Dublin City Assembly
The city of Dublin has been governed by its own elected representatives since the 12th century. The Dublin City Assembly which flourished during the Middle Ages and survived until 1840, met at the great feasts of Christmas, Easter, Midsummer and Michaelmas, but extra meetings were held when necessary.
The Mayor presided at meetings of the Assembly, whose members consisted of two sheriffs, 24 aldermen, 48 sheriffs’ peers and 96 representatives of the Dublin trade guilds. The municipal franchise was not democratic in the modern sense, as it was largely confined to members of the trade guilds and to their descendants.
Dublin City Charters 1171 - 1727
The City Archives includes a series of 102 Charters granted to the city by successive English monarchs. The earliest charter was issued by Henry II in 1171-1172, giving the men of Bristol the right to live in the City of Dublin. Later charters contain grants to the city of rights, privileges and property, and taken together they form the basis of municipal law in Ireland.
Texts of selected charters can be accessed in the Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin available in the Reading Room of Dublin City Library and Archive.
Guild Records 1192 - 1841
Guilds were mutual benefit associations which flourished in Western Europe from the 11th century. The guild system in Dublin was licensed under a charter by Prince John in 1192 and dominated the commercial and political life of the city.
- There were four types of Guilds:
- Guild Merchant or Merchant Guild
- Craft Guilds or Trade Guilds
- Religious Guilds
- Military Guilds
Guild membership could be acquired by three means:
- Service – by completion of an apprenticeship with a guild member
- Birth – obtained by sons of guild members
- Freedom – honorary membership to be conferred on dignitaries
Freedom Records 1225 - 1922
The ancient Freedom of Dublin was instituted at the time of the Norman Invasion. The inhabitants of Dublin in the middle ages were either free or non-free. Holders of the freedom of the city were known as ‘Free Citizens’ and were entitled to special trading privileges and the right to vote in parliamentary and municipal elections.
In order to qualify for the freedom it was usually necessary to have been born within the city boundaries or ‘franchises’ and to be a member of one of the trade guilds of Dublin. Members of ‘the Irish nation’ were excluded, but in practice many people with Irish surnames succeeded in obtaining the freedom.
Under the Penal Laws, Roman Catholics were excluded from the Freedom of Dublin from 1691 until 1793. Under the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1918, the ancient Freedom of Dublin was abolished to make way for a more democratic franchise. It is possible to trace several generations of old Dublin families through these lists which form a useful source of genealogical research.
To view the Freedom Records, search the Ancient Freemen of Dublin database.
Liber Albus or White Book of Dublin (13th – 17th century)
This book contains transcripts of documents in abbreviated Latin, French and old English relating to the administration of Dublin, illustrating civic transactions with lands, buildings, mills and water-supplies.
It contains one hundred and eleven leaves written on vellum and a translation of its contents is in the Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin available in the Reading Room of Dublin City Library and Archive and online.
Chain Book of Dublin (14th - 17th century)
This book acquired its name from having been chained in the hallway of the Dublin Guildhall for reference by citizens. It contains lists of the laws and ordinances of the city of Dublin, legal proceedings and acts, lists of prisoners in Newgate and directions for pageants on Corpus Christi.
The book is on vellum and a translation of its contents is contained in the Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin is available for consultation in the Reading Room of Dublin City Library and Archive, and online.
Assembly Rolls 1447 - 1841
Inscribed on parchment, the Rolls record the minutes of the Dublin City Assembly. Transcriptions of the Rolls can be viewed in the Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin (19 Volumes) which is available for consultation in the Reading Room of Dublin City Library and Archive.
Expired Leases 1492 - 1869
The Expired Leases collection contains over 1,560 deeds relating to property generally owned by Dublin City Council and its predecessor the Dublin City Assembly. Deeds are legal documents which record accurate information on the names, addresses and trade, profession, business or marital status of an individual.
The collection relates to the leasing of premises predominately in the Dublin area but also in Rathbarry Co. Cork, Lisboyne Co. Laois, Rathmacree Co. Wexford, Baltinglass Co. Wicklow, Taghadoe, Co. Kildare, Co. Clare, Co. Carlow and Co. Louth.
Dublin City Council also leased out a number of services and privileges to private enterprises such as: the Liffey Ferry Service; farming of oyster beds on the Liffey and at Poolbeg; and the collection of city tolls and customs. These deeds are also part of the Expired Leases collection.
The Expired Leases Database is available for consultation in the Reading Room of Dublin City Library and Archive.
Dublin City Staple Books 1596 - 1678
Wool, leather and sheepskins were designated as the staple or basic items of merchandise by Edward I in 1291 and could only be sold to foreign merchants in designated staple towns. Dublin, Drogheda and Cork were designated as Staple towns in the 13th century, with Waterford and Galway being added on separate occasions in the 14th century.
No evidence of an organisation to enforce these regulations exist until 1530, it was known as the staple and its members were called staplers. The Dublin staple was closely linked with the Dublin City Assembly and the staple was gradually integrated into the civic administration.
In 1573, the mayor of the staple was among six officials appointed as keepers of the keys to the hanaper, the oak casket which held the Dublin city seal. One of the most important functions of the Dublin staple in the 17th century was the recognizance of debts. The mayor of the staple had the power to imprison a default debtor, take possession of his goods and use them to make restitution to the creditor.
The Dublin City Staple Database is available for consultation in the Reading Room of Dublin City Library and Archive.
Tholsell Court 1659 - 1762
The Tholsell or "Toll Booth" was erected in Christ Church Place and was one of the most important public buildings in the city. This collection is a record of proceedings heard in the Tholsell Court.
The records are inscribed on 26 parchment membranes of varying size. The period covered is from April 1659 to October 1660, but the record is not continuous.
The collection includes:
- The Tholsell court roll noting proceedings of the Court (regarding debt, trespassing etc.)
- Liber Querelorum (Complaints Book) which is a record of pleas heard in the Thosell Court
- Recognisance Book recording name and station of the person offering the recognisance before the Tholsell court
- Libri Manucaptori (Bail Book) record of bail granted
- Judgement Book giving summary of judgements handed down in the Tholsell Court
- Book of Returns record of actions heard in the Tholsell Court and returned to a higher court
- Precedent Book, a compilation of precedent and practice drawn from proceedings in the Tholsell Court.
The records of the court do not run continuously.
Dublin City Surveyors – Book of Maps 1695 - 1827
Dublin City Assembly acted as one of a number of landlords with estates in the city following a policy of leasing its lands to improving tenants. The City Estate was leased to Dublin’s merchant class who built houses, stables, warehouses and out-buildings on their holdings.
The post of the City Surveyor was established in the late 17th century when there was no overall planning authority for the city. The role of the City Surveyor was to record rather than to plan such development. His involvement in planning was confined to dividing ground in lots for setting.
The collection is an example of urban cartography and documents the development of the ancient Dublin City Estate within the original walled city.