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A Brief History of London

Although there is evidence of Celtic habitation on the north bank of the Thames, in many ways London begins with the Romans, who established the settlement of Londinium in AD 47 as an outpost of the Empire (before those pesky Celts, led by Queen Boudicca, returned and burnt it to the ground 17 years later). The Saxons came and stayed for a while, as did the Vikings, and by the time the Normans turned up in the 11th century, London was already established as the most important city in England. William the Conqueror began building the palace that was to become the Tower of London, which by Tudor times was known as the world's most forbidding prison, and where two of Henry VIII's six wives were executed. During the Middle Ages, powerful guilds that nurtured commerce took root in the capital, followed by the foundation of great trading companies, such as the Honourable East India Company, which started up in 1600.

London's history has often been one of disaster and renewal. The Great Fire of 1666 spared only a few of the cramped, labyrinthine streets upon which the Great Plague had delivered such devastation the previous year. Yet the gutted wastelands ushered in an era of architectural renaissance, led by Sir Christopher Wren. Further punishment would come during the Blitz of World War II, when German bombers destroyed many buildingsā€”but yet again London rebounded. As always.

Updated: 2014-07-28

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