If it seems to the reader that heretofore a somewhat rosier, or more sympathetic, picture has been painted of borough government than is consonant with orthodox views of the subject, it may be that this chapter will redress the balance a little. For we must now look at evidence of the general conduct of the men who governed their boroughs, not so much from the perspective of corporate policy as of individual behaviour.
It is largely due to the character of the surviving records that the judgements we, not as moralists but as historians, must pass speak unfavourably of our subjects. When judicial matters are one of the principal foci of borough and national records, we unavoidably receive an impression, not so much exaggerated as unbalanced, of the misdemeaning or felonious conduct of townsmen. Documents of the town court are central to the medieval archives of several of our towns, in a variety of forms ranging from leet to assize and coroners' records, and therefore encompassing a broad spectrum of illegal activities; in addition, the assembly was also a disciplinary and punitive institution. Both Chancery and Exchequer records provide us with information on an equally broad ranges of crimes, complementing more than duplicating local records. It is difficult to provide a contrast to the criminality of the townsmen, since the vast majority of public records were not created for the purpose of chronicling commendable behaviour; in this case good news is, unfortunately, no news.
Structure of Borough Government | Social and Economic Background of Office-Holders
Monopolisation of Office | Attitudes Towards Office-holding | Professionalism in Administration
Quality of Government | Conflict and Solidarity in Urban Politics
|Created: July 30, 1998
|© Stephen Alsford, 1998-2003