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 ca. 1320 Thaxted

Keywords: Thaxted earl manors villages borough burgage tenure topography churches streets marketplace shops stallage market-hall guildhall cutlers industry economy occupations London merchants socio-religious guilds

Thaxted was something of a slow bloomer, becoming known in the Late Middle Ages as a centre for the production of cutlery – a term that in the Middle Ages went beyond its narrow modern application to domestic utensils to include sharp-edged tools and weaponry of various kinds. Yet the settlement owed its importance to gradual growth, rather than some sudden stimulus, as a demesne manor of the powerful de Clare family, descended from Richard Fitz-Gilbert. Its location, in north-western Essex, where the bulk of the de Clares' Essex estates were concentrated, did not endow it with superior advantages. It lay on a suspected Roman road which, in the Middle Ages, connected Great Dunmow, with Saffron Walden; Thaxted was positioned about halfway between the two. They represented its nearest commercial competitors, to south and north-west respectively, perhaps along with Great Bardfield (east), Newport (west) and, a little more distant, Braintree (south-east). The road – which may long have carried commerce, since the Roman town of Great Chesterford lay on it, just beyond Saffron Walden) – crossed the head-waters of the River Chelmer near Thaxted, but it is doubtful that this provided any significant commercial transportation. Indeed, Thaxted's location within the communications system was not one of obvious promise.

As documented elsewhere, various generations of the de Clare family – earls of Gloucester and Hertford – were active in founding towns and licensing markets (Great Bardfield's and Great Dunmow's being among those that were in Clare hands at some point). After the extinction of the main male line, some of the family estates came, through marriage and by surrender, to the royal family; this is reflected in Thaxted's church, where one pane of stained glass is reputed to depict Edmund, Earl of March (who held two of the four shares in the manor in the early fifteenth century), while the south porch was an addition funded by Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and the north porch by Edward IV. Earlier than that, however, Thaxted had come under the lordship of Bartholomew de Badlesmere, who had married into the Clare family and was one of its more prominent retainers; Thaxted was probably a reward for his service and loyalty, but necessitated him obtaining, in 1314, a royal pardon for acquiring it (along with Sundon and Hambledon) without the king's permission. Bartholomew also obtained, in 1315, licence for a short fair at the October festival of St. Luke (not one of the saints to whom Thaxted's parish church was dedicated).

A Roman settlement had existed east of the site of Thaxted, but is not yet known to have amounted to much, while an early Roman cemetery, partly within older enclosure ditches, discovered north of the site in 2007, is also small. Thaxted appears in Domesday Book (as Tachesteda, a name possibly suggesting it a source of roofing thatch) as a fairly large village, by Essex standards, and seemingly prosperous: though its estimated value had almost doubled between 1066 and 1086, and the number of sheep on the manor had increased from 200 to 320, its post-Conquest lord, Richard Fitz-Gilbert, founder of the Clare dynasty, was unable to obtain the full annual rent for which he had leased the manor to a Saxon (possibly the Wihtgar who held in 1066). A mill is mentioned in Domesday (and two windmills in 1348), but no church; however, a deed of 981 refers to a church there, and some archaeological evidence points to this having stood where the present parish church is, built (as was usual) at the highest point of the site, which lies on a ridge east of the Chelmer. The present church is mostly a gradual rebuild, from mid-fourteenth to early sixteenth century, on a grander scale, its size and beauty testimony to the prosperity of the community at that period. Across the lowest point in the site's topography ran a brook which, before it entered the Chelmer, supplied water needed by the cutlery industry. Thaxted was originally a single manor, encompassing the entire site of village and town, although at later date some of the land became part of sub-manors. Maria Medlycott suggests that Domesday Thaxted may have been proto-urban [Thaxted - Historic Towns Assessment Report, Essex County Council,1999 p.3].

The through-road entered Thaxted from the south; the short stretch around which Thaxted was focused became known as Town Street, reaching at its north-west end the parish church – the through-road looping around the churchyard before branching northwards and south-westwards – and extending south-eastwards as Mill End. This much-widened stretch within Thaxted, emptying into a roughly triangular space between church and manor-house, evidently served as a marketplace and perhaps originally incorporated some or all of the churchyard. A so-called guildhall was built around the early or mid-fifteenth century within, and towards the head of, Town Street, a short distance south-east of the church; it is usually assumed – though there is no direct evidence – it was funded or used by the cutlers operating corporately as a gild. Its purpose was doubtless partly to provide room, on the upper floor, for meetings of community leaders and perhaps of administrative officials – possibly including sessions of the manorial court. But it also provided, on the ground floor, directly accessible from the marketplace, a covered area for vendors; these probably occupied temporary spots – perhaps were sellers of dairy products, as elsewhere – or stalls, rather than partitions demarcating shops; an intermediate floor could also have housed stalls, and a small corner space was used as a 'cage', perhaps for holding offenders against market regulations, among others. Adjacent to the guildhall is a block of timber-framed houses, of the fifteenth century, that represent a phase of in-filling subsequent to erection of the guildhall; some incorporated ground-floor shops. Other houses facing onto Town Street, some incorporating shops, are also of fifteenth century or later date, and similarly indicative of encroachment on what must once have been a rather larger marketplace; one of these houses, close to the guildhall and now known as Market Cross House, is thought to date back to the fourteenth century and is fronted by a row of shops that may have been added in the fifteenth, extending out into the marketplace.

Yet, if part of the through-road had been deliberately widened to host a market, there is no record of a market having been licensed for the community. Although Medlycott states that Thaxted was granted a market in 1205 [op.cit., p.6;] she does not indicate the source of this information; neither Britnell nor Letters seem to have been aware of any such grant, which was probably identified by K.C. Newton, former Essex county archivist [Thaxted in the Fourteenth Century, Chelmsford: Essex County Council, 1960; I have not had access to this work]. If there were such a grant, it must have been to earl Richard III de Clare, not otherwise known as a market-founder, his interest in developing markets apparently limited to adjustments to the timing of his market at Rothwell (Northants.) (1202-06); yet many seigneurial lords of that era seem to have satisfied themselves with adding just one market licence to the family portfolio, and Thaxted could have been Richard's contribution.

Other than this, our earliest reference to a market at Thaxted, which was administered as part of the Honour of Clare, is in the inquisition post mortem on earl Gilbert IV de Clare in 1295/96, which estimates toll revenue of 3s. annually from the market – though Elizabeth Allan, [Chepyng Walden/Saffron Walden, 1438-90: A Small Town, Ph.D. thesis, University of Leicester, 2010, p.58] has the market value as £3 7s. 2d. Depending on which of these figures is correct, perhaps the Clares did not consider market revenues sufficient to warrant the investment in a licence; besides, since 1285, Thaxted had actually been held for life by Gilbert's first wife, Alice de la Marche (who predeceased him), and Alice's second husband, as part of a divorce settlement. On the other hand, that Badlesmere, when he acquired a fair licence, did not also take one out for the market (as he had done on the same date for his manor of Sundon), even only as a precautionary renewal, might indicate a market had existed before the licensing era or, again, that its earnings were meagre. The market was probably of only local import and seems never to have raised a challenge from any other market of the region, (which again could support a 1205 licence). Yet Gilbert's post mortem suggests that metal-working was already developing as an industry at Thaxted, in that it identifies rents paid in the form of a knife, plough-shares, and arrowheads.

Quite why Thaxted's economy became focused around a cutlery industry is not understood. Industries tended to grow up close to a source of their raw material; in Thaxted's case there was no resource of raw metal, unless proximity to London or east coast ports might be considered as advantageous access to metal imported from Scandinavia. Yet coal was a significant component of the coastal trade, while burning timber to produce charcoal (even better for forges) was a common industry wherever there was forest with suitable tree types; in 1339 we encounter a Thaxted man named John le Colyere. Nor is it evident that market demand for specialized products was a driving factor, unless it were perhaps changing refectorial habits. It may have had something to do with relaxation of the constraints of the manorial system and/or the introduction of burgage tenure to attract new settlers.

The Reverend Symonds ["Thaxted and its Cutlers Guild", Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, n.s. vol.3 (1889), p.257] asserted that the first reference to Thaxted as a borough was to be found in the manor court roll for 1333/34, but this is unconfirmed and few Thaxted rolls from that period are extant. In the context of the re-partitioning of Thaxted manor among Giles de Badlesmere's co-heirs (three sisters and a nephew) in 1348, following the death of Giles' widow, there are listed rents due from 76 burgage tenements [Calendar of Close Rolls 1346-1349, pp.525-40]. The text – the product of an inquisition by the Essex escheator – deals with a variety of tenures, including some properties held in villeinage. Most of the non-burgage properties let within the manor owed only rents, in cash or kind, or rents and light services (often performed by substitutes), except for the villein tenures. In 1438 a messuage in the borough of Thaxted was excepted from a conveyance of sub-manors there; and in 1483, when King Richard III confirmed an older grant of Thaxted to his mother, it was characterized as manor and borough, the latter apparently referring to what was, or had become, a separately administered unit, known as Thaxted Burgus – a separation probably stemming from differing tenurial conditions and customs, and so not to be read as implying anything more than residents holding by burgage tenure. Thaxted had, along with the Honour of Clare and various other estates, first been assigned to Duchess Cecily by Henry VI in 1459, a charitable act to provide financial support for the wife and children of the rebellious Duke of York; at that time the manor was mentioned but not the borough, even though Great Bardfield's borough was identified alongside that manor. The omission was corrected, however, when these provisions were adjusted by Edward IV in 1461.

Britnell noted that Thaxted had one of the higher incidences of landless messuages (28) conveyed through final concords, ranking it with Chelmsford, Maldon, and Colchester; he felt it significant that the earliest records of such conveyances cluster around Easter 1354, when the cutlery industry was growing at Thaxted, though he did not elaborate that acquiring parties have surnames suggestive of the developing cutlery industry: Shethere, Archer (possibly a maker of arrowheads?), and Hastere (perhaps rightly Haftere?). The earliest reference to a Thaxted shop being conveyed comes in 1370, and the acquirer is surnamed Coteler (cutler). It seems likely that a burghal component had been introduced into Thaxted at some uncertain date, though to what extent this was focused around the marketplace, and whether it entailed laying out new residential plots or converting existing plots to burgage tenure, or a combination of both, is not clear.

In addition to the burgages of 1348, there are itemized the rents due from about 38 shops, though whether this meant commercial outlets or workshops (or both) is not evident. Many of these shops, particularly those whose rent was 5d, 4d (the most common amounts) or less (some being as low as 1d), may have been, or originated as, market stalls, though only one of the shops is specified as located in the market, while another is said to be near the cemetery, which could put it in the marketplace, perhaps as an extension of the burgage tenement the same tenant held near the cemetery. In a few cases a shop was jointly held by two partners, or a half-share was rented, such as that by Martin Chapman, paying 2d.; Maud Coteler's half-shop is described as being under an upper chamber and the rent (presumably for both shop and solar) was 8d, while Agnes Walkelin held two shops, also paying 8d, and Margery de Essex one for 4d. Whether these female tenants were widows, or wives retailing their own or their husbands' products or produce, we do not know, but John Walkelyn rented two burgages, making it possible that Agnes' shops were extensions to the front of the burgages. Nicholas Cartere held two shops with buildings (presumably some kind of annex) for 8d. Only one stall is explicitly mentioned, rented for 8½d., suggesting it an unusually large plot or structure, while one man was renting (for 1d.) a stallage, which might mean a market plot on which no structure (permanent or temporary) was erected, the tenant Hugh de Makketon perhaps selling from baskets or a cart. Most rents for stall plots were probably rolled up, rather than itemized, the escheator's report stating that profits from stallage and from market and fair – more likely to fluctuate annually than would the fixed rents – were to be shared equally between the heirs; this may mean that Makketon's plot was perhaps separate from the main body of stalls, or simply an anomaly in the report. The single stall specified and three of the shops were said to be operated by butchers, most of whom were also renting small open areas of land that could have served as slaughter-yards; however, the dispersal of these entries through the document does not hint at the existence of any shambles section of the market. Mention of a 2d. rent for an encroachment outside a house is suggestive of a stall being set up in front of the house, while some of the other itemized encroachments might be indicative of the same. This document seems to reflect a phase in market development in which at least some stalls are being superseded by more fixed structures. Encroachment continued throughout the century to consume more of the marketplace, particularly within the Mill End stretch of the main street, but as far up as the churchyard; the post-medieval market focused on Town Street.

The escheator's text shows signs of conscious organization: burgages and shops are recorded together in groups, and the impression is that a systematic survey may well have been undertaken before the partition was made. Each heir's share was itemized first regarding the manor-house complex (on the south-west side of Town Street), then customary tenures, followed by burgages, and finally villein tenements, concluding with revenue sources to be shared equally among the heirs, such as the leet court, fisheries, and market revenues. The organizational scheme may even crystallize topographical layout of properties, grouped in one or more areas within Thaxted, such as along one or both sides of Town Street – plot boundaries on the north-east side suggesting a long, burgage-like profile, whereas those on the south-west side were constrained by the presence of the manorial complex and are shallow, though suitable for shops. But this is harder to judge, for the partitioning process may have compromised the survey, and later evidence indicates that the borough was not a self-contained unit, geographically, though the burgesses were separately administered from the other free tenants of the manor. The wide range of burgage rent values suggests that if any previously unoccupied land was divided into tenement plots, they may not have been of standardized sizes, although the variation could alternatively be the result of subsequent sub-division and amalgamation – phenomena implied in the text – or indeed of other variables.

The 1348 document gives only a very rough idea of occupational range within the community, but we see several smiths, while residents with the surnames Latoner, Goldsmyth, Loksmith, Cotiller, Flecher, and Schether reflect the metal-working industries developing at Thaxted (Latoner referring to an artisan working with metal alloys, used for various purposes including making spoons, and Schether referring to leather sheaths made for knives). The document does not support any estimation of how many residents were engaged in these industries. The 1381 poll tax return for Thaxted points, however, to what must surely represent growth in the cutlery industry and associated trades (whose operatives may have been sub-contractors to, or employees of, cutlers) revealing 11 smiths, 79 cutlers, 4 sheathers, and 2 goldsmiths within a population of 249 taxpayers, though only 130 of them with trades identified – this being the principal evidence for how significant the cutlery industry was becoming at Thaxted, for otherwise it is poorly documented. Another associated trade would have been the production of bone handles, or other fittings, for metal blades; excavations in central Thaxted in 2015 found quantities of bone-working waste that confirms the presence of these hafters. It may have been proximity to the brook running through Thaxted that had many of the cutlers choosing to live and work in the Mill End area, particularly a lane known as Middle Row (evidenced in a manorial survey of 1393 covering only three of the four seigneurial shares), which came into being as that area of the marketplace was encroached upon. However, worked bone indicative of hafters has been found in Orange Street (the east-side, post-encroachment remnant of the Mill End stretch of the widened through-road), and further north in Town Street, Weaverhead Lane (which probably served as the back lane of properties on Town Street), and Watling Street (which skirted the churchyard).

It appears that the post-plague decades, marked by adaptation to economic and demographic disruption, and particularly the reign of Richard II, when labour service obligations of property-holding were increasingly disappearing, saw a new influx of immigrants into Thaxted, mainly from elsewhere in eastern England – only one Flemish refugee being documented as settling at Thaxted – perhaps as the cutlers carved out a niche for themselves in a wider market area, and drew the interest of enterprising London merchants, who could supply unworked metal, bring in special parts such as ivory handles crafted in London [Allan, op.cit., p.262] – although production of hafts in Thaxted has left archaeological evidence – organize the assembly and finishing of bladed items by the various craftsmen required, and distribute the manufactured goods more widely. About 1420, for example, the administrators of William Stace of Thaxted (who had died intestate) were being sued by a London ironmonger for a debt of £4 13s. 4d., and in 1480 the widow of a London ironmonger was suing Thaxted bladesmith (a forger of blades, whereas cutlers assembled and marketed finished products – sharpened, furnished with handles and, in some cases, leather sheaths, and sometimes decorated with copper or precious metals – as well as repairing old cutlery) John Gyle, for a quantity of steel her husband had sold him some years earlier. Around 1417 a London skinner sued William Herde of Thaxted for the substantial amount of £25 11s. 4d, but we do not know if this was for supplies related to the cutlery trade. Most sources of bone, horn and leather for hafters and sheathers are likely to have been closer at hand, in the rural surrounds and even at Thaxted itself, for we hear of several Thaxted butchers, some of whom – like John Spylman in 1399, and Henry Spylman, partnering with fellow butcher Richard Fanne, (1470) – had interests in stalls in Butchers' Row in the market at Saffron Walden, and butcher Thomas Pomfrett shared a plot in the same row with fellow Thaxted resident, cutler John Hamond (1494) [E.R.O. D/B 2/2/5, 20, 26], while Thaxted butchers were occasionally presented for trade offences in Walden's leet court; the surname Fanne (perhaps rightly atte Fenne) was also held by at least two Thaxted cutlers evidenced in the early and late fifteenth century.

While other interactions between Thaxted men and Londoners are documented – some conceivably related to the cutlery trade (such as a lawsuit between a Thaxted cordwainer and a London pinner ca. 1439) – the number is not significantly large, or much exceeding what we might normally expect for a community within the great city's hinterland. Other Thaxted men, such as bladesmith William Legat and cutler John Someresweyn are seen involved with Walden men in property transfers, and as early as the reign of Edward II members of a family named de Thakstede are evidenced conveying property in Walden and Newport to a Londoner of Essex origins. But otherwise Thaxted men do not often appear in the surviving Walden records, and we need not think that the two communities' economies were closely linked simply because they were geographically close and likely destinations for much the same itinerant London merchants. Yet it seems probable enough that Thaxted cutlery would have been sold at Walden, or at least to Walden men, as well as to purchasers from other market communities in the region; the 1416/17 court roll for Writtle manor records a plea of debt in which William Wymbysh – a surname associated with a family of Thaxted cutlers – sued Thomas Strode for knives and greaves (armour for the lower leg) supplied [ERO, D/DP M220 m.8].

By fostering cutlery production at Thaxted, the London merchants could avoid the encumbrance of increasing oversight of the cutlery trade in their home city, where restrictive regulations were issued in 1344, 1380, and 1408 to ensure the quality of consumables (e.g. prohibiting substitution of painted wood for handles); such restrictions may well have encouraged some craftsmen to emigrate, and merchants to seek out sources of cutlery outside London. This does not mean that Thaxted's community lacked its own merchant element – in stray references we encounter a Thaxted chapman in 1423, a merchant in 1441, and a mercer in 1461, while one of the co-holders of a butcher's shop in the 1348 partition was named Thomas Peddere and another pedlar (surnamed Chapman) was a debtor in 1465; but such traders, small or large, are not greatly in evidence. Furthermore, the relocation of personnel could work in both directions, for in 1310 a Thaxted cutler paid the London authorities for the right to open shop in the city (a right normally confined to citizens). At the other end of the century, connectivity between London and Thaxted men involved in the cutlery trade is reflected in a London cutler, goldsmith and sheather all acting as mainpernors in 1395 for a Thaxted man being sued for debt by John Welles of Maldon, while the following year another London cutler was mainpernor for the defendant in a plea of debt brought by Thaxted cutler Robert Fader (a surname associated with a 'landless messuage' three decades earlier). Connections with Cambridge, an important consumer community in the region, are little evidenced, although the surname Thackestede was held by several of the numerous townsmen accused of an assault on the university residences in 1322 – one was even a town bailiff – and around 1428 a Cambridge farmer sued two Thaxted cutlers for a debt of £10.

In the 1293 manorial survey we hear of 88 burgages, including new rents from properties along the west side of Town Street, where the manor-house complex was falling into disuse; a rental of 1407 listed 113 burgages. Population expansion was probably accommodated also by build-up along secondary streets beyond the core, such as the two forks of the through-road as it exited Thaxted – one of which, Newbiggin Street (the name referring to a new extension of a residential area), which was provided with a back lane, may represent a planned unit around the late fifteenth or early sixteenth centuries, possibly related to an ultimately unsuccessful effort to develop a cloth-making industry as the cutlery sector declined. Also along Park Street, running south off Town Street (at the point where it became Mill End) down to Park Farm, a possible site (just south of the manor-house grounds) for the fair, judging from the number of medieval coins and tokens found there. The second of the two forks, now Bolford Road, arrives, a short distance westwards, at a hamlet known as Cutlers Green; one of Thaxted's vicars reported that a cluster of dwellings along the town end of that road was traditionally known as 'The Borough' [G.E. Symonds, op. cit.), p.258]; he also stated that remains of forges had been found on the green, and the name is still applied to that neighbourhood, but we cannot place too much weight on this late evidence. That the fourteenth century saw, overall, population growth and increased prosperity at Thaxted is also indicated by finds of pottery, most of which can be dated to that century and represent types originating mostly in other parts of East Anglia and south-eastern counties, although some may have been produced locally.

Late medieval Thaxted's growing prosperity and population – perhaps as many as 2,000 inhabitants by the late fourteenth century – rather bucks the general trend, which saw many market towns shrinking and trying to adjust their economies to cope with hard times. The cutlery industry died out at Thaxted, however, in the post-medieval period as it expanded elsewhere, notably at Sheffield, but not before the cutlers and other wealthier members of the community had invested in rebuilding the parish church and erection of the aforementioned marketside guildhall, as well as a second guildhall, built for the socio-religious gild of St. John Baptist, on one of the streets leading north out of Thaxted and incorporating an open ground floor that may also have accommodated shops. Cutlers remained in evidence at Thaxted, but some of the more prominent townsmen left Thaxted for other towns of the region that seemed to be faring better [Robert Tittler, "Incorporation and Politics in Sixteenth-century Thaxted", Essex Archaeology and History, 3rd ser. vol.8 (1976), p.225]. Cutlery was not Thaxted's sole product, for there are modest indications of cloth manufacture/finishing and leather-working (besides the sheathers) too, but it appears to have been the local economy's mainstay. When Thaxted finally attained formal borough status and self-government, in a royal charter of 1556, the grant was rationalized on grounds of decay and impoverishment of the community; this charter approved the town's Friday market and two fairs, one at the festival of St. Lawrence (one of the three dedicatees of the parish church), and an associated piepowder court, assigning all revenues from market and fairs to the borough. This charter had no conspicuous effect on the fortunes of the borough and would later be rescinded. The size and plan of the town changed little in the period following the charter grant, despite an effort to develop a cloth-making industry, and the market fell into disuse, though the Town Street guildhall continued to serve as the base for local administration.

While the de Clares were, across generations, very active in establishing markets and founding towns in association with some of these markets, their control of markets at Great Bardfield and, later, Great Dunmow could have weakened any impulse to undertake such an initiative at Thaxted. Yet the widened street and adjacent residential plots hint at some planned development of the vill as a market settlement, possibly during the time of Clare lordship. On the other hand, it is conceivable that Bartholomew de Badlesmere (d.1322) could have been responsible for introducing a burghal component into Thaxted. As his surname attests, Badlesmere was of a Kentish family, which had some tradition of service to the Crown; he himself provided military service in France and Scotland and took on quasi-military roles such as governor of Bristol Castle and deputy constable of England, as well as acting as a peace negotiator with the Scots; after the fall of the Balliols he came into possession of some of that family's forfeited estates. He had service or kinship connections with some of the leading noble families, including the Lacys, Bohuns, and Clares, his marriage into the last adding further properties to his own expanding portfolio, including some of his wife's former husband, Gilbert de Umfraville, Earl of Angus; he became a very wealthy man. By 1318 he had so far risen in the favour of Edward II to be appointed steward of the royal household, which gave him a measure of influence over the king. Yet he became increasingly uncomfortable with greater influence exercised by others and in 1321 associated with the baronial party opposing Edward, but was executed the following year as a rebel.

Bartholomew had capitalized on his period of royal favour by obtaining, in August 1315, an extraordinary hereditary grant of markets and/or fairs at seventeen of his manors (one item being a cancelled duplicate) – some simply renewals of licences for markets founded by earlier lords – as well as grant of free warren in an even larger number. This was just a year after Edward's embarrassing setback at Bannockburn, when he was trying to regroup his forces, having distributed some of the estates of the deceased earl Gilbert V de Clare to Badlesmere and other supporters. The locations of Bartholomew's commercial institutions included: in Essex, at Thaxted (fair only) and at Ashdon, almost four miles northeast of Saffron Walden and on a tributary of the Granta/Cam, but not particularly well-situated in the road network; in Kent, at Chilham (below a Norman castle), Tonge (where the family had a residential 'castle', probably no more than a fortified manor-house), both within a few miles of the village of Badlesmere, and the Thameside port of Erith-Lesnes; in Buckinghamshire, at Hambleden, which came to Bartholomew through his Clare marriage, and where he instituted a fair at the festival of his namesake saint. Apart from this one instance, Bartholomew de Badlesmere does not show a decided preference for any particular saint or festival, nor for any particular weekday for holding markets; Giles de Badlesmere, at his death (1338), held a St. Bartholomew's fair at Chatham (beside the Medway), though it had been in Badlesmere hands only a few years. None of these markets seems to have amounted to much, some disappearing, some lasting as regional service centres – indeed, we cannot be certain that all of the 1315 licences were acted upon immediately – but evidently Badlesmere felt it worthwhile to invest in them.

Bartholomew's son Giles, who recovered many of his father's forfeited estates ca.1328, seems to have had no interest in developing Thaxted, for he leased it to Hugh de Audley, Earl of Gloucester (d.1347), and his wife, Margaret de Clare (sister and heiress of Gilbert), for their lives, though Margaret – opposing Bartholomew's widow's dower claims therein, argued that Bartholomew had only held it on a life-lease from Gilbert and that the reversion belonged to her; the manor was caught up in this legal battle for a few years. If Bartholomew's tenure of Thaxted was thus limited, this could have been a disincentive from developing it with a burghal component; yet he may have felt – particularly after Gilbert V's grisly death at Bannockburn, leaving only sisters as heirs – that, with the ear of the king and a marriage tie to the Clares, he could hope to upgrade that tenure, despite that one of the sisters' husbands, Hugh Despenser jun., had his eye on the Clare estates. Bartholomew had achieved just that in the case of the Sussex manor of Eastbourne, which he held initially for the life of Queen Margaret, but in 1314 acquired from King Edward the reversion, and the following year obtained a market licence for it.

Perhaps we do not need to speculate about either the Clares or Badlesmere as seigneurial agent of change at Thaxted. It may rather have been, at least partly, gradual growth of an entrepreneurial, perhaps mercantile, class within the town that led to industrial specialization and local prosperity. The role of a local group in advancing its own interests might have been made easier by the divided lordship – Thaxted being the only Badlesmere manor so treated in the partitioning between heirs (perhaps because of the Audley life interest, though the descent of the Clare/Badlesmere properties was rather complex) – and possessory disputes throughout much of the fourteenth century, leaving no dominant seigneurial individual at the helm. This division was, at times, rectified – for example, in 1361 Edward III was in a position to give his youngest daughter temporary custody of all four shares in the manor; her son (the first Bohun earl of Northampton, husband to a Badlesmere heiress) had already accumulated three shares, which subsequently came, through the Mortimers, to the House of York. This division, still visible in seigneurial administration in the fifteenth century, could have made it difficult for the burgesses to negotiate chartered powers of self-administration. The accession of Edward IV would have provided an opportunity to seek a charter of liberties, at a time when the local community could surely have raised the necessary resources and had, in Duchess Cecily, a sponsor whose influence enabled a group of parishioners to found the aforementioned gild of St. John Baptist (1480). But, for whatever reason, there is no sign of an effort in that direction, and the town remained administered by a seigneurial bailiff. This limbo, in which tenurial conditions had been eased, but without the assurance of a seigneurial charter, had encouraged a band of Thaxted men to participate in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, and there are indications of increased individual lawlessness in the decade or so that followed.

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Created: December 31, 2018.
© Stephen Alsford, 2018