The catalyst for a new round of internal disputes in Lynn at the turn of the century was the legal battle between corporation and Bishop Despenser in the opening years of the reign of Henry IV, which was an attempt to take advantage of the confiscation of the temporalities of the bishop, who was implicated in the opposition to the king. A large element in the community considered the lawsuits too costly and a threat to future good relations with the town's overlord. Popular discontent was brought to a head by that and several other factors:
Under the leadership of Bartholomew Petypas, the popular party won control of the administration in August 1411 by having its nominee, Roger Galyon, elected mayor. It is highly probable that this was managed by, as the potentiores later charged, Petypas and his multitude of supporters (predominantly non-freemen) taking over the electoral proceedings and abandoning the established method of election. Galyon was also put into the office of Merchant Gild alderman, a practice if not outrightly unconstitutional then certainly not following tradition, but a necessary step to consoldiate control and rationalized as being by communal consent. Already in the first half of that year Petypas and his followers - especially William Halleyate, John Bilney, John Tilney, William Brycham, Philip Franke, and William Baret - had been causing trouble. The king heard the charges concerning the election, but let off Petypas with a warning. Encouraged, the reform administration began negotiating for a new charter, probably to embody desired constitutional changes - already Tilney had been sent to Oxford to learn of the method of mayoral election used there. In addition, it obtained royal approval of the traditional practice that the jurats should be elected annually. By December 1411 there had been set up a special committee of 18 persons, comprising 7 jurats (one of them Brycham), 5 non-jurat freemen (including Petypas, Bilney, Baret, and Franke), and 6 inferiores (including Halleyate and Tilney). Partly deriving its authority from the 1309 composition, this committee was to re-audit the accounts of the chamberlains' of the last twelve years and draw up a settlement between parties. But in April 1412 five of the jurats, realising they could not control the committee, dissociated themselves, leaving the "greater part of the 18", on the principle of majority rule, to draw up the terms of the settlement. The main points were that:
The potentiores, although at first promising to accept the award, spoke out against it in assembly in July, unsuccessfully sought the Bishop's help in August, and then took their case before the king. In preparation for the coming battle, the reform administration made 112 of the inferiores freemen two days before the elections of 1412. This ensured the re-election of Galyon by a more constitutional method than had been used in 1411, and with a minimum of resistance from the supporters of the potentiores (most of whom boycotted the election). Keeping closely in touch with Bishop Tottington, who evidently approved of the reformers' actions, Petypas and co. defended their case before the Chancellor, who referred the disputants back to the Bishop. This inevitably resulted in the potentiores complainants being obliged to agree to accept the award of the "greater part of the 18". Other potentiores followed suit, and further resistance was cowed by an assault on members of the Merchant Gild at a June 1413 meeting. In secret, however, the original complainants began plotting against the reform administration.
Their hopes were aroused by the accession of a new Bishop of Norwich in September 1413. By now Petypas himself had been elected to succeed Galyon as mayor, and he sent Bilney, Halleyate, and Tilney to London to determine the wishes of the Bishop. The potentiores used their influence to have Tilney arrested. Violence in Lynn was on the increase, some of it organised assaults on the potentiores, some seemingly mob action perhaps aimed at Fleming residents. Rumours circulated that the potentiores would interfere with the elections of August 1414. Petypas therefore held that election early, but this did not deter the potentiores from proceeding, in the presence of the county sheriff, with their own election - although the reformers did their best to disrupt this. Now the king intervened and both parties sent representatives before him. The result of his arbitration was a constitutional compromise known as the "New Ordinances". This settlement aimed at adopting features of London's constitution and electoral methods; the object was to guarantee the rights of all freemen to participate, to divide electoral power between the two estates of mediocres and potentiores, and to acknowledge the jurats as a life-membership body. This was put into effect immediately and fresh elections were held. A compromise candidate was elected mayor: John Lakinghithe, one of the oldest and most venerable townsmen; a jurat, but one who had acquiesced in the reform administration. It gradually became apparent, however, that Lakinghithe was only a front for a return to power of the potentiores. In January 1415 Petypas led his supporters in an armed attack on the potentiores in the town hall, and maintained the intimidation sufficiently to inhibit the holding of further corporation sessions for a while; although by March the jurats had recovered to the point where they were able to annull all the franchise entrances of inferiores between 1412-14, and go on to obtain an investigation which convicted Petypas and his lieutenants of various acts of violence, forcing them to go into temporary exile at Titchfield Abbey. A new committee was chosen to settle party differences, but was heavily overweighted with potentiores. Again appeal was made to the king, and it was decided that the Bishop and the Earl of Dorset should arbitrate.
Meanwhile, it was time to elect a new mayor. The reformers managed to engineer the election of John Bilney; but the jurats, taking advantage of the episcopal interregnum consequent to the death of Bishop Courtenay, obtained from the king a writ ordering Robert Brunham (who, as gild alderman, had replaced John Lakinghithe when he died in office) to remain in the mayoralty. A furious populace forced Brunham to acquiesce in the swearing-in of mayor-elect Bilney, but Bilney was now himself unwilling to go against the king's wishes. The impasse was settled by further royal intervention, appointing as mayor Thomas Hunte (October 1415), "one zealous for peace and no disturber", whom the king hoped would be suitable to both parties. In fact, Hunte subsequently requested the Bishop-elect to exile Petypas and his supporters from the town until the potentiores had argued their case against the reformers. He may have had some justification, in that a number of inferiores were still acting together, trying to disrupt Hunte's administration. The jurats, having already sent an agent to Norwich "to learn in what fashion they are governed in those parts", persuaded the king to approve the revocation of the New Ordinances in June 1416. Petypas and Halleyate, seeing which way the wind was blowing, had already bought pardons for all treasons, rebellions, felonies, conspiracies, etc., in April.
Still Petypas hoped to regain lost ground. In July 1416 he was regathering around him his old supporters, some of whom were still actively resisting Hunte's government; and he was seeking a customs post at Lynn, as a first foothold in a return to power. On August 12 he pleaded his case before the Bishop's Council, but could not prevent the election of John Wesenham as mayor by the pre-reform method. Nonetheless, the Bishop intervened and in 1418 a new settlement was drawn up. There is some suggestion that this restored the New Ordinances, with slight amendments favourable to the potentiores, but the overall effect was much as the Norwich composition of 1415 (with which the jurats were doubtless now familiar): recognising the jurats as a life-membership body, therefore independent of direct popular control; and counter-balancing this with the creation of a Common Council, but leaving the jurats with some measure of control over the membership of this lower council. Petypas was still not happy, although his appeals to the Bishop in 1419 were largely a defence against the retributive measures brought by his old enemies. A few of his followers made an ineffective attempt to object to electoral procedure in that same year, but these were the die-hards, and Petypas' support had so dwindled that he gave up the fight, and was rewarded with a place in jurat ranks (1420).
Previous interpretations of this affair have suffered from two things: lack of sufficient information and a failure (due to want of space and time) to make a detailed examination of the membership of the contesting factions. We shall now try to redress the second, to some extent. Jeaffreson believed that the political crisis resolved essentially into conflict between the Merchant Gild and non-gildsmen. Harrod blamed the Bishop for exploiting hostilities between groups of townsmen, so as to consolidate his own lordship over the borough. Richards saw only an inexplicable personal rivalry between Petypas and John Wentworth, complicated by the ideas for political reform in Wycliffism. Hillen concurred with the former notion and, consistent at least with his interpretation of Lynn's political history generally, entirely blamed "the aggressive plutocrats and their turbulent partisans" for the disturbance of peaceful government. Green was largely responsible for Hillen adopting this interpretation, and she also maintained that, whilst the Common Council of Norwich was the product of a popular victory, that of Lynn was quite the opposite. Morey felt that this interpretation of a democracy vs. oligarchy battle was an over-simplification and that, although the economic distress of the urban lower classes (partly due to the corrupt and monopolistic practices of the potentiores) was a causal factor, hostility towards the Bishop complicated matters, so that the memberships of the opposing factions do not fit neatly into the tripartite class divisions. It is here believed that some clarification can result from an investigation of the personnel involved in the Lynn affair, just as similar investigation throws light on the Ipswich crisis of 1320/1.
The names of a large number of the participants are known from the charter recording the agreement of the three classes (December 1411) to submit to the impending award of "the 18": 23 potentiores, 83 mediocres, and 66 inferiores were signatories to this agreement. Of these inferiores, 75% subsequently entered the franchise between 1412 and 1414, and 101 other inferiores were also made freemen in the same period. Most of the 112 freemen created in August 1412 paid no fine, for it was claimed that they were entering as apprentices; the few fines that were paid ranged from 3s.4d to 20s. (6s.8d being the most common) - much lower than the customary 40s. Previously, artisans' apprentices had not been permitted the free entrance granted to merchants' apprentices, and perhaps this was one of the grievances of the lower classes - as indeed it was in 1424/5, when artisans' apprentices were granted equal rights to those of merchants. In support of this we may note that in 1415 the corporation was advised, with regard to the inferiores entrants, that it was ancient custom for apprentices to pay 40s. entrance fine, although practice shows this to have been far from true. The 1424/5 ordinance shows that the reform party had achieved something, if only in reviving democratic consciousness in the community: Robert Brod, an inferior entrant of 1412, argued on behalf of the artisan apprentices "quod est una libertas in villa, unum iuramentum et unum finem (sic)."
The signatories of 1411 evidently represent only a minority, if a large one, of the total population. Not included in their number are 39 of the men who entered the franchise between 1399 and 1410 and whom we might reasonably expect to be alive c.1412. Nor are 23 of the burgess entrants of 1414/5 listed earlier among the inferiores, although the prominence of merchants among these entrants suggests that some at least were supporters of the potentiores brought in to redress the imbalance in the electorate. A few important names, such as Roger Galyon and Robert Botkesham (possibly on his death-bed), are also not among the signatories. However, since it was obviously to the advantage of peace in the town to have as many as possible of the active participants in the dispute agree to the settlement, the names that we possess are likely to be a good indicator of the character of the hostilities. Not that we should assume that the three classes, as separately listed in 1411, necessarily represent the lines of division of opinion, and that this was a demarcation between between Merchant Gild and craft gilds. True, the potentiores were all merchants, with the apparent exception of one of unknown occupation, yet the majority of the mediocres of known occupation also were merchants, whilst even among the inferiores were a handful of merchants, although most of this last group - mercers and spicers - may have been little more than shopkeepers.
The potentiores were in fact 23 of the jurats; this suggests a political rather than an economic struggle. Even though the missing 24th jurat, Roger Galyon, was the mayor of the reform administration, and jurats William Brycham and Richard Thorpe were among the supporters of Petypas, whilst a few other jurats were not overly hostile to the reform administration, the majority more or less stood together in passive resistance. The potentiores did have a little support from other burgesses, but it is difficult to establish identities, or what proportion of the mediocres gave this support. Of the mediocres, 2 were from jurat families, but 26 either held office under the reform administration or were associated with the reformers in other ways. The evidence suggests that it was not mere propaganda when Petypas claimed to have the support of the majority of the burgesses. It may be that the inferiores, being the most aggrieved and the most removed from the interests of the jurats, supported the reformers almost to a man, particularly given the pro-episcopal stance of both groups; certainly, of the 38 men ordered arrested for opposing mayor Hunte in 1415, 26 were former inferiores.
In fact, the source of active opposition to the reform party came principally from the elite clique of ex-mayors within jurat ranks - precisely the group blamed by the reformers for the financial maladministration of the previous decade or so. These men stood to lose a good deal of money, should the reformers triumph. Since financial matters sit at the hub of the grievances of, and the resistance to, the reformers, we must not entirely ignore occupational divisions. The potentiores do represent, not merely merchants, but the interests of the large-scale, international commerçants, whilst the inferiores are clearly overwhelmingly artisan in composition. It is again a question of scale - that is, the degree of combination of political power and wealth - rather than strict occupational divisions on an institutional (i.e. gild) basis. Yet the resentment against the growth of political privilege for the wealthier segment of the community would have lacked effective expression were it not for the small group spearheading reform. Their identities are as much a clue to the nature of the affair as are the aggregate identities of the three classes.
Bartholomew Petypas, the driving force behind the reform party, appears to have been of the same social and economic status as the potentiores, although the only local office he is known to have held before the democratic 'coup' is that of scabin of the Merchant Gild, a role that may have given him privileged access to knowledge of the behind-the-scenes workings of borough finances. He entered the franchise in 1392 as merchant-apprentice of jurat John de Botkesham, kinsman of the Robert de Botkesham who was one target of the reformers' complaints. In 1405 Petypas was exporting cloth, and importing iron, timber, stone, and oil. Like Ipswich's John de Halteby, he seems to have preferred to exercise power from behind the throne, and probably only took the mayoralty in 1413 for want of any other strong helmsman at a time when the reformers' hold on government was increasingly precarious. When, after the failure of his efforts to hold together his supporters as funds dwindled, royal intervention broke his grip on Lynn's government, and the institution of the Common Council undermined his position, he bowed to the inevitable re-establishment of potentiores dominance. He was then allowed to take his proper place in their ranks and to serve as M.P. several times before his death c.1432, causing no further trouble for his former opponents.
Petypas' right-hand man was William Halleyate, also a merchant, but not apparently on the scale of the potentiores. Halleyate was a customs collector in Lynn from 1408. He was one of the bailiffs from c.1393 to c.1401 and, as such, possibly an agent of the Bishop, although it is more likely that he was one of the king's bailiffs; with regard to his possible ties to the Bishop, we may note that the inquisitions of 1415 described him as "of Gaywood", the Bishop's manor, and he was an inferior before August 1412. He twice acted as M.P. on behalf of the reform administration, and frequently travelled on its errands to the Bishop and to London, where he may have owned a residence. After the disintegration of the reform party, he was given no office in Lynn and in fact rarely appears in the records, although still alive in 1420.
John Tilney junior too may be suspected of being an agent of outside interests. An inferior in 1411, he was identified in 1414 as dom. John Tilney, clerk of the Bishop of Norwich, and was also a servant of the admiral Duke of Exeter, representing his (property) interests in Lynn and acting as his deputy in the Court of Admiralty. Tilney was principally a lawyer, although variously described as magister, clerk, bachelor-of-law, esquire, gentleman, and husbandman. As such, he served the reform party as legal advisor, scribe of documents too important to be entrusted to the town clerk (who appears sympathetic to the potentiores - or, at least, of the established order), and representative of the party's interests in parliament at four sittings. He had some mercantile interests, his father probably being the wool-merchant who entered the franchise as a draper in 1377, whilst John junior's own son was apprenticed to tailor/merchant Adam White at about the time that White was chamberlain for the reform administration. Thanks probably to his high-level contacts, the failure of the reformers was no serious blow to his career, and he subsequently became involved in the royal administrative network, notably as customs officer at Lynn and Yarmouth 1425-35.
John de Bilney, the last of Petypas' lieutenants, was another merchant, dealing in cloth and fish, and just possibly another servant of Exeter. Bilney had become a freeman, and thereby a mediocre, in 1403, a move not inhibited by the fact that he was a resident of South Lynn. His political fortunes rose and fell with the reform party: selected to represent it in parliament c.24 October 1411, he was replaced a few days later; he was elected one of the community prolocutors in 1413, but the post did not outlast the reform administration; he was returned to the parliament of 1414, but suffered a further disappointment when the king quashed his election as mayor in 1415; nor did his stint as jurat outlive the reform administration. He is not heard of after 1415, although it may have been a son, Geoffrey, who was councillor 1418-20 and spokesman for the reform die-hards in 1419.
Finally, mention should be made of Roger Galyon, although more a figurehead than the active participants that the above four were. Cloth-merchant, several times royal commissioner, and customs officer in Lynn 1395-1406, he may have been selected as the reform party's first mayor simply because he was a jurat, and one who either supported, or at least did not oppose, their aims. His motives in this are made suspect by certain aspects of his behaviour. That he courted power is hinted at by his (unsuccessful) competition with John Brandon to secure a customs posts at Lynn in the 1390s, and by his arrest of the horses of one Hans Leche without due legal process or the authority of the mayor (1404). Yet he was unreliable, twice failing to act on the king's commission, and twice charged with embezzling customs money. He was also convicted of forestalling wool in 1400. One of the most junior members of the jurats when he threw in his hand with the reformers, it may be that he therefore felt no great loyalty to the potentiores, although it would be unjust to discount the alternate possibility of genuine sympathy with the reformers' grievances. We may note, however, that when he was summoned, as mayor, to answer before Chancery for the troubles in Lynn, the reformers were unwilling to let him go as their spokesman, preferring to send others; either the reformers did not think he could be trusted to plead their case convincingly, or they feared that, once outside their oversight, he might agree to concessions contrary to their interests. He also seems to have played little role in affairs once his mayoralty had ended, and yet was not seen as a continued threat but allowed to remain a jurat after the potentiores' restoration, until his death in 1418.
The Lynn conflict thus contrasts with that at Ipswich in 1320/1, in that the ringleaders of reform in Lynn do not seem to have sought to displace the objectionable town rulers in order to clear the way for their own exercise of power; although their failure, contrasted with the success of Halteby, Preston, and Costyn, could disguise such motives. Yet, although the reform movement may be said to have failed in terms of the careers of Petypas and co., arguably it had more effect on the total personnel of government than the affair at Ipswich. This we may see from study of the political careers of the groups involved in the Lynn disputes. Of the 23 potentiores: four died during the course of the affair, from natural causes as far as may be determined, although the rough treatment that the elderly mayor Lakinghithe received under the feet of the insurgents in January 1415 may have hastened his death a few months later; three others held no further office after the local re-adeption. This replacement rate conforms to the normal rate we have already calculated; therefore, we cannot infer any political disgracings, like those of Stace and le Rente at Ipswich. Fifteen of the potentiores remained jurats, several proceeding to the mayoralty; whilst a sixteenth (Ralph Bedingham), who had been deposed in 1413, was restored to office. Of the 86 mediocres, 15 had held office prior to the affair (most as chamberlains); 12 of these 15 continued to be active in borough government, and 39 others also held office. This is partly explicable by the fact that most of the subsequent office-holders were from the younger mediocres, who entered the franchise in the early 1400s. Yet several were older, and William Walden, a chamberlain of the reform administration, had been a freeman since 1388. The evidence is more striking when we turn to the 167 inferiores. Bearing in mind that the important offices were restricted to freemen, and that many of the inferiores later entered the franchise, we may note that only 2 of them held office prior to 1412 (one being Halleyate), whereas 32 held office during the reigns of Henry V and Henry VI. The increased political involvement of mediocres and ex-inferiores owed much to the creation of the Common Council, itself a by-product of the reform movement, for it employed 55 of them at one time or other. Yet 19 mediocres and 2 ex-inferiores also became jurats, and 4 mediocres and 1 ex-inferior rose to the mayoralty. This strengthens the impression that men of capability and ambition could rise from the lower to the upper ranks of urban society, although circumstances dictated that this was not (nor should we expect it to be) a common occurrence. More importantly, it seems that, in terms of the number of burgesses participating in Lynn's administration from c.1418 onwards, the borough government cannot easily be categorised as an oligarchy.
The effects of the reform movement were not great, but neither were they negligible, in providing for a new avenue of political promotion and in giving new expression to the traditional and democratic sentiments of community authority, seemingly quiescent for a century. Yet if those sentiments seem to have been dormant it is partly the fault of comparison with the revitalisation of politics in Lynn in the time of Henry VI. Critics may suggest that the Common Council was an impotent organ of government, its membership under the censorial control of the ruling elite, and therefore not truly representative but designed as a sop to the mediocres to break their alliance with the inferiores. Yet in fact it seems quite as powerful as the more nebulous 'institution' of the community had been previously - a limited power, admittedly - although its sphere of influence was primarily restricted to financial affairs. The censorship powers of the mayoralty, regarding membership of the Council, do not seem to have been used, let alone abused. The Council was elected by non-freemen as well as freemen, and was thus more representational than any previous institution; and it served to involve in some measure of decision-making a larger proportion of the population than would otherwise have been inclined to participate. Nor was the existence of the lower council used as an excuse to exclude others of the community from assemblies, for we occasionally find large attendances, as on 21 March 1457, when there was only one, but an important, piece of business: the reading out of the borough constitution. We need not pretend that the community had emerged from the affair of the early fifteenth century unscathed; its position was compromised in that authority was now divided between two separate political estates. But this was essentially an adjustment of the political theory to a pre-existent political reality, and the only alternative to this solution was continued and irreconcilable hostilities, punctuated only by interludes of exhaustion or royal custodianship.
In recent years the Petypas affair has been re-examined from two new perspectives. Michael Myers has elucidated why opposing factions had so much difficulty settling their disputes  and has suggested that political differences were aggravated by contraction of the local economy, stemming partly from a declining share in the struggling wool trade, at a time when borough expenditures were getting out of hand, due largely to the costs of the legal battle with the bishop, itself financed partly through loans from the Merchant Gild which the borough lacked the resources to repay. By contrast, Kate Parker downplays the traditional poor vs. rich interpretation in order to portray the events as a minor local expression of the national political rivalries that displaced Richard II (of whom Bishop Despenser had been a supporter), brought the House of Lancaster to the throne, then saw a contest for control between Henry IV and the Prince of Wales.
It is almost always helpful to view historical events through a different side of the prism, and neither of these new interpretations is without merit in helping us understand the complexities of ths episode in Lynn's history. Local power-struggles prompted at least in part by elements within the urban upper class questing for greater influence over the local economy was a not uncommon phenomenon, as for example at London, Newcastle, Norwich, Yarmouth, and Ipswich. There are also other instances of townsmen trying to further their own political agendas by taking advantage of moments of suspected central government weakness or distraction, such as the declining health of Henry III (Norwich 1272), the overthrow of Edward II's favourites (Ipswich 1321), the accession of an underage king (Lynn 1377), and of course the Peasants Revolt. It is not inconceivable that local supporters of the Lancastrian cause encouraged the old guard within Lynn's ruling class to reassert themselves against the disgraced Bishop Despenser, prompting supporters of the latter to resurrect the traditional alliance between the Bishop and the non-enfranchised strata of town society.
Local disturbances often seem to have been driven by complicated and entangled causal factors. We should not dismiss efforts to tie them into national historical phenomena, but we should be careful not to play up the influence of national events or external agents to the point where such contributing, or exacerbating, factors displace or overshadow genuine local issues or concerns over governance, or "mere strained class relationships" as Dr. Parker puts it . For such concerns and stresses are an important dimension of urban history and were at least partly responsible, time and time again, for political upheavals and constitutional developments in medieval towns across England and on the continent; they represent as fundamental a causal factor as economic ups and downs and as the local repercussions of national polticial strife. Tension between differing political philosophies, perhaps always simmering within an urban population, might come to boiling point under the right circumstances, or with the right leadership, and such circumstances existed in early fifteenth century Lynn when the ruling elite, already less accountable to the community as the result of electoral changes in the late fourteenth century, decided to take advantage of Bishop Despenser's discomfiture by launching a legal campaign against his lordship of the town a campaign whose costs rose as prospects for success diminished. With the borough heavily in debt to the Merchant Gild as a result, the local economy suffering, and the spectre of new local taxation the only way to get borough finances out of the red, it can hardly surprise that local discontent was kindled into a fiery political revolt, particularly with flames being fanned on either side by men championing the interests of bishop or king.
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. Last update: December 26, 2010||© Stephen Alsford, 1998-2010|