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History of London

The years between 1500 and 1750 are usually considered as the early modern period. This is the historical period that took place between the Middle Ages and the Age of Revolutions. In a given time, the emergence of a new civilization, a new system of relations, the Eurocentric world, the European miracle, and the expansion of European civilization to other parts of the world take place. During that period, England suffered from many revolutions and wars. However, with its capital – London, England could not only overcome all the traumatic political events but also could become one of the most developed countries in the world. London had even become the world’s first modern city. Thus, it is important to understand how much progress could be reached and what has changed specifically. So, the paper explores the ways in which London became the first modern city, studies the geographical changes of the city during this period, analyzes the influence of traumatic political events and the development of creative industries of the city in order to better understand the peculiarities of London in the early modern time.

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Ways in which London became the first modern city between 1550 and 1750

In the early modern period (in particular 1550-1750), the City of London became the most developed city not only in Great Britain but in the whole world, with the most dynamic economic and cultural life. During this period, it dominated the economic, political, social, and cultural life of the world as it never had before. London has overcome poverty, diseases, and crime with proto-modern solutions like the London Founding Hospital, possibly the world’s first incorporated charity, and the Bow-street Runners, a primitive municipal police force (Bucholz and Ward, 2012). It was in London that many of the hallmarks of modernity got their start, received their perfection, or were popularized for the English-speaking countries.

In the 18th century, Great Britain became the first country that transferred from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy with London as the capital where all the major events took place (Bucholz and Ward, 2012). Thus, the royal power became limited in favor of parliament, and the Cabinet of Ministers was formed. The first participatory democracy was also created in London. As a result, the parliament and government were elected by people, and the majority of those who had the right to vote were Londoners. Additionally, it is the place where the government financing from royal agricultural estates income shifted to customs and excise income as a result of increased warfare costs in the eighteenth century (Bucholz and Ward, 2012). Moreover, in modern times, London has become a place with an effective civil service. The most important establishment here was that the government civil servants became the group that received pensions. The first such person receiving the civil service pension was Martin Horsham, who was the official in the London port in 1684 (Pensions Archive, n.d). From now on, the civil servants received pensions in order to be retained and encouraged to stay in the civil service, because of long service, regular yearly contribution, and good behavior. Besides, it replaced the corruption system of receiving payments by government officers from their successors (Pensions Archive, n.d).

Furthermore, in the public sphere, London has also shown itself as the first modern city. For instance, the notion of the public press began in Europe in the fifteenth century, in printing centers like Amsterdam and London. But, at that time, the press was not free according to the modern understanding. However, in the second half of the 17th century, the situation changed, as the Court of High Commission and the Star Chamber were abolished and the final lapse of the Licensing Act was renewed (Bucholz and Ward, 2012). Thus, the gentlemen in the London press could write whatever they wanted, and their readership would lap it up. Londoners received the ability to know more and more about the crime as the period wore on. Additionally, London is the place where, in the second half of the 17th and the first half of the 18th centuries, the development of public concert life started, and the first pubic commercial concerts took place (Harbor, 2016). They developed from private music meetings of amateurs and informal performances of professionals in taverns with the help of John Banister’s first advertised concerts. Thus, the city became the important music center in the world (Harbor, 2016). Moreover, the first viable commercial theatre appeared in London in ancient times. Thus, in 1576, James Burbage built the Theatre, the first permanent outdoor playhouse, and the Chapel Children leased the first Blackfriars, the first indoor commercial playhouse (Kokovich, 2016). Besides, it was the worldwide known Shakespeare who wrote theater works in London at that time. Moreover, it was the place where the enlightening aspirations in literature appeared which later influenced European literature. Thus, such writers as John Milton, Tomas Hobbes, and John Locke with their risen questions of democracy, church, education, freedom of the press, tolerance, and others, had influenced the French philosophers of the next century whose thoughts were spread throughout Europe. Generally, between 1550 and 1750, it was London where such modern things as newspapers, clubs, insurance, decent street lighting, three-peace suits for men, and many others appeared (Bucholz and Ward, 2012). Thus, taking into account all these innovations, London became the first modern city of the early modern period. With the possible exception of Amsterdam, no other city in the world did more to catalyze modernity.

Change of London's physical fabric and geographical layout between 1500-1750

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, London was a very small town: only three miles long from east to west. It was surrounded by fields from each side, and it would take only about twenty minutes to get from the center of the city to the countryside (Museum of London, n.d). Figure 1 shows the view of London in 1550. The city was crowded with narrow, winding streets. There was only one bridge across the Thames River, so the traffic was always overloaded there, therefore the most convenient way to reach the opposite shore was by boat (Museum of London, n.d). Since that time, London’s physical fabric and geographical layout have significantly changed. The first reason is that in 1666 there was the Great Fire of London that destroyed four-fifths of the city buildings. So, they were restored and rebuilt according to the styles of new times. The second reason is that between 1500 and 1750, London experienced its greatest and fastest development and the growth of population, which was a result of increased migration to the city, so it has grown and extended much. As a result, London of 1750 is much bigger than London of 1500 with much more streets and fewer fields as shown in Figure 2. The city has also significantly extended on the south shore of the Thames River and more to the west. Additionally, another bridge across the river in the Westminster area was built called Westminster.

Generally, between 1500 and 1750, the following changes appeared in London. In the first half of the 16th century, such buildings as St. John's Gate, Church of St Margaret's, St Andrew Undershaft, Sutton House, St James's Palace in Westminster, and St Giles-without-Cripplegate church were built or rebuilt. Besides, in this period Westminster was completed. In the second half of the 16th century, such buildings as New Custom House, the Red Lion theatre, Nonsuch House on London Bridge, a new building for Enfield Grammar School, the Rose Theatre in Southwark, the Swan (theatre) in Southwark, Globe Theatre in Southwark were built, rebuilt or opened. In the first half of the 17th century, such buildings as Hicks Hall, Queen's House at Greenwich, Aldersgate, Goldsmiths' Company barge, St Paul's, Covent Garden were built or rebuilt. In the second half of the 17th century, such buildings as Lisle's Tennis Court in Lincoln's Inn Fields, Earliest surviving terrace houses on Newington Green, Apothecaries' Hall and Brewers Hall, Temple Bar, Courthouse, Theatre Royal, Exeter Exchange, York Buildings, Hungerford Market in Westminster, 10 Downing Street in Westminster, Old Palace Terrace, Great Synagogue of London, Queenhithe windmill were built or rebuilt. In the first half of the 18th century such buildings as Bevis Marks Synagogue, Buckingham House in Westminster, Roehampton House built, Church Road, Hampstead, Grosvenor Square development in Westminster, Bakers Hall built, Fournier Street in Spitalfields, Prince Frederick's Barge, George, and Vulture pub in the City were built, rebuilt, or begun. Besides, during that time, the building of Westminster Bridge and oxford street began.


Figure 1. London in 1550 (Bucholz and Ward, 2012)


Figure 2. London in 1750 (Bucholz and Ward, 2012)

The influence of traumatic political events of 1640-1710 on London’s cultural and commercial life

The traumatic political events of 1640-1710 such as the Civil wars, the Restoration, and the Glorious revolution have significantly influenced life in London, especially cultural and economic, and had long-term value. Thus, the revolutionary transformation of the 1640-1650 Civil War destroyed the social system of feudalism and created conditions for the free development of capitalism. As a result of the land sale, a new class of landowners appeared – Independent nobility. The land has become a commodity, bourgeois relations became firmly established. The representatives of the old regime were forced to be also included in them. The defeat of the democratic movement and the lack of rights of smallholders opened the way for the ruthless increase of rents, enclosures, and eviction of peasants from the land, which led to the formation of the landless proletariat class. The peasants had to pay the cash to landowners for the use of the land what hindered the development of agriculture and the commercial life in this industry. Besides, the king was deprived of financial independence and was the first officer on the payroll of the state parliament. The church lost its power and a monopoly on the formation of public opinion and became totally dependent on the Parliament, which continues to nowadays. Moreover, regal monopolies and the royal control disappeared from the industry and trade sphere for perpetuity, with the exception of the necessary bourgeoisie of the East India Company. Now, they lost their interest in trade and stopped acting for their own favor, therefore negatively influencing the economic condition of the country. The guilds and apprenticeship laws were destroyed. Revolution proclaimed freedom of trade and business what contributed to the extending of commercial life in London. The adoption of the Navigation Act in 1657 was of exceptional importance. According to it, the foreign trade transportation could be made only by English ships or the ships of the country-producer. The Act undermined the intermediary trade and shipping of the strongest opponents of England – Holland, so England became the main sea trader, with the main port in London. Furthermore, the revolution gave a push to the development of sciences was of great importance for the development of technology which has provided the industrial and agrarian revolution of the XVIII century. As a result, agricultural productivity and production increased significantly positively influencing commercial life. The influence on cultural life was mainly presented in the literature. Such contradictions as changing of the feudal property by the bourgeois, the aggravation of the class struggle, and the growth of the popular liberation movement, were reflected in the literature and determined the political sensitivity of creativity. All this can be currently found in the works of the London writers of that time.

As the result of the Restoration, the dramatic events of the English Revolution became reflected in many works of literature and art, for example, Honore de Balzac, Cromwell (1820), Walter Scott, Woodstock (1826), Victor Hugo, Cromwell (1827) and others. Alexandre Dumas described (with the monarchic point of view) the course of events in his famous trilogy about musketeers: the capture and execution of Charles I in the novel Twenty years later, and the restoration of Charles II - in the novel The Vicomte de Bragelonne or Ten Years Later (active participation in the construction of noble musketeers to the throne of Charles II is a literary fiction). All these works replenished the cultural and historical base of London.

As a result of the Glorious Revolution in 1688, the new nobility and, through it, the bourgeoisie became able to use the state power, meaning the political superstructure, particularly Parliament, where the influence of nobles and aristocrats, who were closely related to trading, was amplified for the vast acceleration of capitalist development of the country through mass fencing, eviction of peasants from the land, favorable government loans, taxation, colonial conquest, and the promotion of trade and industry. The first machines appeared in England, dramatically speeding up the growth of capitalist production. The consequence of this was that England experienced the first industrial revolution and later evolved into the first great industrial capitalist power, far ahead of other European countries. Thus, it positively influenced the commercial life of London. Besides, during the preparation and conduct of the bourgeois revolution in England and the subsequent capitalist development of the country, the bourgeois economic and political theories were established, positively influencing London’s commercial life. Finally, as a result of the Glorious Revolution, the Bill of Rights has signed that removed censure among other things, positively influencing the literature and cultural life of London in the long term. Besides, subsequently, political and social problems in England had never been resolved by physical force, therefore the commercial and cultural life did not suffer.

Development of "creative industries" in London between 1550 and 1750

The creative industries in London of that time were mainly presented by the theatre. The first public theater building in London appeared in 1576 outside the city in Shoreditch. Theater, called "Theatre", was built by James Burbage according to the image of the hotel courtyard, where wandering troupes of actors were performing. In 1598, the owner of the land, on which the "Theater" was located, raised the rent. The building was demolished; building materials were used for the construction of a new theater, called "Globe", on the other side of the Thames. By 1592, there were already three theatres in London. All of them were located outside the city. The Queen loved the theater and the city authorities who considered the theatres the hotbeds of the plague had to change their attitude. Performances were given in public theaters, on the pretext that it is necessary for actors to rehearse the plays before the call to the royal court. The performances at the court were prestigious, but the public theatres brought the main income. The theatre became a popular entertainment not only for aristocrats but also for the lower strata of society.

In schools and universities, the plays were written and played both by students and teachers. The first plays of the Elizabethan theater were created by amateurs - pupils of Inn schools (Trial Inn) in London. The drama became a way of making money for people with a university education, who for one reason or another could not make a secular or ecclesiastical career. Thus, the first British playwrights became pamphleteers: Green, Nash, Peel, Kid, who wrote the popular drama. In contrast, John Lilly created a graceful subtle comedy that was set mostly at the court. For the entertainment of viewers, he was the first among Elizabethan playwrights who began to insert small prose interludes written as the rhymed verses in plays that represented witty dialogues. Due to Lily Evfues’ novel, the artsy language which was spoken by the court aristocracy came into fashion. The drama of Elizabethan theater was written in the same complex language. William Shakespeare was a great playwright of that time. During Stuart London, the popularity of the theatre had grown in the community. The masque theatre flourished as entertainment for the aristocracy. Thus, the development of the theatre in 1550-1750 has not only extended the culture of London, such as creating special language, habits, or new genres, but also increased the economy of London, and created another source of income for people and government in the form of taxation.

Music is also one of the creative industries that developed in London between 1550 and 1750. During that period, it reached the top of the development, and since that time, still have not surpassed its further movement. The music appeared at the theatres. In 16thcentury, there were entertaining musical performances at the court. In the 17th century, English music experienced the largest fracture associated, first, with the Puritan movement, and then the restoration of the Stuarts, that is, a kind of double reorientation of views on art, its participation in the public life. In these conditions, the entertaining-musical performances lost their value. Since the actual dramatic performances were banned by a special decree of the Puritan government, it suddenly opened the way for musical performances because the ban was not formally related to them. In 1656 the poet and dramatist William Davenant staged The Siege of Rhodes in London which is considered the first English opera. In the 17-18th centuries the numerous musical publishing firms appear; the owners of theatres, clubs, the landlord's pleasure gardens, for whom the music was first of all the source of income, became the concert organizers and patrons of musicians. The musical life in the 18th century was mainly manifested in the organization of large choral festivals. Thus, the development of music has replenished the cultural heritage of London with many different genres, as well as created the music as the source of economic enrichment of Londoners.


In conclusion, between 1550 and 1750, London became the first modern city due to the establishment of such things as a constitutional monarchy, effective civil service, free press, commercial concerts and theatres, and many other things. Besides, during this period the London’s physical fabric and geographical layout have significantly changed. It has grown and extended many times with the many new buildings and the additional bridge was built. Additionally, the Civil war, the Restoration, and the Glorious Revolution that took place between 1640 and 1710 have largely influenced the commercial and cultural life of London. Thus, the moods and beliefs of that time appeared in literature, and they stopped being censured. Besides, the economic classes have also appeared. Finally, during this period, theatre and music rapidly developed in London creating new genres and enriching particular people.


Bucholz, B. and Ward, J. (2012). London: A Social and Cultural History, 1550–1750. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Harbor, C. (2016). The Birth of the Music Business? Public commercial concerts in London 1660–1750. Royal Holloway Retrieved from

Kolkovich, E. (2016). The Elizabethan Country House Entertainment. Cambridge: University Printing House.

Museum of London. (n.d.). What was life like in Tudor London? Retrieved from

Pensions Archive. (n.d.). Medieval and early modern periods. Retrieved from

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