The Lord Mayor of London is an ancient elective office which dates from the reign of Richard the Lionheart. In the intervening eight centuries more than seven hundred men and one woman have held this important post. The City of London has always jealously guarded its independence from the Crown and to this day, within the City, the Lord Mayor is second in Precedence only to the reigning Monarch. This major series of nine articles presents a complete list of the Lord Mayors, arranged chronologically according to the reigns in which they served. There are brief notes about the circumstances of each reign and of some individual Lord Mayors in each article. This Introductory article sets the scene with an overview of the Office and its historical development.
The Chief Officer of the City of London is the Lord Mayor. Throughout the centuries, the holders of this office have played a vital role in the life of the City. He is the Chief Magistrate of the City and the Chairman of its two governing bodies, the Court of Aldermen and the Court of common Council. The Lord Mayor signs himself with his surname only, in the manner of a Peer and adds the title of "Mayor". Within the City, he ranks immediately after the sovereign and above princes of the Blood Royal and acts as the capital's host in Guildhall and Mansion House, his official residence. Outside the City, he ranks immediately after Privy Councillors. He also has the constitutional right to seek an audience with Sovereign through the Lord Chamberlain and at the time of a Coronation has the privilege of acting at the ceremony as Chief Butler to the Sovereign. For that ceremony - and only on that occasion - he must provide himself with a special robe, which today costs thousands of pounds! In addition to being Lord Mayor he is Head of Lieutenancy, Admiral of the Port of London, Chancellor of the City University and has the password to the Tower of London.
Apart from the special Coronation Robe, the Lord Mayor has a number of ceremonial robes which include:
His ceremonial headgear consists of a black tricorn hat decorated with ostrich feathers.
- The Crimson Velvet Reception Robe, worn only in the presence of the sovereign and dating from the reign of George IV.
- The Black and Gold Entertaining Gown worn on civic state occasions.
- The aldermanic Scarlet and Violet Gowns, worn at certain meetings of the Corporation as directed by the City Ceremonial Book.
- A plain black robe for mourning and similar occasions.
Instead of a chain of office, the Lord Mayor of London wears the celebrated collar of SS. This consists of twenty-six S-shaped links, with alternating knots and roses, all in gold and enamel, joined by a Tudor portcullis from which hangs the Mayoral jewel. The collar was presented by Sir John Allen who was Lord Mayor in 1535 and was enlarged in 1567. The Mayoral Jewel is surrounded by twenty-four rose-cut diamonds and was made in 1802 and re-set in 1806. It consists of a cameo of the City Arms, surrounded by the City Motto in blue enamel and wreathed in roses, thistles and shamrock in brilliants and rose diamonds.
During the Saxon period the City of London was effectively a small independent federated state of Wards each of which held its own wardmote . There were twenty wards by 1130, today there are twenty-five. Collectively, the Wards held regular Folkmotes which dealt with general affairs affecting all Wards. The Folkmote is the direct predecessor of the present Court of Common Council. The independence of the City was jealously guarded by the Burgesses. After the Norman Conquest, William only gained authority over London when he agreed a Treaty with the City Authorities, which he confirmed by Royal Charter.
The first recorded Mayor of London was Henry Fitz-Ailwyn who is mentioned in 1189, the first year of the reign of Richard I, and who held the post until his death in 1212. The mayoralty was firmly established on the recognition of the corporate unity of the citizens of London by Prince John in 1191. As King John, he granted the City a charter in 1215, just over a month before he was forced by the Barons to sign Magna Carta. The London Charter directed that they Mayor be chosen annually:
John, by the Grace of God, king of England, duke of Normandy, Aquitane and earl of Anjou, to his archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, sheriffs, rulers and to all his faithful subjects, greeting.The Charter also confirmed the citizens of London in all their existing liberties and privileges. For its part, the City agreed to pay the old London farm [tax] of three hundred pounds a year directly to the Exchequer.
Know ye that we have gained and by this our present writing confirmed to our barons of our city of London, that they may choose to themselves every year a mayor, who to us may be faithful, discreet and fit for the government of the city, so as, when he shall be chosen, to be presented to us or our justice (if we shall not be present); and he shall swear to be faithful to us; and that it shall be lawful to them at the end of the year to remove him and substitute another if they will, or to retain the same, so as he be presented to us or our justice if we shall not be present.
The annual election of a new Lord Mayor has continued to the present day. More than seven hundred men and one woman have held this important post since the reign of Richard I.
The insistence of the City on its independence naturally brought it into conflict with the Crown on a number of occasions. This was especially the case during the Baronial revolts of the thirteenth century throughout the reigns of Henry III and Edward I. The City supported Simon de Montfort against Henry III and fought with him at the Battle of Lewes in 1264. A year later, however, Henry and the Prince Edward defeated and killed de Montfort at Evesham and the City then discovered what it was to be on the losing side!
The Mayor, Thomas Fitz Thomas was deposed and confined at Windsor for a number of years. Sixty of his most prominent supporters in the City were reduced to beggary and the City itself was fined 20,000 Marks. Henry appointed Hugh Fitz Otho, Constable of the tower of London as custos [Warden] and for the next five years there was no mayoral election. Wardens were intermittently appointed down to the reign of Henry VIII whenever the sovereign found it necessary or expedient to assert his authority over the City. The Wardens, however, effectively carried out the duties of the Mayor, albeit in the king's interests, and are normally included in the Mayoral lists. The title "Lord Mayor" is customary, not official. It first appeared as the Latin dominus major in the thirteenth century and as the English Lord Mair in 1414. By the sixteenth century the prefix Right Honourable had come into common use.
The most famous of London's mayors is, of course, Dick Whittington. He served in the office three times and was deeply involved in the City's financial dealings with Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V. He was also a noted philanthropist and was responsible for the erection of almshouses and public toilets. Apart from the fact that he married Alice FitzWarin very little else is actually known about the historical figure. The Dick Whittington of folklore and Pantomine first made his appearance in a seventeenth century Ballad.
The Lord Mayor's Show
At Michaelmas (September 29) the election of Lord Mayor is held in the Great Hall of Guildhall. The assembly, known as Common Hall, consists of all liverymen of at least one year's standing together with certain high officers of the City. All aldermen who have served the office of sheriff and who have not already been Lord Mayor are eligible for election and from these two candidates are chosen. They are presented to the Court of Aldermen and one is chosen as the Lord Mayor for the next mayoral year. The new Lord Mayor is sworn in, by the Town Clerk, at the Guildhall on the Friday before the second Saturday in November. The ceremony is known as "the Silent Change" because the symbolic transfer of the various instruments of authority – the sword, mace and purse etc. – from the previous to the new Lord Mayor is carried out in complete silence by the officers concerned. The next day, the Lord Mayor's Day, he processes to the Royal Courts of Justice where he makes the statutory declaration, required by the Charter of 1215, to the Judges of the Queen's Bench.
The Lord Mayor's Show
The procession from the Guildhall to the Royal Courts on the Saturday is popularly known as the Lord Mayor's show. At first, each newly elected mayor, accompanied by the sheriffs, aldermen and leading guildsmen, rode on horseback from the City to the king's palace at Westminster. This was also the usual seat of royal courts of justice in the mediaeval period. During the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries the election took place on the 28th of October, the feast of St Simon and St Jude, on the following day the Mayor went to Westminster to seek the king's approval. If the king and his justices were not in London the mayor presented himself to the Constable of the Tower of London or his Lieutenant. In 1346 the election day was changed to October 13th but the visit to Westminster continued to take place on October 29th until 1752. In this year the Gregorian Calendar was adopted in Britain and eleven days were lost between September 2 and 14. In consequence, the procession was moved to November 9th.
The first mention of minstrels in the procession is for that of 1401. From 1422 until 1856, the mayor and his retinue travelled by water in a spectacular show of liveries and gilded barges. In 1452, Sir John Norman provided for a magnificent barge with silver oars to take him to Westminster. During the 16th and 17th centuries pageants were a popular feature of the processions and were composed by the City poets, among whom were Thomas Dekker and John Taylor. William Smith, a haberdasher has left us a description of the procession in his Breffe Description of the Royall Citie of London, published in 1575.
"The day of St Simon and St Jude the Mayor enters into his state and office. The next day he goes by water to Westminster in most triumphant-like manner. Next before him goeth the barge of the liver of his own company, decked with their proper arms; and then the Bachelors barge and so all the companies in order every one having their own proper barge with the arms of their company. And so passing along the Thames he landeth at Westminster, where he taketh his oath in the Exchequer before the judge there: which done he returneth by water as aforesaid and landeth at St Paul's Wharf where he and the rest of the Aldermen take their horses and in great pomp pass through Cheapside." Samuel Pepys saw the pageant of 1663 and pronounced it "very silly"! In 1859, the procession was an elaborate affair and was described in the Illustrated London News on 26 November as follows:
"A new feature was introduced in the November show of this year by the erection of a triumphal arch in Cornhill, under which the procession passed, on Lord Mayor's day, on its way from the Guildhall to Westminster. Here the procession paused a short time whilst the children of the Cornhill and Lime-street Ward Schools advanced and presented to the Lord Mayor, who has for some time past acted as president of the schools, an address thanking him and the Lady Mayoress for the kind support they had rendered to the schools. His Lordship, having received the address, said a few words of encouragement to the children, and the procession proceeded on its way to Westminster. The present Lord Mayor is, we should add, Alderman of the ward of Cornhill. The Lord Mayor's show was originally designed to enable citizens to present addresses to the new Mayor along the route but these are now presented at Guildhall before the procession begins.
"The arch, which was a Gothic one, had a triple head; the angles were carried on pilasters with carved caps; and above the arch were gables filled with tracery and flanked with pinnacles, being ornamented with crockets and finials. Along the top ran a traceried balustrade, and behind rose a high spire, with more crockets and finials, and hanging flags. Against the corner piers were groups of flags and spears; whilst the City arms and those of his Lordship were scattered about the structure. The arch was erected and painted by Mr. Fenton, under the direction of Mr. Bunning, the City architect.
The Lord Mayor's Coach
In 1711, Sir Gilbert Heathcote was knocked from his horse by a drunken flower girl and thereby gained the distinction of being the last Lord Mayor to ride in procession on horseback. Succeeding Lord Mayors preferred to travel by coach. The present Lord mayor's Coach was constructed in 1757 by Joseph Berry to a design by Sir Robert Taylor. The Aldermen were required to contribute £60 each to the cost and the Lord Mayor £100. It weighs two and three quarter tons, is sprung on leather braces and has no springs and, until 1951, did not have any brakes either. Although uncomfortable to ride in, it is beautiful to look at with its elaborate decoration on all panels. The allegorical paintings on the panels have been attributed to Giovanni Battista Cipriani.
The front panel depicts Faith, by a sacrificial altar, supporting Charity as Hope points to the dome of St Paul's. The back panels depict the Genius of the City. In the upper panel she greets Richness and Plenty who pour money and fruit into her lap. On the lower panel she is accompanied by Neptune and is seen greeting representatives of Trade and Commerce. The panel on the right-hand side depicts Fame presenting a Lord Mayor to the Genius with the spirit of old St Paul's in the background. The panel on the left-hand door depicts the Genius with Mars, the deity of the City, who points to Truth holding a scroll inscribed with the name of the first Mayor, Henri Fitz Alwin. The coachman's foot rest is in the form of a scallop shell. In Christian iconography this is the symbol of the hope of resurrection and rebirth - a modification of the pagan fertility symbolism and the birth of Aphrodite (Greek) or Venus (Roman).
The Lord Mayor's Banquet
Traditionally, the feast which is held on the Monday following the Lord Mayor's Show is one of the highlights of the Social Calendar. Officially, it is given by the New Lord Mayor in honour of his predecessor. It is probably as old as the institution itself since great feasting normally accompanied any public ceremony in the mediaeval period. At first, it was probably held in the new incumbent's house but at the end of the 15th century new kitchen's were especially installed in the Guildhall and John Shaa, Mayor in 1501, was the "first that kept his feast there". By 1529 it had become established as an important social event and the Lord Chancellor and Peers of the Realm had become regular guests. In 1580, when the Draper John Branche became Lord Mayor, the feast was not held and the Privy Council demanded to know why. It has never again been omitted.
At the modern banquet there are over 700 distinguished guests including the Prime Minister who makes a major speech which reviews the country's international position. Also included are Cabinet Ministers, representatives of the Commonwealth and foreign States, leaders of church, state, commerce, the judiciary and the armed services. The most distinguished guests are received to the sound of trumpets in the Old Library. They then process around Guildhall to take their seats as a band in the gallery plays the Mayoral March from Handel's Opera Scipione.
You can either jump to the list for a specific period or scroll through the entire list sequentially by using the following sets of links: