their covenant, scornfully to have it hanged lower in the steeple-houses, for dogs to pisse upon &. London, 1647. Wing E2956. Print. Rpt. Early English Books Online. Web.
- Fabyan, Robert. Fabyan’s cronycle newly prynted, wyth the cronycle, actes, and dedes done in the tyme of the reygne of the moste excellent prynce kynge Henry the vii. London, 1533. STC 10660. Print. Rpt. Early English Books Online. Web.
- Haughton, William. English-men For my Money: or, A pleasant Comedy, called, A Woman will haue her Will. London, 1616. STC 12931. Rpt. Early English Books Online. Web. [Also available in an in-type, collated, normalized transcription: Oxford: Malone Society, 1912. We cite from the EEBO page images.]
- Here begynneth a treatyſe of this Galaunt With the maryage of the boſſe of Byllyngeſgate. vnto London Stone. London[?], 1521. STC 24242. Sigs. A5v–A6r. Rpt. Early English Books Online. Print.
- Heywood, Thomas. The foure prentises of London. London, 1615. STC 13321. Print. Rpt. Early English Books Online. Web.
- Holinshed, Raphael, William Harrison, and others. The first and second volumes of Chronicles comprising 1 The description and historie of England, 2 The description and historie of Ireland, 3 The description and historie of Scotland: first collected and published by Raphaell Holinshed, William Harrison, and others: now newlie augmented and continued (with manifold matters of singular note and worthie memorie) to the yeare 1586. by Iohn Hooker aliàs Vowell Gent and others. With conuenient tables at the end of these volumes. London, [1587.] STC 13569. Print. Rpt. Early English Books Online. Web. [A searchable transcription of the 1577 and 1587 editions, with links to the EEBO images, is available at The Holinshed Project. We cite from The Holinshed Project’s transcription of the 1587 text.]
Using Early Modern Maps in Literary Studies: Views and Caveats from London.New Directions in the Geohumanities: Art, Text, and History at the Edge of Place. Ed. Sarah Luria and James Ketchum. Forthcoming from Routledge, 2011. Print.
- Kingsford, Charles Lethbridge, ed. A Survey of London by John Stow. Reprinted from the Text of 1603. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1908. Print. A searchable transcription of this text is available at BHO.
- Knowles, Ronald, ed. King Henry VI Part 2. London: Thomas Nelson, 1999; rpt. London: Thomson Learning, 2001. Print. Arden Shakespeare.
- Nashe, Thomas. The returne of the renowned Caualiero Pasquill of England from the other side the seas, and his meeting with Marforius at London vpon the Royall Exchange where they encounter with a little houshold talke of Martin and Martinisme, discouering the scabbe that is bredde in England, and conferring together about the speedie dispersing of the golden legende of the liues of saints. London, 1589. STC 19457.3. Print. Rpt. Early English Books Online. Web.
- Rowlands, Samuel. Humors looking glasse. London, 1608. STC 21386. Rpt. Early English Books Online. Web.
- Shakespeare, William. Mr. VVilliam Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies Published according to the true originall copies. London, 1623. STC 22273. Print. [Book facsimiles available from Internet Shakespeare Editions. Web.]
- Shakespeare, William. The first part of the contention betwixt the two famous houses of Yorke and Lancaster with the death of the good Duke Humphrey: and the banishment and death of the Duke of Suffolke, and the tragicall end of the proud Cardinall of VVinchester, vvith the notable rebellion of Iacke Cade: and the Duke of Yorkes first claime vnto the crowne. London, 1594. STC26099. Print. [Transcription available from Internet Shakespeare Editions. Web.]
- Shakespeare, William. The Second Part of King Henry the Sixth. The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Ed. David Bevington. 5th ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2004. 552–984. Print.
- Sheppard, Francis. London: A History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998. Print.
- Smith, Al. Dictionary of City of London Street Names. New York: Arco, 1970. Print.
- Stow, John. A Survey of London. Reprinted from the Text of 1603. Ed. Charles Lethbridge Kingsford. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1908. Print. [Also available as a reprint from Elibron Classics (2001). Articles written before 2011 cite from the print edition by volume and page number.]
- Weinreb, Ben, and Christopher Hibbert, eds. The London Encyclopaedia. New York: St. Martin’s, 1983. Print. 1
- West, Richard. Newes from Bartholmew Fayre. London, 1606. STC 25264. Print. Rpt. Early English Books Online. Web.
Mentions of this place in Internet Shakespeare Editions texts
Last modification: 2014-07-23 15:56:00 -0700 (Wed, 23 Jul 2014) (jtakeda)