History of medieval Maldon


Origins and early growth |  Development of local government
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Map of Maldon at the close of the Middle Ages
Maldon bailiffs and chamberlains

Ancient usages and customs of the borough of Maldon


cap. 1
The heir to a man's lands is to be the youngest son of his first wife. If the man only has daughters, the lands are to be divided between them, but the youngest may have first pick. If the children are underage, their mother (or stepmother, if applicable) shall be their guardian; if she fails to maintain the property, she shall lose guardianship to the nearest friends of the deceased. The widow has dower right in her late husband's property, even if she remarries – although the children are not to lose their inheritance as a result of her remarriage.

Notes: the points about guardianship and dower were omitted from the 1555 recension.

cap. 2
bequests of land
A man may devise any properties that he has purchased during his lifetime, so long as the devise is confirmed in court before the bailiffs at the next or the second court [after his decease?], failing which the properties shall go to the heir [see cap.1].

Notes: the 1555 recension seems to imply the devise had to be brought before the court during the lifetime of the townsman, whereas the earlier version above suggests a form of local probate of wills (or at least those portions relating to property within the town). This custom did not apply to property which the townsman had inherited.

cap. 3
lands for blood-kin
If any man wishes to sell any burgage property, the sale must be announced at the next court when, if any of his kinsman wishes to buy the property, he may do so at a lower price than anyone else.

Notes: omitted from the 1555 recension.

cap. 4
suits for burgage
Every holder of burgage lands must perform suit for them at the four General Courts.
cap. 5
Every freeman shall have the right to make 3 essoins before having to appear to answer a charge in court. Upon pain of fine (3d for freemen, 6d for foreigners), no man shall answer without finding attachments.

Notes: it is not clear here whether "foreigners" is being used to refer to those from outside the town, or to residents who were not freemen.

cap. 6
If any baker or brewer is convicted of using false weights or measures, he shall be fined for the first two offences; for the third, he shall go to the pillory. All measures are be sealed [i.e. be marked with a stamp indicating borough approval].

Notes: omitted from the 1555 recension.

cap. 7
freeman's right
If any merchandise comes to the town by land or water, every freeman may demand a share. Ships must remain in port for 3 tides to allow freemen the time to buy before foreigners; after the elapse of that period, the merchant may sell to whom he pleases. However, if a freeman who takes a share fails to pay for it, or the seller may recover his losses by the bailiffs and council imposing a tax on the whole town.

Notes: in the 1555 recension, this was elaborated and divided into two chapters, to distinguish between victuals and other merchandise; the above conditions were retained in the case of victuals, but for other merchandise cash-on-the-spot conditions applied.

cap. 8
Only freemen are allowed to buy fresh hides in the town.

Notes: omitted from the 1555 recension.

cap. 9
No man being in the borough shall have a servant or tenant unless prepared to answer for him in court, with regard to trespasses and fines.

Notes: omitted from the 1555 recension.

cap. 10
On market day no man shall regrate, nor sell meat, fish or other foodstuffs until the hour of prime, when the bell is rung.

Notes: omitted from the 1555 recension.

cap. 11
Butchers are not to sell unwholesome meat.

Notes: the 1555 recension adds that peddlars should not sell unwholesome or stinking fish; any such meat or fish would be confiscated. In 1402 the inmates of St. Giles' hospital, founded to support burgesses who had developed leprosy, asserted a raditional claim on any sub-standard meat, fish, bread or ale confiscated by the authorities.

cap. 12
qualifications for
the franchise
No alien that marries the widow of a freeman is to be received into the franchise on those grounds. However, the widow may retain the rights of a freeman while she remains single. A freeman's daughter may make her husband free, by fact of the marriage. No man is to be received into the franchise unless he takes oath before the bailiffs and 4 or 6 wardemen to be true to the franchises of the town and obedient to its officers.

Notes: an expanded version of this was included in the 1555 recension; it included specifications about the admission fee, and the provision that all children born to a man after he had become a freeman had the right to the franchise at a minimal fee (this was clearly the case with sons in the fourteenth century and was probably so taken for granted that not felt worth mentioning in the earliest custumal).

cap. 13
All freemen are to assemble in the common hall on Friday after Epiphany [6 January] to hear the bailiffs' accounts [i.e. of annual revenues and expenditures]. On that day the wardemen shall choose the new bailiffs and other officers, from the more worthy men. If it is necessary to fill gaps in the ranks of the wardemen, then new members are to be chosen from the most able and most discrete townsmen. If any of the wardemen is found to act contrary to the interests of the community, he shall be removed and a replacement chosen by assent of the community. Once a man has been elected bailiff, he shall never afterwards be elected to any other office, except representative to parliament.

Notes: the 1555 recension edited this so that only the matter of freemen attending elections was included; a separate chapter was devoted to the question of the cursus officiorum

cap. 14
No man is to sell by any measure that is not sealed with the town's seal, upon pain of fine (or, if the culprit refuse to pay a fine, loss of franchise).

Notes: omitted from the 1555 recension; it seems that the need was felt for a more explicit or more general statement of this custom than is found in cap.6, and such a statement originated as an ordinance passed in April 1421.

cap. 15
orders to bailiffs
Every resident who has borne the estate of bailiff is to be ready to come to the moothall at all times, upon command of the bailiffs, to discuss matters related to the common benefit. Any refusing without reasonable excuse shall be fined.

Notes: a similar requirement appears in the 1555 recension but restricted only to members of the town council. In May 1408 we find a number of wardemen fined for failing to respond to a summons to discuss town business.

cap. 16
suits between
No freeman is to sue another freeman outside the borough, without first having pursued his case as far as it can be taken in the borough court, and then must obtain ballival licence to transfer the case elsewhere.

Notes: that this was a serious problem is suggested by the fact that the 1555 recension expands this chapter by noting that failure to comply would result in 40 days imprisonment, a great fine, and loss of the franchise.

cap. 17
Anyone chosen as wardeman who induces strife or argument among his fellowship during council meetings shall be fined.

Notes: omitted from the 1555 recension.

cap. 18
butchers market
No butcher is to sell in the market on Sunday after matins is rung on the bell of All Saints church, on pain of a fine and confiscation of the meat (which will be equally divided between the town and the supervisors of the market). Shops may open their doors, but not their windows, on Sundays [up until the matins bell].

Notes: the 1555 recension included other trades in this prohibition, although this may have been understood in earlier times.

cap. 19
The owner of any pig allowed to run loose shall be fined 4d., of which 2d. to the town and 2d. to the man who finds the pig and drives it to the town pound.

Notes: based on an ordinance made January 1411; the 1555 recension added to this a fine for keeping hogs in town at all.

cap. 20
security of
the peace
The bailiffs may take surety for [keeping of] the peace if necessary, at the suit of any resident of the borough, or imprison individuals until they find sureties.

Notes: omitted from the 1555 recension, for by this time the king had given the bailiffs powers of Justices of the Peace, a higher authority than local custom.

cap. 21
The bailiffs have full power to punish all manner of "naughty brauleres and bryboures, nyght walkeres, stastrykeres and evese dropperes" by fine or by imprisonment.

Notes: omitted from the 1555 recension, probably for the same reason as cap.20.

cap. 22
"Brothelled brawlers" who refuse to submit to the bailiffs' judgement for their crimes – viz. a fine of 6d. for a man and 4d. for a woman – shall bear the mortar, according to old custom of the town, as appears in [records dated] 4 Richard II (1380/81).

Notes: I am not certain what the mortar was, but it was a punishment of humiliation also applied to scolds and whores and was something carried or perhaps worn; omitted from the 1555 recension.

cap. 23
No man is to make affray against another so that blood is drawn, on pain of 40d. fine.

Notes: omitted from the 1555 recension, probably for the same reason as cap.20.

cap. 24
Notes: the text is lost, nor is this theme dealt with in the 1555 recension.
cap. 25
freemen to
colour nothing
No freeman is to pretend that a foreigner's goods are his own, for purposes of buying or selling, upon pain of loss of franchise.

Notes: the concern here was with evasion of tolls on market goods coming into the town.

cap. 26
No foreigner may buy or sell within the town unless he has bought a licence to do so (40s.) from the bailiffs.

Notes: the 1555 recension has something similar, but the licensing requirement is more specifically directed at foreigners buying merchandise or victuals at the port with the intent of re-selling it in town (presumably in the market).

cap. 27
pigs on causeways
Any pig lacking a ring [i.e. through its nose, by which to be tied up] and damaging a causeway shall incur a fine of 4d.

Notes: based on an ordinance made in January 1423; it is not clear if/how this goes beyond the provisions for vagrant pigs in cap.19, and the 1555 recension omits it.

cap. 28
sealed measures
Notes: this is basically the same as cap.14, except that a fine of 6s.8d is specified; omitted from the 1555 recension.
cap. 29
cleaning the town
Any resident who places dung or wastes on the common roads shall be fined 40d.

Notes: omitted from the 1555 recension, although it contains chapters prohibiting women, servants or children from casting dust or domestic refuse into the High Street, or from throwing refuse within forty feet of the highway when dumping on the dunghills at the Hythe or at town's end.

cap. 30
selling distance
No resident may sell victuals within 5 miles of the town, under penalty of 6s.8d for the first offence and loss of franchise for the second.

Notes: the object here was to prevent the rise of competition to the town's market, which was of course excepted from the prohibition (although this was not made explicit until the 1555 recension).

cap. 31
payment of account
Each bailiff shall give an accounting for [borough finances during] his term each year. All debts due from the account are to be paid, from the accountant's own money if necessary. The accountants may not withdraw from the court until all debts and arrears are fully paid.

Notes: this originated in ordinances of 1423 and 1426; outgoing bailiffs had to present the borough accounts at the January General Court following election of their replacements. The 1555 recension continues this principle, although by that time it was the chamberlains who were the accounting officers. This custom reveals one of the disincentives to office-holding, in personal liability for the successful collection of anticipated revenues, although the intent was really to ensure the bailiffs took their responsibilities seriously – they were absolved from paying from their own pocket revenues that genuinely could not be levied.

cap. 32
loose pigs
Any pig found wandering loose in the town may be sold publicly for the profit of the town. If anyone finds an alien pig in his pasture, or on any pasture belonging to the town, and sets his dogs on it or attacks it with a stick, so that the pig dies, the attacker cannot be prosecuted [by the pig's owner].

Notes: this further chapter dealing with loose pigs suggests they were a persistent nuisance at this period, which perhaps explains the strength of the descriptor "alien" applied to them; omitted from the 1555 recension.

cap. 33
writ re. liberties
The town has two markets, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and many other liberties. No-one is allowed to set up a market within a great distance of the town, nor to anything else against the liberties, upon pain of £10 fine.

Notes: this is said to stem from a writ obtained from the king, perhaps (given the tenor of the next chapter) one related to the dispute over a rival market in Heybridge in 1338; omitted from the 1555 recension.

cap. 34
It has been the custom since time beyond memory that no vessel sail to Heybridge to load or unload without paying a fee.

Notes: in fact, it had been a matter of long dispute, but one gradually resolving in the town's favour; an ordinance to similar effect was passed in June 1423, and another ordinance on the same theme in July 1448.

cap. 35
complaint about
the bailiffs
A common custom is that the counsel of the borough in all things is to be concealed and the judgements made by bailiffs shall be observed. No-one fined by bailiffs and council for any transgression in a public matter may complain [i.e. appeal] to a lord or foreign gentleman, under pain of 20s. fine or loss of franchise.

Notes: an ordinance to this effect is referred to during the case of Giles Morvyle who had lied about his birthplace when becoming a freeman and, when later accused of being an alien and failing to prove otherwise, had tried to get help from some external lord to counteract his condemnation by the bailiffs (1458).

cap. 36
rental of bridges
Notes: the text of this chapter, omitted from the 1555 recension, is simply a cross-reference to information about rental of bridges and causeways in the "the new edition of the great book of ancient customs" (itself not extant) It is not clear what the tenor of this information would have been, but it was probably connected with farming out collection of tolls on merchandise travelling via the town bridge and the causeway leading through the marsh to it (see cap.39).
cap. 37
no alien
to be armed
No Dutchman or other alien may bear a weapon, on pain of its confiscation.

Notes: based on an ordinance of April 1463 which adds the exception of a knife with which to cut meat; the 1555 recension adds the further proviso that an alien could carry a weapon when leaving town on a journey, or when returning. "Dutchman" was a catch-all term for people from the Low Countries and Germany, likely the leading sources of alien residents in Maldon.

cap. 38
lodging of aliens
Every alien must be in his house by 10 o'clock in the summer and 8 o'clock in the winter; any officer or freeman may bring a defaulter to the hall to pay a fine or provide an excuse.

Notes: based on an ordinance of April 1463; the 1555 recension included the servants of aliens in the curfew.

cap. 39
bridge customs
Each cart and each pack-horse carrying merchandise across the bridge shall pay 1d.

Notes: the town court proclaimed, in January 1465, that this was an old custom; omitted from the 1555 recension.

cap. 40
honouring officers
No resident burgess is in anger to call a bailiff or wardemen by any name such as thief, knave, backbiter, whoreson, false, foresworn, cuckold, or bawd.

Notes: the 1555 recension specifies a fine of 6s.8d for this offence.

cap. 41
swearing of aliens
It is ancient custom that each alien take oath to be obedient to the bailiffs and not to complain of them to any person of superior rank, on pain of 20s. fine.

Notes: the 1555 recension has a lower fine of 15s.

cap. 42
(title destroyed)
Any brewer who sends ale from his house to gannokers on Sundays at the time of matins, mass or other divine service, shall be fined 12d.

Notes: gannokers were ale-wives – women who retailed (and sometimes brewed) ale; this chapter is struck through and was omitted from the 1555 recension.

cap. 43
bailiffs' oath
  • to well and truly govern the town and maintain its franchises;
  • to give equal justice to all men, without favour to any party;
  • to supervise the sale of goods coming by water and see that all burgesses have their share.

Notes: oaths are omitted from the 1555 recension; they are not typical elements of custumals.

cap. 44
burgess' oath
[see cap.12]
  • to be loyal to the king;
  • to uphold town customs and liberties;
  • to keep secret the counsels of the town [see cap.35];
  • not to pretend to own the goods of others [see cap.25];
  • to be obedient to the bailiffs in all things;
  • to be at scot and lot;
  • if within 7 miles of the town, to be in attendance at the town court meeting held on the Friday following Epiphany [6 January].
cap. 45
constables' oath
  • to keep the peace;
  • to execute orders of the bailiffs.
cap. 46
oath of
sergeants at mace
  • to be obedient to the bailiffs and court at all times;
  • to collect court amercements and not to conceal any money collected;
  • to make no arrest without a warrant from the court;
  • to gather tolls on goods coming, by water or by land, to market or fair, and to bring the master of any arriving ship before the bailiffs with his billet.

Notes: the last item was a later addition to the original text.

cap. 47
counsel of the town
The whole ward ordained on 10 January 1477 that if any wardeman disclose the counsel of the town [i.e. deliberations of its administration] he shall be fined 20s.

Notes: the 1555 recension extends this specifically to include bailiffs and town clerk.

bailiff's livery
Every bailiff shall have 16s.8d for his livery, to be worn on Corpus Christi day in procession, on condition he buy a gown of the same colour, failing which they shall have the old allowance of 13s.4d.

Notes: omitted from the 1555 recension.

cap. 49
chamberlain's hood
Each chamberlain shall have 5s. for livery, on condition he buy a hood, failing which he shall have only 3s.4d.

Notes: omitted from the 1555 recension.

cap. 50
constables' costs
Every constable charged to the [court] sessions shall have 8d a day for ward of the town box.

Notes: the box referred to was presumably used to hold money collected from fines; omitted from the 1555 recension.

cap. 51
It was ordained at the court of election on 9 January 1484 that the two wardens of the almshouses shall, each year on this day, render account and deliver any surplus therefrom to the chamberlains.

Notes: omitted from the 1555 recension.


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Created: August 29, 1998. Last update: September 20, 2009 © Stephen Alsford, 1998-2009