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The Duke, his magician and a windmill

Old Jewry is a street that runs north to south connecting the Guildhall to Cheapside. In the 1600s an Inn used to stand at the north end of the street known as the Windmill, there is not much known about the building except for its role in a rather bizarre occurrence that happened in the street in 1628.

Six years earlier in Worcester a man named John Lambe rose to prominence for his feats of conjuring and fortune telling and became something of an “A List” celebrity throughout the land for his magical feats.


Capitalising on his new found fame, Lambe came to London in order to appear at several Playhouses. During his time in the City he became close friends with George Villiers, the 1st Duke of Buckingham, who became his patron. This may have been a smart move on Lambe’s part financially but it did not enamour him to parts of the general population.


George Villiers

The Duke of Buckingham was a favourite and possibly the lover of King James 1st and was not generally liked by the ordinary Londoner. The majority saw Lambe as “the Duke’s Devil,” and they suspected he was exerting a supernatural influence over Villiers, who in turn influenced King James. At the time, Charles was particularly unpopular for his questionable military campaigns, lead by Villiers and his absolutist policies, A popular chant of the day went as follows:

Who rules the Kingdom? The King.

Who rules the King? The Duke.

Who rules the Duke? The Devil![

Possibly sensing some antagonism towards him, Lambe finished his shows and travelled the country performing his magic. It was not until 1628 that he seems to have returned possibly hopeful that the mood would have subsided, the mob however has a long memory.

By this time the Duke of Buckingham was even more unpopular than before due to several ill fought military campaigns and also rumours of corruption levelled at him by Parliament. During one of Lambe’s performance at the Fortune Playhouse it was reported that the sky took on a strange hue and there were several strange atmospheric disturbances causing Lambe’s audience to take fright, some hurriedly leaving the theatre.

The Fortune Playhouse

Word spread and a crowd gathered outside the theatre which became more vociferous in their claims that Lambe was the architect of these strange weather related occurrences. As the crowd got larger and more uncontrollable, Lambe fearing for his safety hurriedly left by a rear door and tried to make his escape into the relative safety of the City. However, he was seen and followed by a small crowd and in desperation ducked into the Windmill in Old Jewry looking for sanctuary.

The site of the Windmill Tavern (left)

Over the next few hours the word spread that Lambe was holed up inside the Windmill and the crowd increased rapidly all baying for Lambe’s blood. The frightened Landlord obviously fearing for his livelihood if not his own life took the decision that it was either him or Lambe and subsequently threw the hapless magician to the mob outside. Needless to say the crowd took their perceived retribution and Lambe later died of his injuries.

John Lambe attacked by the mob

In one of those twist that you find now and then, several weeks after Lambes murder, his friend and patron George Villiers was assassinated by a disgruntled army officer.

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