|Subject:||Factionalism within the ruling elite|
|Original source:||Public Record Office: item 1: Patent rolls, C66/ 15 Ed.III m.20d; item 2: Coram Rege rolls, KB27/342 m.44d|
|Transcription in:||1. R.F. Isaacson, ed. Calendar of the Patent Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office ... Edward III. 1341-1343, London: PRO, 1900, pp.220-21; 2. G. O. Sayles, ed. Select Cases in the Court of King's Bench, vol.6, Selden Society, vol.82, (1965), 47-48; 3. Richard Welford, History of Newcastle and Gateshead, vol. I: Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, London: Walter Scott, 1884, 114-16.|
|Original language:||Latin (1. translated by Isaacson, 3. by Welford?)|
[1. Commission of enquiry, 16 October 1341]
Commission to Gilbert de Umfravill, earl of Anegos, Henry de Percy, Anthony de Lucy, Thomas Surteys, Thomas de Heppescotes, Thomas de Fencotes, Adam de Bowes and John de Menevill, reciting that whereas the king has been informed that men of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and other parts of the county of Northumberland are taking victuals, armour and other things to Scotland for the sustenance of his enemies and rebels, that confederacies are made in the said town with the intention that one confederacy elect as mayor, one man, and another confederacy may elect another man, whereby grievous dissensions will arise, that the collectors of customs, controllers and troners, bailiffs, escheators, taxers and collectors of the tenth and fifteenth and other quota and subsidies granted to the king, and other ministers in the said town and county have borne themselves ill in their offices, that many men of those parts have taken wools and other things liable to custom beyond the sea without payment of custom, or from the port of Berwick-upon-Tweed, where less custom has to be paid thereon, and some have concealed wool to prevent its being taken for the king's service and that ministers of the king and others by colour of their offices have committed manifold oppressions in those parts, for which a remedy is not applied, he has appointed them to find by inquisition the names of those who have perpetrated the premises and specially to enquire the bearing of the ministers, to find the names of those who by conspiracy caused discords in the election of the mayor contrary to the custom of the town and the manner and cause of such conspiracy, as well as the names of those who made proclamations and alliances to disturb the place by electing a mayor after that the king on account of the dissensions over the election committed the custody of the town to four of the good men, charging all to be attendant upon them in the custody, and whether John de Denton or Richard de Acton lately elected by reason of the discord to be mayors of the town, meddled in the mayoralty after they had been inhibited by the king, to hear and determine the premises and all complaints at the county of trespasses against the peace, to order that the election of a mayor be duly held and all those hindering or opposing the election chastised and punished and to quash any election made in opposition to this.
[2. Proceedings in the king's court, Michaelmas term 1345]
On 5 December 1341 at Newcastle upon Tyne, jurors from various wards in the county of Northumberland presented before Thomas Surteys, Thomas de Heppescotes and their associates, king's justices assigned to sit in judgement on [cases involving] trespasses, conspiracies, confederacies, oppressions, injuries, grievances, and abuses committed in that county, that on 1 October of that year, when the election of the mayor of Newcastle customarily and rightfully was to take place in the town, the then mayor of the town, John de Denton, and two of the bailiffs of the town, Gilbert Haukyn and Peter Graper, had an official proclamation made that all who owed suit to the court were to be at the plea hall in Newgate of the town. But then the other two town bailiffs, Thomas de Burneton and John de Galeway, through a conspiracy hatched between themselves and Richard Scot, Thomas Flemying, William de Burneton and others of the town, intending no good, dissociated themselves as a group from the mayor and bailiffs and, at the instigation of Richard de Acton and his wife Matilda, had a large number of the lesser people of the town (ignorant men of little understanding) gather at the church of St. Nicholas. Through this confederacy thus made among them, contrary to the custom of the town, they elected Richard de Acton as mayor in contravention of customary and usual method of electing their mayor and with the result of creating dissension and discord within the community of the town.
This indictment, among others taken before the same justices, the king caused by his writ to come before him to be tried in the following year. The sheriff was therefore ordered to have Thomas de Burneton, John de Galeway, Richard Scot, Thomas Flemyng, and William de Burneton present to answer [the charge at that time]. The trial of Richard Scot continued from one session to another and from [law-]term to term until the present time that is, 3 November 1345. On which date, a certain Henry de Bywelle, the attorney of Richard Scot, came before the king at Westminster and, when asked how he wished to acquit [his client] of the charges of conspiracy and trespass, he stated that the king had issued letters patent pardoning Richard Scot of the offence, and showed the pardon to the court.
[ ... ]
On which grounds it was decided that the case against Richard be dismissed.
[3. Reform ordinances, 8 February 1342]
1. If any persons persistently violate the peace, by day or by night, and will not obey the custodians of the peace, all the community shall assist, and raising hue and cry, take the offenders, and have them punished according to law. And if any shall refuse to aid, etc., they shall be brought before the mayor and twenty-four brethren of the twelve mysteries, and be heavily punished and fined; one half of the fines to go to the king, and the other half to the common use of the town.
2. Every burgess of the town, whether poor or rich, or of whatsoever condition, shall have the liberty of going on board ships, whether native or foreign, to buy whatsoever merchandise may be on sale; and if any wholesale merchant go on board and purchase a large quantity of goods, every burgess of the town shall have the right to buy of him for the sustenance of his family at the same price that the merchant gave. Nothing is to be sold from a ship until a plank has been placed on board connecting the vessel with the shore, under pain of forfeiture.
3. Whereas, many quarrels and dissensions have arisen concerning the elections of mayors and bailiffs by confederations and procurations, so that the town, with its mayoralty and liberties, has fallen into the king's hands: it is ordered that twenty-four of the most honourable, decent, and honest brethren of the twelve mysteries namely, merchants of woollen cloth, mercers, skinners, tailors, saddlers, corn merchants or boothmen, bakers, tanners, cordwainers, butchers, smiths, fullers shall be chosen, two from each mystery; which twenty-four shall elect four, either of themselves or of other honest, respectable, and faithful men in the community; which four shall take to themselves other eight, making twelve, and these twelve shall elect other twelve, making twenty-four, by which twenty-four the mayor for the year ensuing shall be elected, and the mayor so elected and sworn, with the aforesaid twenty-four electors, shall elect the bailiffs and all other officers for the same year.
4. It is ordained and agreed that the mayor, with the bailiffs and their chamberlains, at the end of each week, shall see and compute all the issues and profits of the town, and write them in a roll, one part of which shall remain with the mayor, bailiffs, and chamberlains, and the other part shall be delivered to the aforesaid twelve mysteries, so that the whole community shall know the value of the town at the end of each year, and in what manner the receipts and payments have been dealt with, and in order that none may sell the property of the town to the deterioration and depreciation of the community. No writing or muniment to be sealed with the common seal of the town without the consideration, consent, and inspection of the aforesaid twelve mysteries.
5. The mayor and chamberlains for the time being shall cause auditors to be elected, who shall render an account yearly, within the fifteen days before Michaelmas, of all the issues and profits of the town.
6. It is agreed that all assessors of taxes shall be elected by the twenty-four of the aforesaid mysteries, with other honest men of the community, who know well and understand the state, condition, and capabilities of the community, and the mysteries of the town; the four-and-twenty to hold a counterpart of the taxation roll against the assessors, so that the community shall be able to see that the taxes are faithfully assessed and levied.
7. It is agreed that all tax-masters and collectors of the pence of our lord the king, the mayors also, and all other officers who levy taxes and other dues from the community, shall render account to the auditors assigned and appointed by the community and the twenty-four; so that all the community may be able to see in what manner the taxes are levied, and how much of those levied by the king they are to bear. The king's assessors, however, are not to account to such auditors without the royal command.
8. It is agreed that the good usages and customs of the town shall be reduced to writing, and that copies of the same shall be delivered to the twenty-four of the mysteries, and to all other burgesses who desire it, so that the usages and customs of the town may not by the will of the bailiffs be lost.
9. In each year, on the day of election of the mayor, all charters and muniments touching the liberties of the town shall be shown and read before the community, so that if any charter or muniment be withdrawn or lost, he or they in whose custody they remain may respond and give satisfaction.
10. Whereas, pleas of land by writ are pleadable in the courts of the town of Newcastle, by virtue of the liberties thereof: it is agreed that, to avoid the disinheriting of the men of the town, the rolls of the courts shall be preserved and safely kept in the treasury as matters of record; and that the chief clerk of the town shall freely exhibit them each year at the mayor-choosing, in presence of the community. And if any of the rolls be lost or withdrawn, he shall reply and make satisfaction, etc.
11. Whereas, Tyne Bridge is in places broken, falling, and decayed, while the rents of the same are subtracted and withheld: it is ordered that the master of the bridge, with the aid of the twenty-four brethren of the twelve mysteries, and of the whole community, shall call in the arrears of payment, and apply them to the repairing and restoration of the structure.
12. Equal law shall be made and maintained in the court without change that is to say, there shall not be one law for the rich and another for the poor. Judgement in the court shall be given according to law, and execution shall not be influenced by favour or gift to any magistrate, bailiff, or other officer. Any person convicted of offending herein shall be removed from office.
13. The assize of bread and beer shall be held and maintained according to law, and the master bakers, and not their servants, shall bear the penalties by the statute ordained. Proof or test of all measures, ells, and weights shall be made twice, or at least once a year.
14. The chattels of felons, and their lands and tenements, are to be delivered and placed in safe custody; and those who kept them, and their heirs, and all persons whomsoever having the custody of them, shall answer for the value of them to the justices itinerant, so that the community may be indemnified.
15. The fines of such persons as are convicted of any transgression against the peace and liberty of the town shall not be relaxed or condoned by favour or procuration.
The ruling elite | Rivals for power | The contest of 1341
Other causes of the internal division | The conflict continues
Newcastle-upon-Tyne was an important town in the most northerly parts of England in medieval times, as it is today. Prior to the Conquest there were no towns in the north-east, with the possible exception of Durham; on part of the site that was to become Newcastle a small community of monks had established itself and there may in consequence have been some lay settlement in the vicinity. After the Normans began (1080) to build a castle to guard the Tyne crossing close to the coast, on the site where a Roman bridge and the fort protecting it had stood (part of the frontier defence of Hadrian's Wall), it is not surprising that more settlers were attracted. The fortification stimulated growth of both a town and a port, which quickly flourished, for throughout the medieval period there was little competition: although a few dozen settlements with some urban characteristics emerged or were founded, none rivalled Newcastle.
It had acquired distinctively urban privileges by the beginning of the twelfth century, and these were encapsulated in what may have been one of the oldest constitutional records written down within an English town, the "laws and customs of the burgesses of Newcastle". Constitutionally, it served as a model for Durham, Wearmouth, Gateshead, Alnwick, Hartlepool in the way that York, London, Oxford, and Winchester did for towns (mainly) in their parts of the country. Its customs show that commerce was already lively at Newcastle, and that the burgesses' control of commerce extended into the hinterland and up to the mouth of the Tyne. King John granted the town self-government via fee farm in 1216. Coal became increasingly important in the local economy in the decades that followed, Newcastle supplying the east coast down as far as London. Wool and hides, sourced from the flocks and herds supported on estates of the region, especially those of the Church, were predominant among the exports, however; in 1275 Newcastle was one of the ports authorized for wool export, and it became a staple town in 1326. A few years earlier, in 1318, the king had granted that the local fair, held each August, be extended from two to twenty-six days, a further indication of how the town was prospering. The abundance of wool stimulated a local cloth-making industry. By the close of the thirteenth century, local tolls on commerce were the principal source of revenue financing local administration; judging from the national taxation assessments of 1334 Newcastle was the fourth wealthiest town in the realm. As the principal port of the north-east, it later became the centre for customs administration.
The town was strategically important, particularly during the wars with Scotland when it served as a base for royal armies, and construction of stone walls was underway from the 1260s at least, a grant of murage was obtained in 1265. Leland later described Newcastle's walls equipped with 7 main gates, 19 towers, and turrets spaced out between the towers as the most impressive of any English town. The town's commercial and military roles intertwined, Newcastle serving as a supply depot for the frontier settlements (e.g. Berwick) and castles that the king tried to hold within Scotland. Newcastle merchants benefited from the victualling of the royal forces, both from local resources and by importing from other parts of the realm. A wealthy elite was able to develop in Newcastle, comprising merchants and local land-owners.The ruling elite
Although we know the names of several reeves who administered the town in the latter half of the twelfth century, government by mayor and bailiffs was an outcome of the royal charter of 1216. A merchant gild also existed and may have been particularly important in an earlier period. As was common in towns, the wealthy elite furnished the office-holders and some leading families provided heads of government over several generations. The Scot family was one such, a Nicholas Scot having served as mayor at some point in the 1220s, Peter Scot on several occasions in the 1240s and '50s, another Nicholas Scot in 1259/60, while in the 1270s and 1280s it was Henry Scot who served several mayoral terms, he and John Scot appearing in the office (sometimes called "chief bailiff") in the 1290s. Henry's son, another John, was bailiff 1314/15. The last member of the family assuming they are all related to hold the mayoralty was another Nicholas Scot, elected in 1310 and again in 1321, by which time he had acquired a knighthood and served as sheriff of Northumberland. The Richard Scot who features in the political conflict of the 1340s never attained the mayoralty, although he had tasted power through election as one of the bailiffs in 1332, 1333, 1335, and 1337; he seems to have been a grandson of Sir Nicholas.
The only other family as prominent in Newcastle politics in the thirteenth century was the Karliols: Henry de Karliol appears as a bailiff in 1232/33 and in the following year, and then for at least two terms during the 1240s, when a Thomas de Karliol also appears in that office; Henry was mayor for at least half of the terms during the 1250s, and Thomas served as bailiff and mayor in the same decade. The two men practically monopolized the mayoralty in the 1260s, with Thomas apparently serving for at least five terms and continuing his run into 1270, further terms in the office came in 1270/71 and 1278/79. In the 1260s a Thomas de Karliol junior appears as bailiff, once during Henry's administration and once during Thomas senior's, and again during the latter's mayoralties of 1270/71 and 1272/73; Thomas junior was Henry's son. He was again elected bailiff in 1277 and for four consecutive terms 1286-89 (still referred to as "junior"). A Hugh de Karliol had joined the roster in the 1280s, with several terms as bailiff and he became mayor in 1291, although his term was cut short when the town liberties were suspended in February 1292 by the king, as a result of Quo Warranto proceedings into whether the town had the right to a mayoralty; after the liberties were restored, the town used the term "chief bailiff" instead of mayor, but during Edward II's reign the title of mayor gradually crept back in. Hugh de Karliol reappears as chief executive in 1294/95, but his baton was passed along to Nicholas de Karliol, bailiff for four consecutive terms (1299-1302), and immediately afterwards elected mayor in 1303 and re-elected in 1304. During that last term, Thomas son of Hugh de Karliol was one of the bailiffs. Nicholas was again mayor in 1309/10, and Thomas, having served as bailiff from 1309 onwards, was moved up to the mayoralty in 1313. The family had all but exhausted itself, however; although a Hugh de Karliol was bailiff in 1344/45 and 1347/48, this surname does not appear again among the office-holders until the very close of the century.
As the political power of the Karliol family began to wane, that of the Emeldon family briefly rose to community leadership in the person of Richard de Emeldon. As he was the first of that surname to enter the ruling elite at Newcastle, it is likely he was an immigrant, presumably from the Northumberland village of Embleton (about half-way along the coast between Newcastle and Berwick). Although his commercial activities and his tax assessment were, when he first appears in the 1290s, modest, his listing in the tax record next to that of wealthy burgess Samson Cutler, along with evidence from his chantry foundations, has led to the hypothesis he may have first married Cutler's daughter and later the widow of Sir John Scot [Edward Miller, "Rulers of Thirteenth Century Towns: The Cases of York and Newcastle upon Tyne," Thirteenth Century England: Proceedings of the Newcastle upon Tyne Conference 1985, Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1986, 131-32.]
Richard de Emeldon was to become the most prominent townsman of his time: political leader, the principal wool merchant of the town, ship-owner, and owner of numerous properties, both in Newcastle a dozen lay just in Horsmarketgate, which is perhaps where he had his own home and elsewhere in Northumberland (including burgage tenements in the market towns of Alnmouth and Wooler). His rural estates gave him one foot in the ranks of the county gentry, as did his marriage to Christiana Scot, daughter of Baron Mowbray; but that other county land-holders nonetheless perceived him as a merchant is suggested by the large number of rents, due from his rural properties, that were to be paid in the form of quantities of pepper. As a self-made man, we can imagine that Richard was forceful and self-confident. Edward II repeatedly relied on his services for provisioning and peace-keeping in Northumberland in the context of the war with Scotland while Edward III, at Richard's request, added escheator's powers to the mayoralty of Newcastle. Bailiff in 1301/02 and re-elected in 1302 and 1303, he became chief bailiff in either 1305 or 1306, was again elected to the office in 1307 and 1308, 1311 and 1312, and then for no less than 7 consecutive terms from 1314 to 1320, before Sir Nicholas Scot interrupted a run that then continued through the 1320s although we do not have a complete list, Emeldon's name is the only one appearing as what now was mayor again up to 1329. He was put back in office, for the last times, in 1331 and 1332. Rarely in any English town was seen such a prolonged domination of the leading office in local government, but Richard failed to establish a dynasty: his heirs were daughters, and the John de Emeldon who was frequently bailiff between 1345 and 1368 was the son of Richard's nephew William de Emeldon (and thereby grandson of John de Denton). Richard's rural manors bought with them obligations of military service, and a personal interest in repelling Scottish raiders, for least one of his rural houses and a water-mill had been burnt down by them. He responded to Edward III's summons to bring a Newcastle force to the siege of Berwick, where it took the battle of Halidon Hill (1333) to bring Richard's career to a close, he dying along with his contingent of 47 footsoldiers, in what was otherwise an English victory. This must have been a traumatic loss for the people of Newcastle, and likely helped set the stage for the political conflict to follow. Emeldon's widow quickly remarried, perhaps to help protect her dowry rights and her youngest, unmarried daughter in the power-struggle that she may have anticipated.
It is immediately following the end of Richard de Emeldon's "reign" that the principals who were later to engage in a bitter political hostility came to the political forefront. In fact, Constance Fraser ["The life and death of John of Denton", Archaeologia Aeliana, 4th ser., vol.4 (1959), 306] has argued that the appointment of Adam de Galeway, Richard de Acton and John de Denton as collectors of murage in 1327 is a reflection of the new order coming into power, as Emeldon (who was to be one of the supervisors of the muragers, together with Thomas Frismareys and Thomas Daulyn) had yielded to such men his formerly pre-eminent role in the export trade. Denton and Acton were re-appointed in the murager posts in 1332. In 1333 John de Denton was elected to his first mayoralty; he was to return to the post in 1336, 1337, 1340, and 1341. He had already been in the post of customs collector for some years. By the beginning of 1333 he had been given the authority to enforce the king's rights to a wine prise in Newcastle and other ports in the north-east, and in 1334 he and Acton were royal tax collectors. He was beginning to amass a large amount of power.
Perhaps from the beginning political rivalries were active: following Denton's first mayoralty, Richard de Acton was elected in 1334, and it appears that Denton may have been replaced towards the close of his 1337/38 term, as Hugh de Hecham is named as mayor in a deed in September 1338. However, this is flimsy evidence on which to base solid conclusions, and any notion of opposing factions seeking to control local administration is weakened by the personnel in the ballivalty. Of those later associated with the Acton faction:
We know fewer of the names clearly associated with the Denton faction, but of those:
Although it is clear that the top positions in local government were being repeatedly held by a relatively small group of townsmen, the groupings of personnel do not themselves provide any clear insight into factional affiliations in the years preceding the outbreak of hostilities. But then it is perfectly possible that former colleagues fell out, or that political alliances were fluid. Nor should we assume that any particular administration would be staffed solely by members of a particular party, any more than is the case with urban governments today. However, one possible indication of the alliance later to manifest itself in opposition to Denton is given in 1336, when Richard Scot and John de Galeway, then bailiffs, were arrested for the murder of two members of the Lubbard family, with an accusation made at the same time that they had abused their positions of power. Their fellow bailiff, John Frismareys, allowed Scot to escape from custody. All three bailiffs were removed from office. That those ordered to arrest Scot and Galeway were Denton, Acton, and Adam and Peter Graper, may or may not be significant, but at the next election Denton became mayor and the only bailiff of the previous administration untouched by the scandal, Gilbert Haukyn, continued in the ballivalty under Denton. Whether or not this was a sign of political problems within the town, it did not prevent Scot's re-appearance as a bailiff in 1338, and the king dropped the case against Scot and Galeway in June 1339; Frismareys had already been commissioned, in 1337, to levy wool in the north for the king. The king's need for such men to help him finance his foreign campaigns was greater than his need to see justice was done.Rivals for power
Returning to the two chief opponents, although Denton had more of a grip on the mayoralty than Acton in the 1330s, Richard de Acton had been in government longer, having first been elected to the ballivalty in 1310 (under Nicholas Scot), again in 1315, 1316, 1317, 1318, 1320, and 1322 (all under Emeldon). Since Emeldon was Acton's father-in-law, we may be suspicious. However, Denton's first ballivalty came under Emeldon, in the 1327/28 term, and he was re-elected either the following year or the year after that, or both; Denton served again in 1330 (under Burneton), and for a final time in 1332 (under Emeldon).
Richard de Acton had followed in Emeldon's footsteps as an immigrant who made his fortune in Newcastle commerce; in 1308 he was the second largest exporter of wool from Newcastle, only Richard de Emeldon shipping more. Acton's rise was assisted by good family connections. Whereas Emeldon's family background is obscure, Acton was a younger son of a gentry family. His father, of the same name, had been married to the daughter of one of the Thomas de Karliols, although the son from this marriage predeceased the father and Richard junior was a son by an earlier or later marriage. The younger Richard himself made his marriage alliance with Matilda, daughter of Richard de Emeldon. Having married the daughter of the leading townsman and having been closely associated with the Emeldon regime, he may have considered himself the rightful successor to his father-in-law in the political sphere. An eighteenth century writer on Newcastle's history identified Richard de Acton as mayor in 1333; Welford tried to reconcile this with evidence of Denton's mayoralty in 1333/34 by proposing that Acton became acting mayor after Emeldon's death. Although not inconceivable for a family member to take over the duties, it remains unsubstantiated and it would have been equally if not more likely for one of the bailiffs to take the lead; Acton was not among their number, although Denton was a stint as acting mayor would have positioned him well to win election in October 1333.
Denton was evidently on good terms with Emeldon too, for there was some family connection by marriage (see below) and he was one of Emeldon's executors; along with his co-executor, clergyman William de Emeldon, whose living at Bothal was close to an estate in Denton's hands, he petitioned the king for repayment of a debt of £26.13s.4d owed for cloth bought by Edward II from Richard de Emeldon ca.1313 an action (which obtained consent from the king in March 1334, although this was not itself assurance of the money being forthcoming) that would have benefited Acton. On the other hand, Denton's control over disposition of the Emeldon estate, which Matilda had to share with her older sister Agnes, wife of a son of Peter Graper, and her younger sister Jacoba, then underage, could have been one source of problems between Acton and Denton; division of the property remained an issue until at least 1342, when Jacoba (by then married to Alan de Claveryng) was able to lay claim to her share. Denton himself had married the daughter of Thomas Daulyn, bailiff in 1320/21 and 1321/22, and the first occasion on which he is found exporting (wool pells) happens to be just after his father-in-law had been appointed collector of customs on wool.
Whether Denton and Acton were rivals or friends during Emeldon's tenure cannot be said. Fraser [John of Denton, 320-21] found it inconceivable, given their long association in various roles, that they could have been personal enemies, and consequently concluded that Acton was only the figurehead for a faction led by Denton's real enemies, particularly Richard Scot and the Galeways. However, although the pair may have been colleagues on good terms for much of their careers, the difficulties besetting Newcastle's ruling class (described below) could have altered this and turned collaboration into competition. It can be argued that, in the years following Emeldon's death, Acton appears to have been denied the access to the mayoralty he might have expected, given his seniority and experience; this could have been blamed on the economic success, and corresponding political influence, of Denton and his supporters. Acton's response to this peripheralization was ultimately to resort to extraordinary measures to obtain power. We should not focus on Acton's role to the exclusion of those of others, who had their own reason's to be jealous of Denton's successes; but the royal administration (as we shall see) viewed Acton as one of the prime movers, not just a figurehead, in the conflict that would disrupt Newcastle in the early 1340s, while Denton himself in his original complaint claimed that Acton was a willing participant in his election. An alternative hypothesis might point the finger at Acton's wife, Matilda de Emeldon. It was very unusual for a woman to be blamed in a political dispute, since women had no role in politics; yet at the investigation in 1341 she was evidently blamed probably by Denton as an instigator of the opposing faction. Perhaps, as suggested above, she was in conflict with Denton over her father's estate and helped turn Acton against Denton.
The evidence for overt political or personal conflict prior to 1341, or to situations that could have given rise to the same, is not unambiguous.
The contest of 1341
What does seem clear, however, is that both Acton and Denton had set their sights on capturing (or in the latter's case recapturing) the mayoralty at the election at the beginning of October. Denton having possession, and evidently good support within the ruling elite, he was able to use the customary machinery to achieve his ends. Acton's election, while unconventional, was founded on the authority of the community, and he also had his supporters from within the ruling elite; his popular support allowed him to get the upper hand.
Denton could have lost no time in seeking royal intervention. There is an undated petition from him describing, in terms later reflected in royal orders issued, the rival elections, the resulting dissension within the town, and revealing that Acton had strengthened his position by having his supporters take control of the town gates [C.M. Fraser, ed. Ancient Petitions Relating to Northumberland, Surtees Society, vol.176 (1966), 33-34]. That Denton was in the disadvantaged position is indicated in that he did not request royal approval of his election. He instead proposed that the king order both men not to assume mayoral office but hand over the reins of government to Gilbert Haukyn, Peter Graper, Robert de Haliwell, and William de Acton, whom Denton described as the town bailiffs (the set elected by Denton's supporters, one assumes), and that Richard de Acton should be ordered to hand over to those four the keys to the town gates, until the king and his council could investigate the disturbance.
The king followed that advice, appointed the four men as custodians of the town on October 16, 1341 and on the same day commissioning an enquiry (as above). We need not imagine from this that Edward was favouring Denton's cause; he had his own agenda. In the decade before Edward III came to power, England had suffered much from factionalism. At his first parliament, the young king had set the tone for the opening decades of his reign, by removing all sheriffs, calling for an investigation into oppressions by officials, and demanding that judges not be persuaded to favour anyone but act strictly according to law and custom in dispensing justice equally to rich and poor. This promising beginning came to little. By 1341 Edward was in severe financial straits, due to lavish spending to win friends and allies and on his Flemish campaign. His military efforts were frustrated by lack of funds: tax revenues did not come in fast enough, forcing him to borrow and repay from tax proceeds, something that was unpopular. Deflation contributed to the difficulty in collecting taxes. The tax of one-ninth was granted for two consecutive years by parliament in March 1340, but only in return for the king conceding some wide-ranging reforms. Once more it proved difficult to collect what was assessed, and a prise of 30,000 sacks of wool was resorted to in place of the cash collection, but this too met with resistance. An angry Edward, forced to abandon his campaign, upon returning to England instituted a sweeping enquiry into the supposed maladministration of the officials he blamed for failing to produce the funds he had needed; he discovered in the process an opportunity to help refill his coffers through large fines. Such was Edward's frame of mind when news reached him of the events at Newcastle. His mood may also have been influenced by a large debt the Newcastle burgesses were asking him to repay (see below), and by news that Scottish forces were in the field he could not afford instability in one of the principal bulwarks against Scottish invasion.
Having suspended the mayoralty and appointed local custodians, Edward on the same day appointed a commission of enquiry which included royal justices Thomas Surteys and others, and later sent his keeper of the privy seal, Sir William de Kildesby, to oversee the investigation. It is possible the burgesses tried to stave off what was coming by holding a new mayoral election, with Robert de Shilvyngton as their choice, but the king was having none of it. Because of the threat of a Scottish invasion, Edward was hard on Kilsby's heels and was present when the inquisition into events was held, which must therefore have been in November.
The investigation must have given the opportunity for all elements of the community to voice all sorts of grievances. For example, at some point during 1341, in the course of a riot that pitted townsmen against the retinue of the earl of Warwick, the former had broken down the gates of the Dominican friary, where the earl was lodged, and the friars now complained that they had not been permitted by local authorities to replace their gates; on 6 December, the king acknowledged the problem and gave the friars the go-ahead.
Seeing perhaps the opportunity to counterbalance the money the king owed the burgesses, Kildesby imposed hefty fines on the principals in the political dispute, totalling £1775.13s.4d, payable in instalments. The largest fine (£266.13s.4d) was laid upon Waleran Lumleye, who had been superseded in the mayoralty by Denton, in 1340; the fine seems less related to any role in the political hostilities, however, than to other offences by Lumleye who was convicted of customs evasion and who, in October 1342 along with Robert de Haliwell, acquired a pardon for having traded with the Scots. John de Denton and Richard Scot received the next largest fines (£200 each) with John Frismareys next (£166.13s.4d); the size of the fines of Denton and Frismareys was because they were also found guilty of customs evasion. Apart from Scot's, the largest fine associated purely with the political disturbance was £160, laid on Richard Acton, again associated with his wife. William Acton, Robert de Haliwell and his sons John and Robert, John and Richard Galeway, Thomas Flemyng, and Geoffrey Wandesford were also heavily fined. A fine of £500 was also imposed on the community as a whole. The king furthermore suspended borough liberties and turned local government over to a warden in the person of Sir William Felton on November 30; Felton, as sheriff of Northumberland, appointed a sub-warden to govern the town.Other causes of the internal division
It has been suggested that this conflict was essentially one between the merchant gild and the craft gilds, because of the power accorded the latter in the 1342 ordinances. This was doubtless one dimension of the affair, but things were more complicated than that. There was evidently a struggle for control of government between the empowered and disempowered. The former being, it appears, some of those who had dominated government in recent years, backed by a portion of the enfranchised residents, who were themselves among the better-off townsmen and probably predominantly merchants. The latter included non-freemen, some craftsmen, and some of the town merchants who may have objected to Denton's recent domination of the mayoralty, and been at once envious of his financial success and resentful of how he had achieved it as the king's purveyor, and collector of customs and taxes.
The appointment of the custodians on October 16 echoed the terminology of Denton's petition in describing his supporters as the "older and worthier men" of the community, and Acton's as "some of the young people", which led one historian to characterize the latter as "the young hotheads of the town" [Thomas Hodgkin, "Municipal contests in Newcastle, 1342-1345," Archaeologia Aeliana, 3rd ser., vol.5 (1908), 6]. However, the sense of the terms should be understood less strictly in terms of age than as as "senior" and "junior", or greater and lesser. In other words, Denton was claiming to have been elected by the better men of the town, meaning those of the ruling elite, while Acton's support was derogated as coming from those not really qualified to meddle in politics. At the same time, Acton's characterization of his supporters as the elder men of the community was an attempt to capitalize on the belief, in the patriarchal society of late medieval England, that older males were more respectable and credible than younger counterparts, had more experience and wisdom, and so had a greater claim to authority.
Why there had been an acrimonious split within the ruling class itself is a complex issue. To better understand matters we have to draw back and look at what was going on in the wider arena. A number of factors were putting the leading members of Newcastle's community under fierce pressure, and it may have been that things started to come apart after the sudden loss of the strong leadership of Richard de Emeldon.
First and foremost there were the hostilities with Scotland, an almost continuous problem for the northern shires from about 1296 to 1346. While Edward I had carried the war into Scotland, under Edward II England was largely on the defensive and Robert de Bruce was subjecting Northumberland to systematic attacks in order to break the morale of the residents and force Edward to negotiate peace. In such a difficult situation, we can hardly be surprised that some leading men defected to the Scottish side, when they felt they had to do so to protect their property e.g. the rebellion of Sir Gilbert de Middleton in 1318. Although this offered scope for the entrepreneurial, the risks were high and fortune was fickle. As well, the war countered profitable opportunities with onerous demands on the townsmen, particularly the wealthier.
Some townsmen benefited more than others from the situation: Richard de Emeldon, Gilbert Haukyn, and John de Denton were prominent among those who were contracted to supply the king with cloth and victuals. Denton for example was very active in victualling the renewed campaign to recapture Berwick in 1332. Occasionally, merchants might benefit from surplus army stocks, as in 1323, when Emeldon, Richard de Acton, William de Acton, Robert de Musgrave and William Thorald bought flour for £633.6s.8d. But while the royal army was a valuable client for Newcastle's merchants, providing supplies was one thing, getting paid for them quite another. At some point in the final years of Edward II's reign, Thomas de Karliol was pursuing a debt of almost £66 owed him by the king for victuals supplied for the army. Sometimes it was not a matter of purchase, but of forced requisitioning; an earlier petition by Karliol in the same period asked that a debt of £60 due from his account as collector of the new custom as Newcastle (in which position he was for most of the period from 1304 to 1318, partnering with Nicholas de Karliol) be offset against £126 due him for goods seized for the king's needs.
In similar fashion, Robert Oliver, who had been collector of wool customs at Newcastle 1317-23, had been called to account for £366 due from him in that role; in response he had asked allowance for £140 owed him by the king (he having the bills to prove it) and £100 he had paid out to others on royal orders. His requests having been disallowed by the auditors at Michaelmas 1323, he was over the next few months intermittently put in Marshalsea prison, until a final hearing after which he was committed to the Fleet and later the Tower of London, where he spent over two years, despite the king ordering the Exchequer at the close of 1324 to allow most of the claimed deductions. In 1327, Oliver, noting losses he had suffered from the Scots and from burnings, and his good service to the Crown, asked again for the deductions to be made and for him to be allowed to pay the remainder in installments; this was granted.
The king often decided to pay his debts through assignments to his creditors from customs or taxes. For example, in May 1338 the king ordered that his debt to Richard de Acton be repaid by allowing Acton to export wool worth £61.15s.1d duty-free, this being reimbursement for the king's seizure of his wool at Dordrecht (see below); while the following year John de Denton was given a similar permission. But the course of such arrangements did not always run smooth. In 1339 a loan from various Newcastle merchants of £4,000 was to be repaid from the customs they or their "friends" would pay on wool exports; to ensure their access to this revenue stream, the merchants were given the counter-cocket, so that no goods could (in theory) be exported without their knowledge. The following year Robert de Shilvyngton, John Flemyng, Peter Favoler, Thomas Deverwik, John de Haliwell, John de Bury and other of these merchants complained that the arrangement was being violated, in part by the collectors, and in part at the orders of the king, who had licenced Italian merchants to export without application of the counter-cocket and later ordered the merchants to turn the counter-cocket over to a German consortium. With almost half of their original loan outstanding, the merchants were apparently obliged to loan an additional £1333.6s.8d to the king in order to get his agreement to a new arrangement for repaying the now expanded debt, from the taxation of one-ninth recently granted by parliament. This arrangement also went sour, when the king gave priority to paying the expenses of the contingents led by the earls of Salisbury and Suffolk against the Scots; in March 1341 it was agreed that the proceeds from the ninth be divided equally between the earls and the merchants.
Gilbert Haukyn complained to the king, ca.1323, that his three warehouses had been commandeered for one-and-a-half years, as storage depots for grain to provision the army, but that he had never been compensated for the rent of £6 due. Admittedly this was partly Haukyn's own fault, for refusing compensation offered him in the form of a quantity of oats, instead demanding a cash payment. But the point of concern to us here is that many of the town's merchants lost the use of their warehouses for the same reason.
Newcastle was often required to furnish and equip, with crews and provisions, ships from its mercantile fleet to support military campaigns or to patrol the seas in search of the enemy. For example, in June 1324 the king sent orders to mobilize all ships of over 40 tuns belonging to townsmen, of which there were six at that time, of which two belonged to Robert de Musgrave (of which one had been captured, apparently temporarily, by Zeelanders the previous year) and two to members of the Haukyn family; the mayor and bailiffs responded that the ships were all off on voyages, but they promised to impress them as soon as they returned. Again, in May 1337, orders were sent to commandeer all ships of that size for convoy work in Scotland; four ships were removed from commerce during peak season as a result, one being occupied for 7 weeks, another for 18, the third for three periods totalling 26 weeks, and the fourth for two periods toalling 24 weeks. The total cost to the townsmen to equip crews of sailors and soldiers was almost £500; they were in due course to obtain reimbursement from the Exchequer, but the auditing of their accounts resulted in the rejection of about 10% of the expenses claimed, on the grounds of inadequate documentation. By 1340, the Newcastle townsmen were pursuing a claim of £723 they said was owed them for the expenses of ships ordered into service against the Scots, and in July 1341 the king indicated preparedness to make allowance from the borough's fee farm for £868.11s.9d for the cost of the ships and purveyance of supplies for the royal household; the farm, however, was only £100, so reimbursement would be slow. No wonder that the burgesses were reluctant to submit to their ships being commandeered; in September 1342, William de Acton's arrest was ordered because when his ship La Rose was impressed at Sandwich for war service, he and the ship's master broke it free.
A petition to the king from mayor Denton in 1333/34 explained that, in mayor Emeldon's time, by royal order two ships had been sent to sea to take action against the Scots; they had returned with five Flemish ships in which Scots had been found and handed over their cargoes to a royal official. Subsequently, the Flemings had retaliated for this capture by seizing merchandize of Newcastle men, valued at £666.13s.4d. Denton asked the king to consider the losses suffered by townsmen because of the war and the costs of maintaining the town and its bridge, and to arrange for release of the captured cargoes, to exchange for the goods held in Flanders.
Some of Newcastle's merchants were able to capitalize on the war, and on rebellions in the disturbed north, like William de Acton, who obtained from the king in 1331 a ten-year lease of lands in Swinburn forfeited from Sir John de Middleton, hanged for his part in the rebellion of 1318; the land had earlier been leased by another Newcastle wool merchant, William Thorald, and Acton seems to have been seeking to take it over as part of a marriage settlement with Isolda Thorald. In 1339 Acton's son, of the same name, had settled on him when he married into the Newcastle mercantile family, the Musgraves, other land in the same area: an estate was being built up. Richard de Emeldon had acquired over the course of his career substantial property throughout the county, some of it through securities for loans made to Northumberland gentry subsequently ruined by the war or other difficulties. John de Denton and Richard de Acton likewise had county interests. Denton for example is seen in 1337 farming from the Countess of Pembroke her manor of Woodhorn and the borough of Newbiggin (both not far north of Newcastle), the reversion of which properties Denton had acquired from the king between 1335 and 1337 the countess holding only for life, although she would disappoint Denton by living to 1375. And for some years prior to 1344 he had held, by royal grant, the custody of the village of Matfen (east of Newcastle) during the minority of the heir of the earl of Athol, probably in relation to his lease from the earl of the manor of Ponteland, possession of the larger part of which the king subsequently confirmed to him as a reward for his services to the Crown.
Investment in rural estates was on the one hand an avenue for social advancement, and on the other a means of banking profits from commerce in a way that was relatively secure and provided an annual dividend as well as a nest-egg for retirement. However, the security of such investments was precarious in times of war. Any undefended lands were liable to be laid waste by Scottish raiders, and the continual threat of attack must have been disruptive to efforts to raise crops or livestock and therefore the profitability of estates. In 1364 the manor of Woodhorn, still farmed up to that time by Denton's son, was described as laying utterly waste; the son was in the process of transferring his interest to a member of the Wydryngton family, which his own son continued. Throughout the 1320s we see repeated complaints from the county community about the ruination caused by the war; mid-decade it was being said (probably with exaggeration) that 200 townships in the county had been deserted by their inhabitants. If it wasn't the Scots laying waste to the countryside, then the English army was causing similar problems, either commandeering local produce, or destroying it and driving off livestock to prevent them falling into Scottish hands. Ca.1328 the burgesses of Newcastle were seeking compensation from the king for their grain crops growing in the fields around the town, which the king's army had destroyed on his last campaign (the army camped around Newcastle in July 1327); in consequence, the town merchants asked permission to trade wherever they could, in order to obtain the victuals the townspeople would need to keep them from starvation.
Building of a defensive ditch and wall around the town was almost a luxury for most English towns, which rarely came under threat (particularly after the period of wall-building had peaked), but for a town like Newcastle not in the immediate line of fire, but not far behind it was a vital undertaking. The ditch had been completed by 1316, but wall-building continued, with a 7-year murage granted in 1327; as the opening years of Edward III's reign saw a lull in hostilities with Scotland, there is some question as to the seriousness with which construction of the defences continued; however, with renewal of the conflict in 1332, an extension for ten more years was obtained, and this too was again prematurely renewed in 1341 (see above). Despite these grants, it appears that part of the cost fell directly on the shoulders of the townsmen themselves. So too did the burden of manning the walls; obligations for watch-and-ward, necessity though it was, created another impediment for townsmen trying to carry on a business not just the merchants of course, but also artisans or wage-earners, who had fewer opportunities than the merchants to capitalize on the war effort. A petition to the king from the Newcastle community in 1316 asked for financial relief, due to costs and losses incurred in keeping the town safe from the Scots: defences had been built at much effort and expense; lands outside the defences had nonetheless been wasted by the enemy; the merchants and craftsmen of the town had found it difficult to earn a living because of the obligations to guard the town; and what cargoes the merchants had been able to ship had been captured at sea by Scots or Flemings. The king responded by pardoning payment of the fee farm for two years, although the final authorization for this did not come through until November 1318.
In addition to the costs of walling, the project aggrieved some of the local landowners, across whose property the line of the ditch and walls had to run. In 1337 Richard del Haye complained to the king that the sheriff had torn down his house, on the grounds that its proximity to the castle made it a potential security threat, but that he was still being charged rent on the property; that this demolition had taken place at least twenty years earlier, before completion of the town walls had been completed (which would have made the action unnecessary), is itself suggestive of the difficulty in obtaining compensation for losses. Ironically, by the time Haye laid his complaint the castle fabric had so deteriorated that an enquiry was ordered, and the king had to authorize expenditure on repairs. The town wall must have caused far more problems than the castle. A decision in 1310 to alter the planned course of the wall, so as to enclose a larger part of the town (notably the quayside) probably led to a few surprises for local landowners, although it was noted that the security of the town outweighed the resulting nuisance to inhabitants.
Earlier, in 1300, the Newcastle authorities had requested that the Carmelite friary be relocated (it was proposed to move the brethren to the house of the Friars of the Sack, so diminished that only one friar now lived there), as its church stood where the wall had to run, and therefore construction was held up. Because of the slow process of the royal bureaucracy's information-gathering and decision-making, the transfer did not take place until 1307. The new location, however, also proved to be in the line of fire, for ca.1333 the friary was on a list of complainants that also included St. Mary's Hospital, Nicholas de Karliol, Peter Graper, John de Denton, Nicholas de Stockton (custodian of a chapel on the Tyne bridge), Adam Page, Thomas Thorald, John Paton, Emma Eyre, and Richard de Aukelond, all of whom had lost portions of properties they owned, when the town wall was built across them. They requested compensation out of the receipts from murage, or some other source if granted, such a request was likely to arouse resentment in the community, which would see the money being raised for its defence going into the pockets of private citizens.
Another effect of the war was that it disrupted judicial machinery in the region, which in turn gave rein to greater flouting of the law a situation made easier by war conditions in the first place. The "poor men of the county" were ca.1319 begging the king to ensure justices of assize came to the county, it being claimed they had refrained from appearing for some years due to the state of war; at the same time, the harrying of the shires by Scottish forces had so impoverished the residents that they were unable to pay their traditional dues. If war bred crime and it was widely believed that increased levels of violent crime were due to soldiers returning from the wars a related concern, not restricted to the north, was over Edward III's preparedness to sell pardons to criminals, which increased dramatically in the 1330s, despite statutes limiting the crimes for which pardons could be issued. The impecunious king refused to stop ignoring the statutes, and his practice continued into the 1340s. The practice of course favoured illegal activity by the wealthy.
The problems caused by the Scottish wars were exacerbated by the intermittent national quarrels with Flanders and France, peaking with a fear of French invasion in 1324. Declarations of hostilities sometimes caught merchants unawares, and in the process of ventures in those countries, and it exposed them even more than in peacetime to the depredations of pirates. The bailiffs were made representations to the king in 1307 and 1312 on behalf of Peter Graper (senior) who ca.1293 had sent a servant to Flanders to trade; war breaking out, the servant deposited the money he had made from sale of wool and other merchandize with a Bruges burgess, for safekeeping, but after peace was restored Peter had been unable to recoup the money. In 1319, Robert de Angerton and Waleran de Lumleye sought the king's help in recovering a wool cargo worth (they claimed) £200 in a ship which, en route for St. Omer the previous year, had been intercepted by Flemish pirates and the cargo stolen. About three years later, Richard de Emeldon and Thomas Thorald were likewise seeking help to recover wool and hides (valued by them at £383) captured in 1312/13 by Flemish pirates; Thorald and a servant of Emeldon actually tracked down the stolen goods to Sluys but were warned off, if they valued their lives. At some point between 1325 and 1337, William de Acton sought royal intervention in regard to a cargo of woad worth £80 he was planning to ship in peace-time from St. Valery to Newcastle, but which was seized by officers of the king of France; efforts to persuade the French chancellor to restore the cargo were rebuffed. In 1336/37 it was the turn of merchants Richard de Galeway, Robert de Shilvyngton and Adam Tredeflure to complain of loss of a cargo seized, along with the ship carrying it, at St. Valery by a French admiral, because of a dispute that had erupted between the kings of England and France; Galeway claimed the loss of the ship itself, worth £60 or more, and of cobs, herring, cockles and apples worth £125, whle the other two mainly lost woad worth £162.
Newcastle men were not always the victims, however. A complaint made by two Gascon merchants, related to seizure of their ship and its cargo prior to July 1316, was during 1317 leading towards the outlawry of 37 Newcastle burgesses, including Robert de Shilvyngton, Hugh de Hecham, John Wodeman, Thomas Thorald, Robert Musgrave, and several members of the Acton and Haukyn families. They were saved only by repeated interventions by the Earl of Arundel, warden of the Marches, who indicated the accused were in his service, defending the town, and he could not afford to lose them. The opportunism of English merchants could translate at times into piracy. This meant that Newcastle's merchants had to fear not only the pirates of other nations, but also those from among their countrymen; in 1314, ships from some of the Cinque Ports had set upon a convoy of northern ships in their home waters, and made off with the wool cargoes and one of the ships.
As if international trade were not fraught with difficulties enough, Newcastle's merchants were also operating under some disadvantages. Although Newcastle was the authorized port through which wool to be exported, the wool from that region of the country was of inferior quality to that from other parts of the north, as a valuation of wool from different areas confirmed; later in the century the discouraged wool merchants of the town were to tell the king that it was hardly worth their while exporting it. This meant that Newcastle's merchants could not rely on home-grown wool to make their fortunes; they needed to diversify. Furthermore, the customs charged at Newcastle were four times as high as those at Berwick, which prompted merchants including those of Newcastle to transport their merchandize to Berwick for shipping from there. These two factors combined to make it hard for Newcastle merchants to compete in the same marketplaces as other wool merchants, without taking actions such as padding their wool bales so that they compensated for low quality with higher quantity.
A troubled wool trade in the north is suggested by several pieces of evidence. A comparison of wool exports through Newcastle in 1308 and 1326, shows that the number of sacks shipped had fallen by one-third, while the number of merchants wealthy enough or daring enough to face the risks had dropped from 118 to 44. In 1336, when five Newcastle men were commissioned to buy up northern wool, at a low price reflecting its poor quality, the commissioners were able only to find small quantities, and most of that from their personal stocks; whether this represents a scarcity of wool, a lack of cooperation from wool merchants, or the commissioners' fear of incurring the wrath of their fellow merchants, is difficult to say. If the last, then John de Denton was less intimidated, for in 1337 he, along with two of the previous commissioners (Robert de Shilvyngton and John Frismareys) were appointed to a fresh wool collection, and the yield was three times as large as that of the previous year; that Denton may have taken advantage of the situation is suggested by him exporting 80 sacks himself the following year, free of customs. By contrast, when Edward III had all the wool of English merchants at Dordrecht seized in 1338, in return for a promise of reimbursement from customs on future exports, among those to suffer were Richard de Acton, Richard de Galeway, Robert de Haliwell, and John Frismareys; Denton's name is absent from the list. Fraser [Ancient Petitions, 215] has suggested that a collapse of the local wool trade in late1341 may be reflected in the fact that the burgesses, when ordered to provide wool in lieu of the original £133.6s.8d originally assessed in the tax of one-ninth, begged the king on the grounds of their losses from war and the fines imposed on them by the king to let them pay the cash instead. Though whether this would have been due to inherent weakness in the trade, or to disruption of commerce by the local political strife, is uncertain.
There are also indications of tensions within the community. In 1305 the "poor burgesses" had complained that they were prevented from retailing cloth they made at home, being obliged instead to sell it only by the bolt (presumably to the town's cloth-merchants and mercers). There were similar grievances relating to restrictions on fish-curing, tanning, wool-collecting, and the retail of wine and groceries. In the complaint 51 "rich burgesses" were named as the oppressors; of the 32 whose trades were identified, 29 were involved in the export of wool or hides. The case was before the Exchequer for some years; in 1308 the plaintiffs were awarded £50 in damages. This and possibly later instances of the merchant gild trying to prevent freemen from buying directly from visiting merchants may be part of what was behind cap.2 in the 1342 ordinances. Those ordinances also suggest that part of Acton's support came from the leaders of the craft gilds; the great majority of Newcastle's mayors and bailiffs had been merchants, and the crafts probably felt shut out of local government. Unrelated to this situation, but equally reflecting some breakdown within the community, was the activity in Newcastle in 1334 of a gang ambushing traders as they came to or left from the town; this was on mayor Denton's first tour of duty, and the king reprimanded him for failing to maintain law and order.
All this paints a picture of Newcastle's ruling class being under considerable stress, as mercantile ventures went wrong, the various national hostilities disrupted both land-based and sea-based commerce, they had great difficulty recovering debts owed them by the king, their ships and merchandize were commandeered for war use, their rural lands (a source of which crops and wool for export) and workers fell prey to the ravages of war, and their urban properties were sacrificed to the needs of defence or provisioning. Governing a town in war conditions must have been challenging and demanding. When Berwick was in 1333 recovered after fifteen years in Scottish hands, Newcastle's William de Burneton was assigned the task of governing it as mayor, which he did for several years; the task required so much attention that Burneton complained he was unable to give attention to his private business (an exaggeration, since customs accounts show him exporting wool, sheepskins and hides from Berwick in 1335/36) and was losing his health through overwork. The king doubled his mayoral fee to shut him up, but £20 could hardly have compensated for the profits he might have hoped to make had he given his full attention to his mercantile business, and perhaps not even for the personal expenses that such duty could have incurred.
In an environment that placed such a strain on those who faced the dual challenge of leading their community and supplying it with its necessaries, through hazardous overseas ventures, we cannot be surprised that the fortune of some and misfortune of others bearing in mind the concomitance of wealth and power fostered jealousy and resentment, and that Newcastle's merchants feuded amongst themselves. The stress must have been felt by the whole community, making it easier for feuding politicians to stir up the populace.
For merchants to prosper in such trying times, we may suspect that they could not afford to be too scrupulous. Murage, customs, taxation all offered scope for embezzlement and, whether or not sins were committed, it could not have been difficult for a political faction to rouse popular support on charges based on suspicions of corruption. The men who played leading roles in the political conflict were those who, as we have seen, were closely involved in administration of murage and the customs service. They were equally prominent in duties of assessing and collecting royal taxes. For instance, Hugh de Hecham, John de Denton, Richard de Acton, Robert de Shilvyngton, Waleran de Lumleye and Robert de Haliwell were appointed by the king to assess on the Newcastle community £400, granted him in 1337 and to be collected over a three-year period; in March 1339 he had to order the community to cooperate with the group, and a few months later there is reference to a fine imposed on the community because of its failure to send all that was due.
With regard to misuse of position for personal gain, we may point to a case in which John de Denton had obtained from the king on 8 October 1337 a grant of a perpetual lease on three plots of empty land in Newcastle. The community felt, it was later revealed by a complaint to parliament from the mayor in 1351 (upheld by an enquiry the following year), that these were part of the common land of the burgesses, not wasteland at the immediate disposition of the king. But Denton, as mayor and ex officio escheator, was able to convene an inquisition ad quod damnum that judged otherwise, to his advantage, and may also have undervalued the property; it was later alleged that the inquisition jury was packed with Denton's friends and kin. The conflict of interest was, however, acknowledged in regard to delivering possession of the property to Denton: this was normally the duty of the mayor/escheator, but Denton arranged for two other townsmen to be commissioned for the task. This affair may have been behind the grievance reflected in cap.4 of the 1342 ordinances, with regard to unjust alienation of communal property. Further light on Denton's character is shed by his petition of 1337, complaining to the king that he had, in peace-time, sent his servant William de Matfen to Flanders to sell wool, pepper, cloth and other goods worth £500, but that hostilities having broken out between the king and the count of Flanders, the merchandize had been seized by Bruges authorities and William was being held to ransom. An enquiry at Newcastle found that the goods were worth only £89.14s. and that William was being held for quarrelling with a Scotsman who had insulted the king and had to pay a fine of £36 for his release. To be fair to Denton, exaggeration and misrepresentation may have been par for the course.The conflict continues
Whether or not the suspension of borough liberties and the heavy fines cowed the rival factions for a while is unknown. Certainly the community remained far from happy. A further petition to the king, probably in the first half of 1342, claimed that the town was in danger of collapse, due to the heavy judgement laid down by Kildesby, various taxes imposed on them, their losses due to the Scottish war, the deaths of some of the "good men" by whom they used to be governed and protected, and the impoverishment of many other residents. They requested to be excused from the 108 sacks of wool assessed as their share of the 30,000 granted by parliament, and a review of the judicial records of Surteys and his colleagues leading to a reduction in the fines; they further suggested those sums be applied to the debt the king owed them. The king had other plans for the fine money, however, instructing in April his receiver of victuals in Newcastle to proceed immediately with collecting the instalment due, then wait for royal instructions on what to do with the money; the king was presumably making plans against the next incursion of the Scots, which came that summer and included a siege of Newcastle.
Under the watchful eye of Felton, the burgesses were also trying to put their house in order, although whether the reforms said to have been approved on 8 February 1342, by all the burgesses assembled in full guild at the hospital of St. Mary in Westgate, and sealed with the common seal, was the result of consensus or of one faction having an upper hand is unknown. Possibly all the parties were at that point inclined towards a compromise necessary to restore the peace, but the compromise went beyond addressing the immediate issue of electoral procedures, to more sweeping reforms of administration, particularly financial.
Richard de Acton died around this time, on April 2, the king ordering the escheator to take possession of Acton's lands, perhaps because of the fine still owing; there does not seem to have been any indication of foul play, but the events of the previous few months likely hastened the death of a man no longer young. By July 1343 it appears that Acton's fine had been cleared (if not pardoned) and a debt of the king to Acton was being repaid by allowing his widow and his executors, Adam le Bastynwhait and Roger de Wydrington, the latter Acton's son-in-law, to export wool customs-free. It might have been thought that the death of one of the principals would have helped matters; but it was not to prove so, indicating that we cannot attribute the opposition to Denton to Acton alone, or even primarily.
The king issued a new commission, on April 6, to a group very similar to that of October 1341, and on almost identical terms: to investigate whether any men of town or county had been supplying the enemy or had been involved in smuggling, to look into maladministration by Newcastle officials and into the political dissensions, whether Denton or Acton had tried to exercise mayoral power after the king suspended the mayoralty, and to have a new mayoral election made by the community. This was perhaps just a review of the situation, and a favourable response may have been the cause of the king ordering on May 6 restoration of the borough liberties; this concession was premised on the past efforts of the residents in defending the town against the Scots, the heavy costs they had borne in constructing the town wall and their promise now to keep it in repair at their own cost, as well as to imprison and punish anyone committing offences (i.e. to maintain law and order). Two weeks later the king added a proviso that the restoration of liberties was in no way to be prejudicial to the liberties of the Bishop of Durham.
Presumably mayoral government was restored, but we do not know in whose person. Welford has it as Denton but there is confusion in his lists of officials around this time, and Welford was not even aware of the electoral battle that had gone on in 1341. It would not have been inconceivable for the warden to appoint Denton, as the last incumbent before the breakdown of law and order, particularly given Denton's past services to the Crown; but we can hardly imagine such a result had the February reforms been applied. Other evidence points to Robert de Haliwell having been the choice along with Robert de Musgrave, William de Acton, John de Dunelm and probably Thomas Flemyng as his bailiffs; all of whom were re-elected in October of that year. Later that month, royal approval was obtained for the reforms issued in February not strictly speaking a necessity, but it strengthened their authority by placing them in the context of a royal charter of liberties.
The reforming ordinances issued in 1342 let us make inferences as to some of the problems causing political dissent in Newcastle. If we assume that they were formulated to address specific perceived abuses, then we it would appear the principal concerns were with:
Yet we should beware of reading too many specifics into the ordinances, for they are broadly similar to reforms implemented in other towns in response to perceived maladministration. As with such reforms elsewhere, the aim was not to overthrow the existing form of government, but to try to make it more accountable and to put in place checks and balances: the chamberlains (perhaps not new), the council (as the 24 of the mysteries must clearly have been, and not an ad hoc body), auditing of accounts, duplicate records, convoluted electoral procedures. Whether the reforms were targeted at one or more specific individuals whose actions were considered corrupt or self-interested, or whether more generally at merchant-dominated administrations incapable of managing the difficult situation in which Newcastle found itself, as described above, is more difficult to say. Although these ordinances may represent a compromise between the factions, it is equally possible that they represent a triumph of the anti-Denton faction. If so, it was a short-lived victory.
Haliwell's mayoralty of 1342/43 shows no sign of the political feud re-activating. In May 1343 the king set in motion again the collection of murage, apparently suspended due to the political contention. Whether Denton had given up the struggle or not is not clear; but his enemies had certainly not given up their hatred of him. Haliwell was succeeded as mayor by Richard de Galeway in October 1343. In July, Galeway along with some other Newcastle merchants had associated themselves with the consortium undertaking to farm the wool customs for three years. At the end of the first year the Newcastle men reviewed their participation, and withdrew. This failure may have fuelled the past jealousy of Denton's success in profiting from royal service. The arrest in 1336 of John de Galeway may also have still rankled. It appears the Richard, at his own initiative or that of other old enemies of Denton, decided in the latter days of his mayoralty to take advantage of the position of power in which he now found himself, and act decisively against Denton once and for all.
Perhaps tensions were again on the rise within the community. At some point during his term of office action was taken leading to a complaint (July 1344) by the Friars Minor that, whereas from the time before the town was walled, they had a conduit leading from a well to their friary, mayor Richard de Emeldon had covered part of the well, preventing the friary servants from repairing it; subsequently the friars had the well enclosed and locked, but mayor Galeway and his bailiffs, along with thirteen other named townsmen and others unnamed, broke open the enclosure and diverted the conduit elsewhere, while the conduit had also been damaged at other locations. On October 15, 1344 the king appointed a commission to investigate this. Another sign of deterioration is that William Acton, John de Galeway, and John de Frismareys had been fined in May 1343 for smuggling wool and coal, probably the previous year.
On 4 November 1344 the borough liberties were again suspended and the town put under wardens. This was most likely in consequence of the murder of John de Denton. A few days later the king appointed a commission to investigate the killing, the mandate renewed in February 1345, expanded in March, and renewed again in May with changes in the commissioners. The expanded mandate of the commission was to investigate who had killed Denton and what property they owned, who had aided or abetted the murderers, and what felonies, trespasses, oppressions, conspiracies, wastes or purprestures had been committed in the town by its officials or anyone else; this suggests that Denton's death was not an isolated incident, but perhaps part of continuing political factionalism.
In January 1345 the king had granted Denton's widow Elizabeth an annual income out of the customs collected at Newcastle, after she complained that she and her children were destitute because her husband had been maliciously killed by his enemies before making a will and his goods had been carried off by whom is not clear, but presumably those same enemies; the king's action was motivated, it was stated, by compassion and out of consideration for Denton's past services to the Crown, and half of the annuity continued to be paid to her son, after her death. In May, Elizabeth named those she held guilty of her husband's death, presumably pursuant to the findings of the commission. The list was headed by Richard de Galeway (not specifically identified as mayor, and none of the bailiffs under him were initially among the accused), followed by John de Galeway. Among the 22 named were others who had been among those fined for causing trouble in 1341: Robert de Haliwell and his sons John and Robert, and John Gategang; other members of the Haliwell and Gategang families were also on the list. A member of the Wydrington family was another of the accused. Occupations of the accused were given only in three cases; one was described as a merchant, two as skinners (a third accused was also later identified as a skinner). It was noted at this time that the accused had fled the county in order to avoid justice and that the king had appointed four men as a posse to track them down, as well as ordering their exaction. The search was still underway in February 1346, when the king, having heard that some of the accused might be hiding in the liberty of Durham, sent orders to the Bishop of Durham to arrest Richard de Galeway (now described as formerly mayor) and 37 others who had been indicted before the justices investigating Denton's murder and other crimes. The list included almost all of those accused by Elizabeth Denton. Among the additions were: Thomas Flemyng, one of those fined in 1341 and a bailiff at the time of Denton's murder; William de Burneton, who along with Flemying had been among those named as members of the Acton faction; additional members of the Gategang family; two men of the surname Scot, though whether related to the same family that had furnished leaders of Newcastle, I cannot say; and brother Adam de Alnewyk, of the Dominican order at Newcastle. It has been suggested [Hodgkin, op.cit., 8] that the last-named may reflect involvement of the religious orders in the political conflict of the town, but this is unlikely. Furthermore, there appear to have been men from outside the town among the accused, suggesting that Denton's activities in the region as landlord, purchaser of agricultural produce, and collector of royal taxes had also made him enemies.
Not all of the accused evaded capture. The two who suffered worst were, ironically, not even among those accused by the widow. Alan Chapman, refusing to plead, was thrown in prison and, like Denton, died there. Gilbert Dolfanby was convicted and hung for his part. In 1341 Dolfanby had leased for life a property from Matilda de Acton, at a very modest rate, although we should not read too much into such a connection and perhaps it was a very modest property. He had been among those fined for their part in the political disturbances of 1341, and among the group associated with mayor Galeway in the forceful action taken against the conduit of the Friars Minor in 1343/44. He had also been among another group accused in August 1345 of having seized ships intending to land cargo at Gateshead, on the opposite side of the Tyne from Newcastle and within the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Durham there being an ongoing battle between the town authorities and the Bishop for control of commerce on the Tyne, and particularly the coal trade. The accused group included a number of those indicted for Denton's death Robert de Haliwell (since he leads the list, the offence may have occurred during his mayoralty), Richard and John de Galeway, Thomas Flemyng, William Burneton and others along with other leading townsmen such as Gilbert Haukyn, William de Acton, John Frismareys, and members of the Karliol family. This was not an act of factionalism but of the principal movers within the community taking aggressive action against an outside rival; however, it suggests that Denton's killers represented the faction dominant in the town at that time.
Nor were all of those accused convicted. In October 1345, one of those cleared of blame, Thomas Gretheved, who had been accused by Elizabeth de Denton, requested that the king remove the outlawry that still hung over his head and was preventing him from obtaining restoration of his lands. From the ensuing investigative report emerges a story (whether true or not we may never know) of the events surrounding Denton's death. Gretheved had been tried in August, by which time Dolfanby had already been convicted and executed. It was stated at Gretheved's trial that, on 26 August 1344, mayor Galeway and the others, motivated by hatred rather than by any just cause, arrested John de Denton and put him in prison. There he was kept until the 31st, when he was brought before the mayor and accused of treason. Specifically that in 1322 he had received money from a Scot in return for he, and his accomplices, agreeing to deliver Newcastle into Scottish hands by arranging to have the West Gate left unlocked for three consecutive nights; and that in August 1341 he had supplied the Scottish king and his army, encamped outside Newcastle, with victuals. Denton either did not deign, or realized it was futile, to respond to these rumour-fuelled charges of his enemies. For this act of defiance, he was ordered returned to prison until he died. By October 18, that death had been accomplished. How, we can only speculate: Hodgkin argued that he was executed by crushing to death, a penalty of a later time for those refusing to answer to the law; Fraser suggested, more plausibly, that he was starved to death. The large number of those accused in his death hints at a lynching, but their indictment was more likely based on participation in Denton's trial. There is much that is unsatisfactory in this story, but it does seem to point to Denton's death at the hands of his enemies, under the guise of some sort of official action.
Gretheved was acquitted of any role in that action by a jury of twelve Newcastle burgesses, which included two of the bailiffs who had served under Galeway (William de Acton and John Wodeman), John Frismareys, and other leading townsmen. Richard de Galeway himself avoided capture long enough to save his life; although outlawed at some point before 4 August 1345, when some of his forfeit property was handed over to Sir Thomas Grey, he had purchased a royal pardon on 16 May 1347, but his property had not been restored. After his death (1359), his widow petitioned parliament and the subsequent enquiry recognized her rights in at least some of her late husband's former property. Among those accused by Elizabeth de Denton, Edmund de Wydrington, who had married into the Shilvyngton family, fled and was outlawed but won a royal pardon in September 1346 for service given in France; and Edmund de Pampeden was imprisoned but released on 6 July 1347, though whether through acquittal or pardon is unclear. Pampeden, Thomas Flemyng, John Gategang, and William Burneton had been outlawed, but later captured and put into Marshalsea prison (London). Friar Adam de Alnewyk had already taken the safer way out through a pardon obtained on 17 October 1345, and so too had Richard Scot, as the second document above indicates. We know that John de Galeway also was outlawed and his property confiscated; the fate of the remainder of those suspected of involvement in Denton's death is unknown, beyond that those who evaded capture must have shared the fate of John de Galeway, but the more important of them never appear again in the lists of borough officials, and so openings were created for new men with no known affiliation with the old factions.
The king restored the borough liberties on 24 October 1345. At the same time he tried to prevent further disputes by revoking the charter of 1342 (although restored in 1371); a new procedure for mayoral elections was drawn up. The role of the craft gilds was removed, with instead the mayor and bailiffs empowered to choose seven others to act with them as a committee to choose four electors, who would co-opt eight others, then that twelve to co-opt a second dozen, and the twenty-four electors would elect the mayor and then, with the mayor, the other officials. Subsequent political quiet in the town was more likely due to the death or flight or most of the principals in the feud than to this procedural change. The mayoralty and ballivalty continued for the rest of Edward III's reign to be dominated by a relatively small group of men holding offiice repeatedly, but most were men who had little or no association with the feud that had torn apart the ruling class of the early fourteenth century. In 1365 we hear of dissension in the town, which the mayor blamed on a socio-religious gild that was politically active and trying to coerce townsmen into supporting their aims; whether the aims were political is not clear, and it is unlikely this situation was the heritage of the conflict of the 1340s.
"all who owed suit at the court"
"church of St. Nicholas"
"pardoning Richard Scot"
"render an account"
"usages and customs"
"Tyne Bridge is in places broken"
"wife of a son of Peter Graper"
"diverted the conduit"
|Created: May 27, 2003. Last update: July 18, 2016||© Stephen Alsford, 2003-2016|