The City of London has a very long standing relationship with the Crown and the Royal Family. One of William the Conqueror’s earliest official acts following Coronation on Christmas Day 1066 was to re-affirm the rights and privileges of the City of London in a writ dated 1067. This writ confirmed that the City would not be adversely affected by the Norman conquest, and that the status quo existing from the time of the Anglo-Saxon kings would remain in force. That writ established, or perhaps more properly confirmed, the status of the City of London as a special place with a unique and lasting relationship with the Crown.
Over the intervening 950 years the City has won powers and privileges that were unheard of at the time, but have gone on to form the basis of modern parliamentary representative democracy. They continue to set the City apart from other parts of the United Kingdom.
The involvement of the Royal Family with the Livery Companies is by no means a modern phenomenon. Monarchs of note such as King James I, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I have all been members of Livery Companies. Both King George VI and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother were members of Livery Companies.
In modern times the Crown retains a special relationship with the City, indeed the Sovereign is the only person who outranks the Lord Mayor in the City, and even so the Lord Mayor’s permission is sought before the Sovereign enters the City. By custom the Lord Mayor greets the Sovereign at the City limits, often at the site of the old Temple Bar, and presents the Pearl Sword of the City of London (hilt uppermost) to him or her in recognition of the Sovereigns authority.
Following the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers commissioned a painting to capture the moment when the Lord Mayor presented the Pearl Sword to the Queen at Temple Bar. The Pearl Sword was present to the City by Queen Elizabeth I and is one of five ceremonial swords owned by the City.
Many members of the Royal Family are active in the City’s Livery Companies, with several having held the office of Master or Prime Warden. The following is a selection of some of the notable connections between the Royal Family and the Livery Companies:
- HM The Queen is Royal Patron of The Worshipful Company of Shipwrights and the Honourable Company of Master Mariners in addition to being a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Drapers and a Freeman of the City of London.
- HRH The Duke of Edinburgh is a Liveryman of several companies, including but not limited to: The Fishmongers, The Engineers and the Coachmakers & Coach Harness Makers. He is also First Honorary Freeman of the Marketors.
- HRH The Prince of Wales is Permanent Master of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights, a Royal Liveryman of the Gardeners’ Company, Liveryman of the Brewers’ Company and Freeman of the Drapers’ Company
- HRH The Duchess of Cornwall is an Honorary Liveryman of the Plaisterers’ Company and of the Joiners and Ceilers’ Company.
- HRH The Princess Royal is Perpetual Master of the Saddlers’ Company and a Past Master of several Livery Companies, including but not limited to: The Woolmen, The Butchers, The Farriers, and The Carmen.
- HRH The Duke of York is Grand Master of the Honourable Company of Air Pilots
- HRH The Earl of Wessex is a Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners
- HRH The Duke of Gloucester is a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Masons
- HRH The Duchess of Gloucester is a member of the Worshipful Company of Drapers and a Liveryman of the Fan Makers’ Company
- HRH The Duke of Kent is a member of the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers
- HRH Princess Alexandra is a member of the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers
- HRH Prince Michael of Kent is a member of the Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers
Note: The above list of connections between the Royal Family and the Livery Companies is necessarily brief and incomplete. No disrespect is intended to any Livery Company whose affiliation with these or other members of the Royal Family is not listed above, and I should be delighted to amend the list should any Master or Clerk wish to get in contact.
Numerous other members of the Royal Family are Freemen, Liverymen, Assistants or Past Masters one or more Livery Companies, many by right of patrimony. It seems certain that the next generation of the Royal Family will in due course be admitted to the Freedom of one or more Livery Companies, especially where there is a professional, charitable or familial connection.
Beyond the numerous connections between the Livery and individual members of the Royal Family, there are events when the City hosts the Sovereign and other members of the Royal Family in an official capacity. Events such as the presentation of a Royal Charter to a Livery Company, Royal Weddings, State Funerals, Jubilees and other occasions have all seen the Sovereign and other members of the Royal Family participate in the life of the City of London.
Many of the Livery Companies have impressive collections of Royal Portraits in their halls, including the Drapers, Goldsmiths and the Fishmongers among others. One famous Holbein painting is that of King Henry VIII granting a Royal Charter to the Barber-Surgeons' Company.
The City also has a particular role in the proclamation of a new Sovereign, an event in which the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens (Freemen) of the City of London are explicitly mentioned in the proclamation. The City Marshal plays a role by challenging HM’s officers of arms at Temple Bar prior to the proclamation in the City (see the following video).