Chronicles of the Mayors and Sheriffs of London 1188-1274. Originally published by Trübner, London, 1863.
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While, in spite of the ravages of time, we still possess a considerable amount of materials for enabling us to gain an accurate insight into the history of this country during the Middle Ages, so far as that history is purely political, or, in other words, centred around kings, and warriors, and ecclesiastics; it is equally the fact, and one not a little to be regretted, that there is a commensurate deficiency of means to enable us to become acquainted with the history of the middle and lower classes,—"the Commons of England,"—during the same period. It is from a sense of this deficiency, that the Translator has been induced to place the accompanying Chronicles in an English form before such readers as, taking some interest in the realities of social life in those dark days, may not possess the necessary leisure, opportunity, or qualifications, for reading them in the original Latin or French.
These interesting records of times long past, though, like other and better known Chronicles of the same period, dealing largely with the deeds and aspirations of the sovereigns and potentates who were living here from five to six hundred years ago, possess in addition the peculiar merit, that they disclose to us almost every item of information that has survived, as to the history of the English Capital during the same period; and that they incidentally enlighten us more, as to the status, rights, and usages, of the multitudes who were subsisting by trades and handicrafts within the walls of a great city in those days, than probably, the whole of our other Chronicles combined.
Many of these details—in the first of these Histories, more especially—are extremely curious, and present us with successive pictures, in comparatively minute outline, of the doings of a great and impulsive community of the Middle Ages, steeped in the universal ignorance, barbarism, and credulity of the day, prone to cruelty and bloodshed, ground to the earth by extortionate imposts, and writhing under a tyranny almost despotic. To enumerate a few only of the more prominent among the shifting scenes of metropolitan life in those days which its pages present:—we here witness the gatherings of the London populace in full Folkmote, whether to discuss their manifold grievances, or to celebrate the fiction of granting leave to the sovereign to visit his dominions beyond sea: the meetings of the citizens at the (fn. 1) Guildhall ever and anon, either to elect their officers, or to protest against tyranny and extortion without limit, the air resounding, we are told, with loud and boisterous shouts of "Ya, Ya," or "Nay, Nay" as the case might be: the trooping of the Londoners down to Westminster, women and men alike, by royal mandate, to witness their worthless sovereign, Henry the Third, assume the character (without the riska or responsibilities) of a Crusader: the habitual goings-out of Mayor and citizens to meet the King at Knightsbridge (Kniwtebrigge) on his return from Windsor, to salute him with what must have been but hollow greetings at the best: the ready answer of the citizens, "in countless multitudes," to the summons tolled out by the "Great Bell" of Saint Paul's, calling them to a work of pillage and devastation, so foul as the laying waste with fire the Earl of Cornwall's fair manor of Isleworth (Ystleworthe): the gatherings of the citizens, in attendance on their Mayor, at shortest notice, to do the King's biddings and behests, or to receive law at his hands, whether at the (fn. 2) New Temple, at Westminster, at Woodstock, or at Windsor: the rebukes, insults, and imprisonments, repeatedly experienced by the citizens at the hands of the Justiciars, or the ministers of the sovereign: the assembling of the citizens at the Exchequer, in attendance upon the King, and the consequent discussions about the contemplated change of coinage: the populace in eager hunt, from time to time, and on the most frivolous pretexts, for the lives and property of the greatly suffering Jews: the citizens, sick to the very death of the tyranny, the extortions, and the importunities, of their rapacious sovereign, upon watch and ward in support of the rising cause of the Barons: the outrages committed by the dregs of the populace, under pretext of supporting that good cause: the vengeance exercised by the sovereign on regaining liberty and unrestrained power after the Battle of Evesham, in the abject humiliation of the citizens, commencing at (fn. 3) Berkingecherche, continued at Staines, and consummated, in breach of his plighted word, in the bailey and keep of Windsor: the speedy transition of the populace from dread and despair to extravagant jubilation, on the birth of John, the short-lived firstborn of Prince Edward, the shops and (fn. 4) selds all closed, men and women, clerks and laymen, hastening away to Westminster to give thanks to God, the streets of the City resounding the while with dances and carols for joy, "as is the usual custom "on the (fn. 5) Feast of Saint John the Baptist:" the street-fights kept up night after night by the Guilds of the goldsmiths and the tailors, the bodies of the slain being thrown into the Thames: the arbitrary and illegal doings of the demagogue Mayors, Thomas Fitz-Thomas and Walter Hervy, and their adherents :— all these, with numerous other descriptive passages of a like character, are striking pictures of a great community, either doing or suffering, in some of our darkest days, in the Middle Ages even; for parallels to which, at so remote a date our other Chronicles are to be searched in vain, however much more important many of them may be in other respects.
As to the second of these works, the "French Chronicle"—the main interest of its contents, as being one of our earliest records compiled in illustration of the history of the City of London, lies in the same direction. Though comparatively brief and meagre in appearance, there could not, in fact, have been found a more fitting companion work to the "Chronicles of the Mayors and Sheriffs," both as to subject, date, and the pleasing simplicity of its details.
The Liber de Antiquis Legibus ("Book on Ancient Laws") from which the first of these Chronicles is translated, is the earliest collection of historical records now existing among the archives belonging to the Corporation of the City of London. It is a small closely written folio volume, partly in mediæval Latin and partly in early French, containing 159 leaves of parchment, paged continuously with Arabic numerals. When the volume was originally prepared, some of the pages were left blank by the Compiler, but have since been filled with matter of somewhat more recent date. Its present repository is the Record-Room in the Town Clerk's Office, at the Guildhall of the City of London.
The portion of the volume supplied (mainly in Latin, with occasional insertions in Norman French) by the hand of the original compiler, though composed probably from time to time at earlier dates, seems to have been written shortly before, or in, the year of Our Lord 1274, the second year of King Edward the First; the preparations made for his Coronation, on the 19th of August in that year, being the (fn. 6) last subject treated of in this part of the work.
Though abounding with information on a great diversity of other matters, the volume seems to have had its name, as remarked by the late Mr. Hunter in his Appendix to the Report (1837) of the Commissioners on the Public Records (p. 465), from the circumstance that it contains the oldest code of Ordinances for the government of the City of London, in the "Assize" of Henry FitzEylwin, its first Mayor; enacted in reference to the style and material of edifices and party-walls, and the rights of the inhabitants in relation to their immediate neighbours; as also, incidentally, many other particulars, elucidating the rights, privileges, and duties, of the civic authorities.
The Chronicle which, (in combination with the (fn. 7) "Additional Insertions") forms the original portion of the Liber de Antiquis Legibus, commences in the year 1188, when Henry Fitz-Elywin, of (fn. 8) Londenestane (London Stone), was elected the first of its Mayors; and is thence continued, year by year, to A.D. 1273, with (fn. 9) a few particulars relative to A.D. 1274; the names of the successive Mayors and Sheriffs being given, together with those of the Custodes (or Wardens) of the City, when, as was often the case, by an arbitrary and tyran- nical exercise of power on part of the sovereign (Henry III., more especially), the constitution of the City was suspended.
In this Chronicle many events of the time, both political and domestic, are entered, and much of its matter, in reference to the City of London more particularly, as already remarked, is to be sought in vain in any other of our mediæval records. The entries of events are few and brief in the earlier years; as having occurred at too remote a period, probably, to have attracted the attention of the Compiler, or come under his notice. The execution of William Longbeard (or Fitz-Osbert), in the reign of Richard I., is mentioned; but we are enabled to obtain information in reference to it from (fn. 10) other sources, in much more interesting detail.
The somewhat more circumstantial history of the Chronicle may be said to commence with an account of the arrest of Hubert de Burgh, at Brentwood, in 1232; in succession to which, the more remarkable passages bear reference to the seizure and burning of unlawful nets in 1236 (mentioned also on several occasions at later dates); a singular interview of Gerard Bat, the Mayor of London, with King Henry, at Woodstock, in 1240; the King's visit to the City, and public leave-taking of the citizens in 1241, when about to pass over into Gascoigne,—with various other instances of similar leave-takings; the remarkable dissensions in 1244, 5, between Nicholas Bat and Simon Fitz-Mary; the injustice inflicted upon the citizens of London in 1248, in compelling them, though sorely against their will, to close their shops and warehouses for fifteen days, and sell their wares only in the Fair at Westminster; the offences committed in the same year against the civic franchises by Simon Fitz-Mary, and his punishment; the summons of the citizens to appear before the King at Windsor in 1249; the oath of fealty made by the citizens to Prince Edward and the Queen, in 1252; the summons of the citizens in 1254, to make answer to the King for the escape of a prisoner from Newgate; the execution in London A.D. 1255, of eighteen Jews of Lincoln, on the charge of murdering a child, "in despite of the Christian faith."
About the year 1257, the Chronicle again changes its character, and begins to be much more full and circumstantial in its narrative. Among its more prominent contents about this period, we may reckon an interesting Letter to the citizens of London from Richard, Earl of Cornwall, the newly-elected King of Almaine (Germany), descriptive of his journey from England to his new dominions, his reception, his triumph over certain of his enemies, and his Coronation, at Aix; very similar, as Mr. Hunter has remarked (in p. 465 of the Report above quoted), to another Letter of the same date printed in Rymer's Fœdera; the serious results arising from the mysterious roll, sealed with green wax, found in the King's Wardrobe at Windsor, A.D. 1257; the Provisions of Oxford, enacted in 1258 by the "Mad Parliament," as the royalists—our compiler in the (fn. 11) number—derisively styled it; and the consequent wars between the King and Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, originally supported by the great majority of the English Barons. For the remainder of this reign, A.D. 1258-1272, as Mr. Hunter has remarked, no Chronicle has come down to us more (fn. 12) full or more authentic than this. Many of the most important transactions of the period took place in London, or its immediate vicinity; and we have here a narrative of them, combined with passing events more peculiarly belonging to the City's domestic history, evidently penned by the hand of a contemporary, and, as remarked in the sequel, there seems every reason to believe, a witness of, and actor in, many of the scenes which he describes.
The portion of the Liber de Antiquis Legibus, which may, with strict justice, be termed (fn. 13) "Additions" to the Chronicle above-mentioned, and consisting, for the most part, of matter which would not conveniently admit of being inserted in the body of the narrative, is evidently by the hand of the same compiler; and, to some extent, (as in (fn. 14) p. 194, for example,) of prior date in composition to the latter part of the Chronicle itself.
The "Later Insertions" (pp. 208-228) occur on various leaves in the volume, which were left blank by the original compiler, and extend from the earlier part of the reign of Edward the First to the 20th of Edward the Second. They are of a miscellaneous character, inserted here and there, without any regular system or order, in hands more or less difficult to be deciphered, written in corrupt French, of a Walloon or Picard complexion, and apparently, from the extraordinary manner in which the commonest English names and surnames are dealt with, by scribes of anything but English extraction. By way of recompense, however, for these aberrations, several curious (fn. 15) particulars are given in reference to the reigns of the first two Edwards, which, in all probability, are nowhere else to be traced.
Besides the "Chronicles of the Mayors and Sheriffs," the contemporary "Additions," and the "Later Insertions," translated in the present Volume, there is some other matter inserted on various leaves of the Liber de Antiquis Legibus, of less interest, and little or no value in a historical point of view; consisting of various extracts from the Gesta Regum Anglorum of William of Malmesbury; Catalogues, in Latin prose, of the Archbishops of Canterbury and their Suffragans, the Archbishops of York, and the Bishops of Durham, down to the beginning of the reign of Edward the First; Catalogues, in Latin verse, of the Archbishops of Canterbury, the Popes, and the Emperors, to the beginning of the same reign; the Statute of Marlborough; and a few other memoranda of an unimportant nature; all of which have been omitted in the present Translation, as having been evidently inserted in the volume for the private use of the Compiler in the way of general reference, and not as being in any sense illustrative of the history of the City of London.
As to the name and identity of the Compiler, it is impossible to speak with certainty, but there seem to be substantial grounds for believing that his name was "Arnald," or "Arnulf, (fn. 16) Fitz-Thedmar," an Alderman of London; the same personage, in fact, incidents in whose life are touched upon, in several instances, more or less at length, in the Chronicle and the "Additions,"—passages which will be found in pages 37, 39, 40, 46, 120, and 170, of the present Volume; as also, the singular story of his descent, parentage, birth, and persecutions (in the way of extortionate taxation), in pages 201-208; a narrative, we may fairly conclude, of so peculiar a nature and of so entirely personal an interest, as not to be likely to be inserted in a volume of national and civic history by any other than an individual occupying the most influential position in the compilation of the work. From a combination of these details, we learn that Arnald Fitz-Thedmar was grandson, by the mother's side, of Arnald de Grevingge, a citizen of Cologne; that his father was one Thedmar, a native of Bremen; that Arnald was born on the Vigil of Saint Laurence, the 9th of August, A.D. 1201; that he was Alderman of one of the Wards of the City of London; that he was a member of the small, but wealthy and influential, party in the City, that supported Henry III. (fn. 17) against Simon de Montfort and the Barons; and that he was in the number of the citizens marked, by Thomas Fitz-Thomas, the Mayor, and Thomas de Piwelesdon, for a proscription, which was about to be carried into fatal effect on the very day on which news reached London of the Battle of Evesham, which gave the death-blow to the aspirations of De Montfort and his supporters.
That Fitz-Thedmar was an Alderman of London, we learn from several of the passages already alluded to; but over which of the City Wards he presided, appears to be now (fn. 18) unknown. In addition to his Aldermanry, he would seem to have held some office under the Corporation, somewhat resembling that of Chamberlain, or Town Clerk, and for which he not improbably was indebted alike to his influential connexions, and to his support, in the face of no small peril, of the royal cause. We are led to the conclusion that he may have held such office by the fact, that in the last leaf of the Liber de Antiquis Legibus, there is a memorandum inserted (p. 227 of this Volume), to the effect that, in the year 1270 "the Chest of the Citizens" of London was in his custody, and that certain of the more valuable of the City archives were deposited therein. Not improbably, he may have resigned his Aldermanry on assuming this office.
At what exact date Fitz-Thedmar died, we have probably no means of ascertaining; but there can be little doubt that his decease took place early in the third year of Edward the First, from the circumstance that, on the Morrow of Saint Scholastica (10 February) in the third year of that reign (A.D. 1275), his will was read and (fn. 19) enrolled in the Hustings. We learn however but little from the written Enrolment, which is evidently a mere extract only from the will, in reference to certain lay fees, shops and cellars, belonging to him in the (fn. 20) City of London; which he leaves to Stephen Eswy, his kinsman (consanguineo meo), for the benefit of Fitz-Thedmar's wife, the said Stephen, and the Monks of Bermondsey. In this Enrolment, the name of his wife is (fn. 21) not given; but it seems not improbable that it was "Dionysia," from the fact that in folio 61b of Letter-Book A, preserved at Guildhall, one of the earliest of the City records, there is a memorandum to the effect, that on the Saturday after the Feast of Saint Matthias (24 February) in the 20th year of King Edward the First, certain damages for an assault were paid to Adam le Taylur and Dionysia, his wife, "who was formerly the wife of Tedmar the Easterling (le Estreis) ;" a name then commonly applied to Germans, and, in some instances, to persons of German extraction as well. If this surmise is correct, as Fitz-Thedmar died in his 74th year, and his wife contracted a second marriage and was surviving seventeen years after that date, there must have been, to all appearance, a considerable disparity between their ages. Beyond these meagre facts, despite very careful research, no allusion to him has been met with in contemporary documents; with indeed the unimportant exception of the Letter referred to in the (fn. 22) Note annexed, where his name is incidentally mentioned. In a Writ of the second year of Edward II. (A.D. 1309) printed in Madox's History of the Exchequer, mention is made of a "John Tedmar," as being one of the executors of John d'Armentiers, Alderman of Langbourn Ward; and who, it seems not unlikely, may have been a son of Arnald, the more especially as, in the narrative before referred to, the four brothers of Arnald Fitz-Thedmar are mentioned (p. 202) as having died in early life, and, to all appearance, without issue; while from four of his sisters who attained marriageable years, "sprang sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, and other kinsfolk, more than I can enumerate."
As to these sisters of Fitz-Thedmar, we are enabled to learn some few particulars, from the circumstance that the will of one of them, "Margeria, daughter of Thedmar, the Teutonic," and then widow of (fn. 23) Walter de Wincestre, was enrolled at Guildhall; the (fn. 24) Enrolment still existing there, and bearing date, the Monday after the Conversion of Saint Paul (25 January), in the sixth year of Edward I. (A.D. 1278). From the mention in it of her "niece Margeria, daughter of Ralph Eswy," we infer that another of Fitz-Thedmar's sisters was married to a person of that name; identical perhaps with the individual mentioned in the ensuing Chronicle as being Sheriff in 1234 and 1239, Mayor in 1241, 1242, and 1243, and as having died in 1246. From the same Enrolment we also learn, that a third sister was the wife of John de Gyzors, a member of a family of considerable influence in the City, and the same personage probably who is mentioned as filling the office of Sheriff in 1240 and 1245, which he resigned in the latter year for that of Mayor ; Mayor again in 1258; and, with Arnald Fitz-Thedmar and others of the royalist party, as being placed under proscription in 1264. From this source of information, we thus have reason to infer that Fitz-Thedmar was connected by marriage with some of the most substantial men of the City in his day.
How the Liber de Antiquis Legibus come into the possession of the Corporation of the City of London, is now unknown. It seems not improbable however, that it formed part of the bequest of Manuscript volumes left to the City in the year 1328 by Andrew Horn, Fishmonger and Chamberlain; the second item in whose will (written in Latin) is—"one other book, on the Ancient * * * of England," the noun substantive being omitted. Supposing the omitted word to be "Legibus," the book so bequeathed would bear much the same title by which the City volume in question is now, and probably always has been, known. On the other hand however, it appears at least equally probable, from the similarity of subjects, that the book so bequeathed is identical with one of the two manuscripts now bound up in one volume, and preserved at (fn. 25) Guildhall, under the collective title of "Liber Horn."
The original text of the Liber de Antiquis Legibus was published by the Camden Society in 1846, under the editorship of the late Mr. Thomas Stapleton; but without any attempt, by Notes, Glossary, or explanation, to trace its origin, illustrate its history, or elucidate its manifold obscurities. In preference to placing entire reliance upon Mr. Stapleton's rendering of the text, the present translation has been based upon a careful collation of it with the Latin and French of the original volume.
The "French Chronicle of London" is translated from the Norman French of the Cottonian Manuscript, Cleopatra A. VI.; of which volume it forms the latter portion, commencing at folio 54. From the nature of the handwriting (on small octavo leaves of parchment) and the fact that it ends at the 17th year of Edward III., we are justified in concluding that it was compiled in the earlier half of the fourteenth century; but by whom, or for what especial object, it is probably impossible to ascertain. The Chronicle has no name given to it in the Manuscript, but in the edition of the original French, published by the Camden Society in 1844, under the supervision of Mr. George James Aungier, it has "Croniques de London" for its title. No other copy, besides that in the Cottonian volume, is known to exist.
For the purposes of the present translation, the original has been at times consulted, though the French text has been ably rendered in the Camden volume. The Translator is sensible also, that it would be an unjustifiable omission on his part, were he to omit acknowledging his obligations to the Notes by which the text of Mr. Aungier's edition is so abundantly illustrated.
Among the more interesting portions of the narrative of the French Chronicle may be enumerated ; the Legend of Fair Rosamond,—though singularly (fn. 26) out of place,—in probably its very earliest form, before the additions of the clue, the dagger, and the poison, were thought of; the account of the repair of the Cross on the Clocher, or Belfry, of Saint Paul's; the alleged Miracles wrought at the Tablet erected by Thomas of Lancaster in that church; the celebration of his own interment by the Minstrel, Thomas Wade; the murder, by the London populace, of Walter de Stapulton (Stapledon) Bishop of Exeter; the early wars of Edward the Third, in prosecution of his claims upon the French crown; the details of the naval battle of Sluys, or Ecluse; the siege of Tournay, and the mention of the use of (fn. 27) gunpowder by the English, on that occasion, June 1340; the unexpected arrival of Edward in London at night (30th November 1340), and the disastrous results thereof to the Constable of the Tower, and several of the ministers; the seizure of the accumulated treasures of Sir John de Molins, at his manor of Ditton and in the Abbey of Saint Alban's; with various minor details of commensurate interest, the purport of some of which has probably not survived to us from any other mediæval source. The mode of dealing with names and surnames by the writer of this Chronicle is somewhat peculiar, but by no means so remote from the ordinary English standard as that which characterizes the "Later Insertions" in the Liber de Antiquis Legibus.
The present translation has been made throughout as literally, and as nearly presenting a reflex of the Latin and French originals, as, consistently with the possibility of its being readily understood, it could be made. This latter object carefully kept in view, it has been the endeavour of the Translator to preserve as closely as possible the quaintness of diction of the original works; and it is alike from this motive and from a wish to avoid what might, in strictness, be liable to impeachment of anachronism, that all names, both of persons and localities, have been allowed to retain the ancient forms awarded to them in the original, whether by English scribes or by writers of evidently foreign extraction; the means of at once identifying the name with its modern equivalent being given in a Note annexed: and this too, in many instances, ("York," the equivalent of the ancient "Euerwik," for example), more than once, or twice even; with the view of saving the trouble of reference to an Index to such readers, not imbued with a knowledge of our early nomenclature, as may be disposed to devote a few hours to the uninterrupted perusal of two curious records, —hitherto buried, in comparatively inaccessible volumes, under barbarous Latin and more uncouth French,—of the domestic incidents of times, about which, by the great majority of even well-educated persons, little or nothing is known.
The years of the Chronicles of the Mayors and Sheriffs, the reader should be reminded, are civic years, reckoning from the election of the Sheriffs at Michaelmas in each year: consequently, the occurrences mentioned as belonging to that year, will in reality often belong to the year following, according to the usual mode of reckoning the Dominical year. Hence it is that, (in page 1) King Richard the First is mentioned as reigning in the (civic) year 1188, though in reality he did not commence his reign until the 6th of July in the year of Our Lord 1189. In further illustration of this mode of reckoning,— the Battle of Lewes, which is entered (p. 66) under the civic year 1263, was fought on the 14th of May in the Dominical year 1264.