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King Canute

King Canute

King Canute 995-1035
Canute was a Viking King of England. By the start of his reign, (1016-35), London was Britain's largest commercial centre. London's wealth was such that on Canute's accession it was taxed 10,500 pounds of silver - nearly five tons of bullion, and one-eighth of the total for the whole of England. King Canute is chiefly remembered for his inability to halt the rising tide. Canute is said to have placed a throne on the beach and demonstrated to his fawning courtiers the limits of a king's power by failing to turn back the sea and getting his feet wet. This story has become distorted in some accounts to suggest that Canute believed he could command the sea and was, therefore, surprised when his feet got wet.

J. Chapman (engraver): J. Wilkes (publisher), 31 July 1802
© National Maritime Museum, London


Dick Whittington

Dick Whittington

Dick Whittington 1397-1423
Everybody knows the story of Dick Whittington’s highly romanticised ‘rags to riches’ tale of a boy and his cat going to London to seek his fortune. The real Richard Whittington became a successful medieval mercer, dealing in valuable imports such as silks and velvets. He played a prominent role in the Mercers’ Livery Company, and was three times Master of the Company. He was eventually appointed Mayor of London on four separate occasions.

R. Elstrack (engraver), 1397-1423
© National Maritime Museum, London


Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I 1533-1603
Elizabeth I is considered one of the country's most successful and popular monarchs. Clever, enigmatic and flirtatious, she rewrote the rules of being Queen. She also had many connections to the port of London. Elizabeth was born at Greenwich Palace and she knighted Francis Drake aboard the 'Golden Hinde' in Deptford after his circumnavigation of the globe.

John Bettes the Younger, c.1570
© National Maritime Museum, London


Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys 1633-1703
Pepys’s is known for his diaries, covering a period of ten years. They give an unrivalled insight into London life in the 1660s. He also had a close association with the sea. In 1660, he began his service under the patronage of Lord Sandwich, his cousin. He was initially Clerk of the Acts, and from 1686-88, was Secretary to the Admiralty, where he created a modern state department out of an archaic office. He left the Admiralty in February 1689, after his patron, James II, had fled the country, and William and Mary came to the throne. He was also a Master of Trinity House.

Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1689
© National Maritime Museum, London


I K Brunel

I K Brunel

IK Brunel 1806-1858
Isambard Kingdom Brunel worked with his father, Marc Brunel, to build the Rotherhithe tunnel under the River Thames. The contract for building Brunel's giant steamship 'Great Eastern' went to John Scott Russell’s yard at Millwall. Brunel was faced with a series of difficult engineering problems to overcome on this project and his ship was not launched until 30 January 1858. By this time, the strain of the work had damaged his health. Brunel died on 15 September 1859 and was buried at Kensal Green cemetery.

Robert Howlett 1831-58, 1858
© National Maritime Museum, London



National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory GreenwichNew Opportunities Fund