1491

If any freeman or resident of the borough delivers to any outsider who comes from France, Zealand, Holland or any other place overseas and is part-owner of a ship or vessel, or master of the same, any victuals, rope, cables, anchors, or other supplies required for that ship or vessel, [it should be] that a bill of debt is drawn up between them, or that the signature or [merchantís] mark of the owner or master (or both) is entered into his book [of accounts?], or else that a tally is made between them, in acknowledgement of the receipt of such goods. In such a case the custom of this borough is that if the freeman or resident comes before the bailiffs and lays a complaint that he has not been paid for the items supplied, according to [the terms of] the promise and agreement between them, and by a corporal oath before the bailiffs he swears this to be true, then the bailiffs shall, at the request of the complainant, write a letter, to be issued under the town seal, to the magistrates or head officer of that city, town, or place where the debtor, or debtors, live, asking that arrangements be made for the payment and satisfaction of the debt. If within three months of the delivery of their letter the bailiffs have not received a reasonable answer satisfactory to the complainant, then the bailiffs shall write a second letter requesting satisfaction of the debt, if the debtors are prepared to repay it, or otherwise that justice be done on the persons and possessions, according to [principles of] law and equity, so that if their goods are insufficient to answer the debt, their bodies be committed to prison. If the magistrates or head officers fail to act upon what is contained in that letter, and the freeman or resident again complains that the debt remains unpaid, and swears it to be true by a corporal oath, then at the request of the complainant the bailiffs shall award an attachment to be made against the next ship or cargo of any inhabitant of that city, town, or place to which the letters were sent, that next comes within the liberties of the borough, in order to satisfy the debt. Once the attachment has been reported to them in the court, the bailiffs shall proceed to judgement, conviction, and appraisal of the ship and cargo, according to the custom of the borough, for satisfaction of the debt.

[ This is the local variant of a practice known at an earlier time as withernam. Copies of official letters to authorities of other towns, requesting enforcement of repayment of debts to Yarmouth merchants, are found among the borough court rolls from the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.]

[This method of retribution was, naturally, a sword that cut both ways: the royal charter to Yarmouth of 1256 offered protection to Yarmouth merchants against their goods being seized anywhere within the realm in relation to debts of which they were not the debtor, or surety for the debtor, but excepted cases in which fellow townsmen were debtors and Yarmouth authorities had demonstrably failed to assist the creditors in obtaining justice. Nor could the protection extend to mercantile debts incurred beyond the realm; Yarmouth's 1272 charter authorized that if any townsman was arrested, or his goods attached, or was forced to make any payment in connection with an unpaid foreign debt of another resident, the latter could be be distrained on to compel him to compensate the former for his loss and damages (or, if the debtor lacked the wherewithal to provide compensation, he could be disfranchised, or perhaps expelled, until he made redress. This privision was reiterated in a local ordinance of the same time. The principle of surrogate responsibility could also be applied to other offences than debt with pecuniary implications, such as theft or piracy.]

[A corporal oath was one in which the taker touched with the hand or lips a sacred object, such as a cloth used in communion, or (increasingly) a book of Holy Scripture, to give added solemnity.]