London has a very long history that reaches all the way to the prehistoric ages. The history of London is divided into eras. There are even legendary accounts of London’s history.
Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his work Historia Regum Britanniae (“History of the Kings of Britain”), relates that London was founded by Brutus of Troy in the Bronze age. The name of the town was supposedly Troia Nova (“New Troy”). The name was later corrupted to Trinovantum, in reference to the Trinovantes, a tribe that inhabited the locale before the Roman occupation. The town was renamed to Caer Ludein by King Lud.
The interesting legends of kings and towns proved to be pure legend, as intensive excavations of London failed to provide any evidence of major settlements that agree with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s writings. Prehistoric relics, ancient signs of homes and burial grounds, and agricultural lands have been found, but nothing significant and of a great scale as described in historical accounts.
In 43 AD, the Romans invaded the area and established a town called Londinium. The name is derived from the old European word Plowonida, which roughly translates to “the wide flowing river.” Londinium therefore means “settlement on the wide river.” This recent finding disproves the story of King Lud. The oldest discovered relic from this period, a wooden drain that was excavated near the main Roman road, dates back to 47 AD, and this is the accepted foundation date of the Roman settlement. The Romans built a walled fortress, the London Wall, around the region that would later become the present-day City of London. Because of that area’s strategic location on the Thames, the fortress served as a defense for the port town. They also built the first bridge across the Thames.
Around 50 AD, London was a thriving civilian settlement. In around 57 AD to 60 AD, Londinium was invaded by the Iceni tribe in a revolt led by the British queen Boadicea. This was a direct result of the Roman procurator Catus Decianus’ seizing of the estates of Iceni ruler Prasutagus, who was Boadicea’s husband. Much of Londinium was destroyed by fire. The walled fort in the City of London area was the headquarters of the Roman defense against the British invaders.
Not long after the invasion, London recovered. By 120 AD, London had reached a population of about 60,000. The city became the capital of Britannia, or Roman Britain. Despite the city’s growth, it fell into decline. By 410 AD, the Romans officially ended their occupation and the citizens were left to fend for themselves. Without any official protection, London was completely abandoned by the 5th century AD. The Roman era of London’s history came to an end.
By 600 AD, Anglo-Saxon settlers discovered the strategic position of London on the Thames River. An Anglo-Saxon settlement was founded some distance away upriver from the walled City of London. It was named Lundenwic (“London settlement”). This marked the beginning of the Anglo-Saxon era.
Modern day excavations of the area suggest that the Anglo-Saxon settlement had grown extensively, covering an estimated 600,000 square miles. It is believed that, in the 9th or early 10th century AD, the focus of settlement had returned to the original City of London, which had been named Lundenburh (“London Fort”) from Lundenwic. The exact reason for the settlement shift is not clear, but the walled fort around the City of London made for better defenses against Viking invaders from the north.
In 886, Alfred the Great appointed Earl Æthelred of Mercia as governor of London. London grew and flourished, thanks to thriving trade routes to other towns in northwest Europe. The city government gave special attention to the trading class, and London was regarded as a small autonomous kingdom making its own laws.
The Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror began in 1066 with the Battle of Hastings. William sought a path to enter London. Unable to easily cross, he forded the Thames upriver, and made his way to London. The rulers of London, Edgar Ætheling, Edwin of Mercia, and Morcar of Northumbria surrendered at Berkhamstead. William assumed rule of London but granted the English a charter. The charter recognized previous Anglo-Saxon rights, laws, and privileges. As a result of the charter, the English retained some authority in the City of London. Shrewd William, to protect himself against any possible uprising by the English, built the Tower of London, Baynard’s Castle, and Montfichet’s Castle – three defensive structures in the city of London.
In around 1097, William Rufus, the son of William the Conqueror, began the construction of Westminster Hall.