The Royal Charter
One of the notable achievements of King Henry II was the
creation of about 150 chartered boroughs throughout the country.
These gave the town liberties in exchange for annual taxes paid to
the King. There were a number of liberties but they included the
right to set up courts of law, freedom from manorial dues and other
tolls. There was an annual rental paid direct to the King’s
treasury (the first amount mentioned for Bedford, which had a
population of about 3000, was £40).
The Bedford Charter was given in 1166. The original is in the
Bedfordshire Record Office at Borough Hall. A framed copy is on the
Parlour wall. There is also a copy on the wall of a painting, by K
Petts, of the burgesses collecting the charter from the King in
Rouen, France where he and his troops were fighting. However, it
was clearly not the first charter since it confirms the privileges
given in Henry I’s days. It is thought that the earlier charter (or
charters) was destroyed during the civil wars in the early 12th
Century during King Steven’s reign.
The Bedford Charter is probably the second oldest in the
country. The oldest was presented to Oxford and is mentioned in the