Matthew and Diana’s return to England causes a bit of a ruckus in the calendar — we’re actually going to return to London and celebrate Christmas Eve in 1590 (Chapter 15) before we spend Christmas with Ysabeau, Sarah, and Em in the present day (Chapter 14).
I had never imagined that Old St. Paul’s would be so big. I gave myself another pinch. I had been administering them since spotting the Tower (it, too, looked enormous without skyscrapers all around) and London Bridge (which functioned as a suspended shopping mall). Many sights and sounds had impressed me since our arrival in the past, but nothing had taken my breath away like my first glimpses of London.
As Deb notes in both the Real-Time Reading Companion and The World of All Souls, modern London an Elizabethan London are two very different creatures.
Between 1520 and 1600, London nearly doubled in size. Tudor London began to take shape in 1529 when Henry VIII began the process of transforming Cardinal Wolsey’s York Place into the palace at Whitehall. This influenced the growth of both London and the City of Westminster. Despite the fact that the two cities are known collectively as “London,” they’ve never merged.
Diana and Matthew arrive in London a mere two and a half decades after an outbreak of the plague in 1664 and the Great Fire of 1666. The Great Fire burned for three days and destroyed some five-sixths of the City. The fire began in the King’s bakery near the London Bridge and swept through a city that was unusually dry after a very hot summer. The city began to re-build almost immediately — Sir Christopher Wren submitted “ambitious” plans to Charles II that would have widened London’s streets and made London look more like Paris. Many of his plans were never realized, in part because Londoners insisted on keeping the original sites of their homes and businesses and partially because his ideas were rather expensive. Wren was eventually responsible for the construction of approximately 50 new churches, including the grand new design of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
“At last,” Henry Percy appeared, beaming. “We’ve been waiting for hours. My good lady mother sent you a goose. She heard reports that no fowl are to be had in the city and became alarmed that you would go hungry.”
As usual, Deb doesn’t do throwaway lines. In 1590, Christmas goose would have been a big deal in Elizabethan England — after her victory over the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth I declared that everyone should eat goose for Christmas dinner because she happened to be eating goose when she learned of the rout. In Tudor times, all work stopped between Christmas Day and Epiphany (or Twelfth Night). Workers returned to their labors on the Monday after Twelfth Night, known as Plough Monday.
People in the Tudor era took Christmas quite seriously — they enforced the “no work” rule by threading spinning wheels with flowers and kept a Yule log burning for the full twelve days of Christmas. The English carol tradition began during Tudor times — if you’ve sung “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “The First Noel,” or “Good King Wenceslas” this season, you’re keeping the tradition alive. You can find out more about Tudor Christmas traditions here.
“Is this your doing, Henry?” I looked from the entrance hall into our main living quarters. Someone had tucked holly, ivy, and fir around the fireplace and the window frames and mounded them in the center of an oak table.
The Tudors decorated their homes with evergreen foliage as a gesture of welcome and goodwill. If you’re inclined to do some last-minute decorating, English Heritage has a fun video on how to make a Tudor kissing bough:
Jen and I hope you have a wonderful Christmas Eve with your loved ones. We’ll see you again tomorrow for a (brief) Christmas entry to celebrate the preview of A Discovery of Witches TV on Sundance and Shudder. We can’t wait to hear what you have to say about Episodes 1 and 2 on our Twitter feed or via our Facebook group.
Merry merry, darlings!