London has always had within her boundaries a great part of the whole population of this island. Today she has perhaps one-sixth, though today ever sprawling Greater London's boundaries are subject to debate. It is estimated that she never had less than one-tenth.
London not only held that strategic position at the first crossing of the Thames; not only could she, when attacked by land, draw supplies from the sea, and when attacked by sea hold against the invaders the chief high road into England; but she could, within her own walls, raise an army.
Thus, in the civil wars of England, from the struggle between John and the barons in the thirteenth century to the war between King and Parliament in the seventeenth, the support of London and her battalions turned the scale.
Yet it was in earlier wars in which she fought on the losing side that her right to be considered the head and sword of England was most clearly shown. When, at the beginning of the tenth century, after many years of raids and destruction, the chief assault of the Danes was made with the avowed aim not of plunder but of conquest, London alone remained unconquered.
Twice Sweyn Forkbeard attacked her and failed, and she only yielded when he held the rest of England. When his son Canute had been accepted as king by Wessex and had subdued the North, London chose Edmund Ironside, the descendant of Alfred. Twice Canute attacked her; twice he, in his turn, failed; while with only London behind him Edmund went out to recapture England. Half he did recapture, and it was only his death which gave Canute the whole kingdom.
London, again, was on the side of the defeated when, 40 years later, her contingent, with the privilege to fight round the King himself and his standard, met the Normans at Hastings.
In both these wars of that last century before England became one country under one Government, London failed; but these wars confirmed her place and power in England.Next page: Strategic Significance