LONDON (1173)
A description by William Fitz-Stephen

Of the Site Thereof

Among the noble cities of the world that Fame celebrates the City of London of the Kingdom of the English, is the one seat that pours out its fame more widely, sends to farther lands its wealth and trade, lifts its head higher than the rest. It is happy in the healthiness of its air, in the Christian religion in the strength of its defences, the nature of its site, the honour of its citizens, the modesty of its matrons; pleasant in sports; fruitful of noble men.

Of Religion

There is in the church there the Episcopal Seat of St. Paul; once it was Metropolitan, and it is thought will again become so if the citizens return into the island, unless perhaps the archiepiscopal title of Saint Thomas the Martyr [Thomas Becket], and his bodily presence, preserve to Canterbury where it is now, a perpetual dignity. But as Saint Thomas has made both cities illustrious, London by his rising, Canterbury by his setting, in regard of that saint, with admitted justice, each can claim advantage of the other. There are also, as regards the cultivation of the Christian faith, in London and the suburbs, thirteen larger conventual churches, besides lesser parish churches one hundred and twenty-six.

Of the Strength of the City

It has on the east the Palatine Castle, very great and strong, of which the ground plan and the walls rise from a very deep foundation, fixed with a mortar tempered by the blood of animals. On the west are two towers very strongly fortified, with the high and great wall of the city having seven double gates, and towered to the north at intervals. London was walled and towered in like manner on the south, but the great fishbearing Thames river which there glides, with ebb and flow from the sea, by course of time has washed against, loosened, and thrown down those walls. Also upwards to the west the royal palace is conspicuous above the same river, an incomparable building with ramparts and bulwarks, two miles from the city, joined to it by a populous suburb.

Of Gardens

Everywhere outside the houses of those living in the suburbs are joined to them, planted with trees, the spacious and beautiful gardens of the citizens.

Of Pasture and Tilth

Also there are, on the north side, pastures and a pleasant meadow land, through with flow rivers streams, where the turning wheels of mills are put in motion with a cheerful sound. Very near lies a great forest, with woodland pastures, coverts of wild animals, stags, fallow deer, boats and wild bulls. The tilled lands of the city are not of barren gravel but fat plains of Asia, that make crops luxuriant, and fill their tillers’ barns with Ceres’ sheaves.

Of Springs

There are also about London, on the north side excellent suburban springs, with sweet, wholesome, and clear water that flows rippling over the bright stones; among which Holy Well, Clerken WelI, and Saint Clements are frequented by greater numbers, and visited more by scholars and youth of the city when they go out for fresh air on summer evenings. It is a good city indeed when it has a good master.

Of Honour of the Citizens

That city is honoured by her men, adorned by her arms, populous with many inhabitants, so that in the time of sIaughter of war under King Stephen, of those going out to muster twenty thousand horsemen and sixty thousand men on foot were estimated to be fit for war. Above all other citizens, everywhere, the citizens of London are regarded is conspicuous and noteworthy for handsomeness of manners and of dress, at table and in way of speaking. . . .

Of Schools

In London three principal churches have by privilege and ancient dignity, famous schools; yet very often by support of some personage, or of some teachers who are considered notable and famous in philosophy, there are also other schools by favour and permission. On feast days the masters have festival meetings in the churches. Their scholars dispute, some by demonstration, others by dialectics; some recite enthymemes, others do better in using perfect syllogisms. Some are exercised in disputation for display, as wrestling with opponents; others for truth, which is the grace of perfectness. Sophists who feign are judged happy in their heap and flood of words. Others paralogize. Some orators, now and then, say in their rhetorical speeches something apt for persuasion, careful to observe rules of their art, and to omit none of the contingents. Boys of different schools strive against one another in verses, and contend about the principles of grammar.

Of the Ordering of the City

Those engaged in the several kinds of business, sellers of several things, contractors for several kinds of work, are distributed every morning into their several localities and shops. Besides, there is in London on the river bank, among the wines in ships and cellars sold by the vintners, a public cook shop; there eatables are to be found every day, according to the season, dishes of meat, roast, fried and boiled, great and small fish, coarser meats for the poor, more delicate for the rich, of game, fowls, and small birds.

Outside one of the gates there, immediately in the suburb, is a certain field, smooth (Smith) field in fact and name. Every Friday, unless it be a higher day of appointed solemnity, there is in it a famous show of noble horses for sale. Earls, barons, knights, and many citizens who are in town, come to see or buy. In another part of the field stand by themselves the goods proper to rustics, implements of husbandry, swine with long flanks, cows with full udders, oxen of hulk immense, and woolly flocks.

To this city from every nation under heaven merchants delight to bring their trade. . . . This city . . . is divided into wards, has annual sheriffs for its consuls, has senatorial and lower magistrates, sewers and aqueducts in its streets, its proper places and separate courts for cases of each kind, deliberative, demonstrative, judicial; has assemblies on appointed days. I do not think there is a city with more commendable customs of church attendance, honour to God's ordinances, keeping sacred festivals, almsgiving, hospitality, confirming betrothals, contracting marriages, celebration of nuptials, preparing feasts, cheering the guests, and also in care for funerals and the interment of the dead. The only pests of London are the immoderate drinking of fools and the frequency of fires. To this may be added that nearly all the bishops, abbots, and magnates of England are, as it were, citizens and freemen of London; having there their own splendid houses, to which they resort, where they spend largely when summoned to great councils by the king or by their metropolitan, or drawn thither by their own private affairs.