The Ceremony of Quit Rents

Have you ever heard of this tradition? The Ceremony of Quit Rents is the oldest legal ceremony in England (other than the coronation). It occurs between St Michael’s Day (October 11) and St Martin’s Day (November 11). On October 17, 2016, at a ceremony at the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand, London paid its rent to the Queen. The ceremony has been a tradition since 1211 (four years before the Magna Carta). The city handed over a knife, an axe, six extra large horseshoes, and 61 nails to Barbara Janet Fontaine, the Queen’s Remembrancer, the oldest judicial position in England (created by Henry II in 1164 to keep track of all that was owed to the crown. In this case, the Remembrancer has presided over the rent owed on two pieces of property for a very long time—since 1235 in one case, and at least 1211 in the other. Every year, in this Ceremony of Quit Rents, the crown extracts its price from the city for a forge and a piece of moorland. The problem is no one knows for certain where the two properties are located. 


The Royal Courts of Justice via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0


Horseshoes, 61 nails, an axe and billhook are part of the rent London owes to the Queen. EPICS/HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES ~

The first piece of land was known at “The Moors” is was located somewhere south of Bridgnorth in Shropshire. The tenant was one Nicholas de Morrs. He owned 180 acres of land and paid the rent of one sharp knife and one blunt knife. Eventually, the rights of tenancy passed to the City of London and so, the City pays the rent of a blunt billhook, which is a type of agricultural knife and a sharp axe to the Remembrancer, who tests the knives as part of the ceremony. The billhook is used to create a tally mark against a hazel stick or in some instances to hack away at a pile of sticks. This symbolizes making the “mark” representing the payment. The sharp axe splits the tally into two pieces. Each of the pieces serves as a receipt – one for each party in the transaction.  Traditionally, the Remembrancer then remarks “Good service”.

“The second quit rent is for the use of the forge in Tweezer’s (or Twizzer’s) Alley, somewhere near The Strand. It is believed that the first tenant, Walter Le Brun, was a blacksmith who had set up his business near the tilting ground of the Knights Templar sometime around 1235. Again the tenancy was taken over by the City of London sometime during the intervening centuries.” (Historic UK) 

According to Atlas Obscura, “The second rent is for a piece of land closer to home. In the neighborhood of what’s now the Royal Courts of Justice, back in the 13th century, the king held a tournament during which the knights needed help repairing their armor; the man who stepped up to do the work was then given a lease on the land to create a forge. (In a different version of the story, his job was to reshoe the horses of the Templar Knights. It’s possible both stories are true, since with the Temple Church just down the street, those knights would have been the farrier’s most obvious customers.)” The Remembrancer says “Good number” when the rents are paid. 

The giant horseshoes required for the second rents were designed to used during battle or during tournaments where horses were trained to “fight” by using their hooves (i.e., the horseshoes) as weapons against the opponent’s horse. Ironically, the shoes currently used date back to the late 1300s. Therefore, the shoes and nails are loaned back to the City of London to be used in the next year’s ceremony. 

“The Ceremony of Quit Rents is open to the public and includes an address by The Queen’s Remembrancer in his ceremonial robes, full-bottomed wig and tricorn hat. There is also usually a talk on some aspect of London History.” (Historic UK) 


Atlas Obscura 

Historic UK 






About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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