History and Historiography

Sugar and Spice and Everything Vice: the Empire’s Sin City of London

By Cynthia Chung

Hell is a city much like London

– Percy Bysshe Shelley

The City of London is over 800 years old, it is arguably older than England herself, and for over 400 years it has been the financial center of the world.

During the medieval period the City of London, otherwise known as the Square Mile or simply the City, was divided into 25 ancient wards headed each by an alderman. This continues today. In addition, there existed the ominously titled City of London Corporation, or simply the Corporation, which is the municipal governing body of the City. This also still continues today.

Though the Corporation’s origins cannot be specifically dated, since there was never a “surviving” charter found establishing its “legal” basis, it has kept its functions to this day based on the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta is a charter of rights agreed to by King John in 1215, which states that “the City of London shall have/enjoy its ancient liberties”. In other words, the legal function of the Corporation has never been questioned, reviewed, re-evaluated EVER but rather it has been left to legally function as in accordance with their “ancient liberties”, which is a very grey description of function if you ask me. In other words, they are free to do as they deem fit.

And it gets worst. The Corporation is not actually under the jurisdiction of the British government. That is, the British government presently does not have the authority to undermine how the Corporation of the City chooses to govern the largest financial center in the world. The City has a separate voting system that allows for, well, corporations to vote in how their separate “government” should run. It also has its own private police force and system of private courts.

The Corporation is not just limited to functioning within the City. The City Remembrancer, which sounds more like a warped version of the ghost of Christmas past, has the role of acting as a channel of communication between the Corporation and the Sovereign (the Queen), the Royal Household and Parliament. The Remembrancer thus acts as a “reminder”, some would even say “enforcer”, of the will of the Corporation. This position has been held by Paul Double since 2003, it is not clear who bestows this non-elected position.

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