POLITICS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval London politics mayor election political conflict factionalism arbitration taxation warden folkmoot rebellion fines
Subject: A disputed election
Original source: Corporation of London Records Office, Liber de Antiquis Legibus, ff.132-33
Transcription in: Thomas Stapleton, ed. De Antiquis Legibus Liber. Cronica Maiorum et Vicecomitum Londoniarum. Camden Society, vol.34 (1846), pp.148-53.
Original language: Latin
Location: London
Date: 1272


Let it be remembered that during the term of John Horn and Walter le Poter as sheriffs (whose names are listed three folios further on in this book), when on 28 October, as customary, the citizens of London gathered in the Guildhall to elect a mayor, the aldermen and the more judicious citizens wanted to elect Philip le Taillur, but the rabble of the city opposed that choice and made an uproar, crying out "No! No! We won't have anyone as mayor except Walter Hervy!" (who had been mayor on a previous occasion). And, contrary to the wishes of the others, they used their force of numbers to install him in the mayor's seat. The aldermen, along with many of the judicious men who supported them, lacking the power to resist such a large multitude, too many to number, at once took off for Westminster to see the king and his council. Walter Hervy likewise set off for the same destination, taking with him the populace and promising them, as he had done at an earlier time, that he would look after every one of them throughout the term of his mayoralty, keeping them free of any tallages, exactions, or tolls, and that he would acquit the city of all its debts, whether owed to the Queen or to anybody else, as identified in the rolls of the city chamberlains as arrears.

What he referred to as "arrears" related to a major tallage imposed by the assent of all citizens, and were [sums of money] released and remitted, by writ of the king sent to Sir Alan de la Souche at that time warden of the city, to those citizens who had been assessed amounts higher than they had the means to pay towards levies previously made to pay the king to redeem the city. Which release and remission was made by sworn men of the same locality and trades as those to whom the remission was given; as such, it was openly and explicitly recorded in the rolls of the city chamberlains, which rolls are [an official] record. Furthermore the king had recently written to the mayor and sheriffs of London on behalf of some of those [seeking remission], to have the rolls scrutinized and, if their names were included in the enrolment, that they should not be harassed, or be allowed to be harassed, contrary to the tenor of that record.

Notwithstanding these enrolments and the orders of the king, the mayor strove to extort large sums of money from those citizens, consistently making promises to the populace as mentioned above and assuring them that he would keep his word. The people in return, believing that what he promised was the truth, supported him and agreed to whatever he wished of them; so that a great multitude of men, by the hundreds and thousands, too numerous to count, followed him at his command, on foot and on horseback.

To continue what was said above, on 28 October when the aldermen and their supporters came before king and council, they laid before them serious complaints about how the populace had used force to interfere, violently and unjustly, with an election [being carried out] by those to whom the right of electing the city mayor and sheriffs belongs more than to anyone else, and has always belonged according to custom. They respectfully requested the king and his council that the king take matters into his own hands, to prevent these people – who were calling themselves "the commune of the city", and were excluding the aldermen and the more judicious citizens – from an uprising in breach of his peace and jeopardising the peace of the kingdom, just as had come about in the time of the Earl of Leicester. That is, when Thomas fitz Thomas and Thomas de Pullesdon had so raised [the power of] the city populace above the aldermen and more judicious men of the city that, when occasion required it, the latter were unable to bring people to answer to justice; in consequence of which, as is notorious throughout the whole world, a deadly war came about in England.

The populace, however, offered no rebuttal to this but instead raised a great outcry in the king's hall – so that the noise of it reached the king, who lay in bed suffering from a serious illness – repeatedly chanting "We are the commune of the city! To us belongs the election of the mayor of the city! Our explicit wish is that Walter Hervy, whom we have elected, be mayor!" Against which the aldermen presented many arguments for the election of the mayor belonging to them, both on the grounds that they the aldermen are like the heads while the people are like the limbs, and that it is the aldermen who are the judges of pleas held in the city. Whereas, [they argued,] many members of the populace have no lands, rents, or houses in the city, are the sons of various mothers, are some of them of servile condition, and all of them care little or nothing about the well-being of the city.

The populace, however, still carried on its chanting. The members of the king's council, not wishing to provoke either the aldermannic party or the popular party [to further commotion] that would disturb the king, who was in a weak condition, dismissed them until the following day and told Walter that he should not come to the court with such a great multitude of people, but only with ten or twelve men at most. They having received these instructions, everyone returned to the city.

But Walter, caring nothing for the orders given him by the king's council, immediately after breakfast sent out to everyone in the city, except those who were supporters of the aldermen, a summons in the name of the king – although the latter could have known nothing about it – and on penalty of a heavy fine [for defaulters], for everyone to follow him. And so on that following day a vast number of people accompanied him, on horse and on foot, to Westminster. Entering the king's hall, they offered no arguments but, just as on the previous occasion, raised a chant in the words: "We want Walter Hervy for our mayor, because no-one in the city is so suitable to govern us." The aldermen were also there, hoping for a ruling from the king and his council. The councillors told the aldermen and the others, Walter's supporters, that they themselves ought to have reached a unanimous agreement on who they wanted to be their mayor in the city, and that if they presented such a person to the king, the king would admit him to the mayoralty. The populace maintained its chanting, as described above. But the parties could obtain no other answer answer from the king or his council for several days.

Nonetheless, the aldermen and their adherents, as well as Walter with the multitude whom he summoned every day under the same penalty and in precisely the same way as was mentioned above, continued to go to Westminster on a daily basis until 11 November.

It should be noted that when Walter realized he was being criticized by some people because of his desire to be mayor of the city – they saying "No-one who covets executive office should be allowed to have it, since such a person focuses only on his own advancement and not at all on the betterment of those he governs" – he defended himself against that charge to those of his people standing around him. With an oath in the name of God and on his own soul, he assured them that he had no desire to be mayor or hold other executive office in the city for his own sake, but that out of love for God and for the benefit of others he was prepared to take on the burden and undertake the work involved, so that he could support the poor people of the city against the rich, who wished to oppress them though tallages and expenditures made by the city.

On 11 November the members of the king's council, seeing that nothing was to be gained by dragging out this matter further, called before them the aldermen and also Walter and his associates, and told them: "The king wishes to preserve intact all your liberties; since you cannot agree together on the election of one person as mayor, it is his wish that both Walter Hervy and Philip le Taillur be removed from the mayoralty and that you have a warden chosen by us, who can on my behalf keep custody of the city for the benefit of myself and that of my son, Edward. From this moment on, Henry de Frowick is appointed warden of the city, to hold that office until 13 January next. Although if at any time the citizens are prepared to reach unanimous agreement on a mayor, they may present him to the king and the king will be pleased to admit him to the office, removing Henry from the wardenship of the city."

Following this, certain members of the king's council – that is, Walter de Merton and others – came into the city and over several days held discussions with the aldermen and Walter, with a view to restoring peace and harmony. As a result of which it was agreed by all parties that five men be chosen on behalf of the aldermen and five on behalf of Walter, and that whomever they elected would be mayor for that year.

The names of those chosen by the aldermen were John Adrian, Walter le Poter, Henry le Waleys, Henry de Coventre, and Thomas de Basinge.

The names of those chosen by Walter Hervy were Robert Gratefige, Robert Hauteyn, Alan le Hurer, Bartholomew le Spicer, and Henry de Wynton.

However, these arrangements agreed upon were not put into effect, as indicated by what is written below.

Let it be noted that certain malicious men, inspired by the Devil it was said, proposed that as soon as the king was dead they should rise up against the aldermen and their supporters, and plunder all their goods and possessions to be found in the city. Their thinking was that they could do this with impunity while the kingdom was without a king. In this they were wrong, for upon the death of the king the kingdom passed to his son, the Lord Edward; and once everyone in the kingdom had pledged their loyalty to him, then (as is well known) anyone under his lordship who in any way might breach the peace would be just as subject to a commensurate punishment as would have been the case had his father still been alive and ruling. However, those evil-minded persons were forestalled from carrying out their evil acts. For, immediately following the king's death, on 17 November the Archbishop of York, the Earl of Gloucester, and many other lords of England who were present [at court], came into the city and had a proclamation of peace made, towards everyone, Jew or Christian. Afterwards they went to the chamber of the Guildhall, where the aldermen and Walter, along with a vast number of people, had gathered. Learning of the disagreement between the aldermen and Walter, and seeing that Walter had such a large following among the people, the Earl wished to allow Walter to take up the mayoralty, to avoid any disturbance of the peace in the city. But the aldermen told him that the matter had been put to the arbitration of ten men (as mentioned above). However, the Earl, dismissing the arbitration solution, ordered that on the following day, a Friday, the folkmoot should assemble in the cemetery of St. Paul's at the cross there, and whomever the majority of citizens agreed to elect should remain as mayor that year.

So that following day everyone in the city came into St. Paul's cemetery. The Archbishop, the Earl, Robert Burnel, Walter de Merton, and many other magnates also came to St. Paul's and, going into its chapter-house with the aldermen, advised them to agree to the election of Walter as mayor, since it was only for a year, to avoid further troubles in the city. The aldermen, seeing that this was the will of those great men, and that there was no alternative for them at that point, agreed to this. Walter was called into their presence and was told what had been decided. Then, under orders from the Archbishop, the Earl, and the other magnates, Walter took an oath that he would not, for the duration of his mayoralty, harass or allow to be harassed anyone who had opposed his election. As a result, Walter de Merton, standing by St. Paul's cross, announced to the entire populace that the aldermen had agreed to Walter being mayor that year.


This extract comes from a chronicle suspected to have been written by Arnold fitz Thedmar. The reason for the attribution is because the chronicle incorporates a detailed story of the birth and descent of that man, along with other extracts from his life history, particularly complaints about him being taxed unfairly and rebuttals of various charges brought against him. Fitz Thedmar was a wealthy city alderman, in his 70s by the time of the events surrounding Walter Hervey's mayoralty; the original part of the chronicle extended only to 1274 – fitz Thedmar dying in late 1274 or early 1275 – but was continued by later writers. A brief mention of the fact that he had, during part of his career, custody of city archives has led to speculation that he may have been town clerk at some point – which would support the possibility of his authoring a chronicle; however, custody of archives could also point to a camerarian role. The author of the chronicle is clearly in opposition to Hervey, which would again be consistent with authorship by fitz Thedmar. We probably owe the detailed account of the political struggle between Hervey and the aldermannic party to the fact that Hervey was pursuing alleged tax debtors such as Fitz Thedmar.

As one involved in politics and with the wealth to afford books, fitz Thedmar may well have had access to Brunetto Latini's political treatise written just a few years before the events of 1272; extracts from Latini dealing with the appropriate qualities of city governors were, around this time or a little later, inserted into a volume of memoranda that found its way into the city archives. It is possible we see the influence of Latini in the reference to the head/body metaphor and the warning against those who covet office, a concern that seems well enough established within the populace that Hervey felt the need to deny self-interested power-seeking; on the other hand many of the points made by Latini likely reflected viewpoints pre-dating his time, works in the "mirror of princes" genre having been around since the ninth century. Certainly Fitz Thedmar's own political attitudes are strongly reflected in the chronicle, and are probably fairly typical of those of the conservative faction in the city's ruling class. Another example of this is in a passage describing the populist administration of Thomas fitz Thomas in 1262/63:

Let it be noted that this mayor, during the term of his mayoralty, so indulged the city populace that, calling themselves the "commune of the city", they had gained the primary say in city affairs. For all business that this mayor brought to a conclusion was done on their say-so, he asking them, "Do you wish that it be done this way?" and, if they replied "Ya! Ya!", then so it was done. The other side of the coin was that the aldermen or the great men of the city were consulted little, if at all, on such matters – almost as if they didn't even exist. As a result, the populace became so carried away with itself and self-important that, at the time of the national conflicts mentioned above, they formed themselves into companies, of hundreds and thousands, bound by oath to stand together, on the pretext of preserving the peace – although they themselves were clearly the ones disturbing the peace. For whereas the barons had taken up arms only against those who infringed the statutes mentioned above, and plundered their property, but this in full light of day, the others by night broke into the houses of the Cahorsins and others in the city who were no enemies of the statutes, and used violent force to carry off goods they found in those houses, as well as doing many other illegal things. As for the mayor, he gave them a half-hearted slap on the wrist.
[De Antiquis Legibus Liber, 55]

The forceful expression of popular will at the mayoral election of 1272 traces its roots back a decade to precisely the national crisis that gave rise to the chronicler's complaint above, a crisis which led to Simon de Montfort rallying his supporters and, with a large contingent of London infantry in his army, defeated the king's forces at Lewes. The city was divided in its loyalties, with much of the aldermannic class royalist, but the populace along with a few radicals and newcomers among the city patriciate favouring Montfort's rebels; this side-taking in the national contest was complicated by long-established rivalries in local politics. With the Montfortian party dominant in London, the traditional mechanisms of city government – the aldermannic council and the husting court – were displaced by mayor and folkmoot in a revival of old ambitions associated with the commune. Gwyn Williams [Medieval London, from Commune to Capital, University of London, 1963, ch.8] has shown that the backbone of the opposition to the patriciate came from crafts whose social and economic stars were on the rise – such as the fishmongers, cordwainers, and goldsmiths – and who were predisposed to hasten the process (as per Hoffer's theory of revolution) by acquiring similar advance in the political sphere.

Through 1264 the London forces helped de Montfort maintain his party's control in England; his reliance on urban support is reflected in the first invitation to towns to send representatives to parliament the following year. In late summer 1265, de Montfort's defeat and death at Evesham shattered the hopes of the populist party in London. The city surrendered to Henry, who took his vengeful feelings out on friend and foe alike in the city; just to be a Londoner was a crime sufficient to warrant persecution. The city's jurisdiction was also subject to depredations, and the city was placed under the control of a royal warden late in the year, with aldermannic authority re-established. By the beginning of the following year, Henry was satiated and offered the city a pardon, at the huge cost of £13,332. Meanwhile the royalist patricians who had suffered under the commune were pursuing their own revenge. In 1267 social tensions reached a breaking point; a popular rebellion took control of the city for two months, until the king reasserted himself.

The huge fine the city had to pay to regain the king's favour, and free itself from wardenship, began to be raised through local taxations, while Henry took advance payment of more of it in forced loans from individuals, supposed to be repaid by the city from its debt. There were complaints from royalists (including fitz Thedmar) that they were being particularly targeted in the assessments, and being over-assessed; they obtained a commission of enquiry, and some subsequently obtained releases from further payment. Objections by their opponents, who urged that the royalists be obliged to pay their "arrears", resulted in a second commission of enquiry in 1269. This however helped provoke a reaction from the royalists leading to the banishment of many Montfortians from the city; only after which, along with a new gift of money to the king and an increase in the city fee farm, did Henry restore the city liberties in 1270.

This was the backdrop to Walter Hervey's rise to power. His origins are obscure, and he was probably a first-generation immigrant to London. By the 1250s he was mixing with aldermannic society but himself had no prominence. In 1265 he was appointed the king's bailiff to oversee the city (under the constable of the Tower) while local government was suspended; later that year he was made alderman, when the king allowed the aldermen back into power, and from 1267 he served as the king's escheator in the city. The importance thus gained was sufficient to justify his election as mayor in 1271, despite his high-handedness which was making him enemies among his fellow aldermen. A further royal commission to look into the "arrears" was appointed in July 1272, with Hervey a member; he went after the men who had purchased exemptions. The aldermen were therefore not inclined to keep him in the mayoralty, when the 1272 election rolled around.

The aldermannic faction, by raising the spectre of the revolutionary commune that had tended to appear during times of civil war, and ramming this home by the subsequent reference to de Montfort, calculated that fear would incite the king to action; the perspective of the Londoners, part parochialism part self-importance, is evidenced in their preparedness to attribute national civil wars to local factionalism. However, Henry III's health was failing rapidly and his heir was absent abroad; the preoccupation of the court with Henry's health may have inhibited a fast response.

The decision by the king's council to pressure the aldermen into accepting Hervey was motivated by the well-orchestrated campaign that he ran to demonstrate his popular support, itself obtained by his platform of cracking down on the privileges of the established elite (notably their use of influence to avoid the "arrears"), and by the wish to avoid any civic disturbances at the time of transition of power to the new king. Hervey's re-election as mayor represented a revival of the spirit of '63. Rebels banished in 1269 returned to London. Notwithstanding his promise of immunity to his opponents, he proceeded to pursue the matter of the "arrears". He also kept operations of the husting court, the power-base of the aldermen, to a minimum – the chronicler attributing this to the fact that Hervey was himself being sued in that court regarding property acquired during the confiscations that resulted from the national power-struggles. And he strengthened the position of several craft gilds by giving civic authorization to charters they had drawn up to govern their crafts.

Hervey's enemies brought charges of bribery, fraud, and misgovernment against him, perhaps not all without foundation, and his popular support waned sufficiently that the aldermen were able, without opposition, to elect Henry le Waleys as his replacement in 1273. Waleys moved against the popular movement: imprisoning returned rebels, charging Hervey's sheriffs with corruption, and – despite rallies organized by Hervey to protest it – having the gild charters annulled. When Waleys moved to clear out of Cheapside the clutter of stalls leased there by butchers and fishmongers, Hervey again organized protest marches and led one to an invasion of the Guildhall. After clearing it with the king, Waleys responded by bringing all sorts of charges of misgovernment against Hervey, from both his mayoralty and his time as king's bailiff. He deposed Hervey from his aldermanry, bringing his political career to a close.



"John Horn and Walter le Poter"
They were sheriffs in 1272/73.

"three folios"
In fact two folios as we would count them; three folios including the one on which the note was made.

"Philip le Taillur"
A mercer, with a lucrative business selling wine in particular to the royal court, he married into the family of London's first mayor. He had been alderman since 1260, and was one of those who benefited from the reductions in taxation assessments. After the failure of his candidacy in 1272, he never held the mayoralty, but continued as alderman until 1292, when he died.

In the original, vulgus, hence disparaging references elsewhere to the "vulgar people". Use of this kind of attitudinal terminology is another reason to suspect that the author is a member of the urban ruling class.

"of the same locality and trades"
The point the chronicler is trying to make here is that the men who recommended the remissions of the taxes were those best qualified to know what were the financial resources of those seeking remissions. The fact that the author is so anxious to justify the exemptions suggests that he was one of the beneficiaries.

"Thomas fitz Thomas"
A draper member of the patriciate, first elected mayor in 1261, despite association with the London administrations that had been in conflict with the king during the '50s. He was re-elected for the subsequent three terms and so was in office when de Montfort returned to raise his banner of revolution in England, in 1263. Fitz Thomas threw his support in with the de Montfortians, leading the populist party against the aldermannic party in London. He was supported by Thomas de Puleston, a newcomer to London who had married into one of the more radical families of the patriciate and probably had direct connections with de Montfort's party. The two men organized the populace into a militia grouped into units of a hundred and a thousand – possibly explaining the chronicler's use of these terms – to hold the city. After the collapse of the rebellion, fitz Thomas was imprisoned briefly and his family impoverished after all his property was forfeit, while Puleston was left in prison until 1275, dying a couple of years after his release.

The head/body metaphor was an established political doctrine to rationalize the aristocratic form of national government, in the same way that the Church used a soul/body metaphor to argue for the supremacy of the spiritual over the secular authority.

"sons of various mothers"
I can only assume this is intended to connote bastardy, or insignificant parentage; certainly it is denigrative.

"servile condition"
This would appear to refer to the populace, not the mothers. Again it is not clear whether the reference is to the presence in the mob of household servants, or whether the defamation relates to villein status. Regardless of whether these were actually the arguments used by the aldermen, they reflect the disdain that at least some of the members of the urban upper class felt for the rank-and-file townspeople.

The original, prandium, was a general term that could refer to breakfast or the midday meal. If we take into account the amount of time taken on the 28th by the election itself, the march to and from Westminster, and the time spent before the council, I am inclined to think that the summons must have been given after breakfast on the 29th, with a view to gathering Hervey's supporters for the march.

"presented such a person"
The Londoners were required to have the mayor-elect ratified by the king, and swear an oath of allegiance. In many other towns something similar was required in regard to the overlord of the city or his representative.

"executive office"
The original is ballivam; it was the mayor and sheriffs who held the equivalent of a ballivalty.

"for the benefit of others"
More literally, "motivated by charity".

"tallages and expenditures"
This was the classic complaint in political conflicts between rulers and ruled in urban settings: that the former incurred excessive expenses without approval of the latter, and covered the costs by taxes on the citizenry.

"Henry de Frowick"
A citizen, later (if not already) an alderman. The appointment of a royal warden was always a slap in the face for the city as it removed a degree of independence of city action, subjecting it instead to closer royal scrutiny. This taking of the city liberties into the king's hand was often used at this period as a way of punishing the citizens for failing to maintain law and order themselves.

"Walter de Merton"
The king's chancellor from 1261 until 1263 (when removed by the rebel barons) and re-appointed upon Edward I's accession in 1272. In 1271 he was described as a "justiciar", which may explain his selection of this mission, although it could also have been related to the fact he held a large estate just north of London (Finsbury). Best remembered as the founder of Merton College, one of the first colleges of Oxford university.

"chosen by the aldermen"
All these electors were members of the ruling class.

"chosen by Walter Hervy"
His electors included two men who had supported the Montfortian party, and three royalists.

"without a king"
Technically, Prince Edward would become king at the moment of his father's death, but there was usually a gap of a few days before the successor could receive oaths of fealty; in this case Henry III died on 16 November, and Edward's reign commenced on 20 November, when Henry was buried and oaths of fealty were given in Edward's absence (he did not return from the Holy Land for several more weeks).

This ancient popular assembly traditionally met in St. Paul's churchyard; whether it had met on the same site before St. Paul's was built is unknown. A compilation, made around the time of Magna Carta by unknown author, of national laws and city customs, include a list of proposed reforms of which one was that the mayor should be elected annually by the folkmoot; it is not certain whether this was a response to the multi-year term of office of Henry fitz Ailwin, or whether it reflected some more ancient custom of the folkmoot choosing local representatives. King John's concessions to the barons were parallelled by grants to the citizens in May 1215 that included the right of annual election of a mayor, on condition each mayor-elect take an oath of loyalty before the king.

The original Latin term, conventiculas, has conspiratorial connotations.

The Provisions of Oxford, a set of constitutional and administrative reforms which the baronial party imposed on Henry III in 1258, with a view to giving them greater say in the government of the realm. The king's counter-coup in 1262 freed him from the confines of the Provisions, but de Montfort returned from exile the following year to try to effect the restoration of the Provisions. Eventually the attempted limitations on monarchical initiative failed, but some reforms survived to be incorporated into the Statute of Marlborough (1267).

Foreign residents from Cahors in southern France, their links with that rich trading area had helped them become important financiers in London by this time; but they were becoming increasingly unpopular due to usurious moneylending, in which they would eventually take over the role earlier played by the Jews. Foreigners and Jews were frequently a target when there were outbreaks of mob violence in the city; this occasion provides one instance.

main menu

Created: May 27, 2003. Last update: October 31, 2014 © Stephen Alsford, 2003-2014