Calendar of Letter-Books of the City of London: B, 1275-1312. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1900.
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The greater part of Letter-Book B, like its predecessor, is devoted to the record of recognizances. In Letter-Book A the entry of recognizances was carried down to the year 1294. Here they are continued from 1294 down to 1312; but they are entered in a very inconsequential fashion, those of the years 1310-1312 taking precedence of the earlier recognizances. This confusion becomes worse confounded by entries having been made at each end of the volume, and by two distinct numerations of the folios, the old numbering commencing at what, according to the modern numeration, is the end of the book. It frequently happens, therefore, that the volume has to be reversed before its contents can be read. For the purpose of this Calendar the manuscript has been treated as commencing according to the modern pagination.
Besides these recognizances, which have a certain value and interest of their own, there are a variety of other matters recorded here which, if not of national interest, at least serve to illustrate civic life and the municipal government of London in the thirteenth century. Thus at the outset we have a record of inquests or trials by jury (the jury consisting of no less than four representatives from each of the Wards) held in 1281 upon a number of offenders "against the King's peace and the statutes of the City." The offences comprise for the most part night-walking after curfew, robbery with violence, frequenting taverns and houses of ill fame, and gambling. The names of the offenders and of their several trades alone are worth studying. Those found guilty of the offence with which they were charged were restored to liberty on their finding twelve "mainpernors" (or sureties) who were ready to go bail each to the extent of 100s. (a very large sum in those days) for every offender. Immediately following these inquests, we find the record of sureties who were prepared to answer for the conduct of David de Dissard, who had been arrested on suspicion of being a Welshman, at a time when England and Wales were at war.
These inquests are recorded as having been held between September and December, 1281. In the meantime, the King's writ had been issued to Henry le Waleys (or Galeys), the Mayor, and to the Sheriffs of London, enjoining them not only to put down night-walkers (as they, apparently, had been doing), but to punish fraudulent bakers and brewers, and to see that all corn sent to be ground within the City should be delivered by weight to the miller, who was to return the same weight in flour. (fn. 1) By way of executing this writ, the Mayor caused a hurdle to be provided for the punishment of fraudulent bakers (fn. 2); and we find more than one list of such offenders recorded as having undergone that ordeal. (fn. 3) In consequence of the same writ an ordinance was also made to the effect that the Mayor for the time being should provide weights and balances for weighing the corn, and hire houses for the necessary accommodation. A public officer was appointed to superintend the weighing, and the Mayor was entitled to demand one halfpenny for every quarter of corn sent to the mill, by way of pesage. (fn. 4) In 1297, a few months before the King restored the Mayoralty to the citizens, John le Bretun, who had for many years acted as the King's Warden of the City in place of the Mayor, is recorded as having summoned the Aldermen and six representatives of each Ward, and in their presence to have declared (inter alia) that the weighing-machines for weighing corn at the mills should thenceforth be abolished, and that bakers convicted of fraud should no longer be drawn on the hurdle, but suffer instead the punishment of the pillory. (fn. 5) Possibly he had received intimation of the King's intention to restore the Mayoralty to the citizens, and this action of his may have been done with the view of currying favour.
Whether this be so or not, it is significant that as soon as the citizens recover their liberties, and Bretun ceases to be Warden, they again elect Waleys to the Mayoralty chair (which he had so often and so worthily filled before the City was "taken into the King's hand" in 1285), and the injunction touching the weighing of corn and flour is repeated in another royal writ. (fn. 6)
The charter of restitution of the City's liberties, still preserved at the Guildhall, bears date 11 April, 26 Edward I. [A.D. 1298]. The volume before us affords some particulars of what took place immediately before and subsequent to that date. (fn. 7) We learn, in the first place, that two days before, viz., on Wednesday, 9 April, the King's orders came to the City for all the Aldermen and a deputation of twelve Commoners to appear before him and his Council at Westminster, and that the right of election to the Mayoralty was then and there restored to the City; that on the following Friday (11 April), the actual date of the charter, the Aldermen and twelve men from each Ward elected Henry le Waleys to be their Mayor; that on the following Wednesday (16 April) he was presented to the King at Fulham, (fn. 8) and the next day was admitted and sworn at Westminster before the Treasurer and Barons of the Exchequer. We learn, further, that the day after he had been admitted and sworn, the Mayor was compelled by business of his own to proceed at once to Lincoln, and that during his absence his official duties as Mayor were committed to William de Betoyne and Geoffrey de Nortone; and, lastly, that it was only then (viz., Saturday, 19 April) that Sir John le Bretun, the late Warden, produced the King's letter to him bidding him acknowledge the City's franchises, although that letter bore date 5 April. (fn. 9)
There is one point worthy of a passing notice in connexion with this appointment of William de Betoyne and Geoffrey de Nortone as deputies of the Mayor during his absence from the City, namely, that on Sunday, 20 April, a royal writ or letter is recorded as having been placed in the hands of William de Betoyne addressed to the Chamberlains (Camerarii) of the City. The compiler of the City's 'Liber Albus,' referring to this entry in Letter-Book B, draws the conclusion that Betoyne and Nortone were the Camerarii so addressed, as will be seen from the following passage :—
"Cum etiam Henricus le Galeys, Major, arripuit iter versus Lincolniam, pro suis arduis negotiis expediendis, posuit loco suo Willelmum de Bethonia et Galfridum de Nortone; et ipsi in brevi Regis, ut patet statim post, vocabantur ideo 'Camerarii' civitatis." (fn. 10)
So far, he may be right, although the term Camerarii (fn. 11) as applied to the Mayor's deputies is a solecism; but when he proceeds to cite this and another passage in Letter-Book C— where Wardens (Custodes) are appointed to execute the duties of an absent Mayor—as proof that the Mayor and Chamberlain were originally one and the same individual, (fn. 12) it is difficult to follow him, more especially as within a very short while after the issue of the above writ the Mayor himself produced another writ addressed to him and the Chamberlains. (fn. 13)
The object of both of these writs was to hasten the construction of a Tron, or wool-weighing machine for the town of Lynn, co. Norfolk. As far back as Saxon times standard weights and measures were preserved in the City of London, and with these the weights and measures throughout the kingdom had to conform. (fn. 14) The terms "tron" and "tronage"—applied to the weighing of heavy goods, and more especially wool, at the time these writs were issued—are obviously akin to the Troy weight used for gold and silver, and known in Saxon times as the Husting weight of London. (fn. 15) After completion the Tron was to be carefully examined and proved at the Guildhall, and then forwarded to the King's Exchequer at Westminster. Some delay had evidently taken place, and time was pressing, for the Exchequer was shortly to be removed to York, the King himself being about to set out for Scotland to suppress the Wallace rebellion there. The first of the two writs was accordingly issued on Friday, 18 April, enjoining the civic authorities to despatch the machine to the Exchequer on the following day. (fn. 16) The Mayor, as we have seen, had just left the City for Lincoln, and Betoyne, one of his deputies, dared not do anything in the matter (so we are told) in his absence. The Mayor appears to have returned by the following Tuesday (22 April), and to have received on the following Wednesday week (30 April) another writ addressed to himself and the Chamberlains bidding them send the Tron to the Exchequer by the following day (1 May). Thereupon the Mayor summoned certain experts in the wool trade and an "ancermaker" (i. e., scale maker) named Thomas Torgod or Torgot, and the Tron was duly proved and marked with the City's mark, and by the following Wednesday was forwarded to the Exchequer and delivered to a deputation from the town of Lynn waiting to receive it.
In the meantime the King had summoned the lay estates of the kingdom (and among them two citizens of London) to meet him at York on Whitsunday (25 May, 1298) on his way to Scotland. The City sent two of its Aldermen, viz., Walter de Finchingfeud and Adam de Foleham, and voted each of them 100s. for his expenses. (fn. 17) The Mayor and Aldermen at the same time appointed William de Esthalle to act as the City's attorney before the Barons of the Exchequer and the Justices of the Bench who were to sit at York during the King's northern campaign. (fn. 18) They further resolved to mark the City's respect for the King's Treasurer, Walter Langton, (fn. 19) who accompanied the King on this occasion, by making him a present of the value of 40 marks, and Nicholas de Farndone, one of their own body, was commissioned to manufacture the gift. As this worthy Alderman was a goldsmith by trade, we can only conclude that the gift was to take the form of a piece of plate, although the record is silent on this point, terminating abruptly. (fn. 20) The favour thus bestowed by the City had its reward when tidings of the battle of Falkirk arrived in a letter from Langton addressed to "his dear friends the Mayor and Barons of London," and despatched by a special messenger. (fn. 21)
At what according to the modern numeration of the folios of the Letter-Book is the end of the volume, we find copies of Coroners' Rolls for the years 1276-8, the original Rolls being apparently lost. (fn. 22) The greater part of them has been translated and printed at the commencement of Riley's 'Memorials' (pp 3-20), and on that account no more has been attempted in this Calendar than to supply omissions and correct what appear to be misreadings. I call them "Coroners' Rolls," although they are, strictly speaking, "Rolls of the Crown of the Lord the King," or "Rolls of Felonies and Misadventures" The name of Coroner is not once mentioned, the functions of that officer being exercised in the City of London at this period by the Chamberlain and Sheriffs. More often than not the Chamberlain appointed a deputy or sub-coroner (sub-coronator), as his duties on behalf of the King—he was called the King's Chamberlain—frequently called him away from the City. The reason why the Chamberlain was in early days also the Coroner was that the Coronership appertained to the office of the King's Butler, and the King's Butler was usually the City Chamberlain, at least during the reigns of Edward I. and Edward II. One illustration among many may be cited. Thus in December, 1302, the King's writ came to the Mayor and Sheriffs notifying that William Trente his Chamberlain (Camerarius noster), to whose bailiwick the office of Coroner in the City appertained (ad cujus ballivam officium Coronatoris...... pertinet), being busy on affairs of state, had deputed John le Clerk to execute the duties of Coroner, and they are to render him every assistance. (fn. 23)
Roll C.—Roll of misadventures and felonies that occurred in the City of London between the Feast of St. Michael, anno 17 Edward I. [A.D. 1289], and the Feast of St. Michael following; Stephen de Abyndone being the King's Butler and Coroner of the City of London, John de Ileford his deputy, and John de Oxford and Adam de Salesbury being Sheriffs.
Roll E.—Roll of the Crown temp. Gilbert de Mordon and John de Coton, Sheriffs of London, anno 19 Edward II. [A.D. 1325-6]; John de Shirbourn being Coroner under Benedict de Fulsham, the King's Butler.
Occasionally we find the Coronership spoken of as appertaining to the office of Chamberlain; as for instance, in the writ sent to the Mayor and Sheriffs in 1279 notifying the appointment of a deputy by Matthew de Columbariis, the Chamberlain, to whom the office of Coroner in the City is recorded to have appertained by reason of the said Chamberlainship (racione Camerarie predicte). (fn. 24) But in such cases (unless I am mistaken) it will be found that the Chamberlain for the time being was also the King's Butler, and in the writ just mentioned Matthew de Columbariis, in addition to his title of Chamberlain, is described as the "taker" of the King's wines throughout England (captor vinorum nostrorum per Angliam), an office akin to, presumably, if not identical with, that of King's Butler. Hence the statement recorded, anno 14 Edward II., that the King's Butler and the King's Chamberlain and the Coroner are one and the same. (fn. 25) The allegations made by some writers that the Mayor is by custom Coroner of the City, and that the offices of Mayor, Chamberlain, and Coroner were at one time held by the same person, are inaccurate and misleading, (fn. 26) although they appear to be supported by the following marginal note in Letter-Book B (fo. 127), viz.: "Nota quod idem fuit hoc tempore Maior ac Camerarius London' et Coronator regis." (fn. 27) There is no evidence to show that the Mayor for the time being had any prescriptive right to the Coronership. The Mayor and Chamberlain, moreover, were usually distinct persons, although Gregory de Rokesle held both offices from 4 to 6 Edward I., and he was at the same time Coroner by virtue of his being the King's Butler. (fn. 28) Another instance of the offices of Mayor or Coroner (or rather deputy Coroner in the absence of the Coroner) being vested at the same time in one individual is that of John de Wengrave, who was both Mayor and deputy Coroner (sub-coronator) in 10-11 Edward II. These are, however, exceptional cases. Wengrave was Coroner before he was Mayor, and continued to act as Coroner both during his Mayoralty and afterwards. (fn. 29)
The fact that the Chamberlain and Sheriffs of London were originally King's officers will probably account for their having cognizance of Crown pleas, i. e., pleas which from their affecting more particularly the King's Crown and dignity were reserved for his own personal hearing, or that of his immediate law officers. The number of such pleas was comparatively small to what it was after the enlargement of the jurisdiction of the Curia Regis, and the appointment of Justices (or Justiciars) and a special officer known as Coronator or Coroner to "keep the pleas of the Crown." (fn. 30) The King, who was responsible for this enlargement of the Curia Regis and its establishment as a central legal court with a staff of Justices, viz., Henry I., showed special favour to the citizens of London by allowing them to elect whom they would to keep and determine Pleas of the Crown in the City. (fn. 31) The clause in Henry's charter granting this privilege has occasioned no little controversy, the City's "Justiciar" being identified by different writers with the Portreeve, the Sheriff, and the Coroner. (fn. 32) In Stephen's reign there appear to have been at least two individuals, viz., Gervase de Cornhill and Geoffrey de Mandeville, who bore the title of "Justiciar of London." (fn. 33) In what way the former came by his appointment we know not. It is doubtful if the citizens had any voice in the matter, whilst as to the latter we know as a fact that he was imposed on them by the Empress Matilda as well as by Stephen. The City's own archives are silent as to the existence at any time of an officer bearing the title of Justice or Justiciar. Instead of appointing a special Justice to determine Crown Pleas (as they were empowered to do by Henry's charter), the citizens appear to have been content that such Pleas should continue, as formerly, to be determined by the Sheriffs and Chamberlains for the time being, and any interference on the part of the King's Justice was resented. We find, for instance, that when the King's Justices were holding an Iter at the Tower in 1244, the City urged the exclusive right of the Sheriffs and the Chamberlains to hold inquests on deaths in the City. (fn. 34) Again, when the King's Justice took his seat at the Guildhall in 1258 to hear certain cases, the citizens persistently challenged his jurisdiction, declaring that no one ought to hold pleadings in the City as to trespasses there committed except the Sheriffs of London. (fn. 35) Once more, we have it on record that it was the Sheriff's business when any one had been killed in the City to go and inquire by the venue (per visnetum) who had killed him, and if any were accused by the venue the Sheriff was to attach him until the matter could be investigated before the Justices. (fn. 36)
In other places a "Coroner" or "Coroners" took the place of the Justiciar; (fn. 37) but in London it was the Sheriffs and Chamberlain, until in later years the Chamberlain gave place to a Coroner, elected by the citizens and independent of the King's Butler. In the Coroners' Rolls entered in Letter-Book B information of a violent death or mishap is first given to the Chamberlain and Sheriffs; in the later Rolls it is given to the Coroner and Sheriffs, the Coroner taking precedence of the Sheriffs, as did the Justiciar in the county. (fn. 38) Every year (we are told) between Michaelmas Day and All Saints' Day the Sheriffs and the Chamberlain with their respective clerks met to compare their Rolls for the past year, and each year a new Roll of "attachments and misadventures" was "duly written and prepared by a skilful and competent scribe," who was bound to secrecy. (fn. 39) These Rolls were then laid up among the City's archives, (fn. 40) ready for production before the Justices Itinerant whenever it should please them to pay the City a visit.
More than once the citizens attempted to get the appointment of Coroner into their own hands. At the close of the reign of Edward III., and again on the accession of his successor to the throne, they took occasion to complain to the Crown of the inconvenience they suffered by reason of the Coroner not being subject to the civic authorities (n'est pas justisable par Mair, Auldermans, ne par autres Ministres d'icell'), and prayed that they might be allowed to elect whom they pleased and remove him at will, as other cities and towns were wont to do. (fn. 41) It was all to no purpose, until the impecunious condition of Edward IV. induced him for the sum of £7,000 to grant the citizens a charter permitting them (inter alia) to appoint a Coroner of their own, independent of the King's Butler. (fn. 42)
In cases of deaths from violence the jury were drawn from the Ward wherein the deceased received the fatal blow and the Ward where his body was eventually discovered, (fn. 43) the inquest taking place in the latter Ward, although there is an instance recorded of Sheriffs having been amerced for holding an inquest where a man was found dead, and not at the place (some distance off) where he was wounded. (fn. 44)
The customary procedure of holding an inquest on the body of any one who had died in the City otherwise than by his rightful death (ex alia morte quam recta morte sua) was as follows. After receiving notice of such a death having occurred, and of the body of the deceased lying in a certain house in a certain Ward, the Chamberlain (or Coroner) and Sheriffs proceeded thither, and having summoned a jury (drawn partly from the Ward in which the body was found and partly from two, or sometimes three, of the nearest Wards), set to work to diligently inquire (diligenter inquisiverunt) how the deceased came by his death. If the Chamberlain and Sheriffs failed to hold an inquest, or held an insufficient one, in cases where the Justices itinerant thought an inquest necessary, they were amerced. (fn. 45)
The jurors were practically both judges and witnesses, and gave evidence as to all the facts connected with the deceased's death so far as they could be ascertained. The corpse was then viewed, and if its appearance tallied with the evidence given and the jury were decided as to who caused the death, a precept was issued for the arrest of the felon (if not already in custody), and his goods were valued, for which the Sheriffs were answerable. The discoverer of the corpse, as well as those who witnessed the felony, and two or four neighbours, were usually attached by sureties to appear, if required, before the Justices Itinerant at their next coming to the City.
Not only was the discoverer of the corpse bound to raise the hue and cry so that the neighbours (patria) might come and assist in the capture of the felon, but every one who saw the felony committed was bound to do the same, and to lose no time in giving notice to the Chamberlain and Sheriffs, or risk imprisonment on the appearance of the Justices. (fn. 46) In other parts of the country there appear to have existed certain officials known as "presenters" or "finders" of murders, homicides, and misadventures; but in the City no such official was kept, the reason given being that in so populous a place such things could not possibly elude discovery, and would be known all over the City long before formal information could be given to the Sheriffs. (fn. 47)
If a felon succeeded in taking sanctuary in a church or other privileged place before capture, he was free from the clutches of the law for the space of forty days. He was allowed to be supplied with food, but he was sufficiently guarded to prevent his escape, although by special enactment he was to be allowed liberty and verge enough to attend to the calls of nature. (fn. 48) Previous to this enactment the condition of the refugee had been rendered extremely hard; so much so, indeed, that the citizens revolted against such treatment and frequently connived at his escape. In the year 1230 a man named "Wayvefuntaines" was walking with a friend in St. Paul's Churchyard when he was fatally stabbed with a knife by some one unknown. The felon made good his escape. The victim died the next day, and his friend, taking fright, sought refuge in a church, whence he eventually succeeded in making his escape, in spite of a watch being set over the churchyard by the Sheriffs Fourteen years later, when the itinerant Justices were sitting at the Tower, (fn. 49) the matter was brought to their notice in the ordinary course, and the question was raised whether the Sheriffs ought not to be punished for what appeared to be a dereliction of duty. The answer they got was that the civic authorities were not certain on that point, although they confessed that such escapes were of frequent occurrence. (fn. 50) The same question was again raised by the Justices at the famous Iter of 1321. This time the Mayor and Aldermen boldly declared that neither the City nor the Sheriffs were answerable for escapes from sanctuary, and, moreover, that no watch ought to be kept over refugees in churches. They probably rested their statement upon the resolution of the Aldermen in 1298 (a few weeks after the restitution of the Mayoralty to the citizens), to the effect that no robber, homicide, or other fugitive in churches should thenceforth be kept watch over. (fn. 51)
However this may be, the Justices protested against such a state of things, declaring such a custom to be contrary to all law and prejudicial to the Crown, and at the same time solemnly warned the civic authorities to think twice before persisting in their views. This was bad enough, but there was more to come; for the Justices forthwith gave orders to their officer to summon the neighbours (who, as I have said, were attached on occasions of deaths from violence or misadventure) and the discoverers of the various dead bodies found since the last Iter to appear on a day named Again the Mayor and Aldermen objected. It would doubtless have gone hard with the citizens at this crisis had they not succeeded in gaining the favour of the King, who granted them a pardon under the Great Seal (still preserved at the Guildhall) for past neglect in watching felons who had sought refuge in churches, on the distinct understanding that in future they would watch such felons in the City in the same strict way they were watched in other parts of the realm. (fn. 52) The civic authorities appear nevertheless to have soon fallen back into their old ways, for in 1334 we find the Mayor roundly taken to task and made to do penance by the Archbishop for allowing a felon to escape from the church of All Hallows, Gracechurch. (fn. 53)
As soon as it was known that a felon had sought refuge in a City church the Coroner (or Chamberlain) and the Sheriffs would come and parley with him, offering him the choice of standing his trial or abjuring the realm. Forty days were allowed him to make up his mind, after which he had to make good his escape or run the chance of being starved into submission. If he elected to abjure the realm an oath was administered to him by the Coroner (or Chamberlain), or in the absence of that officer by the Constable of the Tower, the Sheriffs, and the Aldermen, (fn. 54) to the effect that he would hasten to a certain port (either of his own choosing or one assigned to him for the purpose), by the most direct road, and take ship at the earliest opportunity, not to return again without the King's licence. (fn. 55) If he diverged from the highway he was liable to be captured or killed. (fn. 56)
The Chamberlain and Sheriffs had to take good heed as to the limits of their jurisdiction. If they meddled with felons who had taken sanctuary in Southwark, they were made to pay for their excess of zeal by the Justices. (fn. 57)
In cases of death by misadventure (except in the City of London), the thing or chattel causing the death became forfeited to the King by way of "deodand" or gift to God, such gift having originally been bestowed on the Church for the good of the deceased's soul. The chattel itself does not appear to have been given up, but only its value as appraised by the jury (who were apt to be lenient in the matter), and the Sheriffs were answerable for the amount. The English term for deodand was "bane," i. e., the slayer, from the Anglo-Saxon bana. In 1236 a groom named Robert Fitz Payne was thrown from a horse in Walbrook and died, a jury bringing in a verdict of misadventure; but because the Sheriffs and the Chamberlain failed to hold an inquest on the horse (i. e., as to its value), the indirect cause of the groom's death (qui fuit banum garcionis), they were held to be "in mercy" by the Justices Itinerant when the matter was reported to them in 1244. Their delinquency was absolved by the payment of 2s. for the horse and a further fine of half a mark. (fn. 58) In the Rolls before us we find a horse valued as a deodand at one mark, a door at 8d., one boat at 2s. and another at 4s., a beam at 4d., and other articles which had caused death (regardless of any contributory negligence on the part of the deceased) (fn. 59) appraised at an equally low figure.
In the City the Sheriffs appear to have rendered their account of deodands to the civic authorities, although it is not clear what claim they had to such forfeitures. In Southwark their claim could not be gainsayed, at least after 1550, for "deodands" are specifically named (inter alia) in the Charter of Edward VI. which made over to the City of London the Borough of Southwark. (fn. 60) Whatever may be the grounds on which the Corporation lay their claim, they appear to have appropriated all deodands in the City as late as 1825, for in that year we find a petition addressed to the Common Council by the widow of a hairdresser who had been run over and killed by a Greenwich stage coach, praying that the sum of £50 which had been levied on the coach and horses at the Coroner's inquest by way of deodand (and which had been "claimed and received by the City Solicitor as one of the Bailiffs of this City on behalf of the Corporation") might be given to her as she had been left in poor circumstances, owing in a great measure to the great decrease in her husband's "trade" (fn. 61) by reason of the "general disuse of hair powder." The prayer was granted. (fn. 62)