|Subject:||Mayoral and shrieval elections at London|
|Original source:||Corporation of London Records Office: item 1: Liber Albus, ff. 3-6; items 2 and 3: Letter Book I, ff. 33, 54|
|Transcription in:||1. Henry Thomas Riley, ed., Liber Albus, Rolls Series, no.12, vol.1 (1859), 18-27; 2. and 3. Henry Thomas Riley, ed., Memorials of London Life in the XIIIth, XIVth, and XVth Centuries, London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1868, 560, 565-66.|
|Original language:||Latin (translations of 2 & 3 by Riley)|
|Date:||late 14th and early 15th centuries|
[1. Election and admittance to office of the mayor in the late fourteenth century]Concerning disturbances. How to take precautions against turbulent behaviour during the elections of mayor and sheriffs
At the time of the elections of the mayor and the sheriffs, since it has been the custom of old for a large mob to gather at the Guildhall, and since a gathering of the populace (as Solomon noted in Ecclesiastes, chapter 26) is a cause for concern for the reason that it can easily give rise to protests and disturbances, the mayor and aldermen have been accustomed for several days prior to the day of mayoral election (and likewise that of the sheriffs), and it continues to be their habit, to meet and consider together how to make the election proceed peacefully, without any popular protests or disturbances. To which end they nominated from each ward the more judicious and more reliable citizens, up to a number which they saw as sufficient, who were summoned expressly to attend the mayoral election on 13 October.
Because on election day a multitude of people who had not been summoned would throng into the Guildhall, the mayor and aldermen sometimes by the authority of their offices (as appears in ordinances on the last folio of [Letter] Book F), sometimes by king's writ would have it proclaimed throughout the city on 12 October that, under [threat of] severe punishment, no-one should come to the Guildhall the following day while the election was underway, other than those who had been specifically summoned; as appears on [Letter] Book D folio 3, [Letter] Book E folio 41, and [Letter] Book G folio 254. It is also found, as per [Letter] Book F folio 191, that on 11 October 1350 each alderman was sent a certain note by the mayor, ordering them, upon the loyalty they owed the king, to be at the Guildhall on the day set for the mayoral election, to summon 4 of the better men of their ward for the same business, and then to endorse the note with the names of those same.
Note that in ancient times the mayor was elected on 28 October. This was the case with the election of Thomas Romayn to the mayoralty in 1309; he was elected by the aldermen and by 12 persons from each ward summoned for that purpose. On the day after he was presented to and accepted by the barons of the Exchequer at Westminster, as appears in [Letter] Book D folio 2. The reason why the election was altered to another date is because of rising expenses and other factors, as appears in the next chapter.How at some point the commonalty claimed the sole right to name the mayor
In mayoral elections in this city often there arose disputes between the aldermen and the commonalty. In which the commonalty maintained that it belonged to them alone to nominate or elect the mayor, and thereby [play] a very important role in the city, after they had reached agreement in the east end of the Guildhall (that is, in the place where the sheriffs customarily hold their courts, the mayor and aldermen being seated at the west end, which is the location of the husting) as to whom they wished to put forward for election as mayor for the year coming. The aldermen however argued against this, pointing out that they were also citizens and [members] of the community of the city, so it would not be fair if, because of their special position that qualified them for their offices, they should be denied having a voice in the election of the principal lieutenant of the king in the city. Therefore it became the custom, by joint agreement of the aldermen and commonalty, that those commoners summoned for the election, after the recorder had on behalf of the mayor and aldermen declared to them the reason for their summons, would move to the other end of the hall (as mentioned above) and there nominate two aldermen who had already served as sheriff and who were fit to hold mayoral office. Having done so, they returned and, using their common narrator as spokesperson, delivered the two names to the mayor and aldermen, asking them to appoint to the mayoralty whichever of them they wished. The mayor and aldermen then, as one body, going up into the upper chamber, made the election by majority decision, under the supervision of the recorder and with the common clerk as scrutineer keeping a tally. Coming back down again to the populace in the Guildhall, they had their recorder make a public announcement who had been elected mayor for the coming year.
But it very often happened that when the mayor had governed well the commonalty willingly had him continue in the office [for a further term]. As evidenced by mayors who continuously occupied the mayoralty, such as: Andrew le Bukerell, seven years; Thomas fitz Thomas, four years; Gregory de Rokesley, seven years (that is, from 1274 to 1281 inclusive i.e. counting both the first and last); also John le Blount continued as mayor for 6 years, as is fully set out in [Letter] Book F at the end, where the [names of] mayors and sheriffs are listed. But note that in ancient times the mayors spent little or nothing, more for things related directly to the mayoralty than for other circumstances, [such as] for one or at most two sergeants-at-arms accompanying them in their retinues. To be precise, they did not then supply liveries, [and] on the day of their election they either walked through the streets or went by boat on the Thames to Westminster or the Tower, where they were charged and admitted.
As the costs and expenses associated with the mayoralty rose considerably, the citizens obtained upon request from King Edward II in 1319 [a grant] that the city mayor should not remain in the mayoralty more than a single year consecutively as appears in Liber Custumarum folio 201, and the chirographed charter [copied] in[to Letter] Book E folio 90. That clause also, some believe, which was petitioned for in view of the fact that previously some mayors held royal commissions that put them in office for an indefinite period, during the king's pleasure (which caused the people displeasure!); such was the case with Nicholas Farnedone, as appears in [Letter] Book E folio 146, and likewise Hamon de Chikewelle, as appears in [Letter] Book E folio 148.
As it is therefore not possible for the mayor of one year to continue on as mayor in the following year, unless perhaps he should be most insistently required to do so, and were also agreeable to it (he can by no means be compelled, under the franchise of the city, to thus subject himself to that burden for two years in a row), it has been the custom in the course of peaceful elections for the aldermen and commonalty, before they elect a replacement (while a sense of appreciation is still felt among the citizens), to commend the mayor for his good leadership. And, through their common narrator, to emphatically entreat him to take upon himself for the year following the burdensome office of mayor. When he determinedly refused to do so, the commoners would present the aldermen with two names of aldermen, not including the one then mayor (since they know that he cannot continue to occupy the mayoralty against his will), from which two men they [i.e. the aldermen] decided on the one they wished to have as mayor, as already indicated. Which decision being made, it was the custom for them to leave the Mayor's Chamber and go down into the hall in procession, leading by the hand the mayor for the following year. The mayor and aldermen taking their seats, the recorder would make a public announcement to the populace of the name of the mayor elected for the following year, and notify the people also that they should be prepared to ride with their mayor to Westminster on 29 October following, for the honour of the city. This being done, the mayor and aldermen would rise and leave the hall, with the populace following.
If the elected man was not present, the mayor and aldermen, with the sheriffs, were accustomed to go to his house, to inform him there immediately that it was required of him to prepare to take up the office of mayor, and to be at the Guildhall on 28 October following, for the purpose of taking his oath [of office], as had been the custom since ancient times. After which each of them returned to his own home.Concerning the mayor. The manner in which it is the custom for the mayor to take his oath at the Guildhall on 28 October
With the arrival of 28 October, the mayor and all the aldermen, dressed in gowns of violet, along with many of the commonalty were accustomed to gather around ten o'clock at the Guildhall. The common crier (that is, the sergeant-at-arms) calling for silence and attention, the recorder, seated on the right of the mayor, would read out to the people the ancient custom of the city, which is that on that day the mayor for the coming year should take his oath. It has then been his custom to praise the mayor for those achievements in which he has shown leadership; and if the mayor also wished to say something, he was heard. When that was done, the mayor would vacate his seat and the mayor-elect would step up to take it over; the former mayor would take the seat on his immediate left. Then the common sergeant-at-arms holding up before him the book with kalendar, marked on the outside with the symbol of a crucifix, the common clerk placing the mayor-elect's hand upon the book, he would read out to him what would serve on the following day as the oath [taken] in the king's Exchequer, in the form it appears in [Letter] Book D, first folio. Once he had promised [to uphold the oath] and had kissed the book, he would receive from the former mayor two pouches containing the seal of the Statute Merchant and the seal of the mayoralty. Attention would then be given to what the new mayor wished to say, asking for the support of his fellow aldermen, as well as the sheriffs and the reputable men of the community, in governing the city during his term of office.
This done, it was their custom to rise and go out, with the people following. A sword would be borne before the outgoing mayor, leading by the hand the incoming mayor, with the aldermen and populace following, until they reached the home of the mayor-elect. And from there the sword was carried before the outgoing mayor as far as his own home. No further public appearances were customarily made the same day by either mayor. However, in the event of an urgent need, the outgoing mayor might be required to exercise his office in public for the rest of the day, since he is not fully released from office until his successor as mayor is accepted in his place by the king, or the barons of the Exchequer, or the constable of the Tower.[How] the mayor should take his oath on the day after 28 October
On 29 October, so long as it is not a Sunday (if so, then the following Monday), it has been the custom for both the new and old mayors, together with the aldermen, dressed in a uniform style, the sheriffs, as many as are of the mayor's livery, and numerous of the craft gildsmen, in their costumes, to assemble on horseback on the plaza outside the Guildhall, around nine o'clock, a sword being carried point-erect before the mayoral nominee. From there they would ride together along Cheap, exit through Newgate gate, head down to Fleet Street, and from it come to Westminster.
When they arrived, the mayor, aldermen and sheriffs dismounted and, with the mace-bearers and the mayor's sword-bearer leading the way, went up into the place where the Exchequer is held, where there would be the chancellor, treasurer, keeper of the king's privy seal, and the barons of the Exchequer. With the mayor, aldermen and sheriffs standing at the bar, the recorder would announce that the city of London, based on ancient custom and its franchises, had elected N. as mayor for the year to come, and on behalf of the city would request the barons to accept [into office] the one thus elected, who was present in person. The chief baron, or his lieutenant (if preferred), would respond by putting in front of the mayor a book on which the latter placed his hand and repeated the oath he had sworn in the Guildhall. Following this, it has been the custom of the chief baron of the Exchequer, on behalf of the king and the lords, to charge the mayor to take the lead in preserving peace and tranquillity in the city, and also [in ensuring] to the best of his ability that in whatever places the sale of victuals occurs the people not suffer from excessive prices. After that it has been the custom for the outgoing mayor to present himself there to render account for his office of escheator; he too would take an oath, to render an accurate and honest account of [receipts and expenditures relating to] his office, and he would appoint whomever he wished to act as his attorney in rendering account.
Likewise, the mayor and aldermen, on behalf of the city, would appoint someone of the Exchequer as the city's attorney to claim and defend their franchises, if and when it became necessary. And so, having received approval from the lords, they would depart. The same thing was done for the Common Bench, appointing someone from that place as attorney of the city. At the King's Bench it has been the custom to appoint two attorneys, [to act] together or separately in claiming the franchises and ancient customs of the city, if and when necessary. All this being accomplished, they would return, preceded by the commonalty on horseback, organized in groups according to their craft gilds. Those who were of the same gild as the mayor, or who were of his livery, would ride immediately ahead of the mayor. The mayor himself would proceed separated from others by sufficient space; but ahead of him [would go] his sergeants-at-arms, mace-bearers, and his sword-bearer, while one sheriff [would ride] to his right and the other to his left, with white rods in their hands, and the recorder and other aldermen following immediately behind him. [The parade made its way] through the middle of the marketplace of West Cheap as far as his house; then all those not invited to the banquet went home.
That same day, after lunch, it has been the custom for the new mayor to go from his house to the church of St. [Thomas] of Acon, with those of his livery leading the way. The aldermen having gathered there, they would all go together to St. Paul's. After arriving, (specifically, at a point near the middle of church building, between the two lesser entrances) it has been their custom to pray for the soul of Bishop William who, it is said, at the request of the citizens of London obtained from William the Conqueror important franchises while a priest recites De profundis. From there they would cross into the cemetery, where lie the bodies of the parents of Thomas, one-time archbishop of Canterbury; and there, next to the parents' tomb, they would recite another De profundis for all faithful Christians deceased. From there they would return via Cheap marketplace, (sometimes carrying lighted candles, if the hour is late), to the same church [from which they departed], where the mayor and aldermen would each make an offering of a single penny. This being done, each of them would return home. And so the first day was completed, morning and evening.
Let it be known that if the king's Exchequer is not in London, or if the court is not in session, the mayor is to be presented to the constable of the Tower of London or his lieutenant. He is to be accepted and sworn outside the first gate. As was done in the case of Sir Nicholas Brembre, elected mayor on the day before Palm Sunday, 1376. Similarly, John le Blount was presented, accepted and sworn as mayor on [Sunday] 29 October 1357 by John de Blakbrok, lieutenant of Sir John de Sandwik, constable of the Tower, as appears in [Letter] Book C folio 112. This franchise is embodied in the king's charter.
[2. Restrictions on community participation at elections, 1404]
On Tuesday, the 23rd day of September in the 5th year etc., seeing that on the Day of St. Matthew the Apostle [21 September] last past, at the congregation of the Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council, in the Guildhall, for the election of Sheriffs for the coming year, such an exceeding number of apprentices and serving-men, belonging to citizens of the said city, as well as of other men, strangers to the freedom of the City, was, without any summons, assembled together in the said Guildhall; and so loud and so clamorous was their shouting, that the Mayor and Aldermen were unable to understand the reason for their noise; to the manifest troubling and disturbance of the Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council, there summoned; it was ordained and established that in future, as well at the election of the Mayor as of the Sheriffs, or other officers of the said city to be elected, no person, of whatsoever estate or condition he may be, shall presume to enter the Guildhall for the purpose of taking part in any election therein, unless he shall have been especially summoned and chosen to make such election, by the serjeants of the Mayor, Sheriffs, or Chamber, for the time being; on the pain that attaches thereto etc.
On the understanding also, that no one shall be summoned to any election hereafter, unless he be one of the more substantial men of the city, or one of the Common Council thereof.
[3. Mayoral election in 1406]
On Wednesday, the Feast of the Translation of St. Edward the King and Confessor [13 October], in the 8th year etc., John Wodecok, Mayor of the City of London, considering that upon the same day he and all the Aldermen of the said city, and as many as possible of the wealthier and more substantial Commoners of the same city, ought to meet at the Guildhall, as the usage is, to elect a new Mayor for the ensuing year, ordered that a Mass of the Holy Spirit should be celebrated, with solemn music, in the Chapel annexed to the said Guildhall; to the end that the same Commonalty, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, might be able peacefully and amicably to nominate two able and proper persons to be Mayor of the said city for the ensuing year, by favour of the clemency of Our Saviour, according to the customs of the said city.
Which Mass having in the said Chapel been solemnly celebrated, there being present thereat the said John Wodecok, the Mayor, John Prestone, Recorder, Nicholas Wottone and Geoffrey Broke, Sheriffs, the Prior of the Holy Trinity, John Hadlee, William Staundone, Richard Whytyngtone, Drew Barentyn, Thomas Knolles, John Shadworth, William Askham, Willam Bramptone, John Warner, William Walderne, William Venour, Robert Chychely, Thomas Fauconer, Thomas Polle, William Louthe, William Crowmere, Henry Bartone, and Henry Pountfreyt, Aldermen, and many reputable Commoners of the City aforesaid; the same Mayor, Recorder, Sheriffs, Aldermen, and Commoners, entered the Guildhall, where the precept of the said Mayor and Aldermen, as the cause of the said congregation, was becomingly set forth and declared by the said Recorder to the Commoners aforesaid; to the end that such Commoners should nominate unto the said Mayor and Aldermen such able and proper persons as had before filled the office of Sheriff in the City aforesaid; it being for the said Commoners to take no care which one of the persons so to be nominated should be chosen by the Mayor and Aldermen to be Mayor for the ensuing year. Which being done, the said Mayor, Recorder, Sheriffs, and Aldermen, went up into the Chamber of the Mayor's Court, within the Guildhall aforesaid, there to await the nomination of such two persons. Whereupon, the Commoners peacefully and amicably, without any clamour or discussion, did becomingly nominate Richad Whytyngtone, mercer, and Drew Barentyn, goldsmith, through John Westone, Common Countor of the said city, and presented the same.
And hereupon, the Mayor and Aldermen, with closed doors, in the said Chamber chose Richard Whytyngtone aforesaid, by guidance of the Holy Spirit, to be Mayor of the City for the ensuing year; after which, the Mayor and Aldermen, coming down from the Chamber into the Hall, to the Commoners there assembled, as the custom is, notified by the Recorder unto the same Commoners, how that, by Divine inspiration, the lot had fallen upon the said Richard Whytyngtone, as above stated.
And further, the said Commoners unanimously entreated the Mayor and Aldermen, that they would ordain that in every future year, on the Day of the Translation of St. Edward, a Mass of the Holy Spirit, for the reasons before stated, should be celebrated, before the election of the Mayor, in the Chapel aforesaid. And hereupon, the Mayor and Aldermen, considering the entreaty of the said Commoners to be fair, reasonable, and consonant with right, and especially to the glory and laud of God, and to the honour of the city, by assent and consent of the said Commoners, did ordain and decree that every year in future a solemn Mass with music shall be celebrated in presence of the Mayor and Aldermen; the same Mass, by ordinance of the Chamberlain for the time being, to be solemnly chaunted by the finest singers in the Chapel aforesaid, and upon that Feast.
The method of mayoral election at London was the reverse of that at York, where it was the mayor who nominated candidates and the commons who made the final selection from the nominees. But the effect was probably pretty much the same in either case, with the ruling elite exercising a significant degree of control over the choice of mayors. Even the nomination of two candidates by the London community may not have been the case much before 1406. On those rare occasions when we obtain a glimpse of process from the first half of the fourteenth century, it appears that the mayor and aldermen came up with their own nominee, in private, and presented it to the community for the acclamation that maintained the fiction of democracy.
Although the document of 1406 indicates that the commons were not expected to argue with the decision of the mayor and aldermen, this did not always prove to be the case. For example, at the 1441 mayoral election in London the commons nominated aldermen Ralph Holland, a tailor, and draper Robert Clopton. Holland had already become associated with popular opposition to the status quo and had in 1426, some years before becoming an alderman, been imprisoned for criticizing electoral procedures. This fact, perhaps complicated by a conflict between tailors' and drapers' crafts over supervision of the cloth trade, likely influenced the presentation by the mayor of Clopton as the mayor-elect; at which some of the commons (notably the tailors), dismayed, cried out: "Nay, nay, not this man but Raulyn Holland." [C.L. Kingsford, Prejudice and Promise in XVth Century England, Oxford, 1925, 108]. This protest was ignored, and the record of the election, in the Corporation's Letter Book, makes only a terse statement of the election of Clopton in the presence of a huge crowd of Londoners, giving no hint of the dissension, even though it got sufficiently out of hand that the leaders of the protest had to be arrested.
This riotous behaviour only resulted in the city authorities obtaining, just days before the mayoral election in 1442, a royal writ sanctioning future elections being strictly closed to all but those who were summoned by name, because of past disturbances; the writ not only declared that the election belonged to the aldermen and such other of the wiser and more prominent citizens as custom dictated (meaning those summoned), but also that if a mayor were chosen in any other way, the Exchequer would refuse to administer his oath of office. Public proclamation was made of the king's command. The election that October seems to have proceeded unchallenged.
The following year, however, artisan elements within the community decided to assert themselves once more. Negligence of the gatekeepers who apparently were expected to check names at the door was blamed for a crowd of lesser citizens entering the Guildhall on September 21, the date of the election of the sheriffs of whom one was chosen by the aldermen and one by the community representatives and other city officials. A proclamation was made that all those not specifically summoned should leave, but the uninvited Londoners refused to budge. When time came to elect the city chamberlain, the serving chamberlain John Chichele was nominated for re-election but the uninvited commoners shouted for William Cotisbrook. He was one of Holland's followers and, at the mayoral election the following month, would object to the royal writ restricting the electorate, putting forward the dangerous argument that a mayor had no authority over those who did not elect him. Upon being informed of the clamour, mayor and aldermen emerged from their upper chamber and remonstrated with the crowd for not preferring Chichele; Cotisbrook was clearly not a palatable choice from their perspective. A show being made of checking city records concerning electoral procedures, and it being determined that only those summoned had the right to vote, the mayor ordered everyone not specifically invited to leave. This apparently had effect, for the re-election of Chichele was then able to take place.
The manner of conducting elections and the question of who had a right to participate directly in them had been a matter of dispute indeed the subject of political conflict throughout the fourteenth century in London. Such participation was either broad or narrow, depending on which political party was in power at a given time. But a common problem faced by all was the conduct of elections in an orderly fashion. The political conflict of the early 1380s provides an instance of the concerns that may have given rise to the specifications above.
It was a common practice in many towns, particularly as the fourteenth century wore on and indirect election became increasingly common, for popular attendance at elections to be confined to representatives of the community. This was partly because of the impracticability of having all townspeople present once elections were moved into an indoors setting, but more as a guard against disorder, clamour or disruption of the elections. It also reflected a growing distaste among the ruling class for having the common people determine the outcome of elections. The language of the above passages itself betrays the writer's distaste for the lower class.
Various approaches were taken to restricting participation in elections. The type of solution chosen at London, of first selecting a limited number of representatives of the "common people", and secondly having them nominate two or more candidates from which the borough rulers would make the final choice, was one adopted in a number of towns, often with the London model in mind. The representation principle was in effect in London by 1293, although it is not inconceivable that in the early days of the mayoralty the folkmoot was the electoral venue. Another option for limiting the role of the community was to have the borough rulers nominate a limited number of candidates, with the commonalty making the final selection.
In 1385 it was enacted that nominees for the mayoralty could only be chosen from those who had already served as sheriff, on the grounds that this office provided an initiation into city government and tested an individual's administrative abilities. Those who did not acquit themselves satisfactorily could, even if chosen alderman by a ward's residents and then nominated as mayor, be prevented from achieving the mayoralty by the final selection that mayor and aldermen had from the nominees. An underlying motivation for the qualification may also have been to discourage resistance to holding the shrievalty, a burdensome obligation that a citizen was not called upon to perform more than once. The mayoralty could also be a costly office, and those who were elected more than once tended to be the wealthier aldermen. In 1435 the requirement was added that nominees be aldermen.
The emphasis on experience is reflected also in the listing of the aldermen in the account of the 1406 election. We clearly see here an intentional cursus honorum such as is visible at Lynn and other towns: following the Prior (whose status warrrants him the courtesy of being first-named), the aldermen who had previously been mayors are named, in chronological order of when they first held the mayoralty; then come those who had served as sheriff but not yet as mayor, again in chronological order of when they held that office; and finally, an alderman who had not yet held the shrievalty. The character of the aldermannic group is suggested through the biographies in the notes, below [most are based primarily on J.S. Roskell et al., eds. History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1386-1421, Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1992].
In an earlier period of the mayoralty, the change of regime election and installation in office occurred on the same day, October 28. This would have been no problem for mayors re-elected to subsequent terms, but the lessening of that tendency may have been one factor in the need for an interval between election and taking up office, to allow the mayor-elect time to prepare and for an orderly transfer of duties. So in 1346 the election was moved to two weeks prior to assumption of office; not until the reign of Henry VIII was it changed to Michaelmas (September 29).
We can see a developed ceremonial built into the election, public presentation, and oath-takings of the mayor. The introduction of a mass into the proceedings from 1406 was in line with this trend. Ceremony was designed in part to demonstrate social hierarchy while at the same time cementing social solidarity. At the same time, there was concern about the burgeoning costs of ceremonies surrounding the elections. In 1389 the city authorities agreed that, when the sheriffs went in procession to the Exchequer for their swearing-in, they should go on foot or by water, so that the men of the craft gilds who accompanied them did not have to bear the cost of hiring horses; it was further agreed that new liveries need not be bought for the occasion. In 1397 the Grocer's Company, which had several of its members among the aldermen and was one of the principal sources for sheriffs and mayors, decided to cut back on feasts celebrating such elections; it set a limit of 12s. expenditure, confining the fare to bread, apples, beer and wine.
Nonetheless, increasing emphasis on ceremonial was one of the characteristics of fifteenth century political life. It served to imbue offices (particularly that of mayor), and thereby the office-holders, with more dignity, with a view to commanding more implicit obedience from the citizenry. In the early days of the mayoralty (early thirteenth century), not only at London but at other towns who aspired to a chief executive of that type, a mayor's authority derived from him being the chosen leader of the community. Once the choice of leader became restricted to an elite, there was necessarily greater reliance on other ways of legitimizing authority.
"charged and admitted"
"Hamon de Chikewelle"
"book with kalendar"
"someone of the Exchequer"
"Common Bench" "King's Bench"
"Prior of the Holy Trinity"
"by Divine inspiration"
|Created: May 27, 2003. Last updated: October 31, 2014||© Stephen Alsford, 2003-2014|