Great Fire of London of 1666

“So near the fire as we could for smoke; and all over the Thames, with one’s face in the wind, you were almost burned with a shower of firedrops.” Samuel Pepys

Conspiracies and Historical Context

In the annals of history, the Great Fire of London in 1666 stands out as a pivotal moment of transformation, not just for the city it ravaged but also in the way it intertwined with the broader political and religious narratives of the time. While officially recorded as an accident stemming from a bakery on Pudding Lane, the fire’s outbreak and ferocity have sparked numerous theories suggesting deliberate intent, all against the backdrop of a Europe grappling with the consequences of the Peace of Westphalia and the throes of nation-building.

The Catalyst of Conspiracies

The aftermath of the Great Fire saw the rise of speculation and conspiracy, with fingers pointed in various directions, including a notable accusation against the Catholics. This accusation was not unfounded in the minds of many, given the recent memory of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, where Catholic conspirators sought to blow up the Protestant House of Lords. The timing was crucial; Europe was in a state of religious upheaval, with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 having ended the Thirty Years’ War, a conflict deeply rooted in the Protestant-Catholic divide. This treaty, while establishing a “new world order” of sovereign states, failed to completely quell religious tensions, setting the stage for the fire to be perceived as a continuation of these deep-seated state conflicts.

Divine Retribution or Calculated Sabotage?

Among the more spiritually inclined, the fire was seen as divine retribution, a punishment from God for the city’s and by extension, the nation’s, sins. This interpretation was bolstered by the date of the fire, which some saw as symbolically linked to the end times, fueling apocalyptic fears. The year 1666, with its triple sixes, was ripe for such associations, playing into the hands of those who viewed the calamity as a harbinger of the apocalypse. This theory, while not directly suggesting human conspiracy, implied a divine orchestration that could have been interpreted by the devout and superstitious as a sign to return to a more pious way of life.

The Treaty of Westphalia and the Fire: A Connection?

The Treaty of Westphalia, having redrawn the religious and political map of Europe, inadvertently set the stage for the Great Fire to be seen in a broader context of nation-building and statecraft. In a period marked by the consolidation of state power and the delineation of national borders, the fire’s destruction offered an unprecedented opportunity for the rebuilding of London, not just physically but also as a statement of the emerging modern state’s capability to rise from its ashes.

The rapid redevelopment and modernization of London in the aftermath, led by figures like Sir Christopher Wren, could be construed as part of a larger, albeit more constructive, conspiracy towards the nation-building efforts of the time.

The City of London, often simply called “the City,” is a unique entity within the United Kingdom. It occupies a square mile within the greater metropolis of London and holds city status in its own right, separate from the wider city around it. This distinction is not only geographical but also historical and administrative, making the City of London a kind of “city within a city.”

The City of London’s Unique Status

The City of London’s unique status dates back to medieval times. It has its own governing body, the City of London Corporation, which is distinct from the wider London government led by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly. The Corporation is ancient, with roots that predate the Norman Conquest of 1066, and it enjoys a range of privileges and responsibilities not found in other British local authorities. These include the management of its own police force (separate from the Metropolitan Police), and its own representative in the form of the Lord Mayor of London, who is distinct from the Mayor of London.

The City’s political and economic influence grew from its status as a center of commerce, especially during the medieval and early modern periods. Its autonomy was often protected through specific charters granted by monarchs, and it has maintained a degree of independence from royal and parliamentary authority throughout history.

The Great Fire and the Emergence of “The State Within a State”

The Great Fire of London in 1666 decimated the City of London, destroying thousands of homes, businesses, and landmarks. In the wake of this disaster, there was an urgent need for reconstruction and modernization. The rebuilding efforts led by Sir Christopher Wren not only transformed the City’s physical landscape but also its administrative and governance structures.

Some theories suggest that the fire was deliberately started as part of a political conspiracy to modernize the City and reinforce its status as a financial and political powerhouse. According to these theories, the fire provided a pretext for radical urban renewal, including the implementation of new building codes and the creation of streets and structures that would better serve the City’s commercial needs. The rapid redevelopment served to solidify the City of London’s position as an economic center, distinct from the rest of London and the UK more broadly.

Conspiracy Theories and Historical Evidence

While there are conspiracy theories suggesting the Great Fire was started intentionally for political reasons, there is no concrete historical evidence to support these claims. The fire is widely accepted to have begun accidentally in a bakery on Pudding Lane. However, the event’s aftermath undoubtedly accelerated the process of urban development and modernization in the City.

This period of reconstruction following the Great Fire can be seen as a pivotal moment in the City of London’s evolution into a “state within a state.” It reinforced the City’s autonomy and its critical role in the economic and political life of Britain. The unique governance structures, privileges, and legal status that the City of London enjoys today are a direct legacy of its long history, of which the Great Fire is a significant part.

In conclusion, while the City of London’s status as its own “state” within the UK is not a direct result of the Great Fire, the event significantly impacted its development and the consolidation of its unique position. Theories of political conspiracies surrounding the fire reflect the transformative nature of this event in the City’s history, highlighting the interplay between disaster, urban planning, and political power.

The Symbolic Date: Fueling End Time Fears

The choice of the date, whether by accident or design, played into the eschatological fears of an era that was no stranger to apocalyptic prophesies. In a society where numerology and symbolism held significant sway, the year 1666 was fraught with ominous implications. For those affected by the fire, the destruction of their city, combined with the symbolic weight of the date, could have been seen as a divine message, urging repentance and reform.


While the Great Fire of London is officially recorded as an accident, the fertile ground of 17th-century religious, political, and social tensions gave rise to a myriad of conspiracy theories. From accusations of Catholic plots to divine retribution, and the speculative connections to the Treaty of Westphalia and nation-building efforts, the fire remains a subject of intrigue. It underscores the human tendency to seek patterns and meanings in calamities, especially in times of great change. The symbolic resonance of the date 1666 further amplifies the fire’s impact, intertwining it with the apocalyptic fears and the transformative processes of its time.