About  |  What You Can Do


The signal importance of Henry II's reign (1154-89) in the constitutional history of England is well known to all students of the subject. Such a collection as this can hardly omit the major enactments of a king who restored the lost efficiency of the Norman monarchy, regulated anew the troubled relations of church and state, enormously extended the resources of the crown, and laid the foundations of the English common law. In addition to the more familiar sources, such as the Constitutions of Clarendon and Henry's famous assizes, the present section includes some of the baronial returns that Round made the subject of a characteristically brilliant study.1 These are supplemented by a series of scutage accounts from the pipe roll of 1187, and further examples of the king's financial measures are provided by entries concerning tallage and items of judicial income. Typical of this reign were also two remarkable essays in Latin: the Dialogue on the Exchequer2 and the Treatise on the Laws and Customs of England,3 attributed respectively to Richard Fitz-Nigel and Ranulf de Glanville. However interesting and authoritative, such lengthy unofficial works cannot be incorporated in a brief volume of documents; only some of the commoner writs quoted by Glanville are given here. For additional illustration and comment on these two works, the student is referred to the scholarly introductions by the editors, to R. L. Poole, The Exchequer in the Twelfth Century, and to Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law.

Constitutionally, the reigns of Richard and John (1189-1216) were a mere prolongation of their father's reign. It is largely by virtue of more systematic chancery enrolment that we henceforth gain fuller information with regard to the working of the central courts and the activities of local officials. Alongside of the pipe rolls, which are continuous from the second year of Henry II, there appear by 1216 such great compilations as the charter rolls, patent rolls, close rolls, curia regis rolls, and fine rolls. From this formidable mass of material a few extracts are presented to illustrate, not only the general character of the records, but also, when possible, significant phases of legal and constitutional development. In the former connection particular reference should be made to the very helpful criticism of T. F. Tout, Chapters in the Administrative History of Mediaeval England, vol. I. In the latter connection the principal guides are the books already cited for the previous section — expecially those of Pollock and Maitland, Petit-Dutaillis, Round, and Stenton.

Thanks to a careful reworking of the pertinent records by a number of scholars,4 the history of London and the other boroughs is much better known to us than it was to Stubbs. One result of their research has been to enhance our appreciation of Henry I's activity. Despite the increased output of borough charters under the Angevins, which may be readily perceived by a glance at Ballard's collection,5 actual innovations within the field of municipal privileges were few in the later twelfth century. Lesser towns normally enjoyed customs like those of Newcastle; larger towns commonly received the liberties of London. But under Henry II the latter ceased to include exemption from arbitrary taxation and the right to choose magistrates. It was not until the closing decade of the century that the capital regained some degree of autonomy under an elected mayor and board of aldermen. The more definite of our meagre sources for that advance are given below. Meanwhile Henry II had apparently allowed a few boroughs to have elected reeves, and such arrangements were formally confirmed by Richard in charters which served as precedents for that of John to Ipswich. The latter grant has been selected for translation (no. 39A) because the ensuing action of the Ipswich burgesses is graphically described in a surviving record (no. 39B) — truly an outstanding monument in the history of local self-government.

This section appropriately ends with Magna Carta, which so admirably summarizes the developments of the previous century and introduces those of the century to come. And since the Great Charter has too often been thought of as an inflexible and definitive enactment, it has seemed advisable to indicate, by a sort of gloss on the original text, the changes made in the reissues. A list of the principal works dealing with the wider significance of Magna Carta in the constitutional history of England will be given at the head of the following section. For the moment it will suffice to refer the student to W. S. McKechnie's scholarly monograph, Magna Carta, together with the citations made in the footnotes.

1Feudal England, pp. 236 f.

2 Edited by Crump, Hughes, and Johnson (Oxford, 1902); translated in Henderson, Historical Documents, pp. 20 f.

3 Edited by G. E. Woodbine (Yale University Press, 1932).

4 J. H. Round, Geoffrey de Mandeville, pp. 347 f., and The Commune of London, pp. 219 f.; Mary Bateson, in the English Historical Review, XVII, 480 f.; M. Weinbaum, Verfassungsgeschichte Londons, and London unter Eduard I und II, vol. II. See also Petit-Dutaillis and Lefebvre, pp. 91 f.; F. M. Stenton, Norman London; W. Page, London; C. Stephenson, Borough and Town, pp. 179 f.: J. Tait, The Medieval English Borough.

5British Borough Charters, 1042-1216

privacy policy