Short History of the City of Gloucester, Gloucestershire

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History of the City of Gloucester, Gloucestershire
Roman Town to Parliamentary City

by John Timbs

Gloucester cathedral from the old West Gate

Gloucester is considered to have had the Britons for its founders, by whom it was called Glaiuon; which, according to Camden, is derived from the British Caer Glosgii iis, or "the City of the pure waters," from its situation upon the eastern bank of the Severn. According to others, it is named from Glywys, the name of the chief or original founder. Modern scholars tend to favour a meaning of "Bright (as in Noble or Famous) Place". Around AD 65, it became subjected to the Romans, and numerous Roman antiquities, burial-urns, coins, etc have been discovered here. After the Romans left the island, the city was surrendered to the West Saxons, when the Britons were defeated, and three of their princes slain. By the Saxons it was called Gleau-Cester, whence its present name is derived. About the year 679, Osric, King of the Hwicce, founded the monastery of St. Peter (later to become the Cathedral), and so far improved the city that, at the commencement of the eighth century, according to Bede, it was considered "one of the noblest of the kingdom." The city repeatedly suffered from fire and the ravages of the Danes; and in 1087 it was almost wholly destroyed during the contest between William Rufus and the adherents of his brother Robert. Its castle was built by Earl William, in the time of the Conqueror, who frequently kept his Christmas here, as did William II in 1099 and, in 1123, Henry I held his Court here. In 1172, Iorwerth, with a large body of Welshmen, destroyed all the country with fire and sword to the gates of Gloucester. In 1175, a Great Council was held here by Henry II for quelling The 'Parliament House' where Richard II held a Parliament in 1378the insurrections of the Welsh. In 1216, at Gloucester, Henry III was crowned, being ten years old, and here he kept his Christmas. In 1263, Gloucester was the scene of many battles between Henry III and the Barons, whom he had offended by appointing a foreigner to the office of Constable of Gloucester Castle. In 1279 Quo Warranto statutes were enacted here by Parliament. In 1319 Edward II came to Gloucester, and entertained the Abbot, and, in 1327, this sovereign was, "with consent and by practice of his cruel Queen," most cruelly and foully murdered in Berkeley Castle. He was buried in Gloucester Cathedral, where there is a monument to his memory, "his body in alabaster in his kingly robes, the foundation marble, and the workmanship overhead curiously cut in freestone." In 1378, Richard II held a Parliament at Gloucester and Henry V, in 1420, being the last Parliament summoned here by any monarch. In 1430, at the Abbey of Gloucester, Henry VI made oblations previous to setting out for France. In 1483, immediately after his coronation, Richard III came to Gloucester and, in 1485, Henry VII; and, in 1535, Henry VIII in progress. In 1641-2, Gloucester sided with the Parliament and bid defiance to the King with an army of 30,000 men, in consequence of which the ancient walls of the city, two miles in circuit, were destroyed shortly after the Restoration. The site of the Castle is occupied by the County Gaol.

The 'Fair Cross' at GloucesterIn an Account of an Excursion in 1634, the Severn is described as gliding close to the town, "by that little Island (Athelney) where the first Danish King got the best." A reference to the proposed single combat between Kings Edmund Ironside and Canute on the Isle of Athelney in 1016, terminated by an offer from Canute to divide the kingdom. The New Inn is "is a fair house and much frequented by gallants, the hostess there being as handsome and gallant as any other." "This City, we found governed by a Mayor, with his Sword and Cap of Maintenance, 4 Maces, 12 Aldermen and a worthy and learned Recorder and 4 Stewards. It is walled about, except only that part of the town that is securely and defensively guarded by the River. In the wall there is 6 Gates, for the ingress and egress of strangers and inhabitants. In the midst of the city is a faire cross, whereto from the 4 Cardinal Winds, the 4 great and principal Streets thereof do come. In her is 12 Churches, whereof the Cathedral is one" of great antiquity and beautiful architecture; with a fine Gothic pinnacled tower, an east window, said to be the largest in the kingdom, great elevation and traceried walls of the choir. Among its curious monuments is one of a Saxon king, bearing the old church upon his breast; the last Abbot, Parker, in alabaster and a Bishop [Dux Templi] who excommunicated King John. Here lieth that "unfortunate Prince Robert, Duke of Normandy, eldest son of William the Conqueror, whose eyes were plucked out in Cardiff Castle, after he had endured a long and tedious imprisonment there. His Portraiture lieth loose upon the marble monument and is of Irish wood painted, with neither rots nor worm-eats. Here lieth cross-legged, with his sword and buckler [shield], and so, as any man may, with ease, lift up this, his wooden statue." Our olden topographers describe as a thing most admirable that strange and unparalleled whispering place of 24 yards circular passage above the high altar, a miraculous work and artificial device: "and as it is strange, so we heard carried confessions there made." The sumptuous tomb of King Edward II, we have already described.

During the Marian persecution, John Hooper, second Bishop of Gloucester, and the venerated martyr of the Reformation, upon his second committal to the Fleet Prison in 1553, refusing to recant his opinions, was condemned to be burnt. It was expected that he would have accompanied Rogers, a The Burning of Bishop Hooperprebendary of St. Paul's, to the stake. However, Hooper was led back to his cell, to be carried down to Gloucester, to suffer among his own people. Next morning, he was roused at four o'clock and, being committed to the care of six of Queen Mary's Guard, they took him, before it was light, to the Angel Inn, St. Clement's, then standing in the fields. Thence he was taken to Gloucester and there burnt with dreadful torments on the 9th February 1555. A memorial statue of Bishop Hooper has been set up by public subscription at Gloucester near the spot whereon he suffered.

Gloucester has long been famous for its lampreys, taken in the Severn and, by ancient custom, the City of Gloucester, in token of their loyalty, present a lamprey pie annually, at Christmas, to the sovereign. This is sometimes a costly gift, as lampreys at that season are very rare. A well-stewed Gloucester lamprey is a luxury, such as almost excused the royal excess which carried off Henry I at Rouen.

Edited from John Timbs' Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales (1870)

Related Pages:
Gloucester City Page
History of Gloucester Cathedral
Architectural Development of Gloucester Cathedral
Tour of Gloucester in the Ancient Severn Vale
Places to Visit in Gloucester logo

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