Sources of English Constitutional History: Chapter 72

72. BOROUGH RECORDS

(A) Extracts from the London Liber Albus[1]

... It has been the custom that ... the commoners, on being summoned for such an election [of a mayor], and after the occasion for the summons has been explained to them by the recorder on behalf of the mayor and aldermen, cross to the other end of the hall[2]... and there nominate two aldermen, each of whom has served as sheriff and has proved his fitness for the office of mayor. Having done so, they return and by their common spokesman present to the mayor and aldermen the names of the two men ... , asking them to admit whichever of the two they please to the office of mayor for the ensuing year. The mayor and the aldermen, mounting to the upper part of the chamber, then choose one of the two by majority vote, with the common clerk noting the result under the supervision of the recorder; and then, once more descending, they announce through their recorder to the people in the gildhall who has been elected mayor for the next year....

Now this has been the process used in holding a wardmote at London. The alderman, after receiving a warrant, orders his beadle to summon all men possessing houses, as well as all paid servants, within his ward to come before him on a certain day at a certain hour and in a certain place ... within the same ward for the meeting of the wardmote. The names of which persons, after they have been summoned, the beadle shall have inscribed in a certain roll: that is to say, [the names of] the freemen dwelling in that ward of the city by themselves, and [the names of] the paid servants, not freemen,[3] by themselves. And when they have assembled at the assigned hour, with the alderman and the more substantial men of the ward seated in the proper places, the alderman's clerk shall order the beadle on behalf of the alderman to proclaim peace.[4]... And by the alderman and the good men of the ward, and also by the jurors at the said wardmote, should be elected the constables, scavagers, aleconners,[5] beadle, and other officers, who shall take suitable oaths of office at the general court....

In electing an alderman it has been the custom for the mayor to go to the ward that has been vacated[6] and, if he pleases, have all free inhabitants of the aforesaid ward summoned through the beadle to the place where the wardmote of that ward is customarily held; and there, at once if it is possible and desirable, or else on a day to be set, the alderman should be elected by the major and better part of those men; yet so that fifteen days shall not be exceeded in making an election, for then the mayor, with the advice of the aldermen, his associates, ought and has been accustomed to install an honest, rich, and discreet man as alderman of that ward....

This is the method of holding the common council. On the day before it is to meet, the mayor and the aldermen, through the servants of the chamber, should cause a certain number of the wiser and wealthier men to be summoned from each ward of the city to meet at the gildhall on the next day — sixteen, twelve, eight, or four, according as the ward is large or small. And no one, unless he has been summoned, is to come or is to presume to attend such council under pain of imprisonment....

For the purpose of electing sheriffs, the mayor, recorder, aldermen, and commons are to be assembled on the day of St. Matthew the Apostle in such manner as is ordained for the election of the mayor. And first of all, the mayor shall of his own free will choose a worthy freeman of the city to be one of the sheriffs for the ensuing year, on whose behalf he is willing to be responsible for half the farm of the city, should he who is chosen by the mayor be in default. But if the mayor chooses the man by the counsel and consent of the aldermen, they must share his responsibility. And those elected to the common council ... shall choose for the commons another sheriff, on whose behalf all the commons should be responsible for the other half of the farm owed to the king, if he should be in default....

(Latin and French) Munimenta Gildhallac Londoniensis, I, 20-47.

(B) Henry VI: Charter to Nottingham (1448)[7]

... Furthermore, of our richer grace, on our own initiative, and from our certain knowledge, we have granted and by our present letters have confirmed for us and for our heirs and successors in perpetuity to the existing burgesses of the same town of Nottingham, which has now and has long had a certain corporate form,[8] and to the heirs and successors of the same burgesses, being burgesses of that town, that the said town, [consisting] of a mayor and burgesses, shall henceforth and forever be incorporate, and that the same mayor and burgesses and their successors, being mayors and burgesses of that town thus incorporated, are to be a community perpetually incorporate in fact and in name, known as the Mayor and Burgesses of the Town of Nottingham, and having perpetual succession; and that the mayor and burgesses of that town and their aforesaid successors shall, under that same name, be competent and able to prosecute and defend all manner of pleas, suits, complaints, and demands ... in any courts whatsoever of us, or of our heirs or successors, or of any other persons whatsoever....

Furthermore ... we have granted ... that the same town of Nottingham and the precincts thereof ... , which now exist and are contained within the county of Nottingham, shall be forever separated ... from that county ...; that the same town of Nottingham and its precincts ... shall forever be known as the county of the town of Nottingham; that the said burgesses of the same town and their successors ... shall forever have two sheriffs ... , to be elected from among themselves in place of the two bailiffs ...; that hereafter each burgess ... to be elected mayor of that town ... shall be escheator for us and our heirs and successors[9] ...; and that the same existing burgesses of that town and their successors forever shall there have a court [for the settlement] at their pleasure of all and singular contracts, agreements, transgressions made against the peace as well as otherwise, and all other things, causes, and matters whatsoever in any way arising or happening within the same town or its precincts ... , to be held from time to time in the gildhall of the same town before the mayor ... and sheriffs of that town for the time being....

Furthermore ... we have granted ... that the same burgesses and their heirs and successors may from time to time elect from among themselves seven aldermen, of whom a certain one is to be elected as mayor of that town ...; that the aldermen thus elected shall remain in such offices ... during their lifetimes ...; and that the aldermen of the same town for the time being shall be justices for us and our heirs and successors to keep the peace within the same town and its liberty and precincts ... , having full power and authority for investigating, hearing, and determining all felonies, murders, trespasses, and misprisions, as well as all sorts of other causes, complaints, contempts, and misdeeds, and everything else pertaining to other justices of the peace within our kingdom of England....[10]

(Latin) Stevenson, Records of the Borough of Nottingham, II, 186 f.

(C) Municipal Ordinances at Leicester (1466-67)

Hit was ordeyned and agreed at a comen hall[11] holden at Leycestre the xxv day of Octobre, the 6te yere of the règne of the kyng oure sovereyne lord Edward the IIIte, in the time of mairaltie of Roger Wygston than beyng maire of the seyd towne of Leycestre, by a generall assent and agrement as wele of the same maire, his brethern,[12] and all the comens of the same toune then being at the forsaid comen hall, that from that tyme forth no man presume to entre into the gilde hall, otherwise cald the maires hall, at eny comen hall ther holden or to be holden but oonly thoes and siche as ben fraunchest, that is to say, men entred into the marchaundes gild; on payne of inprisonment as long as the maire lykes forthwith doon upon every suche persone doing the contrary at eny comen hall....

The ordenance made by Richarde Gillot, maire of the town of Leycestre, and his brethern, and by the advise and assent of all the cornons of the same town, at a comon halle holden at Leycestre the Thursday next afore the feste of Symonde day and Jude, in the yere of the reigne of our soverayen lorde Kyng Edwarde the Fourth after the Conquest off Ynglond the vii.

The maire commaundeth, on the kynges behalfe, that all maner of men kepe the pees of our soverayn lorde the kyng, and that no man disturbull hit withynne the fraunches of this town as be armour or wepon beryng, as halbergon, salett,[13] bylle, swyrd, longe staff, or dager, or any other maner of wepon, where thurgh the kynges pees should be disturbelyd or lettyd,[14] yn payne of forfeture of his wepon and his body to preson, sauf in supportacion of the maire, but yf hit be a knyght or a squyer a swyrde borne after hym; and that every man of the contray that bryng any wepon to the town leve hit at his in and bere hit not withynne this town, neyther swyrde, bille, ne long staffe, but in the supportacion of the mayre aforesaid, in payne of forfeture of his wepon and his body to preson as long as the mayre lykes; and that no man walke after ix of the belle be streken in the nyght withoute lyght, or withoute cause resonable, in payne of inpresonment.

Also, alle bakers that bake shall bake symnell, wastell, coket lovys[15] iiii for a peny of good paste, good bulture,[16] and well baken ...; and of all other kyndes of breed sesonable and of good weyght and pryse after the form aforsaid....

Also, that alle brewers that brewe shall brewe good ale and se that it be neyther rawe, roppy, ne red, but holsum for mannys body, selling a galon of the best for id., ob.,[17] a galon of the secunde for id., and a galon of the thirde for ob.; and that they selle non by measure unlawfull nor unseled,[18] in payne of inprisonment....

Also, that every bocher of the cuntray that bryng flesshe to the market bryng the skynnes and talowe of the same flesshe with hem, in payne of forfetyng theroff; and that no bocher bryng no flesshe to selle withinne this town that is corupte with eny maner of sekenes, in payne of forfeture of the same flesshe and there bodyes to preson as long as the mayre lykes....

Also, that no man ley owte no muke at his dore — stokkys ne stoyns, tymbre ne clay, ne non other maner of thing to the anuysauns of the kynges peple, but yf hit be a bygger[19] in the stretes of the town — neyther withinne the iiii yates ne withinne the iiii stretes of the subberbis, but yf hit be remeved withinne iii dayes, in payne of imprisonment as long as the maire likes, etc.

Also, that no man nor woman suffre no corrypcion to lye before his dore, ne keste non owte of his dore by nyght ne by day — that is to say hors, swyn, dogge, ne catte, nor non other corypcion — withinne the iiii yates, ne withinne the iiii stretes of the subbarbys, but voyde hit forthe into the fylde from the course of the peple, yn payne of inprisonment while the mair lykes, etc.

Also, that no man ne woman, ne non other persone, swepe ne throwe owte swepynges whan hit rayneys upon his neghbour for disturbelyng of his neybur, in payne of inprisonment as long as the mayre lykes of the persone or persones that is founden so gylty.

Also, that no man of the town nor of the cuntray play withinne the fraunchys of this town for sylver at no unlaufull gamons ... , that is for to sey, at dyce, haserdyng, tenes, bowlys, pykking with arowes, coytyng with horsshon, penypryk, foteball, ne cheker in the myre,[20] in payne of inprisonment. And the owner of the hows, gardens, or placez where the plays been used, as often as hit is so founden and used, shall paye to the chamberlens iiiid., and every player vid. to the same chamberlens, to the use of the cornons....

Also, that no woman use to wasshe no clothes ne none other corripcion at the comon wellys of the town ne in the hye strete, in payne of inprisonment.

Also, that alle maner scholdys that are dwellyng withinne this town, man or woman, that are founde defectyf by sworne men before the maire presented, that than hit shall be lefull to the same mayre for to ponyssh them on a cukstool[21] afore there dore as long as hym lyketh and thanne so to be caried forth to the iiii yates of the town....

Also, all maner men, women, and children that bryngeth any hors or mares to the market laden with corne or other vitaill, that they, after the tyme they be unladen, to lede them owte of the markett place to the innés, in payne of every best iid., to by levied by the chamberlens to the use of the cornons....

Also, that no man latt no swyne ne neet[22] goo abrode, neythere before the herde[23] goo afylde ne after he come horn, but kepe them inne tyll the herde come, in payne of losying of every best iid., and that to be levied by the chamberlens to the use of the cornons....

Also, that no dukkes be letyn abrode in any stret withinne the iiii yates of the town, on payne of forfeture of every duk ob., that to be levied by the chamberlens to the use of the town as ofte as eny dukkes been founden or takyn goyng abrood withinne the said stretes of the town.

Also, that no man in the town dwellyng, fraunchysed ne unfraunchesed, drawe to no conventicles, ryotes, ne assembles withinne the town, ne rydyng withoute, agayen the kinges pees; ne take no lyveres, gownyng ne hodyng, of no man of non astate ne degré for maintenaunce of no man ne of no maner matire; but that they gyf assistence to the maire in sustentacion of the kynges pees, good rule, and honoure of this town....

Also, whatsomever persone or persones that dysobeyeth the maire and his officers and wil nott come to hym when he is sent for, that than hit shall be lefull to the same maire, with all the powre that he can make, to fecche hym, and yf he close his dore, to breeke hit oppen & than to enprison hym whiles the maire lyketh....

Bateson, Records of the Borough of Leicester, II, 285 f.

(D) Returns of Borough Elections (1437)[24]

This indenture, made between Richard Sherwood and William Burton, sheriffs of the city of York, on the one part, and ... ,[25] citizens of the aforesaid city, on the other part, testifies that the aforesaid sheriffs, in the presence of the aforesaid county[26] at the last county [court] of the aforesaid city held there immediately after the receipt of a certain writ of the lord king, which is sewed to this indenture — namely, at the county [court] of the aforesaid city held there on Monday, Christmas eve, in the fifteenth year of the reign of King Henry VI after the Conquest of England — made proclamation of a certain parliament of the lord king to be held at Westminster on January 21 next to come, and in the same court they caused to be elected two of the more discreet and substantial citizens of the aforesaid city — namely, William Bowes, jr., and Richard Louth — having full and sufficient authority, for themselves and the community of the city aforesaid, to attend the aforesaid parliament and to do and agree to whatever then and there may happen, God willing, to be ordained. In testimony whereof the aforesaid parties have individually placed their seals on portions of this indenture.

Given at York on the day and in the year aforesaid.

This indenture, made between Richard Winsley, bailiff of the liberty of the abbot of Reading at Leominster, on the one part, and John Walter, bailiff of the borough of Leominster, and ... ,[27] burgesses of the aforesaid borough, on the other part, testifies that the aforesaid burgesses, with the assent of the whole community of the same borough, on Friday next before the feast of Epiphany in the fifteenth year of the reign of King Henry VI after the Conquest, in the gildhall of the same borough elected William Rabys and John Crewe, burgesses of the aforesaid borough, to attend the parliament of the lord king which is to be held at Westminster on January 21 next to come, having full and sufficient authority, for themselves and the community of the same borough, to consider, advise, and agree to whatever may happen, God willing, to be ordained by the common council of the king of England concerning matters there to be considered and moved. In testimony whereof the aforesaid burgesses have in turn placed their seals on this portion of the indenture. Given on the day and in the year aforesaid.

This indenture, made in the full county [court] of Devon — held in the castle of the lord king in the city of Exeter on Tuesday, December 28, in the fifteenth year of the reign of King Henry VI — between Thomas Beaumont, knight, sheriff of the aforesaid county, on the one part, and William Wonard, John Copleston ... ,[28] [on the other part,] by virtue of a certain writ of the lord king, directed to the said sheriff and [now] sewed to this indenture ... ,[29] testifies that the aforesaid William Wonard, John Copleston, and others have elected John Speke and Roger Champernoun, knights, to attend the aforesaid parliament on the clay and at the place aforesaid on behalf of the community of the aforesaid county; also Thomas Cook and Walter Pope, citizens of the city of Exeter; John Searle and Richard Strode, burgesses of the borough of Plympton; Thomas Aysheldon and John Walsh, burgesses of the borough of Tavistock; John Worthy and John Wick, burgesses of the borough of Totnes; John Bearl and Hugh Champernoun, burgesses of the borough of Barnstaple — [all elected] according to the provisions of the said writ.[30] In testimony whereof the aforesaid William Wonard, John Copleston, and all the others named below, who were present at that election, have attached their seals to the present letters. To the other portion of this same indenture, remaining with the aforesaid sheriff, the aforesaid sheriff has attached his seal.

Given on the day and in the place and year aforesaid.

(Latin) McKisack, Representation of English Boroughs, pp. 158 f.


[1] I.e., White Book, composed by John Carpenter, city clerk, in 1419. This customal contains some fanciful explanation of earlier constitutional history, but in the main was based on authentic records and Carpenter's expert knowledge.

[2] The chamber in the gildhall that was used for sessions of the husting. Cf. nos. 28B, 39D-F.

[3] That is to say, men who did not enjoy the freedom of the city. They had no right of voting at elections; see immediately below.

[4] A jury empanelled by the constables then carries out an inquest to present various offenses for subsequent trial before the city courts.

[5] The scavagers collected "showage," dues paid for displaying goods in the market. The aleconners were inspectors of brewing.

[6] The aldermen enjoyed life tenure of their offices.

[7] These provisions follow a detailed confirmation of Henry V's charter and various subsequent grants. Henry VI's own charter covers some ten pages of print; only the merest skeleton is given here.

[8] The larger boroughs had long been de facto corporations; the charters of the fifteenth century only confirmed the status in the formal language of that age: see the forthcoming book on the subject by M. Weinbaum.

[9] London and Middlesex had been combined under one government since before the Norman Conquest (see above, nos. 25B, 28B). Bristol had been made a county in 1373, York in 1398, Norwich in 1404, Lincoln in 1409, and Southampton in 1448. For a much more complete statement of what was involved in such a grant, the student is referred to Edward III's charter to Bristol, clearly translated by N. D. Harding in Bristol Charters, pp. 119 f. See also McKisack, Parliamentary Representation of English Boroughs, pp. 32, 48 f.

[10] The judicial revenue accruing through acts of the justices of the peace was to go to the town; other revenue collected by the escheator and sheriffs as county officers was reserved by the king.

[11] I.e., the general court.

[12] The twenty-four jurats who had long formed what amounted to a closed corporation for governing the town; see M. Bateson's introduction.

[13] A halbergon, or halberd, was a combined lance and battle-axe; a sallet was an iron head-piece.

[14] Obstructed.

[15] Simnel, wastel, and cocket were three varieties of first-class bread, but exactly what each term designated is not known; cf. above, p. 66, n. 3.

[16] I.e., well-bolted flour.

[17]Obulus, the Latin word for a halfpenny.

[18] Without the official seals that designated true measures.

[19] Builder.

[20] Picking with arrows was apparently throwing darts at a target; quoiting with horseshoes is obvious; in penny-prick the players threw at a penny; checker in the mire remains unidentified.

[21] A chair in which the culprit was bound before being ducked or otherwise punished.

[22] Cattle.

[23] Herdsman.

[24] Cf. no. 69C.

[25] Fifteen names.

[26] Of the city of York; see above, p. 291, n. 9.

[27] Eleven names.

[28] Seventeen others.

[29] The text here states the substance of the writ of summons.

[30] That is to say, by the men of their respective boroughs and so reported to the sheriff.


More To Explore