|Subject:||Grant by Henry VI of charter of incorporation (extracts)|
|Original source:||Public Record Office, Patent Roll, 27 Henry VI|
|Transcription in:||W.H. Stevenson, ed. Records of the Borough of Nottingham, (London and Nottingham, 1883), vol.2, 186-208.|
[The document begins with a recital of the previous charter of liberties, 1414, and a confirmation of all privileges and powers already possessed by the borough.]
Furthermore ... we have granted and by this document have confirmed, on behalf of ourselves, our heirs and successors, to the present burgesses of the town of Nottingham (which is and has long been in a certain sense corporate) and to the heirs and successors of those burgesses, [who shall be] burgesses of the same town, in perpetuity, that the town may now and forever be corporate [in the behalf] of the mayor and burgesses. The mayor and burgesses and their successors, mayors and burgesses of the town thus incorporated, shall be a community forever corporate, in fact and in name, under the name of the Mayor and Burgesses of the town of Nottingham. They may have a perpetual succession. The mayor and burgesses of the town, and their successors, may have the ability and capability in law under that name to prosecute and defend any pleas, suits, plaints, and claims, as well as any kind of real, personal, or mixed actions, moved or to be moved by them or against them in any kind of court of ourself, our heirs or successors, or of any other at all, as well as before us, our heirs or successors, wherever we shall be, in our Chancery or before any justices or judges, spiritual or temporal. They may plead and be impleaded, answer and be answered to in the same. The mayor and burgesses of the town, and their successors, under that name may acquire and hold in for themselves and their successors, lands, tenements, possessions, and hereditaments, in perpetuity.
In addition ... we have granted, on behalf of ourselves and our heirs and successors, to the present burgesses of the town and their successors, [who shall be] burgesses of the same town, in perpetuity, that the town of Nottingham and its precincts as far as they extend and are enforced, which up to now have existed and were contained within Nottinghamshire, shall as of 15 September next become separate, distinct, and divided from that county, and in all regards be completely independent forever, both on land and on water, with the exception of our castle in Nottingham and our messuage called the King's Hall containing our gaol for Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. The town of Nottingham and its precincts as far as they extend and are enforced (with the exceptions already made) shall be known as and treated as the County of the town of Nottingham.
The present burgesses of the town and their successors, [who shall be] burgesses of the same town, in perpetuity, may also have two sheriffs in the town and its precincts, elected from among their number, instead of the two bailiffs of the town, as well as the shrievalty of the town and its precincts [etc.]. These sheriffs are to be elected and made in the following way: viz., the mayor and burgesses of the town may on 15 September next elect from among themselves two burgesses of the town as sheriffs of that town and its precincts [etc.], in place of two bailiffs of the town. These sheriffs are to hold and occupy the office of the shrievalty of the town and its precincts [etc.] until Michaelmas next and during that day, until on that same day two other burgesses of the town are elected by the mayor and burgesses of the town as sheriffs of the town and its precincts [etc.] for the year to follow. From that time forward, the sheriffs of the town and its precincts [etc.] are to be elected and made every Michaelmas in perpetuity in the following way; viz., each year the mayor and burgesses who are of the town of Nottingham at that time shall elect from among themselves, in place of the two bailiffs of the town, two suitable persons as sheriffs of the town and its precincts [etc.], using the same procedure that they were accustomed to use in the past for [electing] the bailiffs. The burgesses elected in that way as sheriffs of the town and its precincts [etc.], immediately after having been elected, are to take oath before the town's mayor of that time to exercise properly and lawfully the office of sheriff of the county; they shall not go outside the town to take their oath. The names of which sheriffs are each year to be sent, under the seal of the mayoralty of the town of Nottingham, to the Chancery of ourself, our heirs and successors, within twelve days following the election.
Each burgess of the town of Nottingham hereafter elected as mayor, by right of the same and as soon as he shall be elected as mayor of the town, as well as the present mayor, shall from this time forward be the escheator of ourself, our heirs and successors, within the town and its precincts during the entire term in which the burgess remains in the mayoralty of the town. At no time in the future shall there in any way be, or be made, any other escheator or sheriff in the town of Nottingham and its precincts [etc.] except as are made (as already mentioned) from the burgesses of the town. The escheator and sheriffs of the town, and their successors in perpetuity, shall hold within the town and its precincts [etc.] the same power, jurisdiction, authority, privileges, and whatever else pertains to the offices of escheator and sheriff, that other escheators and sheriffs of ourself, our heirs and successors, have or shall have or ought to have anywhere else within our kingdom of England. Each and every writ, precept and mandate of the sort which before this time ought to have been, or was accustomed to be, in any way served or executed by the sheriffs of Nottinghamshire or by the bailiffs of the town, within that town or its precincts, is in the future from 15 September onwards to be directed, delivered, and handed over to the sheriffs of the town of Nottingham. From now on, in perpetuity, those who are at any point sheriffs of the town and its precincts are to hold their county [court] of the County of the town of Nottingham and its precincts [etc.] each Monday from month to month, in the same manner and form in which other of our sheriffs hold their county [courts] elsewhere within our kingdom, or as other sheriffs of ourself, our heirs and successors, shall hold or ought to hold their county [courts] elsewhere in our kingdom.
The present burgesses of the town and their successors in perpetuity may at their pleasure have a court there for all contracts, covenants, trespasses (whether committed against the peace or otherwise), and other things, causes, and matters whatsoever and however arising or coming about within the town and its precincts [etc.], to be held from day to day in the town Guildhall before the mayor of the town, or his deputy, and the sheriffs of the town then in office. From 15 September the mayor of the town then in office, or his deputy, and the sheriffs of the town then in office have the power and authority to hear and determine in that court all kinds of pleas, suits, causes, plaints, and claims, as well as any kind of real, personal, or mixed actions, moved or to be moved within the town and its liberty and precincts [etc.], whether in the presence of ourself, our heirs and successors, or in the absence of ourself, our heirs and successors; together with all revenues of that court which are in any way forthcoming or produced, from now into the future, to be paid to the use of the sheriffs of the town then in office, without any interference or hindrance whatever from ourself, our heirs or successors, our or their justices, Steward or Marshall of the Household, escheators, sheriffs, or other of our or their bailiffs or officers. The same Steward or Marshall shall, from now into the future, in no way intervene in the jurisdiction over pleas of contracts, covenants, trespasses, things, causes, or matters which arise or come about within the town or its liberty and precincts [etc.], nor may any them interfere in any other way.
The escheator and sheriffs of the town of Nottingham then in office may each year make their individual proffers and account before the Treasurer and Barons of the Exchequer of ourself, our heirs and successors, by attorneys of the escheator and sheriffs of the town individually deputed or to be deputed for that purpose by letters patent under the seals of office of the same escheator and sheriffs of the town, regarding everything for which they are accountable relating to the offices of escheator and sheriffs of the town. Those attorneys are to be allowed by the Treasurer and Barons to make the proffer and render account in the place of the escheator and sheriffs, according to the force and effect of these our letters, without the escheator or sheriffs of the town of Nottingham, or their successors, or any of them, being obliged or forced to come out of the town in person to account for anything within the responsibility of his office or the office of any of them .... Everyone who becomes escheator of the town of Nottingham, every year forever, shall immediately after his appointment take an oath in the town, and not elsewhere, before the coroners, or one of them, then being in office, to well and faithfully perform his duties. It is not to be required of the escheator of the town of Nottingham, or his successors, to come and give his oath at any place outside the town before anyone else; on condition that each year, within twelve days of the election of the mayor of the town, the name of the escheator is certified, under the seal of the mayoralty of the town of Nottingham, at the Exchequer ....
We have also granted ... to the present burgesses of the town of Nottingham and their successors in perpetuity the belongings of all persons condemned, convicted or in any other way attainted of any felony, murder, or other offence ... and of any other persons outlawed for any reason ... as well as goods disavowed by felons and deodands discovered and found within the town of Nottingham and its precincts [etc.]. The present burgesses of the town and their successors may also have in perpetuity all amercements, redemptions, dues forfeited or to be forfeited, and all fines for trespasses and any other kinds of delinquencies, negligences, misprisions, and contempts; as well as fines for licences to concord ... and all revenues, fines, and amercements from any kinds of pledges and manucaptors of any person living in the town of Nottingham ....
In addition, we have granted ... to the present burgesses of the town of Nottingham and their successors in perpetuity that the same burgesses, and their heirs and successors, may from time to time elect from among their number seven aldermen, of which aldermen one shall always be elected to the mayoralty of the town and shall be mayor of the town. These aldermen thus elected shall be and remain in the office of alderman of the town for life ... unless they, or any of them, by his special request made to the rest of the burgesses of the town who then are, or for some notable cause, is removed from his, or their, aldermanship by the mayor and the burgesses of the town at that time. [In the case] that an alderman is removed, or dies, or otherwise withdraws from his office of alderman, the mayor and burgesses of the town at that time, and their heirs and successors in perpetuity, have full power and authority under the terms of this document to elect another from their number as alderman of the town in place of the alderman who dies, or withdraws, or is removed .... The aldermen of the town then in office shall be justices of ourself, our heirs and successors, for keeping the peace within the town, its liberty and precints [etc.], in perpetuity. Those seven aldermen, or six, five, four, or three of them of whom it is our wish that the mayor of the town then in office be one have full power and authority to inquire into, hear and determine felonies, murders, trespasses and misprisions of all kinds, as well as all kinds of other causes, plaints, contempts, and wrongdoings, and whatever other things pertain or may or ought to pertain in the future to any Justices of the Peace within our kingdom of England, to hear, inquire into, and determine, or in any way correct, within the town and its liberty and precincts [etc.] any matter that arises or comes about, and to correct and punish the same, as fully and completely as have or shall in the future have the Keepers of the Peace, the justices assigned (and to be assigned) to hear and determine felonies, trespasses and other wrongdoings, and the justices of servants, labourers and other craftsmen in Nottinghamshire or elsewhere within our kingdom of England, outside the town and its liberty.
... furthermore they may have in perpetuity all types of fines, forfeits, and amercements made or to be made, forfeited or to be forfeited, before any of the aldermen, mayor of the town, or the Keepers of the Peace ... to be levied and received by their own officers, for the assistance and support of the heavy costs borne daily by the town or occurring and arising in the town. The present burgesses of the town of Nottingham and their heirs and successors may also have in perpetuity all victuals forfeited within the town and its precincts according to the law of England; that is, bread, wine and ale, and any other victuals, other than those that are merchandize.
[The next clause explicitly excludes certain royal officers from exercising any judicial jurisdiction within the town].
... the aldermen of that town who are in office have the right to use gowns, headware and cloaks of a single style and livery, together with furs and linings suitable for those cloaks, in the same way and manner that they are used by the mayor and aldermen of our city of London, notwithstanding the Statute of Liveries of Clothing and Headware or any other statute or ordinance issued before this time.
[The final clauses reaffirm the obligation of the town's escheator and sheriffs to account in the Exchequer for all borough revenues due the king, and that the town shall continue to enjoy any past chartered privileges and powers not specifically mentioned in the present document.]
... Witnessed by the king at Winchester, 28 June .
Charters of the period of borough incorporation with a few exceptions, the fifteenth century are much in contrast with the early (twelfth century) royal grants of liberties to towns, which were more concise and less weighed down by tediously repetitive legalese. Although the earliest grants of incorporation were to Coventry in 1345 and Hedon (Yorkshire) in 1348, these were exceptional cases: Coventry had ambitions to unite itself in the face of contesting lords (earl and prior) with jurisdiction over parts of the city, while Hedon, once one of the leading dozen ports in the country, was by now declining in the face of the competition from Hull and seeking some means to revive its fortune (today it no longer has borough status). It would not be until the latter part of the century that major cities, such as Bristol, began to move towards incorporation.
Incorporation provided the climax of urban efforts for governmental independence, not from the king or his authority, but from the authority of other of his officers not directly affiliated with the town most notably the county sheriff. Consequently, the grant of incorporation often went hand-in-hand with the grant of county status for the borough and its suburban region; or at least one followed closely upon the other. This was the climax to the long effort towards independence from county authorities which had begun with Nottingham's acquisition of the fee farm in the late twelfth century.
Nottingham's charter of incorporation was fairly typical of those granted to other towns in the decades before and after it, and a logical continuation of the direction taken by royal charters to the borough in the fourteenth century. Henry IV's charter of 1399 had very much paved the way for the formal charter of incorporation, by granting cognisance of all pleas, rights to all fines and amercements from the borough courts, the power of justices of the peace and of labourers to the city executives, and prohibiting county justices from interfering in borough legal jurisdiction (except in cases of felony).
Furthermore, although royal recognition of the corporate character of a borough is traditionally characterized according to five key rights, these were probably of lesser significance to boroughs at the time of incorporation (since the boroughs had largely been exercising such rights for some time), than were the expanded powers given to the officers at the apex of borough government.
Consequently, the 1449 charter's original contributions to the development of Nottingham's constitution - and the same generalization may be made of other borough charters of incorporation of this period - were more in the realm of royal approval of the movement towards "closed corporations". In the case of Nottingham's charter this is represented principally by life tenancy of the powerful office of alderman; the aldermen were the more senior members of the town council. The charter is less typical in its specification of what was to be done in the event of dismissal or resignation of an alderman, but this concern may have been elevated at Nottingham due to its relatively small number of aldermen.
"as far as they extend"
"writ, precept and mandate"
"licences to concord"
"Keepers of the Peace"
"justices of servants, labourers and other
|Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: April 14, 2005||© Stephen Alsford, 2001-2005|