POLITICS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Norwich politics constitution electoral procedures officers powers assemblies participation council voting representation wards legislation judicial administration jurisdiction livery craft guilds supervision taxation ethics professional misconduct
Subject: Political settlement concerning elections and powers
Original source: Norfolk Record Office, Norwich Composition of 1415
Transcription in: William Hudson and John Cottingham Tingey, eds. The Records of the City of Norwich, vol.1 (Norwich: Jarrold, 1906), 93-108.
Original language: Middle English and Latin
Location: Norwich
Date: 1415


1. [Election of the mayor]

In the name of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, three persons and one God in Majesty – the principal and special patron of the city of Norwich and its entire community, in honour of whom our mother church was founded and dedicated, on St. Valentine's day, when (it is said) people are moved by love to choose their mates, in the second year of King Henry V [14 February 1415], in the time of John Biskele, mayor, and Henry Rafman and Thomas Cok, sheriffs, with the consent of the good commonalty of the city of Norwich. Which city has been divided, disturbed and brought to the point of destruction by disputes, controversies, changes in direction, and discord concerning various matters that have for some time remained unsettled. Now, thanks to the mediation and prayers of St. Valentine, the city is prompted out of love to bring about peace, unity and one accord, [so that] poor and rich shall be united in their hearts, love and charitable feelings, never again from this time forward to be torn asunder, through the help and grace of their special patron the Holy Trinity, but rather to stand wholly united and in agreement as to the articles written below, in the following tenor, that is, in this form:

The mayor of the city of Norwich shall be chosen annually on May 1, in the Guildhall. To which election the mayor and the 24 co-citizens shall come – every one of them, except he who has a valid reason for being excused, upon penalty of 2s. [for default], to be levied by the sergeant and paid to the use of the commonalty. In addition, all those persons chosen for the Common Council for that year are to attend the election, every one of them, except he who has a valid reason for being excused, upon penalty of 12d. Also, all citizens who are residents of the city shall be free to attend the election, as they ought to do; the doors of the hall are to be open to all citizens who wish to enter, without hindrance, and none shut out or prevented from coming in, except for outsiders.

Then the mayor and the 24 are to go up to the bench, and shortly thereafter the recorder of the city then in office, or (when he is absent) someone in his place designated by the mayor or his lieutenant, is to announce the reason for the gathering at the election. Following the making of this announcement, the mayor and the 24 shall remove into the chamber of the hall and wait there. Then the common speaker is to stand up and say as follows to all the members of the community there assembled:

"Sirs and friends, for the love of our lord Jesus Christ, in proceeding with the election at hand, acting well and honestly and without favouritism, hate or fear, do not fail to select and nominate two qualified persons for the office of mayor, such as will bring honour and profit to the city, and who each have [already] been mayor or sheriff of the city, but neither have been mayor during the previous three years."

Which aforesaid two persons are to be chosen in the following manner. That is, that he who has the greatest support of the people in the hall is to be received and accepted as one of the pair; and he who has the next greatest support of the people in the hall is to be taken as the other of the pair. The names of those two thus chosen are to be written down on a bill, and communicated by the common speaker and six members of the Common Council to the mayor and 24 in the chamber of the hall. After giving this notification, those six shall go back into the hall. At that point the common clerk, under the supervision of the recorder and the common speaker, is to have the bill in his custody. The mayor, in person and alone, is to approach those three persons in the part of the chamber where they are, and to each of them separately and secretly shall name which one of the two nominees he wishes to have as mayor; and in the same fashion each of the 24 then present is to go to those three persons and separately and secretly and name which one of the two nominees he wishes to have as mayor. The one of the pair who has the largest number of votes as a result of this scrutinized tally is to be admitted to the mayoralty for the coming year; if there is a deadlock, the mayor's vote shall count for two votes.

Should controversy arise due to disagreement among the commons in the hall upon the nomination of the two persons, so that the common speaker cannot find any way of determining clearly which two have the greatest support, then the common speaker and the common clerk are to go to the mayor and advise him of the division among the people in the hall. The mayor is then to give the common speaker a command to gather together the 60 members of the Common Council of the city – or as many as are then present – in a room by themselves. There they shall try to settle the differences of opinion in the same way that has been, and still is, used in the city of London.

Shortly after the election of the mayor for the coming year, the mayor then in office, along with the sheriffs and the 24, shall come back into the hall among the commons and take the dais. The mayor having taken his seat, the recorder (or, in his absence, another designated by the mayor or his lieutenant) is to announce to those of the commonalty then present the name of he who has been chosen as the new mayor. If he so chosen as mayor is then present, the mayor shall bring him honourably to sit beside him, on his right side.

2. [Election of the sheriffs]

It is also agreed that each of the sheriffs are to be chosen on September 8, in the following manner. That is, the mayor, sheriffs, 24, and the 60 members of the Common Council are to come to the election, upon the same penalty set in the case of the mayoral election, unless any has a valid reason for being excused. All other citizens may freely attend the election, in the same way as set out for attending the mayoral election. Then the mayor, sheriffs, and the 24 are to go into the mayor's chamber. There the mayor, with the advice and agreement of his 24 counsellors, or the greater part of them, are to choose one sheriff for whom they shall be answerable, the mayor's vote counting double if deadlock should arise. Then the mayor, sheriffs, and 24 are to go back into the hall, and take [their seats on] the bench, and there a public announcement is to be made by the recorder, or someone in his place designated by the mayor or his lieutenant, to the commons then present of the sheriff thus chosen by the mayor and the 24 (or greater part of the same). Upon which, the mayor is to command the commonalty to gather together and choose a co-citizen resident in the city for the other sheriff – such a one for whom they will be answerable during the year to come. Then the mayor, sheriffs, and 24 are to go into the chamber of the hall, and the commons in the hall are duly to proceed with the election of the other sheriff. When the commons have chosen a sheriff they are to convey to the mayor, sheriffs, and 24, through the common speaker, the name of him they have chosen. If any disagreement divides the people and the commons, concerning the election of a sheriff, then this disagreement is to be settled through the 60 members of the common council, just as set out in the case of disagreement over the mayoral election. He who serves once as sheriff of the city shall never thereafter by chosen again to the same office in the city.

3. [Election of the 24]

The election of the 24 is to taken place annually during the same four days that the Common Council are chosen, by each ward individually, in the following manner. The mayor is to say:

"Sirs, it is stated by charter that you shall each year choose 24 co-citizens for the mayor's council. Notwithstanding which, it has been agreed and consented to, through the composition made, that the names of the 24 should be read out to you on this day. That is to say, six qualified men for Conesford (if there are that many qualified in the ward) to be members of the 24; and if there are not that many qualified, it is allowed for the ward [constituents] to make up the number by choosing from qualified men in any other ward of the city."
And in the same way, 6 for Mancroft ward, 6 for Wymer ward, and 6 for the Ward over the Water. Who are to be freely chosen during the 4 days when the Common Council is chosen, as is more fully set out below.

Those 24 thus chosen are to remain in office in perpetuity, as is done in London by ordinance, unless [removed] for reasonable cause. Should it happen that any reasonable cause is found for any of the 24 persons on the aforementioned day, then the mayor is to be notified of such reasonable cause for changing a member. Then the mayor is to instruct the ward in question not to fail or neglect to gather together to choose another qualified person to be a member of the 24, in place of such person to be changed. If there is any controversy among the people of the ward concerning a reasonable cause for changing any of the members of the 24, it is to be decided by the majority vote of those assembled that day whether there is reasonable cause or not to change one and nominate another. The reasonable causes for accusation and discharge brought against a member of the 24 in the city of Norwich are to be the same as the reasonable causes for accusation and discharge regarding the 24 in the city of London. Once the 24 is chosen, if it seems to the mayor that any of the members is not qualified, then the mayor has [the power] to challenge and veto, just as the mayor of London does, according to the ordinances of the city of London.

It is also agreed, concerning the charter article about the 24, that they shall do or make nothing that binds or commits the city, without the consent of the commonalty. In that regard the article concerning the 24 is to be amended in a [new] charter article correspondong to that in the London charter concerning the 24.

Also, no mayor, or sheriff, or any member of the 24 is to receive or wear the livery of any lord while he holds the office of mayor, sheriff, or member of the 24, upon penalty of disfranchisement – that is, whoever does the contrary shall be deprived of his freedom of the city. Nor is any man to be chosen as a member of the 24 who keeps a common hostelry or common alehouse.

4. [Election of the Common Council]

It is also agreed that the election of the 60 citizens for the Common Council is to be made annually by the 4 wards, in the following manner. That [it be held] on Monday following Passion Sunday, except when it falls on Lady Day [the Annunciation of the B.V.M., March 25], in which case the election is to be held on the next working day. On the Sunday preceding that Monday the mayor is to instruct his officers that they must, upon penalty of losing their office, duly forewarn the ward of Conesford that all enfranchised male householders of that ward should come to the Guildhall on that Monday at 8 o'clock, unless Lady Day falls on that day – in which case, the next working day.

When they are assembled, the mayor and one of the 24 chosen for that ward shall announce, or have announced, the reason for coming and then command them to get together to choose 12 qualified men from the ward to sit on the Common Council for the year to come; that is, 6 in Conesford and 6 in Berstrete. The names of those so chosen are to be presented forthwith to the mayor, by 4 persons assigned [to that task] by the entire ward. These being presented, the mayor is then to administer to them their oath to give good and true counsel, to the best of their knowledge, for the benefit of the city, and to be ready to attend the Common Council whenever summoned, upon the penalty set in that regard, unless any has a valid reason for being excused. Also, in Mancroft ward on the day following (unless Lady Day falls thereon) they are to choose in the manner mentioned above 16 men; that is, 7 from St. Peter Mancroft, 5 in St. Stephen's, and 4 in St. Giles. In Wymer ward, on the next day following, they are to choose in the same manner 20 men for the Common Council; that is, 7 in St. Gregory's, 7 in St. Andrew's, and 6 in St. George's. The Ward over the Water, on the next day following, is to choose in the same manner 12 men for the Common Council; that is, 6 for Coslany and 6 for Fybriggate.

In the above manner is the Common Council to be chosen annually. And the persons thus chosen for the Common Council in Norwich are to have the same power as have those persons chosen for the Common Council in London. It is the responsibility of the mayor or his lieutenant to uphold the manner of the election of the 24 and of the members of the Common Council on the aforementioned ward days, by virtue of the oath he makes for his mayoral office, before the mayor [then in office] in a communal assembly, after the form of the oath taken in London.

All ordinances and regulations that seem to the mayor and 24 to be useful and desirable for the needs and welfare of the city, the mayor then in office is to read out, or have read out by the recorder (or, in his absence, some other person designated by the mayor), to the Common Council. Following which promulgation, if it seems to the 60 members of the Common Council that those matters put before them require more discussion and deliberation before they can respond, they are to request a respite for deliberation and more discussion and whatever else seems expedient, through the common speaker, of the mayor and [those of] his council then sitting. By command of the mayor, a bill containing the matters in question is to be delivered to them, for response at the next assembly or at some other time, sooner or later, as seems [best] to them regarding the matters of concern. The mayor has the obligation to permit without any refusal, as often as they request it, that they may gather together privately in another room, no-one else with them except the common speaker; if they wish others to join them, as often as they request this the mayor is obliged to send for those others without argument. Concerning matters that the 60 members of the Common Council do not feel needs detailed or lengthy discussion, it is [nonetheless] allowable if they wish to withdraw to a private location with their common speaker to accomplish their task without too much delay – whatever seems to them necessary to a successful outcome – and come back with their answer.

5. [Judicial jurisdiction]

It is also agreed that the mayor is to hold a court of jurisdiction and correction once a week, or more often if it seems necessary and advantageous, to hear and determine before himself in his court all kinds of [complaints of] extortion, oppression, injury, excess, ignorance, false arrest, or negligence committed by any lesser officer; to examine, correct, redress, and reform such complaints and award compensation to aggrieved parties, according to the seriousness of the offence. And, as the one who is the principal Justice of the Peace in the city, he is to entertain in his court, before himself, all cases concerning apprentices and apprenticeships, servants and their service, according to the Statute of Labourers; also: cases of fine and ransom [to be paid] by prisoners taken and not acquitted of the same by their fellows; cases concerning debt, letters of payment, and of all other contracts drawn up or put in place between merchant and merchant, or any person from overseas; and all other cases and matters that fall to the mayoralty, except where they concern revenues that pertain by right to the sheriffs. The mayor is not to bring to trial before himself in his court any cases without there being a bill of complaint from the plaintiff's party, setting out the grievances of the complainant. The recorder who is assigned to the mayor is to take oath, before the mayor and his council in a common assembly, that he shall give him good and true counsel regarding the governance of the common people's communal rights. And the communal treasury shall not pay for any negligence or offence committed by the sheriffs or their officers. Nor shall the recorder act as judge in the sheriffs' court, or give counsel to anything that may be to the hindrance of the mayor's court, in contravention of the oath mentioned above.

It is also agreed that all cases involving rents, lands and tenements, or registrations, enrolments, and recognizances are to be held before the mayor and sheriffs in the mayor's court, with the revenues therefrom going to the sheriffs and fees for recording enrolments to the mayor's clerk.

Also that whatever man brings a complaint before the mayor or the sheriffs, seeking a surety of the peace, then the mayor or sheriffs have the obligation to see that he has surety as the law requires. And that person who provides surety in the town court is not to find surety, on the same matter, in any other. He who on a matter of surety of the peace (or for any other cause) is at the mayor's command committed to prison, the sheriffs may not set free without specific instructions from the mayor.

As regards the assize of bread, the mayor, the sheriffs, or one of the sheriffs together with the mayor, are to hold the assize and identify the infringements, and the fine is to be assessed by the mayor and the sheriffs according to the extent of the offence. The fines for which adjudged infringements shall go to the sheriffs. He who is found in infringement twice, the fine therefrom shall be put towards the sheriffs' [payment of the farm]. At the third infringement he is to receive punishment as the law requires; and if he is shown the mercy of allowing him to pay a fine for his infringement, then that fine is to be assessed by the mayor and the sheriffs, three of the 24, and 6 commoners chosen for the Common Council – which 6 persons are to be chosen by the 60 members of the Common Council; and the fine that he pays shall be put to the common profit. The mayor is to have the [power of] search and correction over all other victuals within the city, with the revenues going to the sheriffs.

6. [Liveries]

It is also agreed, and incorporated in the composition, that the mayor and the 24 are to be clothed in a costume suitable to their status. That is, that all those who have served as mayor of this city are to wear fur-lined cloaks, according to what is required by the season of the year. Those of the status of the 24 have the obligation of accompanying the mayor, dressed in their best suit of clothes, on the principal [saints] days to Christ Church, to assemblies and to other places within the city. When the mayor rides, all those who have served as mayor are to ride in their cloaks, and the other peers in their suits of livery. Every man who has been mayor has the duty to uphold this ordinance, upon penalty of £20, and every one of the remaining members of the 24 upon penalty of 100s.; which penalty is to be levied by the mayor, for the common profit.

No man who is a bondman is hereafter to be chosen for the office of mayor or sheriff. The commonalty is to have the same access to information about the communal goods, and the same level of safekeeping of the same, as the commons have of the communal goods in London.

7. [Legislative authority]

It is also agreed that even if at the renewal of the charter the article about the 24 that follows is enshrined in the charter, as mentioned above, that the 24 are to be nominated and elected annually to administer and legislate for the city, as is specified in the article, nonetheless it is agreed and consented to that they shall remain permanently in office, except for reasonable cause, based on this ordinance and not on point of charter on the matter.

Furthermore, we have granted for ourselves and our heirs, and by this our charter have confirmed to our citizens, that should any customs of the city previously in force and used in the city in any regard become problematic or unsatisfactory, so that – because of new situations arising in the city, for which no remedy has previously been available – what has been ordained requires adjustment; then the mayor of the city then in office and the 24 co-citizens of the city elected each year by the community have the power and authority to ordain and implement, with the consent of the community, a remedy congruent with good faith and consonant with reason, for the common utility of the citizens of the city and others of our faithful [subjects] who visit the same. And to put into execution such ordinances, as the situation demands, as often and whenever as is needed or as seems advisable to them. On condition that these ordinances are useful to us and our people, in good faith, and consonant with reason, as already mentioned.

8. [Election of mayor's assistants]

Also, every year at the mayor's convocation on May 3 is to be held a common assembly, at which the mayor newly elected on the preceding May 1 is to nominate two persons to bear the [mayor's] sword; from which pair the assembly shall select one by majority decision of those present. At the same assembly the [mayor-]elect is to nominate 4 persons for his two sergeants; from whom the common assembly, or the majority thereof, shall select two to attend upon the mayor for the year, in the office of sergeant.

9. [Annual review of by-laws]

It is also ordained and agreed, by the consent of the common assembly, that following the election of the 24 and the 60 members of the Common Council all ordinances and regulations that have been made and been in force prior to that date, but are not covered by this agreement, shall be put before the mayor, the sheriffs, the 24, and the 60 members of the Common Council. Those that are good and beneficial are to be kept, and those no longer suitable are, by [the authority of] this agreement, to be set aside. All other issues that may need to be addressed for the welfare of the city, but which are not thought of at present, lie within the power of the entire assembly to address and remedy through ordinance, with the consent of the entire community, for the benefit of the whole city.

10. [Election of other bureaucratic officers]

It is also ordained that once the newly-elected mayor has thus chosen his officers, forthwith the same day at that assembly the entire assembly is to choose the recorder, bellman, and dykekeeper. Next the mayor and the 24, by themselves, are to choose a common clerk, a coroner, two clavigers, and 8 constables. Then the 60 members of the Common Council, by themselves, are to choose a common speaker, a coroner, two clavigers, and 8 constables. On September 21 following in an annual assembly convoked by the mayor are to be chosen, for the year to come, by the mayor and the 24 one chamberlain, one treasurer, two auditors ([from those] who are not accountable for communal goods), and three commoners to act as advisors to the chamberlains for that year. And the 60 members of the Common Council chosen for that year are, by and for themselves, also to choose from their own number one chamberlain, one treasurer, one common sergeant, two auditors (who are not accountable for communal goods), and three commoners to act as advisors to the city chamberlains. Which officers chosen for the year have the obligation [to be present] at a common assembly following the end of their year in office, convoked by the mayor between Michaelmas [29 September] and Hallowmas [1 November]. At which assembly statements are to be made of what goods the community possesses, in debts and ready cash, and the names of the debtors; notwithstanding which [declaration] the treasurers shall remain obligated to the community for the same debt and debtors, and be accountable to the community for the debts due, unless those treasurers have a valid cause to be excused of the same.

11. [Supervision of craft work]

It is also ordained that each craft in the city is to choose annually and freely, from the craft membership, two masters for the year to come. [The names of] which 2 masters are to be presented by men of that craft in a written bill to the mayor. On a certain day of the year fixed in advance by ordinance – that is, the Monday following the mayor's riding – those masters have the duty (under the oath to that effect made before the mayor) of carrying out a thorough and honest survey throughout their craft of all defects in the craft. All notable defects that they discover in their craft are to be faithfully reported to the mayor, without any concealment. The mayor and the masters reporting the defects, along with other of the more prominent men of the same craft, shall judge the faults and assess fines according to the gravity of the offence; of which fines, half shall go to the sheriffs and half to the masters of the crafts.

Should it be found that the masters conceal any notable defects, then the masters are to be punished for the concealment, according to the gravity of the offence, by decision of the mayor and the more prominent men of that craft. Or if there is any craft that needs to be surveyed but will not have a survey conducted, then the mayor is to send for the craft and order them to choose 2 masters from their number; and if they will not choose and present the names within 8 days following, then the mayor is allowed, in default of the craft that refuses to choose anyone, to choose for the craft 2 members of that craft and to instruct them to carry out a thorough and honest survey, in the manner mentioned above. Those crafts subject to searches in the city of London are to be subject to searches in the city of Norwich, and in the same fashion as applied at London, except for those crafts that are privileged to have [letters] patent granted by the king, in the form of a charter. If there is any craft in Norwich that does not exist in London, they are to choose masters of the craft annually and act in the same manner as do other crafts in the city of Norwich.

[Cap.12 to 14 are concerned with limitations on the rights of non-freemen residents and are not of immediate concern here. Non-freemen could follow a trade for a temporary period, under licence, but at the end of that period had to enter the franchise. Similarly, they might not have apprentices or employees, except in specific circumstances. Apprenticeships were to be registered officially, and all entering the franchise had to do so as a member of a specific craft. This section of the composition will be presented under the category "Community - Membership". The following extracts are pertinent to constitutional matters:]

... Six men are to be chosen to act as the chamberlain's committee for the admission of burgesses.

... No alien of any kind may hold community office within the city. Burgesses who are chosen to be knights of the shire for the city are to be chosen by the common assembly and the names of the persons so chosen are to be presented and made public in full shire [court] within the city, to the mayor, sheriffs, and the councillors then present in the Guildhall.

15. [Gild liveries]

It is also agreed and ordained, and by this composition established and confirmed, that the costumes and headgear used in the past by all gilds and companies in the city of Norwich, as well as the names and privileges of those gilds and companies relating to the livery and costume of the gilds and companies, are from this time forward to be put aside and left aside. All crafts that wish to costume themselves are to do so after the fashion in London. That clothing is to bear the name of the craft in question, and not of any other; no craft is to be fitted out in the colours of another affiliated craft. If [members of] any craft gild or company pursue [their past practice] or appear contrary to the above requirement – excepting only crafts that are self-contained and have no affiliation with other crafts – then they are to be arrested as rebels against the peace and the terms of agreement in the city, and committed to prison, there to remain until they have paid a fine and ransom, as determined by the mayor and the entire assembly, for their offence.

If any man brings legal proceedings, on the basis of [royal letters] patent, to obtain any office in the city, he that does so may not hold any kind of office in the city. [This] in protection of the liberties of the city, which the king has granted by charter. Whoever acts so is to be disfranchised.

16. [Taxation]

Concerning the king's tax, when the time comes for it to be collected in the city, it is agreed that the common assembly is to choose, for each of the 4 wards of the city, 4 men to assess the tax and 2 men to collect it. That is, from Conesford ward 4 men to assess the tax in that ward. Those persons thus chosen by the assembly are to take oath before the mayor that they will properly and correctly assess every man of the ward, according to the extent of his goods. The other 2 men who are to be chosen to collect the tax in that ward are to take oath to collect it properly and honestly, based on documentation provided them by the assessors, and shall not at their own initiative or authority, out of friendship, enmity or fear, increase or reduce [the assessment] contrary to their oath. So that those 4 persons of each ward and the 2 of the same ward, chosen by the assembly for that ward – that is to say, 4 to assess and 2 to collect – shall correctly and honestly carry out their duty according to their oath, as indicated above.

In witness of all things stated above, the mayor, sheriffs, and commonalty, by the unanimous consent of the entire city, have as an indication that they will respect this agreement in its entirety appended the common seal and the mayor and sheriffs their seals. Made at Norwich on 14 February 1415.


I have elsewhere provided background to and assessment of the political struggle that gave rise to the Composition of 1415, in The Men Behind the Masque and in the History of medieval Norwich, and will not repeat the details of events here. I have only a few, mostly general, observations to add.

Unlike most constitutional settlements of which record has survived to us from the Middle Ages, that of Norwich is relatively detailed in some of its provisions. The specifications for the elaborate conduct of elections evidently had in mind concerns, justified or not, about how a fair election might be subverted. The document's purpose is, however, not to state those concerns but to present solutions; we are left to speculate about the underlying problems.

In this regard, we must suspect that most provisions will have been included because of specific instances of difficulty that have arisen in the past. Hence, for example, that the document containing the names of candidates was held by the town clerk, with the recorder and common speaker (in effect, representatives of patriciate and commonalty) looking on, was probably to ensure it was not tampered with. And that the vote of mayor and 24 was tallied by each of those three officials was presumably to avoid fraud in recording the votes. The secret ballot was intended to reduce the prospect of collusion or undue influence in the voting – in an open discussion, the more senior members of the group would likely have been able to direct the result. On the other hand, avoidance of open discussion may have been intended to prevent serious argument and division within council ranks.

A secondary preoccupation of the composition, which appears when taken at face value as fairly broad-ranging, is with crafts-related matters. It suggests that part of the disputes necessitating a settlement revolved around the making of freemen, and involved alliances of crafts in the political conflict.

The Composition of 1415 brought almost to a conclusion a protracted struggle within the community of Norwich over issues of governance; I say "almost" because the accord was itself intended to be the template for negotiating the terms of a new royal charter, and was inevitably fragile until that charter was obtained in 1417 (the delay occasioned, Hudson argues, by the absence of the king and of Norwich's arbitrator, Sir Thomas Erpingham, in France). The only significant deviation from the original of the charter section authorizing the stipulations of the accord is that it gives the more prestigious title of "aldermen" to the 24 co-citizens. Henceforth it was no longer pretended that this upper council was the instrument representing the community in goverment; that role fell to the 60 townsmen of the Common Council.

The constitutional composition suggests the same kinds of popular concerns seen in other towns at this period and at other times: electoral rights, participation in government, rule by law, fiscal accountability, equitable taxation and justice, access to the franchise, and reaffirmation of the concept that government was intended to be for the equal benefit of all. At the same time, as an instrument of compromise, it reflects issues of concern to the ruling class, at Norwich and elsewhere:

  • ensuring orderly, controllable proceedings at communal meetings;
  • having the ability to react to changing circumstances by shifting from reliance on a set of customs (relatively fixed) to a situation where by-laws could be made and changed at need;
  • assuring stability in government and governmental policy, by according the key decision-makers – the upper council of 24 – life tenure (an earlier effort at constitutional reform, in 1414, having insisted the 24 be subject to annual election);
  • bringing the principle and the practice of government into better alignment, in terms of representative institutions substituting for the theoretical participation of the community;
  • placing restrictions on eligibility for office, to avoid undesirables entering their ranks;
  • avoiding divisive factionalism, both within the community and within its own ranks;
  • reducing the risks of external interference in internal politics;
  • bringing the craft gilds within the system of governance in a more structured, and thereby controlled, fashion;
  • promoting a system which fostered harmonious political relations while at the same time acknowledging political hierarchy and corresponding levels of legitimated authority.

It should not come as a surprise then, that London was looked to as the model, as some measure of compromise between populist and patrician ambitions had been attained there that kept London politics relatively quiet for much of the fifteenth century. Exhausted by years of disruption, the majority of Norwich's townsmen were probably as eager for a restoration of peace and quiet as were those of London (or would be those of Lynn just a couple of years later, itself looking to Norwich for inspiration on constitutional compromise).

At Norwich, however, there were other complications, and continuing nervousness among the authorities about a lack of solidarity within its ranks gave rise to a "code of conduct" in December 1424, called the Tripartite Indenture (because there were three parties to it: mayor, sheriffs, and aldermen), for which royal approval was obtained in 1429. It is worth closing with a few extracts, for the light they throw on difficulties in maintaining discipline and loyalty within the patriciate:

Because the city of Norwich is, in various parts of the English realm, heavily criticized for lack of good and virtuous government ... the mayor and aldermen wishing and desiring to provide to the commons of the city a good example of proper and peaceable behaviour among themselves .... The aldermen of the aforementioned city of Norwich, and each of them, are to come to the mayor at the Guildhall or at any other location within the boundaries of the city of Norwich where the mayor wishes to discuss or speak about matters important to the city and its good government ... and they are to be on time.... The 24 aldermen, and each of them, are to keep to themselves all discussions and information communicated to them on all matters ... until such time that they are made public in a common assembly .... Any alderman doing the contrary ... is to be deprived of the status of alderman and expelled from the council by the mayor and aldermen (or the majority of the same) once his fault has been proved.... All the 24 aldermen, and each of them, to the best of his ability and wisdom is to support the mayor then in office, in attending upon him, giving advice, accompanying him in walking on festival days and in processions or to any lord or lady or honorable person in any location within the city.... None of the 24 aldermen is to bring any kind of lawsuit or complaint against any of his fellow aldermen unless he has first stated his complaint and grievance to the mayor and various aldermen of the mayor's council ... and has failed to obtain a remedy.... None of the 24 aldermen is to be a party to any matter brought against any fellow alderman involving a loveday, or agree to be chosen or act as arbitrator on behalf of any other individual against any of the 24 aldermen; he may on behalf of a friend encourage all matters to a peaceful resolution, but in no way should act for a party in arbitration or any other kind of cause whatsoever against any of his fellow aldermen, without the consent of that member of the 24 aldermen against whom he is chosen, unless it is for a close relative or in-law.... None of the 24 aldermen is to encourage, support, or commiserate with any person whatsoever who utters slanderous words, or works against, any of the other aldermen; but on any occasion when any of them hears such a person say anything slanderous or [discovers them] in any way acting maliciously against any of those 24 aldermen, then he is to contradict or restrain that person thus speaking or acting ... and furthermore to warn the member of the 24 aldermen who is the target of the slander or act.... None of the 24 aldermen is from henceforth is to be active, in person or through any other persons in his name, among the common people of the city, stirring or arousing sentiment so that he be chosen to any office relating to the government of the city, nor concerning any other matters relating to communal government to the benefit of himself or any other person, unless it be with the prior consent of the mayor then in office and the majority of the 24 aldermen, so that the office in question may be filled peaceably without any taint of maintenance.... In respect of the oath that he took, none of the 24 aldermen is to utter slanderous words about any fellow alderman, nor wish him harm, discomfort, or unhappiness, nor rejoice at any setback, loss, or discomfort experienced by any of his fellow aldermen. If it so happens that any such member of the 24 aldermen acts viciously or is accused of being a liar and will not correct his faults, so that his guilt may be known, it is permissible under this ordinance for any of the 24 aldermen to inform the mayor then in office and the aldermen, or the majority thereof, of those faults.... That each of the 24 aldermen is each year to take, use and wear the livery that is prescribed by the mayor and the aldermen, or the majority thereof, and honestly pay the price for it set by the mayor and the majority of the aldermen; whoever refuses it and will not buy it, receive it, and wear it shall, by authority of this ordinance, pay 10s. for his fault in the year that he refuses it. Any member of the 24 found and proved to be in default, in contravening any of the above points, or in any way acting contrary to these matters, and refusing to be ruled or governed by the ordinances of the mayor and the 24 aldermen, or the majority thereof ... is to be deprived of the livery and advice of the 24 aldermen and, from that time forward, to be deposed of the status of aldermen and expelled from the city council.
[ Records of the City of Norwich, vol.1, 109-112. My modernization.]



"principal and special patron"
This was because the dedication of Norwich cathedral was to the Holy Trinity.

"John Biskele"
Mercer John Bixley had been mayor since May 1414; he had served as one of the sheriffs of Norwich in 1408/09. He had taken up the franchise in 1400/01. Another merchant of this name who, having become a freeman in 1374, is in evidence in the latter years of Richard II's reign, may have been his father. The mayor owned a number of properties in the parish of St. Gregory, but is not known to have had significant property interests outside the city. He died in 1425, leaving a daughter as his heir.

"Henry Rafman"
Believed to have been born in Wymondham, Norfolk, Rafman (who also went, less frequently, by the surname Alcock, rafman being an occupational surname meaning a chandler) built his early career in Yarmouth. He held several posts there in the customs service, as controller and collector, between 1399 and 1409. They may have been a reward for his support of Bolingbroke and the other lords opposed to Richard II, for in 1398 he had been obliged to obtain a royal pardon for his political activity; the pardon perhaps also helped him evade legal actions brought against him by a number of creditors. During his time as customs collector, he is also seen exporting large quantities of cloth and woolfells, importing wine and foodstuffs in return. He was also chosen as one of Yarmouth's representatives to the 1406 parliament; during its sitting he was elected one of the borough bailiffs, the first to two terms – the second coming in 1409/10. During his first ballival term he took out another pardon, this time for outlawry, consequent to his failure to appear in court to defend in an action of debt brought against him during the reign of Richard II. Around the same time he was also in trouble in the admiral's court, where a Flemish merchant had complained that his merchandize had been spoiled while in Rafman's custody; in 1408 Rafman was appealing his conviction. In December he (along with other officials in the customs service) received a further pardon, covering offences such as that for which he had been convicted. It may not be coincidence that his customs career came to an end at the same time, and that this was also about the time he quit Yarmouth, and purchased the franchise at Norwich. The change of residence did not cure his perpetual indebtedness: in 1413 he was again pardoned outlawry for failing to respond to actions of debt. Despite this he was chosen as sheriff in 1414, as a parliamentary representative of the city in March 1416, and then elected mayor in May 1416. Not long after the end of his term he was again in hot water, accused (with his son) of having murdered John Caley of Norwich; although the court decided that the widow's accusation was malicious and not supported by the evidence, for technical reasons Rafman was unable to obtain a pardon until 1423. He is little in evidence otherwise in this period, and it has been suggested he was slipping into poverty [History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1386-1421, vol.4 (1992), 171]. At some point he was put in the debtors prison (Fleet) in London, and the last we hear of him, in 1435, is still in connection with legal trouble over debts.

The term seems to have been increasingly used in this period to refer to the community as a constitutional entity.

"24 co-citizens"
The city council; concitezeyns reflects that members were all peers (equals), while the number of members was often used as a name for the body as a whole.

"citizens who are residents"
This must mean intrinsic freemen; assumption of the franchise brought benefits and obligations, such as participation in the political process.

foreyns is probably intended to include non-citizens and forensic citizens (those residing outside the city who purchased the franchise for its commercial benefits).

"go up to"
The bench – the seating for mayor and council – would have been on a dais.

A legal advisor employed by the city. As a lawyer he might occasionally be absent, either on city or other business.

"greatest support"
The original has most voys. Whether this implies loudest shout, or whether individual votes were tallied, is not clear; but the same term is later used to refer to the individual votes for the nominees.

The term was used primarily for relatively informal documents of various formats, particularly petitions, but also letters, not necessarily intended for archival retention as legal record. Here a note is doubtless what is meant.

"go back into"
Although the original document talks about the mayor and 24 withdrawing by passen up in to the chamber, and the six councillors go down in to the hall after communicating the names of the nominees, the private chamber was on the same level as the main assembly room with which associated. If it were accessed via the dais, this could explain the terminology, but the description of the post-election return of mayor and 24 to the hall suggests otherwise. More likely there were a couple of steps leading into the private chamber.

"separately and secretly"
In other words, a secret ballot, with each of the three officials keeping a separate tally of the vote.

"used in the city of London"
This would appear to be addressed in Liber Albus, book1, pt.1, cap.13, which states in regard to matters to be determined by the Common Council: "If there should arise matters of great controversy or doubt, on which they cannot agree, they are to be separately examined, under the oath to which they are bound to the city, by the sergeant-at-law, the common clerk, and the common sergeant-at-arms." [my translation]

The 24 were bound to make good any failure of their sheriff to pay his share of the fee farm, whose collection and payment fell to the sheriffs; the commonalty likewise for the behaviour and accomplishment of theirs.

Hudson thought this was the charter of 1404, giving the city county status and replacing the bailiffs with mayor and sheriff; however, it makes no direct reference to the upper council of 24, so it is more likely the charter of 1380 – which does refer to (though not grant) the annual election of 24 co-citizens to represent the community – that is meant.

"reasonable causes"
Liber Albus states that to be discharged an alderman must be found guilty of some grave offence or enormity.

"charter article"
Again, the charter of 1380 is intended.

"London charter"
This would be the charter of 1341 (reissued in Richard II's inspeximus and confirmation of 1377), granting legislative power to the mayor and aldermen with the consent of the commonalty.

"Monday following Passion Sunday"
Hudson speculated that the timing may either have been in imitation of London, where an ordinance of 1384 specified the election of common councillors there, per ward, within the latter half of March; or may have had something to do with the timing of Norwich's leet court sessions (held per ward), which required popular attendance and would have been completed just before the election of councillors.

"Conesford" "Berstrete"
The wards were divided into smaller administrative units for purposes of leet jurisdiction, and this now served to establish proportional representation on the lower council. Mancroft, as the commercial focus of the city, and Wymer as a trades and quayside area, had the largest concentrations of population, and so larger representation on council than the other wards.

"ordinances and regulations"
Given the context, this must refer to draft legislation. The passage is evidently defining what constitutes communal consent to enactments formulated by the mayor and upper council; it was to be more than just a yea-or-nay.

"cases of fine and ransom"
The sense of this sentence is obscure and interpretation difficult; it seems to refer to those arrested for an offence and unable to find guarantors to bail them out or to pay their fines for them.

"Christ Church"
Norwich cathedral.

"Furthermore, we have granted..."
This quotation, in Latin, appears to be from the royal charter of 1380, with several alterations: insertion of the phrase de assensu communitatis; substitution of the term "mayor" for "bailiffs; omission of the stipulation that a majority vote withn the 24 is sufficient to effect a decision.

An official responsible for making announcements around the town. In late fourteenth-century Beverley the bellman made a daily trek through the town, ringing one of his handbells (he being issued with four) at various points to mark the time when trading could begin; he also informed members of the council when meetings were to be held and may have rung the communal bell to summon participants to guildhall meetings. Similar duties may have been performed by bellmen of other towns.

An official responsible for supervising the defensive ditch surrounding the city walls, to ensure they were kept in good condition and were not put to inappropriate uses (e.g. grazing of livestock).

Persons assigned to have custody of the keys of communal chests containing the common seal and treasury. This type of officer was often introduced in the context of reforms, stemming from distrust between rulers and ruled as to how community money was being expended.

Although not explicitly stated in surviving city records, it appears that the chamberlains were responsible for overall fiscal management, while the treasurers were the men who actually doled out money and received it into the treasury.

"not accountable"
That is, those chosen as auditors of the financial accounts of city officers were not themselves to be men bearing an office whereby they had to render account.

The process described here is the annual accounting of financial officers, at which a fair copy of revenues and expenditures needed to be presented and reviewed by the auditors. The officers could be held personally accountable for any revenues due that had not found their way into the treasury; however, if there was a valid reason why revenues could not be collected, the auditors might exonerate the officers from such amounts.

"the mayor's riding"
This took place on the Tuesday after Trinity Sunday.

"defects in the craft"
Such as products of sub-standard quality, inappropriate processes, or excessive prices.

The term was used to refer to outsiders who had not become foreign burgesses (those who purchased the franchise for its benefits, without becoming permanent residents).

"knights of the shire"
Parliamentary representatives (bearing in mind that Norwich now had county status, and its court was the equivalent of a shire court).

In the sense of a uniform style of clothing, i.e. a livery.

"affiliated craft"
The original has Craft of Coillet, which Hudson suggests derives from the French cueillir (to collect). It presumably refers to the tendency for lesser, poorer crafts of small membership to affiliate with larger crafts usually (but not exclusively) operating in a similar field. See for instance the association of crafts at Coventry and Beverley to mount the annual pageants, or the groupings at Bristol to receive doles of wine for ceremonial drinkings.

"their seals"
I.e. their seals of office, not their personal seals.

A day of reconciliation between disputing parties.

The term was used in regard to support given to sustain or increase the power (political or otherwise) of an individual.

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Created: May 27, 2003. Last update: March 14, 2004 © Stephen Alsford, 2003-2004