London: The History of a Business City




Since the early Middle Ages (if not since the days of the Romans), London has been a major city for its country. In the national consciousness, it has possessed all the hallmarks of a capital city. London has always been a sufficiently large city and an important commercial center. The process of city development had come on in leaps and bounds with the advent of the Tudor dynasty. The churches, hospitals, and theaters were built under the Tudors. In the 17th century, surviving another big fire and tragic epidemic of plague, London became the financial heart of the world, mostly due to the opening of the Bank of England in the city.

London’s role was becoming even more relevant during the 17th and 18th centuries. London had become a political and commercial center of the country. Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and many other European cities started to imitate London in many aspects: similar architecture, similar political and social transformations, and similar change of lifestyle, among many other issues. The paper will discuss the diversity and impeccability of London architecture, the saturation of its political life, and the shift in the lifestyle of prosperous Londoners in the 17th and 18th centuries.


Certainly, London was one of the most unique cities of those times, but even this city had borrowed some features in certain spheres. The political instability of London in the 17th century somewhat slowed down the development of the national architecture. Throughout the century, architectural art was developing within the framework of the French and Italian Renaissance with some borrowed classical and baroque motifs. Gothic was also not uncommon. The most notable London architects of that period were Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren.

Glorifying Inigo Jones (1573-1651) as the Shakespeare of English architecture, people thereby diminish the world value of the great playwright (Black, 2009). However, Inigo Jones was a skillful master who followed the styles of Serlio, Vignola, and Palladio (Harris, 2005). Lincoln's Inn chapel, consecrated in 1623, is considered to be his first and last Gothic building (Hollis, 2010). His best works included the projects of the royal palaces in Greenwich (1617) and Whitehall (1619). Greenwich projects, except the classically simple Queen’s House (1635), were later executed by Christopher Wren and his successors (Hollis, 2010).

The grandiose projects for Whitehall had never been implemented completely. Only the Banqueting House, the front of the hall, was fulfilled and retained. This magnificent two-story building, dissected at the bottom with Ionic and the top with Corinthian pilasters and semi-columns, would not get lost even in Venice or Vicenza. All the separate forms are stately, strong, and noble individually; therefore, they are unique in the English way (Harris, 2005).

This period was followed by a small St. Paul’s church in Covent Garden (from 1631 to 1638), the only decoration of which was the harsh Doric pediment narthex (Black, 2009). In his later years, Jones also participated in the construction and restructuring of the famous rural castles of the English nobility. Moreover, he was involved in the construction of the Earl of Pembroke castle in Wilton where the stately situated main hall with walls decorated with hanging garlands gives the impression of a classic and at the same time purely English style. Clear completeness, strength, and nobility of the shape distinguish all the structures of this master.

Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) did not visit Italy, but he visited Paris (Black, 2009). Therefore, his late Renaissance is closer to the French than to the Italian style (Harris, 2005). In any case, he was a more rationally prudent artist than Jones, and therefore more nationally English. The number of Wren’s architectural structures is astounding. The Great Fire of 1666, which destroyed immense areas of London, opened a vast arena for Wren’s activities. The courtyard of Trinity College, Oxford, and the classic library of Trinity College, Cambridge, also are Wren’s buildings. Besides his masterpiece – a large St. Paul’s Cathedral, he built at least 53 London City churches, every time giving them a new and yet solid shape (Bucholz & Ward, 2012).

Political Upheavals of the 17th Century

The English Civil War of the 17th century was an important event in both European and world history. It led to the victory of the capitalist system in England and opened the history of modern times, or a new history (Hollis, 2010).

Following the results of the war, the Crown had to pass on the terms dictated by the Parliament; in such a manner, the mode of the limited (constitutional) monarchy with a strong parliament was set. Among the most important outcomes of the English Revolution, there are the destruction of absolutism and a blow to feudal property, which actually developed into the bourgeois property. The adoption of the Navigation Act in 1651 had exceptional importance; according to the Act, foreign trade transportation could take place only on English ships or on ships of the country-producer of the goods (Selwood, 2010). The law has undermined the mediation of trade and navigation of the strongest rival of England – Holland.

The feudal system had dominated before the beginning of the English Civil War (Hollis, 2010). The main classes were the nobles, landowners, and peasants. There was a class struggle between them. The feudal nobles had forced peasants to work for them and demanded service from them. The nobles had exploited peasants and lived off their labor (Selwood 2010). The capitalist system, in turn, was established after the Civil War (Bucholz & Ward, 2012). The dominance shifted from the feudal nobility to the bourgeoisie, giving the paid labor to the former peasants.

However, not everything changed for the better for the former peasants. In England, the beginning of creating a civil society and rule of law was a political outcome of the war. The power had passed from the King to the Parliament consisting of the wealthy landowners and the big bourgeoisie.

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London ordinary people had no voting rights and were not represented in the Parliament. The former peasants, who secured the victory of the bourgeoisie, not only did not get the land (that was promised to them) but also finally lost it (Bucholz & Ward, 2012). There were mass violent enclosures of the common land with the support of the Parliament and local authorities. As a result of the enclosure, a final ruin of the peasants was accelerated. Impoverished peasants went to work in the cities or migrated to the English colonies in America suffering from the great hardships.

Accumulation of the homeless people and beggars in the cities was extraordinary and raised concerns of the municipal authorities regarding public peace and all sorts of diseases. Therefore, the city government sought to protect the city from the further influx of the poor. City officials had started to demand high deposits from immigrants, who wished to engage in trade within the city (Selwood 2010). London officials issued a special parliamentary decree, which resulted in the fact that the poor could not find shelter in the city.

The Lifestyle of Prosperous Londoners between 1600 and 1770

The prosperous Londoners of the 17th and 18th centuries were respectively represented by the capitalist farmers of the two types: yeoman farmers, which led origin from the peasant farmers, and gentry-farmers, which had adapted to the new conditions after the revolution. The change in the lifestyle of the prosperous Londoners could be seen in the differences in the mentality and lifestyle of these two types.

Analyzing the economic activity of John Lodder, a London yeoman farmer of peasant origin, one of the features of the prosperous Londoner at the beginning of the 17th century was the modesty of everyday life (Picard, 2010). Any excesses were completely absent in the list of their expenses; the list contained only essentials such as bread, milk, cheese, salt, firewood, and some candles. However, such a modest everyday life did not mean that the yeomen farmers lived in poverty. The silverware, silk and linen sheets, carpets, and tapestries could be found in the homes of a yeoman. The focus on the own household is worth noting among the other characteristics of London yeoman farmer: it was clear from the text that he was absolutely not interested in not only political news and events but also in the lives of his own parish (Picard, 2010).

The 18th century became the century of the new nobility or gentry who was able to take advantage of the new conditions and adapt to capitalist farming (Duggan, 2012). The lifestyle and mentality of the gentry were fundamentally different from the yeoman farmers. After all the political upheavals of the 17th century, the gentry started to develop an active social position. The entries about the purchase of books or hiring a nanny for a child can often be found in the gentry’s diaries and expenses books. This fact indicates a serious shift and higher, as compared with the yeoman, educational and cultural level. London gentlemen and squires at the beginning of the 18th century and till its very end often and willingly took administrative positions or some socially meaningful work. Some of them also engaged in medical practice in London or nearby towns (Picard, 2010).

In general, it can be said that the lifestyle of prosperous Londoners had shifted towards the more pronounced social activity. While the yeomen were completely closed to the conduct of their own farms, the gentry had actively held public offices and participated in the political and social life of the city (Picard, 2010). Of course, it distracted them from direct economic activities, and, in some cases, caused a straight loss. In the parliamentary government, some of them were forced to pay higher taxes and sometimes to contain the soldiers and horses of the parliamentary army in one of their estates (Duggan, 2012). Nevertheless, the differences in the lifestyle of the yeomen and gentry are the key factor to the understanding of change in the prosperous Londoners’ lifestyle.


The English architecture of the 17th century, following the irresistible flow of time, rejected the national traditions in favor of a skilled, even stately imitation of semi-classical and half-baroque late Renaissance of Italy and France. However, they had learned to adapt the new forms of a foreign language to their own church and secular needs.

The 1600s in London history was a period of rapid development, Civil War, and revolution. The Civil War had given an impetus to the establishment of the capitalist system. The dominance shifted from the feudal nobility to the bourgeoisie, giving the chance to the former peasants to make money for their job. However, many of the former peasants lost their land after the revolution and became completely poor. This situation is reflected in the overpopulation and mass migration of poor people to other cities and countries. Surprisingly, but this fact did not prevent the City of London to become the leading financial center of the world in this era, gradually replacing Amsterdam.

In contrast to the former peasants, prosperous Londoners represented by such farmers as the yeoman and gentry felt themselves more than comfortable during the 17th and 18th centuries. Their lifestyle shifted from modesty in the everyday life to the predisposition to socially active work. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the prosperous Londoners acquired a higher educational and cultural level.

The diversity and impeccability of architecture, a saturation of the political life with the key events, and shift in the lifestyle of prosperous Londoners represent an exceptional interest in the study of London of the 17th and 18th centuries.

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