POLITICS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Ipswich government corruption politics factionalism ruling class political conflict office-holding monopolization reforms vendetta petition housebreaking assault conspiracy homicide trial intimidation maladministration customs service smuggling pardons careers
Subject: The king of Ipswich
Original source: Public Record Office: item 1: Ancient Petitions, SC8/233/11637; item 2: Coram Rege rolls, KB27/342 m.162d
Transcription in: My transcription from original documents (transcript of 2 may also be found in G. O. Sayles, ed. Select Cases in the Court of King's Bench, vol.6, Selden Society, vol.82, (1965), 37-38).
Original language: 1. Anglo-Norman French; 2. Latin
Location: Ipswich
Date: first half of the 14th century


[1. Petition, 1321]

To our lord king, Thomas de la Rente his burgess of his town of Ipswich complains that on the night of 16 January [1321] there came John Halteby, who is called "the king of Ipswich" throughout the region, Geoffrey Costyn the common clerk of the town, [and] William Devenish the common sergeant of the town, [with] a large force of up to 200 men of the community, armed as if for war, and they forced their way into Thomas' hall while he was out of town. Not satisfied with committing hamsoken by night, with swords drawn they beat and roughed up his wife, tore off her dress leaving her naked, and so feloniously mistreated her that her life is despaired of. They also beat and roughed up his other people in his houses, broke down the doors of his rooms and his other houses, and entered and searched them, as if soldiers. They carried off a large part of his possessions. Thereby they committed a night-time infringement of the king's peace, against the law and without just cause. This despite the fact that the king, by his special grace, has placed Thomas and what belongs to him under his protection; the offence related above was made during the term of this protection, so that the king ought to associate himself with the complaint. Thomas begs that, if it please the king, he grant and order that suitable and quick redress be arranged for him, and for upholding the peace against so powerful a conspiracy within the town – of people who have allied themselves by an oath to live or die together and to destroy many of their neighbours by means of that conspiracy – that the like has never before been seen in any county of England. Should our lord king fail to arrange for that conspiracy to be broken and done away with, his town is as good as lost, and many peaceable townspeople will be undone forever by those who behave as if they are kings and sovereign lords of the town.

[2. Proceedings in the king's court, Michaelmas term 1344]

Memorandum that in Michaelmas term 1344 when the King's Bench sat at Ipswich, many wrongdoers were indicted before it for the death of John de Halteby, who was feloniously killed there for pursuing the king's business before William de Shareshull and his colleagues, royal justices currently assigned to hear and determine various felonies and trespasses in the county of Suffolk. The king then being present, he was given to understand that immediately following the commission of the felony many of the townspeople – as much the greater of them as the middling and lesser folk – bolstered the spirits, morale, and courage of those wrongdoers and of others who have misbehaved in infringement of the king's peace and terrorized all those who respect the king's peace (thereby undermining the peace and the king's authority in that regard), by bringing the felons gifts such as food, drink, silver and gold, and by singing to them such songs of rejoicing that you would have thought God had come down from heaven.

The king was also given to understand that after William de Shareshull and his colleagues had concluded their session in the town, according to the terms of their commission from the king, and had left town, the wrongdoers and many of their supporters in the town went to the plea hall in the town where, sitting on the staircase leading up to the hall, they had it proclaimed that William de Shareshull should appear before them under penalty [for default] of one hundred pounds and William de Notton under penalty of forty pounds. The like was done in regard to many others who took the king's part in the judicial session; that is, some under penalty of twenty pounds, others under penalty of ten pounds, some more and some less. This in contempt of the king and in ridicule of the justices and officials in the king's service.

For which reason, on 29 November 1344 John Irp and John de Preston, then bailiffs of the town, appearing in person before the king in the king's court, the court interrogated them as to whether they themselves had been in the town when such outrageous and improper acts had been carried out there; and, if so, whether or not they had arrested any of the offenders or those who supported any of their acts. Also, by what person or persons they had been made bailiffs of the town. They replied that they had been elected as bailiffs of the town by the whole town community and that they could not deny having been in town at the time the offences were committed; but they had not arrested any of the offenders because, immediately after committing their felony, they placed themselves in a church, into which holy place they [i.e. the bailiffs] had no right of entry. It was then enquired of the bailiffs why they did not have arrested those who brought them gifts such as food, drink and other necessaries, and who encouraged them and kept their morale up. They replied that so large was the crowd of townspeople who celebrated the death that they could not have quelled or arrested them, because being now old men they lacked the strength. The bailiffs were then asked why, if they are in their later years yet had been elected bailiffs by the whole community of the town, they did not take that community with them to arrest the offenders and their supporters, as they ought to do in such a case. They replied that the relatives of the same were some of the most high-ranking, powerful, forceful, and influential men of the community, so that they dared not arrest the felons. The bailiffs were then asked whether, if the wrongdoers and their sympathisers who had fled were to return to town, they as bailiffs would have the courage to arrest them and attach them to stand trial, as ought to happen. They replied that they would not dare take on such a challenge by themselves, but only if a dozen or half a dozen of the higher-ranking men of the town proved willing to undertake it with them.

The court's decision was that the custody of the town be taken into the king's hand and that some other representative of the king with the courage to maintain the king's peace be installed in the town to keep the peace there, as ought to be done, until the king shall think fit to make other arrangements; for the following reasons. Responsibility for keeping the king's peace in the town was at an earlier time, by the king and his predecessors, turned over to the community of the town, and (as the bailiffs admitted above) that community elected the bailiffs on their behalf to take responsibility for the king's peace in the town – the purpose of which is to sustain good, peaceable people in peace and quiet, and to threaten the wicked and the reprobate with the rigour of the law of the land, so that they are deterred from acts of malice. And now those bailiffs, who were by the community of their town elected and delegated with preserving the king's peace therein, have expressly stated that they would not dare to take it upon themselves to attach or arrest the offenders, in the event they should return to the town. Therefore the king's peace has not been upheld as it ought and the town has been virtually deprived of good peacekeeping. Such circumstances could cause very great harm to befall men staying in the town, set a dangerous example for those inclined to disturb the king's peace, there or elsewhere in his kingdom, and maybe even undermine respect for king and Crown in that regard.

Upon which [judgement], the bailiffs surrendered their rods [of office] to the court. The king's court turned over custody of the town to the sheriff, John Haward, who was administered an oath to administer the town well and truly, to the benefit of the king, and to uphold the king's peace there in the way required.


We have here two chapters in a story that spans almost half a century; one chapter is from the earlier half of the story, one from its closing stages. The story is one of a struggle for power and for access to sources of illicit wealth and is to some degree tied up with the disturbed politics of Edward II's reign and the fiscal crisis of Edward III's. Parts of this story I have told elsewhere, and will not repeat all the same details here. John de Halteby is the central, although not the only, character linking the different stages and to some extent the story is that of his rise and fall. The records of medieval England, local and national, being what they are, show us only extracts from that story and then the glimpses they provide are of violence, corruption, and shifting alliances; we should not suppose that the history of Ipswich in this period is all such.

By the close of the thirteenth century, the power of the families who had led Ipswich through its first century of self-government was waning. At the risk of overgeneralizing, it may be suggested that the wealth and influence of those leading families, during that initial century when the foundations of local government were built, owed much to land-holding; marketing the produce from their lands and livestock naturally drew them into regional and international commerce, while their role as landlords correspondingly supported their socio-economic superiority. To some extent during the reign of Henry III, but even more pronouncedly during that of his son, new families gradually moved to the fore, their initial success based upon trade; as they prospered, they invested profits in real estate, in part to produce the raw materials they needed for their craft and/or commercial occupations, as well as to diversify their economic activities. These nouveaux riches took their share in administrative responsibilities and political power, shaping the future direction of the town, whose special privileges and advantages were instrumental in determining the personal and family fortunes.

In particular, two men came to act as leaders of the new men dominating local government: Thomas Stace and Thomas le Rente. Following a suspension of the borough liberties and the seizure of the reins of local government into the hands of a royal keeper (1285-90, for reasons unknown, although there is some hint of maladministration, a probable cause or pretext, and the king called for an eyre there in 1286), Stace and le Rente were among the new men who in 1291 joined with more established members of the local "aristocracy" to restore mechanisms of self-government, including redrafting the borough custumal, whose original had been stolen. Stace rose to the highest local office of bailiff in 1295 and le Rente in 1297 and they became the dominant figures in local government, particularly from the accession of Edward II – most notably, the pair were partners in the two ballival offices during 8 terms (1307-12 and 1318-21). They, together with Richard Leu, likewise dominated local posts in the royal customs service: le Rente as collector of the Ancient Custom from 1304 to 1320, and of the New Custom from 1304 probably until 1319 (when he retired because too busy to perform his duties), as well as being responsible for the king's wine prise from 1310; the latter role had been filled previously by Stace since 1305, and he is seen as deputy butler in 1309 and 1315, as well as a customs collector in 1303-04 and a searcher for coin in 1309. Combining ballival and customs offices would give a considerable degree of control over local commerce, and opportunities for unfair advantage.

This firm control of borough government gave them and their close associates the confidence to assert aggressively jurisdiction over neighbouring hamlets that they considered part of borough territory. In 1312, for example, Stace and his son Geoffrey, along with members of the le Rente, Harneys, Robert families and others were accused by Christine de Muse of breaking down the enclosure around her land at Brooks, breaking her dykes there, fishing in her stews, and carrying off the fish – an act of assertion more than theft. Another royal investigation was initiated in 1315 as a result of a complaint by the Bishop of Norwich, who claimed the right to hold an annual leet court at Wicks, that bailiffs Stace and le Rente had (evidently a couple of years earlier) led a large group to his manor where they had assaulted his steward and clerk, prevented them from holding the leet, and had broken into his park from which they led off a horse that the Bishop's officers had arrested as payment of a fine. The 46 men named as accomplices of the bailiffs included other of the most prominent townsmen, such as Laurence Cobbe, John de Whatefeld, Elias le Keu, Gilbert Robert and his sons Richard and John, and several members of the Maister family, as well as the town clerk John Lenebaud and Laurence atte Wente. Such forceful expressions of jurisdictional claims were not atypical in towns of this period.

Less typical was that Stace, le Rente, and their friends seem to have been using their control of borough government for personal benefit, by applying justice to their own advantage, or not applying it when it came to their own infringements of the law, as well as by pocketing communal revenues. Or so we infer from the issue of a set of reforming ordinances in December 1320. Although promulgated during a Stace/le Rente ballivalty, they only make sense if that administration is seen as the target rather than the source of the reforms, a hypothesis supported by events that preceded and followed. For on 26 October 1320 the king had issued letters granting a two-year royal protection to: Thomas le Rente and his sons Richard and John; Thomas Stace and his sons Geoffrey, Thomas, John, and Henry; known Stace/le Rente associates Richard Robert, Alexander Margaret, Thomas le Maister, and John Lenebaud; Clement Shawe, whose sole known distinction was having been sent to parliament during a Stace/le Rente ballivalty, and Clement le Spicer who appears to have been one of the portmen (town councillors) at this period; as well as to Laurence atte Wente, John del Wente, Alan Davy, William le Fevre taverner, John de Leyham, and John Irp. It may have been that those from whom they were seeking protection had already seized, or were about to seize, control of the borough court; for on 27 November that court issued the order to warn John Irp and Alexander Margaret to answer for some unspecified offence against the community. Since both men were merchants, the offence may have been forestalling, which topped the list of concerns expressed in the reforming ordinances.

Forestalling was prohibited by custom and by the borough charters; it had been the subject of a complaint by the "poor men" of the Ipswich community to the king in 1304. Several of the reforms targeted this and other market offences contrary to communal interests, and threatened disfranchisement for offenders. The reforms were said to have been made by the "alderman, bailiffs and the community" [Black Domesday book, Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich records C4/1 ff.71v, 76v], even though the merchant gild alderman is not known to have played any significant part in local government for decades; possibly the office was here being used as a lever against ballival government, as it would be in similar circumstances at Beverley later in the century [see "Government by council versus government by executive".].

Other grievances addressed through the reforms targeted political and financial maladministration. It was indicated that ballival elections were being held by a select group behind closed doors, rather than on a set date at a public gathering at which communal opinion could be consulted – a complaint that, when taken in conjunction with the timing of the conflict, is suggestive of a contested, or at least disputed, election in September 1320. The "usurpers" thus elected, it was continued, would impose taxes and fines on the community, putting the money to their private use; it was similarly accused that the bailiffs embezzled fees paid by franchise entrants, a charge possibly supported by other evidence. To guard against this, the reforms instituted various mechanisms for accountability and checks on ballival freedom of action. Elections were to be held on the same known date each year (September 8) and the choice of bailiffs required communal assent. The earlier method of election is uncertain, other than for the very first communal election of bailiffs in 1200 and a reference in 1309 to the bailiffs being elected "by the common counsel of the township, just as they have customarily been elected" [British Library, Add.Ms.25012, f50b]. On the latter occasion, on 16 September 1309, it was not the ballival election that was the order of the day, it apparently having taken place at some earlier time, but election of the town council of portmen; a group of 27 townsmen was selected from the various parishes to elect, on behalf of the community, the portmen and the way it is described echoes, probably deliberately, the account of the first election of the "capital portmen" in 1200. Unlike the document describing the events of 1200, however, that of 1309 goes on to define the portmen as a life-membership body, with replacements for those who died in office being chosen by the survivors. This reiterated a stipulation in the borough custumal – a document, let us remember, reconstructed in 1291 by a group of 24 townsmen which appears to include the then-portmen along with the clique that was by 1309 dominating borough government – while omitting the custumal's acknowledgement that portmen failing in their duties might be removed. Of the 12 portmen elected, or perhaps confirmed in office, in 1309, 10 had been among the redrafters of the custumal in 1291; besides Stace and le Rente, the portmen included Richard Leu, John de Whatefeld, Thomas dil Stone (a business partner of le Rente from his early days), John le Maister, Alexander Margaret, and Gilbert Robert.

This then was the group whose sway over Ipswich was opposed in 1320, evidently with some success. How that success was achieved is not clear, but force seems to have been involved and perhaps the opposition seized control of the moothall, along with the borough seal, records and treasury, or perhaps they set up a parallel government at another base. The next glimpse we are given of the disturbed affairs at Ipswich are through the complaints made to the king by Thomas le Rente in early 1321, of which the above petition is one. On February 10 and February 17, the king appointed commissions to investigate the infringement of the royal letters of protection, the forced entry into le Rente's house, the assault on his wife and servants, the theft of his goods; on March 1, following a further complaint, probably from both bailiffs, an investigation was to encompass rioting, resisting the authority of the bailiffs, and preventing them from collecting tolls. Whether any judicial enquiries ever took place is unknown; if so, there is no sign they had any effect, except perhaps to strengthen the reformers' resolve: before the end of April Stace and le Rente had been deposed and Laurence Cobbe and Henry le Rotoun put in their place. Cobbe and Rotoun were both members of the ruling class: le Rotoun had been one of the portmen of 1309 but had never yet held the ballivalty; Cobbe had already served as bailiff on seven occasions between 1298 and 1318, yet was not among the portmen of 1309, although he appears to have been one by about 1315. The choice was doubtless intended to allay local and royal concerns by being seen as conventional, rather than revolutionary. That is, in selecting chief executives from the urban class traditionally considered – both by the community and the king – as best qualified to govern. Although Cobbe appears to have been a close associate of le Rente, he was perhaps not seen as one of the principal enemies of the reformers; and, besides, this ballivalty was his swan-song. The implementation of the December reforms would have created new posts through which the reformers could influence local government from within. At the elections of September 1321, Richard Leu and Walter de Westhale became bailiffs and throughout the rest of the decade the office changed hands every year.

The inability of Stace and le Rente to resist their opponents can be attributed to a number of factors. Since the coercive resources of urban authorities were limited, it was always hard for them to resist the power of the mob, particularly a mob with strong leadership. Le Rente's reference to the town clerk and one of the town sergeants being among his opponents would have facilitated their seizure of the moothall. At this crucial time, le Rente was being sued for the sizable debt of £24 and delayed the trial by staying away from the court (despite efforts by Stace to persuade him otherwise), a tactic he had adopted before but which this time must have worked counter to his political interests. Furthermore, he was embattled from another direction: he and fellow customs-collector Richard Leu were facing a suit before the Exchequer for not accounting for about two-thirds of the money they had collected in customs between 1315 and 1317; each was convicted to repay just over £333. Leu, however, perhaps through his role as a county land-holder with the status of a knight, had a friend in Bishop Salmon of Norwich, at whose instance he had been granted by the king (1316) life exemption from county responsibilities, such as the shrievalty, coronership, jury duty, and whose executor he was in 1325; the Bishop's intervention obtained in December 1322 a pardon for Leu of his half of the fine for concealing customs. Le Rente, who was additionally accused of not paying customs on his own wool exports, which may explain why his fine was later stated as being £360, had no protector.

It was in fact John de Halteby who had provided the documentary evidence of the customs fraud, leading to the inclusion of the Ipswich collectors in the broader investigation in 1322 of dishonesty in the customs service [R. Baker, "The English Customs Service, 1307-1341", Journal of the American Philosophical Society, new series, vol.51, pt.6 (1961), 14, 21, 55]. It seems likely that this evidence had been obtained through the raid on le Rente's house that Halteby led in January 1321. Perhaps even one reason for the raid was to obtain such evidence against le Rente and Leu, who may have already been under suspicion since, after being partners in collection of the Ancient Customs on wool since 1307, the pair were replaced on 22 November 1320 by John de Whatefeld and Henry le Rotoun.

The course of national politics also had an impact on the fall of Stace and le Rente. From 1317, Edward II had come under the influence of the Despensers, father and son, whose consequent efforts to further their personal interests in various parts of the country aroused resentment in many quarters and led to a gradual slide into civil war during 1319-20. During the autumn and winter of 1320, the attention of the conflicting parties was focused on tensions building in Wales, and by May 1321 open warfare had broken out. Although the baronial opposition, the Contrariants, succeeded in forcing the exile of the Despensers in the latter half of the year, fortunes reversed and the defeat at Boroughbridge in March 1322, followed by execution or imprisonment of many of the Contrariants, left the Despensers in the ascendant until 1326, their regime characterized by a general breakdown of law and order, banditry, gang warfare, and murder. The preoccupation of the king in 1320/21 may help explain the timing of the upheaval in Ipswich and why nothing material seems to have come of the complaints of Stace and le Rente. It was not uncommon for advantage to be taken of disorder at the national level to pursue local vendettas or express communal discontent: the attack of Cambridge's burgesses on the university in May 1322, and the communal revolts at St. Albans and Bury St. Edmunds in 1326-27 at the time that national revolution was in process of overthrowing Edward II, have been attributed in part to such a context; and urban upheavals in the previous century at the time of the Montfortian civil war and when Henry III was on his last legs could be considered similar situations. As one historian has noted, "Any failure of government could at any moment let loose a terrible flood of anarchy and banditry" [Natalie Fryde, The tyranny and fall of Edward II 1321-1326, Cambridge: University Press, 1979, 194].

Although the younger Despenser had held property across East Anglia since 1310, neither he nor his father paid much direct attention to eastern England, although they likely had agents to further their interests in the region. At an unknown date, le Rente made a recognizance of debt to Hugh le Despenser junior in the sum of £200, of which he still owed £153.6s.8d in May 1322; a petition of later date [PRO SC8/50/2485] associated this with le Rente's fine for customs concealment, and states that John de Halteby had pressured le Rente to make the recognizance. It also appears that Halteby led a second raid on le Rente's property to seize goods in partial repayment of the debt. Now probably in his mid-sixties and weighed down by these misfortunes (admittedly largely of his own making), Thomas le Rente died at some point before Michaelmas 1323. He still owed Despenser £140 and bequeathed him some rents towards gradual repayment. Due to his indebtedness to the Crown, an extent was taken of his property, but much of his moveables were said to be in the hands of Halteby and John Harneys senior. Throughout the rest of the decade le Rente's lands were the subject of legal disputes and division of the spoils among other townsmen, including former enemies.

Before we consider the possibility that Halteby may have been an agent of Despenser interests in East Anglia, we must look at some of the other opponents to the Stace/le Rente faction. The groups against whom accusations were made in early 1321 – the attack on le Rente's residence, and the general resistance to the bailiffs – were both headed by John de Halteby, Geoffrey Costyn, and John de Preston, and these seem to have been the ringleaders. Sixteen men were named in the assault, twenty-two in the resistance; that every member of the first group was also in the second shows the association of the events. Most, but not all, were Ipswich men. Among them were men associated with families that benefited politically from the overthrow of the dominant group:

  • Thomas de Westhale, likely a relative of one of the bailiffs who replaced the deposed Stace and le Rente, and who himself may (to judge from his prominence in witness lists headed by bailiffs) have become a portman ca.1338-40.
  • John Cobat, who was a portman ca.1340; his son of the same name built up his local real estate through marriage to the daughter of John Harneys and granddaughter of John de Whatefeld, and served several terms as bailiff between 1349 and 1370 (he will reappear later in the story).
  • William de Causton draper, the occupation being given to distinguish him from other residents of the same name; one of them was coroner of Ipswich from 1328 to 1341.

Wool merchant John de Preston was the principal beneficiary of the group, however. He upheld the interests of his faction by serving as chamberlain in 1322/23, coroner the following year and bailiff the next; in all he served 12 terms as bailiff between 1324 and 1352 and 14 as coroner 1323 and 1356, with the 1340s representing the peak of his power when he often improperly held both posts simultaneously. He features little in local affairs prior to 1321, although already a merchant and property-holder – in 1315 he and his wife Muriel are seen acquiring a curtilage adjacent to their home in St. Nicholas parish, and in 1322 bought up three adjoining cottages; in 1316 he witnessed a deed of Thomas le Rente. Thereafter he gained not only more political prominence, but more commercial prominence, judging from the fact that he won a post as customs collector in 1323 and remained in that service for most of the period to 1351 (mainly excepting when customs posts at Ipswich were given by the king to non-local men). He also represented Ipswich at eight or nine parliaments, as well as Suffolk at a mercantile assembly in 1338; at the March 1340 parliament he was one of half a dozen burgesses appointed to a committee to hear petitions from the clergy and draw up a statute responding to their concerns. He could almost be considered a professional administrator. His son Robert, heir to the St. Nicholas' property, was one of the leading townsmen of the next generation, but aspiring to rise into the ranks of the gentry, accumulating real estate in Barking, Bramford, Tattingstone, Darmsden, Needham Market, Codenham, and Willisham, all of which was passed on to his own son, Robert Preston esq., who fought and died at the battle of Shrewsbury.

While John de Preston came from a family not noticeable in Ipswich before him, Halteby's other close associate, Geoffrey Costyn, came from a family well in evidence, though not prominent, in thirteenth-century Ipswich. A William Costyn was by mid-century a tenant of property owned by the Priory of Holy Trinity; in 1263 he was one of a long list of Ipswich men accused of killing Roger le Chapelman and his son, while two years later William's sons John and Walter were themselves pardoned for a different homicide. That John Costyn may have been the same man who on two occasions in 1292 was partner with Thomas Stace in business ventures. Geoffrey was the son of a John Costyn. Although not politically active prior to his participation in the reform movement, the previous decade had seen him engaging in various property transactions – some of the property in hamlets surrounding the town – so he must have been a man of some means, yet his assessment in the 1327 national taxation was below the average. There is no clue as to what his occupation may have been, except that he presumably had sufficient education to serve as town clerk in 1320/21; perhaps he earned his living from property-holding and/or administration – not long after his death he was described as having the status of a yeoman of the earl of Suffolk. In September 1322 he and John de Halteby were jointly suing an outsider, John de Manitre, for render of account for the period when he was the collector of their money; but the source of such revenues is not specified. After turning over the clerkship to William de Kenebroke, Geoffrey went on to four terms as bailiff of Ipswich, the first in 1326/27 and the last in 1332/33, and represented the borough at four parliaments in the same period. Although briefly a customs collector (1328-29) there is no indication he was personally active in commerce. Like Preston, he seems to have been a beneficiary of the overthrow of the old regime in 1321.

In stark contrast to Preston's almost monopolistic tenure of office, John de Halteby never held one of the leading borough offices, although he may have been among the portmen by the late 1330s, if not before; perhaps he lacked the political inclination or the proper socio-economic status, but more likely he had other fish to fry and preferred to direct from behind the scenes. The impression from the fragments we see of his career is that he was a man who preferred coercion to consensus. The records speak, in turns, of John de Halteby and John son of Richard de Halteby; despite the fact that the latter form is often used to distinguish a man from another of the same Christian and family name, in this case (except for one very uncertain occurrence) the two names do not appear in the same record, and other evidence suggests they were one and the same person. The Halteby family had been in evidence in Ipswich from the 1250s, although we first hear of Richard de Halteby only in 1280, when involved in a legal battle with Wymarc de Halteby over a tenement. Possibly it was a dispute related to inheritance, as after Wymarc's death we hear that he had inherited a share in the property of Gilbert de Halteby; at that time (1303) Gilbert's sons Richard, Roger, and Christopher and his daughter Agnes, along with Richard's wife Mable and their sons William and Thomas, were being sued by Richard's niece Agnes, daughter of Thomas de Haltebe (a man who appears briefly in the records, in the role of attorney, in 1280).

The Halteby family was not one of the more prominent of the town, and not among the newcomers starting to gain a foothold of influence in local affairs towards the close of the thirteenth century. In the national taxation of 1283, Richard de Halteby was the only member of the family to be assessed, and the valuation of his moveables at £3.6s.8d was well below that of the leading townsmen of that time. His assessment was based on a stock of malt and timber and on household goods; inadequate though the assessment is as a guide to wealth or occupation, his does not give the impression of either mercantile activity or extensive holding of agricultural land, which can be inferred for some of the others assessed – Thomas le Rente, his days of power still well ahead of him, had an even smaller assessment and that of his father John was also modest, but both included boats among their goods assessed. On the other hand, Richard was by 1300 in a position to afford a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Edmund of Pontigny, although he may never have completed it, since he was the victim of an assault outside Calais. Perhaps the Halteby family migrated to Ipswich in the third quarter of the thirteenth century, whether from Holtby in Yorkshire or another village of similar name now disappeared, cannot be said; no-one of the surname is listed at Ipswich in the record of the national taxation of 1228, but we cannot read too much into this. More significantly, no Halteby is listed in the national tax imposed in the first year of Edward III's reign, although 210 Ipswich residents are named; this conspicuous absence seems suspicious. Richard's brother Roger appears frequently as a witness to deeds registered in the borough court during Edward II's reign – a role that was often undertaken by portmen. By contrast, their brother Christopher was one of the town sergeants from 1294 to 1305 – a post that required more brawn than brain and was beneath the dignity of leading townsmen. Christopher's name was linked with that of Agnes Costyn in a rental of the Holy Trinity priory, ca.1283, though whether this implies a relationship or merely co-tenancy is unknown. A further hint at some link, whether blood or marriage, between the Halteby and Costyn families is that one member of the Halteby family, who became a freeman at Ipswich in 1331, bore the uncommon Christian name of Constantine, from which "Costyn" likely derives.

Although attributable partly to the preoccupations of those records that survive to us, the earliest references to John de Halteby do not paint an appealing picture. The first we hear of the name is in 1289 when being sued for debt by Philip Harneys and when suing Richard de Halteby for debt, and again in 1290 when sued for some unspecified trespass by John le Coteler. It is conceivable this might have been a John de Halteby of an earlier generation, but not impossible it was the son of Richard having just reached his age of majority (which would suggest a birth-date of ca.1275). At about the same date, Christopher de Halteby, perhaps already in the post of sergeant, was acting with two of the more prominent townsmen to prosecute a man accused of customs evasion. During the first two decades of the fourteenth century, John de Halteby appears on a number of occasions acting as an attorney, essoining agent, or pledge suggesting that this may have been part of the way he made a living.

Another form of his association with the borough authorities was through their organized aggression against those who defied their jurisdictional claims. He was a named member of the group headed by Thomas Stace and other leading townsmen in 1312 who attacked the property of Christine de Muse, and also – along with his father Richard and his servant Miles – a participant in the bailiff-led force against whom the Bishop of Norwich complained in 1315 (see above). In March 1317 he was the first-named in a group, which also included Geoffrey Stace, accused by miller Roger Bille of having assaulted him at Bramford, a village just west of Ipswich; that this was a similar act of jurisdictional challenge or competitive intimidation is seen from the fact that, a few days after Bille's complaint, his master Thomas de Veer reiterated the charge and added that the accused had prevented his tenants from grinding their grain at his mill in Bramford. The next such charge brought against Halteby came the following year, when he appears to have led a group composed mostly of non-Ipswich men (except for a junior member of the prominent Haraud family) in an attack on the property of Thomas son of Bartholomew de Shaldeford at Rewenhale, Essex, resulting in the theft of timber and legal documents; the investigation seems not to have made much headway, for it was renewed in August 1319 after the death of one of the royal commissioners. Thomas was a minor in the custody of John de Gippewic, who had a connection with Ipswich (other than his surname) since he was its representative to three parliaments between 1324 and 1334, but otherwise features little in town affairs. Gippewic had further cause for complaint when a group, probably led by Thomas' uncle Ralph, abducted the boy from Ipswich in 1318 – although a separate commission of investigation was appointed only days after that set up to look into Halteby's attack on Rewenhale, the second commission was also charged with investigating an attack on Rewenhale, so there may be a connection between the events.

John de Halteby was thus experienced in violence and intimidation when he led the raid on Thomas le Rente's house in early 1321. He was similarly well-qualified to lead the continuing and seemingly back-and-forth struggle between the factions, of which we see glimpses. Thomas Stace's son John was killed in the suburbs in or before August 1321, by persons unknown. Halteby and Geoffrey Costyn found it advisable to acquire, in March 1322, royal letters of protection. In April 1323, Costyn was warned by Thomas Stace, Gilbert Robert and other probi homines to appear in the town court to answer for an offence against the community (breaking a sequestration), and when he failed to show, the summons was repeated under threat of disfranchisement. The following month a series of charges was brought, in the name of the community, against various townsmen:

  • John le Man senior was accused of selling beef of bad quality in the market;
  • John Irp, William le Fevre and John de Leyham were accused of offences contrary to their freeman's oath – possibly market offences were intended – le Fevre failing to appear to answer the charge, but Leyham throwing himself on the mercy of the court;
  • Richard Robert, more specifically accused of forestalling, making mercantile deals in private places, and committing some offence related to aulnage, refused to come and answer the charges and was disfranchised (this did not put an end to him, but in 1326 he was again in trouble with the court);
  • perhaps prompted by Robert's fate, Geoffrey Stace threw himself on the mercy of the court for the unspecified trespasses and falsehoods of which he was accused, and he was fined £10, of which half was remitted conditional on future good behaviour.
  • William de Causton followed Stace's example in June, offering a £10 fine, of which he later paid 66s.8d and the rest was forgiven him by the bailiffs and community.
In October there was a further prosecution along these lines: John de Whatefeld, Gilbert Robert, Richard Robert, John Blount, and William le Fevre were accused of infringing the "laws and constitution" of the town by buying in a private place – the house of William Malyn – rather than in a public place, as custom required, a ship's cargo of oats. The accused (except for Blunt, who was a no-show) denied the charge, but an inquisition concluded that a cargo of oats had been sold elsewhere than at portside, although it did not name the culprits.

Possibly all this was an effort to follow up on the recent reforms, or perhaps the factions were trying to flex their muscles, to bring opponents in line – several of the accused were among the group that obtained a royal protection in October 1320 (see above). Irp, le Fevre, and Leyham were all merchants and all would later serve at least one term as bailiff. Costyn's inclusion may indicate that the old regime was still trying to fight back; although it is possible that the Costyn-Halteby alliance stood on shaky ground, as the former was suing the latter in March 1322, and we do not know whether Costyn's removal from the office of town clerk was at his own volition.

If the aim was to cow opponents of the reforms, then any success was only temporary. In 1324 the contest was renewed. The king appointed a commission on July 12 to investigate the complaint by "various persons" that bailiffs Gilbert de Burgh and Edmund de Castleacre, coroners John Baude and John de Preston, John de Halteby (named immediately after the officials), 17 named others (Costyn's name being conspicuously absent), and additional unnamed members of the Ipswich community

"presuming upon the liberties and immunities granted to them by the king's progenitors, have made unlawful confederacies and conspiracies by oaths and other means to maintain and defend one another in all plaints, exactions and demands, and under colour of this have put divers injuries and oppressions upon other men of the said town, who refused to join them, and upon merchants and others frequenting there, causing them under pretext of feigned larcenies, robberies and homicides to be indicted and imprisoned, some innocent persons to be convicted thereof, and some notorious malefactors to be acquitted; assessing tallages and exactions upon the said merchants and men as though in the king's name and levying the same to their own use, and concealing felonies, robberies and homicides."
[Calendar of Patent Rolls 1324-27, p.65]

We need not take these charges too literally; they were the types of accusations typically levelled against a communal uprising or abuses of local government in order to capture the attention of the king and oblige an investigation, with the hope that the complainants could turn an inquisition to their advantage. On the other hand, some corroboration comes from a complaint that same year, but apparently relating to events of 1323, by John Fairher a burgess of Berwick-upon-Tweed (then in Scottish hands), who had under safe-conduct brought a cargo of salmon, deer skins, and tallow to Ipswich. After he sold £12 worth of salmon to John le Keu and Simon Shakelok, they refused to pay, instead threatening him with violence if he pursued his demand for payment. Having proceeded to sell the rest of his cargo and buy grain to take back to Berwick, Fairher found his ship arrested by bailiff Edmund de Castleacre and customs collector Henry le Rotoun; and at the collusion of Castleacre, le Rotoun, le Keu, Shakelok, John le Blount, Thomas de Westhale, John de Melford and others not named, frivolous charges were brought against Fairher in the borough court. That group, together with others including John Irp, John Robert, John and Thomas le Maister, Henry Stace and Miles le Fevre, then divided the return cargo amongst themselves. Upon an earlier complaint the king had ordered the bailiffs to return Fairher's ship and grain and pay him £12 in damages, but they had done nothing.

It has been noted [T.H. Lloyd, Alien Merchants In England in the High Middle Ages, Brighton: Harvester Press, 1982, 51] that the amount of maritime commerce through Ipswich and other customs ports it controlled along the East Anglian coast underwent some unusual fluctuations during the mid-1320s; whether this was a symptom of the alleged administrative abuses, or whether just an environmental stress contributing to the power struggle within the community is hard to say. Whatever the truth of the accusations made in July 1324, they at least reflect that factionalism was still lively, that the reformers were continuing to try to suppress opposition through the courts, and that a change in administrative personnel may have not made great changes in the quality of administration.

The impression of continued factionalism is reinforced by a second complaint, leading to a further investigative commission being appointed on 29 August. Again the complainants are not identified, the king is merely 'acting upon information', but a badly damaged petition to the king points to Edmund de Castleacre. The accusation is that Philip Harneys, his brother John and his servant Hugh, Thomas Stace, Geoffrey Stace and his brother Henry, Thomas Leu, John de Grymmesby, Thomas le Maister, Laurence le Clerk (a town sergeant in 1319/20), Simon Shakelok, and others had made a conspiracy, forced yet others through illegal oaths to maintain and defend them in all plaints, and had assaulted bailiffs Castleacre and Burgh, along with John de Halteby constable of the peace at Ipswich, during the execution of their official duties. The officials had taken refuge in the house of John de Preston, where their enemies besieged them and eventually succeeded in breaking down the door, entering and beating those persons along with others who were there in their support. Furthermore, through continued intimidation they were preventing the officials from carrying out their duties. The outcome of these investigations is not known, but on 19 November 1324 Henry Stace, having been convicted before the King's Bench of killing his fellow townsman John Christopher, was hanged at Marshalsea prison in London.

The reference to Halteby as constable of the peace is very interesting. The post is not at any other time documented in medieval Ipswich officialdom, with the exception of 1338 when the holder John Irp was in trouble for obstructing the earl of Northampton in impressing Ipswich ships into royal service. It presumably stemmed from the royal provisions, beginning with those in 1205, for local policing and militia – not the type of post that might be evidenced from run-of-the-mill borough records that survive. Whether Halteby had been long in this post or had obtained it specifically to access desirable enforcement powers, to further his efforts to control the town, cannot be guessed; nor can precisely what duties it involved at that period, although they would have enabled Halteby to muster a force of armed townsmen to meet perceived threats. During the following ballival term (1324/25) we find Halteby receiving estreats (fines imposed by the courts), which may indicate continuation in the constableship.

It was suggested above that Halteby may have been acting, in part at least, as an agent of Despenser interests. We cannot be certain, but Halteby is found involved in suspicious circumstances. In March 1325 he acknowledged in Chancery a debt of £100 to John de Carleford, and at the same time he, Carleford, and Gilbert de Carleford the parson of Rochford, Essex acknowledged a debt of 100 marks to Hugh le Despenser junior. In an equally surprising association, at the close of Edward II's reign we find John de Halteby in the office of undersheriff of Suffolk and John de Preston in the office of constable of Norwich castle and keeper of the county gaol there. The Mortimer regime sent, in March 1328, an order to the sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk to remove the pair from the posts, on the grounds that they were not suitable holders and had been improperly appointed, and for the reason that the pair had been accused of the death of mag. Geoffrey de Horewode, parson of Bramford. In February 1330, John Rodlond junior, an Ipswich man, was pardoned for that homicide and released from Marshalsea, on the grounds of self-defence.

Moreover, Halteby was implicated in the misguided plot of Edmund, Earl of Kent in 1329 to rescue his older half-brother Edward II, whom he believed still to be alive, and restore him to the throne. An undated (ca.1330) and only partly legible petition, mentioned above for its reference to le Rente's debt to Despenser, tied Halteby in with some conspiracy by Sir William de Cleydon, John de Cleydon, Bennet de Braham and others unnamed, associating the names of Mortimer and Kent. The petitioner is not identified; but, since the document links two unrelated offences by Halteby, it must have been made by one or more persons hoping to bring him down. A second petition [PRO SC8/172/8555] of about the same time was put forward by William de Melton, Archbishop of York (1316-40), whose career had owed much to Edward II's favour and who was replaced as Treasurer when Edward III was put on the throne. Melton was among those fingered by the Earl of Kent as willing to support his plot. Following Kent's execution in March 1330, Melton was naturally at pains to dissociate himself and, despite having snubbed Edward III's coronation, he was able at his trial to convince the authorities of his innocence. His petition to the Chancellor blamed John de Halteby and Martin Loue for trying to persuade him, at a meeting at Eye in Suffolk, to join Kent's plot. It may also be noted that Gilbert de Burgh of Ipswich was another implicated in that plot and his lands were seized, although in December 1330 the king decided Burgh was innocent and ordered the escheator to restore the lands. Burgh, who like Preston and Halteby had earlier held a county office – in this case that of sub-escheator in Essex – had been a member of the group that Halteby led in 1317 in the assault on Roger Bille. Another link between Burgh and Halteby was that both were included in a set of general pardons issued on 25 April 1327 (in the context of a much larger number of pardons issued in the weeks following Edward III's accession); other Ipswich men were included in that set of pardons: Thomas de Westhale, Thomas de Holebrok and Richard de Holebrok (a Robert de Holebrok having been one of the participants in the raid on le Rente's house in 1321).

Those with whom Halteby was associated in the conspiracies were not Ipswich men. Martin Loue hailed from Westhall in Suffolk; in 1319 he was among a group of men accused of breaking into the Bacons' windmill at Westhall. Bennet de Braham was among 40 persons pardoned, in February 1327, for holding Caerphilly castle – one of the last refuges of Edward II and Hugh le Despenser junior (it being part of the inheritance of Hugh's wife, Eleanor de Clare) – against Mortimer and Queen Isabella; the son of Hugh le Despenser junior was also pardoned in association with the Caerphilly garrison, and the name of Horewode is also found among the defenders. Earlier in that same month, Bennet was described as "of Braham" (possibly referring to Brantham, Suffolk) when he, his wife and brother, Sir William de Braham, and 76 named others were accused by Richard de Holebrok of assaulting him at Tattingstone, Suffolk, binding him to a tree and cutting off his right hand. Braham and Holebrok, the latter of whom had been imprisoned at Newgate in 1321 for the death of Walter de Clist but obtained a pardon in June on the grounds of self-defence, had something of a history: in 1323 Braham was commissioned by the king to arrest Holebrok, and Holebrok had been another of the defenders of Caerphilly castle pardoned in 1327. Among the group associated with the Brahams in the mutilation of Holebrok were William de Cleydon and his brother John, the Thomas de Shaldeford against whom Halteby had acted (see above), and several Ipswich men, including Thomas Leu, Richard de Leyham (elected bailiff later in 1327, brother of the John de Leyham targeted by the reformers), Geoffrey Costyn, William Harneys senior and William Harneys junior, and John Pecke. The Cleydons had landed interests in the Ipswich area, and John de Cleydon held property in town, but the family was not centrally involved in Ipswich affairs.

It appears then that Halteby was somewhat involved in the political machinations going on during the 1320s on the national scene, though whether he was directly affiliated with any lord, or simply gave his allegiance as it suited his own interests in terms of local domination, cannot be said. He seems to have emerged from the troubled times unscathed, however. During the 1330s he came far less to the attention of national authorities. There were troubles at Ipswich in autumn 1335 when, while the king was busy up in Scotland, a band of armed men terrorized the town and surrounding countryside; arriving in four ships, they seized control of the port for several weeks, along with other ships there that had been fitted out for naval service, waylaid local and visiting merchants coming by land and sea, prevented the collection of customs, and interfered with fishermen, not stopping short of murder and arson. But the troublemakers all seem to have been outsiders, and Halteby's name is not mentioned. The trouble may have been associated with deserting soldiers or sailors, or perhaps was one episode in Ipswich's competition with Harwich to win jurisdiction over the stretch of the Orwell between the two. Ipswich's liberties were seized by the king in 1338, but we do not know for what offence. It may have had something to do with a further disturbance around this time, when Sir Thomas de Holebrok led an armed force in an assault on the king's justices of the peace in Suffolk, while holding a session at Ipswich, in order to rescue some who had been arrested for rebellion. In February 1339 the king appointed a commission to enquire whether named men had been participants; these included Thomas Leu, John Harneys, and John Robert, but again Halteby's name is not in evidence. This affair may give significance to an elaboration of the freeman's oath at Ipswich ca.1340, to which was added the requirement that new freemen "shall be obedient to their bailiffs then in office and shall not involve themselves in any protests or confederacies by which the community of the town shall be disturbed." [Great Court Roll, 13-14 Ed.III, m.4r, Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich records, C5/6]

Halteby is mainly visible during the 1330s through his acquisitions of property in Ipswich – an indication of growing wealth and consolidation of his influence. That influence is also reflected in the increasing frequency of his role in court as a reliable witness of property transactions – in fact by the end of the decade he is usually named immediately after the bailiffs in such witness lists, and this indication of his seniority continued up until his death. On the other hand, Halteby had not abandoned his old ways. In 1331 and 1332 there were made in Chancery a series of acknowledgements of large debts owed to Halteby: £20 by William Michel, the parson of Woburn (Buckinghamshire), £120 by Essex men Robert son of Richard de Rivers of East Mersea and Luke son of Henry Lucas of Shalford, and separate recognizances of £26.13s.4d and £40 by the Suffolk knight Sir John Dagworth. We do not know what these were for, but they look suspicious, particularly considering that Halteby shows no sign of mercantile activity or of land-holding that far afield, which might provide reasons for such large debts; as late as 1341 Halteby was seeking repayment of his loans to Dagworth, who had died in 1332. More telling is that in June 1336 an investigative commission was appointed on the complaint that John de Halteby, along with Constantine de Halteby and Ipswich chaplain Albred de Cleye, had broken into the Debenham property of the archdeacon of Suffolk, assaulted his steward, and carried off his goods. Earlier that year, a royal commission had been set up to look into smuggling off the stretch of Suffolk coast between Ipswich and Yarmouth, and in 1337 the investigation was expanded to cover Norfolk and Suffolk as a whole; there is no reason to think Halteby was involved, but this was a harbinger of the final phase of his story.

Another early warning sign was the murder of Geoffrey Costyn. One of Costyn's comrades-in-arms during the revolt against the Stace/le Rente administration was John Baude senior (the surname a patronymic, his father being Baldwin de Ballyol), who served the reform administration as a coroner in 1323/24. He and Costyn may even have been residential neighbours, if their adjacent listing in the 1327 subsidy assessment is a reliable guide. In 1325 a John Baude junior and his wife sued Geoffrey Costyn, his boy-servant, his maid, a chaplain, and Richard dil Market and wife for dispossessing him of a tenement in Ipswich; a jury found in his favour. A little later that year John Baude senior (under his alias of John de Ballyol) was sued for dispossessing Albreda, the daughter of William de Ponte of a property she had inherited from her father; John secured the case's dismissal on a technicality. In November 1331, Costyn – acting on his own behalf and apparently that of neighbours – obtained a writ against John Baude senior, on the complaint that the latter had, contrary to borough custom, on a flat piece of land called Michelheles Down, built up a mound 20 feet high and erected a windmill atop it; this was a nuisance in terms of having damaged a dividing wall, blocking the sunlight, causing flooding, and being noisy. Baude having failed to appear in court to present a defence, a jury was put together to view the land and come to a conclusion; which was that Baude had illegally erected the mill and that it had caused damage to Costyn's property. Baude had to pull down the mill and pay Costyn £10 in damages. This must have caused some bad blood, and been brought back to mind in April 1338, when Geoffrey Costyn and William Malyn junior stood as pledges for the widow of Richard dil Market in suing Roger and Baldwin, sons of John Baude, for dispossessing her of a share of a property in the suburbs. It may be more than coincidence therefore that, after Geoffrey Costyn was found dead in the suburbs on November 8, 1338, the coroner's inquest found that the previous night Geoffrey and Roger, the son of John Baude senior, had emerged from a tavern together; Roger proposing to walk Geoffrey back to his lodgings, an argument had broken out en route and Roger had pulled a dagger and stabbed Geoffrey.

The case is that much more the curious because Roger had already been convicted of a homicide. On the night of 25 January 1337, he had got into an argument with Albreda, the wife of William Malyn senior and cut off her hand with his sword; Albreda had languished until September when she died, and Roger went into hiding to avoid the inevitable findings of the coroner's inquest, which also stated that he had no possessions that could be forfeited for his crime. Whether his reappearance to kill Costyn in an apparent drunken brawl was just that, or perhaps a family vendetta manifesting itself, we shall probably never know. Baude obtained a royal pardon in 1339 for killing Costyn. However, it may be noted that some doubt appears to have been cast on the findings of the Costyn inquest, as in February 1341 the king set up an investigation to re-examine the case; why or with what outcome, we know not.

Having introduced William Malyn, we must now pay that family more attention, for it becomes a key player in events. William was no newcomer to the town, nor was his family. The 1283 taxation list includes a Duce Malyn who appears moderately well off, although it is not clear if this was a man or a woman; the principal item on which he/she was assessed was wine. At about the same date this person was renting from the Holy Trinity priory a tavern formerly held by Robert Taverner and a shop formerly held by Malina de Lundres, from which we may surmise the origin of the surname. An Isabella Malyn who was a contemporary of Duce was the wife of Andrew le Taverner. So we may infer that the family was involved in the retail and probably the wholesale of drink.

There were a series of men named William Malyn and it is not easy to disentangle them. According to local historian Vincent Redstone ["The Chaucer-Malyn family, Ipswich." Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology, vol.12 (1906), 188], Isabella, the widow of Andrew le Taverner, in 1288 mortgaged to William Malyn the tavern once in the hands of Duce Malyn; unfortunately, I have not been able to confirm this, and Redstone's article is riddled with errors and untenable conclusions. It is a fact, however, that in 1305 a William Malyn was being sued by Isabella le Taverner, to oblige him to render account – possibly for revenues from a tavern. In 1309 he was certainly the proprietor of the Holle Tavern, rented from Holy Trinity; this does not appear to be the same one, but rather an adjacent property that Malyn acquired from the widow of Philip Harneys as an expansion of his original tavern. Philip had held it in the 1280s, and the previous tenant had been William Schoop, whose neighbours had been Malina de Lundres on one side and Robert le Taverner on the other; both the neighbouring properties being in the hands of Duce Malyn in Harneys' time. These properties were in St. Laurence parish, in Cook Row. In 1324 William Malyn leased this tavern to William de Wachesam on a commission basis (5s. per tun of wine sold), but two years later had to sue him to account for the proceeds.

This William Malyn must have been born by at least 1285, for in 1308 we hear of his wife Albreda, and their children John, William, Agnes, and Alice. He was likely even older, for he was doing well enough in his career to have built a house by 1312. That he had already established important business connections is seen in that in 1304 he was in partnership with John Thurton, when the pair were sued for debt by, or acknowledged debts to, merchants such as John de Grymmesby and John de Whatefeld, some of which were for freight charges. By the 1320s Whatefeld was probably Ipswich's wealthiest burgess, but Malyn was not so far behind: in the 1327 taxation the former had the highest assessment, while the latter's assessment was the third highest, and he was also taxed on goods in several hamlets in the vicinity of Ipswich. Both Whatefeld and Malyn were among the three greater wool merchants of Ipswich to be summoned by the king to participate in a council of 1322, held concurrently with parliament, to discuss reform of the staple organization.

The continued association of Whatefeld and Malyn was noted above, regarding Malyn having in 1323 allowed his house to be used by Whatefeld, Gilbert Robert and others for secret trading, which however was discovered by the authorities and a prosecution resulted. Whatefeld and Robert had been former business partners of Thomas le Rente and were doubtless, in the minds of the reformers, associated with that clique. Malyn on the other hand, although he had been one of the handful specifically named as participating in the raid on Christine de Muse's estate in 1312, seems not to have been directly involved in the political conflict; this may have made him acceptable, among the candidates from the wealthy upper crust of urban society, to the reformers as a choice for bailiff: his single term in office coming in 1322/23. He had a couple of run-ins, on a private level, with members of the reform faction in later years. In 1331 he came to an agreement with John de Halteby, who had brought a suit of novel disseisin against him, in regard to rent he claimed was due him from Malyn's New Tavern in Cook's Row; Halteby emerged triumphant, and in the following year is seen expanding his holdings in Cook's Row. In January 1336, Malyn and his wife Albreda together sued Roger the son of John Baude for some trespass committed against them. This may have been part of the explanation why, one year later, an argument between Roger and Albreda led to the latter's death. Malyn's last real appearance was in May 1342, when he was being sued by John de Halteby – since the charge was "nuisance" it was likely property-related; we know that Malyn survived until 1349, however.

The son of William and Albreda, William junior, was himself a prosperous and leading citizen by this time. He is not much in evidence until the 1330s, when legal cases in which he was a party reflect his commercial activities; at some point in his career he was able to buy his own ship. He was important enough to be elected bailiff in 1338, and after the end of that term leased the corn market from the borough authorities for a year, to see if he could make some profit there. During the 1340s he was probably one of the portmen, and he represented his borough in parliament in 1348, but held no more ballivalties in that decade. Having been convicted for his participation on a piratic attack on a Flemish ship (1340), he earned a royal pardon in July 1342 after equipping his ship for naval service for a two-month stint.

Not long after he was in even more serious trouble. Not long before May 1344 he was convicted of smuggling wool and other crimes. It appears that this was on evidence gathered by John de Halteby and Geoffrey Stace. In March 1343, Halteby and Stace, along with the king's sergeant-at-arms Ralph de Lillebrok, had been ordered to hurry to Chancery to receive instructions from the king and his council. In the light of what followed, we may suspect that they were being used as agents to inform on, if not infiltrate and bust, a smuggling ring. The general investigation of smuggling in that region a few years earlier has already been noted, and it may be significant that in July 1343 customs collection in the Ipswich region was taken out of the hands of Ipswich men and turned over to the Yarmouth collectors, a situation not reversed until the summer of 1345.

The East Anglian investigation of 1336-37 was itself part of a larger review of the integrity of the customs service, whose principal officers – the customs collectors – received no salary and must have sought other benefit from the posts. The first loyalty of such men was to themselves, the second to their relatives, friends and business associates in the community, and concern for the king's interests ranked only after this. Improper conduct on the part of local customs collectors had been suspected for some time – Thomas le Rente being one of the few victims of the early round of investigations. During the reign of Edward II there began to be appointed in some ports a new officer, the controller; this was a (poorly) salaried official whose duty was to compile a duplicate customs account, as a check on the honesty of the collectors – the introduction of chamberlains in borough government, reflects a similar effort to have a second set of eyes overlooking financial administration. There was no controller at Ipswich until early 1327, when John Irp was given the post. However, collectors Gilbert Robert and John de Preston obstructed his assumption of office, and he had probably only just begun to undertake his duties when the king instituted a general investigation of the performance of controllers, which in June 1331 declared Irp absolved of any suspicion of misconduct or negligence; he continued to hold the post until at least 1343. Based on what appear to be abnormally low wool exports being reported from Ipswich between 1322 and 1331, Robert Baker [op.cit., 21] suspected that Preston and Robert were guilty of embezzlement, which could explain why they wanted no controller. Yet the controller could not be effective if he acted in collusion with corrupt collectors, as was the case at Boston and Hull in 1327. As a merchant himself, Irp would have been exposed to the same temptation as the collectors, his fellow merchants, to doctor customs records for personal benefit. We have no proof that he succumbed; but he cannot be above suspicion, given the market offences with which he was charged at the time of the political struggle in the early 1320s, and his conviction for participating in a piratic attack on a Flemish ship in 1340.

After Edward III assumed personal control of national government in 1331 he instituted reforms in the customs service. His underlying interest was to optimize the customs revenues, which were among those on which he relied to finance his military campaigns, and it was this factor that drove investigations of malpractices or smuggling. Between 1338 and 1343 the same self-interest led him to obtain taxations payable in wool, and then restrict exports to his own wool; or, when private exports were licensed, to impose additional duties. In this environment, it is not surprising that some merchants felt encouraged to smuggle, and that the royal government put more effort into policing. In 1340, Edward was forced to make a truce with France because he had not the money to continue making war; furious, upon returning to England he set in motion a reform of the customs service. John de Preston was one of many replaced (1341) in the overhaul, although Irp managed to buck the trend and remain in the controllership. The increasingly impecunious king seems prepared to take any steps to bring in revenue, and the use of Stace and Halteby to inform on smuggling at Ipswich must be seen in that context.

To return to our main narrative, on 6 February 1344, Halteby, Stace, and Roger de Shribbe obtained general pardons covering the reigns of Edward II and Edward III. On 13 February the king sealed, seemingly with some urgency, pardons for all felonies and trespasses on behalf of Stace, Halteby, Shribbe, and William de Porklee clerk; these were perhaps to exculpate them either from acts which as spies they may have committed in connection with the smuggling ring, or from illegal acts committed in the process of gathering evidence. Rather than face trial, Malyn went into hiding, and was outlawed. On May 6, the king again made use of Halteby and Stace, this time to seize on his behalf, in the presence of the town bailiffs, the real estate and moveables Malyn had held on the day of his conviction, and to assemble a jury to assess the values of those properties, which they did on May 10.

At the risk of another digression, Halteby's association with the son of the man he had overthrown some twenty years earlier need not seem so strange. The passage of time was sufficient to replace old alliances with new ones, and both Geoffrey Stace and John de Halteby were older – they were probably fairly close in age, and may even have been companions in mischief in older days (the event of 1317 mentioned above being slim evidence, however). They pursued their best interests; already by 1340 they had recognized a mutuality of interest, or of style, and were acting together to sue William Maynard regarding some real estate contract. Halteby's interest was perhaps the same as it had ever been: to make trouble in order to assert himself and dominate, and his intimidation activities during the '30s and early '40s – effected partly through the legal system – seem to have had the goal of increasing his property holdings.

Stace's interests are less easy to pinpoint. He had not suffered long from his father's disgrace, having served as bailiff (along with Costyn) in 1326/27, and again in 1333/34 and 1341/42; he was probably one of the portmen by the 1340s. He was also briefly employed in the customs service, in 1328-29, again with Costyn his associate. Like Costyn, however, he does not appear to have been active in commerce, and perhaps lived off real estate and administrative services. By 1327 he had married Agnes the widow of Walter de Westhale; this Agnes was the daughter of Andrew le Taverner and Isabella Malyn, and through that related to the Chaucer family which in a later generation produced the famous poet. Since 1324 Agnes had been in a legal battle with Margaret (or Mary) the widow of Robert le Chaucer, Agnes' brother, over inheritance rights to property. In 1326, Margaret and her new husband, Richard le Chaucer of London, had successfully prosecuted Agnes de Westhale, Geoffrey Stace and his brother Thomas, for abducting John, the underage son and heir of Margaret and Robert le Chaucer. The abduction was for the purpose of getting control of John's inheritance; in 1329 Geoffrey and Agnes sold a house they had "acquired" from John. Geoffrey and Agnes appealed their conviction and petitioned parliament for relief from the ruinous £250 damages they had been ordered to pay, which they argued was greater than the value of John's property. After the appeal failed, at Michaelmas 1329, they were imprisoned in Marshalsea and not released until December 1330, only after paying the damages to John. More of Agnes' property, this time her dower from the Westhale marriage, was sold off in 1332. How long after this Agnes survived is not known, but by March 1342 Geoffrey Stace had remarried, this time the widow of Geoffrey Costyn, another woman of property and possibly an Irp by birth. He may have continued to bear a grudge against the Malyns in association with his previous marriage or his ambition to sell off his Malyn wife's property, or perhaps he thought it to his advantage in some way to bring about the fall of William Malyn junior.

Halteby, however, had overreached himself on this occasion. He had succeeded in building, over a long lifetime of bully-boy behaviour, a good deal of unpopularity. His action against William Malyn and other members of the smuggling ring quickly provoked a backlash, in the form of public ridicule of the spring judicial proceedings after their conclusion, and subsequently a plot against Halteby himself. In July 1344, Stace and Halteby obtained royal letters of protection in view of threats made them by their enemies, because of the evidence they had given to the judges who tried the Malyn case; perhaps Halteby had seen trouble building, for he had drawn up a brief will in January 1344, but this could be coincidence – he was after all a man of advanced years by now.

Some of the threats may have come from Malyn himself, who, having on June 22 purchased a general pardon which covered homicides, had paid a further fine of £200 – representing about a quarter of the assessed value of his moveables – to obtain a more specific pardon on June 25: for embezzling the king's wool and money (this probably relates to his stint as king's commissioner to supervise and enforce the collection of a wool-tax in Suffolk, in 1342), smuggling wool, trading in Scotland, and removing his ship from royal service off the coast of Brittany without the king's permission. William de Kenebroke appears to have been accused before the same judicial session as Malyn; having been town clerk through most of the 1320s and possibly the '30s too, he had served a term as bailiff (1341/42) and had been made coroner in 1343. He was convicted of embezzling a quantity of the sacks of wool he had been commissioned to receive for the king; imprisoned, he is not seen at freedom again, and was dead by mid-1346. John Cobat – either the former member of the Halteby faction or, more likely, his son, the husband of a Harneys daughter – was another convicted of several crimes: arranging for 18 sacks of wool belonging to other men to be transported, in his own cart, to Douneman's Bridge, where it was put aboard a ship and carried overseas without customs having been paid; paying a 40s. bribe to the king's officers on behalf of the master of a Berwick ship to allow it to depart from the port of Orwell without undergoing a search; and having been party to the conspiracy made at the house of William Malyn junior to smuggle various goods out of Ipswich.

As the second document above indicates, those who had been convicted on Halteby's evidence had their revenge through his murder and then took sanctuary; the act probably took place some time between 1 August, when Malyn was at large, and 20 August, when Halteby's will received probate. The community condoned the deed, and bailiffs Preston and Irp seem to have been disinclined to take action against the culprits, so friendless was Halteby – his will makes reference only to his wife. The king took a dimmer view of matters and, following the judicial enquiry in the autumn, Malyn found himself an outlaw again and his lands once more forfeited to the king. Dim enough that the borough charters were suspended and the town was put under a royal governor until about July 1345, when ballival government was restored – at the elections the following year, the community thumbed its nose at the king by re-electing Preston and Irp. Not so dim, however, that King Edward was averse to selling, in July 1346, pardons for the murder to William Malyn, his wife Emma, the widow of William de Kenebroke, and Robert le Smyth an Ipswich seaman. More general pardons were issued in September to Elias Malyn, John Malyn, and Emery Kenebroke; William and Emma Malyn likewise were able to obtain general pardons – for all homicides, felonies, robberies, trespasses, and consequent outlawries – in October. Elias, John and Emery had had to win their pardons through military service in the French war. William had similarly sought redemption, during his outlawry, by service to the king, first in Ireland from February 1345 to April 1346, then in Brittany until June; the general pardon was his reward.

Even then the vendetta between the families seems not to have run its course. For in May 1347 the widow of Roger de Halteby was suing William Malyn and his wife for dispossessing her of dower right in two shops. Meanwhile, John Harneys junior sued Constantine de Halteby, who was married to the widow of a John Harneys of a previous generation; the suit demanded Constantine account for merchandize John had passed along to him in 1343 – via third parties including John de Halteby – to sell on his behalf. Having exhausted his delaying tactics and convicted by a jury in absentia, Constantine disappeared to avoid ruin (as an agent of the king in some unknown regard, he might have headed for London, where one of John de Halteby's daughters had married into the Causton family).

It may have been around the same time that pardons were being issued that John Cobat petitioned the Chancellor, offering to pay a fine for his release from prison, claiming that his conviction on the smuggling and other charges had been the result of malice on the part of certain men, some of whom were outlaws. Perhaps he was hinting at a packed jury, or it may have been an oblique reference to Geoffrey Stace, who had not been targeted by Halteby's killers, even though he was in town during August. Stace had other worries: he was enmeshed in a lawsuit in London's husting, as a result of which he was outlawed (for non-appearance) but pardoned in November 1345 after turning himself in to the Fleet prison. In October 1347 the king granted that Cobat pay his fine and go free. He went on to become a bailiff at Ipswich in 1349, the year when Geoffrey Stace and William Malyn disappear from the records, doubtless the victims of plague.

This story of events at Ipswich in the first half of the fourteenth century is a fascinating one, but we should not look for a hero. If there were one, the scattered documents that allow us only glimpses of the full narrative would not identify him or her; their concern is principally to record wrong-doing, and they are not a solid foundation on which to assess personalities or motives, but they are almost all we have to go on. It is a cloak full of holes. By modern standards none of the principals can be much admired; but we should be hesitant in trying to point the finger at one or more villains of the piece. By their own standards, leading townsmen acted out of self-interest in a society where disregard for the law appears commonplace (although again this is a bias of the records), the national government could not effectively supervise the behaviour of those on whom it depended for local administration but instead relied on after-the-fact intervention, local government was a matter of group interest, politics a matter of harnessing popular discontent, and there was little room for ethics if you wished to avoid ending your days in poverty. What this story illustrates is not a struggle between good and evil, or even the rise and fall of a man whose prominence in urban society appears to have been achieved principally through the application of force and intimidation. It is instead a tale of the twists and turns to which all men, or women, of ambition were subject in a society where family relationships and rivalries were interwoven in complex patterns, and loyalties shifted at need.

As a curious postscript, it may be noted that there has been speculation that John de Halteby's remains might be among those found during recent excavation of the cemetery of St. Augustine's church. A number of skeletons showed signs of violent trauma and one, found in the nave of the church (and therefore suggesting an individual of some consequence), would be consistent with a group assault. However, there is no documentary evidence associating the Halteby family with that parish, or indeed with the suburb of Stoke at all, and John's will, of which we only have an abstract, gave no directions for his burial, other than to leave the matter up to his widow and executrix; while it is conceivable that, given John's local unpopularity, his parish of residence might not have wished to receive his body in its cemetery, so that resort had to be had to a poorer parish, associated with lepers and other undesirables, Halteby's final resting-place must remain an open question.



The regnal year is illegible in the original, but can be determined from external evidence.

"common clerk"
This was a frequent title of town clerks and meant, of course, clerk of the community.

"roughed up"
The term in the original was one usually applied to shipwrecks.

"other people"
The term in the original, "gentz", may apply to servants, family or both.

"as if soldiers"
"Com gentz de guerre" may be intended to connote the roughshod behaviour of soldiers or their plundering.

"Michaelmas term"
On 4 September 1344, the king ordered the Chief Justice, William Scot, to be at Ipswich by 6 October to try the case, bringing with him the court records of the previous session held by William de Shareshull et al., at which Malyn and others had been convicted. It was evidently after that earlier session that the townspeople had performed the mockery of the proceedings, and the murder of Halteby and popular support for his killers came later.

"bringing the felons gifts"
Their appreciation of the enormity of the homicide and their anxiety over the consequences that their act would bring is seen in that they straightaway fled to sanctuary. The duty of the community was to guard sanctuary-seekers, to ensure they could not escape before answering to justice, but here the killing of Halteby was so condoned that instead the killers were supplied with necessaries that would enable them to remain in sanctuary and with money that might allow them to buy a royal pardon.

"plea hall"
I.e. the courthouse; probably the moothall on Cornhill.

The term in the original, super gradus, most probably refers to a narrow external staircase leading to the upper level of the moothall, as opposed to the type of wide ceremonial steps leading to the entrance of many public buildings today. The term might also refer to a raised platform within the hall, but it seems improbable the crowd would have gone so far as to appropriate justice by using the courthouse interior; its act seems one of mockery rather than serious defiance of the law.

"William de Notton"
Another of the king's justices. The Chief Justice, William Scot, had also sat on the session, but Shareshull and Notton may have been singled out because, as justices of oyer and terminer on the Suffolk circuit, they were better known (and correspondingly disliked) by the citizenry.

"could not deny"
It was normally expected that those chosen as executive officers would not absent themselves for any extended periods from the town, but give their first priority to their official duties.

"old men"
Preston's first appearances in the records were in 1315, when acquiring property with his wife and with another merchant being sued for a debt. He was probably in his mid-50s in 1344, but he survived for over a decade more – much of which he spent as bailiff. Irp's first appearance was in 1310, as master of an Ipswich ship sent for service to the Scottish war, and he was married by 1319. He was likely about Preston's age, perhaps a little older, but did not live out his natural lifetime, being felled by plague in 1349. Irp served at least 10 ballival terms at Ipswich, represented the borough at 12 parliaments between 1323 and 1344, was coroner from 1329 to 1343. He held various posts in the customs service, notably as controller.

"elected and delegated"
This phrase provides a nice expression of the concept of the authority of the executive officers deriving from the community, although the king's acknowledgement is not a recognition of an ascending theory, since it is tempered by his previous reference to the duty of keeping the peace being passed down from the Crown to the community (implicitly, by charters granting self-government).

"pardon for Leu"
Richard Leu and Thomas Stace were in trouble again in 1326, when it was ordered they be distrained to force them to account for counterfeit money arrested at Ipswich; this would suggest they had held the posts of searchers for coin.

"one and the same"
Richard's brother Christopher also had a son by the name of John, but he was much younger than the John son of Richard, and if a distinction were felt needed, we could expect the records to speak of "John son of Christopher" rather than "John son of Richard"; besides, there were other reasons why a man's patronymic might be brought into play. Christopher's son only seems to appear as a teenager, in the context of quitclaiming his rights to property of his late father (1310); it is unlikely he would have attained the respect or social stature to have been able to lead a popular revolt in 1320, although admittedly John de Halteby seems to have relied on a forceful character, which could have developed quickly in a fatherless boy. However, on the whole it is my feeling that John de Halteby and John son of Richard Halteby display a oneness of character.

The task, assigned beginning in the reign of Edward I to royal officials (known, naturally enough, as aulnagers) of checking the quality and size of wholesale cloth, in particular to ensure that standard lengths (in ells) were being complied with. Like other officials, aulnagers had opportunities for malpractice of their duties, such as embezzlement of the duty imposed on cloth, determined by its length. Whether Robert's offence was associated with the office of aulnage or with evading submitting cloth to aulnage is unknown.

"17 named others"
These included men associated with the Halteby faction in 1321: John Cobat, Thomas de Westhale, Thomas Randolf, Geoffrey Pecke, John Godscalk, Peter le Jaye, William de Brome, Roger le Barker. Along with new faces, some of were coming into more importance in the town: merchant Miles le Fevre, chamberlain of the reform administration in 1322/23 and bailiff in 1332/33; William Ryngild, wool and cloth merchant, who would become bailiff in 1333 after several years in the local customs service; dyer Richard Starling, an early member of a family that would be very prominent in Ipswich in the second half of the fourteenth century.

Curiously, but probably coincidentally, a Simon Costyn was shortly afterwards in this post.

"what these were for"
Dagworth, who had lands in both Suffolk and Essex, had held the post of proclaimer of the Marshalsea and usher of the Exchequer (which gave him the right to appoint substitutes to serve as usher in eyres) throughout the reign of Edward II, and in 1322 he was in the retinue of the king and the Despensers as they campaigned in Wales against the Contrariants. He often appears in the Close Rolls during the 1320s making debt recognizances, some to merchants, and towards the end of his life was leasing out his royal post to others, perhaps a reflection of financial difficulties. Sir Richard de Rivers, on the other hand, was one of the most trusted adherents of Henry, earl of Lancaster, supporter of Mortimer and brother of one of the principal opponents of King Edward and the Despensers in 1322; Halteby's association with his son may have had less to do with politics, however, than with the fact that Robert was just in the process of obtaining possession of the estates of his late father, which lay in both the west and east of England, at exactly the same time he became indebted to Halteby. Sir Richard had himself become indebted to a John Michel of Tendring, Essex in 1329, but there may be no connection between that creditor and William Michel.

"famous poet"
Unlike Redstone, however, I see no reason to think that Geoffrey the son of John Chaucer was named after Geoffrey Stace; Stace and his wife were accused of trying to marry off the kidnapped John Chaucer to Agnes de Westhale's own daughter, but on this count were acquitted. Redstone seems to think that the abduction somehow endeared John Chaucer to Geoffrey Stace.

"Yarmouth collectors"
This change could equally have been part of the desperate attempts at this period to find some way to improve the customs service. Faith in Yarmouth townsmen might cause eyebrows to be raised, considering that they were even more unruly than those of Ipswich at this time. For example, in November 1343 an enquiry was launched into Sir Robert de Morley's complaint that 137 named men of Yarmouth attacked his ships anchored at Lowestoft and carried off their cargoes. While in June 1344 a pardon was issued to 314 Yarmouth men for the crimes that they: rode "with banner displayed" (i.e. as if at war) in Suffolk; captured men and held them for ransom; perpetrated homicides, arsons and other infringements of the peace; and supplied arms and victuals to the king's enemies. Explicitly excluded from the pardon were smuggling and the plundering of the ship la Tarite. Customs collector (and town bailiff) Thomas de Drayton was among both groups of accused.

"compile a duplicate"
This needed to be ensured by assigning to the controller one half of the seal applied to cocket letters (receipts for customs paid), so that he had to be present at all transactions; however, the central government was slipshod in ensuring that the collectors turned half of the seal over to the controller.

"royal governor"
Officially Sir John Howard, the county sheriff, although he appointed Edmund Noon to act on his behalf. Howard had his own grievance against the town, for in September 1343 he had complained to the king that a group of men from Ipswich and its neighbourhood (Thomas and Walter Leu being among those named) had broken into his estate at Whitton, just northwest of the town, hunted there and felled trees and carried off their spoils.

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Created: May 27, 2003. Last update: January 12, 2020 © Stephen Alsford, 2003-2020