DEFENCE AND SECURITY Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval York Nottingham Leicester London Hereford security disturbances of the peace assemblies riot factionalism rebellion violence weapons guard duty night-watch curfew arrest midsummer watch siege warfare
Subject: Threats to security
Original source: 1. York City Archives, House Book, volume 1, ff. 98-99; 2. Nottinghamshire Archives, Record of indictment and judicial process; 3. Leicestershire Record Office, Leicester Hall Book, pp.229, 235; 4. Corporation of London Records Office, Letter Book H, f.172; 5. Location unknown. Hereford custumal.
Transcription in: 1. Lorraine Attreed, ed. The York House Books (1461-1490), Stroud: Alan Sutton, 572. 2. W.H. Stevenson, ed. Records of the Borough of Nottingham, (London and Nottingham, 1883), vol.2, 280-82. 3. Mary Bateson, ed. Records of the Borough of Leicester, (London, 1901), vol.2, 287, 293. 4. Henry Thomas Riley, ed. Memorials of London and London Life in the XIIIth, XIVth, and XVth Centuries, London: Longmans, Green and Co, (1868), 480-81. 5. W. H. Black and G. M. Hills, "The Hereford municipal records and the customs of Hereford," Journal of the Archaeological Association, v.27 (1871), 461-63. 466-67, 486-88.
Original language: 1, 3, 4, 5. Middle English (5 modernized by Black and Hills); ; 2. Latin
Location: York, Nottingham, Leicester, London, Hereford
Date: 14th and 15th centuries


[1. Defensive actions at York in time of crisis, 1487]

On the Tuesday after, at 11 o'clock, the Earl of Northumberland, Lord Clifford, and many other nobles, accompanied by a force of 6,000, departed south, heading for the king. Soon after their departure, the lords Scrope of Bolton and Upsall, obliged to it by their followers it was said, came on horseback to Bootham Bar and there, crying "King Edward", made an assault on the gates. But the members of the community who were watchmen there mounted a resolute defence and put them to flight. Upon learning of this, the mayor, without hesitation, accompanied by 100 armed men, proclaimed throughout the city in the name of King Henry VII: that all freemen and other residents of the city should arm themselves and report to the wardens; that each warden should, at his peril, guard his ward; and that all outsiders, no matter whom, accoutred for war should leave the city via the south gate, or risk imprisonment and forfeiture of arms and armour. The Earl of Northumberland learning of these events and being within 6 miles of the city, sent a message to the mayor, requesting that, for various reasons that he gave, he might have entry into the city. Whereupon the mayor, at the advice of his colleagues, sent Master Vavasour, the recorder and 3 of his aldermannic colleagues, together with other city councillors, accompanied by 12 horsemen, with a message to the earl, stating that he would be welcome to enter the city with as many as he could guarantee were faithful supporters of the king; and he arranged for the length of Micklegate street to be lined with armed men, about 4,000 in number.

[2. Rioting at Nottingham, 1471]

On 22 July 1471, 12 jurors, under oath, presented that Thomas Whyte of Nottingham, butcher, together with others, around the tenth hour on 15 June 1471, in the county of the town of Nottingham, [being] in force and armed (that is, with swords, daggers, glaives, Normandy-bills, bows drawn and arrows in hand, and with other weapons of defence), gathering to themselves many troublemakers and disturbers of the king's peace, mustering themselves at Nottingham, in the county of the town of Nottingham, in the fashion of an insurrection and riot, with malice aforethought, assaulted Robert Osteler, the servant of William Conyngton, and beat, wounded and maltreated him, in contravention of the king's peace.

They also state that Thomas and the other troublemakers and disturbers of the king's peace, gathering to themselves many troublemakers and disturbers of the king's peace, on the following Sunday [16 June] around 1 p.m., at Nottingham, in force and armed (that is, with swords, daggers, axes, glaives, Normandy-bills, bows drawn and arrows in hand) assaulted John, the servant of William Broksop, and beat and wounded him, and from that hour until 7 p.m. continued their malicious behaviour, declaring and shouting out in various public spaces in the town and even in the king's highway as far as the door [of the house] of the mayor of the town: "Where are the traitors who would resist us? Let them come right now, and we will kill them!"

And then and there Robert Hampson assaulted Thomas Schomaker, the servant of Thomas Staunton, and feloniously killed him at that time. And Robert Dand of Nottingham, labourer, on that same date, in the county of the town of Nottingham, assaulted the same Thomas and feloniously killed him, then and there.

[They also state] that on the same date and in the same place, Thomas Whyte and the others accepted among them and aided and abetted Robert Hampson and Robert Dand, knowing them both to have committed and carried out the felony. And there and then they fired arrows at the mayor, sheriffs, and various other persons, keepers of the king's peace in the town, in the execution of their duties with the intent of bringing a halt to the troublemaking; and quite a few of the townspeople were so badly wounded by the arrows that their lives were despaired of. And at the same time and place they perpetrated many other criminal acts, to the great distress of the mayor, sheriffs, and the entire community of inhabitants of the town, and in open contempt of the king and in infringement of his peace, as well as contrary to the terms of the statute governing such cases.

[3. Ordinances against disorderly behaviour, Leicester, 1467]

For the peace
The mayor commands, in the name of the king, that men of every station keep the peace of our sovereign lord the king, and that no man disturb it within the franchise of this town, such as by wearing armour or carrying a weapon (e.g. haubergeon, sallet, bill, sword, longstaff, dagger, or any other kind of weapon) whereby the king's peace could be disturbed or infringed, upon penalty of forfeiture of the weapon and imprisonment; with the exceptions of being in support of the mayor, or if the individual is a knight or an esquire having a sword borne after him. Every country-dweller who brings any weapon to the town is to leave it at his inn and not carry it within the town – not sword, bill, nor longstaff – except as already stated in support of the mayor, upon penalty of forfeiture of the weapon and imprisonment for as long as the mayor wishes. After the bell has struck nine at night, no-one is to walk around without a light or without good reason, upon penalty of imprisonment.


Riots and illegal assemblies
Also, that no man who resides in the town, whether enfranchised or unenfranchised, is to: participate in any conventicle, riot, or assembly inside the town, nor any riding outside, that infringes the king's peace; accept any livery, gown, or hood from any man of any social status, for the purpose of maintenance of any person or cause. Rather, he is to assist the mayor in upholding the king's peace, good government, and the reputation of the town, and in restraining those who misbehave, or intend to, upon penalty of imprisonment [for failure to comply].

To be ready in the event of an affray
Also, that every man who is a resident of the town is to come to the community hall or to any other designated place when summoned by the mayor or his officers, and be ready, whenever an affray occurs in any part of this town, to come and give service to the mayor in support of the king's peace.

Also, It is legitimate that, whichever person (or persons) disobeys the mayor or his officers and will not come when sent for, the mayor may fetch him by whatever force he can muster, including breaking open his door, if he should close it; and then may imprison him for as long as the mayor wishes.

Concerning weapons
Also, that no man lend or take to any other man who is a country-dweller any kind of weapon – that is, not staff, bill, poleaxe, nor other weapon – except in support of the mayor in upholding the good government of this town, upon penalty of imprisonment and forfeiture of his weapon.

[4. Prohibition of public gatherings, London, 1383]

The mayor, sheriffs, and aldermen, and all associated with them in the governance of the city under our liege-lord the king, by virtue of our charter of liberties, command in the name of the king and also in their own, that no man participate in any congregations, conventicles, or assemblies of people, private or public, beyond what is normal, without permission from the mayor. Nor, what is more, are they in any fashion to form alliances, confederacies, conspiracies, or commitments, in which men are bound together to support quarrels, living and dying together. Upon penalty of imprisonment of the person of any man found in default, for as long as the king wishes, and forfeiture of all that he may forfeit to the king, as regards both real and moveable property. Furthermore, the mayor, sheriffs, and aldermen empower every freeman of the city, in addition to its officers, to arrest each and every person that any of them espies gathering, or gathered, at any such congregation or covin, and to bring them without delay before the mayor, if he is available, or else to Newgate until the mayor is able to give the matter his attention.

[5. Provisions for security at Hereford, before 1383]

Whosoever of our fellow citizens shall offend the said bailiff, of what state or condition soever he shall be, and shall abide in the city or suburbs, the matter shall proceed against him as against a rebel and perjured person, when he shall be convicted of these things before twelve of his fellow citizens assembled together for that intent, whensoever it shall be necessary; and if so be that by favour or protection of any, he shall refuse to amend, let him be cast out of the city, and let his tenements and chattels be seized upon as a rebel to the King and commonalty, and a disturber of the peace of the city, unless he shall be reformed by imprisonment.


And the bailiff, in case the city is besieged by the King's enemies, or the wall of the city in a great necessity is to be amended or newly repaired, ought, in the behalf of our Sovereign Lord the King, and for the tuition of the city, to compel, by rigour or otherwise, all inhabitants of the city and suburbs thereof, viz. the stronger and able men, to watch by night; and to distrain at his pleasure the goods and chattels of all others whatsoever, not having respect to any one's liberty or ecclesiastical goods abiding or remaining within the said city; and in such a case the bailiff himself shall do and perform as aforesaid in the sight and view of six of his fellow citizens at the least; and he ought to receive the persons of those citizens, excepting the cutlers which dwell without the city gates, with their goods and chattels, to remain within the city for a certain time, and to deliver unto them void houses wherein they may dwell honestly and save their goods and chattels, provided that they and all other men of any foreign city (if any are) shall make a contribution in general of all their goods and chattels for the tuition of the city during the time of their abode within the said city; and as soon as a peace shall happen, they shall be compelled to depart out of the said city.


And it shall be commanded, on the behalf of our Lord the King and our commonalty, at the said solemn inquisition, that among other things it shall be proclaimed that no vagabond or night-walker be within the city, nor in the suburbs, after the ringing of our common bell; and if anyone be taken after the ringing of the bell, let him be brought to the gaol of our Lord the King, and there he shall stay until the morrow, that notice and knowledge be taken of his person; and then he shall be delivered by our chief bailiff, if the men in whose fee the gaol is do require the same; and whether so or not, he shall make amends at the pleasure of the bailiff and the commonalty.

Concerning our bell, we use to have it in a public place, where our chief bailiff may come, as well by day as by night, to give warning to all men living within the said city and suburbs. And we do not say that it ought to ring unless it be for some terrible fire burning any row of houses within the said city, or for any common contention whereby the city might be terribly moved, or for any enemies drawing near unto the city, or if the city shall be besieged, or any sedition shall be between any, and notice thereof given by any unto our chief bailiff. And in these cases aforesaid, and in all like cases, all manner of men abiding within the city and suburbs and liberties of the city, of what degree soever they be of, ought to come at any such ringing or motion of ringing with such weapons as fit their degree, etc. And it shall be commanded or told them by our chief bailiff, in the behalf of our Lord the King, what is to be done for the preservation and tranquillity of the city. And any one who shall not come at the aforesaid ringing, let him be accounted for a rebel and a perjured person.


If any discord be amongst ourselves, or amongst certain of our citizens, by the which the peace and tranquillity of the city might be troubled or disturbed, and those which by the way of love shall refuse to unite themselves, that then, when notice of such an one shall come unto our chief bailiff, forthwith he, taking with him the bailiff of that fee, and twelve of the most of the discreetest and stoutest men of the whole city, shall cause them to come by all way of rigour, and shall compel them to come before them; and there, for he avoiding of further danger, the discord shall be determined, and amends shall be made according to their discretions; and if they refuse to come, let them be accounted as perjured persons, and the whole commonalty, by notice and premunition of their bailiffs, shall account and hold them as rebels; and that they come not among them in their congregations any composition or liberty of any in this case notwithstanding.


In time of troubles or wars. — When a city shall be besieged by the Welshmen, or by the enemies of our Lord the King, then our chief bailiff, calling unto him all the bailiffs of the other fees, and the constables of the peace, and twelve of the discreetest and most powerful men of the city, with all speed shall send to our Lord the King, and to his justices of peace, and to the sheriff as keeper of the Castle, lest by him the city be in any way grieved or molested; and in the meantime our chief bailiff, by the assent and consent of those aforesaid, shall cause to be proclaimed that every one, of what condition soever he be, which doth dwell in the city, or would be assisted by the city in any thing, that they be ready, as well by day as by night, to the premunition of the city, and to watch and ward when they shall be warned by the constables of the peace. Also that no one, of what condition soever he be, shall hide or cause to be hidden, any armour or any manual weapons, but shall deliver them to the constables in the presence of the chief bailiff, and shall put a price upon them before his neighbours, being called for that purpose; and after the siege he shall choose either the price or the armour, at his pleasure; and if he refuseth the armour, they shall remain to the bailiff and commonalty. And if by the inquisition it be found, before the chief bailiff, that there be any such an one which doth hide armour, or weapons, or goods, or chattels, as meat, drink, beef, veal, or the like, wherewith the city might any ways be helped, they shall be forfeited before the commonalty of the city called together to that purpose, and their bodies shall be kept without bail or main prise until the commonalty of our Lord the King or his justices.

Also it shall be proclaimed that no one, greater or lesser, shall disclose by any messengers the secrets of the city in any thing, or send to the enemies of our Lord the King and ours any letters, or any victuals, or any weapons or armour, or any other things necessary for them; or shall receive letters or messengers from them, unless he reveal them to our chief bailiff, and to them which by the commonalty shall be deputed and ordained for the keeping of the city. And if any such one shall be upon this convicted, or that a manifest suspicion is had by our citizens, let him be forthwith apprehended, and led by our chief bailiff to the cross in the market; and let the common bell be three times moved, to call the whole commonalty, as well the greater as the lesser, and there solemnly let him be made to abjure the city, with his wife and children, and they shall never dwell in the same again; and let him be sent to our Lord the King, with the seal of the commonalty testifying this fact; but by the special favour of the whole commonalty may dwell among us if the aforesaid things were not done by their assent. But by no means they shall not dwell where they were wont, for the premunition and warning of other offenders in the same kind.

And if dissension be moved among us during the siege, forthwith the parties shall be attached by the chief bailiff and the aforesaid twelve men; and if they will not, the whole commonalty being called together by the warning of the common bell, let them be attached before them, and led to the gaols, and there they shall be stayed, without bail or main prise, until they shall be willing to agree, and the means shall remain unpaid until after the siege.

Neither do we use among us to levy any debts of our Lord the King or of any whatsoever, during the siege, unless those debts are for the tuition of the city.

Churchmen and Widows to find a Watchman. — And we use in such a time that widows and all men of Holy Church, whatsoever, ought to find their ablest men, if they have any, for the tuition and safeguard of the city; and if they have none, they must place or appoint of the ablest of the city, as well by day as by night.

And we use, after the siege is done, that all the armour shall be delivered to our chief bailiff by indenture; and he, upon his accounts, shall be answerable to the community for them. And we use that during the siege, if the bailiff be an unable and impotent man, or unlearned, to choose us one other for the time being; but not a far dweller, unless by the pleasure of the commonalty.

And if any foreigner shall come among us during the siege, of whom there is any suspicion of evil, although it be but a light suspicion, let him be taken by the chief bailiff, or by the constables of the peace, or by any other of our proper citizens, whether by day or by night, and let him be brought to the gaol; and if he shall be convicted, let him be publicly sent to our Lord the King, or else let redemption be taken of him as we think fit, or let him be cast beyond the walls.

And we use after the siege to pay debts, if there are any, and for victuals bought in the mean time for our use; and if our chief bailiff hath not wherewith to pay, in such a case let him make an assessment by himself and the aforesaid twelve men; and then let every one of the city pay, as well widows as also other ecclesiastical persons, because they and all others living in the said city are bound to the preservation of the city. But we use that those which made dissension among us in the time of the siege, and the goods of them which were suspected, because such goods and chattels of theirs do belong unto us, and as forfeitures ought to be paid of us, to the encouraging of the aforesaid assessment.

And we use that when a peace is proclaimed, that all ecclesiastical persons, of what condition soever they be, do go with a solemn procession through the whole city, and to pray for the peace of the Church and for the kingdom, and for all those which in any thing had been helping to the keeping of the city either by counsel, or by aid, or by any other means by the which we and our heirs have escaped disinheritance.


English soil was exposed to relatively little warfare in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but military forces were not infrequently on the march, gathering for foreign wars or the defence of England's frontiers, and they – together with soldiers returning from the wars – could present threats to urban security. To take just one example, in August 1415 soldiers accompanying the Duke of Lancaster to France were camped outside Salisbury; for reasons unknown there was a brawl between a large group of them and some citizens, leading to the deaths of four of the latter; the conflict was sufficiently serious to set the city's warning bells ringing. One of the deceased was buried at city expense.

Although hostilities with France and Scotland continued to consume English resources, the military history of fifteenth century England is more remembered for the so-called Wars of the Roses. It has been questioned whether they merit the descriptor "war" since there were few large-scale battles; many encounters between opposing forces were more akin to the skirmishes of well-armed rival street gangs, and the time spent fighting was only a fraction of the total period over which the war stretched.

Nor were most English towns heavily implicated in the contention between aristocratic factions for control of power. On the whole, English urban fortifications were on a more modest scale than many of those of continental Europe; even some of the more important towns were still without walled circuits, and those that were fortified invested in improvements at a far more modest level than in the fourteenth century. Yorkist and Lancastrian/Tudor factions were uninterested in, or incapable of, extended sieges of towns, and their contention was apparently not perceived as the clear and present danger that was earlier the case for French raids against coastal towns or Scottish incursions directed towards northern towns. The challenge to York's defences in 1487 was an empty one, although it may have achieved its desired effect (see Notes), and the city's rebuff of the assailants was sufficient relief to Henry VII that he knighted mayor William Todd in gratitude. The city faced threats from rebellious barons in 1216 and 1264, from the Scots in 1319 and 1327, and from local rebels in 1469 and 1489; but it underwent no real test until the siege of 1644.

A less direct, but perhaps more serious, impact on towns of the civil war in the fifteenth century was in promoting division within communities, adding a complicating or amplifying factor to existing local rivalries for political or socio-economic reasons, in part by developing new networks of loyalty that allied those questing for power at the higher levels with those having ambitions or grievances at lower levels of society, and thereby reducing the traditional sense of loyalty (expected if not actual) to one's community. Internal conflict proved a bigger threat to local security than assaults by external forces. The long-standing national legislation requiring citizens to have weapons and armour on hand and the ability to use bow and arrow, for purposes of national defence, together with the dependence on local recruitment of soldiery (with bloodied survivors being fed back into their communities), proved a double-edged sword. It has been observed that "The possession of arms combined with the passionate emotional tendency of the day left the temptation to violence irresistibly strong." [J.R. Lander, Conflict and Stability in Fifteenth-Century England. London: Hutchinson, 1969, 165.]

We should of course beware of tarring everyone with the same brush. In any society some people are, for various reasons, more predisposed than others to try to resolve their problems through violence (physical or psychological). Studies of the social background of court juries suggest that the pool from which jurors were chosen represented the more upright and reputable members of a community, rarely themselves accused of any serious offences [on this see Anthony Musson, Medieval Law in Context, Manchester University Press, 2001, 116-118]. In an age when the principle of rule of law was only beginning to impress itself upon the cultural psyche, there seems to the modern eye to have been a stronger habit of resorting to violence than we would like to believe the case today. Yet it is the nature of many medieval sources to give more attention to the violent members of medieval society than those who were law-abiding; and often those sources tend to give one-sided portrayals of violent events.

The trouble at Nottingham in 1471 may well have been exaggerated; the accusation contains various elements of standard formulae – such as specifying vi et armis and giving a list of weaponry – used to convey to judges or to the king the seriousness of an offence. But, after stripping away the formulae, what remains clearly describes a significant breach of order. Stevenson believed it was the work of Yorkist partisans, taking advantage of the collapse of the Lancastrians after the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. Although those had taken place weeks earlier, partisans may have been waited for assurance that Edward IV was secure on the throne before taking action against Lancastrians. During the course of the civil war, Nottingham authorities had been careful to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds, so that it cannot be described as evidently Lancastrian or Yorkist in its sympathies, but both parties may well have had known supporters among the townspeople.

While national factionalism – that is, Yorkist loyalties – could have played a part in motivating the Nottingham insurgents (see below), it remains possible that the disturbance was prompted at least in part by internal issues (of which we now know little), much the same way as were violent conflicts at London in the 1380s and Lynn in 1415. Political rivalries could on occasion take on the appearance of localized civil wars and lead to murderous assaults, as at Ipswich in the 1320s, Newcastle in the 1340s, and Nottingham in 1413. These outbreaks of violence were the exception rather than the rule, but show that risks to urban security could originate as easily within the community as from external threats. Constitutional adjustments in Nottingham during the fifteenth century, starting it along the road towards the closed corporation model, together with economic stresses that prompted a self-interested struggle between different trades for control of government, and dissatisfaction with what was perceived as corrupt and self-interested administration by the ruling elite, would culminate in the early sixteenth century with a popular revolt of sorts. Perhaps the White affair was an earlier manifestation of these stresses, although none of the principals named in the indictment (accused or victims) appear to have been among the borough rulers, and the attack on the mayor and sheriffs seems to have been a matter of resisting arrest rather than political hostility.

At the same time, we should not ignore the possibility that the Nottingham disturbance of 1471 was an outbreak of misrule (perhaps fuelled by political or social discontent) during the festival period between Corpus Christi (13 June) and midsummer (24 June), at a period when authorities were less tolerant of over-exuberant or disorderly popular expressions and were seeking to channel them into more controlled ceremonial forms. If misrule, it is a good example of how such expressions could get dangerously out of hand. Not for nothing did urban authorities give special attention to the town watch at midsummer, with a view to combatting misrule. Nor should we be blind to the possibility that Yorkist supporters in Nottingham may have taken advantage of the tradition of the midsummer season to attack local Lancastrians, under the guise of a misrule disturbance.

Whatever the case, evidently the disorder had subsided before the jury made its presentment, for, rather than try to arrest Whyte, the town's sheriffs were ordered to ensure he appeared at a session of the Justices of the Peace scheduled for 14 October, to answer the charges. Whyte managed to delay proceedings until the following April, to give himself time to purchase a pardon from the king (in March 8), which he submitted to the court, along with a royal writ (March 19) instructing the court to accept the pardon. Clearly Whyte had (or could obtain) the legal knowledge and the money to enable him to proceed in that way. In consequence, the town's records give us no further information about the affair.

However, further light seems to be thrown, if hazily, on the affair by a complaint brought before the king and his council in November 1471, based on a document dated 21 October in which the mayor, aldermen and community of Nottingham accuse Robert Hampson and three others of "grete riottis, excesses and misgovernances" [Records of the Borough of Nottingham, 2, 384] and request permission from the king to gaol them. The king refused, on the grounds that the charge had not been proven in any court, but it looks as though the accused (or some of them) had an affiliation with Lord Grey, or had obtained his protection, for he informed the king that they were his servants. The accused were ordered to put up bonds for good behaviour and appear before king and council (which Lord Grey was to ensure). Lord Grey, on the one side, and the mayor, and other complainants, on the other, were ordered to behave peaceably towards each other, and towards the accused. Lord Grey was further ordered to release from his service any Nottingham townsmen who had received his livery.

Interpreting the affair as a local offshoot of the national power-struggle between factions may possibly be given extra weight by the use of the term riota in the accusation against Whyte and his followers. The changing application of the term in the Late Middle Ages has been traced by John Bellamy [Criminal Law and Society in Medieval and Tudor England. Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1984, 54-89]. Its earliest known use in official documentation occurs in 1361, in a statute empowering justices of the peace to arrest and imprison rioters. The primary target seems to have been soldiers returning from the war in France, unable to find employment and – whether individually or in bands – resorting to robbing, pillaging, and other unruly behaviour to live; "riot" may have been a term brought back from France with them. In the reign of Richard II, however, the term was redirected towards public disturbances in which the emphasis was more on group behaviour of an insurrectional character. During the reign of Henry VI it was again repurposed for application to violent offences committed by the gentry in the feuding inspired the high-level factionalism that would develop into the Wars of the Roses; for example, to armed bands waylaying victims, or to forcible entry into the property of others. Whether the usage in the Whyte affair stems from that later application, or had an earlier sense, remains uncertain.

We cannot necessarily place the blame entirely, or even predominantly, on the disturbed state of national politics for local disturbances in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. There had long been within urban society, and between urban communities and rural neighbours, enough causes for hostility and enmity to create severe challenges for maintaining law and order. Among them, contests for political power. The compilation at Leicester, in October 1467, of a wide range of borough ordinances, many of them largely reiterating older versions, came at a time when the authorities were showing concern over orderly proceedings at local elections. It is not clear that any specific problem prompted these regulations. By contrast, concern on the part of London authorities, in 1383, over public gatherings was related to a specific occurrence of political conflict in the city, which saw both sides resorting to shows of force and killings of opponents. The prohibition was issued in late 1383 at the orders of mayor Nicholas Brembre and aimed at making it difficult for the followers of John Northampton, who had recently lost the mayoralty to Brembre and had since been conspiring to overturn the election, from further challenging his authority; that the order was the earliest entry in English in London's Letter-Books may reflect the fact that it was targeted at the general populace and needed to be proclaimed widely in the vernacular. This was the type of disturbance – news of which doubtless spread across the country – that was prompting the ruling class in various boroughs to try to impose more restrictive controls on the citizenry.

At Hereford, on the other hand, the principal security concern was attack by external forces; for Hereford was on the border between Wales and England and consequently the part of the frontier for hostilities. For example, in 1055 a Welsh army, after defeating the defending forces of the Earl of Hereford, was able to enter the city, plunder it, and burn much of it to the ground. It was immediately following this disaster that a strong defensive ditch, punctuated by gates, is said to have been dug (perhaps as an improved version of existing Mercian burh defences). But ca. 1125 this was described as being poorly maintained. During the civil war between Matilda and Stephen, parts of the city were again destroyed during a siege of the castle (1138). A new bank and ditch were constructed mid-century to protect a large section of the city. The erection of stone walls, along with four new rebuilt gates, was underway by the close of the century, with the work probably continuing throughout the next century, including enlargement of the circuit (suggested by a series of murage grants from 1224). In the civil war between Henry III and the Montfortian rebels, the former's supporters assaulted Hereford (which had sided with the latter) in 1265, but the walls were apparently sturdy enough by this time to resist entry, and the attackers satisfied themselves with setting fire to suburban houses. The city was once more feeling threatened during Owen Glendower's uprising against Henry IV, but escaped direct attack.

The prospect of sieges evidently still weighed heavily on local minds at the time Hereford's custumal was compiled. We are not certain when this was. Several post-medieval copies are known. They close with a note referring to their source, itself a copy made in 1486 by, or at the behest of, the mayor. However, the text mostly assumes that the city's chief executive is styled bailiff, so it must predate the change of title, which the king authorized in 1383. The heading of the custumal gives indications as to dating in the form of the reigning king (Henry II), Anno Domini (1154), and name of the bailiff then in office, but these are problematic, and it appears that some compiler or copyist was at pains to attribute an unwarranted antiquity to this set of customs, but without researching his fraud very thoroughly. Even though some of the content could heark back to the second half of the twelfth century, on the whole it has the ring more of late thirteenth to fourteenth century preoccupations and expression (partly due to probable rewriting and updating more than once during the course of its history). We are fairly safe to assume these customs were in force in the mid to late fourteenth century.

The custumal provides a rare look at urban arrangements in the event of a siege. It highlights the obligations of the city leaders: to offer protection to all who may be in the city (whether residents or outsiders), while the siege lasted; to arrange for the fortifications to be guarded; and to raise money from all within the city to cover the costs of defending it. It identifies the actions that needed to be taken to organize the defences, in terms of designating key officials to take charge, appointing a defence committee, and marshalling defenders and equipment. And it points to critical issues such as preventing treachery from within, ensuring the city is supplied with necessaries to withstand a siege, and discouraging any division or rancour within the community at a time when cooperation and a united front were essential. Everyone – resident or visitor, man or woman, layman or cleric – was expected to contribute to the defence in one way or another.

Besides attack by external forces, the Hereford custumal addresses other security risks. One such was resistance to the authority of local officials. It was common for town ordinances to include provision for punishment of rebellious behaviour, whether by word or by deed. Equally, disrespect shown to officials needed to be punished, so that it did not escalate into contumacy. The power of local authorities was more consensual than coercive, so it was important to exert pressure towards conformity to standards of behaviour. Another risk was posed by quarrels between citizens, which could escalate into vendetta or other forms of more widespread public disorder. Mediation by local authorities (to urge reconciliation), or arbitration by individuals chosen by the parties to formulate a mutually acceptable settlement, were informal methods increasingly employed in the Late Middle Ages to settle problems of various kinds in preference to the formal method of dispute resolution through litigation.

One of the long-standing forms of social control, for purposes of security, was the curfew. The warning in Hereford's custumal (above) that anyone abroad after curfew was liable to arrest that is fairly representative of such prohibitions, although there might be local variations on the theme; for instance: at High Wycombe (1398) 10 o'clock was prescribed as the hour of curfew, whereas Beverley (1405) had a graduated curfew, with residents to be off the streets by 9 o'clock, but visiting outsiders an hour earlier; and curfew might be sounded by a civic bell or (more often) by one or more designated parish churches, as at London or Ipswich. Less trusted members of the community might be subject to special rules, as at Maldon. The frequency with which curfew orders were reissued by the authorities, men were accused of being night-walkers, or crimes were said to have been committed after curfew (see examples from Oxford and London), all point to the difficulty in winning respect for and enforcing curfew; some infringers were prepared to evade or resist arrest. On the other hand, enforcing curfew may not have been a high priority for all communities; when, in the context of mounting hostilities between Edward II and his baronial opponents (led by the Earl of Leicester), an order was issued in Leicester that no-one wander about in the town after curfew, the town authorities found it necessary to pay particular individuals to ring the curfew between December 1321 and April 1322.

Another common by-law associated with the preservation of the peace required any visitors planning to stay for more than two or three days to provide the authorities with guarantors for their good behaviour; residents who hosted them (whether innkeepers or householders) were to ensure this took place, and could be held liable for compensation due to anyone injured by their guests.

Later in the custumal there is elaboration of how to deal with citizens found to be persistent offenders in night-walking. They were subject initially to a fine, then (if unrepentant), progressively to disfranchisement, imprisonment, banishment from the city, and forfeiture of all property owned in the city. Any who supported such offenders were liable to the same punishments, "because by such maintainers or protectors a common contention might arise amongst us, and horrible manslaughter be committed amongst us, and the loss of the liberty or freedom of the city, to the disinheritance of us and our children." [p.479] This clause reflects a common underlying dread of urban authorities that, if law and order could not be upheld within a town, the king might intervene and take local government into his own hands. The type of disturbance that might lead to this was experienced at Hereford in the late thirteenth century, as a result of which

"it was agreed by the whole commonalty of all the liberties, that if any one should be taken by night leading any company, or by himself, making a noise, who shall be a vagabond, to the terror of his fellow citizens, that any one of the city may take him, not offending in any thing the officer of the bailiff, or his sub-bailiffs, or the watchmen; and when such an one shall be taken, he ought to be brought to the gaol of our Lord the King, and there he ought to stay until ... he hath made amends, as the bailiff and commonalty shall think fit."

The London prohibition of 1383 (above) was accompanied by a second proclamation reminding Londoners that it was forbidden for all (except the mayor and his officers, or those having explicit permission from the mayor) to wander around the city after 9 o'clock had struck, upon pain of immediate arrest by whoever found them in the streets. The following February, after Northampton and his closest associates had been arrested and one of his supporters summarily executed for trying (it was claimed) to raise an insurrection, the aldermen were instructed to ascertain the number of reliable men in their wards who could be used to keep an eye open for breaches of the peace; they were to report any such to the mayor, but apparently were expected also to assist with suppression of such breaches, for they were to be armed and issued with red uniforms. It will be noted that both the London ordinance and the Hereford custumal authorized citizen's arrests in particular circumstances where security was in jeopardy. National legislation of the thirteenth and early fourteenth century had empowered constables, the night-watch, and any officials responsible for preserving the peace to arrest suspicious characters pre-emptively (i.e. without due process of an indictment being officially registered). But later in the fourteenth century those responsible for peace-keeping were empowered to arrest anyone disturbing public order, and the provisions at London and Hereford may have taken their lead from this.



"Tuesday after"
12 June. Four days earlier, the die-hard Yorkists, led by the Earl of Lincoln and Lord Lovell, and the figurehead Lambert Simnel, pretending to be the nephew of Edward IV, had sent a letter to the mayor asking for support from York, in the form of accommodations and sustenance. The mayor and corporation, however, sent a message to the Earl of Northumberland (the new power in the north, following the death of Richard III) advising him of the situation, ordered that each warden array his ward and that close watch be kept at the gates, and sent three of the city chamberlains to the rebels with a refusal to admit them to the city. Northumberland promised to bring support within a couple of days; such a force soon arrived with Clifford at its head, with Northumberland and more men on his heels; but they left again to seek out the rebel army, which was believed heading south.

"lords Scrope"
John Scrope, 5th lord of Bolton, an experienced soldier, and the young Thomas, 6th Lord Scrope of Masham. Both had fought for Richard III at Bosworth, and the former was married to the niece of Warwick, the Kingmaker. The Scropes seemed to have a knack for choosing the wrong side. Henry 3rd Lord Scrope of Masham had been involved in the Earl of Cambridge's plot against Henry V, and his head wound up on a spike decorating Micklegate Bar at York. After the Simnel revolt, both men were fined heavily; Bolton was not permitted to move beyond the confines of the region around London, but was later employed by the king on diplomatic missions.

"a resolute defence"
The rebels who tried to breach the city defences may have hoped that York's defenders would remember the city's Yorkist sympathies and allow them entrance. They were likely a small, mobile force of horsemen, not equipped for a siege. Nonetheless, it is hard to imagine that the few watchmen would have been a great disincentive; orders given in 1463 for the defence of the city assigned only two unarmed guards to each gate during the day (four at night). But Bootham Bar would have presented sufficient obstacle to give time for substantial reinforcements to arrive. On the other hand, the attackers' intent may have been to create a diversionary scare that, as events proved, obliged Northumberland and Clifford to return to protect the city, with the intent of depriving Henry VII of their aid against the main army opposing him. Even after Northumberland's force quit the city once more, it seems to have at first gone northward in pursuit of the Scropes, rather than south to join the king.

"south gate"
Micklegate Bar.

"Master Vavasour"
John Vavasour had been appointed as the city's recorder (chief legal advisor) in 1486, after earlier service as one of the city's retained counsel. His appointment was an expression of civic independence: both the king and the earl trying to impose their own candidates on the city, to replace an incumbent who had been a committed supporter of Richard III. Despite the city's defiance of King Henry, and despite his own past associations with Richard of Gloucester (possibly a member of the ducal council) Vavasour did not find himself in the king's disfavour; he had been training as a lawyer in the Inner Temple since at least 1467 and by 1478 had climbed the ladder of his profession as far as the status of king's sergeant-at-law. He it was who carried to Henry Tudor the news of Lincoln's rebellion. He resigned the recordership in 1490, shortly after being appointed by the king as a Justice of Common Pleas, a post he held until his death in 1506. He made an advantageous marriage, but it seems to have been an unhappy one, and he left no children.

"enter the city"
The forces of Northumberland and Clifford remained a day or two to make sure the city was in no danger, before setting out, ultimately to join up with the king and give battle to the rebels at Stoke near Newark.

"county of the town"
Nottingham had been incorporated as a county in its own right (administratively) by royal charter of 1449.

A pole, several feet long, topped by a broad, single-edged blade.

Like glaives, bills were polearms topped by broad blades (intended for cutting more than thrusting); some might also have hooks or spikes on the opposite side from the cutting edge. Bills were common infantry weapons and came in various types.

"William Conyngton"
Described in 1467 as a fishmonger.

"the traitors"
We should beware of assuming that specific individuals are necessarily meant; it could have been a general challenge to any would-be opponents, with Thomas Shoemaker unfortunate enough to be within reach.

"keepers of the king's peace"
This may refer to specific officers, such as constables, or simply to whichever citizens were supporting the mayor and sheriffs, since it was the statutory duty of citizens to be prepared to come armed to the assistance of the authorities in maintaining the peace.

"carrying a weapon"
The requirement not to go about armed, with specified exceptions, but to leave weapons behind in lodgings, is recorded at various towns (e.g. London).

A mail shirt.

A type of light helmet, common at this period, incorporating a tail to protect the rear neck.

A thick, heavy pole, used particularly by commoners, for personal defence; it could be up to 12 feet in length, in contrast to the shorter quarterstaff.

"a sword borne after him"
As an indicator of status.

The term was used for group meetings of various kinds, public or private. But from the late fourteenth century (as partisan politics became increasingly dangerous) it came to be applied particularly to unsanctioned gatherings suspected by the authorities as being a prelude to rebellious, disruptive, or subversive behaviours; it found a place in official correspondence of Richard II and in statutes of his successors. Conventicle often appeared in a list of different names for gatherings of such character (e.g. as at Nottingham and Lynn, although the term was also used in a disapproving fashion at earlier date, e.g. London in 1272). By the sixteenth century it was being applied especially to meetings of heretics, although this usage can also be found earlier (e.g. Norwich, 1428); urban authorities doubtless viewed their opponents as something like heretics.

I.e. an unauthorized mounted expedition, with a view to causing trouble in neighbouring hamlets.

The Statute of Maintenance and Liveries of 1390 sought to combat a growth of lawlessness in the form of new power networks focused around members of the nobility. Just as the king's power depended on the loyalty of those whom he rewarded with office, land, and money, his nobles followed suit, expanding their regional influence, beyond their household and traditional feudal relationships, by retaining the support of useful local men through gifts that involved uniforms or badges indicating the affiliation of lord and retainer (bastard feudalism). Liveried retainers could in return call on the influence of their lord, in support (maintenance) of their quarrels, legal or extra-legal, or ambitions, while a lord could use his local agents to intimidate his opponents, or worse. These affinities, undermining centralized authority and local authority alike, threatened the peace as well as the justice system, and played a large factor in the nationwide disorder known as the Wars of the Roses.

An outbreak of violent conflict, such as an assault, brawl, or riot, usually occurring in a public place and thereby a disturbance of the peace. In 1488 ordinances specified different levels of fines for affrays made near the High Cross or anywhere in town on a market day (presumably representing the location and time when such things were more likely to occur), depending upon whether anyone was wounded as a result.

The term used here, obligaciouns would seem to imply some kind of sworn association to stand together for mutual support, as the phrase following it goes on to elaborate. Ironically it was just such an association, in the form of the commune, that helped London gain some of its key liberties in the first place.

"all that he may forfeit"
This phrase may mean the maximum fine possible, or the loss of all possessions (the punishment of a traitor).

A French term that simply referred to a group that met; like conventicle, the term derives from the Latin convenire (to come together). Also like conventicle, it acquired negative connotations of collustion with a deceitful or malicious intent to defraud others of their rights, and found a place in legal jargon. It also developed specific applications, such as to private conspiracies acting, or planning to act, contrary to the law or prejudicial to public interest (and later to covens of witches), becoming part of political rhetoric to discredit or derogate one's opponents. It may be that the closest modern equivalents are gang or cabal.

"state or condition"
That is, social status.

"rebel and perjured person"
The perjury was against the oath of citizenship. Similarly, rebel means rebellious against the community (and its representative authority). Such offenders were subject to disfranchisement.


"solemn inquisition"
The Law Days, or principal court sessions held by the chief officers of the city, at which local by-laws were read out in public, and offences against them presented and dealt with.

"by the way of love"
That is, settle their own differences amicably, possibly referring to a loveday (public reconciliation). The language of the custumal has been muddied or distorted somewhat by past translation; a critical edition of the oldest (Latin) extant version would be highly desirable (Bateson having included only a very few Latin extracts in Borough Customs).

"that fee"
That is, the territorial liberty (administered independently from the city proper) in which a party to the quarrel resides.

The first and last occurrences of this term mean forewarning (and should properly be premonition), whereas the second occurrence is in the sense of preparation of the defences.

Sic. Perhaps an error for "coming"

"vi et armis"
Including this clause in a complaint was an important legal tactic. It ensured that what would otherwise have been considered a trespass, rather than a felony, was taken seriously enough to be treated as a criminal case, rather than a civil suit, because any injury caused was the result of violence ("by force and arms"). As a commonly used piece of legal terminology (e.g. see indictments from Lynn), we cannot take it at face value without corroborating evidence. Similarly, references to accused parties being outfitted or behaving in a warlike fashion (e.g. Oxford, Ipswich, Nottingham) was a trigger to bring into play the prohibition against anyone – except the king or his lieutenants – raising war, unless in self-defence.

"three others"
Hampson's co-accused were: Richard Alestre, member of a family that had supplied Nottingham with two mayors earlier in the century (most recently in 1469/70 in the person of Thomas Alestre), and who himself rose to the mayoralty in the eventful year 1485, but never held it thereafter; Thomas Hudson, possibly related to the Roger Hudson who was mayor in 1472/73; and Thomas Shaw, possibly related to the John Shaw who was elected sheriff in 1495. The evidence is far from conclusive, but may hint at political division within the ruling class based partly on national lines. Hampson himself had taken up the franchise at Nottingham only in 1467/68 and is unlikely to have been a member of the ruling class in the town..

"Lord Grey"
Edmund Grey, created Earl of Kent in 1465. Himself originally a Lancastrian who switched to the Yorkist side and became a member of Edward IV's council. His grandfather, who served Henry IV and V, had been constable of Nottingham castle in 1408.

"copy made in 1486"
The earliest surviving inventory (1475) of municipal assets transferred from outgoing to incoming mayor refers to a book containing the city customs.

"reigning king"
A preamble following the title refers, however, to an event supposed to have taken place in the first year of the reign of King Henry, the son of King Henry. If Henry II was intended, his first year would be 1154/55. But the lineage is wrong. No king Henry was succeeded by a son of the same name until the early fifteenth century; although Henry II had his eldest son Henry crowned in 1170, the latter never reigned, as such.

"name of the bailiff"
John Gaunter. There is no reason to think Hereford had its own bailiff prior to its first royal charter of liberties (1189), and the names of many of the individual bailiffs are known from the 1260s on. A John le Gaunter is known to have held that post on several occasions in the 1280s and 1290s. The compiler evidently lifted the name from other entries in the custumal, without checking in city records to associate a date with that office-holder (some such records are still extant today). A second bailiff named in the custumal is Robert Dureward, and may perhaps be an error for Hugh Doreward, who was bailiff in 1282. Some elements of one of the editions of the custumal were clearly drawn from records of the 1280s, and Gaunter looks a likely candidate as the sponsor of an even earlier edition – his name may have been explicitly associated with the custumal before some subsequent editor aimed at crediting it with even greater antiquity (while adding later material).

"resist arrest"
An example from London, in 1236, illustrates the challenge to security during the difficult Christmas season, when troublemakers were that much more likely to be abroad. On the night of 27 December, five members of the city night-watch, patrolling the streets, found a man named Roger unconscious from a beating and carried him to a nearby house (where he died the following morning). They then proceeded to the ward in which they believed the injured man resided, intent on investigating the crime. There they discovered him to be a member of that ward's watch, and were informed by his colleagues that "as they were all going together to keep watch, they chanced to meet a man carrying an unlighted lantern, whom they pursued as far as opposite Consel's shop. There they found a number of unknown men standing in the street, armed with swords and other weapons, who, when they attempted to arrest them, assaulted them, and so beat Roger that he died. The other members of the watch they badly wounded, and then fled." [Helena Chew and Martin Weinbaum, eds. The London Eyre of 1244, London Record Society (1970), 45] Only one of the culprits was known to the watchmen, and he had made himself scarce.

"9 o'clock"
Although since this appears to have been closing time for taverns, there must have been some allowance for its clientele making their way home. The same must have been true for London, where curfew likewise signalled that taverns should close. The concern was with those looking for trouble, whereas there was toleration of those using the streets after curfew if they carried a light, had good reason to be abroad, or were men of known good character.

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Created: December 31, 2007. Last update: January 9, 2019 © Stephen Alsford, 2007-2019