Formed in part by the Romans when they invaded Britain in 43 A.D., London has always been a city that represented power and authority. It ceased being the capital when the Romans abandoned the city in 425 and remained that way until the Anglo-Saxon chronicle states that it was “refounded” by Alfred the Great in 886. Alfred was the first person to assume the title of “King of the English” and his line, the House of Wessex, would continue to rule from London until 1066.
When Edward the Confessor died, two claims to succession arose, leading to the inevitable conflict between Harold of Wessex and William the Conqueror. When William prevailed at the Battle of Hastings, he became King of England. In a show of power over the city, William built the Tower of London to dwarf over all other buildings. The building of the Tower fully established London as the capital not only of England, but of the monarchy, which ist would remain until the present day.
The city would go on to change control a couple of times through the War of the Roses until Henry VII came out on top and began the Tudor dynasty. Though the city was safe from strife during his reign, stability was short lived under his son, Henry VIII. Henry VIII gave London one of its more famous royal landmarks with the Palace of St. James, a palace that is still the seat of royal power, as ambassadors are still admitted to “The Court of St. James”. However, Henry’s break from the Catholic Church created social and religious unrest that outlasted him into the reigns of his son Edward VI and daughter Mary I until the reign of Elizabeth I.
Elizabeth’s reign was one of the most prosperous in Britain’s history and the monarchy survived her and James I, but came to a brief pause when James’s son, Charles I, lost his head to Oliver Cromwell following the English Civil War. Fun was essentially outlawed under the new Puritan-led government. Theatre and holiday celebrations were outlawed. At Christmas, decorations were banned and soldiers were ordered to seize any food being prepared for the holiday. Even after Cromwell died and Charles II was invited to come back and reign, Cromwell’s body was unearthed and ceremoniously hung to show the city’s contempt for him.
The monarchy kept its power in London, despite a couple changes in dynasties. Following the death of Queen Anne, the crown passed to the Hanoverian Dynasty. The third monarch of this line, George III, purchased the most visited of the royal palaces, Buckingham Palace, from the Duke of Buckingham in 1761 for Queen Charlotte. However, a different queen would choose to make Buckingham her home. In 1837, Queen Victoria moved in and made it the official royal palace, a status it maintains until this day.
Victoria and her husband Albert left a great mark on the city, as her reign being the longest added many London landmarks, including the Crystal Palace (since demolished), the Royal Albert Hall, and the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens, amongst others. The advent of the House of Windsor saw the city ravaged by war, first when the heavy casualties of WWI meant many London men did not return home; second, when Nazi bombs level many parts of the great metropolis. Even Buckingham Palace was not spared the destruction, with a bomb landing not far from King George VI’s and Queen Elizabeth’s bedroom.
Their eldest daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, would go on to become the second-longest reigning monarch (and soon to overtake Victoria’s reign). The events of her life, and that of her children and grandchildren, continue to captivate Londoners, the media, and the world. Whether the marriage of her son, Prince Charles, to Diana, her grandson William’s marriage to Kate Middleton, and now the birth of one great-grandchild with another on the way, the Royal Family continues to keep a spotlight on London.