Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors

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Royal Coronations and Oxford Mayors


The honour accorded to the Mayor of Oxford of serving as assistant butler at the coronation feast is thought to date from the end of the tenth or the beginning of the eleventh century. This task often led to a knighthood for the mayor in question, and emphasizes the importance of Oxford in medieval times: only London and Winchester had similar rights (with the Lord Mayors of London and the Mayor of Oxford assisting the chief butler (the Earl of Arundel since the time of Richard III), and the Mayor of Winchester assisting the King’s cook).

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.

The Mayor of London served the sovereign with wine in a gold cup, receiving the cup with its cover as his fee; the Mayor of Oxford recieved three maple cups, plus a gilt cup.

The first record of the Mayor of Oxford serving in this way is at the coronation of Edward III in 1327, and the last occasion was at the coronation of George IV in 1821, when Herbert Parsons refused a knighthood. Since that date the Mayor of Oxford has attended most coronations, accompanied by leading council members, but has not served in the butlery.

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 whensover 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.

Below is a list of the men who were Mayors of Oxford in the coronation years from the fourteenth century to the present.

Name of
Monarch

Date of
Coronation

Mayor at time of Coronation
with dates of term of office

Whether
attended

Whether
knighted

Edward III
1327–1377

1327: 
 29 January

John of Ducklington
29 Sep 1326 to 28 Sep 1327

Yes

[Already
a knight]

Richard II
1377–1399

 

1377:
16 July 

William Northern
29 Sep 1376 to 28 Sep 1377

?

[Yes]

Henry IV
1399–1413

1399:
13 October

Richard Garston or Mercer
29 Sep 1399 to 28 Sep 1400

?

[Yes]

Henry V
1413–1422

1413:
 9 April

Edmund Kenyan 1412–1413,
but he died in 1413

Sir John Gibbes (Mayor 1413/14)
may have started his term early
and attended the coronation,
which could explain his knighthood

Yes

?

Henry VI
1422–1461

1429:
 6 November

Thomas Coventry
29 Sep 1429 to 28 Sep 1430

Yes

?

Edward IV
1461–1483

1461:
28 June


John Clark 1460–1461


Yes

No

Edward V
1483

Murdered before his Coronation

Richard III
1483–1485

1483:
 6 July

John Seman
29 Sep 1482 to 28 Sep 1483

Unlikely

No

Henry VII
1485–1509

1485:
30 October

John Edgecombe
29 Sep 1485 to 28 Sep 1486

Probably

[Yes]

Henry VIII
1509–1547

1509:
24 June

Richard Kent
29 Sep 1508 to 28 Sep 1509

?

No

Edward VI
1547–1553

1547:
20 February

Richard Gunter
29 Sep 1546 to 28 Sep 1547

?

No

Mary
1553–1558

1553:
1 October

Richard Atkinson
29 Sep 1553 to 28 Sep 1554

?

No

Elizabeth I
1558–1603

1559:
15 January

Richard Whittington
29 Sep 1558 to 28 Sep 1559

Yes

No

James I
1603–1625

1603:
25 July*

Richard Browne
29 Sep 1602 to 28 Sep 1604

Cancelled

No

Charles I
1625–1649

1626:
2 February**

Henry Bosworth
29 Sep 1625 to 28 Sep 1626

Uncertain

No

Commonwealth and protectorate, 1649–1660

Charles II
1660–1685

 

1661:
23 April

Sampson White
29 Sep 1660 to 28 Sep 1661

Yes

Yes

James II
1685–1689

1685:
23 April

William Walker
29 Sep 1684 to 28 Sep 1685

Yes

Knighted
two months
previously

William & Mary
1689–1702

1689:
11 April

Robert Harrison
29 Sep 1688 to 28 Sep 1689

Yes

Yes

Anne
1702–1714

1702:
23 April

William Claxon
29 Sep 1701 to 28 Sep 1702

Yes

Yes

George I
1614–1727

1714:
20 October

Daniel Webb
29 Sep 1714 to 28 Sep 1715

Yes

Yes

George II
1727–1760

1727:
11 October

John Boyce
29 Sep 1727 to 28 Sep 1728

Yes

Yes

George III
1760–1820

1761:
22 September***

Thomas Munday
29 Sep 1760 to 28 Sep 1761

Yes

Yes

George IV
1820–1830

1821:
19 July

Herbert Parsons
29 Sep 1820 to 28 Sep 1821

Yes

Refused

William IV
1830–1837

 

1831:
8 September****

Thomas Wyatt
29 Sep 1830 to 28 Sep 1831

No

No

* 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

**** The services of the Lord Mayor of London, and thus also of the Mayor of Oxford, were dispensed with at this Coronation: see Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 3 September 1831 for an explanation.

Some Mayors, such as Edward Hitchings (1811/12), were knighted simply because there was a royal visit to Oxford during their term of office.


Since the accession of Queen Victoria, the Mayor of Oxford has often attended the Coronation, but the honour of serving in the office of butler has lapsed.

Name of
Monarch

Date of
Coronation

Mayor at time of Coronation
with dates of term of office

Whether attended

Victoria
1837–1901

1838:
28 June

Charles Tawney
1 Nov 1837 to 31 Oct 1838

Probably

Edward VII
1901–1910

1902:
9 August

Walter Gray
1 Nov 1901 to 31 Oct 1902

Yes

George V
1910–1936

1911:
22 June

Sydney Francis Underhill
1 Nov 1910 to 31 Oct 1911

?

Edward VIII

Not crowned

George VI
1936–1952

1937:
12 May

Leonard Henry Alden
May 1936 to April 1937

Attended with his sergeant

Elizabeth II

1953:
2 June

Alan Brock Brown
May 1953 to April 1954

Attended with Lady Mayoress

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: 11 September, 2012

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