DEFENCE AND SECURITY Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Coventry defences renovation administration regulations militia armour weapons gates portcullis barriers ditches maintenance walls construction artillery expenditures taxation murage rebellion castles friaries chamberlain Sandwich
Subject: Provisions for city defence
Original source: Coventry City Record Office, Leet Book
Transcription in: Mary Dormer Harris, ed., The Coventry Leet Book or Mayor's Register, London: Early English Text Society, old series, vol.134 (1907), 244-45,256-57, vol.135 (1908), 258-62.
Original language: Middle English
Location: Coventry
Date: 1450/51


[1. Citizens to provide themselves with armour, 1450]

It is to be remembered that those worthy men as well as commoners named below have ordered, for the welfare of the city of Coventry and for the preservation of peace within it, as well as for upholding the king's laws, that every man who has served as mayor of the city of Coventry is to have ready on a daily basis in the house in which he resides 4 "jakkes" or 4 " haburions", 4 "salettes", 4 sheaves of arrows and 4 bows, and other weapons associated with the same equipment. And everyone who has served as bailiff of the city is to have 3 jakkes or 3 haburions, 3 salettes, 3 bows, 3 sheaves of arrows, and other weapons associated with the same equipment. Also, every man who has served as warden or chamberlain of the city is to have 2 jakkes or 2 haburions, 2 salettes, 2 bows, 2 sheaves of arrows, and other weapons associated with the same equipment. Every other commoner of the city who is able to afford it is to have a jakke or a haburion, a salette, and bow and sheaf of arrows, and other weapons associated with the same equipment. Men who have served as mayor upon the penalty [for default] of forfeiting £4, men who have served as bailiff forfeiting £3, men who have served as chamberlain or warden forfeiting 40s., and other commoners forfeiting 20s. Every man is to have his equipment ready between the present date (that is, 15 January 1450) and 5 April following, under the penalties specified above.

The same persons further order that a man, once he has organized his equipment as specified above, may not sell, loan, give away or dispose of any of the equipment or weapons outside the city, nor any part of them, but should keep them within the city; nor should a citizen [dispose of] any of the equipment or weapons within the city, except after having been giving permission by the mayor then in office, or when the common bell is rung, or for purposes of preserving the peace and upholding the king's laws, or in support of the good government of the city, or else for some other reasonable cause, so that the neither the king's laws nor his peace thereby be damaged or obstructed.

Also, no tailor of the city is to make a jakke unless it is of good material and properly designed to protect the body of the man who wears it; who does otherwise shall forfeit a penalty of 40s. for every default.

[There follow 78 names of citizens who attended the assembly at which this ordinance was issued]

Whereupon, at the command of Edmund Brogreve, then mayor, in consequence of the ordinance recited above, the crafts of the city of Coventry have submitted to the mayor the names of every person able to put together the equipment and array himself as specified by the ordinance; that is:

[There follow lists of names of 38 mercers, 59 drapers, 57 dyers, 22 girdlers, 57weavers, 64 tailors and shermen, 27 walkers, 48 wiredrawers (including journeymen), 39 shoemakers, 49 smiths, 13 fishmongers, 20 tawyers, 23 butchers, 7 saddlers, 7 cardmakers, 7 masons, 9 skinners, 10 pinners and tilers, 19 bakers, 15 barbers. 20 wrights, 8 barkers, and 5 cooks, with the number of jakkes each was expected to furnish, according to their status.]

[2. Improvements ordered to the defensive fortifications, 1451]

Let it be remembered that on 6 February last the below-named worthy men were called together before the mayor, Richard Boys, in St. Mary's Hall to discuss various matters for the good and benefit of the city. [The names of 89 participants in the assembly follow.]

Various items of business for the good of the city having been put forward, listened to, and recommendations made, these worthy men ordered that the town ditches of the city should be cleaned up. And that, to accomplish this, every householder of the city is to find a man, house by house and ward by ward, in the same order as for the watch, except that all the worthy men are to share in this obligation as much as others.

They also ordered that portcullises be made for every city gate that is designed to accommodate a portcullis; this to be done by the city chamberlains at the cost of the city.

They also ordered that "spayers" be made in the river Sherbourne to block the water if occasion required it, and to let the water pass through at all other times. This too to be done by the chamberlains at the cost of the city.

Also, that several iron chains should be made and hung in various places within the city, hanging across the ends of various lanes that have been identified; this to be done under the supervision of the mayor and his council.

Also, a postern [gate] should be constructed at the upper end of Spon Street. This postern should be made at the cost of Spon Street [residents]; that is, from Bablake into the suburbs.

These ordinances set out above the mayor, with the advice of his council whenever appropriate, did not waste any time in playing his part – in cleaning the town ditches, in making portcullises, spayers, chains, and in all other matters. Nevertheless, at a leet held at Coventry on 6 May 1451, a petition was presented and delivered to the worthy men of that leet; the tenor of this petition was as follows:

To all the worthy men of this present leet, may it please you to consider in your wisdom that whereas recently, during the time of the present mayor, according to the good and long-standing custom of this city, there were assembled at St. Mary's Hall 48 and more of the worthiest persons then in the city, for maintaining good government and rule in the city; at which time it was decided that there should be made certain portcullises, spayers, and chains, and that the ditches of the city should be cleaned out. Those portcullises, spayers, and chains have been made, and the greater part of the ditches have been cleaned. At that time it was ordered that the ditches be cleaned by [a rotation of] persons, on the same basis as the watch; the which [roster] has gone twice through the city, at very heavy cost – particularly to the poor people. Would you, at this present leet, confirm the ordinances made by those 48 and more persons; and, moreover, order that [the cleaning of] the ditches be completed for the benefit of this city, by such ways and means as shall be least costly and burdensome to the city, especially to the poor people. Also, whereas in every city and town in this land there is in every ward an alderman to whom each and every person of the ward may have recourse if any misadventure falls, so that every alderman can call on the strength of the populace and take it into any part of the city and town at times of need, would you in your great wisdom ordain that it is likewise in this city, from this time forward into the future.

To which petition the worthy men of the leet responded in the following manner:
First, they order that £12.10s. be levied from those men of the city who are thrifty, sparing poor men, so that he who receives 4d. a day for his labour will pay 1d. or 2d. at most. With that £12.10s. the town ditches are to be cleaned. The mayor is to select 8 worthy men to counsel him in arranging for the cleaning of the ditches, and how much to pay those who undertake the work. The worthy men of the leet also order that every man of this city is to be ready to come in response to the mayor's command, and to go to the mayor when summoned, as has been the custom in the past. They also confirm and ratify the ordinances made by the worthy men named above – that is, made by those summoned to appear before the mayor on 6 February last.

Of that £12.10s. only £11.7s. reached the mayor's hands, for the reason that Spon Street ward fell short in 19s. of its assessment, and Bishop Street fell short by 4s.

Notwithstanding, on 20 June the mayor had summoned before him the worthy men whose names follow, to discuss certain matters for the good of the city. [A list of 25 names follows.]

Inasmuch as the £11.7s. was not sufficient for the cleaning of the ditches, these worthy men ordered that the mayor should receive 100s. from John Garton and Richard Dyvet, lately wardens of this city, for finishing the work on the ditches in Little Park. Also the final 8s. of the sum gathered for the brass guns, which amount was spent for the same purpose [i.e. the ditches]. Total amount received: £16.15s.

Memorandum that, pursuant to the ordinances set out above, the mayor summoned before him 8 worthy men of the city and [in their presence] made an agreement with Lewis Dyker for cleaning out the ditches. That is, Lewis was to clean the ditch stretching from Dog Lane to the Cook Street Gate, 10 perches in length, for 5s. per perch; also, to clean the ditch in the Poddycroft, 11 perches in length, for 5s. per perch; and to make a bank beside that same ditch, [to replace] one that had earlier collapsed, for which he should have 6s.8d. Also, Lewis was to have 16s.8d for "ramming and stopping" the spayer with stone, so that the water would not flow out. Also, Lewis was to have 6s.8d per perch for cleaning out the ditch in Little Park, comprising a single stretch of 26 perches, and 4 perches by the New Gate (total: 30 perches). It was also decided that he should have in addition a cloth gown worth 6s.8d. Total of all expenditures: £16.15s.

Memorandum that, for purposes of fortifying the city in case of need (which God forbid!), the mayor, the bailiffs (that is, Robert Bradmedowe and John Byrame), with other worthy men of this city, ordered that there be made 4 bronze guns – 2 large (called serpentines) and 2 small; every gun to have 3 chambers. These guns have been made and fetched, and they were placed in a tower of Bablake Gate. They weigh 328 lb., at 4d. per pound; total £5.9s.4d. Furthermore, 6s.8d was paid to the maker of the guns, for transporting them from Bristol to Coventry and for staying over here longer than his duties required. Also, paid to John Smythe of Bishop Street for 50 lb. of iron and for fixing the guns into their frames, 1½d. per pound; total 6s.3d. Item, paid for 2 large trestles on which to lay the guns when they are to be fired, 3s.4d. It was ordered at the same time that for these payments for the guns etc. £6.13s.4d. [be received] from John Garton and Richard Dyvet, recently wardens. Total of the expenditures on the guns: £6.5s.7d.

So there remains 8s. from the £6.13s.4d. This 8s. was put towards the cleaning of the ditch in Little Park, as mentioned above. So the mayor and the town have a balanced budget, with no costs unpaid etc.

Memorandum pursuant to the ordinances for making portcullises, spayers, posterns, and for cleaning the ditches and making other things, as mentioned above. The mayor has made a portcullis at Bablake gate, and another at the New Gate, with all the machinery associated with them. He has also had a spayer made in the Poddycroft, between the two towers, as mentioned there, another spayer between the Hill Street Gate and Cook Street Gate, under a tower there, as also mentioned there, and yet another across the course of the Sherbourne beside Gosford Gate. The mayor has also had new gates made in the Cheylesmore gateway that leads into the park. The mayor also recently made 7 new iron chains, and these with other chains made in times past he has assigned in the following manner: that is, one at the end of West Orchard, another at Broadgate, the third at the end of Greyfriars Lane, the fourth at the end of Pepper Lane by the Cooks there, the fifth at the end of Little Park Street, the sixth at the end of Hay Lane, the seventh at the end of Bayley Lane, the eighth at the end of Much Park Street, the ninth at the end of Dead Lane.

As regards the cleaning of the ditches, as per the said ordinance, the mayor approved cleaning from the tower in Dog Lane to the Cook Street Gate, which is 22½ perches; also from the Cook Street Gate to the Priory [Gate], 19 perches, [and] from the Greyfriars Gate to the stone spayer in the Poddycroft, 22½ perches. The mayor has also had the same ditches rammed and piled. From the Little Park Gate to the New Gate, 52 perches, and in Gosford Street from a property called Golofur's Place as far as the property of William Braytoft in the Mill Lane, 27½ perches. Total 143 perches.

The mayor also approved construction of 2½ perches and 3 feet of town wall behind Cook Street, as is mentioned there beyond what has been described above. Also a stone wall in Dog Lane at the end of the town ditch by the tower, as is also mentioned there, and two stone walls upon St. John's Bridge, as is also mentioned there.

Also, the mayor approved construction of a barrier in Spon Street, of which the entire cost was borne by [residents of] that street.

The guns that were ordered for the town, as mentioned above – that is, 4 guns, a barrel of gunpowder, 13 pellets of iron and lead for the larger guns, and 3 dozen pellets or iron and lead for the smaller guns – are in a tower of Bablake Gate, in the tower next to the Poddycroft; the chamberlains hold the key to the same.


Although the text above begins with the decisions of the February leet, it in fact records a sequence of actions and decisions taking place between that time and the next leet in May. This programme of renovating and enhancing Coventry's defences is reminiscent in some regards of that undertaken at Norwich a century earlier. Although at Coventry the city authorities relied primarily on communal resources, albeit including (as at Norwich) special levies on the residents; and at Coventry the motivation for the work was not the fear of foreign invasion so much as fears aroused by civil war, or the threat of it.

The popular rising in 1450, named after its leader Jack Cade, was the most serious of a number of expressions of discontent around that time, prompted partly by the restrictive employment conditions imposed by the Statute of Labourers, by heavy taxation and other oppressive measures which exacerbated economic woes, and above all by corruption in the national administration and the related national power struggle. There had been previous disorders aimed against the Duke of Suffolk, Henry VI's chief advisor, and leading to the Duke's arrest in January. Propaganda by the king's supporters tried to associate Cade's rebellion with the Duke of York's dynastic challenge. February saw riots in Canterbury, and April a commission to investigate an uprising in Surrey. In May 1450 the main insurrection began in Kent, its ranks made up of people from various levels in society, from peasants to small landowners, and including urban craftsmen and a number of former soldiers, including Cade himself. Support came from Surrey and Sussex – several of the Cinque Ports expressed their support and Hastings even contributed a small armed contingent. They marched on London, defeating a government force that tried to stop them, and received some sympathetic support in the city. They made a failed attempt to take the Tower, and killed the Archbishop of Canterbury and other high-ranking officials. The king and queen had already left the capital, seeking safety at Coventry. Although by the close of July things had gone sour, with the rebel force dispersed and Cade dead, the situation in Kent remained tense. The whole affair must have caused considerable consternation throughout England.

This was the context for the Coventry authorities' concerns about the adequacy of city defences. Early in 1450 there was an effort to ensure that a armed force could be called up from among the citizenry. Based on the number of padded jackets to be maintained by the citizens listed after the 1460 ordinance (above), it would seem that the city expected to be able to equip a city militia of around 700 soldiers, although this was perhaps optimistic, and certainly far smaller contingents were raised to send to join national armies.

On 18 April 1450 they revised arrangements for the night-watch to guard the town between the time that the city gates were shut and the ringing of the bell to mark daybreak; 40 men, chosen for their good character and physical strength, and supplied with arms and the same type of armour identified in January, were to make up the watch. At the same time it was ordered that 4 persons from each ward be chosen to take responsibility for the town gates and to appoint for each gate a salaried official to have custody of its keys and undertake the securing of the gate in the evening and its unlocking in the morning. It seems questionable whether these provisions outlasted the crisis. The authorities' concern, however, continued into 1451, as reflected in the above provisions to improve the physical defences, and by commissioning at Bristol the manufacture of several small cannon, for mounting on the tower of one of the city gates.

When the rebel force in London had got beyond Cade's control and posed a threat to the citizenry, the city aldermen led a force to repulse it. This may help explain the inclusion in the petition to the second leet of a request to appoint aldermen for each ward; that part of the petition seems not to have been acted on at the time, although by 1481 there were ward aldermen in place, and their power gradually superseded that of the leet court.

As a centre of Lancastrian support during the early phase of the conflict that eventually erupted into the Wars of the Roses, Coventry perhaps felt particularly alarmed by Cade's rebellion, which had Yorkist undertones. It's commitment to Henry VI is reflected in the warm welcome the city gave him in September 1451. Henry, who must have had occasion during his visit to observe parts of the defensive perimeter, responded in kind by complimenting the good government of the city, and promising to elevate the city to county status (which was done in November), commanding the mayor and his colleagues "not to allow within the city any riots, rallies, or gatherings of scoundrels" [Coventry Leet Book, 265].

The construction of a defensive wall around Coventry took place rather later than at most English towns of comparable size. It was delayed and hampered by the division of the town into two separately administered parts by the opening of the twelfth century. The rivalry that this engendered between the residents of the Earl's Half, the southern section of town, and those of the Prior's Half, the northern section, is likely to have inhibited cooperation on any ambitious projects to protect the settlement as a whole.

Nonetheless, there is evidence of earlier defensive elements. The Earl of Chester had a castle in Coventry during the uncertain times of the twelfth century (it was besieged in the 1140s), but thereafter transferred his seat to Cheylesmore manor house. The location of the castle is uncertain, but of course within the part of the town over which he had lordship, with the main east-west route through the settlement running along the southern edge of the castle bailey: Smithford Street/Earl Street/Gosford Street. The lateral extent of the site was remembered in the names of Bayley Lane and Broadgate (the latter referring to the main entrance into the castle grounds).

A little south of that east-west route there is evidence, both archaeological and documentary, of a twelfth-century ditch running parallel, occasionally referred to from the 1240s as the town ditch, and once (earlier) as the earl's ditch. This looks as if it would have stretched as far as the Sherbourne to the west, and less certainly to the same river in the east; it may also have linked in to the ditch around the castle, to channel water into it. It is likely that this ditch, along with the rampart formed from the earth excavated from the ditch, was intended as a protection, in conjunction with the semi-encircling river, around the settlement before (or even after) it was administratively divided, and before settlement intensified along the roads leading south from the high street to Cheylesmore Park. Other stretches of ditch north of the river are also known, perhaps dating from mid-thirteenth century; but what we know is too sketchy to be certain if these were also part of a defensive circuit, linking up to brooks that ran into the Sherbourne. Again, it may have been the civil wars of the twelfth century that prompted the digging of this ditch.

In addition we have references, from the beginning of the thirteenth century, to some kind of barriers across various streets entering the city. A number of these seem associated with the line of the ditches and so may have been part of the same twelfth-century initiative to protect the settlement. Others were in suburban areas. Called "bars", they were probably a little more substantial than the iron chains put up in 1451, but not as substantial as the later stone gateways. The placement of the chains, although we do not know these exactly, seems to have been intended to keep mobs from getting easily into the city centre. The high street and the marketplace would have been natural magnets for a rioting populace. It would have been important to keep the high street, as the central section of the main route through the city, under control of the authorities if possible.

The struggle for control over Coventry at first favoured the priory's lordship, but during the reign of Edward III this reversed and by a settlement of 1355 the Prior ceded much of his jurisdiction to a more-or-less united community whose existence had been recognized by the king in a charter of 1345. The Prior or his tenants had already shown interest in upgrading the city's defences, requesting and obtaining from the king a six-year murage grant in 1329. But there is no evidence that any work was undertaken with the proceeds from this murage, and a two-year extension may indicate concern that the money raised was insufficient for the task envisaged; which it doubtless was, as evident from the experience of other towns in building walled circuits. The extension had been championed b y the king's brother, the Earl of Cornwall, but for no better reason, apparently, than that he was in line to inherit the manor of Cheylesmore and wanted to ensure that no financial responsibility fell on his shoulders for providing the town with fortifications.

Copies of annals of city history attribute the initiation of wall-building at Coventry, at the New Gate (originally called the London Gate), to the mayoralty of Richard de Stoke in 1355. While this is just tradition, recorded by post-medieval documents, it has some credibility, given its coincidence with the Prior's recognition of the powers of a consolidated borough government, and the new and optimistic era of self-determination this might be expected to usher in. The constitutional settlement would have been just the impetus needed for a wall-building project, beginning on that side of the city lacking protection from the river. There remained the matter of funding. In 1363 a royal licence for the townsmen to build a stone wall around Coventry must have been assumed to include the right to raise money for the task, although no murage was explicitly mentioned. But by this period many other towns (as well as religious houses and other groups) had obtained exemptions from such tolls, diminishing their returns; and so in the following year the king gave permission for residents to be taxed towards the costs of wall-building, although in 1365 he clarified that he had not intended the clergy to be included among those taxable.

Despite that further incentive, progress was slow and piecemeal. A project of this magnitude was too expensive for most borough authorities, with limited resources at their disposal, to undertake except over an extended period. Coventry's government also had to overcome obstacles of property rights along the potential line of the walls. This we can infer from the fact that no other urban defensive circuit in England has as irregular a line as that at Coventry, suggesting it had to navigate around various property boundaries. The line of the walls may also have been influenced in part by the location of the previous defensive ditch, as well of course by the route of streets and the nuclei of settlement. (for an animation showing the course of the wall and the progress of building the circuit, see the Historic Coventry Web site).

One instance, perhaps extreme, of the type of negotiations necessary is seen in 1365, when Richard de Stoke, presumably acting as an agent of local government, was party to an agreement with the Carmelites, whose friary lay off Mill Lane, close to New Gate. The friars were to provide land for a stretch of wall and the ditch outside it, along the route of the lane as far as their mill on the river, and a further stretch north from there to Gosford Gate, the eastern entrance (across the river) into the town. The friars and the other residents of the lane were to share in the expense of building and maintaining these sections of the wall; the friars were to pay the wages for two years of a quarryman, a carter, and two masons, as well as costs of a cart and stone-hauling equipment, and were to supply the stone and half the lime for the section of wall between New Gate and the mill. Stoke and the residents would contribute £10 towards the costs, and Stoke undertook to fund the work of six masons during the same period, while other costs would be paid by the residents. The city authorities agreed that a postern gate be incorporated in the wall, presumably to provide access between friary and mill, and that they would not intrude upon the friary land within the walls, unless there was a clear and present danger. They also agreed to incorporate in a tower of the wall, at the city's expense, an existing chapel on the southern side of the friary grounds dedicated to the Virgin Mary – intended to serve travellers and bring the friary a source of income in the form of offerings by those travellers – as well as to allow a bridge across the ditch to give access to the chapel.

The initiative to construct a wall east of the New Gate was paralleled by efforts to build on the west side too. A renewal of the murage grant had been obtained in 1366 for five years. But by 1370 the popular discontent over the economic impact of these tolls had become strong enough that there was some kind of uprising, and the king cancelled the murage grant and allowed instead for a tax to be assessed on the wealthier townsmen to help pay for wall-building.

In 1385 Richard II renewed the grant of 1364 that all laymen who resided or owned land in Coventry could be taxed for purposes of completing the construction of the walls. He imposed the condition that the Cheylesmore manor house and its grounds (now held directly by the king) be incorporated in the defensive perimeter, but offset this by giving the citizens permission to quarry stone in the manor grounds for the needs of the additional wall and a gateway through it into the park. The grant was again renewed in 1391, for five years, along with a grant of a subsidy from revenues due the king each year from duties on the sale of cloth. Progress on the wall, however, remained slow, and in 1399 further aid was given, in the form of a grant to the Corporation of the gates and towers of the wall, bridges and wastelands of the city (which likely included at least some of the land adjacent to the wall), with the right to exploit them to earn revenue. Eileen Gooder [Coventry's Town Wall, Coventry and North Warwickshire History Pamphlets, no.4, rev. ed. (1971), 16] believed this transfer marked the completion of that part of the circuit around the section of town formerly under the earl's jurisdiction.

Work on the walls continued to be documented in the city records of the fifteenth century. This work took the form both of construction – the authorities apparently striving to build one or two perches a year – and of repairing or strengthening the existing wall and towers. The opening years of Henry VI's reign saw a particular flurry of activity, perhaps prompted in part by royal licences (1417-18) for the city to acquire lands and rents in mortmain to furnish new revenues supporting work on the walls, rather than resorting constantly to unpopular taxations. Orders were issued to the city chamberlains in 1423 to see that all gates still lacking were built, that one of the existing gates be rebuilt, and that all gates be provided with doors; and with the stretch of wall by the Carmelite friary finally completed, some 65 years after the agreement between citizens and friars. A new agreement between the parties included the requirement that the friars make an earth bank to buttress the inside of the wall; such a bank may have been provided for much or all of the city wall.

The expense of these new initiatives remained higher than existing revenues and for a few years at least the authorities tried to bolster the latter by allocating certain types of court fines towards the work.

This maintenance work proved a sufficient drain on resources to slow the completion of the walled circuit. Looming dangers, such as that in 1450, spurred things on, as the measures documented above indicate, but only temporarily. In 1452 the authorities scaled back wall-building for that year, in order to free up money to reimburse past chamberlains for costs they had personally incurred in the construction effort, and a few years later there are intimations that residents were compromising the defences by removing earth from the buttressing bank, or planting gardens there.

By this time wall construction was focused on the section of town formerly under the jurisdiction of the Priory. But not, it appears, with the latter's willing cooperation, for in 1480 the Prior made public a number of complaints related in part to the wall construction, but more fundamentally to claimed infringements of priory jurisdictions and rights and related loss of revenues. The former included reference to damage resulting from the construction process as the wall was extended onto lands belonging to the Priory, and bad habits engendered in priory tenants and other citizens once the wall was up. Yet at the same time the Prior complained that wall-building was not proceeding as fast as the city authorities had promised, because they were spending too much money in repairs to existing sections of wall. This despite the fact that, although the priory was officially exempt from paying murage, the Prior had agreed on a voluntary contribution of £10 annually. The mayor's reply to these complaints, made some points which reflected on the principles underlying the creation of defences; he pointed out that the Priory and its tenants benefited from defences like other residents of the city and past Priors had been fully consulted about the course the wall would take, just as other citizens had agreed on it crossing their lands. Furthermore, from a strategic perspective, keeping existing sections of wall in repair ought to take priority over building new sections, since it reduced the number of vulnerable points in the event of an assault on the city. Since the mayor showed no inclination to give satisfaction to any of the Prior's complaints, the Priory began to withhold its annual voluntary financial contribution, until 1498, when the mayor complained to Henry VII's son, and an episcopal arbitration ruled that the Priory should revert to paying its annual contribution and pay up some of the arrears.

Work on the walls thereafter resumed, again with the target of completing one or two perches a year. But it was not until 1534 that the circuit was completed (see map) , and work on enhancements continued through that century and into the next.

With the wall having been built over such a long period, construction methods and quality varied from section to section. Archaeological investigations in 1970 evidenced this. They showed that the technique used in one section was to excavate a 3-metre wide construction trench, then fill it with rubble held in place by sandstone blocks, atop which was put a layer of mortar and roof tile, as a level base on which to place a one-metre wide wall, comprising two sides of ashlar blocks infilled with mortared rubble. An adjacent section, however, believed to be of earlier date, showed better workmanship, such as the use of a solid foundation of sandstone blocks and of cut sandstone blocks between the two ashlar facings. The excavations also revealed many cess-pits in the wall's interior, an indication of abuses that led to its deterioration. Although it was restored to serve in the civil war of the early seventeenth century, most of the wall was demolished in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with only remains of two towers and two of the dozen medieval gates still standing today.

The disordered conditions of the mid-fifteenth century prompted other towns than Coventry to look to their defences. The with France was going badly, English coastal towns were once more targets for French raids, some of the disbanded troops brought back from lost French territories turned to marauding in the south-eastern counties, and resentment over defeats fostered a taste for rebellion, while factionalism in national politics had edged into civil war. In this enviroment the south coast port of Sandwich sought, like Coventry, to bolster its fortifications and better arm its defenders. Even before the town suffered an attack by the French (1457) and was raided from the sea by Yorkists (1460) aiming to pre-empt a Lancastrian naval assault on Calais, the local authorities had augmented the existing defensive circuit with a bastion at one corner of the circuit, to help defend the quayside. This subsidiary enclosure was progressively built up, in a style more reinforced than the older ramparts, during the 1450s and '60s; it was used not only to mount small cannon, but also as an arsenal for storing conventional weapons and armour, together with hand-guns and gunpowder. Between 1467 and 1483 an existing gateway at the other end of the quayside was rebuilt and strengthened, including equipping it with cannon.



A padded tunic (jacket) of fabric or sometimes leather, serving the same purpose as a doublet or aketon; one of the least expensive forms of bodily protection.

More commonly written as "haubergeon", this was a sleeveless mail shirt that extended to the hips or just below.

A sallet was a common form of light helmet at this period; it usually had an extension to protect the back of the neck; some had visors, others did not.

"other weapons"
This may refer to supplementary armour to protect legs and arms, or perhaps just weaponry such as swords, knives or axes.

Another name for fullers, because their industrial process involved walking barefoot across cloth immersed in troughs filled with chemical solution.

These were specialized smiths. Certain products (such as chain-mail) required metal to be formed into a relatively thick wire, an arduous task done by using pincers to forcibly elongate heated metal, by drawing it through a series of increasingly smaller holes in a plate, tempering and then reheating it after each drawing. Fine gold and silver wire were also produced, for decorative uses.

The original has "Whittawers, meaning white tawyers; a tawyer was a leather-worker and a white tawyer one who specialized in white leather used for harness, treating it with alum, salt or other chemicals. In the 15th century there are indications the term may have been applied to certain chandlers.

"St. Mary's Hall"
The merchant gild of St. Mary's was founded in 1340, at a time when the borough was coming into its own, freeing itself from the lordship of the Prior; part of that process was obtaining official recognition from the king of the right to have a merchant gild. The first hall was built in the early 1340s, but rebuilt after the gild and others were absorbed in 1392 into the more powerful Holy Trinity Gild. From that time, if not earlier, the hall was the usual meeting place of the court leet and communal assemblies, the principal organisms of borough government.

"find a man"
I.e. provide one man to participate in the work; this might be the householder, or a servant, or someone hired to stand in.

"all the worthy men"
It is unclear whether this refers to the representatives from the ten wards, summoned by the mayor to attend the assembly that enacted these ordinances, or to a "class" of citizen considered worthy (qualified) to hold the offices of sheriff or mayor, or again to the common council which supervised the administration of the watch at this period. Originally, all householders were expected to take a turn patrolling the streets in the watch, although the practice of commutation emerged.

As officers responsible for the administration of revenues, including murage, and expenditures, the chamberlains had overall responsibility for the wall construction efforts. Holding the office cannot have been a popular duty, since chamberlains were responsible for paying out of their own pockets any expenses for which city revenues did not suffice, at least until they could recoup them as part of the accounting process   although reimbursements could be slow to come through. In 1521, by which time there had been at least one known case of a citizen refusing to take the office after being elected, the authorities made it compulsory to accept, upon threat of a hefty fine.

Also written "spaye" and "spyre"; Mary Dormer Harris was uncertain of the meaning of this word, and was prepared (on the basis of a misreading of one passage) to endorse tentatively another's suggestion that it referred to an opening in a wall. However, what the city authorities had in mind appears to be some kind of weir or (more likely) sluice; possibly "spayer" has some connection with the Latin spera, referring to a screen or partition, although in London the term "speye" was used for a kind of sluice. Eileen Gooder [op.cit., 21] described them as "movable and temporary dams, and their purpose was to cause flooding of the ditches outside the walls as an additional defensive measure." These sluices were set up at points where the course of the town wall crossed the Sherbourne (or its tributary, Radford Brook).

The principal water source of the city, wide enough to require bridges and with a current strong enough to power mills.

"his council"
A council of 24 jurats is known from as early as 1225 and was made up of leading members of the community. By the fifteenth century, at least, for particularly important matters (e.g. making of by-laws, auditing of financial accounts) it might bring in other representatives, up to the number of 48 – or occasionally even more, although 48 was the most common number; in the latter part of the century it evolved into a common council. The mayor's council, however, was a less formal group, comprising past office-holders, on whom the mayor could call for advice on an ad hoc basis.

"Spon Street"
The western approach to Coventry, after bridging the Sherbourne, was known as Spon Street and was one of the principal city suburbs; after passing into the intramural part of the city (via Spon Gate) the street passed through Bablake, a name that remembered the once marshy character of that neighbourhood, and continued as far as Smithford Bridge. The intent was probably to build a postern gate at the eastern end of Spon Bridge, to give some protection to the suburb, which is why the residents there were expected to shoulder the cost.

This term may be taken to mean those who manage their finances successfully enough that they are presumed to have a monetary surplus (i.e. more money than required for subsistence) on which call can be made. Evidently this was not intended to single out the wealthier townsmen, since it was assumed that anyone earning an average day's wages could afford a modest contribution.

City officials who, like the chamberlains, were concerned with financial administration. There seems to have been some overlap in their duties, but the wardens were responsible for certain rent revenues; whereas the chamberlains were responsible for other revenues.

"Little Park"
Part of the parkland associated with the king's manor of Cheylesmore (originally a hunting-lodge) on the southern side of the city. When the city officials had, in 1385, requested royal licence to complete the town wall, their petition was granted on condition that the manor house be included in the protective perimeter. So the ditch remaining to be cleaned must have been the southern stretch, probably between Little Park Gate and New Gate.

"brass guns"
Early English cannon were made from iron bars, welded together and reinforced by placing iron bands around the barrels. From the latter half of the fourteenth century, however, guns were made by the better but more expensive process of casting, using metals such as iron or bronze. In the above document brasse likely means bronze, as the two alloys were often confused; brass was not sturdy enough to serve for cannon (although it has been used for casting cannon intended essentially for show).

"Dog Lane to the Cook Street Gate"
This would have been the northernmost section of the wall, running east of Bishop Gate. In more recent times Dog Lane (which ran along the outer side of the ditch/wall) was known as Leicester Street, although this was one of the roads lost when the modern Ringway was constructed. The Cook Street Gate was later known as the Well Street Gate.

As a linear measure, a standardized perch was 5.5 yards. However, in the Middle Ages, such measures could vary from one locality to another. Gooder [op.cit., 50] found that an 8-yard perch best seems to fit the Coventry situation.

Fields to the southwest of the town.

"ramming and stopping"
This perhaps referred to fixing the sluice structure firmly into the riverbed and ensuring there were no unintended gaps.

"placed in a tower of Bablake Gate"
Bablake Gate was another name for Spon Gate. Present-day commentators have assumed that this phrase meant that the cannon were deployed there. However, my reading is that the guns were stored there with their ammunition for safekeeping, and in the event of an assault would have been transported, along with their trestles, to whichever gate or tower, or other location, necessary.

"fixing the guns into their frames"
The iron was evidently used as binding to attach the cannon to some kind of wooden carriage that would facilitate their transfer onto the firing trestles.

"as mentioned there"
This phrase, which occurs a few more times in the remaining text, appears to refer to some other record, perhaps one related to murage.

"West Orchard"
The location of this street, which now no longer exists, is remembered by the name of a shopping centre. We do not know at which end of the street the chain was set up, but on the assumption that the chains were intended to obstruct local riots, the end facing the marketplace seems likeliest.

Another street associated with the marketplace, leading thence to what was in essence (and later in name) Coventry's high street, known as Earl Street.

"Greyfriars Lane"
This led south from the high street, slightly east of the entrance (on the opposite side of the high street) into Broadgate.

"Pepper Lane"
Later Gaol Lane, it ran north-east off the high street, towards St. Michael's. The reference to the Cooks is probably to cook-shops in the high street.

"Little Park Street"
The next thoroughfare east (of Greyfriars Lane) emptying into the high street.

"Hay Lane"
This ran between the east end of Pepper Lane and the high street, meeting the latter just west of the entrance into Little Park Street.

"Much Park Street"
This was the next main road running south off the high street east of Little Park Street.

"Dead Lane"
Connected Little Park and Much Park streets. The strategic rationale for a chain here is not clear.

"rammed and piled"
I assume this to relate to stabilization of the ditch side(s) by installing pilings, which would have required ramming into place.

The original has barer, which probably refers to the postern gate, or bar, mentioned early in the document.

"Support came"
By contrast, Nottingham, which had received an important charter of incorporation from Henry VI in 1448, leased out some of the community lands to raise enough money to hire a force to send to the king's aid.

"defensive circuit"
Recent historians of Coventry accept that this ditch was intended as a defence encompassing the Earl's Half (itself interpreted as a deliberate urban foundation, more likely to attract traders to settle, or persuade them to stay, if protected), although the evidence for a complete circuit remains inconclusive, and Gooder (who had most of the relevant information at her disposal) was unprepared to commit to such a theory. See notably Peter Coss, ed., The Early Records of Medieval Coventry, Records of Social and Economic History, New Series, XI (1986), xxxii-xxxiv) and Richard Goddard, Lordship and Medieval Urbanisation: Coventry 1043-1355, Royal Historical Society, 2004, 70-72. That much of the line of the ditch in the Earl's Half was ignored when the walls were planned is attributed to the ditch having fallen into neglect by that time, and the walls needing to incorporate new friaries and expansion of the residential/commercial area since the 1140s had seen Coventry caught up directly in the civil war.

"king's brother"
John de Eltham; Gooder [op.cit, 3] notes that, as heir to the Earl's Half, he may have been motivated by concern that he would be approached for funding support. If that were the case, it would suggest a concerted effort by the residents of the entire town.

"Richard de Stoke"
A merchant who was probably a member of a local family that, beginning in the early thirteenth century, built up a substantial estate in parishes immediately east and north of Coventry: Stoke, Foleshill, and Henley; this alone would have made Richard a good candidate to negotiate with other landholders. At least equally important was Richard's own involvement in borough government; he served as mayor in 1352, 1355, 1357, 1361, and 1367, and had been a parliamentary representative in 1353.

"exemptions from such tolls"
Coventry, however, did not receive an exemption for its citizens from paying murage elsewhere until its 1378 charter.

"Mill Lane"
Gooder states Earl's Mill Lane, but whether this obvious confusion with a street further north is hers or that of her source, an antiquarian who had access to an original record that did not survive until Gooder's time, I cannot say.

"duties on the sale of cloth"
The suitability of cloth intended for sale had to be confirmed by marking it with an official seal; there was a fee payable for sealing such cloth, and this revenue had been leased out by the king to a farmer; from the annual farm paid by this lessee, the king directed £24 was to be given to the city.

"acquire lands and rents in mortmain"
This development in borough fiscal administration was fairly common at this period. Coventry was allowed to acquire property up to the value (in annual revenues) of £40. It may be significant that when, in 1572, the amount was increased to £100, there is no mention of the money being put towards the walls specifically, but rather towards the general maintenance of the town, poor relief, and the maintenance of a hospital for the poor..

"dozen medieval gates"
The following list is copied from "Bishop Gate (Bishop Street), Gosford Gate (Gosford Street), New Gate (London Road, also known as the Whitley Causeway), Greyfriars Gate (Warwick Lane/Greyfriars Lane) and Spon Gate (Spon Street). The minor gates were Cook Street or Tower Gate (Cook Street), Swanswell Gate, also known as Priory or Stour Gate (Hales Street), Bastille or Mill Lane Gate (Cox Street), Little Park Gate (Little Park Street), Cheylesmore Gate (Warwick Road), Bablake or Hill Gate (Hill Street) and Well Street Gate (Well Street). Whitefriars Gate, built in 1352 was not part of the city wall but the entrance of Whitefriars Monastery."

"its fortifications"

The development of defences at Sandwich has recently been described by Helen Clarke et al. Sandwich: the 'completest medieval town in England', Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2010, particularly pp.66-72, 148-62.

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Created: December 31, 2007. Last update: September 12, 2011 © Stephen Alsford, 2007-2011