In 1215 King John, keen to win the support of the City in his baronial feuds, made the Mayor of London one of England's first elected offices.
The Mayor was a powerful figure, equal to any of John's unruly Barons. Only two months later William Hardel, the new Mayor of London, would put his signature to the Magna Carta. He was probably responsible for the inclusion of part 13:
13. The city of London shall enjoy all its ancient liberties and free customs, both by land and by water. We also will and grant that all other cities, boroughs, towns, and ports shall enjoy all their liberties and free customs.
Perhaps it suited the King for the city to have more influence, but he also wanted to keep it close to him. It was a condition of the new Charter that every year the newly elected Mayor would have to present himself at court and swear loyalty to the Crown*. And so it began: every year, the newly elected Mayor of London would travel upriver to the small town of Westminster and give his oath. The Lord Mayor has made that journey almost every year since, despite plague and fire and countless wars, and given his loyalty to 34 kings and queens of England.
For hundreds of years, Lord Mayor of London was by far the grandest position that a commoner could dream of reaching, and the Mayor's journey was the celebrity spectacle of its day. Over the centuries it grew so splendid and so popular that by the 16th century it was known everywhere as the Lord Mayor's Show. It features in the plays of Shakespeare, the diaries of Pepys and the adventures of James Bond. and of course in the pantomime story of Dick Whittington, who really was the Mayor of London three times. In the 20th century the Lord Mayor's Show was the first outside event ever to be broadcast live and it still attracts a TV audience of millions.
The modern Lord Mayor's procession is a direct descendant of that first journey to Westminster. The route and date have changed slightly over the years but the pageantry of Hogarth and Canaletto can still be seen in its lively mixture of London's past, present and future. The state coach is 350 years old, and the pikemen who guard it are almost as old as the Show. Today you will see the City's businesses, Livery Companies, charities, Her Majesty's Forces, the City Police and Londoners from all walks of life come together to enjoy a splendid celebration of the City's ancient power and prosperity.
* John was right to be concerned. It was less than a year later that the citizens of London lined the streets to welcome the occupying forces of Prince Louis of France, invited by the Barons in their continuing efforts to be rid of him.