TOLLS AND CUSTOMS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval York tolls murage smuggling fraud merchants dyers regulations oath disfranchisement
Subject: Steps to combat evasion of tolls
Original source: York city archives, Memorandum Book A/Y, ff.209-300
Transcription in: Maud Sellers, ed. York Memorandum Book, part II (1388-1493). Surtees Society, vol.125 (1914), 204-06.
Original language: Middle English
Location: York
Date: 1460


Thomas Beverlay, John Thrisk, William Stokton, Thomas Barton, Thomas Neleson, Richard Lematon, Nicholas Holgate, John Marton, William Barlay, John Ince, of the 12; Christopher Both, John Marshall, sheriffs; William Abirford, William Stanes, Thomas Scauceby, Richard Thornton, Thomas Curtays, John Gyllyote, John Voure, John Glasyn, William Wright, William Cleveland, John Coupeland, of the 24, were assembled in the council chamber of the city of York, the 22nd May, 1460, to consider the great deterioration of the city, which increases daily due to the evasion of toll and murage payable to the mayor and community of this city. Not only by deceit on the part of merchants who are citizens of this city, by importing and exporting various goods and merchandize belonging to other men under guise of being their own goods and merchandize, and on the part of other citizens of the city in appropriating and declaring various kinds of grain to have been purchased by them in other parts of this kingdom of England, at their own risk. But also by dyers of the city importing to and exporting from this city wool, cloth and yarn belonging to various country-dwellers, without paying toll and murage; and also by making deceitful agreements with outsiders [for the latter] to transport various goods and merchandize to a certain place near the franchise of this city, and then the citizens to take responsibility for them from there into the city, with the intent of evading payment of toll and murage of the city, contrary to the grants and confirmations of the king and his ancestors and also contrary to the ordinances and customs of this city. Therefore, for the correction of this situation, it is ordained and established in the way and form that follows, by the advice and full agreement of the whole community of the city:

First, that if any merchant who is a freeman of this city exports to be sold in other parts of this kingdom, or imports from any part of this kingdom, by water or by land, iron, oil, tar, wine, wax, soap, woad, madder, alum, tin, lead, or any merchandize of whatever kind at all, [he] shall take oath upon a book that they are his own personal goods and merchandize, being imported or exported at his own risk. So that, if they happen through any cause to be destroyed or lost, by land or by water, the loss falls solely upon himself and not on any other person. And [he shall swear] that they have not been bought or sold with the intent of evading or defrauding, by any kind of deceit, the officers of this city of toll or murage or anything payable to the city.

Also, if any freeman of this city buys any kind of grain in the countryside with the agreement that it shall be brought into this city at his cost and risk, that both the seller (if he comes to the city) and the buyer shall take oath upon a book that the bargain and contract was honestly made, without intent to [commit] fraud and deceit in the way already mentioned.

Also, should it happen at any time in the future that any freeman of this city buy or sell any kind of goods or merchandize on the condition of delivering them at a place close to the boundaries of the franchise of this city, with the intent – through the agreement made between him and the other party – to defraud or deceive the officers of this city of toll or murage, or [should he] make any false oath regarding any goods or merchandize to be bought or sold, and this is proven against him, he shall pay twice the [normal] amount of toll and murage on those goods and merchandize, and furthermore be disfranchised, and not readmitted to the franchise without the agreement of the entire council of the chamber, or the majority of the same.

Also, that all dyers who are citizens of this city and who import any kind of wool, cloth or yarn to be dyed within this city, henceforth pay toll and murage – according to the form and intent of the grants and confirmations of the same, granted by our sovereign lord the king and his ancestors, and also according to the customs and ordinances of this city – when it is brought in, in the same way that outsider owners would do if they imported it themselves, but nothing when they export it. Given that if any person or persons bring or send any wool, cloth, or yarn to this city to be dyed for their own personal clothing, or that of their household servants, as indicated by an oath to be taken by the owner or the bringer (whether the dyer or someone else), no toll or murage is payable.


In the absence of effective detective methods, the principal medieval remedy for evasion of import and export tolls (of which murage was simply one specialized form) – as for the deterrence or discovery of other crimes – relied on the efficacy of holy oaths to persuade people, fearful it was hoped of eternal damnation, to honest behaviour. There are ample examples that some people were prepared to swear false oaths – although others respected their power – and a recognition of this led to the backup penalty of monetary fine. It is interesting that dyers were particularly singled out for attention as evaders of toll; several of the types of merchandize mentioned by name – besides the wool, cloth and yarn – were items associated with their industry.



"the 12" "the 24"
The 12 were the upper council of aldermen; the 24 were the lower (common) council.

"council chamber"
The council chamber was on the Ouse Bridge.

"grants and confirmations"
This refers to the royal charters granting rights and powers to the city, for which confirmation was sought from each new king ascending to the throne.

main menu

Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: December 22, 2002 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2003