Here at last we begin to catch glimpses of the elite we have sought, in the shape of what might be described as executive committees. The order of names of the Lynn jurats is very carefully recorded in the reign of Henry VI; after the mayor and alderman are listed the nobiles de banco already mentioned, who were in fact the ex-mayors among the jurats. Even in the 1370-90 period we find that certain of the jurats continued in office, annual elections notwithstanding, in most of those years; these were primarily the ex-mayors. It seems to have been recognised that men of such experience ought to be kept in government, and it is likely that their continued presence guaranteed some measure of continuity and stability in borough policy.
Everywhere we find the same. At Colchester the ex-bailiffs tended to number among the 8 aldermen rather than the 16 councillors - this may have been an important factor in making the aldermen the superior branch of the council - and they seem to have been assured of re-election from year to year. They monopolised the ballivalty to a greater extent than Lynn ex-mayors the mayoralty. At least one of each pair of bailiffs (and often both) had served in that office before; of the 24 aldermen/councillors of 1428, 17 had held the ballivalty at some time in their lives. Once again we can appreciate the theoretical efficiency of this arrangement. The Ipswich portman council was much like the elites of ex-executives in Lynn and Colchester, lacking the adjunct of junior members from which future officers might be recruited. An ordinance of 1414 in Norwich specified that the upper council there should be elected from former mayors, sheriffs, and bailiffs (this being only a few years after mayoralty replaced ballivalty as the executive office); in the following year we see that ex-mayors had a recognised place in the political hierarchy, in that they were to participate at major assemblies and on ceremonial occasions dressed in their appropriate livery. At Maldon the ex-bailiffs, prohibited from entering the wardemen ranks (partly to preserve the integrity of the council), gradually coalesced into a higher council of aldermen from which (from 1555) all bailiffs were to be chosen and into which ex-bailiffs would retire. This group can be seen playing a role in government by 1468 when we find the ordinance, copied from some earlier book of customs, that all ex-bailiffs were required to attend any ballival summons to discuss community business; in fact there is some hint of distinction of the ex-ballival group as early as 1406. Similar executive committees arose, in the fifteenth century, in Oxford, Stamford, and Winchester. In the last, the group was known as "the Bench", reminding us of Lynn's nobiles de banco; to judge from the rare illustrations that survive of council meetings, the name seems to refer to the privileged seating position of these men in the council chamber. A similar hierarchy is reflected in the 1479 illustration of the ceremony of swearing in Bristol's mayor, used as the title illustration of this study.
The evolution of these executive committees may owe much to the judicial powers granted by the king to the executive and a few assistants. These arose out of Commissions of the Peace and local administration of the labour statutes and other police matters in the latter half of the fourteenth century. At Norwich in 1404 the mayor and 4 probi homines were to be J.P.s, and in 1452 this was extended to the recorder and all aldermen who had been mayor. At Ipswich in 1446 bailiffs and 4 portmen chosen by them were to be J.P.s; in practice, those chosen were ex-bailiffs. At the same time escheator's powers were accorded to one of the bailiffs. In the following year Colchester received a similar grant of justices, interpreted locally as commissioning the more sufficient and wiser of the bones gentz; in practice, justices were chosen from the aldermen, a group whose members also filled the local offices of coroners and clavigers as well as that of bailiffs. We can see the rationale in allotting the roles of J.P.s to men experienced in the presidency of local courts and accustomed to the exercise of authority. Yet the effect of endowing an already existing elite of experienced former executives with new powers was to create a magistracy independent of, and rivalling, the traditional borough courts - particularly the leet - which were instruments of communal authority.
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||© Stephen Alsford, 1998-2003|