|COMMERCE AND ITS REGULATION|
|Subject:||Local customs governing commerce|
|Transcription in:||David Houard, ed. Traites sur les Coutumes Anglo-Normandes. Rouen, 1776, vol.2, 475-81, 483-87.|
|Date:||Second half of thirteenth century|
Statutes of the gild
Chapter 19: Concerning hand-mills
[Ordinance concerning shoemakers and tanners]
Chapter 20: Concerning the purchase of wool, hides, and pells
Chapter 21: No gildsman shall give his money to a foreign merchant
Chapter 22: Concerning the purchase of wares arriving in ships
Also, if anyone buys herring, salt, grain, beans, or fish, or any similar types of wares [from ships] , he is not to deny a share, at the market price at which he buys, to his neighbours who wish to buy for personal consumption; that is, enough for sustenance of their households. Failing which, he shall be condemned to forfeit a tun of wine.
Similarly, anyone who buys [a share] more than he needs for his consumption and sells [the surplus] is to undergo the same punishment, because he requested and obtained a share on the grounds that, he said, he needed to buy that amount for his food.
Also, that the [original] purchaser is to be left with [no less than?] a one-quarter share, which he is to pay for on board when he receives the goods.
Also, if anyone has bought herring or any other wares and has given God's penny or any silver as earnest money, he shall pay the merchant from whom he purchased the goods the market price agreed on [at the time of the sale] . If he does not do so, and is convicted thereof, he shall give a tun of wine as penalty, without any remission from the gild, or be exiled from the town for a year and a day.
Chapter 23: Concerning defective wares
Chapter 24: Concerning the price of mutton
Chapter 25: Concerning butchers who are merchants
Chapter 26: Concerning brewsters
Chapter 27: Concerning brokers
Chapter 28: Concerning regraters
Chapter 29: Concerning forestallers of the market
Chapter 30: Concerning those who purchase wool and hides
Chapter 36: Concerning glovers and skinners
Chapter 37: Concerning participation of gildsmen in a sale of herring
Chapter 38: Concerning the carriage of wine
Chapter 39: Concerning brewsters buying oats
Chapter 40: Concerning the time for purchasing livestock
Chapter 41: Concerning the sale of tanned hides
Chapter 42: Concerning mill-stones
Chapter 43: Concerning lot and cavil
Chapter 44: Concerning the time and place
for buying merchandize carried in ships
Chapter 45: Concerning amercements
of foreign merchants
Chapter 46: Outsiders may not
buy or sell except on market day
The statutes of the merchant gild of Berwick represent in effect a local custumal in the not uncommon form of a core of customs which were written down at some point in time, and subsequently expanded by the addition of later ordinances; such expansions tended to take place as later copies were made from an original (which is usually lost). In the case of Berwick, however, they do not represent a comprehensive set of rules by which the town was administered, but are found as a component of, or appendix to, a larger collection that begins with the Leges et consuetudines quatuor burgorum, self-attributed to the reign of King David I (1124-1153), who is considered the principal creator of royal burghs, inspired by the town-founding initiatives of the Normans in England. This attribution, however, may have been a typical effort to accord the authority of more antiquity than is actually warranted; the earliest surviving text of the Leges Burgorum dates to around 1270.
The four Scottish towns to which these laws initially applied were Edinburgh, Roxburgh, Stirling, and Berwick, important royal burghs and market centres. Like the Cinque Ports in England, this group of Four Burghs had by the late thirteenth century a common administrative mechanism, combining characteristics of a court and a parliament, that dealt with the king as an entity, enacted laws binding on all members, acted as a court of appeal from burgh courts, and adjudicated disputes between burghs. The Leges Burgorum deal with burghs' relationship with the king, his officials, and royal justice, with disputes involving burgesses and outsiders, and with aspects of town life common to all burghs (e.g. fair administration); they were probably enacted by various authorities: the king, Scotland's parliament, and the Court of the Four Burghs, while some may have been absorbed from local customs of member burghs. Each burgh had its own customs, beyond the common laws, governing certain aspects of local administration and commerce. The set of Berwick customs, perhaps partly because the earliest reduced to writing, was influential in the development of by-laws in other Scottish towns. In 1369, as Berwick and Roxburgh both towns on the River Tweed, which in 1018 Malcolm II had declared the border between his realm an England changed hands back and forth during the wars between the two countries, they were replaced in the association by Lanark and Linlithgow.
The Leges Burgorum and Berwick statutes survive in a number of Latin manuscripts, in several versions. That used by Houard was taken from a digest of early Scottish laws compiled by lawyer Sir John Skene and printed in 1609 under the title Regiam majestatem: Scotiae veteres leges et constitutiones. His transcription, and consequently that in Houard, have been much criticized as inaccurate, notably by another lawyer, and legal historian, Cosmo Innes [Ancient Laws and Customs of the Burghs of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1868, vol.1, p.xxi]. The transcription found in Innes (who credits much of it to an earlier work by Thomas Thomson), was subsequently considered superior by writers such as Gross, who echoed the criticism of Skene/Houard and copied Innes' edition into his The Gild Merchant [vol.1, pp.227-40], Bateson, who included extracts in Borough Customs and John Scott, who published a transcript of a Middle English version of the statutes [Berwick-upon-Tweed: The History of the Town and Guild, London, 1888, pp.465-69].
The criticisms of the Skene edition may not be entirely just. Certainly there are some misreadings and probably also some omissions from his source, but it might equally be argued that Innes does not always seem to have understood his source quite as well as Skene. However, it is clear from comparing the two editions that they have been made from different and variant medieval versions, written by different scribes who had differing ideas about correct terminology; rather than one of the two being a rewrite of the other, they were more probably based on a third and older version drafted towards the close of the thirteenth century. The version used by Innes appears to me to be a slightly later copy, embodying amendments and some re-ordering of chapters; although the reverse might be true. In the Innes edition most chapter titles begin either with the term ordinatio or constitutio. Assuming that the titles of either edition are not supplied by the editor (which does not seem to me the case), the considerable differences between the titles in each edition suggests that both were based on an earlier source that lacked chapter titles. The Innes edition has some additional details and chapters either not in Skene's source, or omitted from his transcription; chapters 24 to 26 are not in Innes, perhaps because no longer enforced or superseded by other provisions. After making allowance for such variations, we are left with mostly minor differences between the two versions, just as easily explicable to scribal differences between medieval copies as to transcription errors. Closer comparative study of the two editions would be needed to see if my impressions are valid. For my English translation of selected chapters (those relating to commerce), I have used Houard, in the belief it is based on the oldest surviving version, but have cross-checked it against the Innes edition.
For the date of compilation of the first custumal we must rely on a preamble to the Innes edition indicating that the laws were enacted by mayor Robert Bernham, Simon Maunsel, and other probi homines of the town at a congregation of the gildsmen. Bernham was, according to Scott, mayor in 1238 and 1249, while Maunsel was a prominent townsman in the first half of the thirteenth century (see note below). The preamble does not appear in the Skene edition, though information from it (with names misread) is included in a postscript to the statutes along with a set of dates suggesting the custumal to have been compiled 1283/84, which misled some later writers. That set was drawn from the later chapters, several of which are dated. However, the great majority of the chapters were most probably compiled at the period indicated in the preamble, which, together with the tenor of some of the chapters, suggests that tension between the gildsmen and other burgesses may have prompted an accord on local regulations; possibly the presence of both Scottish and English settlers was also a factor in division and discord within the community. The final few statutes were enacted between 1281 and 1294, and either inserted into an existing manuscript or point to a period when a new, expanded copy was drafted. This of course does not preclude some of the 'statutes' having been in effect as customs in the early thirteenth century or even the twelfth. The Middle English version in Scott appears to date to ca.1500 and incorporates a greater number of alterations, mainly in the area of penalties for infringement, but with some chapters dropped and new ones added; it looks as if based on the later Latin version (Innes), and it misreads or misunderstands some of the Latin terms.
The early history of any settlement at the site of Berwick remains obscure, but in the Late Anglo-Saxon period it would have been part of Northumbria; Malcolm's effort to extend his Scottish realm southwards produced a victory in 1018 that gave him the Tweed and presumably whatever may have existed at the site of Berwick. That this included harbourage, even if only a good stretch of foreshore, is suggested by the expedition of eleven ships that King Duncan fitted out in the vicinity in 1030. The first clear reference to a settlement of Berwick comes ca. 1097, when King Edgar's short-lived grant of it to the Bishop of Durham describes it as a "noble village" [Scott, op.cit. p.5]. Berwick's northerly position strategic and defensible made it for an extended period the object of contesting forces of England and Scotland, while its situation on the northern bank and close to the mouth of the River Tweed, facing the North Sea, gave it a second frontier dimension. An ancient route, possibly Roman, ran nearby, and a ford crossed the river at Berwick. By the time David embarked on his programme of fostering urbanization, Berwick was already a significant player in Scotland's economy.
"The favoured interpretation of the name Berwick is that it derives from the Anglian 'berewic' or barley farm; an out-lying estate farm or grange" [John Marlow and Alan Williams, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland Extensive Urban Survey report, 2009, p.11]. This assumes, however, that Berwick began life as a subsidiary site (perhaps even a proto-urban foundation) to some more prominent settlement, such as a manor; no such settlement has been convincingly identified, and this approach fails to explain Berwick's rise to importance. I am more inclined considering the coastal location, and given other applications of the prefix 'ber' in the town such as Bardyk, a name applied to an ancient town ditch, and Berfreyt (see notes) to favour a simpler interpretation that wick here refers to a waterside area where trading took place and ber (less certainly) to a burgh or burh, so that 'Berwick' was the town, or perhaps place of refuge, with a port. It is quite conceivable the town emerged out of a coalescence of separate sites, which might include one or more foci of upslope settlement and a riverside trading area and/or fishing village. At the time of the first reliable mention of Berwick (1097) it seems of some consequence. Other sources, of slightly earlier or slightly later dates, but of a literary character, suggest at least that Berwick was around this period an attractor of trade and had sufficient defences to allow it to act as a refuge. It was also a military base for raids into Northumberland.
These things, taken together, suggest that Berwick was not by the opening of the twelfth century, if ever, any mere outlying farm. Indeed, it was one of the first settlements designated a royal burgh possibly before David's time and given associated privileges which provided additional stimulus to the development of commerce; laws of William the Lion (1165-1214) recognized the right of Scottish merchants to associate in gilds, with each gild's members having the right to buy and sell freely (presumably meaning toll-free) within their own burgh, and requiring producers of raw materials and foreign merchants to deal only with those merchants. Berwick also had a castle, was the principal town of a shire, and the most prosperous of Scotland's ports, with good sea links to Norway, the Baltic and above all Flanders, and the fertile hinterland of Tweeddale from which to draw trade products.
David's urbanization initiatives included sponsoring the establishment of religious orders there (which became heavily active in production of wool for export to Flanders) and encouraging Fleming and English immigrants; it has been observed that some of the Leges Burgorum look as if modelled after customs of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and perhaps a few other English towns which had been exposed to the Breteuil customs. The experience of such immigrants in urban contexts must have been thought valuable in a Scotland relatively slow in urbanizing; when the burgh of St. Andrews was founded (ca.1140), its plan was laid out and local government set up by one Mainard the Fleming, a burgess of Berwick. Flemish merchants had a base in Berwick by the late thirteenth century: the Red Hall, which local tradition locates in Woolmarket and other evidence (1314) places in Bridge Street; while in 1334 we hear also of a White Hall, which appears to have served the same purpose for merchants of Cologne. Both halls were close to the port; Bridge Street served the port, and the existence of a number of warehouses along it illustrates the importance of the port facilities to the local economy. Even Italian merchants were by no means unknown in Berwick. The gild statutes show that Berwick had a strong organization, through civic and merchant gild institutions that do not appear young in the mid-thirteenth century.
Despite this, it was not well enough defended to be able to shrug off the assaults experienced as England and Scotland warred for control of the border region. After his attempted invasion of Northumberland failed, William I of Scotland ceded control of Berwick's castle and presumably also the town which had shortly before suffered its first recorded devastation at English hands to Henry II of England, though Richard I sold it back to raise money for his Crusade effort. During John's reign, his rebellious barons received support from Alexander II of Scotland, and in retaliation John led an army north which assaulted, captured, and sacked Berwick. The reign of Henry III of England was a period of relative peace between the two kingdoms, and it was in this period that Berwick seems to have achieved its peak of prosperity. Wool, sheepskins, and hides had a prominent role in its export trade; fish (notably salmon) and grain were other exported items. According to one chronicler, who seems to have had a close connection with Berwick and was possibly a friar resident there (so we must allow for hyperbole), in the latter half of the thirteenth century, prior to Edward I's devastating assault, Berwick was
"the principal seaport and town of the kingdom .... so populous and busy that it might well be called a second Alexandria, its wealth being the sea and the waters its defence.... the citizens, having become very powerful and devoted to God, used to spend liberally in charity ... and allotted a certain yearly sum of money from the common chest for the honourable celebration of every festival of the blessed Francis, and further for the provision of clothing for the poor friars dwelling in their city ... performing devout service to the saint who began life as a trader, expecting that even in the present [life] greater profits from trading would be the result of their costly piety.".
However, the extinction of Scotland's Dunkeld dynasty in 1290 opened the door for Edward I's intervention and assertion of overlordship. When in 1295 John Balliol, whom Edward had chosen for the succession, allied with France, with which England was at war, Edward responded with an invasion. The following year he and his army found at Berwick a populace willing to resist including the women and the Fleming colony but little more than ditch and palisade as the town's defences. It was easily stormed, then sacked with considerable loss of life and damage to the fabric, including the burning down of the Red Hall with the defiant Flemings still inside. He then sought to rebuild the town and strengthen its defences, to turn it into a military and administrative base from which to exercise English control over southern Scotland, and to restore its role as a well-governed economic hub, providing incentives for new settlers from England. He invested considerable energy and money into this effort and sent a commission of English townsmen, some with experience in town planning, to assist with the reconstruction. Edward's intentions were frustrated by the town falling into the hands of Wallace's forces in early 1298 (although the castle garrison held out), before much had been accomplished in building new defences; but they would soon be forced to abandon it again to the English.
Berwick would change hands about a dozen times more before being retaken for England on a permanent basis in 1482. But, despite the introduction of English townsmen in hopes of bringing Berwick trading practices more in line with those of England, both through Edward I's commission of advisors in 1296 and in 1333 through Edward III's appointment of a Newcastle merchant as Berwick's mayor for an extended term, it seems the thirteenth-century statutes remained, with a few updates, a foundation stone of local administration throughout the Late Middle Ages, under both Scottish and English rule. At least one effort to introduce economic reforms came to nothing.
The bloody sack of the town in 1296 has been characterized by some historians as the end of the road for Berwick's status as a prosperous, commerce-based town; but this was not the case, and at first Berwick was able to maintain its role as a port for international trade. However, living under an almost constant threat of attack, the burdensome costs of maintaining the town in a state of defence, the risks to life and confiscations of property when there was a change of regime, the damage to infrastructure and cost of rebuilding homes, the depopulation consequent to assaults, and the harm done to Berwick's relationship with its hinterland, along with other factors, gradually took their toll, impeding the realization of economic potential promised by Berwick's earlier history.
The extent and character of commercial activity in Berwick is not well understood, for little documentary evidence generated by burgh or gild has survived from the medieval period. But some indication is given by a survey of the urban properties undertaken in 1297 following the English recapture of the town; only a portion of this survives, but the section for Hidegate (modern Silver Street), given below, shows a number of shops or workshops, as well as spaces that were at least partly below street level and may have been used as workshops, storerooms, or taverns. Among the past or future holders of these properties were goldsmiths, clothiers, and a spicer, as well as an abbey which evidently held several investment properties here, rented out perhaps to artisans and/or retailers. Of course we cannot be certain that the owners carried on their trades in these locations, but it is not unlikely; some of the properties incorporated multiple shops or storerooms, probably rented out to other traders.
"concerning shoemakers and tanners"
"makes our coin available"
"before the ship has docked"
"exiled from the town"
"more than twopence"
"give one tun"
"bell-tower of Berefrid"
"before they reach"
"in the street"
"more than one servant"
"the established place"
"he shall give"
"convicted of doing the contrary"
"or for brewing"
"keep to himself"
"that is, at the Bray"
"Chapter 45", Chapter 46"
"reserved to the gild"
"came to nothing"
"relationship with its hinterland"
"a portion of this"
"a certain nun"
"ten solars and nine solars"
|Created: October 28, 2014. Last update: June 12, 2016||© Stephen Alsford, 2014-2016|