POLITICS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Lincoln constitution government officers election mayor council bailiff chamberlain police preservation peace taxation scot and lot reforms maladministration socio-religious guilds
Subject: Provisions for election of city officers
Original source: City document not extant, but known from a compilation made by town clerk Samuel Lyon in 1785
Transcription in: Francis Hill, Medieval Lincoln, Cambridge: University Press, 1948, 402-03.
Original language: Latin (translation by Lyon)
Location: Lincoln
Date: ca.1301


These are provisions made together with the underwritten articles by the mayor and whole commonalty of the city of Lincoln for keeping the peace of our Lord the King and for the perpetual observance of the liberties and improvements hereunder mentioned (that is to say)

That the commonalty shall by their common council elect a mayor from year to year of their own election; and that no mayor shall be elected unless he shall before be assessed to the public taxes, with other citizens of the said city; and that the mayor shall remain in his mayoralty so long as it pleases him and the commonalty; And that the same mayor shall be discharged of all taxes due and talliages and of all other customs belonging to the city so long as he shall be mayor (saving the precept of our Lord the King in all things); And also that it shall be lawful for such mayor to take his hansels within the city and without, except of the citizens of Lincoln and their sons, and all those who pay scot and lot in the said city and ought not to be anselled within the county of Lincoln;

And further it is provided that the commonalty with the advice of the mayor shall choose twelve fit and discreet men to be judges of the said city, but that those twelve men shall be assessed to the public taxes and dues, and to all royal customs with other citizens of the said city;

And it is further provided that the said citizens shall have bailiffs every year of their own election, and that those bailiffs shall faithfully discharge the fee farm rent of our Lord the King at the end of the year; And if they don't do so the mayor and commonalty shall distrain such bailiffs by their lands and chattels until the fee farm rent of our Lord the King be fully paid; And that if any damage happens to the city thro' default of paying the fee farm rent of our Lord the King such damage shall be made good to the city out of the chattels of the said bailiffs; And those bailiffs ought to have two clerks and four sergeants who shall be presented before the mayor and commonalty at the feast of St. Michael;

And that there shall be no weigher of goods unless he is elected by the common council and that the persons so elected shall take their corporal oath upon the Holy Evangels faithfully and firmly to fulfil all these things and to keep and observe the customs of the city;

And if it shall happen that the mayor or any bailiff shall be called into question unjustly for supporting the rights of the city the commonalty shall defend them within the city and without to the utmost of their power; And also shall faithfully restrain the mayor and bailiffs within their own liberties of the said city;

And it is further provided that four men worthy of trust shall be elected from amongst the citizens by a free election at the feast of St. Michael to keep an account of outgoings talliages and arrears belonging to the city; and that they have one chest and four keys; And that they shall render up their account to the city at the end of the year;

Also it is provided for the keeping of the peace of our Lord the King that they who ought shall appoint two men out of each parish of the city worthy of trust to search their own parishes once a month; And that no person shall lodge a stranger more than one night unless he shall bring him forth to public view on the morrow if it shall be necessary; And if any person in any parish shall be suspected and he cannot find pledges he shall be sent out of town until he can find pledges; And if the said two men will not search their respective parishes as aforesaid, they shall remain in the mercy of the city, and the names of the aforesaid men shall be set down in writing, to be in the keeping of the mayor, and at the feast of St. Michael there shall be other two such men appointed to succeed to the office; And if a disturbance of the city and a tumult and clamour happens, and the mayor and bailiffs attend, all the commonalty ought to prosecute them to the keeping of the peace of our Lord the King, and of the city;

And it is further provided that those who choose to defend themselves by the liberty of the city shall be assessed, together with the commonalty, to all taxes dues and royal customs belonging to the city; And if any person of the city shall oppose the mayor and commonalty concerning any matter of a public nature by them enacted, he shall be in the mercy of the city; And it shall be lawful for the mayor and citizens to distrain him for his amercement until he shall make them satisfaction according to the greatness of his offence; And if reasonable summons's have been issued by command of the mayor and commonalty, he who withdraws himself, and does not appear, shall be amerced to the amount of 2s., unless he can suggest some reasonable cause by way of excuse.


This set of extracts from the "Provisions", a document of uncertain date but whose handwriting was described by its transcriber as late thirteenth century, is fairly typical of the constitutional documents being drawn up by many towns in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. It seems the document was being referred to, by mid-fourteenth century, as the "Constitutions". Such documents restated existing arrangements for urban government, perhaps with some elaborations, and added new provisions aimed in part at ensuring greater accountability of the rulers.

Often these documents were the outcome of complaints of misgovernment, and in that sense might be considered reforms. Soon after coming to the throne, Edward I initiated an investigation of unprecedented scope throughout England into various abuses (stimulated in part by the breakdown of law and order during the civil war of the latter part of Henry III's reign), including local maladministration and the extent of local jurisdiction. The enquiries held in the hundreds in 1274 and 1279, which were subsequently followed up during the rest of his reign and those of his son and grandson by Quo Warranto proceedings and inclusion of such matters in the general eyres, brought out into the open many grievances, whether warranted or not. Henry III's efforts to extract greater revenues from his towns, followed by the national struggle for power, with its consequent reforms and counter-reforms, as well as the internal political divisions it engendered within the ranks of urban society, all helped place stress on the relationship of rulers and ruled.

Lincoln was no exception. The support it gave to the Montfortian party led to a huge fine and (when this was not paid in full) a royal enquiry in 1267, which provided an opportunity for public complaints to emerge, including that:

  • Postponements of the weekly court sessions had, by delaying judicial cases, impacted the court fines that went towards the city fee farm (thereby jeopardizing city liberties, if the fee farm could not be paid).
  • Certain of the city rulers had, without consulting the community, assigned an annual payment to the earl of Richmond of £10, out of tronage collected from Lincoln merchants attending the Boston fair.
  • Rents of certain market stalls, which should have been put towards the fee farm, had been diverted to other uses.
  • Taxes had been levied, but there had been no accounting for the proceeds.
  • Certain who had been residents for over a year had been obliged to purchase freeman status despite being at scot and lot.
  • That many citizens had refused to contribute to the fine imposed by the king.
On the last point, a separate legal dispute reveals further grievances. Thomas de Beaufou, the mayor of 1266/67, complained that he had paid £110 towards the fine on behalf of the citizens, but had not been reimbursed. His successor and others, the defendants, counter-charged that Thomas had collected city revenues that did not find their way into the common purse. The disputing parties agreed to call it quits.

In the national investigations of 1274/75, three separate juries of Lincoln townsmen – representing the "magnates", those of secondary rank, and the lesser people of the city – made presentments to the inquests. Complaints of oppressive government emerged, such as mayoral high-handedness in making important decisions without consulting the community, preferential treatment accorded some citizens in the assessment of local taxes, embezzlement of tallage and murage, while the middle jury also complained of the burdens of office-holding. The matter of the earl of Richmond was raised again, with the implication that those who decided to pay him did so because it was in their interest as merchants. Similarly, a different ex-mayor was accused of having given to a Beverley burgess freedom from toll as part of the dowry of his daughter, whom the burgess married. The underlying complaint here seems to have been a dispute with Beverley as to whether its men should be liable to tolls when they came to trade at Lincoln (tolls being the most important source of revenue for paying the fee farm); the mayor's action may disguise a closer definition of citizenship rights by the city government, if we consider that it was often the case in towns that a man could acquire citizenship through marriage to the daughter of a citizen. The earlier complaint of requiring even those at scot and lot to purchase citizenship seems indicative of some evolution in the rules governing the right to the franchise. All three juries also complained of damage to local trade through the acts of outsiders, and it may be noted that, following the stipulations regarding the government of the city, the Provisions went on to specify limitations on the commercial activities of external merchants within Lincoln.

Again, in 1290, we hear complaints of government made by the poor men of Lincoln against the rich men. Among other unspecified grievances, for whose investigation and settlement of discords the king appointed commissioners, the complaints were that the rich men had recently leased the city tronage (i.e. weighing of goods) without obtaining the agreement of the poor first; that 200 marks were paid to the king, out of the pockets of the poor, through distraint by the rich, as a fine for concealment of goods of condemned Jews, even though it was the rich who had been convicted of this crime and ought to have paid themselves; and that the rich had taken upon themselves the authority, apparently without consultation, of unduly assessing and collected tallages from the poor. The complaints of maladministration were taken seriously enough for the city to be taken into the king's hand; this meant that local government and associated charter-based privileges (e.g. the fee farm) were suspended and the city was placed under a warden appointed by the king. This situation lasted throughout the 1290s and must have been what compelled the parties to the constitutional settlement in the document above. Self-government was restored in 1301, and the king issued letters patent confirming the earlier chartered liberties of the city.

That the distrust between ruled and rulers was not so easily removed, is suggested in 1350 when the gild of St. Michael on the Hill, dedicated to Corpus Christi, was founded in Lincoln. What is described, in a report to the king in 1389, in terms otherwise typical enough of a socio-religious gild, contains atypical stipulations aimed at preventing the gild from being taken over by the more powerful and influential townsmen:

Whoever seeks to be received into the gild, being of the same rank as the bretheren and sisteren who founded it, namely, of the rank of common and middling folks, shall be charged to be faithful to the gild, and shall bear his share of its burdens. And whereas this gild was founded by folks of common and middling rank, it is ordained that no one of the rank of mayor or bailiff shall become a member of the gild, unless he is found to be of humble, good, and honest conversation, and is admitted by the choice and common assent of the bretheren and sisteren of the gild. And one shall meddle in any matter, unless specially summoned; nor shall such a one take on himself any office in the gild. He shall, on his admission, be sworn before the bretheren and sisteren, to maintain and to keep the ordinance of the gild. And no one shall have any claim to office in this gild on account of the honour and dignity of his personal rank.
[Toulmin Smith, ed. English Gilds. Early English Text Society, old series, vol.40 (1870), 178-79.]



The earliest reference to a mayor at Lincoln is in 1206, and the creation of the office likely followed soon after the king's charter of 1200, granting some measure of self-government, notably through two elected bailiffs and four coroners, whose role (as at Ipswich) was to deal with legal jurisdiction in cases where rights or revenues of the Crown were implicated, and to ensure the bailiffs administered justice with an even hand. Prior to the mayor, the officer closest to being a communal representative, with no special accountability to the king (such as the bailiffs had), was the alderman of the merchant gild; the incumbent at the time the charter was obtained is, probably significantly, seen as the first holder of the mayoralty: Adam fitz Reginald. This transfer of leadership, not from one group to another but from an old to a new office, is also suggested by the fact that we no longer hear of the alderman after 1217. The two offices were, however, quite separate, not two faces of the same coin. The excitement and newfound confidence of the citizens, along with the probability that Adam was instrumental in negotiating for the city's new privileges, led to him retaining the mayoralty for at least a decade (a similar situation can be seen at London), and most of his successors throughout the century held the office for multi-year periods. That there may have been no custom of annual election for at least part of the century is also suggested by the action of the citizens in 1210, paying a fee to obtain royal approval for the mayoralty and the right to have Adam as their mayor for as long as he was acceptable to the king. Adam only lost office when he incurred the wrath of the king for supporting the rebellious barons. Following the promulgation of the Provisions, however, it was uncommon for a man to serve more than one consecutive annual term as mayor.

"assessed to the public taxes"
I.e. the mayor had to be a citizen (one who shared the common burden of contributing to city taxation).

Lyon is reported by Hill as explaining this term as "a customary present made to the mayor out of a commodity brought by strangers into the city for sale." However, what it seems to be is a fee for the right to trade in the city without paying local tolls, along the same lines as the hanse referred to at Ipswich in 1200. Just as at Ipswich this came to be, as the century progressed, primarily a payment made by outsiders or immigrants, so at Lincoln it was like a licence fee due from those who did not otherwise gain trading rights by being freemen of the city. Those of the county who "ought not to be anselled" were probably those who came to buy only for household needs, and/or burgesses of other towns with the royally-granted right of freedom from toll; or possibly the men of Torksey which, as a settlement very close to Lincoln, contributed to royal taxes imposed on the city. While not clear, the Lincoln reference may indicate that the mayor not only collected these payments but applied them to his own use – that is, they were either a perk of the job or, more likely, a revenue used to cover the mayoral salary. If the latter is true, it is easy to see how mayors might be tempted to bolster the revenue source by demanding townsmen pay the hanse; although such an action may have been a move towards closer definition of which residents were and were not entitled to citizenship status.

"scot and lot"
As early as the mid-12th century we see membership in the Lincoln trading community (as organized in a merchant gild) being defined by contribution towards royal taxation, and the phrase scot and lot is in essence the same concept. The cases of Ipswich and Leicester suggest that such gilds made also have had a one-time and probably modest entry fee. As a generalization, it was at a later period that freeman's status in towns was acquired, if not by patrimony, through payment of a fee sufficiently large to be restrictive.

"twelve men"
Other evidence from the thirteenth century suggests the existence at Lincoln of a city council of twenty-four townsmen, although it is not certain how formal a part of the constitution this was. Such a body is also seen in the fourteenth century. The reference to twelve "judges" here is puzzling. Since the original text is lost, we cannot know whether the Latin referred to a successor of the group (of the same number) of judices or lawmen who had some judicial authority in eleventh-century Lincoln. Or whether it was a group within the 24, later to be identified with the aldermen, as Hill suspected. In the context of the constitutional settlement, it would not be extraordinary to find the 24 split, with one half drawn from the ruling elite and the other half chosen by the community; although this is speculative, in the absence of information about how the council was chosen, it does seem to have been the case by 1392. Lists of membership of the 24 in the early fourteenth century (when the number of members actually varied between 18 and 30) suggest that men who had held the mayoralty found a permanent place in the council thereafter. The number twelve (and, by extension, its multiples) is found in many contexts in the Middle Ages (as a search on the term's occurrence in this Web site will show), and had deep and ancient symbolical significance embedded in Christianity and its Scriptures and deriving partly from numerous and varied applications in the Bible as well as other religious and cosmological beliefs. In recommending that, when new city-states were founded, their territory should be divided into twelve sectors, Plato was motivated by considerations both mathematical (notably, divisibility) and religious (the number of major deities in the Greek pantheon). By the medieval period, twelve was considered to represent order, harmony, and completion and through its application one might not only reflect but even come to understand something of Divine Wisdom; one such application being the notion that it symbolized a perfect form for governing bodies to take.

"of their own election"
The 1200 charter specified that the bailiffs hold office during good conduct, with provision for the citizens to replace them through communal decision; judging from those of the names we know of the bailiffs at this period, it looks as though the citizens interpreted the charter from the beginning as permitting annual election. The explicit reference to annual election in the above document may be nothing more than a pro forma reiteration, or it may suggest some undermining of the communal election process.

"chattels of the said bailiffs"
This kind of personal liability for matters sometimes beyond the control of the officials was the kind of thing serving as a disincentive for office-holding by any but the wealthier townsmen; by the late fourteenth century it was contributing to reluctance even on the part of such qualified men to take up the burden.

"two clerks and four sergeants"
These offices existed from at least 1202. In fact, the city government was sufficiently elaborate at that time that it is not hard to imagine Lincoln having gone through much the same process recorded at Ipswich for setting up local government, with the mayor a slightly later addition to the structure.

"Holy Evangels"
That is, the Gospels. We occasionally hear of borough authorities keeping on hand a book specifically for the purpose of oath-taking; although its character is rarely mentioned, it was common throughout society for oaths to be administered using a book containing the Gospels (see for example)

"four men"
Later called the chamberlains.

This possibly referred to the effect of essoins in delaying the resolution of pleas.

"earl of Richmond"
This complaint was put forward again in 1275. The queen's uncle, the earl of Richmond, had been involved in a dispute with Lincoln in 1265, complaining of tolls paid by men of Boston, which was under his lordship, when they brought wares to the city. As lord of Boston, he could control access of Lincoln cargoes to the North Sea via the River Witham and Lincoln merchant's participation in the important Boston fair; he was thus in a position to extort the £10 as his cut of the tronage. Those who made this concession defended themselves against the community complaint that it was that or lose access to the fair.

"burdens of office-holding"
The jurors stated that the bailiffs were impoverished by the problems involved in raising the fee farm of £180; during the suspension of liberties in the 1290s, when the bailiffs accounted not for a set sum but for whatever moneys were actually received, revenues did not meet the amount set as the fee farm.

"mayor's action"
However, possibly he had not followed due process. A clause of the provisions not given above specified that "no foreigner shall have the freedom of the city unless he shall receive it in the presence of the mayor and commonalty."

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Created: May 27, 2003. Last update: October 30, 2014 © Stephen Alsford, 2003-1014