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The History of Canterbury

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The historical location of Canterbury is positioned on the Stour River , in the County of Kent in the southern reaches of England. Bronze Age settlers were here long before the Celts who lived here by the time the invading Roman Legions arrived and re-named it Durovernum Cantiacorum. They left their mark with the building of a temple, theatre, Roman Baths, and a high status building with intricate, Mosaic Floors, parts of which survive within the Roman Museum . To protect the location they built a wall which encircled the town that had proven to be a strategic location with the close proximity to London . When they finally left the settlement declined, the 6th Century became a turning point in history when St Augustine who had travelled from Rome to England's shores on the instructions of Pope Gregory had eventually persuaded King Aethelbert in accepting Christianity. With this acceptance the town prospered, and grew when King Ethelbert bestowed land, and saw the building of St Augustine's Abbey , and the Cathedral . This pivotal time also saw the appointment of the 1st Archbishop of Canterbury, which still continues today and has seen 103 Arch Bishop's appointed since St Augustine. Ethelbert had married a Christian wife, Bertha who was of French descent and although he had been a Pagan he had allowed her to pray in St Martin's Church built by the Romans which still survives today, and is claimed as the oldest parish church in England.

Peace reigned until the unwelcome presence of the marauding Danes who arrived in the 9th Century with much loss of life, and burning of the Cathedral in 1011 when townsfolk battled for survival. Soon after, England's shores saw the arrival of William the Conqueror in 1066 , he, together with his army marched and conquered the land, Canterbury was no different, and when he decided to build a castle to fortify the town he found little resistance. It was erected on the main Roman Road that journeyed from London to Dover which William had also successfully travelled with his army. Although little remains of the castle today, a true sense of power and scale is easily felt from the skeletal fragments which rise from the earth.

Henry II made his friend Thomas Becket the Archbishop Of Canterbury, however, this led to many arguments and disagreements, and it was whilst King Henry was in France that his comment was overheard by a few of his Knights when he had declared "will no-one rid me of this troublesome priest?" it was these few words that were to lead to the demise of Thomas Becket, for he was cruelly, and brutally murdered in the Cathedral in 1170. He was later to become a Saint, and was the reason thousands of Pilgrims journeyed from around the globe to visit his tomb which survived until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538. With the influx of many Pilgrims so was the need to care for those who became ill on the journey, this resulted in a hospital being built in the 12th Century.

The 14th Century heralded an unwelcome and devastating visitor in The Plague, or Black Death which scoured England and had not turned its back on Canterbury leaving death in its path, and it saw the burial of the Black Prince within the Cathedral. The 14th Century inspired the great literary prowess of Chaucer to come to the fore when he penned The Canterbury Tales . These stories which detail a string of events told by Pilgrims who travelled from London to Canterbury to visit Thomas Becket's tomb, the collection of these stories come alive in St Margaret's Church which has stood the test of time. The Tudor King, Henry VIII reeked havoc across the land in the 16th Century when he turned his back on Rome and exalted himself to the head of the Church of England with this came the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Nunnery and the Priory were emptied, together with the Abbey which had played an important role in Canterbury's past.

The 17th Century saw England gripped in Civil War , whilst Charles I was on the throne, he fought against Parliament in a power struggle. He thought that Kings held a God given right which should not be quashed, Parliament however, did not agree, and, when he raised taxes to a high level, married a Catholic princess and bestowed Laud as Archbishop Of Canterbury in 1633, he struggled with opinion as Laud tried to put in place religious reforms that were strongly opposed and his popularity declined. He battled against Parliament, and the Puritans who opposed his religious beliefs. Civil War raged until he was finally captured, tried, and executed with the charge of High Treason.

Canterbury prospered in the 17th Century when the population grew with the arrival of the Flemish and fleeing Huguenots, Silk Weavers who were forced to flee for their lives. They were welcomed here by Queen Elizabeth I who gave them the right to trade in Canterbury, many of their houses and cottages remain today. With them they brought the knowledge and skill of Silk Weaving which influenced the prosperity of the town. The 17th Century also saw the triumphant appearance of Charles II who rode through Canterbury on his return to power with the restoration of the Monarchy which had waited twenty years since the execution of Charles I .

1808 saw a new Prison open which replaced West Gate, which still stands today even though it was built in 1380 by the Archbishop Sudbury. This century also saw the building of Barracks that were home to soldiers preparing to fight in the Napoleonic War, and the emergence of an impressive railway.

The 20th Century saw a quarter of the city destroyed, and a tragic loss of life during the bombings of the Second World War in the raids which took place in 1942, and a Papal visit, the first since prior to the Dissolution of the Monasteries when Pope John Paul II visited the Cathedral during his first visit to England. Canterbury has filled the pages of history books with its past, and, with the influx of tourists for whatever reason, surely must secure its future.

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