Book 1, Ch. 2: The Conquest to King John

A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by R Baldwin, London, 1773.

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'Book 1, Ch. 2: The Conquest to King John', in A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark, (London, 1773) pp. 21-37. British History Online [accessed 14 April 2024]

In this section


From the Norman conquest to the accession of king John.

After the battle of Hastings, Edwin and Morcar, earls of Northumberland and Mercia, being arrived at London from the fatal field, with the remnants of the army, proposed to the citizens the setting up of Edgar Atheling, grandson of Edmond Ironside, for king, as the most effectual measure to extricate themselves and nation from their present state of confusion, and to save the kingdom from becoming a prey to the Norman invader. But in the present consternation, the citizens were divided in opinion; some thinking it more for their interest to deliver up the city to the Conqueror, lest they should exasperate him by resistance, to their destruction. Their determinations were hasty, unadvised, and ill conducted; but Stigand, archbishop of Canterbury, proclaimed Edgar king; and endeavoured to encourage the citizens of London to resist the Normans.

William lost no time after his victory, but marched directly toward London to deprive his enemies of all opportunity for deliberation. The citizens fallied out upon him; and, though they were soon repulsed by five hundred Norman horse with considerable loss, convinced the Conqueror, that they were not disposed to a submission. To warn them of the fate that might attend their own city, he laid Southwark in ashes, and marched to reduce the western counties. In the mean time, says Rapin, the clergy in London prevailed upon the citizens to submit to the Conqueror: upon which defection of the citizens, the two brave brothers, Edwin and Morcar, retired into the north of England to provide for their own safety.

When the citizens had concluded upon yielding to the duke of Normandy, Stigand, the primate, with divers of the bishops, repaired to Beorcham, or Berkhamstead, where they made their submission, and swore fealty to the Conqueror: and, before he came within sight of the city, the chief of the nobility, and Edgar himself went to his camp, and acknowledged him as their sovereign.

William was no sooner apprized of the city of London's submission, than he hastened his march thither; where he was received by the magistrates and citizens; who not only presented him with the keys of their city, but in conjunction with the nobility and prelates then present, desired him to accept the crown. The capital city having thus declared for the Conqueror, the rest of the kingdom thought no longer of making resistance; and William having thus gained possession of the capital, caused a fortress forthwith to be erected, which he strongly garrisoned to awe the citizens; while preparations were making for the ceremony of his coronation, at the abbey of Westminster (fn. 1).

As Stigand had taken so active a part against him, William refused to receive consecration at his hands, and appointed Aldred, archbishop of York, to officiate at that ceremony. Aldred administered the coronation-oath to him, by which he engaged to protect the church, to administer justice, to repress violence; and to govern the Normans and the English by equal laws.

Every thing now tending to tranquillity, William by a mixture of resolute behaviour and lenity, so pacified all appearances of discontent, that he ventured to visit his Norman dominions; and at his return from thence, in the second year of his reign, was received into London with a solemn procession. After this, at the intercession of William, a Norman bishop of London, he granted a charter to the citizens in their own language; a great favour at a time when the French tongue began to be the prevailing language. This charter consists of four lines and a quarter, beautifully written in the Saxon character, on a slip of parchment of the length of six inches, and breadth of one, which is preserved in the city archives as a great curiosity.

The seal of this charter is of white, and being broken into divers pieces, they are sewed up carefully in a silken bag. On one side of it is the Conqueror on horseback; and on the reverse, he is sitting in a chair of state. The rim of the seal being almost gone, the only letters remaining, are M. WILL. but the writing of the charter is still very fair, and No. I. in the Appendix is an exact transcript of it (fn. 2).

Another charter in the Saxon language, consisting of three lines finely written on a slip of parchment, of the length of fix inches and a half, and breadth of three quarters of an inch, is carefully preserved in the same box with the first charter above specified. The seal of this charter is also of white wax, and preserved in a silken bag; but is so much defaced, that all that can be made of the impression it bore, is something resembling a gate with some steeples or spires. However, the writing of the charter is very fair, and may be found in the Appendix, No. II.

This latter charter is conceived in such brief terms, that it does not even point out the persons to whom the grant is made! It is also observable, that neither of these charters is dated; but William, the bishop, to whom they are both directed, died in 1075. Mr. Hume, after Dalrymple (fn. 3), indeed says, that the famous charter, as it is called (No. I.) of the Conqueror, is nothing but a letter of protection, a declaration that the citizens should not be treated as slaves. But even this was a considerable immunity at a time when all who were not possessed of land, were considered in that capacity: beside, domestic policy was not as yet so far improved, as to call for much precision in the terms of public deeds. What enhanced the value of these charters was, that they were granted at a time when the feudal system obtained a firmer and more extensive establishment, by the settlement of the Norman barons in England, under the military tenure. But we shall soon see that, by our insular situation, by industry and commerce, this barbarous plan gradually gave way to a different system, introduced by a more general diffusion of property.



London received a considerable check in the year 1077, by a fire, which laid it almost totally in ashes; and two years afterward, the king built the Tower of London, probably where the fort abovementioned stood, to secure the fidelity of the inhabitants: the surveyor of the work was Ingulphus, bishop of Rochester. Another fire laid it in ruins, together with the cathedral of St. Paul, in 1086; but, by the vigilance of Maurice, bishop of London, the cathedral was restored in a more noble and elegant manner than England had hitherto seen.

It was in this year, 1086, that the celebrated Doomsday-book, written on vellum in Latin, and still existing in the Exchequer, was compleated by order of William the Conqueror; being a survey of all the lands in England held in demesne, as well in Edward the Confessor's time as his own (fn. 3). By this book, according to Dr. Brady, it appears, that cities and towns, were then but in a very low state, and were promiscuously called either the one or the other. The early immunities possessed by London, might possibly be the reason that it was not comprehended in this survey; which was also the case of Winchester. This book is esteemed a most valuable treasure, from which many useful and curious particulars are gathered, respecting tenures, boundaries, corporations, and manors, with the state and condition of the various classes of people at that time, not elsewhere to be met with.

In the reign of William the Conqueror, the parish church of St. Mary in Cheapside, was built; and being the first church that was built with arches of stone, it obtained the name of St. Mary de Arcubus in Latin, or St. Mary-leBow, in such English as was then in use. For the same reason, the first arched stone bridge, erected at Stratford, four miles eastward of London, gave name to that village of Stratford-le-Bow; which being now much increased, is distinguished into two, by the names of Bow and Stratford (fn. 4).


On the death of William the Conqueror in 1087, his second son William Rufus, or the red haired, under the sanction of his father's destination, took possession of the English crown; seized his father's great treasure at Winchester, and was crowned by Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury; his brother Robert succeeding to the duchy of Normandy.


A most terrible hurricane happened in the month of November, 1091, which blew down above 600 houses in London, several churches, and even damaged the Tower of London, so lately built by William I. but the most surprizing event was, its taking off the roof of the church of St. Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside, which was carried a considerable way; and when it fell, it was with such violence, that, by report, four of its rafters, of six-and-twenty feet in length each, were forced into the ground above twenty feet deep! To give credit to this relation, we are told, that London was not then paved, and that the ground was of a moorish nature. As it was in the same year, it is likely that it was during this storm, that London-bridge was carried away by a great flood.



Two years after A.D. 1093, another fire destroyed a great part of the city: and these calamities, instead of meeting with any alleviation, were farther increased by the vast sums of money levied by the king in 1097, from all parts of the kingdom, toward the carrying on his works at the Tower of London, Westminster, and in building a new bridge.


By an extraordinary high tide or swell of the sea in 1099, the river Thames overflowed its banks in divers places near the sea so violently that several towns and villages were laid under water, and part of the lands, fomerly belonging to Godwin, earl of Kent, were swallowed up by the sea: By which disaster, those dangerous sands were formed, ever since called Godwin's sands.

The accidental death of William Rufus afforded his young brother Henry, then in England, opportunity to secure possession of the regal power. He seized the royal treasure at Winchester, and, hastening to London, got himself suddenly acknowledged king, and immediately assumed the exercise of royal power. It was this king who granted the third charter to the city of London; for having usurped the crown, in prejudice to Robert, his eldest brother, he well knew how difficult it would be to secure himself upon the throne, without the assistance of the Londoners. To engage them therefore to support his government, he conferred the advantageous privileges on the citizens, that are contained in the charter, Appendix No. III.

By this charter the citizens were relieved from several oppressive laws which were inconsistent with the freedom which commerce requires. They were eased of the tax called Danegelt, which had been imposed on the nation by Ethelred to defray the charges of repelling the Danish invasions, and to raise the money with which he meanly purchased temporary cessations of their inroads. Taxes are not easily relinquished even when the occasion ceases, and the kingdom at large continued to pay the tax of Danegelt, until the reign of Henry II. They were also freed from trials by battle. The judicial combat at that time was practised all over Europe; and, being considered as an appeal to Providence, was received as one of the happiest modes of deciding the truth of disputed facts, and even abstruse points of law. No one could decline the challenge; priests, women, minors, and infirm persons, not able to handle arms themselves, were obliged to produce champions to maintain their causes. The judge himself was not exempted; for if any party accused him of perverting justice, and threw down his gauntlet, the judge could not without infamy refuse to accept the defiance. The practice was with great difficulty discouraged; a trial by combat was appointed in 1571, but queen Elizabeth interposed and prevented it: another instance occurred so late as the reign of Charles I. but was also accommodated without bloodshed (fn. 5). Prisoners at the bar are still questioned how they choose to be tried, though there is now but one answer, and no choice remaining. Another clause freed the citizens from the arbitrary power of the portreve, who had authority to quarter the king's domestics at discretion upon the citizens.

The privileges of the corporation of London being thus defined and established, instead of being exposed to the arbitrary caprices of the prince; the citizens reduced their municipal customs, which had as yet only subsisted by prescription, into written laws. Trade began to assume a systematical frame, and the artisans and retailers, after the custom of the free cities of Italy, formed themselves into fraternities or guilds, of which we shall have occasion to speak more at large hereafter (fn. 6). As yet however the king retained the appointment of the portreve or chief magistrate of the city in his own hands.



Early in this reign A.D. 1102. a national synod was held at St. Peter's Westminster, by archbishop Anselm under the king's licence, and in the presence of the temporal barons, for the regulation of ecclesiastical matters, and the better government of the clergy. Celibacy was enjoined, and simony condemned; but the clergy not conforming to the decrees relating to celibacy, another synod was held six years after, in which it was again strongly ordered. On this subject historians give us a merry anecdote; for we learn that the priests still not caring to be deprived of their wives, pope Calixtus sent over cardinal John de Crema to suppress this enormity. A synod was held by him in 1125, which enacted severe penalties on the marriage of priests: and the cardinal in a public oration declared it to be an unpardonable sacrilege, that a priest should dare to consecrate and touch the body of Christ, immediately after rising from the side of a strumpet; for so he characterised the wife of a priest. Unluckily however for the cardinal, the officers of justice, breaking into a disorderly house the night following, detected him in bed with a strumpet in the literal sense of the word ! A misfortune which caused his departure very speedily and quietly (fn. 7). The synod broke up, and the clergy no doubt availed themselves of the disgrace which the advocates for clerical chastity sustained.


Henry I. reduced the dukedom of Normandy under subjection to the English government; and thus a state, which had conquered and given a king to England, became at length a province to it; an event which would naturally have resulted, even had they both continued peaceably under one sovereign. He died December 1. 1135, on which Stephen, earl of Boulogne and Mortaign, grandson to William the Conqueror, by his daughter Adela, came privately into England; and, notwithstanding his having solemnly sworn to the succession of Matilda or Maud, the empress, daughter to the late king, he persidiously attempted to procure the sceptre for himself, by the assistance of Hugh Bigod, steward of the houshold, and three perjured prelates, viz. William archbishop of Canterbury; Henry bishop of Winchester (brother to Stephen); and Roger, bishop of Salisbury: who with the rest of the bishops and nobility, had sworn to support Matilda's claim. Having got himself crowned, he proceeded to the exercise of sovereign authority, without even the shadow of hereditary right, or the countenance of the nobility or people. This usurpation occasioned a long and bloody war, whereby the city of London greatly suffered; for the citizens, artfully cajoled by those wicked prelates, received Stephen into their city.


The next year a very great fire happened at London Bridge, which destroyed all the way westward to St. Clement's Danes: But Stow says that this dreadful conflagration began at the house of one Ailward, near London stone, and consumed all the way east to Aldgate, and west to St. Erkenwald's shrine in St. Paul's cathedral; both which it destroyed, together with London Bridge. Notwithstanding which disaster in 1139, the citizens were obliged to pay to king Stephen one hundred marks of silver, which he exacted of them for confirming their right to choose their own Sheriffs.

When fortune had so far favoured the pretensions of Matilda, as with a victory over Stephen, to put him also into her power; she sought to gain the affections of the clergy by receiving the crown at their hands, rather than from the states of the kingdom, regularly called together. Henry, bishop of Winchester, brother to Stephen having a legatine commission called an ecclesiastical council, in which her right was acknowledged. The only laymen, who were summoned to this assembly, were the deputies from London, who, arriving the second day of the session, were required to subscribe to the resolution of the preceding day. The Londoners however were not so tractable; they endeavoured to stipulate for the release of the king, which they urged as the common desire not only of the citizens, but likewise of all the nobles residing in the city: but they were told by the legate, that it ill became the Londoners, who were considered as noblemen in England, to take part with those cowardly barons, who had been his ill advisers, and had afterward deserted him. A negociation was entered into with the city, Matilda remaining at St. Alban's waiting the result; but at length the citizens thought it prudent to submit to her authority.


It was not long before the city experienced her resentment, by a grant she made to Geoffrey, earl of Essex, of all the possessions which his grandfather, father or himself, had held of the crown, in lands, tenements, castles, and bailiwicks; among which were the Tower of London and the sheriffwicks of London and Middlesex, at a fee-farm rent of 300l. per ann. as held by his grandfather. She farther granted to the said Geoffrey the office of justiciary of the city, and of the county of Midlesex; so that no person whatsoever could hold pleas either in the city or county without his special permission.

The Londoners soon felt the sad effects of an agreement, by which some of their most valuable privileges were snatched out of their hands.

The imperious disposition of Matilda quickly shewed itself in the haughty refusal of every request made by her new subjects, which she knew not how to mitigate with affability of behaviour. The wife of Stephen, with many of the nobility, petitioned for his liberty, offering to engage for his renouncing all pretensions to the crown, and retiring to a convent; the legate requested that his nephew, prince Eustace, might inherit the patrimonial estates of his unfortunate father; the Londoners sued for the establishment of king Edward's laws, instead of those of king Henry, which they complained of as being oppressive: but all these applications were answered by peremptory and haughty denials.

The legate, who had already renounced the ties of blood, and broke through his oath of allegiance to Matilda, could scarcely be expected to adhere to her any longer then she appeared disposed to forward his views. Disgusted therefore to find Matilda as haughty as himself, he took advantage of the general ill humour, and tampered with the Londoners to stir up a revolt. His intrigues were directed to the seizing of her person, but she saved herself by a precipate flight to Oxford, which was no sooner known, than her palace was plundered by the populace.

Soon after her retreat from London, she besieged the legate, who had shut himself up in the castle of Winchester. He sent to the magistrates of London for assistance, which being arrived, he assembled his retainers, and joining the Londoners, with some of Stephen's mercenary troops, besieged Matilda in his turn, in the city of Winchester. Matilda, now being reduced to great extremities by famine, was forced to escape a second time; but her natural brother Robert earl of Gloucester, who was the chief support of her cause, being taken by the enemy, in this retreat, she exchanged Stephen for him; and, thus each party acquired fresh strength, by the restoration of their leaders.


The future events of this war having no immediate connexion with the affairs of the city of London, it will suffice to say, that Matilda, with her son Henry, were at length forced to retire to Normandy, and Stephen resumed the sovereignty: his son Eustace dying soon after, he entered into treaty with Henry, who was declared heir to the crown, and succeeded to it by the death of Stephen, October 25, 1154.

Nothing farther occurs to our purpose in the reign of Stephen; we are told indeed, that, after a very wet summer of the year 1150, so great a frost ensued, on the ninth of December, that horses and carriages crossed the river Thames upon the ice, as safely as on firm ground: this frost held till the month of March following.

Henry bore the city of London no good will on his mother Matilda's account; for we find he exacted dona or free gifts from it in the years 1158, 1159, 1170, 1172, 1173; at which times the citizens paid him 1043l. 1000 mark, 666l. and in two years each times 666£. 13s. 4d. which appear to have been in lieu of taillages.


About this time we meet with sad accounts of the remiss government of the city, and of the abandoned practices of some of the citizens, who are charged with forming confederacies to break open houses by night, and with robbing and murdering all who were so unhappy as to come in their way. How a commercial city came to have such depraved inhabitants in it at that time particularly, may not be easy now to determine; but the dissensions and wars, which had lately taken place, and divided the people between the pretensions of Stephen and Matilda, had not certainly been favourable to their morals. Persons once used to the licences common to a military life, and hardened to the ravages committed on defenceless enemies, do not easily return to an industrious course of life, or conform again to the decorums of civil society.

Among the measures made use of by the king to drain money out of the pockets of the citizens, the following must not be forgot. Many artisans had erected themselves into fraternities or companies, and had acted as bodies corporate without the royal letters patent; these were therefore stigmatised with the name of adulterine guilds, (fn. 8) and the king fined those of the aldermen and others who acted as presidents or masters of them.

The charter in the Appendix No. IV. was granted to the citizens of London by Henry the second; but being without date, the time when it was given, cannot be exactly ascertained.

This charter was not only a confirmation of that given by Henry I. but granted other immunities, which argues the increasing state of trade; and princes now began to perceive it was their true interest to assist and favour arts and commerce.


Another proof of the growing consequence of the city, was the attention to improvement that began to appear by the resolution formed by the Londoners to rebuild their bridge of stone.

By the Saxon annals it appears that there was no bridge at London in the year 993; for we are told that Anlaf, the Dane, in that year sailed up the river as far as Staines, with a fleet of ninety-three ships, and ravaged the countries on both sides. Now, if there had been a bridge at London, at the time of this invasion, it is not to be questioned but the citizens would have fortified it in such a manner, as to have obstructed the passage of Anlaf, as they did frequently after that of several of the most potent Danish fleets. Hence it is probable a bridge was erected in the reign of Ethelred, between the said year 993, and Anno 1017, when Canute, king of Denmark, caused a canal to be made on the south side of the river for carrying his ships through to the west side of the bridge, as the reader has been informed in its proper place.



The continual expences in maintaining and repairing a wooden bridge becoming burthensome to the people, who, upon extraordinary occasions, when the lands appropriated for that use fell short of the charges, were taxed to make up the deficiencies; it was resolved to build a stone bridge, a little to the west of that wooden fabrick, whose head, in the days of William I. pointed ashore at Botolph's wharf; and the management of the undertaking was given to Peter, curate of Colechurch, a man chosen for his knowledge of building. But this architect did not live to finish this great undertaking; for in the third year of king John's reign, we find among the Tower-records a letter from the said king to the mayor and citizens of London, recommending to them one Isenbert to finish this bridge (fn. 9). There is not the least mention however of any such surveyor in all our historians; who unanimously declare, that the completing of the work was at Peter's death committed to the care of Serle Mercer, William Almaine, and Benedict Botewrite, merchants of London, who finished the first stone-bridge at London in the year 1209. We are also told that the master mason of this great work not only erected the chapel on the ninth pier from the north end, but likewise endowed the same for two priests, four clerks, &c. This was the first building on the arches of London-Bridge, which was afterward augmented with so many chanteries, that there were four chaplains belonging to it in the 23 Hen. VI. This chapel was destroyed when the houses were taken from the bridge in the year 1758.

It has been a vulgar notion that the foundation of this bridge was laid upon woolpacks; an error which might owe its origin to a tax laid upon wool toward its erection. But from the surveys which were taken of it preparatory to its late alterations, and more especially by taking up one pier to widen the centre arch, it is now discovered that the stone piers are founded on vast frames of piles, which are drove as close as art can effect. On the tops of these piles are laid long planks or beams of timber, ten inches thick, strongly bolted; whereon is placed the base of the stone pier, nine feet above the bed of the river, and three below the sterlings: on the outside of this wooden foundation, (and for its preservation) are drove the piles, called the sterlings. It is also found that the lowermost layers of stones in the piers, were laid in pitch, instead of mortar, to prevent the water damaging the work.

But notwithstanding all the art and charge used in the building of the stonebridge; yet, in 1289, about seventy years after its finishing, it was become so ruinous, that king Edward I. in the ninth year of his reign granted to the bridge-keeper a brief or licence to ask and receive the charity of his well-disposed subjects throughout the kingdom toward repairing the same.

But, this method not raising a sufficient fund, he next year issued out other letters patent for taking customs or toll of all commodities passing over the bridge, to be applied to the repairs of it.

The new stone bridge met with many disasters: for about four years after its being finished, on the 10th of July, in the night, a great fire broke out in Southwark; which taking hold of the church of our lady of the canons, (St. Mary Overy's) the flames were spread and communicated to the north side of the bridge by a strong south wind, which stopped the return of the multitude of people, who had run from London to help to extinguish the fire in Southwark: and while the croud were in vain striving to force a passage to the city through those flames on the north end of the bridge, the fire broke out at the south end also: so, that, being inclosed between two great fires, above three thousand people perished in the flames, or were drowned by over-loading the vessels, which ventured to their assistance. We are also told that five arches were borne down and destroyed, by the ice and floods, after the great frost and deep snow in the year 1282.

A draw-bridge was contrived to give passage for ships with provision to Queenhithe; at the north end of which stood a tower to resist the attempts of an enemy. This tower was begun to be built in the year 1426, but the other buildings increased very slowly; however, in Stow's days, both sides were built up: so that the whole had the appearance of a large well-built street; there being left only three openings, with stone breast walls, and iron rails over them on each side for prospect.

The width of the river at the bridge is nine hundred and fifteen feet one inch; which was the length of the bridge: the height whereof being forty-three feet and seven inches. The width of the street was twenty feet and the depth of the houses on both sides, three-and-fifty feet; together, seventy-three feet. It consisted of twenty unequal arches; and, by the great number of piers, and extension of the sterlings, the course of the water is greatly obstructed, the rapidity of the stream increased, and the charge of repairs much inhanced. The improvements and alterations made on this bridge, will be duely noticed in the proper order of time. We now return to the regular course of the history.

The peculiar situation of the Jews, who wherever they resided kept themselves distinct from the natives, as a more pure and holy race; instead of procuring them the regard to which they thought themselves intitled, exposed them every where in these ignorant ages to contempt and ill usage. Unable to establish themselves under these circumstances, in any christian country, they generally applied themselves to the lending out money at interest; and their superior industry, and attention to this species of trade put great part of the money of the nation into their hands. The prejudices of these times rendered receiving interest for money universally odious; and the great profit made by the Jews who were exorbitant in their usurious bargains, and rigorous in their claims, made them sufficiently infamous, independent of any religious consideration.


Whether to secure them from insult, or from the prejudices entertained against them, king Richard I. on his accession A. D. 1189, had issued an order that no Jews should appear at his coronation. But notwithstanding this prohibition, some of them ventured, by bringing large presents from their nation to the king, to satisfy their curiosity in seeing him dine in the hall. Being repulsed by the royal domestics, and exposed to the insults of the mob, a rumour spread among the populace, that the king had given orders for the destruction of that people. Thus authorised as they thought, the mob, in a most cruel and barbarous manner, fell upon the poor defenceless Jews and killed all who fell in their way: nor did their phrenzy stop here; for they hastened to London, where, with a fury inflamed by the desire of plunder, they murdered all they could find, and, after pillaging their houses, burnt them. Nor was this massacre confined to London, but extended to other cities, particularly York. The day after, the king caused a few of the ringleaders to be apprehended, and hanged immediately, in some measure to atone for the enormity, but the inquiry soon stopped, as many considerable citizens were involved in the guilt, and as the priests applauded the pious zeal which destroyed so many enemies to the christian faith.

At this coronation, the chief magistrate of London, then known by the name of bailiff, is particularly mentioned to have officiated as chief butler of the kingdom: an office, no doubt, exercised by his predecessors in the magistracy; since it was claimed by prescription, and allowed in the succeeding reigns of Rich. II. and III.

Soon after his coronation Richard prepared to carry his father's intention of a crusade for the recovery of Palestine out of the hands of infidels, into execution; an undertaking which piety and the love of military glory united to recommend to the heroes of these times. For this purpose he directed his precepts to Henry de Cornhill, sheriff of London, to provide a certain quantity of military accoutrements, stores, and provisions for the king's use. Toward defraying the vast expence of this great armament, Richard contrived all possible ways and means to raise money, by alienating the crown lands, and selling offices of trust and power, regardless of the public welfare or his own credit: and when some of the nobility took the freedom to hint the imprudence of this conduct, he replied, that, in a time of necessity, it was no bad policy for a man to make use of his own: adding, that be would even sell the city of London itself, could be find a purchaser.


It is with some reason conjectured that in the year 1191, the bailiff of London first assumed the title of mayor: for the next year an order was made, Henry Fitz Alwine being then chief magistrate, by the court of the mayor and aldermen, that "all houses, thereafter to be erected in London and the liberties thereof, should be built of stone, with party-walls of the same and covered with either slates or tiles." Hitherto the buildings in London were nothing but timber thatched, which accounts for the extensive fires already related; and the order now mentioned was but little regarded. To prevent such dreadful calamities for the future, "it was also provided and ordained to appease contentions among neighbours in the city, upon inclosure between land and land, that twelve men, aldermen of the city, should be chosen in full hustings, and there sworn, to come at the mayor's summons, for executing the aforesaid business."

These jurats were to regulate the dimensions of party-walls, which were to be at least sixteen feet in height, and three in thickness: and also to give directions about girders, windows, gutters and wells.

While Richard was absent on the holy war, the earl of Moreton (afterward king John) attended by the archbishop of Roan in Normandy, and most of the nobility and bishops, together with the citizens of London, convened in St. Paul's Church-yard, to deliberate upon the mal-administration of William Longchamp bishop of Ely, chancellor, and one of the regents of the kingdom; who, by an unanimous resolution of the convention, was degraded from all his offices, for his tyrannical administration. The commissioners of the regency, were so well pleased with the ready concurrence of the Londoners to the late resolution, that they swore to maintain to the citizens their community or antient privileges, during the king's pleasure. In return, the citizens swore to be true and faithful to king Richard, and his heirs; and that, he dying without issue, they would receive his brother John as king, swearing fealty to him against all others, saving that due to their sovereign lord king Richard. This incident shews what influence the city had acquired, when its concurrence was taken in a measure so important during the king's absence, as displacing the man, with whom, in conjunction with the bishop of Durham, the whole power of the kingdom was instrusted.


After the king's return from Palestine, and unjust imprisonment by the emperor Henry the VIth, he was received into London with such pomp and magnificence, that a German nobleman, who attended the king, inadvertently said, that, had the emperor known the immense wealth of England, he would have insisted upon a much greater ransom.

To wipe off the stain of his imprisonment, Richard determined to be crowned a second time; and at this ceremony the citizens of Winchester disputed with those of London, the office of chief butler; though the same had been executed by the Londoners at the late coronation. But a free gift of 200 marks to the king obtained his confirmation of this privilege to the latter. Beside, king Richard, in consideration of the good deportment of his faithful citizens of London during his long absence, and in all probability for their contributing 1500 marks toward his ransom, he soon after granted them a charter (See Appendix, No. V.) which confirmed their antient rights and immunities.


The civil government of the city appears to have been still in a very imperfect state, and to have preserved little authority over the licentious part of the inhabitants; as may be gathered from the following strange occurrence which happened at this time. A certain abandoned lawyer, William Fitz-Osbert by name, but commonly called Long-beard, from his affected length of beard, professed himself the advocate and patron of the poor against the oppressions of the rich. His popular conduct soon enabled him to insult and injure the more substantial citizens, who were continually exposed to the most outrageous violences from him and his lawless emissaries. Houses were broke open and pillaged in open day-light, and murders committed in the street continually; and it was reported, that he acquired such an ascendancy over the populace, that 52,000 had entered into an association to obey his commands. Archbishop Hubert, who was then chief justiciary, summoned him before the council to answer for his conduct; but he came with so formidable a train of followers, that the justiciary found it consistent with his own safety to dismiss him with a bare admonition. A watchful eye was, nevertheless, kept over him, and an attempt was made at a favourable opportunity to seize him. But Long-beard murdering one of the officers, escaped with his concubine, and with a small party fortified himself in Bow-church steeple. He was at last, however, forced from his retreat; condemned and executed, to the infinite regret of all the populace, who stole his body and gibbet, and carried away as relics the earth on which his blood was spilled, and spread strange reports of the miracles wrought by these precious remains.


King Richard, in the eighth year of his reign, A. D. 1197, granted the city another charter, (Appendix No. VI.) for which they paid him fifteen hundred marks.

This is the first charter by which the city of London claims its jurisdiction, and conservancy of the river Thames: and as it does not prescribe any bounds, or limit the extent over which the city is to take cognizance, but transfers to the city all the right and jurisdiction enjoyed by his majesty's keeper of the Tower; it seems clear, that the city's right of jurisdiction includes the whole river, from its junction with the sea eastward, so far westward as it is known by the name of the Thames. But, by the loose expressions of this grant, both the extent of the city's jurisdiction and the objects of the city's power, have been so much contested, that it has been found needful to explain and amend this charter at times by others. So that for a long succession of time, the extent of the city's jurisdiction on the river Thames has been admitted from ColneDitch, a little westward of Staines-Bridge, to Yendal, Yenland, or Yenleet, east of London-bridge; including part of the rivers Medway and Lea: and its cognizance extends to the removing all nusances, encroachments, by buildings or wharfs on the shores (fn. 10), to preserve the fishery, to seize unlawful nets, and to punish the fishermen offending against the ordinances made for the regulation of their conduct by city authority. In order to execute the proper orders enacted by this authority, the lord-mayor hath a deputy or substitute, by the name of water-bailiff, whose office is to discover and bring to punishment all offenders, as to any of these points.

At eight several times yearly, within the four counties of Middlesex, Surry, Kent, and Essex, the lord-mayor of London holds courts of conservancy of the said river, and charges four juries by oath to make inquisition after all offences committed on the said river, in order to proceed to judgment against those who shall be found guilty.

The advancement and extension of trade, now rendered it necessary to establish standard weights and measures for the whole kingdom; than which nothing could better tend to facilitate the intercourse of fair dealing, which is the first principle of traffic. This important trust was referred to the sheriffs of London and Middlesex; for, by the king's command, Roger Blunt and Nicholas Ducket, sheriffs, provided measures, iron rods and weights, for standards; which were sent to every county in England.

In the 30th year of Henry II. thirty-three cows and two bulls are recorded to have cost eight pounds seven shillings; five hundred sheep, twenty-two pounds ten shillings: and in the 10th year of Richard I. ten per cent. interest was paid for money; but the Jews frequently extorted much more.


  • 1. As we have already had occasion to mention the feudal institutions, which by the Norman conquest acquired a more extensive settlement in England, now strictly become a feudal government; and as this mode of government was at length subverted by the operation of commerce; it will be incumbent on us in a history of London, the chief mart of trade in the kingdom, to give a short view of the feudal policy in as few words as possible, to illustrate our ideas of the great changes that afterward took place. When the northern nations of Europe travelled southward, overturned the Roman empire, and settled in the various provinces of it; they followed their chieftains, not by constraint, or under positive command, but as volunteers who offered to accompany him that led them forth, and share his fortune. They considered their conquests as common property which all had a title to share, as all had contributed to acquire them: when therefore a tribe governed by these high ideas of liberty, subdued a large territory, they found it was necessary to keep themselves still in a military posture to maintain their possessions. They seized such a quantity of land as was necessary for their settlement; the prince who led them out received the largest share to support his government; the remainder was parcelled out among his chief officers; and these, after the example of their superior, distributed portions of their land among their dependants. The prince still continued the head of the colony; and the express condition of all these grants was, that the possessors should be always ready to take the field under his standard, with a number of men proportioned to the extent of the land they held by this military tenure, to bear arms in his defence. This mode of settlement is distinguished by the name of the feudal system; and a feudal kingdom resembled a military establishment rather than a civil institution. A victorious army thus cantoned out, continued ranged under its proper officers, always ready for action; and the names of soldier and freeman, became synonimous terms. These grants which at first were capable of being resumed at pleasure, by the course of continued settlement became hereditary, though under the same obligations; and the protection which the vassals received under their chieftains, occasioned in such disorderly times, the proprietors of lands not at first included under this partition, to resign their possessions into the hands of the king, or some of his chiefs, and then receive them back on condition of feudal service; which brought ample compensation for a burthen at once easy and honourable. The kingdoms of Europe thus at length became universally divided into baronies, and these again into inferior fiefs, over which the barons exercised a judicial power . The vassals fell into a greater subordination under the baron, than the baron himself under his sovereign: the great chieftain residing at his country seat or castle, which he commonly fortified; lost in great measure his connexion or acquaintance with his prince, and added every day new force to his authority over the vassals of the barony. They received from him education in all military exercises; his hospitality invited them to enjoy society in his hall; their leisure made them perpetual retainers on his person; they partook of his sports and amusements; and had no means of gratifying their ambition but by making a figure in his train. His favour was their greatest honour, his displeasure exposed them to contempt and ignominy; and they felt every moment the necessity of his protection in their controversies with other vassals, and in the daily inroads and depredations they were liable to from the neighbouring barons . From this servile attendance and entertainment, are derived those traditionary reports of old English hospitality, the extinction of which is so often injudiciously regretted. From this chain of dependence, a kingdom may be considered as a great barony, and a barony as a small kingdom. The barons were peers to each other in the national council; and in some degree companions of the king: the vassals were peers to each other in a court of barony, and companions of the baron . The state of the common inhabitants of the country are now to be considered, and the persons employed in cultivating the ground, come under review in three classes. I. The servi or slaves appear to have been the most numerous class, and consisted either of captives taken in war, or of persons over whom a property was acquired by other means; and their wretched condition appears from several circumstances. The codes of antient laws prescribed punishments for slaves, different from those which were inflicted on free men; the latter paid only fines or compensations, while the former were subjected to corporal punishments; and the cruelty of these was excessive in many instances. They had no title to property, and receiving nothing but cloaths and subsistence, all the profits of their labour accrued to their masters; nor were they originally allowed to marry, but being encouraged to cohabit together, the children were born to the same base condition as their parents. They were at first sold at pleasure, though afterward they became adscripti glebæ, and were conveyed together with the farm to which they belonged. II. Villani, or, villains; these paid a fixed rent to their master for the land which they cultivated, and enjoyed the fruits of it in property; but were ad scripti glebæ, or villæ, from which they derived their name, and were transferable with it. III. The last class employed in agriculture were indeed esteemed free men; who seemed to possess allodial property in their own right, and beside that, cultivated some rented farm of their more wealthy neighbours; and were bound to perform certain rural services to their landlord: yet, such was the tyranny exercised by the oppressive proprietors of land, over those that settled on their estates, that many of these free men, in despair, surrendered themselves as slaves to their powerful masters, or to the bishops and abbots; that they might partake rather more of the security, such as it was, which vassals and slaves enjoyed. These men, though esteemed free, could expect no redress of injuries in a court of barony, from lords who thought they had a right to tyrannize over them; and who were armed with laws framed to support and justify oppression: the towns were situated either within the demesnes of the king, or the lands of the great barons, and were almost entirely subjected to the absolute will of their masters. The languishing state of trade, when no encouragement was given to manufactures and the arts, kept the inhabitants poor and contemptible; and the political institutions were calculated to perpetuate their poverty. Every prosession but that of arms, was held in contempt; and if any merchant or manufacturer rose by industry, to any degree of opulence, he found himself but the more exposed to injuries from the envy and avidity of the military nobles . Antiquarians have long disputed at what time the feudal system was introduced into England; some being positive that it was established among the Saxons, and others as positive that it was first introduced by the Norman conquest: but these opinions, by a few concessions on both sides, may perhaps be reconcileable. The Saxons in their own country, had, like the other German nations, their princes, their chieftains, and their slaves who laboured on the land: when such a people settled in a foreign country, they naturally parcelled out their new possessions, as before described; but at the same time it is not to be supposed, that the whole country was so distributed or so held. The Germans in none of their conquests assumed the property of the whole land; as the superfluity would have been burthensome. Such of the antient inhabitants as remained, were allowed to keep their lands on their antient footing; and such of the intruders as were not attached to any chieftain, took possession of vacant land, and enjoyed it in the same manner, without the tenure of military service: it is this that marks the distinction between allodial and feudal possessions. Thus the feudal system was not established at once in any one nation of Europe; and the Saxons were, beside, of a cruel and extirpating disposition: instead of settling and spreading peaceably among the Britons, those laws which that settlement would have produced, they put many of them wantonly to the sword, and drove many more into France and Wales. As the sea secured them against new invaders, and as they thinned the antient inhabitants, they found it the less necessary to preserve themselves in a vigilant military posture, and submit to the strict ties of feudal subordination. But William, the Norman, came from a country where these principles had been more firmly established; and he introduced many of the laws of his own country into his new dominions. By the number and variety of these laws, and the infinite number of grants made by him and his followers; the language of the law became more strictly feudal, when every judge was a Norman, and almost every dispute had a feudal origin: and this gave occasion to suppose that the Conqueror first brought fiefs into England; as appears more at large in the authority from whence the resolution of this doubt is derived . The forming cities into communities, corporations, or bodies politic, with the privilege of municipal jurisdiction, contributed more perhaps than any other cause, to diffuse commerce, arts, and regular government over Europe. When the cities of Italy, about the beginning of the 11th century, turned their attention toward commerce, they became impatient to shake off the yoke of their insolent lords, and to establish such an equal government among themselves, as would render property secure, and industry prosperous. The rights which many cities acquired by bold or fortunate attempts, others purchased from the emperors, who deemed themselves gainers by the sale of immunities they were no longer able to withhold; and some obtained them gratuitously from the generosity or facility of the princes on whom they depended. This innovation soon made its way into France; where Louis the Gross, to create some power that might counterbalance those potent vassals who controuled the crown, adopted the plan of conferring privileges on the towns situated in his own demesnes; which were called charters of community: by which he enfranchised the inhabitants, abolished all marks of servitude, and allowed them to be governed by magistrates of their own nomination. His barons who had impoverished themselves by expeditions into the Holy Land, laid hold on this expedient for raising money, by the sale of charters of liberty, without foreseeing or regarding consequences; and the practice quickly spread over the feudal kingdoms of Europe . Mr. Hume observes that the first corporation was not erected in France, until sixty years after the conquest of England, by the duke of Normandy; but we see that London possessed peculiar privileges before that æra, and the Conqueror granted two charters to the city soon after he came: therefore London was among the first cities in Europe that were incorporated. Even in the earliest times of the feudal system in England, it appears that the princes and lords were beginning to encourage such settlements: the Saxon chiefs had allowed the towns to form themselves into communities and guilds; and under the plea of protecting them, walled them round, and sometimes put garrisons into them. They bestowed petty territories for the support of the community, and in return for these favours, exacted small rents in provisions and horse-carriages: William, the Conqueror, formed many such settlements through the land , and however slight the original grants of privileges were, they proved so important at the time, that the inhabitants by their industry were enabled to get them extended. In proportion as the powers of corporations were enlarged, the feudal powers declined; until at length commercial freedom triumphed over landed tyranny. Thus having given the out-lines of that despotic system, which now governed the nation, and shewn the first steps by which commerce and the arts gradually rescued the common people from it; we shall return to the history of London, where the symptoms of its decay will in due time appear. This previous explanation of the Norman government, will throw light upon some of the ensuing transactions, that would otherwise, from the brevity in the relation, appear obscare. As the history advances, it will however grow more circumstantial. The learned Brady in his Treatise on English boroughs, has made the following pertinent notes on this charter, which have been repeatedly quoted by historians of this period. "1. The burgesses were declared all to be law-worthy. 2. That their children should be their heirs. Now there were two ways of being law-worthy, or having the benefit of the law; by the state and condition of men's persons, almost all freemen had the free benefit of the law; but men of servile condition had not, especially such as were in dominio, in demesne; for they received justice from their lords, were judged by them in most cases, and had not the true benefit of the law: so neither, as to the second observation in this charter, could their children be their heirs, for they held their lands and goods at the will of the lord, and were not sure to enjoy them longer than they pleased him. The second way of being law-worthy was, when men had not committed any crimes, or done any thing for which they forseited the law, and deserved to be out-lawed; then they were said to be legales homines, recti in curia, or law-worthy, but not so properly as in the first sense of the word. From hence we may make a very probable conjecture at the meaning of this protection or charter. It is not to be doubted, but that the burgesses of London had obtained of the Saxon kings several liberties and immunities, amongst which this was one, to be so far free, as not to be in dominio, or so obnoxious to any lord, but that, by reason of their state and condition, they might be law-worthy, that is, have the free benefit of the law; and likewise further obtained, (if it was not then a consequent of their personal estate and condition) that their children should be heirs of their lands and goods, and in both these were free from the injuries and unreasonable demands and power of any severe lord: so that all the application made by their bishop William, and not unlikely by Godfrey the portreve, to the Conqueror for them, was, that their state and condition might be the same it was in king Edward's days, that their children might be their heirs, and that they might in both be protected from the injury and violence of imperious lords; which by the prevalency of their bishop were granted. Considering therefore, that by the foregoing instances it is clear, that many or most burgesses of other burghs were in dominio, either of the king or some other lords or patron, in the time of king Edward, and that the Londoners might fear the Conqueror would break in upon their privileges, and reduce them to the same condition; this was a great privilege obtained."
  • 2. Dalrymple on Feudal Property. Hume's Hist. Appendix II.
  • 3. Anderson's Hist. Comm. vol. I. p. 65.
  • 4. Anderson, vol. I. p. 70.
  • 5. See Robertson's Charles V. vol. I. where this subject is amply discussed.
  • 6. Madox relates that the weavers and bakers were the most antient fellowships and guilds in London; which is probable enough, considering their professions, and the natural wants of mankind. In king Henry the I's reign, he says, the weavers of London rendered to the crown, a rent or ferme, as it is called in the stile of the Exchequer, for their guild; and had, in after times, great disputes with the city of London, concerning their high immunities and privileges.
  • 7. Hume's Hist.
  • 8. Among these were the goldsmiths, glovers, curriers, butchers, &c. Anderson.
  • 9. This letter is thus rendered into English: "John, by the grace of God, king of England, &c. to his faithful and beloved the mayor and citizens of London, greeting. "Considering how the Lord in a short time has wrought, in regard to the bridges of Xainctes and Rochelle, by the great care and pains of our faithful, learned and worthy clerk, Isenbert, master of the schools of Xainctes: we therefore, by the advice of our reverend father in Christ, Hubert, archbishop of Canterbury, and that of others, have desired, directed and injoined him to use his best endeavours in building your bridge, for your benefit, and that of the publick: for we trust in the Lord, that this bridge, so necessary for you, and all who shall pass the same, will, through his industry, and the divine blessing, soon be finished: wherefore, without prejudice to our right, or that of the city of London, we will and grant, that the rents and profits of the several houses that the said master of the schools shall cause to be erected upon the bridge aforesaid, be for ever appropriated to repair, maintain and uphold the same. "And seeing that the necessary work of the said bridge cannot be accomplished without your aid, and that of others; we charge and exhort you kindly to receive and honour the above-named Isenbert, and those employed by him, who will perform every thing to your advantage and credit, according to his directions, you affording him your joint advice and assistance in the premises: for whatever good office or honour you shall do to him, you ought to esteem the same as done to us. But should any injury be offered to the said Isenbert, or the persons employed by him, (which we do not believe there will) see that the same be redressed, as soon as it comes to your knowledge. "Witness myself at Molinel, the eighteenth day of April."
  • 10. That the soil and ground under the river belongs also to the city, appears from the following transcript, found among the MSS. of lord treasurer Burleigh, in queen Elizabeth's reign: "Also, for proof of the prince's interest in rivers flowing from the sea, the Thames, and conservation thereof, was not only given to the city of London; but, by their special suit, the king gave therewithal the ground and soil under the same: whereupon, if any that hath a house or land adjoining, do make a strand, stairs, or such like, they pay forthwith a rent to the city of London, how high soever they be above the low-water mark."
  • 11. Robertson's Charles V. vol. 1. p. 12–15.
  • 12. Hume's Hist. Append. II.
  • 13. Idem.
  • 14. Idem.
  • 15. Robertson, vol. 1. note ix. p. 227.
  • 16. Hume's Hist. Appx. II.
  • 17. Dalrymple's Hist. of Feudal Property. chap. 1.
  • 18. Robertson, vol. 1. p. 30, &c.
  • 19. Appendix II.
  • 20. Dahymple.