I recently learned that three clauses of the Magna Carta are still part of UK law — the liberties of the English Church, the privileges of the City of London, and the right to trial by jury.

I think everyone understands the right to trial by jury, and I guess the clause about church liberties is there to prevent the monarch from meddling too much with church affairs.

But what are these special privileges that Londoners been enjoying for the last eight centuries? And why are they still enshrined in law?


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 all their liberties and free customs.

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    I believe that one of them is that the Monarch cannot enter the city without permission. Others include self government (London is one of the few cities with a mayor) and some tax privileges. I'm not sure if the odd law enforcement zones are also included. I'd put this as an answer, but I'm too lazy to look for a source.
    – MCW
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 13:44
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    @Mark C Wallace - sorry, think you might be confused with Mayors/Lord Mayors, which many cities have had for centuries, including the City of London,and directly elected Mayors on the US model. So the City of London - an area of about, I think, one square mile, has a Lord Mayor: London as a whole has an elected Mayor - a relatively new phenomenon in the UK. "Turn again, Whittington, Lord Mayor of London!"
    – TheHonRose
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 15:13
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    @TheHonRose The Lord Mayor of City of London has been elected to single-year terms since 1215.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 15:20
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    I'm afraid that I'm going to insist that I was incorrect. <grin> I was in fact confusing the elected mayor (an unusual position created in 2000) with the Lord Mayor (existing in London since 13th century, and similar to other positions throughout the country). The distinction isn't vital, but points to @thehonrose
    – MCW
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 15:29
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    @TheHonRose Actually the Lord Mayor is still head of the City's local authority. Though I suppose it is a lot less powerful than it was historically.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 17:04

2 Answers 2


Here's a lengthy recent paper entitled "Liberties and Customs of the City of London – Are There any Left?", that seems to answer the question in great detail and with lots of citations:


The core points:

in exchange for frequent loans and gifts of money, the City would often receive specific Crown privileges not given to their fellow countrymen.

more specifically:

The liberties granted to the City in charters from various sovereigns (see Appendix) as well as those arising from custom, fit into certain general categories. They may be summarised as follows:

  • Taxes and Tolls. The City obtained exemption from various taxes (scot and lot, danegeld) as well as fines (murdrum, childwite, jeresgive, scotale, miskenning). It also gained the right to pay the same tallage and aids as other citizens as well as an exemption from tolls and a maximum sum for amercements;
  • Judicial Rights. The City obtained the right to be tried by their own courts, that is, ‘within the walls’. Also, freedom from ‘wager by battle’ as well as the rights of infangthef, outfangthef, escheat, waifs, estrays and treasure trove. Also, certain legal rights distinct from the common law in respect of: lands, promises, debts, wills as well as orphans, apprentices, feme sole, hostlers and defamatory words. The mayor and aldermen obtained the right to be justices of the peace (JP’s) and the mayor, a justice of goal delivery and of oyer and terminer;
  • War and Billeting. The City obtained exemption from being compelled to provide troops for war outside the City and to be free of billeting;
  • Officials. The City obtained the right to appoint a mayor, sheriffs, chamberlain, common clerk and common sarjeant. Provision was also made for the annual election of aldermen;
  • Offices of the Mayor. The mayor obtained the offices of : escheator, bailiff of the Thames, admiral of the port of London, clerk of the market, keeper of the great beam, gauger of merchandise, outroper, coroner, registrar of pawns, custodian of Bedlam, assistant to the butler at the coronation and lord lieutenant;
  • Merchants and Markets. The City obtained the right to impose various restrictions on merchants as well as brokers. Also, the right to have: their own clerk of the market, courts of piepowder, market overt and freedom for purveyance. Further, the ability to impose: charges on the weighing, carriage, survey (ie. inspection) and the measurement of goods and coals;
  • Miscellaneous. The City obtained the right to bear maces of gold and silver. Also, confirmation of their hunting rights.


This article argues that - in modern times - we need modern law. Law that is understandable to laymen as well as lawyers. It also argues that all these charters granted to the City of London are palpably obsolete and should be cancelled.

  • Yes, there are thousands - possibly tens of thousands - of anachronistic laws still on the statute books of England - like the right to drive your sheep over Westminster Bridge or graze you cattle in Green Park (just examples, don't know if they exist!) But we English are a quixotic lot, we like our "windmills", they are part of our tradition. Sorry,not really an historical point, but I am an historian,and I love it when some eccentric exercises their ancient right to graze their pig in the municipal park!
    – TheHonRose
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 17:57
  • "The City obtained exemption from being compelled to provide troops for war outside the City and to be free of billeting" -- although in fact Londoners were called up as long as the UK had conscription. I wonder whether the City waived its exemption, and how long the exemption would have lasted had it not. Or if the exemption is just a technicality -- "the City" wasn't compelled to provide troops because "the City" has no troops. Rather, people living in the city were called up by the government. Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 0:38
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    Note that "The City of London" is only a vry small part of the metropolitan area we commonly call London, and not many people actually live there. Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 18:45
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    Oh my! So many words to learn the meaning of!
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 18:24
  • How can a City bear maces of gold and silver? Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 3:43

The following paper is a pretty detailed treatment:

Liberties and Customs of the Port of London

Note that the spiritual precursor to the Magna Carta was the Charter of Liberties issued by Henry.

Anciently, the City of London and Five Ports were supposed to be free from duty and this supposedly was given by charters from Edward the Confessor. However, no charter to London from Edward is extant. The known and recorded rights chartered to London are roughly as follows (all provisions pertain to the citizens of London):

(1) confirmation of rights unknown granted by Edward [William the Conqueror]
(2) children shall inherit their father's estate [William the Conqueror]
(3) the crown will protect scions from being suborned [William the Conqueror]
(4) citizens collectively may rent Middlesex for 300 pounds [William the Conqueror]
(5) right to appoint their own sheriffs [William the Conqueror]
(6) children shall inherit their father's estate [William the Conqueror]
(7) the crown will protect scions from being suborned [William the Conqueror]
(8) citizens collectively may rent Middlesex for 300 pounds [Henry Beauclerc]
(9) right to appoint their own sheriffs [Henry Beauclerc]
(10) right to appoint their own justices of the peace [Henry Beauclerc]
(11) all pleadings of the crown will be the right of the such justices [Henry Beauclerc]
(12) no justices will be appointed to London other than their own [Henry Beauclerc]
(13) to be free from the tax of Scot and lot [Henry Beauclerc]
(14) to be free from the tax of the Dane gold [Henry Beauclerc]
(15) localities within the city are to be free from murder fines [Henry Curtmantle]
(16) to be exempt from conscription [Henry Curtmantle]
(17) to be immune from counter-suits against the crown [Henry Curtmantle]
(18) no forces of the crown are to be quartered involuntary [Henry Curtmantle]
(19) to be free from all personal property taxes [Henry Curtmantle]
(20) to be exempt from tolls of passage throughout England [Henry Curtmantle]
(21) to be exempt from all lading charges throughout England [Henry Curtmantle]
(22) to be exempt from all import duties throughout England [Henry Curtmantle]
(23) all hostelry taxes locally charged shall not be interfered with [Henry Curtmantle]
(24) no fine shall exceed 100 shillings [Henry Curtmantle]
(25) no pleading shall have its venue changed [Henry Curtmantle]
(26) the courts must be in session at least one day a week on Monday [Henry Curtmantle]
(27) no creditors shall have their debts interfered with [Henry Curtmantle]
(28) private property shall not be sequestered [Henry Curtmantle]
(29) if any citizen illegally tolled anywhere in England, then the citizen may recover the amount lost from the borough in question [Henry Curtmantle]
(30) all debts must be paid in the city [Henry Curtmantle]
(31) that if a debtor to a citizen takes refuge outside the city, then the creditor may recover the amount of the debt from the borough harboring the welcher [Henry Curtmantle]
(32) the citizens will retain their traditional hunting grounds in Middlesex, St. Albans and Surrey [Henry Curtmantle]
(33) immunity from domestic counter suits brought outside city, with the exception of agents of the crown [Henry Curtmantle]
(34) If anyone takes a toll of a citizen who is unable to recover it otherwise, then the toll taker, if coming to London, may have their goods or money seized to answer the claim [Henry Curtmantle]
(35) immunity from having to pay child support to a bondmaid
(36) freedom from any taxes or charges for taking an office [Henry Curtmantle]
(37) no alehouse of the crown or the king's men shall require subscriptions [Henry Curtmantle]
(38) no dams shall be placed on the Thames [Richard the Lionhearted]
(39) no taxes shall be collected in the name of a dam on the Thames [Richard the Lionhearted]
(40) London shall have power over all the sheriffs of Middlesex and the city at large for 300 pounds per year [John Lackland]
(41) any sheriff accused of crime shall only be tried before citizens of the city and a justice of the city treasury [John Lackland]
(42) there shall be no dams in either the Thames or the Medway [John Lackland]
(43) anyone putting up a dam in the Thames or the Medway shall be fined 10 pounds [John Lackland]
(44) all the money formerly exacted by the Tower of London as dam money shall be rebated to the city [John Lackland]
(45) the barons of the city shall be empowered to choose the mayor [John Lackland]
(46) the offical posts of the city shall be under its own control with the exception of the Chamberlain, who may be appointed by the king [John Lackland]
(47) the guild of weavers shall be banned from the city in lieu of the payment of 20 marks to the crown (where formerly the guild paid 18) [John Lackland]

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    Who is Edward Curtmantle? I only find Henry II Curtmantle on Google.
    – two sheds
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 15:21
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    @twosheds Stranger yet all the rights credited to him seemed to have been granted by Henry I (not Curtmantle). Also, this is the exact same article MichaelBorgwardt linked in his earlier answer.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 15:27
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    I have edited the answer to show which items were original to Henry Beauclerc. Curtmantle reinforced all of those original stipulations in his own charters. Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 15:50
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    I have itemized the liberties because the paper linked, while well-researched, does not include every single liberty granted by charter to London before the Magna Carta, and leaves out many of them. So, I have created a more comprehensive list. Also, the language and details in my list are more faithful to the original charters compared to the paper which "translates" and combines many of the privileges. In other words it is more "processed" than the raw list which I provide. My list has a more one-to-one correspondence with the actual terms in the charters. Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 15:53
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    @TheHonRose Whoever built it should be fined a hundred shillings >:-(
    – r3mainer
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 19:14

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