The earliest charter known to have been granted to the Borough of Oxford is from Henry 1. This no longer exists but is known because it is recited in the charter of his grandson, Henry 11. The charter of Henry 11 probably no longer exists but its words have been preserved. This charter, of about 1160, gave to Oxford ‘all liberties, and customs and laws and quittances which they had in the time of King Henry, my grandfather, and especially their gild merchant, with all liberties and customs, in lands and in woods, pastures and other accessories… and they are to have all other customs and liberties and laws of their own which they have in common with my citizens of London’. It confirmed to the burgesses and their Gild Merchant, their freedom from toll and passage, which were tributes paid for the right of way by land and water, and their rights of Sac, Soc, Tol, Theam, and Infangetheof which, generally, were the rights of feudal Lords. The King, in accepting the Gild’s offer of £63.Os.5d per annum in return for the fee-farm, that they may ‘hold the town of Oxford’, meant that the burgesses, the Freemen, now had self-government of the town. The Gild became more powerful and could, now exclude anyone who was not a member of the Gild from trading within the precincts of the town.
The charter of King John, which was granted on 14 June 1199, confirmed the previous charters. Soon, a new office of ‘Mayor’ was created with other offices of the Gild continuing as before.
The business of the Gild had been carried out at premises in Queen Street, known in the Middle Ages as the ‘Old Yeld Hall’, but in February 1229, the burgesses bought a large building, running behind several houses in High Street, for use as their Gild Hall. With the Gild Merchant, through its Council, taking over the local government of the town, it administered law and order and regulated trade. Only Freemen were allowed to trade within the City and those tradesmen who were not members of the Gild had to carry on their business outside the City boundaries. Each trade had its own gild with its own rules but, in general, these had to be approved by the Gild Merchant.
Charter from King Henry
Henry, by the grace of God King of England, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Earl of Andegavie (part of Wales) sends greetings to the Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Counts, Judges, Barons, Vice Counts, Ministers and all his loyal French and English people in England and Normandy.
Know that I have granted and confirmed to my citizens of Oxford their liberties, customs, laws and immunities which they had in the time of my grandfather King Henry. Namely, a merchant guild with all liberties and customs, in lands, woods, pastures and other appurtenances, with the condition that anyone not belonging to this guild may not trade in any merchandise in the city unless he was accustomed to in the time of my grandfather King Henry.
Furthermore, I have granted and confirmed that they may be exempt from tolls, passage fees and all customs throughout England and Normandy whether by land, by river, by seashore, "by land or by strand". And they may have all other customs, liberties and laws which the community and citizens of London have. And that at my feast they may serve me with staff of my butlery, and may act jointly with them concerning merchandising inside London, outside and in all places. And if they have any doubts or differences of opinion concerning any judgment that they have to render, they may send messengers to London on the matter and whatever the Londoners judge to be correct they may take as established.
If any charge is brought against them outside the city of Oxford,they need not answer it there; no matter what plea is made against them they may prove their case according to the laws and customs of London and not otherwise, for they and the citizens of London are of one and the same custom, law and liberty. It is therefore my wish that they have and hold the aforesaid liberties, laws and customs, and their tenures properly and peacefully, with "sac and soc, tol and theam, infangenetheof" (landowners' rights) and with all other liberties, customs and immunities as best as they ever had them in the time of my grandfather King Henry and just as my citizens of London have them.
Witnesses: Thomas the chancellor, Reginald Earl of Cornwall, Henry Earl of Norfolk and others.
Thordre for the Admyssion of Fremen - 1551
Md at a Councell holden the 12 daye of Octobre, yn the fyft yere of the reign of our sovereign Lord Edward the 6th, by the grace of Godd Kyng of Inglond, Fraunce and Irelond, defender of the fayth, and yn yerthe of the Churche of Inglond and also of Irelond supreme hedd, yt ys enacted, concluded, and agreed by the Mayar, Aldermen, Baylyes, Chamberleyns, and thole Councell of the Cytye of Oxford, with the concent of the more parte of thenhabytants of the seyd Cytye, for thordre of admyssion of ffreemen from hensforthe ynto the guyld and lyberty of thole body of the seyd Cyty of Oxford yn manner and forme as insuythe that ys to wete.
ffirst, that no manner of persone nor persons whyche hathe nott ben prentyce and served hys hoole terme wythe a freman and burges of thys Cytye of Oxford shall not be fre, nor inyoye the lyberty of the same Cyty, nor any parte thereof, under the som of ffyve pounds 4s 6d of laufull money of Inglond, but upwards as the seyd Mayar and Councell shall from tyme agre uppon, whyche som of £5 and so upwards agreed uppon to be payde to thuse and behoff of thole bodye and corporacion of the seyd Cytye, and to have a copye of his ffredome and admyssyon forthwythe.
Item, the seyd som of 4s 6d to be payd as hereafter followythe, that ys to say, to Master Mayar for the tyme beyng for settyng to the seale of hys offyce to the seyd copye 16d; to the two Chamberleyns for the yere 4d a pece; to the Towne Clarke for wrytyng the same copye 16d; to the Mayar's serjaunt 4d; to the Bayles serjaunts 4d a pece; and to the cryar 2d.
Item, the seyd som of £5 4s 6d to be payde before the othe be geven to any person or persons so comyng to be fre, and before hys he be admytted to be a freman of the seyd guyld.
Item, that the seyd person and persons that wyll be fre of the seyd guyld shall furste before he or they be admytted to be fre, desyer the good wyll of the crafte or occupacion that he or they wyll fre of, and paye unto theym 10s and a brekefaste for hys admyssyon ynto the seyd crafte or occupacion; and the seyd person and persons to be presented by the Master and the seyd craft or occupacion, and the seyd person and persons be presented by the Master and Wardens, or some two or 3 persons of the seyd occupacon to the Mayar and Councell of the seyd Cytye, and there by an eleccion to be admytted a freman of the seyd guyld and a burges or cytyzyn of the seyd Cytye, payeng the seyd £5 4s and 6d, or a more som as before ys specyfyed wythowt any further delay, and no suerty nor suertyes to be taken for or yn respect or delay of payment thereof, provydyd allwey that yf the seyd Master and Wardens wyll not present suche person and persons so suying to be fre, that then the seyd person and persons may and shall come unto the Chamberleyns for the tyme beyng, and they to present hym or theym to the seyd Mayar and Councell yn manner and forme above seyde.
Item, that every prentyce servyng hys Master the hole terme of vij yeres or more accordyng to hys covenants expressyd yn hys indentures, well and truly as a prentyce owght to do, shall at thend of the said terme be presentyd by hys Master and ij of thoccupacion that he ys of unto Master Mayar for the tyme beyng, or his depute, yn the Guyld hall att the court tyme, and the seyd prentyce there in the face of the court to be sworne and made fre of the guyld of the seyd Cytye, and to paye for the copye of hys fredom 4s and 6d forthwythe wythowt any further delay, as before ys seyd.
Item, that every suche prentyce when he ys presentyd to be free, as ys afore sayd, hys master shall furst and before he be sworne and admytted to be fre, declare uppon hys othe that he hath taken at hys furst entre ynto the seyd guyld, whether hys seyd prentyce hathe servyd hym the full terme of 7 yeres or more, accordyng to hys covenants expressyd yn hys indenturs as an prentyce owght to do or nott, and yf hys master desposyth that the seyd prentyce hathe so served hym the terme aforesayd, and the same also beyng provyd by the records of hys inrollyng and inrollment, then he the same prentyce to be forthwythe sworn and admyttyd as before ys declared. And yf hys said master deposythe that he hath not served hym hys holl terme, and so beyng als proved by the records, that then the seid prentyce not to be sworne nor admittyd untyll he hathe served the resydew and thole terme of hys yeres, provydyd allwey that yf any apprentyce do hereafter go or ron awey from hys master that then hys master shall wythyn 2 dayes then next insuyng certifye the Master and Wardens of the same occupacion, or to the Towne Clarke for the tyme beyng, and theruppon they to inroll the day and tyme of his goyng awey, and yn lyke maner to do for hys comyng ageyn; provydyd also that yf any master happen to decesse havyng a prentyce or prentyces and there yeres not
endyd, or do not occupye or use the same occupacion afterwards, that then suche prentyce or prentyces shall and may resort unto the Master and Wardens of ye same occupacion, or to Mr. Mayar for the tyme beyng, and they to assygne hym a man expert yn the same occupacion wyth the concent of the seyd apprentyce, and wyth hym to serve forthe the resydue of hys terme, and the same master wythe the Wardens of the same occupacion at the yeres ende to present and cause to be made fre the same prentyce or apprentyces, as before ys mencyoned and no otherwyse.
Item, that every person hereafter intendyng to be fre of the seyd guyld and to set upp any occupacion yn the same Cyty, and dothe not inhabytt wythyn thys Cytye and kepe howshold yn the same at that tyme present, shall before he be sworn and admytted be bounde or fynd suertyes that he shall wythyn thre monethes then next insuyng at the furdest have a howse and famyly, and inhabyte wythyn the same Cytye or suburbes thereof, or at the least a chamber wythyn the howse of som freman inhabytyng yn the same Cytye, whereyn he shall have contynually remeynyng a cofur or chest, and theryn at all tymes to the som or value of 11s yn money or money's worthe. And the same to be taxable at alltymys to suche taxe and tallenge as shall be uppon hym taxed and sessydaccordyng as other inhabytants of the seyd Cytye be for any maner of payments accordyng to the custom of the seyd Cytye, and yf any do at any tyme or tymes hereafter to the contrary herof, that then he and they and every suche of theym to be forthwythe dysfranchesed, and from thensforthe to inyoy no parte of the lyberty nor fredom of the seyd Cytye whether he hathe ben prentyce wythyn the same Cytye or not; provydyd allwey and be yt also enacted that every persone yn whose howse such cofur, chest or goods shalbe lefte shall paye from tyme to tyme suche some and somes of money as the owner of suche cofur, chest and goods shall from tyme to tyme be assessed att, takyng a quyttance of the collector and collectors that shall be assygned to collecte and gather the same, purportyng to what purpose the seyd som and soms of money were payd for, provydyd also and be yt enacted that no forene burgesse shall have any beneyfyte or profytt by hys fredom as long and duryng the tyme that he doth not inhabytt wythyn the lyberty of the seyd Cytye by any maner of meane, toll called thorowgh toll onely excepted. And be yt also consented and enacted that yf any persone hereafter at any tyme do interpryse to set upp yn the seyd Cytye to occupye any crafte or occupacion before he be fre of the guyld thereof, according as before ys specyed, and ther uppon having warnyng to surcesse and leff hys occupyeng by the Chamberleyns for the tyme beyng, or the Master or Wardens of thoccupacion that he intendeth to occupye, except suche as by acte of Parlyament ys enacted and concluded, that then the same person and persons so afterwards offendyng shall forfeyte and pay to thuse of the body of thys seyd Cytye for every daye so occupyeng 3s 4d.
Item, that if any person or persons including apprentices being so disfranchised for the payment of the sum or sums of money of or for not having sufficient chest, coffer and goods as before is said, and afterwards do sue to be free again of the said City, that then the same person and persons which so hath offended shall (be) deemed and adjudged as a foreigner or stranger, and shall not otherwise be elected and admitted in any point. And if he will desire and sue so to be free again, then to pay £5 4s 6d, or a more sum of money, in manner and form above declared, and not otherwise.
Item, that yf any person or persons, as well apprentysesse as other, beyng so dysfraunchesed for the payment of the som or soms of money of or for not havyng suffycyent chest, cofur, and goods as before ys seyd, and afterwards do sue to be fre ageyn of the seyd Cytye, that then the same person and persons whyche so hathe offended shall demed and adjudged as a foryner or straunger, and shall not otherwyse be elected and admytted yn any poynt. And yf he wyll desyer and sue so to be fre ageyn, then to paye £5 4s 6d, or a more som of money, yn maner and forme above declared, and no otherwyse.
Item, that every freman whyche hereafter shall be made fre shall have a copye of hys fredom, as before ys seyd; and havyng the same yt shall be laufull for hym to have oon of hys sonnes fre of the guyld of the seyd Cytye yn maner and forme followyng and no mo, that is to wete, that every suche person havyng a son of thage of 21 yeres, or above, may present hym before Master Mayer for the tyme beyng at the court tyme, or hys depute, and there as well the ffather as the son, desyryng that he may be fre of the guyld of the seyd Cytye shall there yn the face of the court pay 4s 6d, to be dystrybuted as before ys seyd, and theruppon then and there be sworne and admytted a freman.
Item, every freman having mo sons than oon yt shall be lawfull unto hym yn lyke maner to present theym or as many of theym as he shall thynke good at suche tyme as they be of thage aforeseyd, and then and there payeng the som of 9s 6d forthewythe, to thuse and behoff of the bodye of the seyd Cytye, and also the seyd som of 4s 6d, to be dystrybuted as before ys declared, shall then and there be sworne and be admytted fre of the seyd guyld, and not otherwyse, provydyd allwey that every Mayar for the tyme beyng may make oon of hys sons beyng named at that tyme fre of the seyd guyld for a guylt peny, accordyng to the auncyent custome of thys Cytye.
Item, that no person or persons shall at any tyme or tymes hereafter be admytted to be fre of the seyd guyld by any kynsman that ys or hathe ben fre of the same otherwyse than before ys wrytten.
Item, that no freman of thys seyd guyld not inhabytyng thys Cytye shall make any prentyce or prentyses servyng hym to be fre of thys guylde by force of thys acte but that all suche apprentyce and apprentyces shalbe demyed and adjudged as a foryner and foryners, and not otherwyse to be admytted.
Item, that no alyen being a denyson or not denyson shall injoy the lyberty or fredom of thys Cytye, nor be admytted fre of the same.
Item, yf yt happen the Mayar of thys Cytye or Town for the tyme beyng, hys deputy or deputes, or any other person or persons to swere, admytt, and make fre any foryner otherwyse than of ye eleccon of the Mayar and thole Councell of the seyd Cytye or Towne for the tyme beyng, and as before ys declared, or swere, admyte or make fre any person that ben apprentyce or fremans son otherwyse then before yn lyke manner for them ys also before mencyoned, that then the partyes so offendyng and every of theym shall forfeytte and paye to thuse and behoff of thole body of the sayd Cytye or Town for every suche offence £6 of good and laufull money of Inglond, and to re-delyver all suche som and soms of money to the partye and partyes so admytted, all such som and soms of money as were receyvyd and hadd of the partye and partyes so admytted. And that the seyd partye and partyes so admytted, or any of theym, to take no benefytt of fredom of the seyd guyld by the same admyssyon so made anddone contrary to thorder aboveseyd, whyche seyd som of £5 to be payd to thands of the Key Kepers to thuse of the hole body of the seyd Cytye, for thoffence so comytted contrary to thys acte, yn maner and forme above declared at the next Councell to be holden then. Imedyatly suche offence done and for non-payment thereof that then yt shall be laufull unto the persons of the Councell then present at suche Councell to comaund the seyd person and persons to warde untyll the seyd som of £6 be well and truly payd to thuse and behoff aboveseyd, yf suche offence be don by any other person than by the Mayar for the tyme beyng. And yf suche offence or offences be comytted and done by the Mayar for the tyme beyng, that then for the non-payment of the seyd £6 by hym to be payd for the same offence, yt shall not be laufull to comyt to ward nor otherwyse to molest or entrepryse to vex the seyd Mayar for the tyme beyng duryng hys mayaralty, but yet nevertheless the same offence nor offences to be remytted, but the same offence to be extendyd and affecte ageynst at the next Councell, imedyatly after that he shalbe forthe of seyd offyce of Mayaraltie.
Thys acte, conclusyon, and ordre to take effecte from hensforthe, and to contynue for ever.