802 years ago, in 1215, was the first ever Lord Mayor’s Show. It still happens every year, but what exactly is it?

The Mayor of London was a position created in the late twelfth century, originally appointed directly by the king. The City of London, like much of England, was subject to heavy taxation under King John. King John desperately needed allies in 1215, with most of his barons openly plotting against him, so he granted the City of London a Royal Charter allowing the City to elect its own mayor. It was, at the time, a desperate attempt to win the favour of the largest city in the land on the brink of a civil war that would swiftly lead to King John’s humiliation and the signing of Magna Carta, which provided important limitations to the power of the monarch for the first time in history.

King John’s Royal Charter set an important condition, however, that every year the newly elected Mayor must leave the City of London, from the safety of the city. The new Mayor had to travel upriver to the small town of Westminster in order to swear their loyalty to the Crown. Despite plagues, wars and fires, the Mayor has made this journey for over 800 years to pledge their loyalty to 34 English Kings and Queens.

King John originally thought he was creating a powerful ally when he gave his support to the City of London, however, the King’s plan didn’t work as well as he’d hoped. The loyalty of London was quite changeable, and less than a year later after both sides were still ignoring the terms of the Magna Carta. The struggle between King John and his rebellious northern barons soon became a civil war, but it was the City of London’s support of the rebels that finally brought King John to the negotiating table.

Two months after, William Hardel, the second elected Mayor was one of the 25 signatories of the Magna Carta. Part 13 of the Magna Carta states:

  1. The City of London shall enjoy all its ancient liberties and free customs, both by land and by water. We also will and grant that all other cities, boroughs, towns, and ports shall enjoy their liberties and free customs.

No doubt William Hardel was responsible for this inclusion. In the 14th Century, the Mayor of London became the Lord Mayor, which was the grandest position anyone could aspire to be. The journey made by the Mayor was watched by all and over the centuries it grew so spectacular that by the 16th Century it was only known as the Lord Mayor’s Show. It is so popular it is referenced in some of Shakespeare’s plays, the diaries of Samuel Pepys and some of the James Bond adventures. It is also the basis for the pantomime Dick Whittington, who was the Mayor of London three times.

More recently, in the 20th Century, it was the first ever event to be broadcast live from outdoors, and millions of people tune in to watch it every year. So, if you hear someone talking about the Lord Mayor’s Show this weekend, you can let them know a little of the history of why it actually happens! Why not watch it yourself; it’ll be on BBC1 this Saturday the 11th of November from 10:45 am.

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