It had been a long, hot summer in 1666 and the city of London was crowded with overhanging wooden buildings that were tinder dry. Legend suggests that someone was a little careless in a bakery on Pudding Lane, although the baker swore in court that his fires had all been put out that night. At the time blame was laid on French or Dutch conspirators and it was also suggested that it was a Papist plot. Titus Oates blamed Jesuit priests for setting fire to the city. And after an investigation into the cause of the fire a French Protestant watchmaker, Robert Hubert, confessed to having deliberately started it and was hanged at Tyburn.
But other people accepted that it was an ‘act of God’. There was a strong east wind and the fire spread. It burned for several days and at its worst it reached St Paul’s Cathedral where wooden scaffolding caught fire followed by the timber roof beams. The lead of the roof melted and flowed down Ludgate Hill. Stones exploded from the building and within a few hours the Cathedral was a ruin.
Within the Cathedral, was the body and tomb of Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln, who died on 5th February 1311. Henry de Lacy was buried in St Dunstan’s Chapel in St Paul’s. His monument was described as ‘an elaborately ornamented altar tomb on which was a recumbent armed effigy of the earl, with hands placed in the attitude of prayer, a lion at the feet, and angels supporting a pillow for the head‘.
Luckily this drawing had been made of the tomb in 1656 by artist Wenceslaus Hollar.