|Development of local government|
At the beginning of the thirteenth century, having just established his principal residence at Gaywood, the Bishop proceeded to strengthen the privileged commercial status of Lynn and reacquired his original foundation (by giving the Norwich monks something else in exchange), thus uniting central Lynn and Newland under his jurisdiction. South Lynn, however, remaining administratively separate throughout the medieval period; it lacked a market, or other advantages of the enfranchised borough, and remained largely agricultural in character.
The strengthening took place through charter grants from both the king and the Bishop 1204 and 1205 respectively, preceded by an enlargement of fair rights, to the fortnights surrounding St. Margaret's and St. Nicholas' feast-days. The king's grant, at the Bishop's request, came first with the upgrading of Lynn's status from vill to liber burgus (free borough) and a general statement that Lynn should have such liberties and customs as were typical of free boroughs. The Bishop's charter then identified Oxford as the town on which Lynn's liberties should be modelled; Oxford's liberties were themselves modelled on those of London. The king followed this up with a second charter, granting specific liberties, most known from charters and customs of Oxford or London. This detailed procedure assured the townsmen authority for their privileges from both their immediate and their ultimate overlords, but later became a basis for them to seek more independence from the Bishop, by appealing to the king as a higher authority even though the charters specified that no grants were to be prejudicial to traditional rights of the lords of the borough: the Bishop and, of slightly lesser importance, the Earl of Arundel through the lordship of Rising (stemming from the grant of estates and rights by the king to William d'Albini, whose son became the first earl).
Although the charters granted judicial self-administration in many matters, this administration really lay in the hands of officers appointed by the lords of the town. Their courts were held in buildings adjacent to the two marketplaces. The charter grants included a Merchant Gild and, according to local tradition, the alderman of the Gild served as the leader of the borough initially. Even towards the close of the thirteenth century, the gild is still seen acting as a quasi-governmental institution; it had its own statutes, its own finances, and its own system for resolving disputes between members the aim being to try to prevent them resorting to the seigneurial courts. But within a few years of the first charters the ambitions of the citizens for control over their internal affairs had acquired another rallying-point: they had elected a mayor as the chief officer of a government representing the whole community. The first mayor was Robert fitz Sunolf, a name that reflects the connections Lynn had with Scandinavia; his father's prominence in Lynn society is suggested by the fact that Millfleet was earlier known as Sunolf's Fleet. The mayoralty became the first bone of contention between the townsmen and the Bishop, probably because it reflects an effort by the citizens (or at least a faction thereof) towards self-determination and was associated with attempts to obtain greater independence from the Bishop's officers in the areas of finance and legal administration.
There were in fact numerous points of conflict between the town authorities and the town's lords and their officers as the borough government tried persistently to broaden its powers. View of frankpledge (to ensure all were part of the tithing system), control of courts administering local custom (perhaps particularly the husting mentioned in the 1204 charter), erection of private quays without episcopal license, local self-taxation (both Bishop and town authorities competing in these impositions), and right to collect tolls on trade goods, were among the matters over which the town government battled with its seigneurs, the Bishop and the heirs of the Earl of Arundel, during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This struggle also divided the local populace, some supporting tradition and the Bishop, others supporting the efforts for greater self-government. Lynn's medieval history is punctuated by a series of "compositions" between the two sides, trying to settle matters. The first, in 1234, found the Bishop agreeing the recognize the mayoralty, in return for a guarantee that each mayor after election would take oath before him to respect episcopal rights in the town. A charter of 1305 recognized the right of the town government to impose local taxes on the townspeople, which in fact it had already been doing for some years. But the 1309 composition with the Bishop tried to impose limitations on this; this composition, which reflects division within the community, obliged the borough authorities to rein back on their usurpations of episcopal rights, although only temporarily. The fourteenth century saw frustration and tempers build to the point of outright assaults on both lords specifically, Robert de Monthalt (1313) and Bishop Despenser (1377). Despite some temporary successes through appeals to the king and some minor concessions from the Bishop, usually involving the citizens leasing jurisdictions, medieval Lynn never entirely gained independence from episcopal lordship although by mid-15th century it was had taken almost all of the Bishop's jurisdictions in the town at a fee farm of £140. Complete freedom from its founder and overlord had to wait for the borough's incorporation (1525) and the Reformation.
Despite this, Lynn's self-government exercised a variety of functions related, among other things, to the regulation of trade and industry, measures for public health, safety, security, defence, the management of community property, and aspects of legal administration, as well as the raising of revenues to finance public activities and the associated management of the town's budget. These things occupied the time of a mayor, a town council, four chamberlains, and a number of lesser bureaucratic officers, as well as constables (chosen from among the leading citizens) responsible for the nightwatch in each ward. As was not unusual in English boroughs, there were periodic adjustments to the constitution, often the result of political conflict within the community.