King Edward III granted important rights and privileges to Bristol by this royal charter in 1373 that were to have far-reaching consequences for its future self-governance and identity.
The town burgesses had petitioned him for more independence and they asked that Bristol be raised to the status of county completely separate from the counties of Gloucester and Somerset. Until this time Bristol was divided, geographically and administratively, by the River Avon. The parishes to the west and north of the river lay in Gloucestershire, while those to the south were in Somerset. The charter of 1373 gave Bristol and its suburbs jurisdiction independent from those county authorities, making it a county in its own right.
That the said town of Bristol with its suburbs ... shall be separated henceforth from the said counties of Gloucester and Somerset equally and in all things exempt, as well by land as by water, and that it shall be a county by itself and [be] called the County of Bristol forever......
Bristol was the first provincial town to be given this status. The form of local government that this charter allowed for Bristol, as well as the settling of its boundaries, remained unaltered for the next 450 years until the Municipal Reform Act of 1835. Its illuminated first letter also incorporates a shield with the ship and castle of the Bristol coat of arms and is thought to have been the first time it was used.