The city of Exeter: The Mayors' and Provost Court Rolls

Pages 406-409

Report On the Records of the City of Exeter. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1916.

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In this section

The Mayors' Court Rolls.

These Rolls are the records of the Court called the Guildhall, the Mayor's or the City Court, which was a Court of Record, wherein real and personal actions were tried, fines passed, wills proved, deeds inrolled, and almost anything done that is now done in the Courts at Westminster. There is one of these rolls to each year, and each roll contains usually 52 membranes, one membrane containing the record of one week. On the first membrane of each roll is entered the election of the Mayor, Receiver, and other officers of the City.

The "intus" or front face of the membranes contain the entries of all the suits and proceedings in the Court itself. When a suit was commenced it was entered every week with a note of what was done in it until it was abandoned or adjudicated on. Some of these suits are very remarkable, and will be found to be of great interest to the student of the history of the people in ancient times.

The title of the earliest roll (48 Henry III, A.D. 1263–64) is as follows:–"Rotulus placitorum Curie et Pretorii Exonie ab incrastino Sancti Michaelis anno regni Regis Henrici Anglie, xl. octavo usque" (sic). In the roll of 1 Edward I the title is simply "Exonie Curia Civitatis," with the date, and this heading is continued in all the subsequent rolls.

Besides the usual business of the Mayor's or City Court, these rolls, down to the reign of Edward III, contain the following matters:—

The records of the Provost Court, or "Curia Pretorii Civitatis," which are fully described at page A.D. 1228. Records of the Mayor's tourn described at page A.D. 1235; the entries of the Assize of Bread; entries of fines paid by persons entering the liberty of the City; fines for trespasses against the customs of the City &c., entries of chattels waived; felon's goods; fines paid by Masters of Ships for permission to discharge their cargoes before the ships came up to Topsham; monies collected at Fairs and all the casual receipts of the City. There are also enrolments of deeds between party and party relating to property both in the City and elsewhere; a great many wills; full memoranda of occurrences affecting the City's jurisdiction and liberties. Orders and bye-laws made by the Council for the government of the City. Rules and regulations of the various crafts or companies. The entries of the Assize of Bread are the monthly or weekly orders fixing the price to be paid for the various kinds of bread in the City according to the price of wheat: from them the variations in the price of wheat from the reign of Edward I downwards might be ascertained.

These rolls are very fully and carefully kept down to 5–6 Edward IV A.D. (1465–67), after which they become very much smaller in size, and the entries on them are confined almost exclusively to the business of the Court and the entry of fines and the profits of fairs. The handwriting and style of making up the rolls also is very bad. Fewer deeds and wills are enrolled; and after the end of Edward IV's reign the custom of enrolling Orders of the Council &c. appears to be discontinued. Probably about this time Act Books were commenced—the earliest we now have begins in 9 Henry VIII. [See II, 1, page 1077.]

In the reign of Henry VIII these rolls become very meagre. Books of the Courts having been instituted, the rolls were merely filled up in a formal manner from the books, and so they continue to the end. Few if any deeds appear to be enrolled after the reign of Henry VII. In the reign of Henry VIII, Elizabeth and James, special rolls were kept for the enrolling of deeps pursuant to the Statute of 27 Henry VIII A.D. (1535–36). [Miscellaneous Rolls, No8. 22–24.]

48 Henry III to 2 Edward I. [2 Rolls.]

14 Edward I to 13 William and Mary [399 Rolls].

[Missing—20 to 23 Edward I, 14 to 15 Edward II, 24 Henry VII to 1 Henry VIII, 27 Henry VIII to 30 Henry VIII, 2 to 3 Elizabeth, 37 to 38 Elizabeth, 4 to 5 James I, 10 to 11 James I, 14 to 16 James I, 24 Charles I to 1 Charles II, and not counted in the above.]

The above is Mr.S. Moore's account as given in his Calendar.

The Rolls were largely used by Hooker in compiling his Annals (II., 32) in Book 51, ff. 236–364, in which he gives abundant extracts, as: Testamentum, Finalis Concordia, breve de recto, breve de Corpus (sic), assisa Capta, irrotulat carta; all of purely local and personal interest. These, however, form but a very small proportion indeed of the immense number of entries on the original rolls. Besides these, Hooker has copied a considerable number of Extracts beginning with the words Consuetudo est, a few of which have found their way into Izacke. In his view and survey written in January, A.D. 1601, Hooker makes no mention of the Roll 48–50, Henry III A.D. (1263–1266), and in Book 51, f. 247, he says that the first recordes begin in 13 Edward I A.D. (1284–5).

In f. 343 A.D. (1535, 27 Henry VIII), he says "the Recordes of this yere cannot be founde." Also f. 343b A.D. (1536, 28 Henry VIII, "the whole recordes of this yere ar lost"; ibid. A.D. (1537, 29 Henry VIII), "the roll of the records of this yere are lacking." Izacke, p. 118 (8.a. 1535), says: "The Court Rolls of this year are all wanting."

For a short abstract of the contents of these rolls from 15 Edward I A.D. (1321) to 11 Richard II A.D. (1387), see Book 55, ff. 1–38.

For Extracts from 30 Edward I A.D. (1302), see T. Wright, 307, who was "not aware if there are any earlier rolls of the same class," though he thought it probable (p. 310). For abstract of 26, 27 Edward III (135–54), see Oliver, pp. 312–319.

Miss M. Bateson (Borough Customs, I, 132) thought that these rolls "treat largely of suits arising out of partible inheritance," and suggested (I bid, I, xxvii) that "a systematic search through this splendid series would doubtless yield many further points" in regard to Borough Customs; but such a task is quite beyond the limitations of the present report.

For Mayors' Court Books, see II, 50.

For Extracts, Edward I, Henry VII, see II, 264.

Provost Court Rolls.

The Provost Court was held in a room in the front [? at the side] of the Guildhall, now part of the Police Station. [See Miscellaneous Rolls, No. 2.] It is sometimes called "Curia Pretorii," but usually "Curia Provostrie Domini Regis." These rolls contain the record of the proceedings of the Provost Court—the pleadings do not occur at length as in the Mayors' Court Rolls. The fines imposed are set in the margin and the total at the end of each membrane:—these are numerous, and must have furnished a considerable revenue to the City. The Court was held sometimes as often as four and five days in the week. The cases tried appear to be pleas of debt, assault and trespass, actions for detention of goods, ejectments, &c. In the reigns of Henry V and VI the rolls are fuller and the pleadings of the cases sometimes occur. After 3–4 Edward IV A.D. (1464–66), the handwriting changes, and, like the Mayor's Court Rolls, these rolls are less carefully kept.

In the time of Elizabeth and James I the pleadings are again entered at full. Previous to the reign of Edward III the proceedings of the Provost Court were entered on the Mayor's Court Roll. There was a Seal of the Provost, an impression of which is attached to Deed No. 717, p. 163, the legend is "Sigillum Pretorii Civitatis Exon."

  • 2 Edward III A.D. (1328–9) to 3 Richard III.
  • 2 to 5 Henry VII.
  • 11 to 22 Henry VII.
  • 4 to 14 Elizabeth.
  • 35 to 37 Elizabeth.
  • 4 to 8 James I.
  • 10 James I to 13 William and Mary.
  • [121 Rolls. Missing 2 and 3, 7 and 8 Edward IV.]

The Rolls of the Mayor's Tourn.

These Rolls contain the proceedings of the Mayor's Tourn. Before 11 Edward III A.D. (1337–8) (like the Provost Court) these proceedings appear to have been recorded on the Mayor's Court Roll. They consist of presentments made by the juries in each quarter of the City, of nuisances, offences against the Customs of the City, such as selling by bad measure, out of due season, forestalling the markets &c.

  • Much interesting matter may be gleaned from them.
  • 11 to 50 Edward III.
  • 2 to 12 Richard II.
  • 21 to 22 Ditto.
  • 1 to 9 Henry V.
  • 2 Henry VI.
  • 5 Ditto (one membrane only, which was formerly part of a roll).
  • 7 Ditto.
  • 9 Henry VI.
  • 10 to 11 Ditto.
  • 12 to 13 Ditto.
  • 15 Ditto.
  • 19 to 20 Ditto.
  • 25 to 27 Ditto.