Charters were the tools that made municipal life free from Royal control and gave the citizens the right to self-government. They were the main way of recording the granting of permissions and rights. Authentication of documents in medieval times was verified by a seal. The seal became an essential part of any Charter, deed or merchant’s mark.
Most of Bath’s 27 Charters are written in Latin. They are very ornate, illuminated on parchment, and most still carry the seals of the issuing Monarch.
They are held in glass frames in the City Archives at the Guildhall where, by appointment, they can be viewed. Charter No 21 is held in the Archive of King Edward’s School, Bath.
Most of the Charters are ‘inspeximus’, granted by subsequent Monarchs as a confirmation of the rights and freedoms acknowledged by his/her predecessor.
The two most notable Charters are No.1 (Richard I) and No.22 (Elizabeth I), both of which were instrumental in gaining rights and freedoms for the City of Bath.
December 7th 1189 : 1st year of Richard I
On Richard I’s accession to the throne in 1189 he set about obtaining money to pay for his Crusades abroad. The selling of Charters was an easy way of extracting money from the wealthy burghers of towns and cities. This Charter was signed and datedat Dover on 7th December 1189, just four days before the King sailed for Normandy. It started the process of self-government for the city.
Charter 1 granted freedom from tolls, which encouraged trading. It was granted for the liberties of the Merchant Guild, the municipal system based on commerce. As the Charter was limited to trade the citizens sought further charters to gain more power for themselves.
November 12th 1275 : 3rd year of Edward I
This Charter was granted to the Bishop of Bath and Wells and exempted his men of the city of Bath from payment of tolls. The Charter extended this grant to his successors.
September 1st 1284 : 12th year of Edward I
This Charter was granted to Robert, Bishop of Bath and Wells and gave him the right to hold a 10-day fair each year at his Manor in Bath.
September 4th 1590 : 32nd year of Elizabeth I
This is equivalent to a Charter of Incorporation, but mostly confirmed existing practice. It was granted to the Mayor and citizens of the city of Bath to define the rights and privileges of the Municipality.
Bath should be a sole city of itself.
The Mayor and citizens have Aldermen and a Common Council.
The number of Aldermen and Common Councilmen are prescribed, and their mode of election and term of service is defined.
The Mayor is chosen yearly on the Monday before the Feast of St Michael.
The Mayor, Aldermen and citizens retain the Council House within the Guildhall and hold the Council therein.
Powers are granted to impose by-laws and to impose fines.
Two Sergeants at Mace are chosen each year and carry before the Mayor Maces of gold or silver engraved with the Arms of England.
The boundaries of the city are defined, with power to break through fences, buildings and enclosures.
Powers are granted to make inhabitants free citizens or burgesses.
Powers are granted to hold a Court of Record every Monday.
Powers are granted to establish a prison and gaol.
The Bailiffs have return of all writs.
The Mayor, Aldermen and citizens are aware of all pleas and writs and have by the Mayor an assize of bread, wine, beer and other victuals with power to fine and punish persons offending.
The Mayor is clerk of the market. Fines, waifs, strays and forfeits should go to the Mayor, Aldermen and citizens with powers of seizure.
Two markets are held every week on Wednesday and Saturday.
No stranger who is not a Freeman is to sell in the city without license of the Mayor, except in the market or fair.
Powers of justice are defined.
The Mayor is Coroner for the city.
The Mayor, Aldermen and citizens own the Baths and waste-ground lands and tenements.
The Mayor, Aldermen and citizens hold grants and privileges specified in the Charter.
The Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens have those letters patent under the Great Seal without fine or fee.
April 1st 1974 : 22nd year of Elizabeth II
This Charter re-conferred on the Borough of Bath the status of a City.
Elizabeth the Second by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Our other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith to all to whom these presents shall come, greeting.
Whereas we for divers good causes and considerations us there unto moving are graciously pleased to confer on the Borough of Bath the status of a City. Now therefore Know ye that we of our special grace and favour and mere motion do by these presents ordain declare and direct that the Borough of Bath shall henceforth have the status of a City and shall have all such rank liberties privileges and immunities as are incident to a City.