Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Royal Coronations and Oxford Mayors

From at least the Coronation of King Edward III in 1327 to that of King George IV in 1821, the Mayor of Oxford served as Assistant Butler at the feast that was held afterwards in Westminster Hall. Only two other mayors in England had similar roles: the Lord Mayor of London (who acted as the Chief Butler) and the Mayor of Winchester (who assisted the King’s cook).

The Mayor of Oxford's only role as Assistant Butler was to serve the sovereign with wine in a covered gilt cup, and for this modest service not only was he given three maple cups plus a gilt cup, but often received a knighthood.

When William IV was crowned in 1831, however, he dispensed with this feast, and thereafter the service of the Mayor of Oxford was no longer required, but he continued to be invited to attend the Coronation as a guest until Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation in 1953. This tradition was brought to an abrupt halt in 2023.

For the Proclamations at Oxford of new monarchs, which sometimes took place over a year before the Coronation, see separate page.)

Before 1327

The honour accorded to the Mayor of Oxford of serving as Assistant Butler at Coronation feasts is thought to date from the end of the tenth or the beginning of the eleventh century. In the twelfth century a charter was granted by Henry II confirming the privileges possessed by the city of Oxford under his grandfather Henry I, including this right, and it was again confirmed by royal letter of Henry III in 1129, and by an inspeximus of Queen Elizabeth I.

Michael Harris believes that the early mayors of Oxford were from a branch of the le Rous family that held the hereditary office of pincerna (chief butler) at ceremonial events: more information here.

Coronations from 1327 to 1821

During this period the Coronation Feast took place in Westminster Hall (below).

Westminster Hall

The first Mayor of Oxford recorded as serving as Assistant Butler was at the Coronation of Edward III in 1327.

After Richard Whittington served as butler at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth I on 29 September 1558, he presented the city council with the following bill:

Md that I Richard Whittyngton, Mayre of Oxford, made sute unto my lorde of Arundell [the Lord Mayor of London] for the office in the buttery the xj daye of January, 1558, for or liveryes and suche things as belonge to that office. Item, iij gownes and iiij cotes, one gowne for the Mayre, and two for ij Bayllies, and iiij cotes for foure men that he appoynted of the same Towne, besydes his servaunt and other that were wth hym at the tyme.

Item, for vij aparnes for the officers that daye taps, there lay till Weddensday senygt after the first sute: vijs iiijd.

At the next Coronation (of King James I in 1603), the Mayor of Oxford Richard Browne was all geared up to serve as butler, and the plans were recorded in the Council Acts on 4 May 1603:

It is agreed that where by our charters Mr. Mayor and some other citizens are to serve the king’s Majestie in his buttrye at the feast of his Coronacion; These parties, viz. Mr. Alderman Goode, Mr. Alderman Bartholmewe, Mr. Thomas Harrys, Mr. Thomas Stone and Mr. William Dennington, baylliffs, and Mr. Henry Niccolls shall goe upp with Mr. Maior as citizens to serve in the place at the chardge of this cytie; and theis foure, viz. Mr. Alderman Levinz, Mr. Alderman Cossam, Mr. Harryson and Mr. Flaxney are appointed to have conference and consideracion of their chardges and allowance both for the expence of their goeing upp, tarring [sic, for “tarrying”] there and their returne and what guyfts and presents shalbe necessarily bestowed and uppon their accompt at their comming home to present the whole chardge to this howse.

In the event, however, the Oxford contingent was unable to attend, as James I issued a proclamation forbidding all persons except the Lord Mayor, aldermen, and twelve principal citizens of London to attend the ceremony for fear of spreading the plague.

Coronation Cup of 1661

Right: This silver-gilt Coronation Cup can be seen in Oxford's Town Hall. It was presented to Sampson White at the Coronation of King Charles II in 1661, and is inscribed: “Donum Regale Domini Nostri Caroli Secundi [D.G. Angliae etc] Regis Augustissimi Coronationis festo in Botelaria servienti Sampsoni White, Milito, Civitatis Oxonford Majori, subdito flagrante rebellione fidelissimo” [“A royal gift to Sampson White, Knight, Mayor of the City of Oxford, and most faithful of subjects when rebellion raged, for serving in the Butlery at the Coronation feast of our most venerable King, Lord Charles II, [by the Grace of God King of England etc.”].

Sampson White was knighted by the King at the ceremony. Margaret Toynbee, “The City of Oxford and the Restoration of 1660Oxoniensia (1960) gives a full description of this Mayor's role in the Coronation of 23 April 1661.

In 1666 the city Keykeeper's account refers to this Coronation Cup, “Paid to Sir Sampson White, late Mayor, the Summe of £27 in full of soe much disbursed by him for this Cittie for fees and gratuities in the obteyning of his Majesties Royall Bowle given to the body of this Citie for his and their service at his Royal Coronacon, which Bowle is to be preserved amongst the Treasures of this Citie as a perpetual honour to this Citie from his Majestie.”

The ceremony in Westminster Hall for the five Coronations from James II (1685) to George II (1727) is described in great detail in An Account of the Ceremonies Observed in the Coronations of the Kings and Queens of England. It was written in 1760 so that people knew what to expect at the Coronation of George III the following year. After the anointing, crowning, and enthroning of the King and then his Queen and the Anthem and prayers led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the gathering would return to Westminster Hall for dinner. After the second course the Mayor of Oxford would perform his role:

Then the Lord of the Manor of Nether Bilsington in Kent presents unto his Majesty Three Maple Cups, by reason of the Tenure of the said Manor.
   After this his Majesty's Cupbearer conducts the Mayor of Oxford as Assistant (with other of the Burgesses of the said City) to the Lord-mayor and Citizens of London, in the Office of the Butlership, who presents to the King, on his Knee, a Bowl of Wine in a gilt Cup covered; and his Majesty bestows on him (the said Mayor of Oxford) the three Maple Cups, which he had received as above.


The last occasion when the Mayor of Oxford served as butler was Herbert Parsons at the coronation of George IV on 19 July 1821, reported in Jackson's Oxford Journal two days later:

The Mayor and Citizens of Oxford, who claimed, under Charter, to assist the Citizens of London in the Butlership, were—Herbert Parsons, Esq. Mayor; William Elias Taunton, Esq. Recorder; Richard Cox, Esq. Alderman; Thomas Fox Bricknell, Esq. Alderman; William Folker, Esq. Assistant; James Adams, Esq. Assistant; Robert Juggins, Esq. Bailiff; Charles Foster, Esq., Bailiff, Sir William Elias Taunton, Knight, Town Clerk. They were permitted as matter of favour not of right, to proceed to the Hall in the City's barges.

The newspaper then reports that Coronation ceremony in detail. It was followed by the dinner, which started at 6.10pm, and after dinner the Lord Mayor of London as Chief Butler of England, accompanied by twelve principal citizens of London acting as his assistants, presented the King with wine in a gold cup, and he returned the cup to the Lord Mayor as his fee. Then it was the Mayor of Oxford's turn:

Then the Lord of the Manor of Nether Bilsington presented his Majesty with three maple cups.
    The Mayor of Oxford, with the eight other Burgesses of that city, as Assistants to the Chief Butler of England in the office of Butler, were conducted to his Majesty, preceded by the King's Cup-bearer, and having presented to the King a bowl of Wine, received the three maple cups for his fee.

Parsons declined, however, the offer of a baronetcy that was pressed upon him.

Coronations from 1327 to 1821 (Mayor of Oxford as Assistant Butler)

Name of

Date of

Mayor at time of Coronation
with dates of term of office

as Butler


Edward III

1326/7: 1 February
King Edward III

John of Ducklington
29 Sep 1326 to 28 Sep 1327


a knight

1329/30: 18 February
Philippa of Hainault

Thomas de Sowy
29 Sep 1301 to 28 Sep 1304



Richard II


1377: 16 June
King Richard II

William Northern
29 Sep 1376 to 28 Sep 1377



1381/2: 22 January
Anne of Bohemia

William Dagville I
29 Sep 1380 to 28 Sep 1823



1396/7: 8 January
Isabella of Valois

Richard Garston or Mercer
29 Sep 1386 to 28 Sep 1387


Yes, but probably at next

Henry IV

1399: 13 October:
King Henry IV

Richard Garston or Mercer
29 Sep 1399 to 28 Sep 1400



1402/3: 26 February
Joanna of Navarre

John Sprunt
29 Sep 1402 to 28 Sep 1403



Henry V

1413: 9 April:
King Henry V

Edmund Kenyan, Mayor 1412–1413, died in 1413, possibly before the Coronation, and his successor
John Gibbes (Mayor 1413/14) who was knighted may have attended



1420/1: 2 February
Catherine of Valois

William Brampton
29 Sep 1420 to 28 Sep 1423



Henry VI

1429: 6 November
King Henry VI

Thomas Coventry
29 Sep 1427 to 28 Sep 1430


Apparently not

1445: 30 May
 Margaret of Anjou

Robert Walford
29 Sep 1444 to 28 Sep 1446



Edward IV

1461: 28 June
King Edward IV

John Clark
29 Sep 1460 to 28 Sep 1461



1465: 26 May
Elizabeth Woodville

Richard Spraget
29 Sep 1464 to 28 Sep 1765



Edward V

Murdered in 1483 before his Coronation

Richard III

1483: 6 July
King Richard III
& Anne Neville

John Seman
29 Sep 1482 to 28 Sep 1483



Henry VII

1485: 30 October
King Henry VII

John Edgecombe
29 Sep 1485 to 28 Sep 1486



1487: 25 November
Elizabeth of York

Edward Woodward
29 Sep 1487 to 28 Sep 1488


a knight

Henry VIII

1509: 24 June
King Henry VIII
& Catherine of Aragon

Richard Kent
29 Sep 1508 to 28 Sep 1509



1533: 1 June
 Anne Boleyn

John Pye
29 Sep 1532 to 28 Sep 1534



Edward VI

1546/7: 20 February
King Edward VI

Richard Gunter
29 Sep 1546 to 28 Sep 1547



Mary I

1553: 1 October
Queen Mary

Richard Atkinson
29 Sep 1553 to 28 Sep 1554



Elizabeth I

1558/9: 15 January
Queen Elizabeth I

Richard Whittington
29 Sep 1558 to 28 Sep 1559



James I

1603: 25 July
King James I
& Anne of Denmark*

Richard Browne
29 Sep 1602 to 28 Sep 1604



Charles I

1625/6: 2 February
King Charles I **
(His wife Henrietta Maria was a Roman Catholic so could not be crowned with him)

Henry Bosworth
29 Sep 1625 to 28 Sep 1626

Probably not**


[ 1649–1660: Commonwealth and Protectorate]

Charles II

1661: 23 April
King Charles II
(He married Catherine of Braganza in 1662, the year after his Coronation, but she could not be crowned in a later ceremony as she was a Roman Catholic)

Sampson White
29 Sep 1660 to 28 Sep 1661



James II

1685: 23 April
King James II
& Mary of Modena

William Walker
29 Sep 1684 to 28 Sep 1685


two months

William & Mary

1689: 11 April
King William II
& Queen Mary II

Robert Harrison
29 Sep 1688 to 28 Sep 1689




1702: 23 April
Queen Anne

William Claxon
29 Sep 1701 to 28 Sep 1702



George I

1714: 20 October
King George I

(He had divorced his wife Sophia Dorothea of Celle in 1694)

Daniel Webb
29 Sep 1714 to 28 Sep 1715



George II

1727: 11 October
King George II
& Caroline of Ansbach

John Boyce
29 Sep 1727 to 28 Sep 1728



George III

1761: 22 September
King George III
& Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz ***

Thomas Munday
29 Sep 1760 to 28 Sep 1761



George IV

1821: 19 July
King George IV

Estranged wife Caroline of Brunswick turned away by force

Herbert Parsons
29 Sep 1820 to 28 Sep 1821


Refused the
proffered baronetcy

* The Mayor of Oxford was all ready to go, but because of the plague the coronation was limited to just fourteen dignitaries of London and the Feast was cancelled.

** The Feast was postponed until May, possibly because of the plague again, and it is unclear whether it ever took place.

*** See online the Diary of William Thorp, Bailiff of the City of Oxford, relating to the Coronation of George III and Queen Charlotte, Sept. 22nd 1761

Early Oxford Mayors who were knighted despite not serving as butler

If a coronation was due to take place in the next mayoral year, competition for election would have been fierce. Thomas Hearne in his diary implies that Oliver Greenway made a special effort to be elected Mayor in 1727:

This Greenaway being a very great Whig, & having made some attempt to be Mayor this year, on purpose that he might be knighted at the Coronation, tho’ he could not succeed, it was done I suppose, for that reason by way of sneer upon the Tories, of wch kind is the Mayor.

Although Greenway failed in his attempt to be made Mayor, when George II was crowned on 4 October 1727 he was knighted anyway, despite only being one of the Mayor’s Assistants, causing Thomas Hearne to remark, “which thing of Knighting one of the Mayor of Oxford’s Attendants is perfectly new”.

Some other Mayors such as William Walker (1684/5), John Treacher II (1784/5) and Edward Hitchings (1811/12) were knighted simply because there was a royal visit to Oxford during their term of office.

Since the Coronation of 1831

William IV in 1831 wanted a pared-down Coronation, dispensing with the feast in Westminster Hall, and later monarchs continued in this way, so henceforth the services of both the Lord Mayor of London and the Mayor of Oxford were no longer needed. The Mayors of Oxford were, however, invited to attend the Coronations from 1831 to 1953 as guests.

Coronations from 1831 to the present (as guest)

Name of

Date of

Mayor at time of Coronation
with dates of term of office

Whether attended as guest

William IV

1831: 8 September
King William IV
& Adelaide of Saxe-Mengen

Thomas Wyatt
29 Sep 1830 to 28 Sep 1831



1838: 28 June
Queen Victoria

Charles Tawney
1 Nov 1837 to 31 Oct 1838


Edward VII

1902: 9 August
King Edward VII
& Alexandra of Denmark

Walter Gray
1 Nov 1901 to 31 Oct 1902

(Knighted the following year)

George V

1911: 22 June
King George V
& Mary of Teck

Sydney Francis Underhill
1 Nov 1910 to 31 Oct 1911


Edward VIII

Abdicated before his Coronation

George VI

1937: 12 May
King George VI
& Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon

Leonard Henry Alden
May 1936 to April 1937

Attended with his sergeant

Elizabeth II

1953: 2 June
Queen Elizabeth II

Alan Brock Brown
May 1953 to April 1954

Attended with the Mayoress

Charles III

2023: 6 May

End of a tradition that had survived for at least 700 years:
Mayor of Oxford (now a Lord Mayor) was not invited

Oxford Pageant of 1912

The sixth episode of the great Oxford Pageant of 1912 is entitled “Edward IV at Oxford, A.D. 1461: The King makes the Mayor his cup-bearer at coronations”. The Mayor is made to say:

So please it our gracious Lord, we do offer you in token of our gratitude the best cheer of our poor town, to be served to you by our own hands; and in my office as Chief Magistrate I do humbly crave the right to be your Majesty’s cup-bearer and with these unworthy hands to present the cup which your royal lips shall better.

King Edward IV drinks to Oxford, and then says:

And now, my worthy and well-beloved, the cup in which your King has pledged your town’s honour, should be in no man’s keeping rather than yours. Drink from it with me, and keep it for a talisman of your faith to your rightful lord, the Fourth Edward of the line of England. But first I do all men to wit that you, its Mayor, shall be our cup bearer when presently we shall be crowned at Westminster: and further, that whensoever a King of England shall come to his crowning, then shall the Mayor of Oxenford be there, besides the Mayor of London, to bear him the cup at the banquet.

See also:

  • G. Rigaud, “Ceremonies performed by mayors of Oxf. at coronations”, Proceedings of the Oxford Architectural and Historical Society, N.S. iv.301–13
  • William Cooke Taylor, Chapters on Coronations (London, 1838)
  • Oxford University, City, & County Herald, 28 April 1838, p. 3a re attempt to end the mayor’s traditional service as royal butler
  • Silver-gilt coronation cups in the Plate Room of the Town Hall. These were presented to mayors at the coronation banquets of Charles II and George IV and were acquired by the city in 1684 and 1946

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 3 May, 2023

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