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SOCIAL EVENTS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Coventry royal visits ceremony symbols processions clothing mass mayor

Subject: Ceremonies to receive the king at Coventry
Original source: Coventry City Record Office, Leet Book
Transcription in: Mary Dormer Harris, ed. The Coventry Leet Book or Mayor's Register, London: Early English Text Society, old series, vol.134 (1907), 262-66.
Original language: Middle English
Location: Coventry
Date: 1451


Because it is necessary and desirable to set down in written record matters undertaken in the past, to avoid research and effort when such matters are expected to arise again in the future, the mayor has recently compiled [an account] of the king's visit to this city, of his stay within the city, and of his departure from the city, with all that took place during that period; as appears in writing below:

Receiving the king

Memorandum that on 26 September 1451 our sovereign the king came to Coventry from Leicester; the mayor then in office (that is, Richard Boys) and his worthy brethren decked out in scarlet, and all the commonalty dressed in green gowns and red hoods, waited on horseback at Hazelwood, beyond the Broad Oak, for the arrival of our sovereign. As soon as our sovereign came into view, the mayor and his peers approached him on foot and humbly made obeisance to our sovereign, bending the knee before him three times, the mayor speaking these words to him: "Most high and gracious king, your true liegemen welcome you with all our hearts." At this point the mayor, by advice of his counsellors, was not holding his mace in his hand; but his sergeant, who was in attendance upon him, put the mace in the mayor's hand after he had uttered those words and the mayor, kissing the mace, offered it to the king. The king, halting to give fair hearing to the mayor's speech, responded thus: "Well said, sir! Mayor, mount your horse." The mayor then set off, riding ahead of the king, carrying his mace in his hand. Next came the High Constable, preceding the king's sword. The city bailiffs rode ahead of the mayor, with their maces in their hands, clearing a way for the king's passage. They rode thus before the king until the king arrived at the outer gate of the priory. The king then straight away sent a knight to summon the mayor and his brethren into his presence in his chamber, in order to speak with him. Obeying his command, the mayor and his peers came into his chamber and three times knelt to make their obeisance. Thomas Littleton, who was then recorder, said some pleasantries to the king, our sovereign responding again thus: "Sirs, I thank you for your welcoming reception and orderly behaviour, especially for your good behavior during in the past year, when the people [of the city] have been the best behaved in my realm. I also thank you for the present you have just given us." This present was a tun of wine and 20 large, fat oxen. The king continued by commanding them to govern his city well and see that the peace was well preserved, as it had been in times past, and promised that he would be a good lord to them. Following which the mayor and his peers departed, etc.

The king was still lodging in the priory on Michaelmas eve [28 September] when he sent the clerk of his closet to St. Michael's church to prepare a space there for him, advising them that the king would make a procession there on Michaelmas day and hear high mass there. The mayor and his council taking thought on the matter, recommended him [i.e. the clerk] to request the Bishop of Winchester to say mass before the king. The bishop agreed to do so with great pleasure.

In preparation for the king's visit to St. Michael's church, the mayor and his peers, clothed in scarlet gowns and wearing cloaks and everyone else in scarlet gowns, proceeded to the door of the king's chamber, to wait for the king to come out. When the king came out of his chamber, the mayor and his peers performed due obeisance and the mayor took his mace and bore it in front of the king, preceded by his brethren, until he came to St. Michael's and led the king to the space assigned. Then the bishop, dressed in his pontifical garments, with all the priests and clerics of the church of Bablake wearing copes, made a procession around the churchyard. The king devoutly followed this procession, along with many other lords, bareheaded and dressed in a gown of golden cloth, lined with fur of a sable marten, the mayor carrying the mace before the king, as he had done previously, until he came back to the space assigned him. During this mass, after the king and his lords had made their offerings, he sent Lord Beaumont, his chamberlain, to the mayor to say: "It is the king's wish that you and your brethren come and make an offering." And so they did.

When mass was over, the mayor and his peers escorted the king back to his chamber in the same manner they had done before, except that the mayor with his mace went before the king until he had gone inside his chamber, his brethren waiting at the chamber door until the mayor came back out.

At evensong that same day the king, by 2 of his personal attendants and 2 yeomen of the Crown, sent the furred gown that he had worn during the procession and gave it to God and St. Michael freely (in that none of those who brought the gown would accept any kind of reward).

After all these events, on 5 October the king, deciding to depart, mounted his horse and rode out toward Kenilworth. In the same manner that they had ridden with the king into town, the mayor, his peers, and the commonalty likewise rode with the king towards Kenilworth, until they came to a place beyond Astill Grove, where a wide lane leads off to Canley. There the king, wishing to speak with the mayor and his brethren, said the following to them: "Sirs, I thank you for your welcoming reception and orderly behaviour at this time, and for the good order there has been among you in the past, especially that during the last year. And whereas you now have bailiffs, it is our will that you hereafter have sheriffs; this we grant to you of our own free will and not from anyone's special request. Moreover, we charge you to keep our peace amongst you, and not to allow any riots, gatherings, or assemblies of immoral persons [to take place] among you. And also that you not permit anyone of your number to receive liveries from lords, knights or squires, for this is contrary to our statutes. And also that you obey my commands. If you govern yourselves in this manner, we will be your good lord." This being done, the mayor and his brethren took their leave of the king, and departed and rode back to Coventry. God save the king.

And the mayor, considering the great affection and kindness that the king, our sovereign, has shown to this city, as appears in the above record, on 13 October summoned before him the worthy men whose names are indicated below, to have their advice on what is most necessary and desirable to obtain for this city. The which worthy men decided that Thomas Littleton, recorder, Reynold Bere, one of the city bailiffs, John Norwode, William Betley, Henry Boteler, John Whalley and John Abell should ride to London and there, with advice from lawyers, obtain a charter that shall best serve the needs and benefit of this city.


This part of the country, Coventry included, was particularly strong in its support of the Lancastrian party, and the king and queen consequently were often in residence here in the troublesome 1450s. The year prior to the visit to the city of Henry VI in September 1451 had been a particularly trying one. Henry's enemy the Duke of York was building support during his virtual exile in Ireland and, before September, word had come that the Duke was returning in force to England. Several of Henry's supporters, most notably the Duke of Suffolk, had been murdered. His possessions in France were falling in quick succession to the French armies. And Jack Cade led a popular uprising in Kent that caused the court to take flight to Kenilworth castle (near Coventry) and, although opposition from London eventually ended Cade's cause, led to a series of lesser uprisings in other counties. Small wonder then that the king expressed appreciation of the administration of Richard Boys, who had made strenuous efforts to bolster the city defences; and, when leaving the city, urged the authorities not to allow any riotous assemblies or citizens to develop political affiliations with the aristocratic factions then at odds in England.

Henry's visit provided the opportunity for the city ruler's to demonstrate their solidarity with their monarch, the source of their authority to rule. It will be noted how the members of city administration were distinguished by their apparel from other members of the community; even when all dressed in clothing of the same colour, the city rulers showed their superior status by wearing cloaks. The city authorities were by no means averse to capitalizing on Henry's gratitude to strengthen the powers of self-government.

In September 1456 less solemn celebrations were mounted for a visit from Henry's queen. At various points during its entry into the city, the royal entourage was met with pageants and speeches, performed by actors portraying biblical characters, saints, the cardinal virtues, and conquering heros (such as Alexander, Arthur, and Charlemagne). From the market cross, passed along the route, angels swinging censers had been hung and pipes of wine had been opened so that the wine was flowing out freely. Such a parade must have delighted the townspeople as much as it did the queen.

The attachment to the Lancastrian cause waned somewhat as its fortunes ebbed and as the Earl of Warwick's influence rose in the region. In 1474 the infant Prince Edward was given much the same kind of pageant-based reception accorded Queen Margaret eighteen years earlier, with fewer speeches but more elaborate props and minstrels playing harp, lute, pipes, and organ.



"worthy brethren"
The city councillors.

A wooded area north of the city, but part of which lay within Coventry's liberties; the road to Leicester (via Nuneaton) ran through this area.

"Broad Oak"
An area of open land adjacent to the Leicester road.

"his mace"
A symbol of mayoral office. Mace and/or sword were the two symbols of power, as a lieutenant of the king, usually permitted to a mayor.

This was the cathedral priory of Holy Trinity, not far within the northern wall of the city.

The city's principal legal advisor. Such men were usually recruited from the gentry and typically went on to impressive legal careers; Littleton, for example, who had been appointed the city's recorder in 1449 (at the age of 47), was made a sergeant-at-law in 1453 and left the city's service two years later, upon appointment as king's sergeant. After several years as justice of assizes and other roles in service to the king, he was appointed (1466) a Justice of the Common Bench, continuing as such until his death in 1481. As a learned, diplomatic person of respectable status, the recorder was often called upon to speak for the town.

"a space"
In the original Closette, a private area set aside exclusively for the king and his attendants.

The church of St. John Baptist, which was the base for the Holy Trinity gild, the principal socio-religious gild of the city, closely linked with the corporation.

The refusal of royal officials to accept any kind of fee or gratuity for transporting the royal gown as an offering to St. Michael's is itself considered worthy of note, as an exception to normal circumstances.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: November 27, 2002 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2003

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