POLITICS Florilegium Urbanum


Keywords: medieval Bridgnorth politics bailiff maladministration corruption factionalism assault felony intimidation imprisonment market offences rape jury trial
Subject: Misuse of executive office
Original source: Public Record Office, KB9/206/1, mm.18-19
Transcription in: Edward Powell, "Proceedings before the Justices of the Peace at Shrewbury in 1414: a supplement to the Shropshire Peace Roll," English Historical Review, vol.99 (1984), 542-47.
Original language: Latin
Location: Bridgnorth
Date: 1414


TRANSLATION

The jurors state that John Bruyn esq. of Bridgnorth, Shropshire, during the time when he was bailiff of Bridgnorth – that is, on 8 March 1413 – invited William Beckebury chaplain to dine with him at his house in Bridgnorth. While William was eating, John asked him to return a chaplet decorated with various items of silver, which John's mother had previously put up as a pledge for 6s.8d he had loaned her. The chaplain declared that he was prepared to do so, and after dinner offered it to John in return for being satisfied for his money. This angering John, on that same day at Bridgnorth he beat and ill-treated the chaplain, using force and arms. As a result, the chaplain, for fear of a worse beating, handed over the chaplet to him and gave up dropped all claim to the money, reluctantly and under coercion that was contrary to the king's peace.

And that John, while bailiff of Bridgnorth, on 6 July 1409 at Bridgnorth assaulted a certain burgess, David Balle, with [the assistance of] armed men, and beat and ill-treated him in infringement of the king's peace. And he took from him, by extortion, fourteen shillings and fourpence, contrary to the king's peace.

And that John, while bailiff of the town, that is on 11 November 1410 in the house of Henry Cardemakere at Bridgnorth assaulted Henry Meose, the town's communal bellman and someone of little consequence, in infringement of the peace, and punched him in the mouth so that he lost his two front teeth, harming and maiming Henry contrary to the king's peace.

And that John Bruyn, while bailiff of the town, that is on 22 September 1408, with force and arms seized Geoffrey Taillour of Bridgnorth and imprisoned him in the king's gaol there, maliciously and without just cause holding him for ten weeks, until he offered to pay a fine of forty shillings, which payment was extorted from him before John would release him from gaol, in infringement of the king's peace.

And that John Bruyn, while bailiff of the town, that is on 4 May 1408, went to chaplain Richard Yreland's residence in the churchyard of St. Leonard at Bridgnorth, entered his room without the chaplain's permission, and with the assistance of armed men feloniously and in infringement of the king's peace took, carried off, and robbed Richard of various goods and possessions, viz.: a baselard decorated with silver worth 20s., and woollen and linen cloth found there worth 40s.

And that John Bruyn, while bailiff of the town, that is on 8 May 1409 at Bridgnorth, made such serious threats against Roger Bakere of Bridgnorth, concerning life and limb, that Roger was intimidated out of fear of John's ill-will into paying him 26s.8d against Roger's will and by extortion, and for the same reason he left town and has not returned since.

And that John Bruyn, while bailiff of the town, that is on 8 September 1410 at Bridgnorth, made such threats of violence against William Brugge clerk that William, out of fear of greater harm and in order to be left in peace, paid him twenty shillings, taken extortionately and contrary to the king's peace.

And that John Bruyn, while bailiff of the town of Bridgnorth, made such threats of violence and so verbally abused Robert Castell and his wife, on 29 September 1410 at Bridgnorth, that Robert and his wife were intimidated into paying John 13s.4d, out of fear of John and [being done] greater harm and in order to be left in peace. In this way, John Bruyn took the money by extortion and contrary to the king's peace.

And that John Bruyn, while bailiff of the town, that is on 4 April 1413, sent to the house of Henry Cardemakere in Bridgnorth to summon William Ryndelford, and thereafter John so forcefully beat William on the head with the handle of a dagger that William's knees buckled under him, and he mistreated him, and afterwards imprisoned him without just cause in the king's gaol at Bridgnorth, and extortionately refused to set him free until William provided surety for paying 13s.4d, in infringement of the king's peace.

And that John Bruyn, while bailiff of the town of Bridgnorth, on 2 May 1410, as a disturber of the peace, assaulted by force Richard Cressege smith while he was at the house of Henry Cardemakere at Bridgnorth; he kicked his legs out from under him, trampled on him, and beat him. Afterwards he put him into the king's gaol at Bridgnorth, without just cause, and took 20s. from him by extortion to let him out and give him his release, in infringement of the king's peace.

And that John Bruyn, while bailiff of the town of Bridgnorth, that is in 1411/12, in many places and on many occasions that year ordered the bakers of the town not to buy grain in the communal marketplace except from himself. To which bakers he sold over a hundred bushels of corn at 10d. a bushel, the bailiff assuring the bakers that throughout the year they might bake bread using a standard of 10d.; thereby profiting both the bailiff and the bakers. Whereas in the town market a bushel of grain was commonly and usually sold for 6d. Thereby he caused harm to the community, deceived the town and countryside, and infringed the established standard of 6d.

And that John Bruyn, on 18 October 1404, in the time when William Palmere and William Goldsmyth were bailiffs of Bridgnorth, a certain brass plate worth 40d. having been seized and arrested in the town by those bailiffs by reason of a just and rightful distraint, along came John with an armed band and used force to rescue and carry off the distrained item, removing it from the bailiffs' custody against their will, in contempt of the king and the bailiffs. Not only that, but at the time of the fair held the same day, the bailiffs having as customary assigned a certain plot of ground on a decent site to a certain merchant, for a stall on which he could display brass pots for sale, John and his armed men vexatiously overturned the canopy and knocked down the stall, against the will of the bailiffs and the merchant, in contempt of the king and in infringement of his peace.

And that while John Bruyn esq. of Bridgnorth, Shropshire, was bailiff of the town, on 12 March 1413, John Dawes chaplain of the parish church of St. Leonard, Bridgnorth, fearful because of the threats and ill-will of John Bruyn, sent a large chest of his containing his goods and possessions worth 40s. out of Bridgnorth by boat along the river Severn to the village of Cressage, up Shrewsbury way. Thereupon, John Bruyn, having learned about the despatch of the chest with its contents, straightaway sent his men in pursuit, to have the chest brought back to Bridgnorth again by threatening the boatman with beheading. The boatman, reluctantly but fearful of being harmed, brought back the chest to Bridgnorth. Then John Bruyn seized and held the chest and its contents by force, and he still has and detains it, extortionately and in infringement of the king's peace.

And that the same John, while he was bailiff of Bridgnorth, on 17 November 1408, went with armed men to the house of Margaret the wife of William Lode of Bridgnorth, where he assaulted and beat a certain John Pynte chaplain, who was sitting down to dinner, and mistreated him by twisting his genitals. He took him off and imprisoned him without cause, keeping him in prison at Bridgnorth until he had extorted from him a payment of a hundred shillings. Not only that but he, feloniously and in infringement of the king's peace, despoiled and robbed a certain Margaret Wawne, who was there at the time, of a strong-box containing her kerchiefs worth 40d. and other of her adornments (that is, rings, brooches, and other jewelry) worth 40d., together with 14s.8d in cash contained in the same coffer belonging to Margaret.

And that on 8 October 1410, during the time that John was bailiff of the town, Griffith, a Welshman who was the servant of John Bruyn of Bridgnorth, at John's orders infringed the peace by going to the house of widow Margaret Lye in Bridgnorth and, she being in her room, he came into the room without her leave and feloniously raped her, despite the fact that she raised the hue. For John Bruyn kept guard at the entrance, so that no-one could go in. And so John was an accessory to the rape and the felony perpetrated, in infringement of the king's peace.

The jurors say that John Bruyn esq. of Bridgnorth, Shropshire, on 13 November 1413 came to Oldbury with force and arms, in infringement of the king's peace, and there assaulted Richard Horde who had been commissioned by the king to arrest John, and took from Richard the writ the king had addressed to him. On the same day and in the same place, John wounded William Skrevener and John Adames, who were there with Richard to carry out the king's orders and commission.



DISCUSSION

The above sixteen charges laid at the door of John Bruyn are the record of a session of the peace held at Shrewbury on 6 March 1414, before a group of justices headed by the earl of Arundel, a magnate with strong landed interests in Shropshire. They, together with reports of other disturbances and lawlessness in the region, were sufficiently disturbing that in June, justices of the King's Bench arrived at Shrewsbury to review and remedy the situation. These charges individually provide indications of the kinds of abuses to which local offices gave scope; together they present a picture of the opportunity for an unscrupulous individual to manipulate a position of authority in his self-interest.

However, Dr. Powell warns that the charges against Bruyn must be seen in the context of wider political factionalism, and suspects the charges may have been trumped-up by rivals. Arundel appears to have perceived his influence in the county to be at risk from John Talbot, lord Furnival, who had some years earlier acquired a landed interest in Shropshire, via his wife. Furthermore, Talbot and Arundel were in 1413 in direct dispute over a parcel of land, and in May John Bruyn led a group of Talbot supporters to defend the property against Arundel's supporters.

The origins of Bruyn's family may have lay in Cheshire, but in the fourteenth century the family established a foothold in Bridgnorth; it also had county interests. John's influence there is indicated by the seven terms he served as bailiff (1403/04, 1405/06, 1407-09, 1410-13 – the indictments above being evidence for the last two), his first term having been preceded by his representation of the borough at parliament in 1402. Even before the Arundel/Talbot quarrel was fully underway, John was in embroiled in trouble. He was indicted before justices of the peace of having, in June 1408, extorted a payment of £2 from a churchman to allow him to take up his appointment as the new prior of the hospital of St. John in Bridgnorth, as well as other minor extortions from local men, including a pipe of wine from Richard Selman. At the proceedings before King's Bench in 1414 were added the accusations, not in the list above, that Bruyn had in 1408 allowed a felon to escape from his custody, and in the following year unwarrantedly confiscated a pack of wool. Whatever the suspicions of him, he was able to gain re-election to the ballivalty, and in December 1408 obtain appointment as the county escheator, a post he held for almost a year; this post, with some authority over matters of land inheritances, could have made him very useful to the Talbot interest. He had been ordered to appear before Chancery to answer such charges and, when he failed to do so, his arrest was ordered in February 1409; however, the orders were cancelled in May when the steward of the king's household, a Cheshire landowner, stood surety for John answering to Chancery and not pursuing any hostility to Selman. We do not know what may have been the outcome.

We must assume factionalism within the borough to explain how Bruyn was able to maintain himself in office for most of the next few years. The tide turned in autumn 1413 when, for whatever reason, Bruyn was not re-elected to the ballivalty; instead his old enemy Selman, along with Richard Horde, were elected. At some point in that year, perhaps after departing office, Bruyn decided it was politic to buy a royal pardon. The parliament of 1413, at which Shropshire was represented by two Arundel supporters, Richard Lacon (Arundel's military lieutenant in the region) and Robert Corbet, nominated for the unpopular job of collecting the parliamentary subsidy Bruyn and four other Talbot supporters, including Robert Lyney of Newport and Robert Swynnerton of Poynton. When they came to carry out their duties, however, Arundel's supporters – particularly Lacon, Corbet and his brother Roger – offered a good deal of resistance and harassment.

In late 1413 a petition to Chancery, purportedly from the burgesses of Bridgnorth (but presumably from the faction opposing Bruyn), asked that John Wynnesbury, a Shropshire J.P. who also happened to be one of Arundel's affinity, be commissioned to assist the town bailiffs in arresting John Bruyn and his supporters, complaining that the sheriff had failed to do so, despite John's many offences; the complainants declared that the Bruyn gang was inhibiting them from leaving the town to conduct trade. A further petition, under the name of the king's tenants at Bridgnorth, likewise complained of Bruyn's oppressions and malicious acts. A petition from chaplain John Dawes declared that Bruyn had threatened him with violence. Together with the complaints made before King's Bench, which include additional charges (assault, unlawful imprisonment, and extortion), to those listed above one has the impression that the Bruyn party was terrorizing both the town and the surrounding hamlets, right up to the time that the king's justices sat down at Shrewsbury in 1414.

The attempt to arrest Bruyn, along with Lyney and others, at Oldbury proved abortive, despite that, as the collectors of the subsidy complained, a large group of about 120 men, including Horde, had attacked them there, stolen their goods, and killed their horses. The collectors continued to pursue this complaint before the parliaments of 1414 and 1415. Meanwhile, Arundel had gained the upper hand. Just a few days after the conflict at Oldbury, the king required Arundel and Talbot to give guarantees they would maintain the peace; Arundel having the ear of the king, Talbot was temporarily taken into custody and early in the following year shipped off to Ireland as king's lieutenant there. At the same time Arundel obtained a commission of the peace to investigate accusations against Bruyn and Robert Swynnerton (extortion), as well as supporters of another lord with whom Arundel was in contention; his fellow justices included Robert Corbet, John Wynnesbury, and other of his known supporters. It was not uncommon in this period for judicial commissioners to take advantage of their positions of authority to further the interests of themselves or the faction they supported. A jury of Bridgnorth men presented fifteen of the accusations, while the sixteenth was presented by a jury of county men who included Richard Lacon and John Corbet.

Although Arundel tried to obtain a swift royal confirmation of the convictions, the king preferred to send his justices of King's Bench into the region to make their own investigations. The concern about disarray of administration in Shropshire had prompted a complaint by parliament, and the king was doubtless concerned about the resistance to the subsidy collectors. The king's justices not only paid attention to Bruyn but also to Arundel's leading cronies. Wynnesbury was investigated for plundering and setting afire the house of the prioress of Brewood; he, Corbet and a third Arundel supporter were dropped from the county bench in 1416, after the earl of Arundel's death, when John Talbot's influence in the county was on the rise (he later became earl of Shrewsbury). Of Bruyn's immediate fate we are uncertain; he was said in summer of 1416 to be in prison, but was able to make use of the pardon obtained three years earlier to win his release.

With the shift in power towards the Talbots, Bruyn's fortunes rebounded. He was appointed county sheriff in 1420, remaining such for three consecutive years, and was immediately thereafter made escheator again for a further year, following which he served as a county J.P. until 1432, again holding the shrievalty in 1431/32. In 1423 he was granted the wardenship of the forests of Morville and Shirlett (just north-east of Bridgnorth); the grant of that to someone else in 1437 is indicative of his death.

Was Bruyn an abuser of his position as bailiff, or was he simply a target as a leader of the pro-Talbot faction that was trying to protect Shropshire from the depredations of Arundel's lieutenants, as Dr. Powell proposes? Our concern here is less with Bruyn's guilt or innocence than with the plausibility of the charges. Were I to make public accusations against my hometown mayor that he had been running a protection racket targeting small businesses, had systematically blackmailed or bribed political opponents and even had one murdered, was heavily involved in drug-smuggling, and had introduced hallucinogenic drugs into the local water-supply, I should be considered a lunatic or a troublemaker. I ought instead to fabricate accusations that I expect to be, at first glance, credible in the context of existing public opinion concerning political corruption; I might for instance claim that he had received kickbacks from contractors. The charges against Bruyn needed to be compatible with the worldview of politics at that time, notwithstanding that the lengthy list of charges presented in total a picture of a wholly corrupt administrator.

To some extent Arundel's influence over the initial hearings in March 1414, both in packing the bench and perhaps the juries, might be thought to mitigate the need for credibility. But he then faced the challenge of convincing higher authorities, up to the level of the king. Despite the fact that the king was not prepared to take his word for it, on the whole we have to accept that the accusations laid against Bruyn had to be credible to stick, and.were the sorts of crimes or abuses of power that the community, the courts, and the king could believe possible for someone in a position of power at that time.

It is not unlikely that real events lay behind some or all of the charges, but that the interpretation given them was skewed. Several of the actions taken by Bruyn might, for example, have been related to official distraints, while others are indicative of political factionalism in the town. Whether such were the case and Bruyn's perhaps heavy-handed actions were necessitated by political opposition, or whether Bruyn was an unscrupulous man ruling the town by intimidation in his own self-interest, as his enemies charged, we see here an indication of the types of abuses of power which might arise, in extreme cases.

flourish

NOTES

"David Balle"
He was one of the jurors presenting the charges against Bruyn.

"baselard"
A type of dagger, sufficiently long and wide-bladed to serve as a short sword, carried both by soldiers and civilians.

"John Dawes"
A William Dawes was one of the jurors presenting the charges against Bruyn.

"Oldbury"
This lay immediately south of the town.

"Richard Horde"
Possibly a political rival of Bruyn. He served as bailiff of Bridgnorth for nine terms between 1413 and 1446, as well as two terms as Shrewsbury's bailiff (having married an heiress there) during Henry VI's reign, and had county interests. In 1440 he was among commissioners instructed to investigate what estates belonging to the late earl of Arundel had not been reported at the original inquisition post mortem; when they failed to act on this, the sheriff was ordered to seize certain of their properties.

"jury of Bridgnorth men"
In addition to the jurors mentioned above, who may be suspected of having an interest in the case, another was Hugh Green, who became bailiff in 1415/16; he was a member of a family that had supplied bailiffs over three generation: two in 1328/29 and 1374/75, while in the same generation as Hugh (possibly his brothers) were Walter Green, bailiff in 1405/06 and 1417/18, and Thomas Green who held the ballivalty five times between 1414 and 1427. Thomas was among the accused parties summoned, along with Bruyn, to appear before the King's Bench at Shrewsbury in 1414, but he failed to obey the summons.




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Created: May 27, 2003. © Stephen Alsford, 2003