‘O Idoll now, downe must thou’: the fall of Cheapside Cross 1643

Many free-standing crucifixes in churchyards and on roadsides were destroyed in the early phases of the English Reformation, but medieval market crosses often survived as architectural features of urban environments. The continuing presence of these Catholic structures irked zealous Protestants. Published in 1641, this pamphlet by Henry Peacham attests to the renewed calls for the destruction of such monuments on the eve of the Civil War. It takes the form of a witty dialogue between Charing Cross and Cheapside Cross in London, ‘Comforting each other, as fearing their fall in these uncertaine times’. Erected by Edward I in memory of his wife Eleanor in 1289, Cheapside had been the subject of repeated clandestine assaults since the Elizabethan era. Here the personified cross complains about the Brownists who spit at it, the Familists who hide it from their sight behind their fingers, and the Anabaptists who wish it ‘knocked into a thousand pieces’. The title-page shows two radical sectarians plotting the demolition of this elaborate ‘idol’, while on the left two Laudian clerics prop up Charing Cross in a desperate attempt to save their own ecclesiastical cause. When Cheapside was pulled down by horses and troops in 1643 in accordance with an official order, the godly of the capital celebrated the downfall of a latter-day Dagon. AW

Ryhen Pameach [Henry Peacham], A dialogue between the crosse in Cheap, and Charing Crosse. Comforting each other, as fearing their fall in these uncertaine times (London: s.n., 1641).

CUL: SSS.57.3

Further Reading

David Cressy, ‘The Downfall of Cheapside Cross: Vandalism, Ridicule and Iconoclasm’, in his Travesties and Transgressions in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford, 2000), pp. 234–50.

Joel Budd, ‘Rethinking Iconoclasm in Early Modern England: The Case of Cheapside Cross’, Journal of Early Modern History, 4 (2000), 379–404.

Margaret Aston, Broken Idols of the English Reformation (Cambridge, 2015), ch. 8, esp. pp. 854–82.

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