Gifts and reward

York's guildhall was a relatively new building during Richard III's reign, having been completed by 1459
York's guildhall was a relatively new building during Richard III's reign, having been completed by 1459
© Carolyn Donahue

Associated institutions



The relationship between a monarch and his cities was enacted through the giving of gifts. Citizens contributed money towards presents as a way of persuading a local lord to act in their favour, or in gratitude for doing so. As a key noble figure in the north during the 1470s and later as king, Richard received numerous gifts from the citizens of York.

He was not alone in this, as presents were also sent to other great northern lords including Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland, and Richard's son, Edward of Middleham. This was both a way of establishing a relationship between the city and local nobility and keeping in favour, so that their concerns and requests would be looked on sympathetically. As duke, Richard was presented on several occasions with food and wine, including wine, eels, pheasants, rabbits, partridges and bread. In return he acted on behalf of the city, including interceding with Edward IV, his brother, in persuading the king not to withdraw city's liberties. For this he was rewarded with six swans and six pikes on 31 December 1476.

The cultivation of this relationship really paid dividends for the city when Richard became king, as the stakes were much higher. For his visit to York in 1483 citizens noted on 28 August the collection of £448 towards gifts for the king and queen, including 500 marks in a cup of gold for Richard and £100 of gold in rich plate for his wife. This was a magnificent presentation, much more spectacular than victuals, and the rewards were also far greater.

During his visit to York, Richard III called leading citizens to an audience at the Minster chapter house on 17 September 1483 to declare a substantial reduction in the city's annual fee farm. This was money, collected locally as taxes, which was paid as a yearly lump sum to the royal exchequer. The king reduced the amount due from £160 to £100, and bestowed further civic honour by appointing the mayor as his chief sergeant at arms.

Although in practice the reduction in the fee farm led to years of financial confusion between the city and exchequer, it was a dramatic statement of Richard's relationship with York. In announcing the reduction the king emphasised that the city's claims of poverty had been heeded and declared that the remission was due to the loyalty demonstrated by citizens both through their service to him in the Scottish campaigns of 1480-82 and at his coronation in London on 6 July 1483 (see York's military role).


Gifts to Richard duke of Gloucester, 31 December 1476

"'It was holie agreed and assented that the duk of Gloucestre shall for his grete labours of now late made unto the kinges goode grace for the conservacion of the liberties of this citie, that he shalbe presented at his commyng to the citie with vj swannes and vj pikes.'"

York House Books vol 1 p. 78

Gifts to Richard, duke of Gloucester, 12 March 1483

"'For the greit labour, gude and benevolent lordship that the right high and myghti prince the duc of Gloucestr have at all tymes doon for the wele of this cite… it is agreid that his grace shalbe presented at his commyng, that is to say in pane dominico v solidis [5 shillings of white bread], xiiij lagene vini [14 gallons of wine]… vj dentrices [6 pike], vj tenches, vj bremes, vj anguelli [eels] et j barrell sturgion' "

York House Books vol 1 p. 250

Present for Richard's son, Edward of Middleham, 12 July 1483

"'Certen of my maisterz the aldermen… shall ryde to Midlam to my lord the prince with a present, that is to say with vj syngnettes, ij dusan rabetes, [vj] herynsewys, ij barell fferys of wyn and paynmayn' "

York House Books vol 1 p. 286

Gifts for the King and Queen, 28 August 1483

"'At the wich day it was agreid that our suffreyn lord the king shalbe presentid at his cumyng with D marcs in a pare of baysyns of sylwyr gylt or in a cop of gold or in a gylt pees, and that our suffreyn lady the queyn shalbe presentid with C li. of gold in a pees; wher apon the mair promisid to lay down [xx] li., Maister Meitcalff the recorder C l, Maister York xl li…' "

York House Books, vol 1 pp. 290-91

Richard III's promises to the city, 24 August 1483

"'I veraly knawe the kinges mynde and entier affeccion that hys grace bereth towardes you and your worshipfull cite, for manyfold your kynde and lovyng deservynges to hys grace shewed hertofore, wich is grace will never forgete, and entendeth therfore so to do un to you that all the kynges that ever reigned upon you did never so moche, doubte not herof, ne make no maner peticion of desire of ony thing by hys hignes to you to be graunted.'"

York House Books, Vol 2 p. 713

Promise to reduce the city's fee farm, 17 September 1483

"The king 'callid afore hys good grace… in the chapitour howse of the cathederall chyrch of Saint Petir at York the said mair, hys bredyr the aldermen, and many odir of the communs of the said cite, and then and ther our suffereyn lord opynly rehercid the said service to hys good grace done, and also the dekey and the grete povert of the said cite, of hys most speciall good grace, withowt ony petecion… most graciusly and haboundauntly grauntid and gave in releve of the said cite in esyng of the tolles, murage of the said cite yerly [lviij li. xj s. ij d.] for ewyr… so that from then forwerd it shold be lefull to every person to cum to the said cite with thar goodes and catell and tham frely to sell in the same withowt onythyng gyffing or paying for toll or murage of ony of ther said goodes; and owyr that most graciusly grauntyd to the mair and commonaltie of the said cite yerly xl li. for ewyr to the behove of the communalte and chambyr of the said cite'"

York House Books, vol 2 p. 729

Reduction of the city's fee farm, 19 February 1484

"'Whereas the mayor and citizens of York hold the city of the king at fee-farm of 160 l. yearly, of which divers parts have been granted by the king's progenitors to divers persons and are still due to then, the king, for the relief of the poverty of the city and for the repair of the walls and other charges, grants to them 60 l. yearly for ever from the said fee-farm, and grants that the mayor shall be the king's chief serjeant at arms and shall receive for that office 18 l. 5 s. yearly from the residue of the fee-farm, and further releases to them for ever all his interest in the residue of the said fee-farm.' "

Calendar of Patent Rolls, AD 1476-1485 (London, 1901) p. 409

Confirmation of the reduction in fee farm, 1483

"'To the Maire & Citizens of York the king hath graunted lx li. yerely of the Fee ferme of the said Citee & to theire successors for ever and also have graunted unto the saide Maire & his successors to be chieff serieaunt of Armes and for thexercising of that office to have xviij li. v s. yerely and also the king hath remitted & relessed aswelle to the said Maire & his successors as to the Shireff there & his successores all the residue of the said fee ferme without any accompt making or any other thing therefore yelding'"

British Library Harley MS 433 f. 38, printed in R. Horrox and P.W. Hammond (eds.) British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 (Upminster, 1979-82) vol 1, p. 120

Letter of Richard III

"'It is soo that now of late at oure being in oure said Citee for gret causes us specialy moving We have disposed toe said Fee ferme asweele to the Releeff & socouring of the said Citee as otherwise'"

British Library Harley MS 433 f. 115, printed in R. Horrox and P.W. Hammond (eds.) British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 (Upminster, 1979-82) vol 2 p. 18