|Subject:||The mayoralty as a focus for unity and division|
|Original source:||Item 1: Copy of royal letters patent in Nottinghamshire Archives; item 2: Public Record Office, C145/292/24-26|
|Transcription in:||1. W.H. Stevenson, ed. Records of the Borough of Nottingham, (London and Nottingham, 1882), vol.1, 106-08; 2. Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous, vol.7, 1399-1422, London: HMSO: 1968, 255-57.|
|Original language:||Latin (translation of #2 by the editor of the CIM, with minor modifications by me)|
|Date:||1. 1330; 2. 1413|
1. Grant of executive officers for purposes of political reunification
Edward, by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland and Duke of Aquitaine, to all who see these letters, greetings. Know that by the charter of our renowned grandfather Lord Edward, formerly king of England, it was granted to the burgesses of our town of Nottingham that each year at Michaelmas they may elect from among themselves a mayor to be in charge, above the bailiffs and others of that town, in all matters pertaining to the government and improvement of either borough of the town. And that immediately following that election they may elect one bailiff from the one borough and another from the other borough because of the differences between the customs upheld in those boroughs who are to undertake all duties pertaining to that office. But now the burgesses have petitioned us that, because of the poverty of the inhabitants of one borough and a shortage of qualified candidates, so that they are at present unable to find a suitable person to undertake the office of bailiff in that borough, we be willing to grant them that they may elect the two bailiffs from whichever parts of the town they consider most expedient. Being favourably inclined towards their petition on this matter, we have granted them that, after the election of the mayor has been held (as indicated above), they have the authority to elect, from the best and most qualified townsmen [chosen] from the parts they consider most expedient, two bailiffs to undertake all duties pertaining to that office, notwithstanding the terminology used in the charter of our grandfather. In testimony of which we have had these our letters patent drawn up, to be in effect as long as it shall please us. Witnessed by myself at Woodstock, 1 May 1330.
1. Conflict over the mayoral election
From time immemorial the burgesses of Nottingham who have occupied the position of mayor or bailiff of the town have had the election of the mayor and bailiffs, and no other persons of the commonalty of the town should interfere therein. On 29 September 1412 very many burgesses of the town, to the number of 49, who had before enjoyed the said offices, being assembled in St. Mary's church to elect a mayor and bailiffs for the good government of the town and having elected Henry Willeford, a sufficient and fit person, to be mayor and Thomas del Strete and John Clerk to be bailiffs, John Stook summoner, William Couper of Nottingham, John Wyrsop, Richard Coteller of Nottingham, Richard Whetecroft, John Fucch, Thomas Gay, Richard Sawer, Ralph Botiller, Robert Waltham, Robert Hayward, Nicholas Holbeche, Richard Koo, John Wyrall the elder, John Glen, William Buxum, John Epurston and John Albeyn, being falsely, wickedly and maliciously confederated and bound together and devising how they might hinder [the said election] used for so long, and entirely subvert the good customs and government of the town, assembling to them a great multitude of other unknown evildoers to the number of more than 100, came [with one] assent to the church on that day with force, armed in manner of war with [arms] of defence, corselets, palettes, baselards, poleaxes and other arms. Guarding the doors of the said [church for a long time], they called out publicly and said with a loud and threatening voice to the mayor, bailiffs and other burgesses therein that unless they would elect John Alastre, chosen by the said evildoers, [to be mayor] and John Braidsall to be bailiff they should be killed before they left [the church]. And so they kept them prisoners there for 2 hours; and if they had not esacped by God's grace through a secret door of the church, the said evildoers would have killed them by starvation or the sword unless they had done all their will. When the mayor at last came out of the church to exercise his office, carrying his mace in his hand, they shouted and said "We will not have this man for mayor or obey him in any way," and William Couper at once assaulted him, striking the mace with a staff so that the mace fell on the mayor's head and gave him a great blow so that he could scarcely escape alive from their hands. Afterwards on the same day the mayor by the advice of his peers and for the good governance of the town made a proclamation there according to custom for the governance of the assize of bread, wine, ale and other victuals in the town; but a great many of the evildoers said "Raca for your proclamation, mayor; we will not be governed by you." Further, to fulfil their evil and wicked intent, they appointed by their common consent the said John Stook to be their summoner to summon and warn them when they should make any assemblies or insurrections, which he did the following Sunday and several times in the year 1412/13, warning them sometimes to appear at the Carmelite friary in Nottingham, sometimes at the Rocheyard there, and sometimes at Larkdale; and they assembled in divers conventicles in the said places, arrayed and armed in the manner of a new insurrection, to resist the said mayor, b[ailiffs] and burgesses in all their ordinances. Afterwards, on Sunday before St. Thomas 1 Henry V they gathered to them many other unknown evildoers at the Minorites friary to take common counsel and ordained that they would obey no ordinance made or to be made by the said mayor. The mayor, hearing news of this assembly, by the advice of his peers took with him the keepers of the peace of the town and other sufficient power to the place where they were assembled and arrested the said John Stook and 20 other persons found there and imprisoned them as the law requires. Whereupon on the same day the said evildoers again assembled with a very great multitude of others armed as above in manner of a new insurrection and came to the prison were the said prisoners were detained, saying and shouting publicly that they would break the prison and have the prisoners with them in spite of the mayor and burgesses, so that neither the mayor, the bailiffs, the keepers of the peace nor any other person dared arrest or resist them for fear of their lives; and unless the bailiffs who had the keeping of the prison had soon delivered the prisoners, they would have killed the bailiffs and broken the prison, to the extreme disturbance of the king's peace and the manifest ruin of the town.
And whereas the said mayor, bailiffs and burgesses have from all time had the election of burgesses to come to the king's parliament and whereas by the assent of 120 more sufficient persons of the town they had elected 2 of the better and more discreet burgesses, viz. Thomas Mapurley and John Odynges, to come on the town's behalf to King Henry IV's last parliament according to his writ, the said evildoers on 16 January 1413 again gathered a great multitude of evildoers at Nottingham and by their assent and will came with strength armed as above to the place where the mayor, bailiffs and burgesses had assembled for such election, saying that they would not agree to an election like that but would by all means have and elect Robert Sutton as one of their burgesses, and they so threatened the lives of the mayor, bailiffs and burgesses that none of the bailiffs and burgesses dared stay with the mayor but secretly departed from him as best they could; and he being thus left alone with the evildoers, they horribly and maliciously went round about him like torturers, demanding the common seal of the town so that they might make the mayor's return and answer and seal it with the said seal. They pursued him from place to place, shouting with one voice that he should grant their demand, and so threatened him that for fear of death he tried to flee into the house of the said John Odynges to save his life. But John dared not receive him into his house nor help him in any way for fear of the said evildoers, and at last the mayor granted all their demands to save his life. Whereby the said mayor, bailiffs and burgesses dared not for fear of death attend publicly to their business and trade within the town or without save with a great power, to the extreme disturbance of the peace of the late and the present king and the manifest ruin of the town.
The two boroughs referred to as within the town of Nottingham were: the pre-Conquest settlement, whose development was spurred by its use first as a base by the Danish army and then as one of burhs in Edward the Elder's programme of defensive fortifications; and a new foundation settled by French immigrants shortly after the Conquest and lying between the English borough and the Norman castle (similar to that at Norwich, not least in the extension of the existing town centre, in relation to the construction of a castle). The cultural differences explain the divergence in some customary laws; legal cases during the reign of Edward III indicate that dower rights and inheritance were among those affected. One of the witnesses to a land grant of 1312 is described as the bailiff of the English Borough; this appears to be because he was the only bailiff witnessing where both are named they are not identified with either borough. The distinction between the two boroughs persisted into the early fifteenth century, although there is no indication it had any practical implications by that time.
The charter of Edward I to which the letters patent refer was granted in 1284; the letters extract some of the terminology from that charter almost verbatim. The charter had followed a suspension of borough liberties, with direct royal government imposed and lasting for several years because of unspecified offences committed by the community they had in some way over-extended their authority. When restoring the borough liberties, in return for an increase in the fee farm, the king also gave his recognition to the mayoralty:
On behalf of ourself and our heirs, to help the burgesses and other men of the town return to normalcy, we have granted that henceforth they may have a mayor [to be chosen] from among themselves. Whom, let them elect, each year at Michaelmas at an assembly of burgesses of each of the boroughs of that town, to be in charge over the bailiffs and others of that town in all matters pertaining to the government and improvement of either borough of the town."
It is not until this document of 1284 that we have reference to the town being divided administratively into two boroughs, and this may provide a clue as to the nature of the problem that led to the seizure of the liberties. It is in 1279 that we hear of the king handing custody of Nottingham over to a warden, Robert de Tybetot, or perhaps one should say farmer since he was said to be renting the town for £60 annually, initially for a year. At different times in 1280, the king sent orders to the sheriffs of Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, and Yorkshire to release, upon mainprise, various Nottingham burgesses from the gaols of Northampton, Lincoln, Nottingham and York; the charges against them were unspecified "diverse trespasses" committed at Nottingham and it seems not unlikely that these were associated with the reason for the suspension of borough liberties. Whether that reason was internal political strife cannot be said, but it is notable that the accused were forbidden to return to Nottingham until the king had heard their case. Still less can we say whether any political conflict might have had its roots in the separation of the boroughs. It is not impossible that the difficulties at Nottingham were in part a spill-over from the more general unrest of the 1260s, which gave rise to disturbances in several towns, or to hostilities not purely internal in nature the burgesses of Newcastle-on-Tyne also, in 1279, were in trouble, in this case for assaulting the king's officers of the county who were trying to collect sums of money owed the king.
If, however, the problem were internal division, the introduction of a mayor would have been perceived as a way to unify the two parts of the town. Unlike at some other towns, where the mayoralty existed informally for some years before being afforded official recognition (e.g. Lynn, Leicester) or disappearing (e.g. Canterbury), this grant of mayoralty appears to represent the beginning of the office in Nottingham. Under the charter of Prince John, ca.1189, there is reference to a single reeve to be elected by the townsmen, although also indication that the burgesses were tenants of more than a single fee (tenurial lordship). Witness lists to deeds prior to 1284, where witnessed by town officers, indicate only a single bailiff, although this may itself be evidence of the separation of the boroughs administratively. Those after 1284 are witnessed by mayor and two bailiffs, even when the property involved is specified as being in one or the other of the boroughs, indicating amalgamation.
Before 1284 the king had not explicitly licensed any other English town to have a mayor, except London, suggesting that Nottingham's problem was felt to require an unorthodox solution. Yet we cannot entirely rule out the possibility of the mayoralty existing earlier. In a series of writs sent out by Chancery in 1273, directed at executive officers of 22 towns, 20 were addressed to the mayor (including that to Nottingham) and only 2 to bailiffs, suggesting that at Westminster it was assumed mayors were commonplace; while the bureaucrats were known to be somewhat sloppy in such matters, many towns did have mayors by this time.
The grant of May 1, 1330 was, in essence, a postscript to Edward III's confirmation on the same date of his predecessors' charters of liberties to Nottingham, with new additions. The town had been for some years contesting with the castle, administered by an unpopular agent of the unpopular Edward II, over jurisdictional matters; the new charter settled that quarrel in the town's favour. The charter also represented another restoration of liberties, for in 1328 these had been seized into the king's hands following a deadly confrontation between the townsmen and soldiers quartered in the town. Yet the town was an important strategic centre, both military and provisioning, in regard to the war with Scotland; furthermore, it was a stronghold of Roger Mortimer, from whom Edward was now planning to seize the reins of power. In 1329 the justices in eyre arrived, with a mandate that included a review of borough liberties. The outcome was the charter of 1330. The problem of the unpopular constable of the castle was resolved when, in October, Edward's supporters arrested Roger Mortimer in the castle and a local man was subsequently made constable.
If in the thirteenth century the mayoralty was a rallying point for burgesses or at least those who aspired to some measure of local self-determination by the fifteenth century it had become a focus for internal conflict.
Although the disturbances of 1412-13 are portrayed in the verdicts of the two inquisition juries, of which one is given above (the second being almost identical), the account is essentially an endorsement of the complaint laid by the ruling group and so presents their perspective. However, this was not a mere mob rioting against the authorities, as the ruling group would have it, but a division between political parties. For one thing the opposition was clearly organized, involving a effort to set up a coordinated resistance and even a parallel government. One is reminded of the contemporary conflict at Lynn where opposing parties had elected rival mayors, and of that at London a generation earlier when both sides used force to try to determine the election results.
The inquisitions were held on 4 September 1413, but the complaints had been laid before the king earlier in the year, for when Henry V had appointed on 3 April a commission of investigation into the "many trespasses, rebellions, insurrections and unlawful conventicles", it referred to Nottingham men Robert Sutton, Thomas Sutton and William Couper having already appeared to answer before Chancery during Henry IV's reign (i.e. probably in February or March) but having withdrawn without permission perhaps during the inevitable disruption of affairs of state occasioned by the king's death and then gone into hiding. Others had been, or were about to be, arrested; for on 27 April the warden of Fleet prison, London, was instructed to release William Pomfret, William del Stabelle, Richard Estwayte, John Wyrale, John Crophille, Nicholas Fossebroke, John Reynalde, John Bowere, William Cook, Reynold Geffecoke, and William del Rodes of Nottingham, on condition they make no more insurrections or illegal assemblies to disturb the town and terrorize its inhabitants; they having found guarantors for good behaviour towards the mayor, bailiffs and good men of Nottingham, in Thomas Strelly, Nicholas Stapelforde, and Reynold Shaw of Nottinghamshire and William Aston of London, as well as standing guarantors for each other.
Some of the opposing party were important townsmen. The party's nominee for mayor, John Alestre, was a member of one of the families that would become prominent in Nottingham during the century, thanks to the wool-trade. He had entered the franchise in 1395 as an ironmonger, with Nicholas de Alastre (his father, and the borough's parliamentary representative in 1393) as his surety; it was to be investigated whether he had the right to enter without fee, by patrimony. Nicholas was also an ironmonger and had dabbled in the production of woollen cloth, but held no office in borough government. By the opening of the fifteenth century, John was also involved in the production and export of woollen cloth; he can be considered a merchant, and his will indicates associations, probably commercial, with Rotherham and Sheffield. He also held several properties in town and connections with local gentry as supervisor of his will he named a man who was several times county sheriff. In that will, drawn up in 1422, several years before his death in early 1431, his wealth is demonstrated by his monetary bequests totalling over £615, most left to his widow Cecily, his underage children Thomas, Robert and Joan, a married daughter and her four children. About the same time he served as bailiff (1402/03) and mayor (1409/10); he was to become mayor again in 1414/15, 1420/21, 1426/27, and 1430/31 and to serve as parliamentary representative in 1416. We do not know whether he was an active member of the opposition party, but it seems not unlikely he would have been one of its leaders. If not, he was evidently well respected by the populace; in his will he left the unusually high amount of £100 to be distributed among the poor.
The party's nominee for bailiff, John Braidsall (or de Bridessalle, i.e. of Breadsall, Derbyshire), is found in 1393, 1396, 1397, 1403 and 1410 acting as an attorney in the town court; these being the principal references to him, it seems likely that he was in the legal profession. In 1395 he was a tenant of Thomas Mapurley. He never seems to have attained the political office his supporters sought for him.
As shown by the notes below on identified members of the opposing party, several had been or were to be office-holders in the borough and were therefore men of some standing in the community.
Much of the evidence we have related to the careers or family background of those identified from the opposing party is too slight or flimsy to allow for confident interpretation. But it does suggest that rather than a popular rebellion, this was at least in part a struggle between different economic interests in the town perhaps between groups of crafts, or perhaps between industrial and commercial interests; there seem to have been a number of participants in the leather and metalworking trades among the opposing party. In fact, the impression I have is of a group of men whose craft-based families were once powerful in the borough, but had been eclipsed or displaced by a new group with mercantile interests; more in-depth research would be required to test this hypothesis.
A possible sign of tensions within the community comes in the form of the presentments in the Great Tourn, or Mickletorn (Nottingham's version of the leet court) in 1395. Most such presentments are directed at individual offenders; occasionally one finds blanket presentments against a particular class of offenders. At the 1395 leet there was an unusual number of the latter:
These sweeping condemnations reflect either a general malaise in Nottingham society or an attempt by the authorities to bring the crafts under closer control and also to tap into their profits by general fines on trades, acting almost like a licensing process. The same kind of presentations were made the following year, although the list was less extensive. It may be that we see here an expression of mercantile influence on local government policy.
During the same year, a separate set of presentments reveals what seems to be a rather high number (38) of assaults in what was a population of only about two to three thousand; several of the assaults being premeditated. John Odynges was the target of one, launched by a draper, Thomas Fox, who was separately accused of ambushing and beating a messenger of the sheriff of Nottingham. Fox was himself the victim of an assault the following year, although there is nothing to indicate that any of these three bouts of violence was connected with each other. These may again reflect tension within the community, although this could have been occasioned in part by the national conflict.
In 1399 the citizens acquired an important new charter from the new king, grateful no doubt for support given him against Richard II. This gave the borough government expanded judicial powers, notably establishing powers of Justices of the Peace, to be held by mayor, recorder and four other suitable townsmen. This would have helped establish an elite within the ruling class that could have exacerbated political jealousies. This inner clique of power-holders was later to evolve into a slightly larger group of aldermen, forming the borough's inner council. Such trends towards elitism were serving to reduce the involvement of the community at large in decision-making, even though that may have been previously limited to approvals.
During his mayoralty of 1409/10, John Alestre introduced some reforms; what they are has been lost to us for the core of the surviving records of this period are the town court rolls and they appear silent on the disturbances but they may have had some relation to expanding the franchise. In his subsequent mayoralty, we find the practice of selling licences to non-burgess residents allowing them to retail. These reforms may give a hint as to some of the grievances that provoked the events of 1412-13, or at least may have won the opposing party's leadership some backing from the unenfranchised section of the population. The licencing programme a compensation prize? continued throughout the century; in 1478/79, 68 persons purchased such licences, both men and women, and they included weavers, shermen, capmakers, spurriers, minstrels, barbers, cobblers and other leather-workers, along with a large number of tipplers (alehouse keepers).
"shortage of qualified candidates"
"Thomas del Strete"
"Sunday before St. Thomas 1 Henry V"
"keepers of the peace"
"Robert Sutton" "Thomas Sutton"
"granted all their demands"
"William del Stabelle"
"William del Rodes"
|Created: May 27, 2003. Last update: September 24, 2020||© Stephen Alsford, 2003-2020|