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Liber Horn

Liber Horn, manuscript on vellum, 1311

​Liber Horn, manuscript on vellum, 1311.

Archive Treasures: Liber Horn

Elizabeth Scudder, Principal Archivist

Compilation of charters, statutes and customs by Andrew Horn
Manuscript on vellum, 1311 (LMA COL/CS/01/002)

Liber Horn is one of the earliest illuminated manuscripts amongst the archives of the City, dating from the early 14th century. The book is a primary source for much of the documentary evidence for London history in the Middle Ages, and for the development of medieval legal administration. Its 376 leaves contain a comprehensive collection of the statutes of King Henry III (reigned 1216-72) and King Edward I (1272-1307), together with numerous 13th century legal treatises. It also includes a large and miscellaneous collection of London customs, ordinances of the City and the Guilds, and a small collection of royal charters for London. The volume was clearly intended for practical use and the text is corrected and annotated.

Liber Horn is made up of two separate parts, bound together perhaps around 1320, with the original binding still intact. An inscription within the volume records that it was made for Andrew Horn, fishmonger of Bridge Street in 1311. The folio illustrated on this page, offers further evidence of Horn’s ownership: a shield of arms, depicting a fish and the saltire cross of St. Andrew, is attached to a stem of foliage in the right hand border.

Horn was born in London around 1275 and initially made his living as a fishmonger; he had a brother, Simon, in the same trade. He was warden of the Fishmongers’ Guild in 1307, but that did not protect him from being sued in the same year for giving short weight in his fish baskets. He was no ordinary fishmonger, as he developed wider administrative and financial interests, and was probably practising law by 1311. In 1320 he became Chamberlain of the City, a post he held until his death in 1328. As Chamberlain, it was his responsibility to defend the City’s privileges and during his term of office (and apparently earlier) he was responsible for compiling an impressive collection of documents which he left to the City on his death. Regrettably, it is difficult to identify the other books he bequeathed among those in the City Archives today. Some may have been dispersed, as other legal compilations of his can be found today in the British Library, and in libraries in Oxford and Cambridge.

The office of Chamberlain is one of the oldest and most important of the City offices. The earliest known holder was mentioned by name as Chamberlain of London in 1237, but the office was certainly in existence by 1230 and possibly has its origin in the late 12th century. The early Chamberlains were drawn from the higher ranks of the citizenry and several of them combined the office with that of an Alderman. Many of the Chamberlains were prominent members of the Twelve Great Livery Companies. The Chamberlain, like all medieval financial officers, was held personally responsible for the city’s money which passed, or should have passed, through his hands. This personal responsibility was made clear by the appearance before the Mayor and Aldermen of the executors of the dead Chamberlains, accounting for the revenues of the office and obtaining acquittances.

By a custom which operated from the 13th to the 18th century the Mayor and Aldermen were responsible for granting the custody of the City orphans (children of deceased freemen) to a guardian and to make sure their estate was secure. The Chamberlain played a prominent part in this custom until the 16th century and, from time to time, even assumed personal responsibility for a child. For example, in 1320 Andrew Horn became responsible for a vagrant City orphan and looked after the child for eight years.

The Chamberlain’s duties, apart from the pecuniary ones of collecting the city’s revenues, included the safeguarding of the city’s records. Since the Chamberlain was responsible for the city’s cash it is hardly surprising that valuable documents were entrusted to him. In the latter part of the 15th century this responsibility was transferred to the Town Clerk.

 

The article above appears in a book which has been published to showcase the holdings not only of LMA, but also of Guildhall Library and Guildhall Art Gallery. The contents of London: 1000 years range in date from 1067 to 2007 - the latest items are the memorabilia left at the 7/7 bombing sites - and they include not only the obviously iconic material like love letters from the dying Keats, or one of the very few documents in the world carrying Shakespeare’s signature, but also less expected, more ephemeral items. All of it tells a story.

You can buy London: 1000 Years from Amazon or all good booksellers (as the saying goes), price £29.95, but it is also available from City of London Corporation outlets (Guildhall Library, Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London Information Centre) in a special paperback edition for just £19.95.

David Pearson (ed.): London 1000 Years: Treasures of the Collections of the City of London.  London (Scala Publishers), 2011.  160pp. ISBN 978-1-85759-699-1

Published:
09 April 2013
Last Modified:
12 September 2018

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