An ancient charter — handed to the City of London by William the Conqueror before he entered the City — goes on display in central London this month.
The William Charter — the oldest document held in the City of London Corporation’s extensive archives — was handed to the City of London as a kind of affable fair warning in 1067; by then, the Norman king had triumphed at the Battle of Hastings and been crowned at Westminster Abbey, but was yet to enter through the City gates.
Measuring just six by one-and-a-half inches, the vellum parchment reads (in Anglo-Saxon):
William the king, friendly salutes William the bishop and Godfrey the portreeve and all the burgesses within London both French and English. And I declare that I grant you to be all law-worthy, as you were in the days of King Edward; And I grant that every child shall be his father's heir, after his father's days; And I will not suffer any person to do you wrong; God keep you.
The Charter — which also bears one of the earliest surviving examples of William's seal — is the earliest known document of its kind to guarantee the collective rights of the inhabitants of any town. Says the City of London: "The document reflects William's recognition of the importance of London, and its concentration of trade and wealth, which he wished to safeguard."
Convivially-worded as the note is, William had already tried and failed to storm London Bridge, post Hastings. Instead, he marched to what is now Hertfordshire, forcing surrender, and being crowned King of England on 25 December 1066. Work on what would become the Tower of London has already started, although the iconic White Tower wasn't constructed till the 1080s.
King Harold, who was vanquished by William at Hastings, may be buried at Waltham Abbey, just outside London.
The William Charter is on display at the City of London Heritage Gallery Guildhall Art Gallery, Saturday 24 September 2022 to Thursday 19 January 2023. Admission is free.