39. BOROUGH CHARTERS AND RECORDS

(A) John: Charter to Ipswich (1200)

John, by the grace of God king, etc. Know that we have granted and by our present charter have confirmed to our burgesses of Ipswich our borough of Ipswich, with all its appurtenances and with all its liberties and free customs, to be held of us and our heirs by them and their heirs in hereditary right, paying to our exchequer every year at Michaelmas term, by the hand of the reeve of Ipswich, the just and accustomed farm and, at the same time, the increment of 100s. sterling by tale that they used to pay. We have also granted that all burgesses of Ipswich are to be quit of toll, stallage,[1] lastage, pontage, and all other customs throughout all our land and throughout the ports of the sea. We have granted to them that, with the exception of our officials, none of them shall be impleaded in any plea outside the borough of Ipswich, save only in pleas concerning foreign tenures; and that they shall have their gild merchant and their hanse;[2] that no one shall be lodged or shall take anything by force within the borough of Ipswich; that they shall justly have their lands and their pledges and all their debts, by whomsoever owed; that, with regard to their lands and tenures inside the borough, justice shall be assured them according to the custom of the borough of Ipswich and of our free boroughs; that, with regard to their debts established at Ipswich and their pledges made in the same place, the pleas shall be held at Ipswich; and that none of them shall be adjudged in mercy with respect to his chattels except according to the law of our free boroughs. We also forbid any one in all our land, on pain of £10 forfeiture to us, to exact toll, stallage, or any other custom from the men of Ipswich. Wherefore we will and straitly command that the aforesaid burgesses shall have and hold the aforesaid liberties and free customs well and in peace, as they have been and are best and most freely enjoyed by the other burgesses of our free boroughs in England, saving in all things to our citizens of London their liberties and free customs.

Furthermore, we will and grant that our said burgesses, by the common counsel of their town, shall elect two of the more lawful and discreet men of their town and present them to our chief justice at our exchequer; which men shall well and faithfully keep the reeve-ship (preposituram) of our aforesaid borough of Ipswich. And so long as they well conduct themselves in that office, they shall not be removed except by the common counsel of the aforesaid burgesses. We also will that in the same borough, by the common counsel of the aforesaid burgesses, four of the more lawful and discreet men of the borough shall be elected to keep the pleas of the crown and other matters that pertain to us and to our crown in the same borough,[3] and to see that the reeves of that borough justly treat both rich and poor.

These are the witnesses.... May 25, in the second year of our reign.

(Latin) Gross, Gild Merchant, II, 115 f.

(B) Record of Proceedings at Ipswich (1200)

On Thursday next after the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, in the second year of the reign of King John, all the townspeople (tota villata) of the borough of Ipswich assembled in the churchyard of St. Mary at the Tower to elect two bailiffs[4] and four coroners in the same borough according to the provision of the aforesaid charter of the lord king, which the same king had recently granted to the burgesses of the aforesaid borough. On which day the same burgesses, by common consent and in unanimity, elected two good and lawful men of their town — namely, John Fitz-Norman and William de Belines — who were sworn to keep the reeveship (preposituram) of the aforesaid borough, and well and faithfully to treat both rich and poor. On the same day, furthermore, they unanimously elected four coroners — namely, John Fitz-Norman, William de Belines, Philip de Porte, and Roger Lew — who were sworn to keep the pleas of the crown and to care for other matters that pertain to the crown in the same borough and to see that the aforesaid bailiffs justly and lawfully treat both rich and poor. On the same day, furthermore, it was ordered by the common counsel of the said town that henceforth there should be sworn in the aforesaid borough twelve chief portmen, as there are in other free boroughs of England, and that, for themselves and the whole town, they should have full power of governing and maintaining the aforesaid borough and all the liberties of the aforesaid borough, of rendering the judgments of the town, and also of keeping, ordering, and doing in the same borough whatever ought to be done for the welfare and honour of the said town. And besides it was announced by the aforesaid bailiffs and coroners that all the townspeople should come to the aforesaid churchyard on Sunday next after the coming feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, to elect the aforesaid twelve chief portmen according to the provision of the same ordinance.

On Sunday next after the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, in the aforesaid year, the whole town of Ipswich assembled in the presence of the bailiffs and coroners of the same town, to elect twelve chief portmen in the same town, as previously ordered. And the aforesaid bailiffs and coroners, by the assent of the townspeople, chose four good and lawful men from each parish of the said town, who were sworn to elect twelve chief portmen from the better, more discreet, and more influential men of the aforesaid town, to make ordinances for the welfare of the town, as aforesaid. And the aforesaid sworn men of the parishes met and elected, for themselves and for all the townspeople, these twelve whose names are written below: namely, John Fitz-Norman, William de Belines, Philip de Porte, Roger Lew, Peter Everard, William Gotschalk, Ames Bolle, John of St. George, John le Mayster, Sayer Fitz-Thurstan, Robert Parys, and Andrew Pepper. Which men were sworn in the presence of all the aforesaid townspeople well and faithfully to keep and govern the borough of Ipswich and, to the best of their ability, to maintain all the liberties that had recently been granted to the burgesses of the same borough by the charter of the lord king aforesaid; also to maintain all other liberties and free customs of the aforesaid town and justly to render the judgments of the courts in the same town without respect to the person of any one; and, besides, to order and to do all else that ought to be done for the welfare and honour of the aforesaid town, justly and lawfully treating both rich and poor.

On the same day, as soon as the aforesaid twelve chief portmen had been sworn according to the aforesaid form, they had all the townspeople raise their hands towards the Book and in unison solemnly swear, from that hour onward, to be obedient, attentive, agreeable, and helpful with body and with goods to their bailiffs and coroners, and to all and singular of the twelve chief portmen aforesaid, for preserving and maintaining the aforesaid town of Ipswich and the aforesaid new charter, together with the honour and all the liberties and free customs of the aforesaid town, to the best of their ability as they justly and reasonably should, in all places and against all persons, saving, nevertheless, the king and his royal authority. On the same day it was agreed that the aforesaid new charter of the lord king should be given for safe keeping to two good and lawful men of the same town — namely, John Fitz-Norman and Philip de Porte — who were sworn faithfully to keep the said charter and to deliver it to the aforesaid townspeople whenever that should be necessary and when, on the request of the townspeople, they should be notified to do so. And since there was more to be ordered and done for the welfare and honour of the town than could properly be attended to on this one day, it was agreed that the bailiffs, the coroners, and all the chief portmen aforesaid should come and assemble here on Tuesday next after the feast of the Translation of St. Thomas the Martyr, to order and do whatever ought to be ordered and done for the welfare and honour of the said town.

On Thursday next after the feast of the Translation of St. Thomas the Martyr, in the aforesaid year, the bailiffs, coroners, and other chief portmen assembled to deliberate and ordain concerning the welfare of the town of Ipswich. In the first place, they ordered that all revenues of the aforesaid borough should thenceforth be collected by the hands of the bailiffs and of four good and lawful men of the same borough; and that every year, for the said townspeople, they should pay the right and accustomed farm at the exchequer of the lord king. Furthermore, they ordered that in the said borough two beadles should be sworn to carry out arrests, distraints, and all commands of the bailiffs, coroners, and chief portmen that ought to be carried out in the same borough; that one of the same beadles should be keeper of all prisoners to be placed under arrest by the bailiffs of the borough; and that such keeper should find security for the safe keeping of all his prisoners, etc. Furthermore, they ordered that, by the common counsel of the townspeople, there should be made in the said borough a common seal for use in important business affecting the community of the said borough, also for signing affidavits on behalf of all and singular of the burgesses of the same borough, and for doing all else that ought to be done for the common honour and benefit of the aforesaid town; and that such common seal should be kept by three or four good and lawful men of the aforesaid borough, sworn to do so before the community of the same borough. Furthermore, they ordered that in the said borough, by the common counsel of its townspeople, one good and lawful and fit man should be elected to be alderman of the gild merchant in the same borough; that four good and lawful men of the same borough should be associated with him; and that the alderman and those four should swear well and faithfully to maintain the aforesaid gild and all pertaining to the gild. Furthermore, they ordered that the aforesaid new charter should be sent to the full county [court] of Suffolk and as far as Norwich to the full county [court] of Norfolk; and that the same charter should be publicly read in those counties, so that the liberties contained in the said charter should be generally known and published everywhere in each county. Furthermore, they ordered that no burgess of the aforesaid town should be quit of custom for his merchandise in the same town — that is to say, if he were a merchant — except one in scot and lot with respect to the common aids and obligations of the town.

On Sunday next after the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, in the aforesaid year, the community of the town of Ipswich assembled before the bailiffs, coroners, and other chief portmen of the same town to hear all the aforesaid ordinances, which were read before the people of the town in the churchyard of St. Mary at the Tower. And to the aforesaid ordinances, when they had there been read, the whole community aforesaid unanimously consented. And afterwards they elected their bailiffs to remain [in office] for the next year to come: namely, John Fitz-Norman and William de Belines. On the same day they elected four men to collect the customs of the town together with the aforesaid bailiffs: namely, Peter Pepper, Norman Halynoth, Clement le Palmer, and Léman de Pont. Likewise on the same day they elected two beadles — namely, John Prikehert and John Hawe — who were sworn well and faithfully to carry out arrests, distraints, and all commands of the bailiffs, coroners, and portmen, and [to do] all that pertained to their office. And the aforesaid John Prikehert was elected to keep the prisoners of the town; and he found sureties to be responsible for the escape of prisoners, should that — which God forbid! — occur: namely, Edmund Marsh (de Marisco), Peter Pepper, John Hawe, and Thomas de Horner. And since more could not be attended to on this day, it was agreed that the bailiffs and the whole community should be here on Thursday next after the coming feast of St. Faith, in order to elect an alderman and do the other things that could not at the moment be done. And it was announced by the bailiffs that in the meantime they would have a common seal made, as ordered above.

On Thursday next after the feast of St. Faith, in the aforesaid year, the bailiffs, coroners, and other chief portmen, as well as the whole community, assembled in the church of St. Mary at the Tower. And the bailiffs there showed the common seal of the town which had recently been made. And then three of the more lawful and influential men of the said borough were elected to keep that seal: namely, John Fitz-Norman, William de Belines, and Philip de Porte. Which men were sworn before the community well and faithfully to keep the aforesaid seal and not to sign any letter or other instrument with the same seal unless it was for the common honour and benefit of the town or of the burgesses of the town — and that with the assent of their peers. And besides it was agreed that the common charter of the town should remain in the keeping of the same men. On the same day an alderman was elected by the common counsel of the townspeople, namely, William Gotschalk. And four men were elected to be associated with him: namely, Peter Everard, John le Mayster, Roger Lew, and John of St. George. Which men were sworn, together with the alderman, well and faithfully to govern the gild merchant in the borough of Ipswich and all matters pertaining to the gild, and well and faithfully to treat all brothers of the gild. And afterwards it was announced by the alderman and his four associates, in the presence of the people of the town, that all who were of the liberty of the town should come before the alderman and his associates on a certain day — when and where to be made known to them — in order to put themselves in the gild and pay their hanse[5] to the same gild....

(Latin) Ibid., II, 116 f.

(C) Communal Oath of the Londoners[6]

Oath of the commune in the time of King Richard, while he was held captive in Germany. That they will bear faith to the lord king Richard for their life and limbs and earthly honour against all men and women who can live and die, and that they will keep and aid in keeping his peace. And that, in fealty to the king, they will support the commune and be obedient to the mayor of the city of London and to the échevins[7] of the said commune; and that they will follow and observe the decisions of the mayor, the échevins, and the good men who shall be [associated] with them, saving the honour of God and Holy Church, saving the fealty of the lord king Richard, and saving in all respects the liberties of the city of London. And that, neither for reward nor for family nor for any other consideration will they abstain from pursuing and maintaining right in all things to the best of their ability and knowledge; and that, in fealty to the lord king Richard, they will together endure good and evil, whether for life or for death. And if any one presumes to disturb the peace of the lord king and his realm, that they, by the counsel of the lady [queen mother][8] and of the lord [archbishop] of Rouen,[9] and of the mayor and of the other justices of the lord king, will support, to the best of their ability and knowledge, the faithful men of the lord king and those who desire to preserve the peace, saving always in all things the liberties of London.

(Latin) Weinbaum, London, II, 57.

(D) Levy of a Municipal Tax at London (1199)

A certain assessment (assisa) made to raise money for the lord king, when 3000m. were given him for the shrievalty.[10] It has been decided that each of the aldermen[11] and all men of their wards are to swear that, from rents which they have in the city and the Portsoken and which are in fee,[12] they will give 4s. on the pound, 2s. on 10s., 12d. on 5s., 6d. on 30d., and the proportionate amount on 12d. And from rent of lodgers (hospitum) which is not in fee — whether a reed, a rush, or anything else[13] — they will give 2s. on the pound, and so on down to the proportionate amount on 12d. Besides, from all their chattels and other things in their possession, either from what lies in their houses or from other movable property, wherever it may be — whether on this side of the sea or beyond it — they will give 2s. on the pound and so on down to the proportionate amount on 12d. And they are to swear that, on account of this assessment, they have removed chattels neither from their houses nor from anywhere else, and that they will not remove them until they have fully paid toward this assessment whatever may be their obligation. And from all debts known to be owed them, from whatever they know they have, they shall give as much as from their other chattels. And from foreign rents[14] which are held in the city and in the Portsoken and which are in fee, they shall give 4s. on the pound, as provided above, and from others which are not held in fee [they shall give] according to what has been said above; and this should be charged against the foreigners on their reception [in the city]. And they shall swear that they will conceal no one who is of the city or who enjoys a claim (se advocet) through the city and who does not make this oath and contribution as established and provided, so that they do not report the fact to the aldermen and the wardens of the chest. Money-lenders, men or women, shall not swear this oath.[15] [The names of] all are to be written down — of those who come to the chest and of those who do not come. And if any wish to swear that they do not have 12d. either in rent or in chattels, let them prove this to the mayor and citizens, and pay amends for [not doing] this. Each man shall swear for himself and for his wife and children, and he shall give the proper amount for them; or, if he prefers, let them come before the mayor and the citizens to swear and pay for themselves. And all the aldermen shall give strict orders to all in their wards that no one shall leave the city, either by a street of the lord [king] or otherwise, until he has acquitted himself and his [family] of this assessment. Moreover, if any of them does otherwise, let his name be recorded and handed over to the mayor and the rest [of the officials], who shall seize all that he has, lands and chattels, for the use of the city. And every woman who is engaged in trading, in so far as she is manifestly acting for herself, shall carry out this [same set of instructions].

(Latin) Ibid., II, 51 f.

(E) Ordinance for the Defence of London

A certain provision made for defending the city in the time of King John, at his request and with his approval. Each alderman shall hold his wardmote[16] for all his men who are aged fifteen years and more. And when they have assembled, each shall swear that, for every pound in movable property and in debts that he estimates he has [owed to him], he will give 2d., and for 10s. in movable property 1d. Item, for 20s. in rent each give 3d., and for 10s. [in rent] 1½d. Item, the alderman shall assemble all foreign merchants who are in his ward; and when he has explained to them the city's need, and how they and their chattels are safeguarded by the city, he shall urge them each by free will to contribute as much for the defence of the city as he has received from the city in favour. If, however, [he will] not [contribute], he shall be compelled to give 2d. for every pound in chattels which at the moment he has in the city. Item, from all rent of foreigners 12d. shall be taken for every pound, except from ecclesiastical rents. Item, to collect and receive this money, four good and discreet men shall be elected from each ward, who [in return] for a receipt shall pay that money at the gild-hall to Simon Blund and R. of Antioch.

Item, those persons who knowingly and deliberately break their oaths shall be excommunicated throughout all churches in the city. Item, each man, when his oath has been made, shall pay the money immediately or by the following Sunday at the latest; otherwise [his obligation] will be doubled on the next day.

Item, each alderman shall inspect the arms of all persons in his ward, so that they will have those [arms] ready for the defence of their bodies and their chattels and their city. And if any one is in default with respect to his arms, let his name be immediately enrolled, and let it be explained to the lord mayor and the other barons[17] of the city in what way, against the peace and security of the city, he has defaulted. Item, the alderman in his full wardmote shall command and provide that all have horses who ought to have them. Furthermore, a pennon shall be made in each ward, and the alderman shall have his banner. And when they have had the summons of the alderman, the men of each ward shall follow the banner of their alderman to the place assigned them for the defence of the city.

(Latin) Ibid., II, 82 f.

(F) John: Charter to London (1215)

John, by the grace of God king of England, etc. Know that we have granted and by our present charter have confirmed to our barons of our city of London that each year they may elect for themselves from among their own number a mayor who is faithful to us [and is] discreet and fit for the government of the city; so that, when he has been elected, he shall be presented to us, or to our justiciar if we are not present, and shall swear fealty to us. And they shall be permitted to remove him at the end of the year and to substitute another if they will, or they may retain the same man; yet so that he shall be presented to us or to our justiciar if we are absent. We have also granted and by our charter have confirmed to our said barons that well and in peace, freely, quietly, and fully, they shall have all the liberties which they have hitherto enjoyed, as well in the city of London as outside it, both on land and on water, and in all other places, saving to us our chamberlainship.[18] Wherefore we will and straitly command that our aforesaid barons of our city of London shall each year select for themselves from among their own number a mayor in the aforesaid fashion, and that they shall have all the aforesaid liberties well and in peace, fully and completely, with everything pertaining to liberties of this kind, as aforesaid. Witnesses....

(Latin) Stubbs, Select Charters, p. 311.


[1] Rent paid for stalls in a market or fair; not to be confused with tallage. Cf. no. 28B for a number of these privileges.

[2] See above, p. 63, n. 14.

[3] See above, p. 53, n. 16; cf. no. 40A, art. 20.

[4] See above, p. 82, n. 7. It was obviously a matter of indifference to both king and burgesses whether their magistrates were styled praepositi or ballivi. For criticism of this whole document, see C. Stephenson, Borough and Town, pp. 174 f., and I Tait. The Medieval English Borough, pp. 270 f.

[5] The word is often used to mean a tax or a fee.

[6] First published and commented on by Round, Commune of London, pp. 235 f. For subsequent estimates of its significance, see the works cited above, p. 72, n. 4.

[7] A common name for groups of municipal magistrates in northern France. In this document the term probably applies to the aldermen who, along with the mayor, came to be elected by the citizens.

[8] Eleanor of Aquitaine.

[9] Walter, archbishop of Rouen, was royal justiciar from 1191 to 1193.

[10] An entry in the Fine Roll of 1 John shows that this payment was to secure a charter confirming the liberties of the city, and they, without doubt, included the right to elect magistrates and to farm London and Middlesex.

[11] When first heard of, in the early twelfth century, the aldermen were royal officials in charge of the city wards. By this time they had apparently come to be elected by the citizens assembled in wardmotes (cf. no. 72A) — the assemblies which had probably been used for a century or more to carry out such measures as are described in this and the following document.

[12] Part of the text is destroyed at this point, and what remains is very bad; but the general meaning can be guessed from what follows concerning foreign debts. The Portsoken was the suburb lying east of the Roman wall to the north of the Tower.

[13] Arundine vel iunco vel alio — does this mean that rents were actually paid in reeds and rushes, or is it merely a rhetorical flourish?

[14] That is to say, rents enjoyed by persons who were not citizens of London.

[15] Presumably because the assets of all such persons were carefully set down in official records; cf. no. 40A, art. 24.

[16] See above, p. 101, n. 11.

[17] An honorary title borne by the citizens of London and of the Cinque Ports. The usage perhaps arose because the burgesses of these towns were the first to hold liberties direct of the crown.

[18] The king reserved the right to appoint to the profitable office of city chamberlain or treasurer.


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