History of medieval Ipswich


Calendar of usages and customs of Ipswich, capitula 57-83

cap. 57
butchers who bring
skinned carcasses
Much evil handiwork has often been done in the countryside through theft of livestock, and the carcasses have been sold in the town by butchers, thus giving the town a bad reputation in the countryside. Therefore it is ordained that no butcher henceforth bring into the town to sell any carcasses of beef, veal, or mutton, unless he bring the skins and hides with the carcasses, so that any man seeking his stolen animals might be able to identify them through the skins and hides. If any butcher does otherwise, the carcasses found without skins or hides shall be confiscated to assist with [the revenues needed for] the king's farm of the town, for it looks very suspicious when butchers will not bring the skins along with the carcasses. This is not to prevent the butchers from selling the skins or hides when they have the opportunity, but they should not be removed from public view in the market before the hour of prime, and then under supervision of the wardens of the market. If any outsider butcher of good repute is found committing this fault, but defends that he was ignorant of this custom of the town and [did not hear] its declaration, the bailiffs may give him the benefit of the doubt the first time. But if he is found committing the fault a second time, he is to be punished as already indicated. The bailiffs shall have this ordinance announced publicly in the meat market each year at Michaelmas, so that it can be obeyed.
cap. 58
butchers who sell
spoiled meat
All butchers, both residents and outsiders, should also take care not to display for sale the meat of diseased animals, or that is rotten or smells bad. Any such meat shall be confiscated on the first occasion; on the second occasion the meat shall be confiscated and its seller sent to the pillory. On the third occasion for the offender, the meat shall be confiscated and the seller shall give up his occupation in the town for a year and a day. If anyone insists on selling such bad meat in the town, let him stand under the pillory with a table in front of him from which audaciously to sell the meat, such as it is, to anyone who will buy it, without interference from the bailiffs or punishment.
cap. 59
cooks who keep
victuals too long
Let the cooks of the town be warned that none of them keep or store beyond a reasonable time victuals that they intend to sell to the public. Nor is any of them to sell to resident or outsider victuals that are rotten or unsuitable for consumption. Any convicted thereof shall be punished for the first offence by [confiscation of] his chattels, and for the second offence shall be sent to the pillory; on the third offence he shall give up his occupation for a year and a day, so that neither he nor any of his [household] pursue the occupation in the town, on pain of confiscation of all his chattels used to pursue the occupation from his house, or in any other's possession for his profit. If anyone pursuing that occupation has nothing [by way of chattels] by which he can be punished, he is to be punished by the pillory; and after suffering the pillory twice, he shall give up his occupation for a year and a day, without prospect of reprieve. And if he is yet again convicted, he must give up the occupation forever.

Notes: the occupation" here referred to was the retailing of cooked foods; cooks were the medieval equivalent of today's fast-food vendors, usually operating from their houses or booths in the marketplace. In this and other chapters I substitute "occupation" for "craft" (English version) and "mester" (French version), the latter (also known as "mistery") from the term for trade or craft.

cap. 60
hosting of
outsider merchants
It is ordained by common counsel of the town that no resident, except one who is a burgess, denizen, peer and member of the community, act as host of outsider merchants who come to the town by water to sell merchandise there. Hosts are to provide advice to these merchants on when and to whom they can sell their goods; each host may have a quarter of this merchandise – and no more – at the market price of the goods; the other three-quarters may be sold to other good townsmen. If the hosts sell the merchants' goods by their own hand, they are to be answerable to the merchants for the full amount of the selling price. Even if the merchants sell their own goods, without taking advice from their hosts, the latter may still have a quarter of the merchandise. However, in the case of vintners (no matter what country they are from) who sell their wines out of the cellar, or woad-merchants who stay in town and sell their woad in taverns or outside a storehouse, their hosts may not claim any part of their merchandise on grounds of hosting.
cap. 61
burgess suing burgess
contrary to
the franchise
Royal charters have given the town of Ipswich the freedom from any burgess of the town being impleaded outside of the town in any plea, assize, or suit related to any land or tenure within the borough or its suburbs, nor [related to] trespass or contracts made within the town or its franchise. Since each burgess is bound by his oath to uphold the charters and freedoms of the town, in all locations and in all points to the best of his ability, it is ordained by common counsel and unanimous agreement of the town that no burgess of the town, whether resident or outsider, shall from this time forth implead another in any place outside the town, whether by writ or without writ, contrary to the terms of the charters or prejudicial against the franchise – that is, concerning matters than can legally be dealt with in the town [court]. If anyone does so, he is to be warned by the bailiffs and two burgesses that, at risk of being disfranchised, he must not pursue the plea to the damage or prejudice of the franchise, but should seek his rights in Ipswich according to its laws and customs. If, after the warning, he [continues to] pursue his plea, contrary to the town franchise, then he is to be summoned by the bailiffs and two burgesses to appear before the portmensmoot on a specified day, to receive judgement for having proceeded contrary to the franchise, the warning, the prohibition of the bailiffs, and his own oath. On which day, whether he come or not (if witness is given to the fact that he was summonsed), then the bailiffs and good men [i.e. the portmen] of the town in full court shall strip him of his franchise, so that he be considered an outsider [henceforth]. Let the franchise not be restored to him unless he pays a new fine to the community to have it, for the costs and expenses that the community shall have incurred to challenge [the external court's jurisdiction in] the plea.
cap. 62
challenging allowance
of the franchise
In the same way, a burgess shall be disfranchised if he counterplead or has another plead against allowance of the franchise in any place, contrary to the terms of the charter and his oath. He shall not be restored to the franchise except under the conditions mentioned above. However, if any burgess of the town, resident or foreign, can clearly prove that the town court has previously failed to give him justice or that his adversary cannot be brought to answer in the town court, in such cases may he sue an action elsewhere than in Ipswich without risk of disfranchisement.
cap. 63
no foreign merchant
to be a burgess
It is ordained by the whole community that no foreign merchant may be accorded the status of a burgess of the town unless he has inherited a tenement there, by which he can be distrainable and made to answer to justice, if necessary. If anyone who is made a burgess disposes of his real estate in the town and moves his chattels out of town, and is no longer at lot and scot, nor contributing to taxes on the town as a burgess ought, then the bailiffs, coroners and good men of the town are to revoke his franchise. If someone who has thus withdrawn from the town is discovered selling merchandise in the town afterwards, toll is to be charged on the merchandise as with any outsider. This ordinance does not mean that there may not be accepted as burgesses knights and country gentlemen, whose association may benefit the town; but these men shall only have the franchise granted them for life.

Notes: that is, the sons of non-resident gentry could not become freemen of Ipswich by heredity; these foreign burgesses purchased freeman's status to obtain the rights to buy and sell in town without paying toll, but were not expected to be at scot and lot. Such an exemption can be traced back at least to the foundation document of 1200

cap. 64
selling a pledge
If someone of the town borrows money or goods from someone else of the town, handing over personal property as pledge for repayment on a certain day, but the debtor allows the due date to pass without repaying the debt, the creditor may bring the pledged items before the bailiffs in court and, informing them of the circumstances of the failure to acquit the debt, may request the court's decision as to what he should do with the pledge. The bailiffs shall then warn the debtor to appear at a specified date to redeem his pledge [by repaying the debt]; if he comes and does so, then he shall have the pledge delivered to him without damages judged against him. If he fails to come, or comes and does not repay the debt although unable to deny the due date for repayment is passed, then the pledged items may be given to the debtor to do with what he will. This is be as valid for items of gold, silver vessels or jewellery, armour, or brass, as for any other type of chattel.
cap. 65
disclosure of private
counsel of the town
If any burgess discloses the counsel of the town, or with malicious intent impleads the liberties and status of the town, so that the town is damaged and its liberties impaired, that burgess is to be summoned to come before the bailiffs, coroners and community on a specified day to answer. When he comes and is, through due process of law, convicted of the trespass, he is to be disfranchised, in the manner previously mentioned.
cap. 66
burgess pretending to
another's chattels
If a burgess has any chattels of an outsider merchant among his own chattels and falsely claims the outsider's chattels to be his own, so as to avoid [paying] the king's customs, to the loss [of the town] and the profit of the outsider, the burgess convicted before the bailiffs of that falsehood shall be disfranchised. Thereafter he shall be considered as if an outsider and, if he conducts commerce, he shall pay customs (like any outsider), until he may be restored to the good graces of the community and pay a new fine [to regain the franchise].
cap. 67
taking merchandise
away by water
It is the custom in Ipswich concerning goods and merchandise brought to the town by water that, from the time they are unloaded and laid out on dry land for sale, or [the time that] the merchants have sold any part of their goods – as men say in English, "broken bulk" – that these goods may not be removed towards the sea without permission of the bailiffs and good men of the town. The merchants should not be forced by the bailiffs or anyone else of the town to sell their goods in the town, against their wishes; however, if their wish is to take their goods elsewhere in the region to sell, that does not exempt them from paying customs to the town. If they do not intend to send their goods upriver into the region, but remain in the town for 8 days and yet are unable to sell their merchandise within that time [at a] suitable [profit], in that case the merchants may seek permission from the bailiffs and good men to take their goods elsewhere by water, where they can hope to make a better profit; permission is to be granted, but they must pay to the town the correct export customs just as they did for importing [the goods].

Notes: this seems somewhat punitive, and was perhaps intended to encourage merchants to lower their prices, if they were unable to get enough sales at the prices intially sought; Twiss notes that the king's regulations were that customs duty was payable only on those goods actually sold.

cap. 68
time for selling
merchandise at
the quay
Merchandise that is brought by water to the town is not to be bought or sold between sunset and sunrise, except fresh herring in the herring season, viz. between Michaelmas [29 September] and St. Clement's day [23 November] – and then only by burgesses, not by outsiders. If anyone is convicted of selling outside this time, his merchandise is to be confiscated and he is to be amerced 40d. for the first offence, half a mark [80d.] for the second offence, and the penalty doubled for each successive offence. And when the one committed of this trespass has his merchandise confiscated, it is to be taken to two good men of the town to sell for the common profit of the town.

Notes: the royal charter granted to the town in 1256, like the charters of the same year to Great Yarmouth and Dunwich, included a clause prohibiting middlemen (brokers) or forestalling in the sale of fish or other merchandise brought by water; commerce was to be conducted by those merchants who brought the goods.

cap. 69
selling shellfish
Concerning oysters and mussels brought by boat to the town quay, for selling, it is ordained for common benefit (of poor men as well of rich men) that such shellfish by sold by the same men who brought them. No one in the town is to meddle with such merchandise contrary to this ordinance, upon pain of its confiscation and 40d. amercement.

Notes: the term "meddle" is used by the custumal in a context that reflects etymological associations: the prohibition of middlemen in the retail of shellfish.

cap. 70
age in the town
All those, male or female, who hold lands or tenements in the town, know how to measure and to count, and have reached the age of 14 years, [are old enough] to give, sell or lease those lands or tenements, or to quitclaim in perpetuity their rights therein, as if they had the age of majority (21 years). If anyone of younger age gives or in any way alienates his property or quitclaims right in it, this is neither bar nor prejudicial to him seeking and recovering right therein (according to legal usage in the town) whenever he chooses after having reached the age of 14, without regard to any legal document he may have made when underage.

Notes: the ability to measure and to count were trials of the age of majority in many towns, being fundamental skills for pursuing any livelihood related to commerce.

cap. 71
If anyone threatens the life or limb of another, or [threatens] to give him a beating or burn down his house, and the individual threatened can prove the threats before bailiffs and coroners, by [witness of] two sworn men, then the menacing party is to be attached by mainprise to come on a specified day before the bailiffs and coroners to assure them he will keep the peace in this matter and to provide sufficient surety through 4 pledges that no harm or damage will come to the complainant by his actions or procurement. If he is unable or unwilling to find mainprise for coming to court or, if he comes but cannot or will not find sureties for keeping the peace, then he is to be committed to prison until he finds such sureties.
cap. 72
drawing weapons
in presence of bailiffs
If anyone with malicious intent draws a sword, knife or other weapon, or wounds, strikes a blow to, or assaults another against the peace in the presence of one of the chief bailiffs, for this trespass and contempt [of authority], let him be committed to prison for 40 days, or until he can find mainprise to make amends according to the judgement of the bailiffs, coroners and good men..
cap. 73
procedure in
a case of slander
If anyone falsely or maliciously slanders another in the public marketplace or [elsewhere] openly in public, [with accusation] of theft, robbery, treason, deceit, or other wrongdoing, so that [the one accused] suffers anguish or is harmed or dishonoured, the latter may sue for slander by gage and pledge. In such cases of open slander, the slandered is not to be allowed to defend himself by his law; instead an inquest is to enquire whether the slander took place or not. If the slanderer is found guilty, he is to pay damages assessed by the inquest or the court according to the gravity of his slanders and to the identity of the one slandered. If the guilty party is unable to pay the damages or find pledges, then his is to be imprisoned for a period (determined by the bailiffs and good men) according to the gravity of the slanders.
cap. 74
Women who are notorious scolds making strife among their neighbours, and unable to curb their wicked tongues, are to be punished by the tumbrel called the "thewe" unless they can make compensation (if they have the means).

Notes: Twiss identifies the "thewe" as a species of pillory, or possibly a cucking-stool; however, from the context and a possible etymological association with teuda (a protective cover) it might also be a scold's bridle.

cap. 75
the 12 sworn men
of the town
By common agreement of the town it is ordained that there shall always be 12 sworn men, [chosen] from the wisest and most loyal townsmen, to govern and to maintain the laws and correct customs of the town, to render good and honest judgements on behalf of the community, and to do and ordain whatever is needed for the benefit of the town and justice to the community, as much as to poor as to rich. And because these 12 sworn men are tasked with greater responsibility and effort for the welfare and honour of the town than are other townsmen, the community has granted to them and their heirs and successors to hold in common the meadow called Odenholm, for sustenance of their horses. If one of the 12 sworn men should die, or be disobedient or negligent in regard to his oath, then the [remaining] 11 sworn men have full power in their duty to the town to elect someone suitable to replace the deceased, or to remove the disobedient or negligent person from office and choose a suitable replacement.

Notes: care was taken to record in one of the Domesday copies (Add.Ms. 25012) an account of the election of portmen in 1309; the account, parts of whose terminology is somewhat similar to parts of cap.75, refers to the portmen being given Odenholm meadow for life and to the filling of vacancies in portmen ranks through election by the remaining members. It is difficult to say whether this account simply reflects the terms of the custumal (and the account of the 1200 proceedings, or whether those documents were reshaped to reflect a constitutional change in 1309, occurring under atypical political circumstances.

cap. 76
negligence of
If the execution of [orders of] the town courts suffer delays because of the sergeants-at-mace, the negligent sergeant shall answer to the party who has suffered from the delay, if he wishes to bring an action. Whether so or not, the sergeant shall have his mace confiscated for 40 days for the first offence. For the second offence, it shall be confiscated for three months and he shall pay the plaintiff any damages awarded by inquest or the court. At the third offence he shall lose the mace and be permanently removed from office.

Notes: the English version talks of "subbailles beryng masys", more commonly known as "sergeants-at-mace"; the French version uses the title "subbaliffs portaunts verges" – a "verge" was a rod or staff of office, perhaps in practice no different from what the town later considered a mace.

cap. 77
sub-bailiffs spreading
If any of the sub-bailiffs is convicted of spreading slanders or lies among the good folk of the town, so that discord and bad feelings arise within the community, he is to be suspended from office permanently. He is to be similarly deposed if the discloses the private matters of the coroners or his superiors.
cap. 78
common clerk
If the common clerk of the town creates a false record, to deceive the court or the party [to an action], then he is to be committed to prison and for the first offence suspended from office for half a year. For the second offence he is to be removed from office permanently.

Notes: this is not a common type of provision within a borough custumal; it is tempting to see in it a response to the circumstances which led common clerk John le Blake to abscond with the original Domesday custumal and other records in 1272.

cap. 79
process in plea of debt
between burgesses
If a plea of debt of greater than 16½d. and involving two burgesses of the town is brought before the bailiffs and the defendant denies the debt and intends to defend himself by waging his law, he must bring into court on that day 10 men. They shall be separated into two equal groups of five, and a knife with a point shall be thrown between the groups; that group in whose direction the haft of the knife lies is to sent away without doing anything. The group towards which the point of the knife lies shall remain with the defendant, except that one shall be removed and the other four shall make oath with the defendant. If the debt is 16½d. or less, the defendant need only do his law with two others. Let it be known that this custom applies only [to actions] between resident burgesses, who are called peers and commoners, and not [actions ] involving a foreign burgess. If a foreign burgess impleads a resident burgess of debt, regardless of the amount of the debt, then either is to be at his law. If the plea is of such a kind to allow the parties to wage their law, then [the defendant] may be allowed to do his law with two supporters. The requirement for bringing 10 men for waging of law, as mentioned, cannot be used in any plea except for that of unpaid debt.
cap. 80
bakers who break
the assize
No baker is to make wastel, simnel nor the first cocket except using a bolter from Rennes; nor the second cocket except with a bolter of "beuquer"; nor whole wheat bread except with good clean wheat. Nor is any baker to mix bran into breads made of corn. Any baker making "fynget" bread must make it according to the assize and sell it for what it is. If he uses any other bolter for wastel, simnel or first or second cocket than those specified, at the first offence the bolter is to be burned beside the pillory; for the second offence, the bolter is to be burned and the baker amerced; for the third offence, the bolter is to be burned and the baker put in the pillory; at the fourth offence, the bolter is to be burned and the baker to give up his occupation for a year and a day. If any baker is convicted of mixing bran into corn breads, he is to receive the same punishment as for breaking the assize of bread. When a baker breaks the assize, for the first, second and third offences he is to be amerced according to the enormity of the trespass; at the fourth offence he is to be put in the pillory; at the fifth, he is to give up his occupation for a year and a day. Every baker is to keep to his craft specialization; that is, some make wastel, first coket and treet only; some simnel and treet; and some whole wheat and corn breads. If any baker use any other craft, he is to be amerced 12d. for the first offence, 2s. for the second, 4s. for the third, or else (if he lacks the means to pay) to give up his occupation for half a year, yet still be punished for breaking the assize of bread (if he is found guilty thereof).

Notes: there were about a dozen varieties of bread made in late medieval England, although the Assize of Bread concerned itself principally with three: simnel, the highest quality, used at Lent; wastel, a good quality white bread; and cocket, the lowest quality of the three, with first or small cocket better quality than second or large cocket. According to the English version of the custumal, "fynget" was also a white bread; Alan Ross ("The Assize of Bread", Economic History Review, 2nd ser., vol.9, 1956) speculates it may have been a milk bread called pain fraunceis. Treet bread was a coarse brown bread. This chapter points to some of the persistent abuses made by bakers, focusing on quality of materials, as opposed to fair weights and prices – although the mixing of bran with corn would have been to increase the weight of a bread (prescribed by the Assize) by using cheaper ingredients and thus increasing the profit margin. A bolter was a cloth or sieve used for sifting flour and Rennes was known for its manufacture of good quality linen; I do not know what "beuquer" is (Twiss hypothesised it might refer to Beaucaire, in France).

cap. 81
Concerning brewsters, it is ordained that in the month of Michaelmas, when men may have good malt from new barley, that the bailiffs have made, throughout the town, announcement of the assize of ale by which the sale of corn shall be [governed?]. If anyone is discovered selling or brewing contrary to the announced terms of the assize, he is to be punished by bailiffs and court for trespass according to the terms of the Statute of Merchants of the king and according to the law and custom of the realm.

Notes: despite the use of the masculine as the subject of the verbs in this chapter, brewing was principally an activity of women (Margery Kempe of Lynn is one of the best-known examples), and the chapter uses "brewer" in its feminine form braceresses. The Statute of Merchants dates to 1285.

cap. 82
condemning bad wine
Each year, in the season between the old wines and the new, the bailiffs shall, accompanied by the best qualified persons of the town, make a search of all taverns and cellars in the town, both of residents and outsiders. Relying on the oath of good and honest men – taverners and others – and on their own judgement, they shall taste-test all the wines that they find in these places. If they discover any wine that has gone bad and would be unfit to drink or to mix in with new wine, without showing favour to any individual they shall take the wine into the high street and in public view condemn it; the tun, pipe or other vessel shall be smashed and be given to the bailiffs for their fee.
cap. 83
testing of the
town measures
No one in the town may buy or sell corn, wine, ale, or other liquor by any measure – not by ell nor by weight – unless it is approved according to the town standards and sealed with the town seal; that is, those measures that can and ought to be marked with the seal. If anyone in the town is convicted of using another [non-approved] measure or weight, he is to be heavily amerced. At any time they wish, the bailiffs may take any measures, ells and weights used in the town and test and assess which are good and accurate, so that no fraud can be committed by such measures, to the damage of the town's good name or to the harm of the people.

cap. 22-56

custumal contents

cap. 84-101

Created: August 29, 1998. Last update: October 29, 2014 © Stephen Alsford, 1998-2014