London, like other cities, was subject to the authority of the Crown through its Sheriff - the Shirereeve or Portreeve. But in the 12th century, as a move towards civic independence, an association of citizens under oath - the commune - was established. At the same time the office of Mayor was created with Henry FitzAilwyn taking office in 1189 (whether by appointment or election is unclear).
In 1191, the commune was officially recognised by Prince John, while his brother Richard the Lionheart was away at the Crusades, and in 1199 John, now King, granted the citizens of London the right to elect their own Sheriffs - a particularly significant right as the Sheriff was the King's representative through whom the City was governed. The citizens' right to elect a Mayor annually was granted by King John in a charter of 1215. (see Magna Carta)
The commune may have been the origins of the development of another element of local governance. Gradually, Aldermen began to summon "wise and discreet" citizens from their wards to their meetings for consultation on particular matters. In 1285, a group of 40 citizens, between one and four from each Ward, was to consult with the Aldermen on the common affairs of the City. From 1376, this assembly had regular meetings and was known as the Common Council. It gradually assumed greater responsibilities and the business of the Court of Aldermen declined.
The Armorial Bearings of the City of London were first mentioned in 1381, when it was ordered that new Mayoralty Seal should incorporate them. The seal shows the Arms of the City charged in its first quarter with what is described as a dagger or sword. This is a representation of the Sword of St Paul, the City's patron saint.
The City's Common Seal has, since 1539 born on its reverse side a shield of the City Arms to replace the image of Thomas a Becket, in accordance with a proclamation of King Henry VIII, while it has continued to bear on its obverse a figure of St Paul. The new reverse also furnishes the earliest evidence of the crest and helmet. On this seal the crest appeared as a fan shaped object charged with a cross of St. George. It developed into the dragon's sinister wing also charged with a cross.
The supporters of the Shield on the Mayoralty Seal of 1381 were two lions. It is not until 1609 that dragon's as supporters to the City Shield are found, and at the same time appears the first known use of the present City motto Domine Dirige Nos, meaning Lord Guide Us. There were many variations in representations of the City's armorial bearings in succeeding centuries. The confusion was probably made worse by the fact that there had never been any official grant of armorial bearing to the City and the crest and supporters were not recorded there.
In 1957 the City obtained from Garter King of Arms and Clarenceux King of Arms a Grant of crest and supporters and the confirmation of the arms "Anciently recorded as of right apertaining to them".