Book 1, Ch. 3: King John to Edward I

Pages 37-56

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

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In this section


From the accession of John, to that of Edward.

On the death of Richard I. without issue, his brother John, earl of Moreton, succeeded to the crown, A.D. 1199, who, on his accession, granted three charters to the Londoners, which are numbered VII. VIII. IX. in the Appendix; and, in the third year of his reign, they obtained a fourth of him. (Appendix, No. X.)

By the first charter, the former rights and privileges were confirmed to the citizens, and they were exempted from the payment of all toll or lastage in the king's dominions beyond sea: this charter cost the city 3000 marks. By the second, the right of conservancy of the Thames was confirmed and extended to the river Medway. By the third, which was obtained within a few days after the second, the fee farm of the sheriffwicks of London and Middlesex were granted at the antient rent, by which they were held before taken away by queen Matilda, with the power of choosing their own sheriffs. This charter has been remarked as the first covenant or conveyance on record, with the legal terms to have and to hold, which are now esteemed essential in all conveyances of property.

By the fourth charter, the weavers guild or company was expelled the city; but for what offence the mayor and citizens could petition the disfranchisement of one of their companies, and agree to pay the king a greater sum by two marks than he had received of that company, does not appear, nor can be determined at this distance of time.

It was probably owing to the disturbance his nephew Arthur gave him in his transmarine dominions, where Philip king of France supported him in disputing the succession with John; that the Londoners experienced such early favours at his hands: and as John was much liked by the city, the citizens had a claim upon him from gratitude as well as from policy.


It is worthy to remark, that in the fourth year of King John, Guy de Von stood indebted to the crown in no less a sum than one thousand and sixty-six pounds, eight shillings, and four-pence, for the farm of the Cambium or Exchange of London, which he had upon lease for a certain term of years, as appears by the great roll of the exchequer in the first of the said king.


The chamberlain's office of this city remaining still in the crown, William de St. Michael paid to the king a fine of one hundred pounds for the same, and a yearly rent of one hundred marks; which shews it to have been a place of great profit, even in so early a period.


In times of bigotry it required great art to withstand the power of a church, whose empire included the chief part of Europe. John had quarrelled with the pope about the nomination of an archbishop to the see of Canterbury, without taking any prudent measures to strengthen his authority at home; for he was also at variance with his barons. Thus circumstanced he could not but be distressed for money, and in 1207, the Londoners not only made him a present of three hundred pounds, but likewise paid him two hundred marks, to be excused from the quinzieme, or fifteenth, which he then imposed upon merchants. However, they were soon after charged with the sum of one thousand pounds, which they were obliged to pay toward the king's expedition against the Scots.


In 1209, during a scarcity of corn, the sheriffs of London would not suffer the king's purveyor to carry out of the city a quantity of corn which they had purchased there. This produced an order from the king to the city council, which then consisted of thirty-five members, to degrade the sheriffs and commit them to prison. The command was obeyed; but the council sent a deputation to the king at Langley, to intercede for their unfortunate sheriffs; and to assure his majesty, that what they had done, was not out of any disrespect to him, but purely to prevent an insurrection, which was then threatened, and at that critical juncture might have proved dangerous to the royal affairs. This submission pacified John, and the sheriffs were discharged.


The king's necessities still keeping pace with his imprudence, he in the year 1210 summoned a parliament to meet him at his palace in St. Bride's parish, London; where he exacted of the clergy and religious houses the sum of one hundred thousand pounds, and forty thousand pounds in particular from the White Monks.

John continuing to oppose the powers claimed by the court of Rome, and to urge his own tyrannical views with equal violence; the pope could not but perceive the advantage he had over him: he therefore laid the kingdom under an interdict; the consequences of which were that all churches and churchyards were shut up; and divine service ceased in all places. There was no administration of sacraments, except to infants, and dying persons; and, all ecclesiastical rites being omitted, the bodies of the dead were buried in the highways and ditches, without the performance of funeral service: the people were prohibited the use of meat as in lent and times of penance; they were forbid to shave: and every circumstance indicated the national distress. John still remaining contumacious, sentence of personal excommunication and deposition followed; and Philip of France obtained a grant of the kingdom of England: it only remained for him to get possession of it. The king, upon some displeasure conceived against the Londoners at this time, removed the exchequer from Westminster to Northampton.



The citizens, A. D. 1211, as an additional security to the city, during such a critical situation of affairs, began to encompass the wall thereof with a spacious and deep ditch, of two hundred feet wide; which, notwithstanding the vast number of hands employed therein, took up two years in making. While this great work was carrying on, in 1212 happened that great fire in Southwark, menioned p. 34, which, passing the new built bridge, spread also over great part of the city.

John, who shewed so little veneration for the Roman pontiff, could not be suspected of any high respect for the Jews: and, about this time raising an army for the defence of Ireland, he determined that the Jews should defray the expence of the expedition. That unhappy people, whose riches exposed them to more misfortunes than their religion, were seized all over the kingdom, and cruelly treated till they ransomed themselves. Abraham, a Jew of Bristol, refused to submit to this extortion; and John is said to have ordered a tooth to be drawn from his mouth every day till he complied with the demand of 10,000 marks. After losing seven teeth he paid this enormous ransom; and by such means John raised about 60,000 marks in all from the Jews (fn. 1).

Robert Fitzwater, castellan and standard-bearer of the city, and one of the malcontent barons, rather than give security for his fidelity to king John, fled into France; upon which the king discharged his vengeance upon his stately palace in London, called Baynard's-Castle, and demolished it.

Philip of France prepared a strong armament to receive the present so liberally offered him by the pope; and John assembled his military vassals at Dover to oppose him. Pandolph the legate who was to attend Philip, negotiated privately with John, who terrified at last, at the clouds that gathered so lowering around him, agreed to a submission to the pope without any reservation or condition: a submission, which Pandolph exacted and John performed, with the most humiliating and abject circumstances.


In the sixteenth year of king John, A. D. 1215 this city was tallaged at two thousand marks, toward taking off the national interdict. About which time, the king granted the citizens his fifth and last charter. (See Appendix No. XI.)

The citizens had not only all their antient rights and immunities confirmed, by this charter, but likewise the additional privilege of choosing their chief magistrate themselves, who had hitherto been appointed by the king. Under this security divers crafts or trades began to form themselves into fraternities, in imitation of those already incorporated, without immediately obtaining that fanction.

Now John had so totally submitted to the pope, the barons and chief men of the kingdom demanded of him the re-establishment of king Edward's laws, together with all the rights and privileges contained in the charter of Henry the first. The king rejected their petition with the utmost indignation; but the barons, having a potent army on foot, resolved to obtain by force what they could not obtain from his justice. For the more effectually strengthening their party and also to give a sanction to their enterprize, they entered into a private negociation with some of the principal Londoners, who found it no difficult matter to prevail upon their fellow-citizens to join the barons, in opposition to an arbitrary prince, who had often racked them by illegal and intolerable exactions.

The barons, so effectually supported, instantly began their march for London; and, being arrived at Ware, marched from thence by night, and on the fourand-twentieth of May, early in the morning, during mass-time, entered the city at Aldgate (before the king received intelligence of their approach, notwithstanding his being then in the Tower of London.) Having secured the gates, they plundered the houses of the royalists and Jews, the latter of which they demolished; and laid siege to the Tower.

John, finding himself thus unhappily circumstanced, had recourse to dissimulation, by proposing an accommodation; which being consented to, and commissioners appointed by both parties, they agreed upon the fundamental charter of our present happy constitution, called Magna Charta, or the Great Charter, wherein a particular regard is had to the city of London: for, in the fifteenth article thereof, it is expressly stipulated, that the city shall have all its antient privileges, and free customs, as well by land as by water. The charter of forests being at the same time agreed upon, they were solemnly ratified by the king at Runnemead, near Staines, in Middlesex. But though this arbitrary prince was reduced, it was by barons as arbitrary as himself; and though he granted a public acknowledgment of the liberties of the subjects, it was not under the constitution then existing, that the people, in the present extensive acceptation of the word, could claim a share in the privileges recorded in it. (See the note p. 22.)

The barons, from their knowledge of the king's insincerity, took all the necessary precautions to oblige him to keep the treaty. Among other things, they engaged him to leave them in possession of the city and Tower of London, till the articles of the treaty were executed. Yet, notwithstanding all their care, they soon found, that neither oaths nor treaties were capable of binding John; who not only applied to the pope for an absolution from his oath, but likewise to divers foreign princes for assistance. His promises were so tempting that, in a short time a vast number of soldiers of fortune flocked over to him from Normandy, Poictou, Gascony, Brabant, and Flanders. Thus strengthened, he openly recalled all the liberties he had sworn to grant his subjects: the confederate barons were excommunicated, and their lands interdicted, together with the city, that had joined them. But, whilst the barons and citizens seemed to despise the pope's thunderbolts, the king proceeded in ravaging and destroying all their lands and castles; by which they were reduced to a very deplorable condition: therefore, to be revenged of the king, they, with the Londoners, had recourse to a very desperate remedy, by inviting over Lewis, eldest son to Philip king of France, to whom they offered the crown. Philip, who had with great reluctance acquiesced under the accommodation concluded between the pope and king John, and the consequent revocation of the grant of the English dominions, listened with great eagerness to this overture, and prepared a strong fleet, with a numerous army, under the command of Lewis his son, for whose safety and the sincerity of the English barons, he received twenty-five hostages of noble birth.

The distracted state of the kingdom for some time past, had encouraged a number of pirates who infested the mouth of the Thames, and grew so formidable, that the city found it necessary, and it calls for a particular remark that they were able at this juncture, to fit out a powerful fleet, which took or destroyed sixty-five piratical vessels.

Lewis the French prince landed at Sandwich, and reduced the castle of Rochester; whence marching to London, he was by the citizens received in a pompous manner; and at the same time he received the homage and fealties of the barons and citizens, to whom he swore to restore good laws, and their lost estates.


The death of John, A. D. 1216, with the imprudence of Lewis, now gave a new turn to affairs; and the fatal consequences of the rash measure the English had recourse to, of throwing themselves into the arms of a foreign power to get rid of a domestic tyrant, began to be perceived in its true light. Henry III. was but nine years old when his father died, and the earl of Pembroke as regent, had prevailed upon forty of the confederate barons to espouse the cause of the young king. This great defection of the nobility, and decrease of the French army, by the numerous sieges and skirmishes they had been employed in, reduced Lewis to agree upon a truce, that he might go to France, to solicit his father for fresh supplies; which he obtained, both of men and money. The increase and strength of the national party however soon obliged Lewis to keep himself close shut up in London; where finding himself besieged by the royal army, under the command of the regent, he proposed to treat of a peace, consistent with his honour, and the safety of those who invited him over. In this treaty he took care to secure an indemnity for the city; a generosity, which the citizens acknowledged, by lending him the sum of five thousand marks to discharge his debts, incurred by this expedition.

On the departure of Lewis, Henry, the young king, made his public entry into London, where, in all appearance, he was received with the greatest joy. But this was not sufficient to wipe off the disgust the court had conceived against the city, as may be discovered in all the proceedings of this reign.


In the second year of Henry the third, the citizens paid him a fine of forty marks, for selling a certain sort of cloth, that was not full two yards within the lists: together with a fifteenth of their personal estates, for the enjoyment of their antient privileges. The forest of Middlesex was now disforested; and the citizens purchased land out of it, whereby the suburbs of the city were greatly increased. At this time the king wrote to the sheriffs of London to repair the prison of Newgate; ordering that the money disbursed by them should be allowed in their accounts: which seems to argue that this gaol was not then under the direction of the city.

Proclamation was made in London, A. D. 1220, strictly injoining all foreigners whatsoever, merchants excepted, to depart the kingdom by the Michaelmas following. At the same time the citizens of Cologn, who were merchants and members of the Hanseatick league in London, paid the king thirty marks, to have seisin or possession of their Guildhall in the city, which stood where now the Still-yard is in Thames-street.


A trivial occurrence in the year 1222 furnished the court with a plausible pretence to exercise their resentment against the Londoners.

There had been a great match of wrestling between the citizens of London, and the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages; in which the Londoners claimed the honour of victory. The steward of the abbot of Westminster, interesting himself in this defeat, and meditating revenge, appointed another match, offering a ram as the prize to be wrestled for. He is said to have prepared a number of armed men, instead of the expected competitors, who when the London wrestlers appeared, basely beat and wounded many of them and put the rest to flight. The London populace on this ill usage, rose, and pulled down some houses belonging to the abbot of Westminster; a disorder that might probably in that rude and tumultuous age have passed over without much notice, had not some indications of the attachment of the citizens to the French interest, been thought to merit serious regard. The mob in the course of the riot had animated each other with the cry then made use of by the French soldiers; Mountjoye, Mountjoye, God help us and our lord Lewis! Hubert de Burg, the chief justiciary, came to the Tower of London with an armed force, and summoned the mayor and principal citizens before him, to enquire after the ringleaders of the riot. One Constantine Fitz Arnulph, a citizen of some consequence, was found to have headed the mob, who insolently justified his conduct in the justiciary's presence: he proceeded against him by martial law, ordered him to be hanged without any legal process, and cut off the feet of many of his accomplices. Not contented with this cruel and summary proceeding, he still farther punished the city by degrading the mayor and other magistrates, appointing a custos over the city, and requiring security from thirty persons of his own choosing, for the good behaviour of the rest of their fellowcitizens.

The Londoners made complaint of this treatment, as an infraction of the Great Charter, and, in a parliament summoned at Oxford, solicited a confirmation of the charter of their liberties; which the same justiciary granted in the king's name. It should seem, as Mr. Hume remarks, that a law in those days lost its validity, if not renewed from time to time.


In the parliament held at Westminster in the year 1225, the Magna Charta, or great charter of liberties, was confirmed; in the ninth chapter of which, all the antient rights and privileges of the city of London are ratified. This clause cost the citizens a fifteenth of all their personal estates. At the same time the king granted the commonalty of the city a right to have a common seal. He no sooner assumed the reins of government into his own hands, than he began to shew himself in his proper colours, and to act the tyrant with a high hand. The first attempt he made this way, was upon the citizens of London, by extorting from them five thousand marks, declaring, as they had furnished Lewis, his enemy, with that sum, they should likewise give him the same: which they were obliged to do. However he granted them five charters, on condition of paying him a fifteenth of their personal estates; which charters are numbered XII. XIII. XIV. XV. XVI. in the Appendix.

The four first of these charters are confirmations of former grants; the fifth confers several privileges on the citizens in the disforested warren of Staines. The king granted, also, according to Stow, that each of the sheriffs should have two clerks and two serjeants.


In the year 1229, the king, ever rapacious, caused a tallage to be assessed upon the city, partly by a poll-tax, and partly by a discretionary assessment upon the several wards. About the same time the magistrates of London ordained, that for the future, the sheriffs should continue no longer in office than one year, thereby to prevent their imposing upon their fellow-citizens, by extorting money from them.


In the year 1232, a fire happened, which destroyed a great part of the city; notwithstanding which, the citizens were obliged to pay the king twenty thousand pounds (an immense sum at that time) to obtain his favour; as it is expressed by Madox; perhaps he was not reconciled to them since the tumult at Westminster. By these exactions, which appear so irregular and arbitrary, we perceive how successfully commerce was cultivated by the Londoners: and the growing wealth of the metropolis, was no sooner perceived by these Norman kings, than they had always some pretence ready to squeeze money out of it, whenever their necessities or extravagance required supply.

Henry's repeated demands on the city, have been thought owing to the justiciary Hubert de Burg, who now fell under the king's displeasure; and was ordered to give up an account of all his receipts and disbursements during his continuance in office. Hubert fled; and the king was so highly incensed, that he caused proclamation to be made in London, that all persons who had any complaint against the said Hubert, should immediately apply to him for justice. The citizens, glad of this opportunity to be revenged on their enemy, accused him of putting to death Constantine Fitz-Arnulph, one of their fellow-citizens, without a legal process: and by others he was accused of injustice and rapine. Whereupon the king, in a violent rage, sent a precept to the mayor of London, to repair to the priory of Merton, where he had taken sanctuary, and bring him to London, dead or alive. The king's command was no sooner intimated to the citizens, than they quickly and joyfully assembled, to the number of twenty thousand men, with a resolution to execute the order without mercy. But the most judicious citizens, apprehensive of the publick tranquillity, applied to the bishop of Winchester for his advice, who plainly told them, that the king must be obeyed. But the remonstrance made to the king by Ranulph, earl of Chester, had a better effect; and he immediately revoked his former precept. Hubert was afterward confined in the castle of Devizes, escaped, was expelled the kingdom, yet was at length taken into favour againby this irresolute prince.


In the nineteenth year of this reign, A. D. 1235, Walter le Bruin, a farrier, had a piece of ground granted him in the Strand, in the parish of St. Clement's Danes, whereon to erect a forge, he rendering at the Exchequer annually for the same a quit-rent of six horse-shoes, with the nails belonging to them. This quit-rent is still tendered annually at the Exchequer by the sheriffs of London, for the said piece of ground, though at present lost to the city.

Henry's ill-judged partiality for foreigners, whom he encouraged and promoted, to counter-balance his refractory English barons, subjected him to great disquiet. The barons were too opulent and independent to co-operate in Henry's desires of ruling by no other law than his own will; while foreigners, restrained by no hereditary claims or native attachments, strove only to recommend themselves to the ruling power. The king's marriage with Eleanor, daughter of Raymond, count of Provence, naturally drew over an accession of strangers from thence, who found a welcome reception, of which they availed themselves to the utmost.


This marriage was solemnized January 14, 1236, with the utmost magnificence, at Canterbury; on their way to London, the king and queen were met by the mayor, aldermen, and principal citizens, to the number of three hundred and sixty, riding upon stately horses, sumptuously accoutered, and each man carrying a gold or silver cup in his hand, in token of the privilege, claimed by the city, of being the chief butler of the kingdom at the king's coronation. The streets of the city, through which this cavalcade passed, were adorned in the most elegant manner, and the citizens attending the king and queen to Westminster, had the honour, according to custom, of officiating as butler at the queen's coronation. At night the city was beautifully illuminated: and this is thought to have been the most pompous shew that ever was seen in London till that time.

The foreign merchants, who were prohibited to land their goods in London, and were obliged to sell their merchandise on board a ship, purchased this year the privilege of landing and housing their commodities, at the expence of fifty marks per ann. and a fine of one hundred pounds, toward supplying the city of London with water from Tyburn. This project was put in execution, by bringing water from six fountains or wells in the town of Tyburn, by leaden pipes of a six-inch bore; which emptied themselves into stone cisterns, or conduits lined with lead. The first and greatest of these conduits was erected in Westcheap; but, in proportion to the necessities of the citizens, and the increase of water-pipes from other wells, and the Thames, they afterward amounted to above nineteen; which have been rendered useless for above a century past, by the better supply and conveyance of New-River and Thames water. Stow informs us, that it was customary for the lord-mayor, accompanied by the aldermen and other citizens on horseback, on the 18th of September, to visit the heads from whence the conduits were supplied; hunting a hare before dinner, and the fox after dinner, in the fields beyond St. Giles's.



The king's first son Edward, was born at Westminster, in the year 1239; on which occasion great rejoicings were made in all parts of the kingdom, more especially by the Londoners: but nothing could conciliate the king's affections. Symond Fitz-Mary had, previous to the election of sheriffs, purchased of the king a mandamus, directed to the mayor and aldermen, for chusing him sheriff for the year ensuing. The magistrates, who considered this injunction as derogatory to the rights and immunities of the citizens, chose a person of much greater merit to that office. For this disobedience they were not only severely reprimanded; but Henry degraded William Joiner, the new mayor, and commanded them to proceed to another election. The citizens, in obedience to this command, chose Gerard Batt; by whose good deportment, Henry pretended to be reconciled to the city, and brought the citizens into a humour to swear fealty to his son Edward.

The antipathy entertained to the Jews, has already been shewn, in more than one instance; and this dislike exposed them in a peculiar manner to the violence of the monarch without protection and without pity. Henry was not behind his predecessors in oppressing them: and to palliate it, a report had been raised, that the Jews at Norwich had crucified a child by way of ridicule of the Christians. It is by no means likely, that, hated as they were, they would wantonly expose themselves to ill usage, seeing they made it in general worth their while to continue here at the hazard of it. Be this as it may, the Jews were not only punished there, but those in London were, on this pretence, obliged to pay the king twenty thousand marks, or be condemned to perpetual imprisonment.


In 1241 Gerard Batt was rechosen mayor of the city, and presented to the king at Woodstock for his acceptance; but rejected by him, on an information brought against him for extorting money from the bakers, brewers, and other victuallers. Being convicted of extorting forty pounds from the victuallers, in his former mayoralty, and unwilling to make restitution, the king was so highly enraged, that he swore Batt should not then, nor at any time thereafter, be mayor of the city. Reyner de Burgay, or Reynold Bongay, was elected in his stead.

It was about this time, that certain fortifications, which were added to the Tower of London in the year 1239, and had cost the king above twelve thousand marks, and the citizens of London much uneasiness, fell down, to the great joy of the Londoners; who were told, that the said buildings had been erected as prisons for those citizens, who should contend for the liberties of the city, in opposition to the king's pleasure.


In the year 1243, the city was compelled to pay a large sum, by way of loan to the king, which was levied on the citizens in such proportion as his officers thought proper to rate them at. Nevertheless, the king, arriving some time after from Gascoigny, was received in a pompous manner, and presented by the citizens with several presents of great value: and when Beatrix, the countess of Provence, and mother to the queen, arrived with her daughter Cincia, bride to Richard, the king's brother, they were welcomed with equal regard. The nuptials were soon after solemnized with the greatest spendour; for, at the wedding dinner, according to Matthew Paris, there were no less than thirty thousand dishes.

Notwithstanding the repeated testimonies the citizens of London had endeavoured to give of their loyalty, by complying so readily with all the king's desires; he was continually studying pretences for extorting money from them, as well as from the Jews. He now violently imposed a fine of fifteen hundred marks on the city, for suffering Walter Bukerel, who had been banished for twenty years, to live in it. The Londoners offered to prove, that the king, by his letters patent, had pardoned Bukerel long before; but the king, provided with a subterfuge to cover his injustice, meanly replied, that Bukerel had been pardoned during his minority, and that therefore it was not obligatory.


To sooth the Londoners into good humour, and, as if it were to make them in some sort an amends, by his condescension, for the great injustice he had done them, Henry repaired next year, A. D. 1245, to St. Paul's cathedral, before he set out on his expedition to Wales, and, in a familiar and affectionate manner, bade the citizens adieu. They were greatly pleased with this affability; but with little reason; for another year produced a fresh demand of one thousand marks; and soon after they had their liberties seized, and their magistrates degraded, for a false judgment given against Margaret Veil, a poor widow. Arbitrary monarchs generally maintain justice so far as to suffer no wrong to be done but by themselves, and under their authority. William Haverell and Edward of Westminster, were appointed custodes of the city; who continued in that office till Lady-day following.

The former regulations made for the building of houses, being little regarded, it was now again ordained, that all houses should be covered with slates or tiles, instead of straw, more especially those that stood close together; and in the principal streets, which were then but very few in number: for, where Cheapside now is situated, was a void space, called Crown field, from the Crown Inn, which stood at the east end of it. The mayor and Sheriffs were, about this time, commanded, upon the oaths of twelve worthy citizens, to choose one of the best artists in the city for the king's custos cunei, or keeper of the mint, in the room of Walter le Fleming, deceased. They chose John Hasdell; who, being presented at the Exchequer, was there sworn and admitted. The city this year purchased of Richard, earl of Cornwall, the king's brother, his fee-farm of Queenhithe in Thames-street, with all the rights, customs and appurtenances thereunto belonging; for which they were to pay to the said earl, his heirs, and successors for ever, a quit rent of fifty pounds per annum. The articles of this agreement were confirmed by the king in the charter marked No. XVII. in the Appendix.


To the king's rapacity must be added that of the church. No ecclesiastical affairs could be negociated without money at the court of Rome. Otho, the legate, who was here in 1240, is said, by M. Paris, to have carried more money out of the nation than he left behind. Hence, in a parliament held at Westminster, A. D. 1247, it was resolved to send letters to the pope and cardinals, humbly to intreat, that for the future, regard might be had to the miserable state of the nation, and not intirely to ruin the people by their intolerable exactions. To the honour of London, if any honour can be derived from so mean an application, those letters, by order of parliament, were sealed with the city seal.

On the 13th of February this year, a terrible earthquake happened in London, which occasioned abundance of damage by the destruction of houses.


The king's prodigality now met with a check; for, when the parliament assembled at Westminster, A. D. 1248, and the king, according to custom, required a pecuniary aid; the barons resolutely told him, they wondered how he could renew his demands without blushing, seeing he had so often forfeited his word to them! Perceiving, therefore, no probability of their agreeing to his request; he dissolved the parliament: and, being reduced to very great straits, sold his jewels, and plate, to discharge his debts. When this resource was first pointed out to him, he asked where he could find purchasers; being answered, in London, he replied, If the treasure of Augustus were to be sold, the city of London could purchase it! Those clownish Londoners, who call themselves barons, abound in all things, while we are reduced to want! To oblige the citizens to supply him with money, he granted a fair to the abbot of Westminster, to be annually held at Tuthill, or Tothill; commanding the Londoners, during that time, not to carry on any commerce in the city: which tyrannical injunction highly irritated the citizens, but produced the desired effect; for they bought it off with a large sum.


Henry's dislike to the citizens of London, and extravagance, carried him unaccountable lengths. He was mean enough, in the year 1249, to keep his Christmas at London, begging, as it were, large new-year's gifts of the citizens: and, not content with the money given on this occasion, he soon after tyrannically compelled them to pay the sum of two thousand pounds; a very great sum at that time! and many shop-keepers were robbed of their goods for the use of his kitchen.

Such open violence drove many of the substantial citizens out of London into the country: and the discontent and clamour was so general, that, fearing a continuance of such intolerable rapine would at length depopulate the city, his chief resource in the time of distress; Henry resolved to reconcile himself to them. He ordered the magistrates to attend him at Westminster; where, in the great hall, he, in the presence of his nobility, solemnly promised, that, for the future, the citizens should live happily under his government, and not be liable to such grievous taxations as formerly. If this assurance quieted the apprehensions of the citizens, it answered all the purpose he intended; for he did not long abide by it. He began his exactions again, however, with some degree of plausibility. There were in London many Italian usurers, who carried on an illicit trade with impunity: for, calling themselves the pope's merchants, the clergy durst not interfere; and, as they were protected by many of the nobility, the citizens were afraid to call them to an account. At last the king thought it might be worth his while to take cognizance of them. He commanded them to be prosecuted; and several of them were committed to prison: the rest took sanctuary, till they could accommodate matters with the king; who, for a considerable sum, allowed them to carry on their destructive commerce as formerly. He then thought on another scheme to raise money from his trading subjects in London; he caused the citizens to be summoned by proclamation to attend him at Westminster, where he proposed to them the undertaking the Holy War. To this they shewed no great inclination; for only three of the whole number accepted his proposal; these the king lovingly embraced and kissed, calling them his brethren; but opprobriously upbraided the rest of the citizens for a parcel of base, ignoble mercenaries and scoundrels. As a farther evidence of his resentment, he, in a tyrannical manner, compelled them to give him twenty marks in gold, which were then two hundred in silver; and obliged them to keep all the shops in the city shut, and to go to the above-mentioned fair at Westminster, there to expose their persons and goods to the inclemency of the weather in the dead of winter; and to pay four-pence per day for the maintenance of his white bear and its keeper in the Tower of London. This, with other injurious treatment, produced an aversion to the king, of which he and his friends soon after experienced the woful effects. But as he was ever vigilant in seeking pretences to oppress them, he now commanded certain of his domestics to interrupt the young citizens in their diversions at the quintin, where a peacock was appointed for the prize, and to provoke them to blows. For this fray, he compelled them to make satisfaction, by the payment of one thousand marks. Soon after, the sheriffs, by a writ of Exchequer, were ordered to distrain the citizens for the queen's gold; and as it were by way of insult, they received a precept from the court, to provide a muzzle, an iron chain and a cord for the king's white bear, and to build a stall and provide necessaries for the elephant and his keeper, in the Tower of London.

Earl Richard, the king's brother, and the citizens, having a difference concerning the exchange of certain lands; Richard resented it to such a degree, that he accused the mayor of remissness in not punishing the bakers for making defective bread. For this neglect, the city liberties were again seized, and a custos set over it, till the citizens had compromised matters, by paying the earl the sum of six hundred marks, and five hundred more to the king, on colour of granting the charter, in the Appendix, No. XVIII.

Provided Henry could but get money from the citizens, he would either give them a confirmation of their liberties, or take the liberty to set them aside; which contradictory conduct rendered his grant of charters a mere joke. However, by this charter, their antient rights were once more confirmed, with the additional privilege of presenting their new mayor to the barons of the Exchequer yearly, in the absence of the king: whereas formerly they were obliged to repair to the king's residence, in any part of England, to present their chief magistrate.

In the year 1254, the mayor and sheriffs were committed to the Marshalsea, for the arrears of an aid toward the king's voyage into Gascoigny; upon his return from whence, the Londoners, as usual, sent a deputation to congratulate him upon his safe arrival, and to present him with the sum of one hundred pounds, as was customary on such occasions. Henry, instead of thanking them, said, it was no more than his due, and that, if they would merit his thanks, they must enlarge their present. The citizens, unwilling to disoblige their avaritious prince, presented him with a valuable piece of plate of exquisite workmanship; which pacified him for the present. But one John Gate, a prisoner convict in Newgate for the murder of a prior, a relation of the queen, having made his escape, the king sent for the mayor and sheriffs to the Tower of London, and, according to his usual justice, demanded of the city, as an atonement for the pretended crime, no less than the sum of three thousand marks. To give sanction to his demand, he degraded both the sheriffs; and, because the citizens did not pay that enormous sum immediately down, he caused many of the chief of them to be seized, and clapped up in prison. The same year Henry obliged the city to comply with the payment of a tallage of three thousand marks; beside other sums, on pretences too tedious to enumerate.


An affair happened in the year 1257, which occasioned great confusion in the city: it was thought to be one of Henry's schemes to throw the power of the city into his hands; but is variously related. He pretended to find at Windsor a roll of crimes laid to the charge of the city magistrates; and commanded his chief justice, John Mansell, to repair to London, and to summon a folkmote (fn. 2) at Paul's cross; to read the accusations, and to order the aldermen to choose out of their respective wards thirty-six inquisitors to inquire into the facts. Having artfully contrived to inflame the minds of the populace, ever ready to listen to any one who professes to redress their grievances; he reduced the magistrates to throw themselves upon his clemency. Though the result of this scheme terminated rather unfavourably, yet the king degraded six of the aldermen before he let the prosecution drop. He then at a folkmote summoned at St. Paul's cross, acquainted the citizens with his intention to cross the seas to his foreign dominions; he promised to preserve all their liberties entire, and further granted them certain privileges, namely, "That for the future every citizen should "have liberty to plead his own cause, without being obliged to employ a "lawyer, except in pleas that might concern the crown; that the wisdom of the court being certified of the truth of the affair, without any colouring, they might decree equal and just judgment to the parties concerned." The city walls and bulwarks of London being also reported to be ruinous, Henry commanded the citizens to repair them, which was effected at a very great expence.

Notwithstanding Henry's frequent confirmation of the city rights, he next ordered Sir Hugh Bigot, one of the itinerant judges, to hold a court of itinerancy in London; by which court, divers bakers for mal-practices were carried and exposed in the tumbrels or dung-carts, like bawds. The said judge did several other things incompatible with the immunities of the city.

This season being remarkably wet, a dreadful famine happened; wheat sold at the prodigious rate of one pound four shillings the quarter, and according to report, no less than twenty thousand persons died in London. What added to the misery of this terrible dearth was a scarcity of money also; for, by the grievous exactions of the king on the one hand, and the pope on the other, together with the vast sums carried into Germany by Richard, king of the Romans, which, according to report, amounted to no less than seven hundred thousand pounds; a very incredible sum in those days! the nation was so drained of specie, that there was hardly any left for circulation.

This year the king coined in London a penny of pure gold, weighing two sterlings, which is supposed to be the first gold coined in England.


The nation felt the oppressive measures of the king so severely, that the parliament which assembled at Oxford in 1258, resolved to lay some restraints upon his future conduct. A council of twenty-four barons was formed, who undertook to reform the state; and who in effect deprived the king of all his power. Having obliged the king and prince to confirm the constitutions or provisions they had made for ascertaining the rights of the people, they sent some of their members as commissioners to the city of London, to ask, whether they would adhere to the said statutes, and act in defence thereof, when occasion should offer? After some deliberation, the citizens unanimously assented; and not only obliged themselves by articles under their common seal, but likewise swore to maintain and defend the same against all infringers whatsoever.

The citizens soon availed themselves of these securities against the king's lawless conduct; and their former grievances may be imagined by the proclamation made in the city, that none of the king's purveyors should take any thing in London, without consent of the owner, except two tuns of wine the king had out of every wine ship, at two pounds per tun: and as long as the Oxford provisions subsisted, the king had nothing in London, but what he paid ready money for. A complaint was soon after preferred to the king against the collectors of the money for repairing the city wall, who, instead of applying it as it was intended, fraudulently appropriated the same to their own private uses. The collectors were apprehended, tried and convicted of the fact; but finding means to make a friend of Mansell the chief justice, they were all pardoned.

Henry, with his brother Richard, king of the Romans, and their queens, made a magnificent public entry into London, on Candlemas day 1259. And soon after, Henry, at the desire of the king of the Romans, confirmed the privileges of the company of German or Hanseatic merchants.

A good understanding appeared to be now established between the king and the city; for on the sixth of November, this same year, the king intending to go over to France, came to St. Paul's cross, where a folkmote being assembled, he took leave of the citizens, faithfully promised to maintain all their rights and privileges; and at the same time strictly enjoined the mayor to maintain the peace of the city during his absence.

This was by no means an ill-timed caution; for during the king's stay abroad, a great difference happened between prince Edward and the earl of Gloucester; to compromise which, a parliament was summoned to meet at Westminster, where both the prince and earl arrived, with armed and numerous retinues, and proposed to lodge in the city. Upon this extraordinary emergency, the mayor went to advise with the regency, who calling to their assistance the king of the Romans, the result was, that the mayor should not give admittance to either of them, or their followers, and that he should command all the citizens to provide themselves with arms, to be ready on all occasions.


The intoxicating nature of power sufficiently hints how cautiously and sparingly it ought to be trusted in the hands of any man or body of men. The council of barons who had assumed the whole power of the state, for the purpose of forming it on a more regular model, were found now to consult their own private emoluments, instead of the public welfare. One good thing indeed they had done, which proved the destruction of their aristocracy; and this was ejecting numerous swarms of Italian ecclesiastics from their benefices, in favour of the national clergy. This irritated the pope; the people were still discontented; and Henry, uneasy at being set aside, took the advantage of these circumstances, and procured from Rome an absolution from his oath to observe the constitutions of Oxford (fn. 3). He then by public proclamation accused the earl of Leicester, and the rest of the barons associated with him, of mal-conduct, and declared that he resumed the administration of government for the protection of his people. He appointed new officers of state, ordered all the citizens of London, from twelve years and upward, to be sworn to be faithful to him and his heir, that the city should be put in a proper state for defence; and took every necessary precaution beside, to collect the strength of the kingdom for his support. Yet all this management had like to have been overturned by the inadvertence of the constable of the Tower, who stopped divers ships laden with corn, caused the same to be unloaded, and carried into that fortress, where he fixed the price according to pleasure. This proceeding would in all probability have proved fatal to the king's cause in the city, had it not been happily accommodated by the chief justice Basset; who, when the cause came before him, decreed, that whenever the constable of the Tower should have occasion to buy corn for the king, or the inhabitants of the Tower, he should for the future come to the public market in the city, where he should be supplied with grain, at two pence the quarter cheaper than the common price fixed by the mayor: and if the said constable, or any of his officers, should act contrary to this sentence, the privy council should give immediate order to have the same redressed.

Oppressive as Henry had been, the nation was now taught by experience that twenty-four tyrants were worse than one: when therefore he called a parliament, April 23, 1262, the restoration of his authority was agreed to by a great majority of voices.

In a cause tried this year in the exchequer, between the Londoners and the abbot of Westminster, it was decided by a jury, that the sheriffs of London had a right to enter the town of Westminster, and also into all houses belonging to the abbot in Middlesex, to summon and distrain all and every of his tenants for default of appearing.


Prince Edward, at his return from his expedition into Wales, immediately went to the temple or monastery of the knights templars; where, breaking open their treasury, he seized ten thousand pounds deposited there by the citizens, not dreaming that any person would be so wicked as to rob a treasury in such a sanctuary. This dishonourable action enraged them so, that they ran to arms, plundered the houses of divers courtiers, and revolted to the party of the barons. The earl of Leicester had now engaged the displaced barons in a rebellion against the king; a council of them met in the neighbourhood of Oxford; where they publicly declared both against the king and prince, as guilty of perjury, in receding from the constitutions. They assembled a great army, and proceeded to open acts of hostility, by destroying the estates, and plundering the houses of all those who were in favour with the king and prince: they sent a letter to the mayor and citizens of London, under the seal of Simon de Mountfort, earl of Leicester, their general, to know whether they would assist them in the recovery of their just rights, and the re-establishment of the provisions made at Oxford? The mayor, Thomas Fitz-Thomas, carried this letter to Henry in the Tower of London. The king pressed the mayor to tell him the sentiments of the citizens on this occasion. Fitz-Thomas, unwilling to declare his own sentiments at so critical a juncture, begged leave to consult his brethren the aldermen, promising quickly to return with their thoughts thereon. But the king insisting upon his own opinion without farther delay, he boldly answered, that he, with his brethren the aldermen and commonalty of the city of London, had frequently, by his command, been sworn to obey all such acts and ordinances as had been made to the honour of God, the interest of the king, and good of the kingdom, which oaths they thought themselves in conscience obliged to keep; adding, that in order to prevent any farther misunderstanding between him and his nobility, on the account of foreigners residing in London, they had taken a resolution to expel all aliens out of their city. This answer cut the king to the heart, but as it was a very improper time to shew his resentment he passed it over; the barons were soon after admitted into the city. It was during these commotions that a regular watch was appointed nightly in every ward of the city.

The king, finding himself distressed and disappointed of relief on every side, thought it safest to give way to the times, by agreeing to a treaty, once more to observe the Oxford statutes.

The queen having laboured to prevent so dishonourable a peace with the barons, the citizens were so enraged at her, that she thought it prudent to retire from the Tower to Windsor by water: but the populace assembled on the bridge, where they not only faluted her with the most opprobrious language, but likewise threw vollies of stones and dirt at her; which compelled her to return.

The barons, still farther to gain the affections of the Londoners, desired them to draw up an account of such of their liberties as had been violated, and also a draught of such additional privileges as they judged would be of service to the city: all which they undertook to get granted by the king. But in this expectation they were disappointed; for Henry, never intending to keep the late peace longer than to serve a turn, was no sooner at liberty, than he renewed the war; and finding means to draw several of the barons to his party, Leicester and his adherents were declared rebels; and the king prepared to reduce them by force. But the citizens not only opened their gates to him and his army, but joined with him to give the king and prince battle in Lambeth fields; however, both parties were so nearly equal in strength, that an accommodation was proposed and accepted by both sides, to submit their differences to the arbitration of Lewis IX king of France.


In Palm-Sunday week, 1264 a dreadful persecution befel the unfortunate Jews in this city; for one of them endeavouring to extort from a christian more than legal interest, which was two-pence per week for twenty shillings, the populace fell upon them in a most inhuman manner, massacring above five hundred of them, and robbing and destroying their houses and synagogue. Such of them as were concealed by persons of humanity and conscience, were sent to the Tower of London for their greater security.

The character of Lewis for virtue and equity was so exalted, that the contending parties could not have chosen a more disinterested arbitrator. He gave a solemn award in the presence of the states of France at Amiens, where he annulled the provisions of Oxford, not only as they were extorted, and contrary to the antient constitution of the kingdom, but as being expressly a temporary expedient. He also decreed a general amnesty for all past offences.

Leicester and his partisans no sooner understood the sentence Lewis had pronounced, than they determined not to abide by it.

The first step they took, was to secure the city of London, into which they were readily admitted by the citizens. The populace usurped the government of the city, and at the desire of the barons rechose Thomas Fitz-Thomas for mayor; obliging themselves to appear in arms and to march wherever their officers were pleased to lead them. They were first called out by Hugh le Despencer, then constable of the Tower, whose forces they joined, and destroyed the palace of the king of the Romans at Isleworth, and the king's summer house near Westminster. This so provoked the king, that he marched to Kent; where he prevailed upon the cinque ports to block up the river Thames, to prevent the carrying supplies of provisions to London. In this state of distraction the most unheard-of ravages were committed; for the populace plundered the houses of the most eminent citizens, under pretence of their being friends to the king: but their greatest fury was levelled against the Italian usurers, and the Jews.

Leicester, calling together his forces, among which were included a great body of Londoners, marched into Sussex, in search of the king; and sent the bishops of London and Worcester to mediate a peace; whose proposals Henry rejected. An action ensued at Lewes, in which the Londoners being raw and undisciplined, were put to flight by Prince Edward; but pursuing them too eagerly he exposed his father and uncle, who lost the battle and their liberties in the interim.


The king and his brother being thus in Leicester's hands, he imposed his own terms on them, to which Prince Edward was obliged to agree: but though Leicester usurped the whole power of the state and still kept the king and prince Edward in his hands, we owe to him the first admission of representatives of the people into parliament. His tyranny disgusted many of the barons: prince Edward made his escape, assembled an army, and defeated and killed him at Evesham.

Upon this turn of affairs a parliament was held at Winchester, or, according to others, at Westminster, about Christmas; wherein it was enacted, that the city of London, for its late rebellion, should be divested of its liberties, its posts and chains taken away, and its principal citizens imprisoned, and left to the mercy of the king.

Having obtained a parliamentary sanction for punishing the citizens of London, Henry wanted not inclination to put it in execution; for, upon his arrival at Windsor with a potentarmy, it was given out, that he intended utterly to destroy the city. It was then advised by their best friends at court, by a proper instrument under the city seal, to submit their lives and fortunes entirely to the king's mercy; which was done accordingly, and after much difficulty was accepted. But their posts and chains were taken away, and the mayor with forty of the principal citizens, were ordered the day after to attend the king at Windsor, to confirm the above-mentioned instrument: for their security, they had a safe-conduct, or pass, under seal, for their coming and going in safety, for the space of four days. Notwithstanding their safe conduct, Fitz-Thomas, the mayor, and four others were delivered up to prince Edward, who imprisoned them until he extorted a ransom from them. The king appointed certain commissioners, whom he constituted guardians of the city. He also confiscated the estates of many principal citizens, seized the sons of others as hostages for their parents good behaviour, and still detained Richard Bonaventure, Simon de Hadistock, William de Kent, and William de Gloucester; who, it seems, were, on account of their great riches, to be more effectually fleeced.

The citizens astonished at this rigorous course, resolved, if possible, to come to an end of their misery. They applied to the king, in the most humble manner, to know what he insisted on as an atonement for their past offences. Henry at first demanded the immense sum of sixty thousand marks; but the citizens, in a remonstrance, setting forth, that it was the baser sort of the people that had been the greatest offenders, therefore they most humbly intreated, that his majesty would be pleased to accept of what they were able to give, without ruining their innocent families. This expostulatory declaration had a very happy effect; for Henry committed the government of the city and Tower of London to Sir John Linde and John Waldren, clerk, by the appellation of seneschals, under whom twenty-four of the principal citizens were entrusted with the immediate direction of city affairs: and, in consideration of their sufferings in the late troubles, he reduced the fine on the city to 20,000 marks, in full satisfaction for all offences. For the payment of which, the citizens having given-security, the king sent a charter of remission, under the broad seal, from Northampton. (See Appendix No. XIX.)

The seneschals or guardians aforesaid were soon after dismissed; in whose stead the citizens chose William Fitz-Richard for their mayor, and Thomas le Ford and Gregory de Rockesly sheriffs. This affair was no sooner settled, than the citizens set about raising the fine payable to the king; for the payment of which, not only housholders, but also lodgers and servants; were assessed; the assessment amounting so high, that many, rather than pay it, chose to be disfranchised.

By the Tower records it appears that at this time Henry ordered the keepers of the seven gates of the city to be paid three pence per day each.


In the feudal times, insurrections were raised with great facility by any discontented baron; the wonder is to find matters so easily compromised, when the insurgents were suppressed. But every baron was then considered as a kind of petty sovereign; the regal authority had not that stability it has since acquired; and the common people who were the greatest sufferers in these commotions were little regarded by the turbulent chiefs in their treaties of accommodation. Gilbert de Clare, earl Gloucester, who had contributed to the escape of prince Edward from the hands of Leicester, not being rewarded according to his expectation, and having raised some forces intended to serve in France, contrived to get possession of London; and with the factious populace had concerted a rebellion against the king. But Henry, who was then curbing some rebels in the isle of Ely, being assisted by prince Edward with 30,000 men, shut him up in London, where being reduced to great difficulties, he was forced to treat for peace. He obtained more favourable terms than might have been expected, and the citizens received a general pardon; only the king of the Romans made them pay 1000 marks for the destruction of his country seat at Isleworth.

The citizens of London, whose trade rendered them of importance so long as they were free to pursue it, so far recovered the king's favour, that the next year, 1268, he granted them an ample charter: for which see Appendix No. XX.

By this charter the antient privileges of the city were restored, excepting only the right of appointing their magistrates: Henry therefore by his precept commanded Alen le Souche, the mayor, to present to him six persons, eligible for sheriffs, of whom he chose Walter Harvey and William de Durham; and they were sworn to collect the city duties for the king's use, and to render an exact account thereof to the barons of the exchequer. Soon after he discharged the mayor, and constituted Stephen Edworth, constable of the Tower, custos of the city.

An odd occurrence is mentioned to have happened at this time. So great a quarrel arose between the companies of goldsmiths and merchant taylors, that they with the friends of each party met one night compleatly armed to the number of 500 men to decide it by blows. Many were killed and wounded on each side: nor did they part until the sheriffs with a body of citizens came and apprehended the ring-leaders; thirteen of whom were condemned and executed.


In the year 1270 the king bestowed the government of London upon his son Edward; who appointed Hugh Fitz-Otho constable of the Tower, and custos of the city; and William de Hadestone and Anketyll Alverne, sheriffs. The prince and citizens agreed so well, that he prevailed on the king to restore them the privilege of electing their magistrates; for which, instead of three hundred and fifteen pounds for the city farm, the citizens agreed to pay the sum of four hundred pounds per annum. They immediately chose John Adrien for their mayor, and Philip Taylour and Walter Potter for their sheriffs, the prince doing the city the honour to present them to the king at Westminster; where they were admitted and sworn, and the custos discharged. For this grace the citizens presented the king with the sum of one hundred marks, and the prince with five hundred, and on the twenty-first of July following received a charter, which confirmed all their antient immunities.

No sooner were the citizens relieved from political evils, than they were distressed by a natural disaster. By excessive rains the banks of the Thames overflowed and broke down in many places: by which accident immense damage was done to houses, lands and the fruits of the earth. Wheat sold at six pounds eight shillings the quarter (which is more than sixty pounds at present:) and the famine was so horrible that many poor parents are reported to have eaten their own children.


The martial spirit of Edward, stimulated by the king of France, prompted him to assume the cross. His absence and the age of the king were fatal to the internal peace of the kingdom; at last the king died A. D. 1272 in the 56th year of his reign.


  • 1. Anderson's Hist. Comm. vol. I. p. 104.
  • 2. The folkmote, as its name indeed implies, was a general assembly of the citizens at large. They met in St. Paul's church-yard, and were deemed the supreme assembly of London, to inquire into the conduct of magistrates, and determine the customs and liberties of the city. This assembly by the intrusion of strangers became so tumultuous that it grew into disuse. The folkmote, in all probability, was the origin of the present common council of the city.
  • 3. Hume.