James Frees All Catholics
James I was eager for his son Charles to marry the Infanta of Spain. As a gesture of goodwill between the two countries, James freed all Catholics in prisons throughout the land, some four thousand of them. He had them delivered to Gondomar’s residence and the Count in turn provided them with free passage to countries where they could worship in peace. But when negotiations for the Spanish match broke down, Gondomar was recalled. His successor was refused permission to take over his residence and no more masses were allowed to be said in St Etheldreda’s.
During the Civil War, in 1642 Parliament requisitioned Ely House and Chapel as a prison and hospital, ordering that:
See the foundations now laying for a long street and buildings in Hatton Garden designed for a little town, lately an ample garden
By the time Bishop Wren was released from prison, the spacious garden was filled with streets and houses and the herb gardens, vineyards, saffron fields and meadows were all covered by a cheap housing estate. Six years later, St Etheldreda’s could have disappeared forever. It was in 1666 that Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:
September 2nd saw the fire as one entire arch of fire about a mile long. It made me weep to see it. The churches, houses and all on fire and flaming at once and a horrid noise the flames made and the crackling of houses
The Great Fire of London swept through the City and destroyed everything in its path until it reached St Etheldreda’s. Then the wind changed and the ancient church was saved. By the time the fire had burned itself out, two thirds of London were destroyed.