A motley collection of pikemen and ploughboys stood ready to fight them off. Queen Elizabeth rallied the troops with a famous speech: ‘I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.’ A note of the speech still exists.
Once used for jousting, Horse Guards Parade has more recently been the centre of British Government. The old brown Admiralty building lies in the left hand corner. The white Horse Guards building in the middle used to be the headquarters of the British army. The trees on the right mark the garden of No 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s official residence.
Just before lunchtime on Sunday, 25 November 1781, the duty clerks at the Admiralty were quietly dozing at their desks when a messenger arrived from the port of Falmouth, in Cornwall. He brought terrible news – news so awful that the Prime Minister would have to be told at once.
Nobody wanted to be the one to break it to him. The message travelled halfway around London before someone was at last persuaded to take it across the parade ground to No 10.
As predicted, Prime Minister Lord North received the news very badly, ‘as he would have taken a ball in his breast… He opened his arms, exclaiming wildly, as he paced up and down the apartment during a few minutes, “O God! It is all over!” – words which he repeated many times under emotions of the deepest consternation and distress.’
HISTORIC LONDON: X MARKS THE SPOT. Question 3. What was this terrible news?
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