London has been paying rent to the crown for 800 years

by Annika Backe
translated by Christina Schlögl

March 23, 2017 – On the continent, England is known for tea and traditions. Even on the conservative island though, you will find few customs as old as the “Quit Rent Ceremony”, which has been documented since 1211. For more than 800 years, London has been paying rent to the crown for two properties with this custom. 

MP Thomas Fanshawe had been the royal debt collector since 1568. The position was taken over by members of the family five times.

MP Thomas Fanshawe had been the royal debt collector since 1568. The position was taken over by members of the family five times.

The fact that no one knows where these properties are actually located, is secondary. According to the medieval contract they are the “moors” of Shropshire County and a blacksmith shop in St. Clement Danes. The first of these two cost a blunt billhook and a sharp axe, the second one cost six very large horseshoes and 61 nails for it.
After the ceremony at the Royal Law Courts, these objects are returned to the Corporation of London with the Queen’s permission. Their sole purpose is to be used as payment in the next year. In the old days, a hazel stick was used as acknowledgement. It was marked with the hook and split with the axe. 

Queen's Remembrancer

The rent has always been received by the crown’s debt collector, or “remembrancer”. The King’s or Queen’s Remembrancer is one of the oldest judicial positions in England and Wales. Introduced by Henry II in 1154, it is tied to the supervision of tax payments. Barbara Fontaine, the first woman in this position, has been doing that since 2014. She also collects other Quit Rents, like the eleven British pounds, London pays as rent for Southwark. This very trendy part of London harbours Shakespeare’s Globe and Tate Modern.

Other liabilities to pay

But it is also private people who owe the Queen payments like a bucket of snow, three red roses or a small French flag. It is unlikely however, that the tenant who was obliged to “pay” by making a bed of straw for the traveling king or queen will do so any time soon. Yet another form of payment seems rather enjoyable: Drinking three glasses of port on new years’ eve to toast the ghost of the royal grandmother. Sometimes it is simply nice to be a traditionalist. 

You will find more on the Quit Rent Ceremony in this Atlas Obscura article. 

Some information is also provided by the Wikipedia entry Queen’s Remembrancer.

And Bruce Alastair’s book “Keepers: The Ancient Offices of Britain” will tell you more about administrative bodies with long traditions. 

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