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|Subject:||Government by council versus government by executive|
|Original source:||Humberside Records Office, Beverley Corporation archives, Paper Register, ff.16, 18, 31|
|Transcription in:||1. Arthur Leach, Report on the Manuscripts of the Corporation of Beverley, Historical Manuscripts Commission, 1900, 27-29; 2. Arthur Leach, ed. Beverley Town Documents, Selden Society, vol.14 (1900), 1-4, 6-8.|
[1. Indenture related to the election of 12 keepers, 1345]
This indenture is testimony to the fact that the community of the town of Beverley has elected 12 men of the town that is, William de Kelsterne, Richard de Luda, Thomas Harald, Robert de Humbleton, John de Walton spicer, John Clerk, William de Dalton, Thomas Coppandale, John de Warton, Robert de Walton tanner, John de Cotyngham, Walter Barker who have taken oath to administer the town from 25 April 1345 to the same date in the following year.
Those same 12 men, or [at least] seven of them, are invested with special powers to:
Should it chance to happen that in the town there are any impositions to be levied, the 12 men are to have all the burgesses of the town forewarned to be at the common hall on a specified day, so that those levies be made with their agreement and consent, and then per pound.
If the burgesses of the town disdain to come or, by pre-arrangement, refuse to agree [to a levy], then it is permissible for the twelve to impose and raise the levy per pound under oath as best they can.
And let it be known that the 12 men now elected, or seven of them, during the month before the time indicated above [i.e. the end of their term of office] are to have all burgesses of the town forewarned that they should elect, with the agreement of those 12 men, another 12 men qualified to administer the town in the year following.
If any of the 12 then elected disdains or rejects that office, he is to pay 40s. immediately to the community without any argument or remission.
If any of the 12 now elected disdains to come to the common hall to deal with community business, when forewarned by the common sergeant, as often as he so absents himself without a good excuse he is to pay 12d. to the community. And any other of our burgesses of the town who is thus forewarned yet disdains to come is to pay, on each occasion, 6d. to the community in the same fashion.
Should it happen that in [regard to] any distraint [made by] the 12 men, or seven of them, or our common sergeant, any member of the community whether one of those 12 men or some other burgess is found to resist or be uncooperative, or effects a rescue, he is to pay 6s.8d to the community immediately, without remission.
Similarly, it is permitted for the 12, or seven of them, to distrain on a daily basis any thus found to be resistant or uncooperative, by all their goods and possessions wherever they may be found, making the distraint and carrying or driving away and detaining the distrained items, until full satisfaction is made to the community of all arrears, debts, demands, and revenues that belong to the community.
If the 12, or seven of them, cannot by such means make any member of the community answer to justice in such matters, they shall have all the burgesses of the town forewarned [to come] on a specified day to the common hall to assist the 12 or seven to bring to justice he who is rebellious and defiant; moreover, further remedy may be decided and acted upon against such rebels and defiers, whenever and as often as necessary for the benefit of the community.
If the burgesses of the town disdain or are reluctant to involve themselves in such matters, then it is permitted for the 12 to resign from their office, and be exonerated from all obligations, actions or demands that the community might place upon them, as regards further administration of the town.
[These provisions are followed by two ordinances, unrelated except insofar as it fell to the 12 to enforce them. One prohibits dung from being placed on any thoroughfare along which carts travelled, and the second restricts the sale of cloth to the Dings.]
2. The 'Magna Carta' of the community
To all faithful Christians who see this charter, greetings in God from Richard de Louthe, John Tirwhit the son of Adam Tirwhit, Adam Coppandale the son of William Coppandale senior, Peter Lumbard, William de Lokyngton, Peter de Staynton, John Spicer, Thomas Gerwais, Alexander Cras, Robert de Befort, Thomas de Scroveton, and John de Wragby, elected by the common consent and assent of the community of the town of Beverley to administer that town and the town customs and statutes for the present year, that is, from 25 April 1359 to the same date in the year following.
Know that we, in our gildhall at Beverley, anciently called the Hanshouse, in the presence of the entire community of the town, have reviewed and have made public declaration of certain statues and customs approved and used from time immemorial, the tenor of which is as follows:
That each year on 25 April the 12 elected to administer the town for the past year, in the presence of the whole community (having been given advance notice of the event), shall name 18 of the more reputable and qualified members of the community [present] in the gildhall, excluding those who have been keepers of the town during the three years preceding the nomination. From which eighteen the community shall elect 12 to administer the town in the coming year.
Which 12, once elected and sworn [into office], or seven of them when the entire group is unable to be present, are to have full power: to collect the farms, rents, and the ancient dues of the town; to uphold and enforce the ancient customs and statutes; to discipline and punish, according to their discretion, those who rebel or offend against [the same]; when necessary, to formulate and put into effect new ordinances and statutes with the consent of the community; and to collect, in the boxes used in the past for this, the loans and assessments such as were anciently in the town, viz.:
[There follows a list of local tolls on various types of merchandize, levied at the point of sale, and on vehicles bringing cargoes by land or water, along with licence fees for retailing or industrial activities, and also a household tax on burgesses based on rent values. These were evidently major sources of revenue supporting local government.]
Those statutes and ordinances, made by the above-mentioned elected 12, we acknowledge, approve and ratify, on behalf of ourselves, our heirs and successors, to endure in perpetuity. So that, if anyone who is or shall be a member of our community puts into effect or attempts anything contrary to those statutes, he is to give the community £10, to be raised by the twelve then in office through distraint, and also he is to lose all his franchise as a burgess within the town.
If anyone elected by the community, through the above method of nomination, to the keepership of the town refuses to accept office, then he is to be obliged to pay the community 40s., to be raised through distraint by the community itself or by the keepers of the community then in office.
If any of the 12 elected does not come to the common hall on community business, when forewarned by the common sergeant of the town, as often as he so absents himself without a good excuse he is to pay 12d. to the community. And any other burgess of the town who is forewarned yet does not come is to pay, on each occasion, 6d. to the community raised by distraint in the same fashion.
If it seems advisable to those 12 elected to impose levies in the town, the 12 men are to have all burgesses of the town forewarned to be at the common hall on a specified day, so that those levies be made with the agreement of the entire community (if they all come), and that per pound. If they do not come or refuse to agree to a levy, then it is permissible for the twelve to impose the levy per pound under oath and raise it as best they can.
Also, those 12 thus elected and sworn in, or seven of them, shall have special power to:
Each of the 12, or seven of them, now elected shall be allowed, without any argument, by the 12 elected in the following year, whatever costs they declare under oath to have been expended or paid out by them.
Furthermore, should any lawsuit be brought against the 12, or any of them, or their clerk or sergeant, or any of them [sic] be brought before the courts in relation to official duties or anything undertaken on behalf of the community, all their [legal] costs will be reimbursed by the community.
Should it happen that in [regard to] any distraint [made by] the 12 men, or seven of them, or the sergeant of the community, any member of the community whether one of those 12 men or some other burgess is found to resist, or effects a rescue, he is to pay 6s.8d to the community immediately, without remission. Similarly, it is permitted for the 12, or seven of them, to distrain on a daily basis any thus found to be resistant, by all their goods and possessions wherever they may be found, making the distraint and carrying or driving away and detaining the distrained items, until full satisfaction is made to the community for all offences [committed against it, and] of all arrears, demands, and revenues that belong to the community.
If the 12, or seven of them, cannot by such means make any member of the community answer to justice in such matters, they shall have all the burgesses of the town forewarned [to come] to the common hall that is, on a specified day to assist the 12 or seven to bring to justice he who is rebellious and defiant; moreover, further remedy may be decided and imposed against such rebels and defiers, whenever and as often as necessary for the benefit of the community.
[There follows the ordinance prohibiting dung from being placed in the streets.]
And these ordinances or statutes shall hold good.
In testimony of which, we have appended to this document our common seal of the community. And, to better ensure its validity, we have arranged for the seal of the venerable canons of the chapter of St. John of Beverley to be appended to the document.
3. Charter for the election of 12 keepers of the town of Beverley
Richard, by the grace of God etc., to each and every of the reputable men and the burgesses of the town of Beverley, greetings.
Because of the absence of good government, excesses are often committed among the inhabitants and commons of cities and towns, evils arise, scope is given to scandal and risk of various kinds, and the peaceful way of life is unintentionally put at jeopardy. As is known with some notoriety, all such excesses, evils, and perils have been the case in the town of Beverley, more in recent days than is usual, due principally to the breakdown of good government. For that town has traditionally, by an ancient and accepted custom which has been in effect there uninterrupted for fifty years, been peacefully governed and ruled by 12 reputable men of that town, elected annually on 25 April at the town gildhall by the common agreement of the burgesses of the town. But that custom among you has been abruptly changed. In place of those 12 reputable men, you have newly instituted and appointed an alderman and two chamberlains to rule and govern the town during the present year. And this arrangement which has not been seen in the town for fifty years or more, except on one or two rare occasions, and was then abolished by the common agreement of the then burgesses of the town, for its better government you intend to maintain and continue, even though an administration involving the 12 men is much more effective for good government of the town. Which arrangement, if continued, we have been persuaded, will clearly result in the utter downfall of that town and the disinheritance of its burgesses.
We, out of the special devotion we have to Christ's glorious confessor St. John, whose body was transferred to the minster of that town, wishing nothing more than to restore a tranquil and peaceable way of life to the town and out of our grace to provide for the better administration of the town and for rectification of defects in administration there,
Direct and command you, and every one of you, as strictly as we can and on the faith and allegiance you owe us, that on 25 April next at your gildhall with one accord you assemble peacefully, as is the custom. And that after all the matters have been read out in your presence and understood, and have been given due and serious consideration, you setting aside your arguments and disagreements on any of these issues you put in place and duly institute in the town such a form of rule, administration and government that the town and our people there may be better and more tranquilly ruled and governed, our peace there kept, and amity among you can be more assuredly preserved, both in the present and in future years. To this end, conduct yourselves towards one another in a respectful and amicable fashion, as was the case in earlier times in the town when things were better and well-ordered. And, to ensure peace and tranquillity among you, suppress any rebels and opponents, as well as the authors, instigators or fomenters of quarrels or dissension and their supporters, if such there are, by whatever ways and means are at hand, to restrain them from their malicious activities.
In no respect fail in this, if you have regard for us and our honour, and wish to avoid our severe displeasure and the perpetual forfeiture of all your liberties.
Witnessed by myself at Westminster, 18 March 1382.
Advisory councils seem to have been a standard feature of borough government, probably long before their existence was formally acknowledged within the written constitution. What was valued about them was that the choice of members lay solely with the townsmen and the councillors were therefore (in theory) answerable only to the townsmen. Normally councils existed, according to recorded stipulations, to support the executive officers, particularly in giving counsel. Whether this role disguises a more powerful mechanism of urban administration that is, the power not merely of advising, but of deciding is difficult to say; only in the fifteenth century do records become detailed enough to portray voting on issues, and even then we have explicit evidence for a very few towns.
The development of conciliar bodies owes something to roles played by juries in legal administration, something to a natural tendency for certain townsmen most interested in influencing the direction of local affairs to coalesce into a formal group, and something to the need for community opinion to be consulted by the borough executive before important decisions were taken. It may be that the executive officers were no more than the first among equals; certainly their office tended to rotate largely among the group who furnished councillors, insofar as our evidence very sketchy at best for the thirteenth century, and weak until mid-fourteenth century allows us to say. Or it may be that the executives took the real initiative after consulting councillors. The dynamic doubtless varied from town to town and period to period.
Beverley evidence argues for the importance of a council, by presenting the unusual case of an executive-less council. It is in part because of this that the role of the council is spelled out in more detail than is the case in most other towns. But this may also owe something to a power-struggle between two forces in the town, one preferring the council as its administrative tool, and the other an aldermannic administration.
The origins of Beverley a town more important in the Middle Ages than it is today, with the eleventh largest urban population in 1377 (insofar as we can rely on the Poll Tax figures) can be associated with the foundation of a monastery there by the early eighth century. Bishop John of York retired there and died there in 721. Archaeology has revealed modest settlement in the vicinity at some point in that century. By the early tenth century John's tomb had a reputation for miracle-working and attracted the attention of King Athelstan, who endowed a secular college there; this had grown into an important minster, with St. John of Beverley's bones translated to a new shrine, by the time of Edward the Confessor, who acknowledged the archbishop of York as sole lord of the town. Both the presence of the monastic community and pilgrimage to the shrine of St. John did much for local trade and the development of an urban community, and the cult of the saint continued to draw royal benevolence and royal concern when there was any disturbance of the peace there, amplified by the fact that sanctuary status had been accorded not only to the minster but the whole town and its environs. This status attracted fugitives to the town, most of them guilty or suspected of homicide, and so introduced a dangerous element; one of the leaders of the unrest in Beverley in 1381, Henry Newark, was a sanctuary man.
The archbishop had extensive judicial jurisdiction within Beverley, even over pleas of the Crown; one consequence being that Beverley's affairs feature relatively little in the core national records. He also had a good deal of control over local commerce, notably in the collection of tolls; rents were likewise a source of revenue that belonged to him. Most tolls were farmed out to the townsmen in the twelfth century, and rents in the mid-fifteenth century. Despite this, for most of the later Middle Ages much local administration was in the hands of his officers, notably a steward and a bailiff. These positions were held in the thirteenth century by clerics and later increasingly by laymen; in the case of the steward mainly by local gentry, while the ballivalty was sometimes held by townsmen, but the office was clearly answerable to the archbishop and could not represent the interests of the borough community. The archbishop's bailiff was the executive office that, in non-mediatized towns, would have been the head of urban government elected by the townspeople. The minster chapter likewise had its officials in the town, notably a provost, steward, and bailiff, with authority over the estate particularly assigned to the minster. There were inevitably points of conflict between the town and the archbishop or chapter over matters of jurisdiction, mainly territorial.
In the early twelfth century Archbishop Thurstan had granted the town the same liberties as the citizens of York (except insofar as they might conflict with the rights of the minster), including a merchant gild; Henry I promptly confirmed this grant and added freedom from toll throughout Yorkshire for the townsmen. Ca.1130 a further charter from Thurstan restated and expanded on his first, granting the townsmen the farm of local tolls, acknowledging rights of toll-free access into and out of the town, and confirming the gild under the name of Hanshus, where the burgesses might "formulate statutes ... for the improvement of the town" [Beverley Town Documents, 132] just as the York men did in their Hanshouse. We must assume that this town gild provided the mechanism for local administration, including the collection of tolls.
If we can believe the above injunction issued by Richard II, which was evidently based on information supplied by the faction supporting conciliar rule in Beverley, it was in the early fourteenth century that an important change in government took place; a group of 12 men, a few decades later known as keepers (and later still as governors), came to challenge the role of the gild and its alderman as the vehicle speaking for community interests. We do not know how, or from what, this group emerged. It was probably an evolutionary rather than revolutionary transition, with some division of responsibilities, but by the 1330s the council appears to have been staking a claim as the foremost institution of local government, not without resistance.
The first two documents translated above reflect stages in the development of this conciliar government. Leach stated that the constitutional provisions of 1345 were repeated verbatim in those of 1359, and in the same order, but in fact there are a number of often significant differences; which is why I have seen fit to present both here. The 1345 constitutional provisions were likely only a formal statement, or restatement, in writing of what may have been in effect for years or even decades. Stating the powers of the 12, as in the early section of the 1359 document, either was or became a standard procedure at elections: in effect commissioning the newly-elected officials. Possibly the 1345 indenture represents such a commission, although it has more the character of a set of constitutional provisions agreed upon by official and electorate. Within the borough custumal is a template, said to date from the 1370s, for the keepers' commission from the community, using some of the same terminology as in the earlier indenture. From this it appears that it had been the practice for some time for a formal written commission to be drawn up upon the election of each new set of keepers. I am not aware of other instances of such a formal arrangement, reliance normally being placed on the swearing-in ceremony to invest elected officers with power and to place restrictions on them.
The royal injunction of 1382, in its passing reference to a couple of instances over the previous half-century in which aldermannic government had been instituted instead of the council, is doubtless downplaying the extent of the opposition. We know of one occasion, in 1356, where a riot by several hundred townsmen aimed at disrupting an election of the keepers; the complaint made to the king about this suggests that the conciliar form of government was itself the reason for opposition, and that this opposition, described as a sworn conspiracy, involved a substantial portion of the populace. There may have been a definite division within the community in this regard; or perhaps reversion to the older form of community representation occurred when popular dissatisfaction surfaced about conciliar actions or, more likely, exactions it may be noted that the constitutional provisions did not allow the burgesses to veto local taxes, only to have input on how they were assessed. Political conflict could be read into the 1345 document in the section on local taxation, where certain terminology indicates an anticipated difficulty in getting all the townspeople to respect the authority of the council, and in the document's general preoccupation with dealing with burgesses resisting that authority. Those same charged terms are absent from the 1359 version of that clause (although it is risky drawing conclusions solely from changes in terminology), and the emphasis shifts somewhat from dealing with uncooperative burgesses to ensuring the keepers perform their duties the absence of the resignation clause being notable. This may suggest that the keepers were now more secure in their position, despite the riot of 1356, although the elaboration of electoral procedures could point to settlements of contentious issues.
Events later in the century indicate that the battle was far from over, as the third document illustrates. The great revolt of 1381 was a phenomenon primarily rural and particularly, but not exclusively, associated with southern and eastern England. But across the country twenty or so urban communities, or groups within those communities, took advantage of the situation to try to further their own interests, by expressing dissatisfaction with local constitutional arrangements, gaining ground against political opponents, or settling scores. We cannot explain the urban upheavals purely as a response to the peasants' uprising, however, for some began earlier. But they were the product of the disturbed conditions, the rumours, the same general dissatisfaction with the status quo and particularly with government at all levels, and which the poll-tax of 1377 had done something to help bring to boiling point. While the 1382 charter makes no reference to the larger events that had just occurred across the country, those mighty disturbances must have been fresh in the mind of the king and his officials when the 1382 charter was drafted.
In several cases the aim of rebellious urban communities was to wrest power away from ecclesiastical overlords. Resentment against the ecclesiastical officials was an element in the Beverley disturbances, but combined with the old internal political divisions; members of the lesser crafts sought to displace the leading burgesses who dominated the council, some of whom were also holding offices associated with ecclesiastical overlordship. It would have been natural for the malcontents to turn to an official, presumably still existing (as the gild continued to exist) if much reduced in power, who had a heritage of championing the communal cause. The man chosen to hold the post, Richard de Middleton, had already served as a keeper in 1377/78; it may be significant or coincidence that, with the three-year hiatus prescribed, he would have been eligible for re-election as a keeper in 1381. Possibly we may see here underlying popular discontent brought to a head by a division in the ranks of the urban elite, or some personal ambition, making available a leader just as seen in the political struggles at London and Lynn; a further parallel with those towns being in the reliance on executive office to oppose an elite in power. The reformers did not abandon the conciliar principle, however, instead providing for a group of 24 to advise the aldermen; whether a new council, or an expanded version of the 12 is unknown. This reform, or populist, party represented a large portion of the community, with the lesser craftsmen and retailers prominent, while their opponents were characterized as the "great and better endowed burgesses".
For at least ten months prior to the issue of the king's charter, the two opposing factions had "waged unrelenting legal as well as violent battle with one another" [R.B. Dobson, "The Risings in York, Beverley and Scarborough, 1380-1381", The English Rising of 1381, ed. R.H. Hilton and T. H. Aston, Cambridge, 1984, 124]. Judging from the accusations brought by the reformers, the alleged oppressive and extortionate government of the keepers had been arousing resentment since at least 1363, through unwarranted tolls on retail and craft activities, excessive levies, embezzlement, and perversions of justice. The transfer of power to an aldermannic government seems to have been effected on election day (25 April) of 1381; in the absence of information on those events, we can only imagine that it was not done quietly. Middleton was supported by Henry de Newark and Thomas White, his chamberlains, and a clerk Richard de Boston, at whom Professor Dobson points the finger as the possible lead mover of the faction; possibly Boston acted as the administration's recorder (legal advisor and head of the clerical department), a position known to have been established on this occasion.
The displaced keepers attempted a counter-coup: on 30 April, Adam Coppandale led a group on a raid of the Guildhall, from which they removed charters, other town records, and communal treasures; they were likely after the borough seal, but this they failed to secure. Thomas de Beverley was another leader of this group, who, like Coppandale, came from a wealthy and influential family long-established in the town, and he was steward of both the archbishop and the chapter; the archbishop and chapter were at odds at this time, and these facts may help explain why the reformers sought the archbishop's support in their struggle. Coppandale and Beverley had been collectors of the unpopular poll-tax in the town. Middleton and his followers retaliated against the raid by evicting some of their opponents from their homes unless they agreed to put up bonds guaranteeing they would abide by a judgement on the political differences, to be made by the archbishop. By the beginning of the summer they appear to have consolidated their control of the town, but unable to prevent further violent outbursts. Coppandale and other of his associates removed to London, partly for safety's sake (although it was alleged that some of the reformers pursued them there, armed, to issue more threats), and partly to be able to put their case before parliament.
In April and May 1382 Coppandale and his colleagues acquired royal pardons for any actions committed before 14 December 1381, and this assisted them to obtain acquittal for the charges laid against them. The situation continued to be disturbed in Beverley; in April the archbishop's bailiff had been ordered to arrest Newark, White and Boston, but reported back that he could not, as this would have put him at risk of his life. In June the archbishop and the sheriff of Norfolk, with an armed retinue, came to the town and took pledges from both factions to assure they would keep the peace. In October the townsmen were able to obtain a general pardon for the disturbances, upon guaranteeing they would pay the huge fine of £733.6s.8d. A few members of either faction were excluded from the pardon, including Richard de Boston. This may have sealed his fate, as he was subsequently murdered, seemingly an act of reprisal.
The introduction or elevation of chamberlains in borough officialdom is often connected with political and/or financial reforms, and the fact that it is seen fit to mention those officers explicitly here (despite that they had not an executive authority comparable to alderman or council) is indicative of financial grievances behind the reforms underway at Beverley. Those grievances are indicated in charges laid at the door of John Erghom, a Coppandale supporter who pursued against Middleton and his followers a campaign of intimidation while the power-struggle was underway and of reprisals after some semblance of peace had been restored in mid-1382, not stopping short at murder. Erghom was indicted before the king's justices in 1385 for a long list of crimes, including the exactions, intimidation, and assaults mentioned above; he too sidestepped the issue thanks to a pardon he had wisely purchased in November 1382.
Once the division became increasingly violent, it had not been difficult to obtain the king's intervention. Although his injunction of March 1382 expresses a preference for conciliar government and disapproval of aldermannic rule, this likely only mirrors the opinions of the conciliar party which was making the complaint. Richard did not go so far as to order explicitly a restoration of conciliar rule it seems to be the heading assigned by a later clerk, entering the document into the fifteenth-century register, that is principally responsible for leading historians to this erroneous conclusion; he simply required the townsmen to agree among themselves on whatever settlement would restore peace and order. What actually happened is unknown, due to lack of records. But an aldermannic government was re-elected in April 1382, and one of the few surviving financial accounts from the town, for 1386, reveals that alderman and chamberlains were in power both that and the previous year; the earliest evidence for the keepers being back in control is from 1391. Yet some compromise may have been reached, for the men holding aldermannic and camerarian office in 1386 were among the original opponents of the reformers in 1381; the old elite had, with or without the acquiescence of the community, regained its hold on power. This paved the way for a quiet reversion to conciliar rule.
"seven of them"
"presents and gratuities"
"impositions to be levied"
"resist or be uncooperative"
"have made public declaration"
"to pay the community 40s."
"a daily basis"
"all the matters"
"Richard de Middleton"
"the previous year"
|Created: May 27, 2003.||© Stephen Alsford, 2003|