Origins and early growth |
DEVELOPMENT OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Buildings and fortifications | Economy | Summary/Recap | Information sources
Map of Maldon at the close of the Middle Ages
Maldon bailiffs and chamberlains
Appendix: borough custumal
|Development of local government|
Henry II granted the burgesses their first charter in 1171, which gave "free borough" status, specified the lands included within the town boundaries, and identified the various customs, jurisdictions and obligations to which the townsmen were subject (such as ship service, said to date back to the time of Henry I) or from which they were exempted (including tolls on merchandise throughout the country). The charter made no reference to any mechanism of local government, but other evidence suggests it was by two royal bailiffs; Henry II was wary about encouraging too much independence in his burgesses.
A jury investigating the lordship of Maldon in 1274/75 reached the conclusion that Henry II had turned over a share of his lordship of the borough to a Norman supporter, Ivo Patryk, as a reward for service, and another share to the Bishop of London; but they knew not how it had come, in their time, into the hands of William de la Launde and Roger Baynard. However, earlier evidence suggests Henry II had kept Maldon in the family, allowing his brother William to hold it (for a fee farm) for a while, and then leasing or giving the lordship to his illegitimate son, William Longspee, who passed it on to Oliver fitz Ernisius, whose son Eudo gave half to Eudo Patric and half to the friars of Bosco Herebaldi; these last gave their half to the Bishop of London.
We hear relatively little of Maldon in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, when most medieval boroughs were in their heyday. The rights of the mesne lords of Maldon which would not have overridden the 1171 charter were likely upheld by bailiffs they appointed, while the king appears to have had two local constables to do his bidding there. In 1287 the bishop and the king (as guardian of the underage heir of the other lordship of the town) were suing the townsmen for infringing various traditional lordly rights. It seems likely that this was part of a deliberate challenge to or evasion of those rights, during the course of which the townsmen had set afire some of the bishop's parkland. The disputed matters were: dues owed from each stall in the town market (4d.), from all salt cargoes arriving by river (2 bushels of salt), and for the pasturage of livestock in Portman Marsh on the far side of the river (small amounts varying according to the type of animal); and the building of extensions onto houses or the expansion of property limits, which represented potential income, either through licence fees before the fact, or court fines after the fact. A jury decided for the lords, except in the case of stallage from which Henry II's charter exempted the burgesses.
Some measure of release from overlordship came to Maldon at the beginning of the fifteenth century, when the Bishop of London granted various jurisdictional rights to the townsmen in return for payment of an annual farm, reserving to himself only a few relatively minor local sources of revenue. This grant of 1403, which the king subsequently endorsed, gave to the community of Maldon, in exchange for a fee farm of £6.13s.4d, the following properties, jurisdictions, and revenues:
The above concessions appear to have been prompted by the townsmen using force to express their wish for greater independence, for in 1401 we see 55 of them named in a charge of trespass brought by the Bishop of London and Sir Walter FitzWalter (whose family had held the other half of the lordship since 1315). The townsmen were represented in the dispute by Robert Darcy, a Northumberland-based lawyer both of whose parents had landed interests in Essex. The list of grantees of the episcopal charter of 1403 is headed by Darcy's name, followed by John Welles (probably the bishop's bailiff in the town), John Burgeys the townsmen's bailiff, 19 other named leading townsmen, and "all inhabitants of Maldon". In the years that followed, Darcy acquired numerous properties in the town and took up residence there; he built up a legal practice in Essex which resulted in him being appointed a Justice of the Peace in the county for most of the period from 1410 to his death (1448). He became a legal advisor to Lord FitzWalter and later to his son, as well as a feoffee of the FitzWalter estates; he similarly served the Earl of Oxford, who had landed and commercial interests in Maldon. In 1446, Maldon's fee farm was being paid to the Bishop of London and to Robert Darcy esq., who had apparently taken over the FitzWalter lordship, although the FitzWalters continued to own property there. His son followed in his footsteps and was similarly recipient of one part of the fee farm in 1469.
The desire of the townsmen to force the issue of independence was nothing new; in 1386 the king had ordered the arrest of one of the constables and several other named townsmen who, with others unnamed, had besieged the servants of FitzWalter inside a house in the town, until they paid a ransom for their freedom. And deeds of 1331 and 1361 leasing parcels of common soil to individuals are said to be made by "burgesses and community". Although we should not read too much into this apparent dichotomy, the deeds at least suggest some kind of communal decision-making organization existed independent of the lords' officers in the town; the same may be suggested by the group actions mentioned above.
In fact, the townsmen already had a well-shaped local government in place by at least 1383 (the earliest date from which copies of its political records survive). A meeting, described as a "court" was being held each January, its business including elections, view of frankpledge, admission of men into the franchise (see below), and in later years auditing of financial accounts. Borough officialdom in the 1380s comprised:
That there is no sign of community-elected officers in the deeds of 1331 and 1361 may indicate that local self-government did not take shape before the 1370s. It is not impossible that the townsmen took advantage of the national unrest in 1381, which found expression in Essex, to assume powers of self-government; certainly the first written compilation of the borough custumal which might itself be a reflection of acquisition of some independence appears to have been made at that time. This had been prefaced by obtaining in 1378 a confirmation of the 1171 charter; although it was for most boroughs normal procedure to obtain confirmations upon a new king coming to the throne, Maldon had not bothered much with this, to its detriment. The 1378 confirmation may therefore be a sign of reviving ambitions.
By 1389 the borough administration had some kind of financial accounting system in place and was enacting local ordinances (by-laws), including that the community should hold a court each Monday in its own hall. At the election in January 1404 we see the result of the Bishop of London's grant the previous year, for two bailiffs were elected the second superseding the Bishop's administrative officer in the town. We also first hear of chamberlains during this year, although they may not have become a permanent element of borough officialdom until 1413; they were responsible for supervising borough expenditures and revenues (the latter being deposited in the community chest known as the "pyx"), although it was the bailiffs who were held accountable for the budget. Annual income through most of the fifteenth century ranged between £20 and £25; sources of income indicated in the accounts for 1446 were:
The Moothall was a two-storey building located in the marketplace; the upper part was used for administrative business while at least part of the lower level held shops leased to townsmen. The town gaol was also located there.
In the Moothall the bailiffs held the Monday court, which had jurisdiction over pleas involving debt (the most common type of case brought before it), detention of goods, broken contracts, and minor transgressions. If one burgess had a complaint against another, he was expected to bring it before the town court, not to resort to any external legal authority. A piepowder court, to render swift justice to travelling merchants from outside town, was being held by at least 1407.
Once each quarter, the General Court session was dedicated to the presentment of offences against the community, the peace, or the assizes of bread and ale. All householders were required to attend the General Courts or face a fine. Presentments were made by the appointed ale-tasters and bread-weighers, and by a jury of townsmen specially elected each year for this role, under the title of "headburgesses". The headburgesses were in fact the wardemen wearing another hat, with the result that the General Courts combined both judicial and legislative functions. The range of offences presented is exemplified by Simon Gylberd who, during the General Courts held during 1448, was accused of: failing to perform satisfactorily his duties as ale-taster the previous year (this being a not uncommon charge against the ale-tasters); breaking the assize of bread; regrating ale; and hosting gambling in his residence at unreasonable hours. Simon, whom we may guess to have been a taverner, was not happy with these charges and cursed the wardemen to their faces.
The town's acquisition of special privileges, through grants from its lords, necessitated a definition of who had the right to benefit from these advantages. This was achieved by giving the status of freeman to those residents who agreed to share the communal obligations and responsibilities of the town in return for a share in its privileges and benefits. Entrance to the franchise required the taking of an oath and the payment of a "fine" (i.e. a fee) which varied, probably according to personal means; in the late fourteenth century it was generally between 3s.4d and 6s.8d, although during the reign of Henry VI 20s. was the common fee. An entrant who was born in the town was exempted from payment; ca. 1403/04 this exemption seems to have been restricted to sons or daughters of a freeman (if born after he had entered the franchise), or a man who married the daughter or widow of one. All entrances were subject to approval by the community and its officers. As part of his oath (see the custumal, cap.44), the freeman guaranteed that he would uphold the liberties and customs of the town, obey the bailiffs, not discuss with outsiders decisions made by the local government, contribute towards communal financial obligations (such as taxes), and attend the January court meeting at which local elections were held. These features are fairly typical of the freeman's oath in other medieval towns. In their public behaviour, freemen were expected to have uppermost in their minds "the profit of the commonwealth". Failure to place the community's interest above personal interest could result in fines or, in extreme cases, forfeiture of the franchise. This included showing proper respect to the town's elected officials. A fine was imposed on anyone insulting an officer (see custumal cap.40); a much higher fine resulted if a man assaulted or drew a weapon on a bailiff.
A separate status was accorded to "aliens"; that is residents of the town who had not been born in England. They were allowed to enter the franchise with that status and took a different oath; they could not gain the franchise by marrying a freeman's daughter. The community distrusted them. They were not allowed to carry any weapon other than a knife for meals, unless they were going outside the town, where more protection was needed. They were subject to a curfew, which varied from summer to winter, and could be arrested if found abroad later. Residents sometimes tried to hide a foreign birth.
The 1460s saw some minor reforms in local administration that reflect growing professionalism in government. We begin to hear of a town seal and see greater attention to provisions to keep it along with the borough treasury, archives, and official seals for marking measures (see the custumal cap.6) secure by dividing among several officers the keys to the chests in which they were contained (such clavigers first being mentioned in 1416); pain was taken to record who had custody of the keys. In 1464 we first hear of a salaried sergeant-at-mace, whose principal duties were to oblige accused parties to attend court sessions (by distraining their personal possessions) and to collect amercements imposed by the town court, if not paid to the chamberlains immediately after judgement was handed down; a similar office had been farmed out in previous years and may itself have been successor to the beadle. The chamberlains took over accounting responsibilities from the bailiffs in 1465 and in the same year Reynold Rokes was appointed town clerk. Rokes, a lawyer, proceeded to draft a new compilation of the borough custumal, augmenting the existing edition with ordinances extracted from court records; to which he added a list of the tolls leviable by the waterbailiff (apparently the officer stationed on the town bridge) on boats, horses, carts, chapmen and particular merchandize. In the same period the conditions for admission to the franchise were tightened to include possession of a tenement within the town.
Although it possessed several of the characteristics of a corporate entity in the fifteenth century, Maldon was not incorporated until 1554.