Those of you who follow these postings will know about the Quit Rent Ceremony. For the uninitiated, this is the oldest legal ceremony in England apart from the coronation. It involves the rendering of two medieval quit rents which date back to the thirteenth century.
The first is for land known as The Moors near Bridgenorth in Shropshire. The quit rents for this property is two knives, one blunt and one sharp. The Moors is now a farm on private land some distance from the road. It is not easy to find, but as you can see from this photograph, the house shows it’s ancient origins still.
This ceremony is performed annually in the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand in London and this year’s ceremony took place on Monday. I was accompanied by a ‘good number’ of friends and family, adding to the occasion and allowing us to mark the occasion of this week’s publication. Here is a short extract from the afterword of Sixty-One Nails, which digs into some of the history of this ancient ritual: ~
….a piece of wasteland, known as the Moors, just south of Bridgnorth, was retained and held directly of the Crown. The earliest record of a tenant is of Nicholas de Morrs who occupied 80 acres of land, 20 acres of meadow and 80 acres of pasture from 1211 upon the rendering of two knives, one blunt and one sharp. The purpose of the knives was to create tally sticks for the receipt of taxes where a hazel rod of one year’s growth (roughly the length of a man’s forearm) was notched with the blunt knife to represent payment. The sharp knife was then used to split the rod in two, forming two corresponding halves of a receipt. In 1521, the obligation to provide the knives passed to six Mercers and then in 1556 to Richard Mylles. In that year one of the city men attending for the confirmation of the sheriffs attempted to perform the service with the knives. Neither knife would cut the hazel rod and Richard Mylles was fined ten shillings for contempt.
The reason for quoting this particular section is that the rendering of the quit rent did not pass quite as smoothly as it has in past years. When it came to the testing of the sharp knife, the blade did not initially cut the hazel rod and there was a murmur of tension as the rod stubbornly refused to be cut. Fortunately, a little judicious sawing cut through the hazel and the day was saved. Even so, the Comptroller carefully tested the edge of the blade afterwards with his thumb, assuring himself that it was indeed sharp.
Because the ceremony is held in court, the normal constraints of court are followed and one of these is that no cameras are allowed. Consequently I cannot bring you photographs of this year’s ceremony, but I can show you this beautiful portrait of the Queen’s Remembrancer, resplendent in the tricorn hat of a cursitor baron and holding one of the knives in one hand and one of the horse-shoes in the other. This picture is taken from a superb book called Keepers of the Kingdom: The Ancient Offices of Britain, by Bruce Alastair with photographs by Julian Calder and Mark Cantor. It contains many other interesting, odd and fascinating portraits.
It is the Queen’s Remembrancer’s role to judge whether the quit rents have been rendered successfully and he may well have been put off somewhat by this slight mishap, since when it came to the counting of the horse-shoes and the nails he called out ‘Good Service” instead of “Good Number” which is the phrase usually used. Nevertheless, the quit rents were accepted and the ritual maintained for another year. Long may it be so.
Finally, I would like to offer my best wishes to the current Chief Clerk to the Queen’s Remembrancer, who is stepping down in the coming year to pursue other activities.
Given the importance of the role of her fictional counterpart in Sixty-One Nails, I hope she has a peaceful and happy future.