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7  The Struggle Over the Government

The Restoration of the Royal Watermen, 1660

In February 1660, after the convention of the 'free parliament', the appointments of the State's watermen were put up for consideration.[1] The diarist Samuel Pepys's watermen told him that it was some watermen desiring to be State's watermen who had promoted the Humble Address and Congratulation.[2] But with the restoration of monarchy (Charles II returned to London on 29 May), the issue was now resolved in favour of the old royal watermen. Already in April it was noted that 'several watermen wore those badges that they wore in the time of king Charles I's days'.[3] In May Nowell Warner petitioned for the restoration of himself and his fellows to their places, and this was granted on the 12th.[4] All the 'usurper' State's watermen were turned out.[5]

     During the Civil War years Warner had kept the royal barges at his own expense, but afterwards they had been taken from him.[6] Now, it was found, the only barge fit for service was one called the Brigantine.[7]

Democracy on the Downslide

The watermen's struggle for reform of their Company's rules or 'bye-laws' apparently bore no fruit until 1663. The fact that it happened after the Restoration may have meant that the outcome was more conservative than it otherwise might have been. The only really-significant change to pre-revolutionary regulations was the auditors. This may have regularized a practice that had been brought in by the revolution, though there is no concrete evidence to tell. The new-style auditors were appointed from among the ranks of the watermen. They were chosen annually by/from ...[8]

     The story of the Company's government from the Restoration appears (until 1692) as one of decaying democracy and growing ruler corruption, two phenomena which were linked, according to opposition accounts. In March 1674 the Court of Aldermen heard complaints that rulers were embezzling the Company's stock. As was usual, the Court appointed a committee to consider the matter. The committee examined the Company's records for 1667-73 (the previous records had, of course, been burned in the Great Fire) and reported that some rulers had been taking moneys out of the funds without warrant. In October the Aldermen ordered the people involved to pay the moneys back within 14 days, or else they would be forever barred from being rulers. [9]

     In 1675 and again in 1677, Parliamentary bills were put forward (probably by the watermen themselves). In them, the watermen complained that those rulers who had not been selected from the candidates put forward by the Company (i.e. through popular choice) had 'misemployed' the Company's funds. The 'solution' (in the 1675 bill) would be to have 60 Company assistants elected for life (unless removed for 'misdemeanours'). These assistants were annually to put forward sixteen candidates out of which (and no others) the Aldermen's Court was to choose the rulers for the ensuing year.

     But the Mayor and Aldermen complained that the proposed solution, to restrict their choice of rulers strictly to eight out sixteen candidates to be annually presented, 'would take the government of the Company out of their hands'. The bills were not enacted. [10]

     The proposal (apparently by the watermen themselves) to elect assistants for life suggests that the original revolutionary practice of annual election (which we know was still practised in 1648-49) had since fallen into abeyance.

     In 1683 a compromise was reached on the choice of assistants. The Aldermen agreed that rulers would in future be selected exclusively from a enlarged choice, of 32 candidates.[11]

     But matters seem to have deteriorated further by 1688, when 'complaint [was] made by divers watermen ... of many irregularities in the affairs & proceedings of the Company of Watermen, & particularly the injustice and inequality in their election of Assistants'. But the Aldermen's 'solution' was merely to direct the complainants to the Company's court of assistants for redress.[12]

The Partial Restoration of Democracy, 1692

In 1692 the rulers, faced with a co-opting court of assistants who had seized outright control of the Company finances, resorted to the original custom of popular election to break their stranglehold. Only a modified form of democracy was restored, however. No mention was made of assistants' ability to nominate candidate rulers, and rulers could remove assistants for 'misdemeanours'. [13]

The Act of Parliament of 1700

The Act of Parliament of 1700, which combined the watermen and lightermen or bargemen into one company, finally enshrined the remaining democracy in parliamentary legislation. In particular it affirmed the principle of the annual election of assistants. [14]


1. CSPD 1659-60, p.342. Back


2. * Back

3. BL, Additional MS 10,116, fo.82b. Back

4. HMC, Seventh Report, p.82b; Lords Journal, XI, p.25. Back

5. * Back

6. HMC, Seventh Report, p.82b. Back

7. Lords Journal, XI, p.29. Back

8. Rep. * ...; PRO, PC 2/56, fos.154b-160b, no. 40; rep. 88, fo.102a. Back

9. Humpherus, I, pp.318, 329-30, 334-5. Back

10. HMC, Ninth Report, part II, pp.61b, 86b-87a; LJ, XII, pp.693, 707; LJ, XIII, p.90. Back

11. * Back

12. Humpherus, I, p.359; rep. 93, fos. 70b, 76a. Back

13. C.L.R.O., rep. 96, pp.154, 166, 178, 195-6; Humpherus, I, pp.236, 359, 372-3. Back

14. Humpherus, II, p.6ff. Back


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