Origins and early growth |
Development of local government
Buildings and fortifications | Economy | SUMMARY/RECAP | Information sources
Map of Maldon at the close of the Middle Ages
Maldon bailiffs and chamberlains
Appendix: borough custumal
|Summary / Recapitulation|
The paucity of evidence about Maldon throughout the medieval period, even in the fifteenth century for which there are some meagre local archival records, make the following conclusions somewhat speculative.
It appears that Maldon was a moderately important settlement in late Saxon East Anglia, both as a trading centre and a defensive outpost. But, its defensive role diminished once the Viking threat was over and its commercial role eclipsed by other Essex centres, it was beginning to decline by the end of the twelfth century. The distancing of the king from his original lordship of the town, and the subsequent fragmentation of lordship, combined with strong landlordship in the century or so before the Black Death and the Peasants' Revolt, made it difficult for the townsmen to move beyond the initial royal charter of 1171 in acquiring additional privileges and freedoms that would have assisted Maldon in competing with other towns of the region for a role as market centre or a conduit for international trade. For two hundred years it was either quiescent or unsuccessful in obtaining from the king any expansion of the jurisdictions obtained in 1171.
Furthermore, Maldon had attached to it relatively little by way of the agricultural property that might have been a source of a profitable volume of surplus produce to supply the increasing demands of a rapidly growing population.
These were probably factors in retarding Maldon's political and economic development along the lines and at the pace of other boroughs. These poor prospects would not have encouraged immigration from rural areas that might have contributed to industrial development. During the thirteenth century uncertainty arose whether it should be accorded the status of a borough or only that of a vill. It was not only overshadowed by London, Ipswich and even Colchester (which itself was overshadowed by the other two), but also outclassed and outdistanced by newer Essex towns of size comparable to its own (e.g. Harwich).
However, it became caught up in the expansion of trade from which East Anglia benefited in the latter half of the fourteenth century, based at first upon the wool trade and subsequently on the growth of the cloth-making industry. There is much greater evidence in the second half of the fourteenth century of Maldon men being involved in mercantile pursuits. As these merchants acquired some measure of wealth, their self-confidence and assertiveness grew and they were inclined to lead the burgesses into negotiating with the town's lords concessions which allowed greater self-determination. The first phase of this seems to have taken place in the 1380s, directed against the FitzWalter lord (the same family with which Colchester had a territorial rivalry), who appears to have turned over his administrative rights within the town, in return for an annual payment. It was followed at the close of the century by similar pressure directed against the Bishop of London, again largely successfully.
This late flowering was doubtless fostered by the sympathetic lordship of the Darcy family in the fifteenth century, but offset by the general decline in international commerce of the fifteenth century and by the loss of its share in the cloth trade to larger towns none of the chapters of the fifteenth century custumal were directly concerned with regulating the making or sale of cloth. The royal charter of 1554 described Maldon as "ruinous and decayed".