Free City

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A Free City is a settlement that has been granted royal charter exempting it from certain feudal obligations and interference in exchange for taxes, fees and/or rents. Citizens of the city are "free men."


A free city has a number of rights and privileges other settlements do not have:

  • The right to (mostly) manage its own affairs
  • The right to erect a city wall
  • The right to hold a market and receive income from the markets
  • The right to store and exclusively trade particular goods, often only granted to a few cities
  • The right to charge toll and levy taxes
  • The right to mint city coinage
  • The right to elect its own civic officials

'City air makes free'—citizens are not subject to a liege-lord and have freedom of mobility. A bonded peasant escaping to live in the city may be considered free if uncontested for a year and a day. Some cities are more restrictive, requiring recommendations, or restricting foreign or class-based participation.

Laws and Customs

  • A freeman may not sue another in the king's courts, or those of any other lord, until the case has first been reported to the mayor.
  • Citizens are expected to raise the "hue and cry": witnessed crime must be reported, and the perpetrator apprehended; those failing to do their utmost are considered complicit
  • It is forbidden to wander at night with any open flame (torch or candle) into any castles, chambers, stables, barns or byres. Only lanterns may be used.
  • Refuse is to be dumped in designated areas; city streets are to be kept clean and in good repair
  • Businesses which corrupt the airs are to be done outside the city walls
  • [The common seal was to be properly kept; poultry was to be sold only in Thursday Market to prevent innkeepers forestalling victuals; the city's troops were to be commanded by the mayor's esquires; the esquires and common serjeants were not to buy their offices, but were to be appointed by the mayor and his brethren with the assent of the commons.]


Markets and commerce are the reason a city is chartered in the first place. Typically, a city is authorized to hold weekly markets in the square, or in the guildhall. A city is also authorized to hold one or two annual fairs, open to foreign (that is, outside the city) trade.


The normal civic official is an amateur, serving generally for a year at considerable cost to his pocket and doubtless at much inconvenience to his business. It is not, therefore, surprising that some men seek exemption from office by the purchase of royal letters patent. This is reasonable enough if a man was old or sick, but another matter entirely when a number of able and wealthy citizens secure exemption for life. City governance is effectively a plutocratic oligarchy: the upper levels of city government expect and require officials to be elites, men of wealth and importance, which typically results in city government being run by guild merchants and the like, who will go to some lengths to keep it so.

The Parish

The smallest unit of local government is the civil parish, centered around a parish church. The boundaries of the parish may exist or extend outside the city walls. Each has a parish clerk and two or three constables.

The Vestry

Established by convenience, not by law, a committee of parish ratepayers meet regularly in the parish church vestry, chaired by the incumbent of the parish, often the Patron. It is primarily concerned with matters local to the parish: the maintenance of the church and its services, the keeping of the peace, the repression of vagrancy, the relief of destitution, the mending of roads, the suppression of nuisances, the destruction of vermin, the furnishing of soldiers and sailors, even to some extent the enforcement of religious and moral discipline. It is also responsible for appointing parish officials, such as the parish clerk, overseers of the poor, sextons and scavengers, constables and nightwatchmen. The decisions and accounts of the vestry committee are administered by the parish clerk, and records of parish business are stored in a "parish chest" kept in the church and provided for security with three different locks, the individual keys to which are held by such as the parish patron and churchwardens.


The constables (parish constables, or petty constables) are citizens of the parish chosen by the parishioners annually in the presence of the eldermen and wardens of each district, presented to the mayor, and their names enrolled. He has to serve one year, be a ratepayer, or pay not less than £4 a year rent. He has no salary and is only on duty as occasion requires but all his expenses are paid and he enjoys money fees and dues in the discharge of these occasional duties. He has the right to employ someone to perform the role on his behalf (it is often a resented burden that involves a wide variety of extremely time consuming tasks). He is often not the most qualified or upstanding sort, often generally disliked, and is frequently subject to personal danger in the conductance of his job.

Answering to the local Justice of the Peace (and often the churchwarden), the principle duty of the constable is the preservation of the peace, but also is the "eyes and ears" of the court, finding evidence and recording facts on which judges can make a ruling. By extension, the constable is also the "strong arm" of the court (i.e., of the common law). As most parish constables do not wear uniform, normally their only identifiable feature is the staff or truncheon they carry. Ranging in size from 30 centimetres to nearly a metre long, they are often engraved or richly decorated. Carried as a notional badge of office, truncheons provide little defense; many constables and watchmen equip themselves with whatever effective weapon is to hand.

  • Each civil parish typically has a small location (watchhouse) in which the constable can confine criminals. The constable is responsible not only for confining such people, but also for delivering them to the courts.
  • They are to report affrays and debates, and make arrests and summonses.
  • They are among the people with authority to read the Riot Act, and are expected to do so if a riotous assembly arises in their parish.
  • They are expected to police vagabonds and beggars, who are to be set in the stocks for three days, and then whipped until they leave the parish.
  • They have a general responsibility for the local stocks, as well as for the pillory
  • They are expected to punish poachers, drunks, hedge-damagers, prostitutes, church-avoiders, and fathers of bastards.
  • They are expected to keep the pavements repaired and their parish clear of dung, mire, and corruption of the air.
  • They are expected to monitor trading standards and pubs, catch rats, restrain loose animals, light signal beacons, provide local lodging and transport for the military, perform building control, attend inquests, and collect the parish rates.
  • They are responsible for collecting national taxes, within their area.

The Ward

Much of the government of the city is conducted by the guilds and by the ward courts. The main importance of the ward is in the military organization of the city, the maintenance of its walls, and in the management of the common lands. Each has an elderman, and a ward captain, along with some supporting officers.

The Elderman

The elderman is the most senior official or representative in the ward. Election to the ranks of the eldermen is made by the mayor and remaining eldermen as vacancies occur due to death, old age, or ill health. Eldermen are drawn exclusively, and the councilors preponderantly, from the class of wealthy traders, belonging to the manufacturing crafts and merchants. Such eldermen are usually elected from among the guild brothers, mostly from among those who had been an elderman before, or a bailiff, or an assessor of the guild (this indicates that before election they had been members of the merchant guild approximately twenty years). The eldermen receive no salary for their duties, thus having simultaneously to maintain their merchant activities. An elderman remains a member of the guild; he does not participate in all of the social events of the guild, although he does participate in the guild’s most important festivals and feasts.

  • Both eldermen and councilors are to have robes of violet, murrey, and crimson, and eldermen also robes of scarlet which those who have served as mayor are to wear on all civic occasions.
  • It is prohibited to elect brothers, fathers, or sons to the council. Some occupations, too, are regarded as incompatible.

The Captain

A captain (or ward constable) is in charge of a ward and responsible for levying money in it for the repair of the walls, and managing the militia. The raising of troops, and money for their wages, and the inspection of the arms in the hands of citizens are all organized by ward; also the captains are responsible for opening and closing the city gates.

Other Officers

  • There are usually one or two wardens per ward, generally concerned with military organization within the ward, the maintenance of its walls, and in the management of the common lands.

The City

The city, on the whole, is governed by a council made up of eldermen from the city's wards, one of whom is appointed as mayor, and other important citizens, along with a troupe of other officers and servants.

The Mayor

The mayor is elected annually (often on Midwinter Feast Day) from amongst the eldermen of the city; re-election is common. The election of a mayor also occurs whenever the old mayor dies, retires, resigns, or fails a no-confidence vote consisting of a two-thirds majority of the council. It is his duty, which he swears to accomplish, to keep the city safe for the king, to maintain and advance its franchises, usages, and customs, and to do impartial justice to all. He is active in the various courts of the city and is the central figure in the city council. He is the recipient of mandates from the central government on every conceivable matter. He is escheator within the liberty, his name being certified to Chancery in this capacity as soon as he is elected. He acts as a liaison to the king in all civic matters. If the mayor's responsibility is great, so too is his dignity. He has a serjeant to bear his mace of office, who precedes him at all official duties, and a number of esquires and other assistants. The mayor does not serve gratis; the normal fee in is [£20] yearly.

City Council

Municipal authority has its focus in two buildings. The first is called the council chamber, where the city council meets and the main officers of the city are accommodated. The other is the City Hall, where larger meetings assemble and where the court of the mayor and bailiffs are held, though there is also an inner chamber where the election of the bailiffs may be settled.

The Small Council

The eldermanry, or the "Small Council," a council of the usually dozen or two eldermen from the wards, constitutes the administrative council of the city and the mayor's regular coadjutors in government. The eldermen meet every Senday during the year to cover business relevant to the city: court hearings, conferences, dossiers, deeds of sale or donations of property, registers, contracts and other documents, written up and kept at the City Hall. Replacement of a councilman who dies or retires is not immediately required. If a vacancy in the council should be filled, the new member is chosen by vote of the current councilmen.

The Great Council

Meeting less often, the "Great Council" consists of the eldermen and other important city leaders (typically from the guilds), usually double the number of eldermen, which convenes for matters that require a wider consensus.

The Commonalty

In the Guildhall the officers and councilors of the city from time to time faced a more genuinely representative assembly, which includes up to 48 upstanding citizens, few or none of whom—by contrast with the eldermen and councilors—have held municipal office, and most of whom are drawn from the manufacturing as distinct from the trading occupations. It is not deliberately representative of the crafts, but is represented by the searchers of the guilds, though other craftsmen might accompany them to the Guildhall. The rooting of the representation of the commonalty in the crafts gives it an organized backing which augments its political effectiveness.

The assembly of the commonalty has certain specific constitutional functions. It has a part, however limited, in choosing the mayor and approving the choice of other officers; in assenting to the imposition of financial burdens; and in consenting to ordinances for the common utility of the city. It has a role, in other words, in constituting the city government and in legislating for the city. But it also is the political assembly of the city, where all the internal stresses and strains of the day are ventilated. By means of petitions presented to the mayor and council the demands and grievances of the commonalty are made manifest and pressure is applied to have them met.


Like the eldermen, the councilors serve, unless promoted to the assembly, until removed by death or discharge. The qualification for membership is, if enough such men are available, previous service as bailiff. Both eldermen and councilors are sworn to aid and obey the mayor in all matters; and are ordered to accompany him, and not their crafts, in all processions


There is one bailiff per city district. Their duties are summarized in the bailiff's oath. They have to acquit the city of its farm, enforce the assizes of bread and ale and other market regulations, empanel jurors, do justice to rich and poor, and collect the issues of the city courts. Alone or in conjunction with the mayor, they are the addressees of mandates from the central government; and, as the officers responsible for the farm, they have at their disposal all the profits and commodities pertaining to the office from ancient times. These are husgable, rents from city property, tolls, stallrents in the markets, and the issues of fairs, and courts. Like the mayor, the bailiffs have their assistants and their dignity. Each has his serjeant-at-mace, responsible for making summonses, arrests, and so forth; and there is a bailiff's clerk, originally appointed annually but also during good behaviour. The bailiffs move about the city in some state, with a serjeant preceding them and an honest servant at their back.

  • They are not, however, allowed to enter freehold dwellings (the palaces and houses of the nobility, the ruling class), nor Church buildings or the University, a fact students take advantage of.
  • May employ a number of under-bailiffs

Other Officers

  • There is one city chamberlain per city district. Goods and riches are not less necessary for the chamberlains. Normally, their year of office coincides with that of the mayor. The chamberlain is responsible for the treasury, the paying and collecting of city funds. Each bears a "key" as a symbol of his office (which does sometimes open the treasury's locks).
  • There is one coroner per city district, chosen by the mayor, eldermen, and councilors.
  • The recorder and common clerk are representatives of a new professional class; they are chosen for their professional skill and sometimes make their civic office a stepping stone to better things. It is no less noticeable that the recorders are variously employed. Apart from legal duties in the narrow sense, some fulfill the role of the city's ambassador at large. They are found wherever the city has business to do or interests to pursue.
  • The bridges are each in the charge of a bridgemaster who is responsible for its maintenance, for collecting the revenues assigned to it, and for paying over any surplus to the city chamberlains.
  • There are also keepers of the city weights and measures, keepers of the gates, and in some cities, city minstrels.


  • The ward court hears presentments of common nuisances perpetrated within the walls of that ward.
  • The city Court of Common Pleas meets every Wonday for pleas regarding wills, and of dower, services, waste, and so forth, presided over by a tribunal of the mayor and bailiffs
  • The Mayoral Court, including the mayor and eldermen, meets from day to day at their discretion to deal with matters touching apprentices, offences against the customs and ordinances of the city, the faults of victuallers and craftsmen and civic officers, nuisances, rumour-mongers, disturbers of the peace, forgers of seals and charters, murders, thefts, burglaries, armed assaults, and made orders for governing the city and keeping the peace.
    • In some cases, the Mayor and Shariff's Court

Ranks and forms of address

See Rank and Status

  • Feudal Rank 3: His Worship X, Mayor of [City] (Requires Status 2-3; Guild Rank: 3+)
  • Feudal Rank 2: The (Right) Honourable X, Elderman of [City Ward] (Requires Status 2+; Guild Rank: 3+)
  • Feudal Rank 1: The Honourable X, Councilor of [City] (Requires Status 1+; Guild Rank: 3+)
  • Feudal Rank 1: The Honourable X, Bailiff of [City] (Requires Status 1+; Guild Rank: 3+)
  • Feudal Rank 0; Master X, Warden of [City Ward] (Status 0+)
  • Feudal Rank 0; Master X, Captain of [City Ward] (Status 0+)
  • Feudal Rank 0; Master X, Constable of [City Parish]

Other Features


See Guilds

The guilds of the Capital are all designed to protect and further the social and economic interests of their membership. While not all of the Guilds have been granted or have been able to maintain a monopoly on the services and crafts they provide, they can nevertheless present a united front to any form of competition and have a recognized degree of political influence with the city council. On the first days of each season of the year, the Grand Council of Guilds meets at City Hall. All the city's Guildmasters are required to attend (and must send deputies should they be unable to do so). This meeting is used to discuss petitions and legislation before the city council that may affect the trade or business of one or more of the city's guilds, and allegedly serves the purpose of granting those city guilds not directly represented in the council a say in the city's governance.

Civil Militia

Every citizen of the city is expected to maintain arms according to his means (every home has an armory, which is regularly inspected), and take them up in the city's defense, regardless of station. The militia is organized at the ward level, headed by the eldermen, and the guilds from which the forces are drawn. They are often made up of journeymen-craftsmen and unmarried guild members, but may include civic officers, other guildsmen, and even some nobles (including even arls and ducs). The city will employ the militia in its defense, and often to patrol roads and protect traveling merchants and the like, and as night watchmen.

A city will commonly include the following paramilitary guilds, where applicable, in addition to the common militia. Although they tend to be more of a "confraternity" than a true guild (like the crafts or merchants), they are highly organized, and often well-trained. They have their own liveries, and rally under their own banner in war, and follow a patron saint. They hold regular competitions, processions, and lavish communal feasts (commonly twice a year, often in conjunction with a competition). Membership can sometimes overlap with nearby smaller towns, and similar guilds in other cities will often recognize each other.

Watchmen's Guild

Militia members are often also organized into a Watchmen's Guild. Officers of the watch guard the town gates at night, conduct patrols to prevent burglary, arrest strangers appearing at night, and put out fires. By common law, the guard consists of 6 men per gate (or 12 men per town, in smaller settlements), serving from sunset to sunrise. Any stranger found is to be arrested until morning, and if innocent, released. Wealthy citizens often hire mercenaries to perform such duties on their behalf. (During the day, the Wardens were responsible for keeping the watch)

Martial Guild

Primarily involves cavalry forces. More wealthy examples are indistinguishable from knights, and adhere to the ideals of chivalry; they even sometimes fight in tourneys, though the nobility usually tries to exclude them.

Shooters' Guild

Includes both archers and crossbowmen. Female members are not unusual

City Navy

Privately-owned small vessels (often owned by the Merchants' Guilds) that are employed to patrol local waters to keep the peace, and sometimes are used to conduct naval attacks on enemies.


Some cities contract a permanent mercenary force to help keep the peace and defend the city from threats. (Especially common in Marinese cities.)




  • The purpose of this article is to establish a baseline; YMMV
  • Liberties have been taken with the exact organization, names, &c., to make more "generic" sense
  • Historically, a free city answered to the king, but for simplicity, this system will keep to the "CK2" roots, where cities answer to the ruler of the province in which they exist

See Also