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‘We are the Commune of the City’. Elections, Exemptions and Exclusions in Thirteenth-Century London

One of the earliest maps of London, by monk and cartographer, Matthew Paris, c.1252.

By Ian Stone

In 1272 the election of London’s mayor descended into chaos. A huge crowd of Londoners took to the streets in support of Walter Hervey, an alderman, who was their choice for mayor. Hervey’s fellow aldermen, who claimed the right to elect the mayor, opposed Hervey’s election and supported their own candidate. As far as the aldermen were concerned, Hervey was a dangerous and divisive populist who wanted to squeeze them for more money to pay a huge fine that the city had incurred for rebelling against the king. To the common sort in London, however, Hervey was a hero. He promised to promote their interests and to protect them from the demands of their richer masters.

For three weeks the streets of London and Westminster were a battleground. At one point Hervey’s supporters chased the aldermen more than two miles from the London Guildhall to Westminster Palace, where King Henry III of England lay dying. The shouts of the Londoners even disturbed the king as he laboured in extremis. Attempts to find a solution were proposed by those close to the king, but these proposals found little support among Hervey’s supporters. In this video I discuss the events of autumn 1272 in London. I also examine the reporting of the election by Arnold fitz Thedmar, a chronicler and one of the aldermen implacably opposed to Hervey’s election. Finally, I consider what this dramatic episode can teach us about politics and elections in thirteenth-century London.

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This video is part of The History of London with Dr Ian Stone, which is available on YouTube. You can also learn more from Ian Stone’s website.

Top Image: One of the earliest maps of London, by monk and cartographer, Matthew Paris, c.1252.

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