If it is elites we hunt, it is perhaps the town council that is the natural habitat of our prey. To review the evidence presented in the first chapter: the Ipswich portmen had become a co-optative council by 1309 and a life membership body by then, if not since 1200; two-thirds of the Colchester council were chosen by the other third, although this third was itself popularly elected; the 24's of Norwich and Lynn were officially life membership and effectively co-optative councils from the time of Henry V; Maldon's wardemen were also a life membership (but not co-optative) body by 1444. We may add to this by noting that Yarmouth's upper council was also life membership and co-optative according to the 1491 ordinances. This basic information may be expanded by an analysis of town councils at selected stages in their careers. Norwich's council has not been analysed, but we may bear in mind Hudson's observation that the councils of 1377 and 1379 were almost identical in personnel.
In the twenty years between 1370 and 1390 the composition of the Lynn jurats was the product of experimentation. In 1370 the twelve electors joined the twelve jurats that they elected, and the four chamblerlains were added. In 1372 all jurats were elected and none of the electors or chamberlains were among their number. In 1374 the practice of joining twelve electors and twelve jurats was resumed, but chamberlains were omitted, although in 1379 the mayor did select four extra jurats, unidentified but perhaps the chamberlains. In 1393 the system of electors as ex officio jurats was permanently abandoned. That system may perhaps be viewed as a half-way step between indirect election and co-optation. Eighty-three persons were jurats 1370-90, a number large enough to suggest that there was a fair degree of turnover. By contrast, a period of the same length from 1430 to 1450, after the jurats had become a closed body, reveals 57 persons, indicating an average replacement rate of 1.7 persons annually compared to 3 persons annually 1370-90. The turnover rate 1430-40 was 71% and 1440-50 was 45%; the jurats in office in 1430 all disappeared within the next two decades, except for veterans Thomas Burgh (jurat 1424-68), Thomas Salisbury (1424-51), John Saluz (1427-51), and John Waryn (1427-51).
As far as surviving documentation allows us to say, and putting aside the uncertain cases of three mayors elected by the reform party 1411-15, the mayoralty was the preserve of the jurat membership. Certainly this was held to be a borough custom in 1416. The exception which proves the rule is John Urry, elected in 1358; his case is the more curious in that he had entered the franchise only a year before. However, he had evidently been a prominent figure in the community throughout the 1350s, loaning the king 200 marks in 1351, exporting grain, salt, ale, and cloth 1354-55, and attending a Merchant Assembly in 1356. A peer of any jurat, he became one of them immediately following his mayoralty, remaining so until his death in 1361. It may be that, armed as he was with a royal exemption from office, he had resisted earlier attempts to make him a jurat. Adding to the unusual (but illuminating) character of this case is the fact that Urry's friend and business partner, Thomas atte Bek, a man of equal prominence who came to Lynn from Cley-next-the-sea c.1349 as an heir to property bequeathed him by Adam de Walsoken, was in a parallel situation. He entered the franchise on the same day as Urry, acted as chamberlain during Urry's mayoralty, and joined Urry amongst the jurats after this term. He too died in 1361, a few days before Urry, both men doubtless victims of the recurring pestilence. The case of John Urry was therefore no serious deviation from a rule that was well understood, perhaps even written into the constitution, in the fourteenth century custumal rolls which are not extant. Even the reformers of Henry V's time did not try to change this constitutional feature, except to include former jurats among those qualified for election as mayor; this could not have been but an impotent addition, since jurats left that office only through death, deposition (which disqualified them from the mayoralty), or retirement due to old age or infirmity.
The Maldon wardemen have also been analysed over two periods. Between 1401 and 1410 53 men were wardemen, and it is clear that annual election was no mere form, but a reality producing a turnover higher than in the councils of our other towns. But between 1440 and 1450 only 32 persons were wardemen, confirming the picture painted by the 1444 custumal of the wardemen as a life membership body with a similar annual replacement rate to the Lynn jurats of the same period. This change seems to have occurred gradually in the late 1420s and early 1430s and not to have been the result of a deliberate act. Unlike the executives of our other towns, Maldon's bailiffs did not become wardemen after their terms of office. Although 80% of the bailiffs served previously as wardemen, it was more common for bailiffs to be chosen from ex-bailiffs than from wardemen. This separation of bailiffs and wardemen fits with the balance of powers that we have already noted between Maldon's executive and council.
At Colchester 61 persons were members of the town council 1428-48, suggesting that this supposedly democratically elected body was barely more open than the life-membership jurats of Lynn in the reign of Henry VI. Lists of Yarmouth's councillors are scarce, but two are recorded for May and September 1386: 88% of those of May were re-elected in September, suggesting that either the council was already a life-membership body, or that annual election was little more than a formality. Not surprisingly, given that Yarmouth had four bailiffs annually, the council was dominated by ex-bailiffs (50%-63%); in fact, most of the councillors (79%-92%) held the ballivalty at some time in their lives. Certainly by 1491 it was taken for granted that bailiffs would be chosen from the council membership. Complete listings of Ipswich's portmen are also rare. Analysis of the portmen of 1429/30 shows that the group comprised the 2 bailiffs of that year, 5 former bailiffs, 2 former coroners, 1 former M.P., and 2 men not known to have held office previously. The 1459/60 list similarly contains 8 former bailiffs in addition to the pair of that year.
Structure of Borough Government | Social and Economic Background of Office-Holders
Monopolisation of Office | Attitudes Towards Office-holding | Professionalism in Administration
Quality of Government | Conflict and Solidarity in Urban Politics
|Created: July 30, 1998. Last update: October 30, 1998||© Stephen Alsford, 1998-2003|