The Guildhall put on what has to be the smallest exhibition ever … if the items were 950 years old, then really it is amazing they still exist … but they are: signed, sealed, delivered, still going strong, released from the archives and on show …
The two items also set in motion the establishment of the City of London (the Square Mile, as it is sometimes known) – the trading, business and financial centre of the UK – 950 years ago.
|City of London flag
William, the Conqueror, after his success at the Battle of Hastings (in 1066 AD) marched north to take London … William wanted to safeguard this prosperity, recognising its importance as a centre of trade and wealth.
|City of London
Coat of Arms
The leaders of the Anglo-Saxon court (intelligently) surrendered peacefully, and were rewarded with the Charter, which over time proved beneficial to both parties.
This Charter declared that William would not reduce the citizens to a state of dependent vassalage, as usually happened in the larger towns … William was a ruthless, but wise conqueror.
|The "William Charter" with his Seal dated 1067
The peoples of the City were able to continue their work and trade without general administrative interference …
It is written in Old English, and not in William’s native Norman French … the degree of autonomy which it guaranteed has been valued and defended by the City ever since.
This international character of London was noted by the Charter addressing both the French and English residents and treating them with equal status.
|The explanatory board at the Exhibition -
the text is set out below
The document is very significant, apart from its 950 years’ survival, because it guaranteed the collective rights of Londoners.
Nothing new was given … but it confirmed the citizen’s rights and privileges already in existence … confirming that the succession to property was not subject to arbitrary royal intervention.
“William, King, greets William the Bishop and Geoffrey the Portreeve, and all the citizens in London, French and English, in friendly fashion; and I inform you that it is my will that your laws and customs be preserved as they were in King Edward’s day, that every son shall be his father’s heir after his father’s death; and that I will not any man do wrong to you. God yield you”.
The Tower of London, built by William, resides outside of the City’s east wall.
|The Charter and Seal as displayed
This precious tiny piece of vellum measures six inches by one and a half inches … the two slits were relevant and used … the larger one as a seal-tongue (holding the seal to the document) and the other as a tie (when the document was folded and transported).
|The City from the south side of the Thames: the Tower
is in the right-hand corner (east side of this image)
The Seal is one of the earliest surviving examples from William’s reign.
This Charter is one of over 100 held in the archives, which different sovereigns have issued for the Citizens of London - enabling the City to keep its unique position.
The City of London Corporation is unlike any other administrative body in the UK and has some unusual responsibilities for a local council, as well as having responsibilities and ownerships beyond its boundaries.
|Common Council Journal for Burnham Beeches
(1880) - with cover displayed separately
This incredible glimpse into history came from the London Metropolitan Archives whose holding of records, documents, films, photographs and maps take up the equivalent of 100 km (62 miles) of archives.
|The pretty unprepossessing main entrance of the
London Metropolitan Archives (a free resource) -
with significant contents, which 30,000 people visit
every year and many more access digitally
Through these two items – the Charter and the Seal – are the key to how William won the support of London and how the City itself began to gain its special autonomy.
|Map of London about 1300 AD
This tiny square mile, the City, in the metropolis of London still exists and maintains its unique status, with its ancient City traditions …
… going back to Roman, Anglo-Saxon times before being ‘chartered’ by William the Conqueror in 1067 – which the authorities of London have held, archived and maintained for the nation for over nine hundred and fifty years.
The London Metropolitan Archives website ... the About page - there is an interesting video ...