Authorities Jobs within the Center Ages: 14th-century London

What have been the sorts of jobs that medieval folks did in a metropolis authorities? A e book from 14th-century London affords particulars concerning the positions and roles of civic officers in that metropolis, starting from the Mayor to Scavengers.

Referred to as the Jubilee E-book, it has been lately edited and translated by Caroline M. Barron and Laura Wright. It was written in the summertime of 1376, as a part of an try to reform the town authorities. Nonetheless, these reforms proved to be too controversial, and the Jubliee E-book can be repudiated and publicly burned by London authorities in 1387.

Nonetheless, generally, the roles and duties of those civic officers didn’t change very a lot after 1387, so the Jubilee E-book stays a really attention-grabbing supply about how a medieval metropolis was ruled.


London’s mayoral election would happen yearly on October thirteenth. Two candidates have been to be picked by the town’s Frequent Council, which was made up of main members from the numerous guilds operated in London, after which the town’s aldermen would decide one among these males. The information of London present that some mayors served a number of instances, even being re-elected, consecutively. For instance. Nicholas Brembre served as mayor within the years 1377, 1383, 1384 and 1385.

One of many key roles of the Mayor of London was to behave as the town’s consultant in dealings with the royal authorities. It was pretty frequent for disputes to come up between the King and the town over issues of jurisdiction or taxation, and within the oath of the mayor it was famous they have been chargeable for ensuring that no matter rights the king had in London can be adhered to, whereas to verify the king didn’t accomplish that in issues the place their rights had been relinquished.

Authorities Jobs within the Center Ages: 14th-century London
Richard Whittington, stained glass within the Guildhall, Metropolis of London – he served as mayor within the years 1397, 1406 and 1419 – picture by Stephencdickson / Wikimedia Commons

The Mayor of London additionally needed to convene a common assembly every year, attended by the sheriffs and aldermen, together with most of the different civic officers. This could happen on the primary Monday after January sixth (which was the Feast of Ephiphany). In follow, the mayor and aldermen would maintain courtroom many instances every year, when essential issues and instances inside the metropolis can be deliberated upon.

All mayors had their very own employees, and they might function as a part of the Mayor’s Courtroom. This included a Chamberlain, Frequent Sergeant at Regulation, and Frequent Clerk. There would even be one esquire and two sergeants who have been the non-public bodyguard for the mayor. They might be paid 40 shillings a 12 months. The esquire would additionally carry the mayor’s sword earlier than him.


Yearly London would elect two sheriffs in the identical method mayors have been elected. This could happen on September twenty first. Many sheriffs would later go on to function the town’s mayor. A serious a part of their job can be to arrest and imprison folks when ordered to by the mayor or alderman. They have been additionally chargeable for the upkeep of Newgate gaol, London’s largest jail, additionally with its prisoners. The Jubliee E-book notes that every sheriff could possibly be assisted by as many as 4 sergeants, though this quantity could possibly be elevated “to hold out duties for the folks’s wants.”

The Sheriffs of London would additionally maintain their very own courtroom, coping with instances of debt and minor trespasses. We solely have one surviving copy of information from a London sheriff’s courtroom, involving one sheriff and instances between July 1st to September twenty fifth within the 12 months 1320. In that interval there have been 550 instances. This implies that the 2 sheriffs would have dealt with about 4000 instances in that 12 months alone – and this was only one of some totally different courts the place Londoners might pursue actions. As Barbara Hanawalt notes, “studying these information leaves one with the impression that the mayor and aldermen have been busy listening to residents’ complaints from morning to nighttime.”

Frequent Sergeant at Arms

This could be London’s city crier, who would go across the metropolis saying proclamations. Based on the Jubliee E-book, he can be paid 60 shillings every year, and will additionally earn more cash by doing further proclamations for some fo the town’s officers. For instance he can be paid 12 pence for every each proclamation made within the metropolis for the sheriffs – as well as, “in order that he could do that the sheriffs ought to present him with an honest horse for the honour of the town.”


In 1376 the town of London was divided into 24 wards, and every of them would have an Alderman. Their most essential function was to carry a Wardmote a minimum of twice a 12 months (ideally 4 instances a 12 months), the place issues inside the ward could possibly be mentioned. This included a variety of issues, reminiscent of whether or not fences have been arrange correctly, the opening and shutting instances of taverns, or if criminals have been hiding within the space. It will be on the wardmote that different civic officers can be chosen, together with “constables, scavengers, ale-conners, a beadle and a raker” – this final individual was chargeable for sweeping and cleansing the streets, whereas the ale-conner made positive that bread, ale and beer have been of excellent high quality.

Authorities Jobs within the Center Ages: 14th-century London
A map displaying the wards of the Metropolis of London as they appeared in 1870. They have been virtually precisely the identical in 14th century London. Picture by Doc77can / Wikimedia Commons


These can be the medieval London model of a police investigator. There can be a minimum of one for each ward of London, Based on their oath, they have been to ensure that every kind of evildoers have been to be faraway from their wards. The listing included “any robbers or thieves, or evil gangs or bands, hucksters (sellers) of ale, or ladies who maintain brothels, or different ladies who’re delinquent and customary slanderers of dangerous repute.” He would wish to report these folks to the ward’s alderman, who would then would be sure that they have been expelled from the world inside 15 days.

In addition they wanted to seek for folks promoting meals illegally – that means executed secretly and never out within the open – and report them to the mayor and sheriffs. One other essential obligation for the beadle was to be careful for fights breaking out, particularly these involving weapons, and report this to the sheriffs or different essential metropolis officers.


These officers have been extra just like the beat cops of medieval London. Based on their oath, they’d “arrest all those that make dissension, riots, quarrels or affrays, so breaking the king’s peace, and take him to the home or counter of one of many sheriffs. And if you happen to meet resistance from any such wrongdoer, you shall increase the hue and cry, and pursue them from avenue to avenue, and from ward to ward, till they’re arrested.” Different duties for constables included finishing up searches for those who lived exterior of a ward when requested for by scavengers or beadles.

Authorities Jobs within the Center Ages: 14th-century London
Drawing of the town of London from the early 14th century – British Library MS Royal 13 A III fol. 14


These folks had two essential roles. The primary was to ensure that the streets of London have been in good restore and cleared of “garbage, dung and all method of filth.” Rubbish and waste will surely be an issue, and infrequently the streets and alleys in London have been very slender, so having somebody implement legal guidelines and ensure refuse was eliminated was fairly obligatory.

The second function of scavengers was to forestall hearth hazards within the metropolis. On a number of events, main fires broke out in medieval London, as flames might simply unfold from constructing to constructing. Due to this fact, the scavengers would go about inspecting “that every one chimneys, furnaces, ovens and hearths are of stone and construct sufficiently strongly in opposition to the perils of fireplace.”

Authorities Jobs within the Center Ages: 14th-century London

There can be different civic jobs in London, typically minor ones that have been part-time at greatest, reminiscent of being in command of locations reminiscent of London Bridge or the Conduits that introduced recent water to the town. There additionally appears to have been many clerks that have been wanted to report the proceedings from varied courts round London, or assist put together letters and charters. The Jubilee E-book typically consists of oaths for these folks, making them promise to not reveal the secrets and techniques of the town.

The Jubilee E-book was additionally involved that the lads who served in these positions wouldn’t attempt to exploit their energy for private achieve. For instance, as a part of the aldermen’s oath, it says “you shall take no reward, nice or small, if you happen to imagine in your conscience, that it has been despatched to you to keep up some trigger, or to wreck or delay somebody’s proper, quite for love and friendship.”

Whereas this specific doc, an try at making a sort of structure for the town, solely lasted for 11 years, medieval London had a wide selection of civic officers who had jobs associated to governing and defending the town. Judging from the numerous information which have survived from the interval, the folks of medieval London interacted with their metropolis authorities rather a lot.

The London Jubliee E-book, 1376-1387: An version of Trinity Faculty Cambridge MS O.3.11, folios 133-157, by Caroline M. Barron and Laura Wright, is printed as a part of the London File Society sequence. Please go to the writer, Boydell and Brewer, for extra data. You may also purchase this e book on

See additionally: The 5 Most Frequent Jobs in a Medieval Metropolis