It was on 9th May, 2015, 800 years ago this year that, in the lead-up to the creation of the Magna Carta in June, King John issued a charter granting the City of London the right to freely elect its own mayor.
The charter, which was issued at the Temple – King John’s power base to the west of the City (for more on it, see our earlier post here), was a fairly blatant bid to keep the support of the city.
Known simply as the King John Charter, it stated that the barons of the city, “may choose to themselves every year a mayor, who to us may be faithful, discreet, and fit for government of the city, so as, when he shall be chosen, to be presented unto us, or our justice if we shall not be present”.
In return, the mayor was required to be presented to the monarch to take an oath of loyalty each year – a practice commemorated in the Lord Mayor’s Show each November.
The charter, which has a particularly good impression of the king’s seal, is currently on display in the City of London’s newly opened Heritage Gallery, located at the Guildhall Art Gallery.
The event was one of a series leading up to the signing of the Magna Carta in June. Only 10 days after King John issued the charter to the City of London, rebel barons, who have previously taken Bedford, marched on the city to demand their rights and arrived their before the Earl of Salisbury (whom John had ordered to occupy the city).
Aldgate was apparently opened to them by some supporters within the city and the forces of the rebel barons went on to attack the home of royalists as well as those of Jews along with a Jewish burial ground in Barbican – the latter because Jewish moneylenders had lent money to the king.
They later besieged the Tower of London and while they couldn’t take the fortress, their seizure of the city was enough to help force the king to open negotiations late in the month, asking the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langdon, on 27th May to arrange truce (which, while it was apparently not observed terribly well, did help pave the path to the Magna Carta).
The exhibition at the Heritage Gallery runs until 4th June. For more information, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visiting-the-city/attractions-museums-and-galleries/guildhall-art-gallery-and-roman-amphitheatre/Pages/Heritage-Gallery.aspx.
PICTURE: City of London: London Metropolitan Archives