First we will briefly mention the conflicts that occurred elsewhere than Lynn. Maldon exhibits no indication of any such problems. Several factors may be proposed to explain this: we know very little of the borough's history before the 1380s; constitutional development there was comparatively retarded, so that community authority, via the leet jury, retained a good deal of say in government prior to the crystallisation of the aldermannic elite (after the period covered by this study); as Maldon was the least prosperous of our towns, there was less opportunity for a wealth gap to divide the members of the community into clear-cut classes with antagonistic interests.
At Colchester there is no direct evidence of organised expressed of discontent except for the 1372 ordinances, whose contents have largely been divulged elsewhere in this study. Even on that occasion of obvious dissatisfaction with ballival government we do not know whether the reforms were passed after some violent upheaval or whether as an in-house measure designed to spread office-holding amongst a larger group. Although there is no sign of any permanent displacement of pre-1372 ruling personnel, the reforms do seem to have been aimed at a few specific erring bailiffs, perhaps particularly the atte Fordes, rather than at a privileged ruling class as a whole. A division in the ranks of the Colchester potentiores may be implied in the reforms' pre-amble, referring to earlier constitutions ordained by "all the community, and the more worthy sworn men of the town", but this is not the only interpretation that could be placed on the phrase. The abuses of government were countered principally by improvements in the accounting system: introduction of financial officers, clavigers (none of whom were to be bailiffs), and an auditing committee selected from a council which itself may or may not have been an innovation in 1372. Additionally, stricter control was placed on ballival salaries and the frequency of holding office. The emphasis on electors and receivers of being chosen from non-bailiffs, and on account-giving being made in public, give a democratic flavour to the reforms. Yet, at the same time, there was an effort to bring discipline to assembly participation by requiring that burgesses present requests or complaints in writing, rather than orally.
This political revitalisation, perhaps a product of economic revitalisation as the cloth industry developed with the influx of Flemish migrants and as commerce correspondingly grew, bringing a number of new men into the ruling class, may have encouraged more popular participation than was desired, for we subsequently find the new rulers digging in their heels. A set of ordinances probably dating from the first quarter of the fifteenth century, reacting against popular agitation at elections, insisted that only freemen householders had a right to vote, and added that at least a quarter of the electoral committee ought to be councillors, whilst the four chief electors should be men of substance, to ensure that capable persons be chosen as officers. There is a slight hint here of popular discontent with the existing ruling class, but it leaves no trace in other records. An earlier dispute, in 1395, over the election of sergeants (particularly whether the bailiffs should have any influence therein) is somewhat confused and ended again with the affirmation of the role of the electoral committee.
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|