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The Real Cause of The Great Fire of London

Posted September 16th, 2015 at 12:10 PM by voxhistoria

The devastation caused by the 1666 Great Fire of London cannot be underestimated. The fire destroyed 90 per cent of buildings in the city and left 70,000 homeless, reducing London - one of the greatest cities in the world - to rubble. Faced with such unprecedented destruction, Londoners were desperate to find someone to blame.

Considering the fervent anti-Catholicism in England during the 17th century, it is hardly surprising that the Catholics - and particularly Jesuits - became the prime suspects for the fire.

As soon as the fire had ended, London launched its witch-hunt to find the perpetrator. It wasn’t long before Irish, Dutch, French and Spanish immigrants were targeted, after all, the English had a long history of associating Catholics with fire. From the hundreds of people burned at the stake by Mary Tudor to Guy Fawkes’ gunpowder plot, it seemed natural that fire would be the Catholics’ punishment of choice.

In October 1666, Londoners believed they’d found their arsonist – a French watchmaker called Robert Hubert. In a forced confession, the young Hubert confessed to firebombing the bakery on Pudding Lane. Although few of the jury at his trial believed him to be guilty, he was sentenced to death.

Click the image to open in full size.

Hubert’s guilt was even inscribed in stone for 200 years, with the commemorative monument next to Pudding Lane declaring that: “ The most dreadful Burning of this City; begun and carried on by the treachery and malice of the Popish faction… Popish frenzy which wrought such horrors, is not yet quenched…”

However, the execution of Hubert did little to quell the anti-papist feeling that gripped the country. By the end of the year a royal proclamation ordered the banishment of all Roman Catholic priests, and the disarming of all Catholics who refused to take the oaths of supremacy and allegiance.

Perceived as secretive agents of Papal powers and associated with ‘supernatural powers’, the Jesuits were at the forefront of this tension. The anti-Catholic sentiment rumbled on long into the 17th century, with ‘Pope-burning’ processions gaining popularity in the lates 1670s and 1680s as a nod towards both the Gunpowder Plot and the Great Fire of London.
Tension and conflict was so endemic that some historians have suggested the anti-Catholic conspiracy theories should be seen as a rational reaction to contemporary events, rather than the product of ungrounded scapegoating. Adrian Tinniswood, author of By Permission of Heaven: The True Story of the Great Fire of London, argues that as the fire took place only weeks after the British Navy set fire to the city of West Terschelling in the Netherlands, it is understandable that Londoners would point the finger at the two countries England was at war with, the Netherlands and France.

Of course, the real reason for the Great Fire of London was neither political nor religious. In reality it was started in a bakery on Pudding Lane, before spreading through the = city. However, the conspiracy theories surrounding the event offer a fascinating insight into the religious paranoia and tension that gripped England during the 17th century.

Adapted from my article: The Great Fire of London: What Really Started the Fire?
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  1. Old Comment
    gladiatrice's Avatar
    Great read! Somehow, some people still think today that the Catholics did indeed light London on fire. I even think I've come across someone blaming the Duke of York for the fire, which is absolutely beyond me, as I quite like him...

    Also, I really like the fact that I am no longer the only Restoration era blogger on here.
    Posted September 16th, 2015 at 02:57 PM by gladiatrice gladiatrice is offline
  2. Old Comment
    funakison's Avatar
    My favourite theory on the Great Fire of London is that it was Gods judgement for the sin of gluttony.

    After it did start in Pudding Lane and stretch as far as Pie Corner.
    Posted September 18th, 2015 at 08:34 AM by funakison funakison is offline

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