Calendar of Letter-Books of the City of London: K, Henry VI. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1911.
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Letter-Book K practically covers the reign of King Henry VI. [A.D. 1422-61], rough records embracing the same period being also entered in the City's Journals (Vols. 2-6). (fn. 1) One of the earliest entries in the Letter-Book is the election of William Walderne to the Mayoralty chair, and the steps taken by him, in conjunction with the Aldermen, for giving a worthy reception to the remains of the late King as they passed through the City to Westminster for interment. (fn. 2)
Directions were given for the streets of the City to be cleansed, and the corpse was to be met at St. George's Bar in Southwark by the Mayor, Sheriffs, Recorder, Aldermen, and leading citizens clothed in black, and accompanied by 300 torchbearers in white gowns and hoods. More than 200 torches were provided by 31 Livery Companies or Misteries, the rest being (presumably) found by the Corporation, as were also the white gowns and hoods for the torchbearers. Due reverence having been paid to the royal remains, they were to be escorted on the first day as far as St. Paul's, where the funeral obsequies were to take place, and on the second day to Westminster, where they found their last resting-place.
The various Wards of the City were called upon to supply men with torches to line particular streets along the route from London Bridge to St. Paul's, whilst the City clergy were to stand at the doors of their churches habited in their richest vestments, with censers in their hands, and to chant the Venite and incense the corpse as it passed. A contemporary French chronicler, (fn. 3) to whom reference is frequently made in this Calendar, gives a graphic description of the whole journey from Vincennes to Westminster, remarking that on this occasion "greater pomp and expense were made than had been done for two hundred years at the interment of any King of England." (fn. 4) His interment took place at Westminster on the 7th November. (fn. 5)
In the meantime the Duke of Bedford, who had accompanied the King's remains as far as Rouen, had sent a letter dated the 26th October from that place to the Mayor and citizens of London to the effect that in consequence of the King's death the government of the realm had devolved upon him as next to the crown after the reigning sovereign, (fn. 6) a child not yet a year old.
It is significant of the high position and influence of the City of London at this time, that the merchants and burgesses of Paris should have addressed a letter to the Mayor and citizens of London begging them to assist in obtaining from the English Government some protection for France against her enemies, whilst assuring them of the allegiance of Paris to Henry VI., whom they acknowledged as King both of France and England. (fn. 7) The letter bears no date, but was probably written in October or November, 1422.
Parliament met on the 9th November, (fn. 8) a special commission being issued authorizing the Duke of Gloucester (in the absence of Bedford on the Continent) to do what was necessary in connexion with the Session, subject to the authority of the King's Council. (fn. 9) By this Parliament the Duke of Bedford was constituted Protector of the realm as soon as he should return to England, whilst Gloucester was to occupy the same position during his elder brother's absence. Bedford was well aware of his brother's ambition to get the reins of government into his own hands, and in his letter to the citizens of London just referred to had adjured them not to favour anything that might be attempted in derogation of the law, ancient usage, and custom whereby he claimed the right of government, or that might be to his prejudice. At the same time he assured them that his request proceeded not from ambition nor desire of "worldly worship," but from a desire that the ancient laws and customs should be maintained. (fn. 10)
The policy of the two brothers was thenceforth to become divergent. Whilst Bedford strove to consolidate alliances abroad, his efforts were frustrated by his brother's unhappy marriage with Jacqueline of Hainault, and consequent alienation of Philip, Duke of Burgundy. This unfortunate lady was daughter and heiress of the Duke William of Holland, who had accompanied the Emperor to England in 1416, (fn. 11) and had been forced to take as her second husband John, Duke of Brabant, a man much older than herself. Not content with neglecting his wife, the husband was eager to dispose of her extensive territorial possessions, upon which the Duke of Burgundy cast a covetous eye. At length matters came to such a pass that in 1421 Jacqueline was glad to accept an asylum in England, offered to her by Henry V., and there she met, and eventually married, the Duke of Gloucester.
The union proved to be an unhappy one. In 1424 Gloucester and his wife crossed over to France for the purpose of taking possession of the latter's estates, which Burgundy refused to surrender. The expedition had no other effect than to alienate the sympathy of Bedford, and prolong the war. In the spring of the following year he returned to England, leaving his wife behind. Jacqueline had shown herself ready to accompany her husband, but was persuaded by her own people to remain behind, a course to which Gloucester readily gave his consent.
Bedford, in the meantime, was keeping in close touch with the citizens of London, informing them by letter, from time to time, of his doings on the Continent, and receiving in reply their congratulations on his success and assurances of the City's allegiance. (fn. 12) In February, 1424, two writs were issued in quick succession to the Sheriffs of London to make proclamation for all persons who were bound in the King's service, for securing the town of Crotoy in Picardy, to proceed without delay to the port of Winchelsea. (fn. 13) Early in March, after prolonged negotiations, the town surrendered to Bedford.
On the 23rd February, 1424, we have letters patent recorded in the Letter-Book appointing William Crowmere, the Mayor, William Sevenoke and William Walderne, two Aldermen who had passed the chair, and John Fray, the City's Recorder, to be Commissioners to investigate all cases of treason and felony occurring in the City and suburbs. (fn. 14) Although the commission was in general terms, its real object was to bring to trial a certain John Mortymer, described as a Knight of Bishops Hatfield, co. Herts. Little is known of this man except that he claimed relationship with the Earl of March, and on that account was, not improbably, regarded with suspicion by the House of Lancaster. He had recently been arrested on suspicion of treason, and committed to the custody of the Earl of Huntingdon, Constable of the Tower, whence he had made his escape, with the help of William Thyng, a servant of the Lieutenant of the Tower, on the very day that the commission issued. This much was found by a jury impanelled by the Commissioners, and duly reported to Parliament; (fn. 15) but this is not the whole story. Mortimer had already been committed to the Tower on suspicion of treason against the late King, and had made good his escape in April, 1422, accompanied by Thomas Payne, a clerk to Sir John Oldcastle. (fn. 16) He was, however, soon recaptured.
During his second imprisonment a special ordinance was passed by the Parliament which commenced to sit on the 20th October, 1423, constituting escape from prison a treasonable act like other treasonable acts formulated by statute (25 Edw. III., st. 5, cap. ii.). This ordinance was deliberately aimed at Mortimer, and was made to take effect retrospectively from the first day of the session, and to end on the day of the meeting of the next Parliament. (fn. 17) No sooner was the ordinance passed than William Kyng of Wymelton in Rydale, co. York, was induced by bribery to aid Mortimer in another dash for life, (fn. 18) or, as some say, was instructed by his superiors to incite him to make the attempt. (fn. 19) However this may be, the fact remains that a fresh attempt was made by Mortimer, who was immediately recaptured, and, on the same day (26 Feb.) that the Commissioners made their report to Parliament, was executed at Tyburn. (fn. 20)
In the following August (1424) the citizens had occasion to dispatch a letter to the Duke of Bedford congratulating him upon his "cronicable and victoriouse esploit" at Verneuil over a mixed force of French and Scots. There was severe loss on both sides, but the greatest loss fell to the Scots, of whom more than 1,700, in the quaint language of the chronicler, went that day to "schippe wessh" (sheep-wash), so that they were sorry they ever came there. (fn. 21)
No sooner had Gloucester returned home from his luckless expedition to Hainault than he fell out with his uncle, Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, who had been made Chancellor during his absence abroad, and who had taken upon himself to garrison the Tower of London. Thereupon Gloucester sent for John Coventre, the newly elected Mayor, on Oct. 29, and charged him to keep a careful watch in the City that night. No mention is made in the Letter-Book of this injunction, but it is recorded, together with subsequent proceedings, by William Gregory, sometime a City Alderman, and reputed writer of the Chronicle which bears his name. (fn. 22) The next day matters rose to such a pitch that eventually Bedford had to be summoned home to conciliate the nephew and uncle.
Peace being at length restored between the rival factions, Bedford again set out for France in March, 1427, accompanied by Beaufort, who had resigned the Great Seal. In the following July a writ was issued for a Parliament to meet on Oct. 13. (fn. 23) Liberal grants of money were made, among them being a new and complicated form of subsidy, which necessitated the assessment of every parish in the City of London that had at least ten inhabitant householders. The Letter-Book gives us particulars of this valuation which are of considerable interest. (fn. 24) In every parish where the church was assessed at the annual value of 20s. the parishioners were called upon to pay 2s., and so pro rata on an ascending scale. The most valuable "living" in the City at that time appears to have been that of St. Sepulchre, Newgate, the church being assessed at £65; the next being that of St. Bride, whose church was valued at £47 13s. 4d. Four churches were assessed at £40, whilst the others had valuations varying from 55 marks down to 5 marks. The Church of St. Augustine Papey, soon to be united to that of All Hallows on the Wall, (fn. 25) is not included in the list, as there were not ten inhabitants in the parish who were householders. (fn. 26)
For three years the condition of Jacqueline in her unequal contest with the Duke of Burgundy had been going from bad to worse, and much sympathy was felt for her in England. In 1427 her husband raised a sum of money for the purpose of rescuing her, but he could have had no real wish for her return, as he was openly living with Eleanor Cobham, one of Jacqueline's ladies-in-waiting. It was no great disappointment to him, therefore, when an energetic protest from Bedford put a stop to his proposed expedition.
Early in the following year (1428), his marriage with Jacqueline having been declared by Papal decree to have been invalid owing to her previous marriage, (fn. 27) Gloucester took steps to legalize his relation with his mistress. This so roused the indignation of the citizens that on the 8th March they in formal manner drew the attention of Parliament to the lamentable state to which the "lady Duchess of Gloucester" (as they called her in spite of the recent Papal Bull) had been brought by some of her enemies (per nonnullos inimicos suos). Moreover, with their naturally commercial proclivities, they prayed Parliament to take into consideration the favour that had always been shown to English merchants in the countries of Hainault, Holland, and Zealand, and to grant the lady some assistance, adding that they themselves were prepared to take their share in such a way as the Lords and Commons might direct. (fn. 28) A few months after the presentation of this petition-and possibly in consequence of it-letters patent were issued (1 July, 1428) confirming to merchants of Flanders, Holland, and Zealand the right of free commercial intercourse with England. (fn. 29)
Another, and less formal, petition was presented to the same Parliament by a number of London women, headed by a fishwife of the Stocks Market, in which Gloucester's personal character was vituperated for his heartless conduct and flagrant immorality. Like the former petition, it is not recorded in the Rolls of Parliament, nor, indeed, is it mentioned in the LetterBook, but it is to be found in a chronicle compiled by a monk of St. Albans, (fn. 30) into which Fraternity both the Duke and Jacqueline had been admitted as members in January, 1424.
On his return to France, Bedford pressed forward the war with some success, but was eventually compelled to seek reinforcements from home. In the summer of 1428 the Earl of Salisbury took out a small force, and on the 5th September wrote to the Mayor and Aldermen from "Yenville" (Janville), (fn. 31) informing them of the success that had attended his arms. Over forty towns and fortresses, (fn. 32) he writes, had been captured, "somme wonne be assault and somme other wyse," among them being the town from which he dates his letter, and which he declares to have been captured on the 19th August by "the most notable assault that ever we sawe."
By a postscript he also informs them that the town and castle of "Meun" on the "Eure" had been captured by Sir Richard Hankeford, and that that town was but five leagues from Orleans, which had been his objective since his return to France, (fn. 33) and before which he was destined shortly to meet his death. To this letter a suitable reply was sent on the 12th October.
The following year (1429) was one of extreme scarcity, and by order of the Common Council, William Rider, a fishmonger, was dispatched (among others) to France to purchase corn. He was the bearer of a letter from the Mayor and Aldermen to the Duke of Bedford, praying for his favour and assistance in the City's "grete necessite." (fn. 34) Rider executed his mission with so much success that on his return he was granted a discharge from serving on juries and other duties appertaining to citizenship. (fn. 35)
Beaufort, who had received in 1427 the long desired Cardinal's hat, (fn. 36) had, in the meantime, returned to England (1 Sept., 1428) with a Papal commission to raise men and money for a crusade against the Hussites. It was for this purpose that the Mayor of the City (Henry Bartone) caused proclamation to be made, on the King's behalf, for every one who was bound for the service of the Worshipful Father in God the Cardinal of England to betake himself to Barham Down, near Canterbury, where a force was mustering. (fn. 37) The defeat of the English at Patay, on the 18th June, 1429, however, necessitated sending reinforcements to Bedford without delay, so the Cardinal's forces were used for this purpose, and the crusade was postponed. (fn. 38)
In August of this year (1429) Bedford, as Regent of France, wrote a strong letter to "Charles de Valois," who claimed the crown of France as successor to his father Charles VI. (who had died within two months of the death of the English king Henry V.), remonstrating with him for having seized various towns in France which rightly belonged to his own sovereign King Henry VI.; and further, for deceiving superstitious people by availing himself of the services of a woman of bad character, in the guise of a man-meaning the Maid of Orleans-and of an apostate Friar of the Augustinian Order known as Friar Richard. He concludes his letter by solemnly calling upon Charles to put an end to bloodshed by a solid and reasonable peace or else to join him in open combat (par journees de bataille) as became a prince. (fn. 39)
The letter was dated from Montereau-faut-Yonne, the scene of the treacherous murder of John, Duke of Burgundy (father of Philip who was giving Bedford so much trouble), in 1419, when about to enter into personal negotiations with this same Charles de Valois, at that time known as the Dauphin of Vienne. Of this act of treachery and unchivalrous conduct the Duke unsparingly reminds the Prince.
Before another Parliament met (fn. 40) the Mayor and Aldermen took steps to remedy an abuse that had arisen in the City by its representatives in Parliament claiming a greater amount of cloth and fur trimming than they were entitled to by custom. On the 12th August, 1429, it was decreed by that body that in future no Alderman elected to Parliament should receive from the Chamber more than ten yards of cloth for his gown and cloak (armilausa) at 15s. a yard, nor more than 100s. for his fur if he had already served as Mayor; otherwise he was to receive no more than 5 marks for his fur. Commoners elected to represent the City in Parliament had to be content with five yards of cloth for their clothing and 33s. 4d. for fur. An Alderman, moreover, was to be allowed eight yards of cloth at 28 pence a yard for two attendants, and a Commoner four yards at the same price for one attendant if the Parliament was being held in or near London, and eight yards for two attendants if it was sitting in some more remote place. (fn. 41)
It was daily becoming more imperative that the young King should go to Paris to be crowned King of France, and to this end preparations were hurried forward for his coronation as King of England to take place first. Pursuant to a royal proclamation (bearing no date) calling upon all those who ought to do service at the coronation to repair to the Duke of Gloucester (who had been appointed Steward of England for the occasion) to make their claim, (fn. 42) the Mayor, Aldermen, Sheriffs, and other citizens appeared in the Painted Chamber at Westminster on the Feast of SS. Simon and Jude [28 Oct.], the day that the new Mayor, William Estfeld, was sworn into office.
The claim is recorded in the Letter-Book as having been made (according to custom) by the mouth of the Recorder, and is of considerable interest as being one of the earliest set out in the City's own records. (fn. 43) The Mayor, by virtue of his office and the liberties and customs of the City, claimed to serve the King in person, both at the coronation banquet in the Hall and after the banquet in the chamber for spices (camera ad species), (fn. 44) with wine in a cup of gold belonging to the King, which cup, together with an ewer, he claimed to be allowed to take away as his fee. There was a further claim for certain citizens, elected for the purpose, to be allowed to assist the Chief Butler, (fn. 45) and for the Aldermen, Sheriffs, and Recorder to sit during the banquet at the principal table on the left side of the Hall. The claims appear to have been allowed, for the cup which Estfeld received on this occasion (of which a pen-and-ink sketch is given in the margin of the Letter-Book) was bequeathed by him to his grandson in 1445. (fn. 46) The coronation took place on Sunday the Feast of St. Leonard (6 Nov.), 1429.
On the 12th December the Commons voted the King a fifteenth and a tenth, and on the 20th of the same month a like sum. Commissioners were appointed to levy the money in the City, and precepts issued to make the necessary assessments in the several Wards. (fn. 47) The King's Council, moreover, was authorized by Parliament to give security for loans to the extent of £50,000, and on this security the City advanced more than £6,000. (fn. 48)
In the spring of the following year the City was again laid under contribution, to the extent of 5,000 marks, towards defraying the expenses of the King's journey to Paris. The money was to be repaid out of the next fifteenth. (fn. 49) Henry set sail on the 23rd April, leaving his uncle the Duke of Gloucester as Warden at home, but it was not until December, (fn. 50) 1431, that he received the crown of France at the hands of Cardinal Beaufort.
The journey to Paris was difficult and tedious, the way having first to be cleared by Bedford's army. Within a few weeks of his landing in France he received news of the capture of Joan of Arc. In November he wrote from Rouen to his "trusty and well beloved the Mayor, Aldermen, and Commune" of the City of London, urging them to advance him 10,000 marks, a sum, they were told, which would be of greater service to him in his present necessity than perhaps double the amount at a less necessitous time. (fn. 51) The Letter-Book does not inform us whether the money was forthcoming or not.
Henry remained at Rouen, whither the Maid had been conveyed, in order to superintend her trial, which commenced in February, 1431. She was burnt in the public market-place of that city in May, and the King at length entered Paris on Sunday, the 2nd December. The Letter-Book gives us a graphic account of his reception in the French capital, (fn. 52) in greater detail than is to be found elsewhere. (fn. 53)
The Letter-Book gives us an equally interesting account of the young King's reception by the citizens of London on his return home in February, 1432. It is written in the form of a letter to a friend (not named) by John Carpenter, who facetiously latinizes his name as Johannes Faber sive Domifex, the City's Secretary or Town Clerk. (fn. 54) It is a fuller account than those given us by the compiler of Gregory's Chronicle, (fn. 55) and by Fabyan. (fn. 56) Carpenter, however, is guilty of a strange chronological error when he states that the King entered the City on Thursday, the 20th February, and that a deputation presented him with £1,000 on Saturday, the 22nd. The former date should have been given as Thursday, the 21st February (as recorded by Fabyan), and the latter as the 23rd. It was doubtless due to Carpenter's official position in the City that what purports to be a private communication between friends has here been placed on record. The French antiquary Jules Delpit, who transcribes this account of Henry's return as well as that of his reception in Paris from the Letter-Book, can only explain their existence in the Letter-Book by a desire on the part of John Carpenter to show how superior his own account of the King's return was to the French account of his reception in Paris (fn. 57)
After raising the sum of £1,000 as a free gift to Henry on his return home as mentioned, the citizens found themselves in sore straits to raise a further sum in order to give him a befitting welcome. The difficulty of raising money in the City at this period was increased by the number of citizens who took up their abode outside the City, and thereby avoided paying scot and bearing lot with their fellow-citizens. (fn. 58) The difficulty was overcome by John Bederenden, the City Chamberlain, offering to advance out of his own purse the money required. It need scarcely be said that he received ample security for reimbursement. (fn. 59)
Between the two narratives of the King's travels to and from France there is recorded (by a different hand from that which precedes and follows it) a French poem of forty-three lines entitled 'Complainte de Paris,' (fn. 60) in which that city is depicted as bemoaning its sad lot ever since Bedford had left it to go to England for the purpose of seeking aid to rescue it. The poem is set out from the Letter-Book by Delpit, who, with some hesitation, dates it March, 1431. It is probably of later date than this, for Bedford does not appear to have quitted France between 1427 and 1432-unless, indeed, the French chronicler Monstrelet be right in describing the Duke as being among those who accompanied Henry from England in April, 1430. (fn. 61) This, however, requires corroboration. The refrain of each stanza of the poem is to the effect that unless aid were sent (fn. 62) Henry would lose both Paris and the whole of France:-
This warning is re-echoed in letters from the Provost and Commune to Henry soon after he had left Paris to return home. They warn him that the neighbourhood was being threatened, and that unless he took steps to dismantle some of the nearest fortresses he ran the risk of losing France entirely. A copy of these letters was forwarded to the civic authorities, with an earnest prayer that they would again intercede with the King for the speedy dispatch of a force for the restoration of peace in his realm of France. (fn. 63)
The absence of Beaufort on the Continent had been seized by Gloucester as an opportunity for enhancing his own position at home at the expense of his uncle. This having come to the Cardinal's ears, he postponed the visit he was about to pay to the Pope, and hastened home in time for the Parliament which was to meet on the 12th May, 1432. He informed the civic authorities-his "entierly beloved frendis," as he frequently called them-of his intention, writing to them from Ghent on the 13th April, and telling them that he desired to know why he had been thus "strangely demeened" contrary to his deserts. (fn. 64) Accordingly, when Parliament met, Beaufort was in his place, and expressed surprise at a charge of disloyalty that, as he understood, had been levelled against him. He demanded that he should be confronted with his accuser This demand having been duly considered in the presence of the King and Gloucester, the Cardinal was formally assured that no such charge had ever been made, and that the King accounted him a loyal and faithful subject. Peace was thereupon restored-at least for awhile.
The year 1433 found the Government in great straits for money. Parliament met on the 8th July, and in the following October a statement of the national finances was laid before it by the Treasurer. Opportunity was taken by the Commons of Bedford's presence in England (whither he had come to answer for his conduct of the war in France) to get him to give, and his brother the Duke of Gloucester to renew, their acceptance of an article that had been drawn up with a view to the preservation of peace and the good government of the realm. Both Dukes appended their signatures to the article, (fn. 65) and others followed their example. In April of the next year (1434) the Mayor, Sheriffs, and Aldermen of the City were bound by oath to observe the same. (fn. 66)
In the meanwhile Parliament had voted a subsidy of a fifteenth and a tenth, but the sum of £4,000 was to be set aside out of the proceeds for the relief of poor towns, cities, &c. The amount of relief which fell to the City of London was £76 15s. 6¼d., and this was apportioned, at the discretion of the Bishop of London and the City's representatives in Parliament, among eighteen of the poorer Wards. The largest sum allotted to any Ward was £20, and this went to Cordwainer Street Ward, whilst Lime Street Ward had to content itself with an allotment of the odd farthing. (fn. 67)
It is difficult to understand the principle on which the allotment was made, for, according to a schedule of the sums contributed to subsidies, &c., by the various Wards in 1369 and 1375, (fn. 68) Cordwainer Street and Cheap Wards were called upon to contribute the largest sums, as being the wealthiest Wards at that time, whilst Lime Street Ward paid the smallest sum, being then, as in 1434, the poorest. Again, Aldgate, Aldersgate, and Bassishaw Wards, which appear in the earlier schedules as the next poorest Wards after Lime Street, are now allowed no relief; whilst Farringdon Ward Within, which appeared formerly as the next richest Ward after Cheap and Cordwainer Street, is now allowed a rebate of £4. (fn. 69)
Bedford had not been long in England before differences again arose between him and Gloucester. As soon as these were adjusted by the personal intervention of the King he again took leave of the Council, and on the 24th June (1434) set sail for France. There he found that matters had been going from bad to worse. He knew full well that Burgundy was about to desert the English cause, and the knowledge of this, and of his own failing strength, induced him to agree to a congress being held at Arras on the 13th July, 1435, for the purpose, if possible, of effecting a permanent peace. The commonalty of Paris had been informed by Burgundy himself of the proposed Congress, and of an invitation to be sent to King Henry for his agreement, and on the 14th May (1435) he again wrote to them to the effect that Henry had consented to send delegates. (fn. 70) English ambassadors were accordingly sent, but negotiations proved abortive, Henry refusing to surrender an inch of French territory. A few days later (14 Sept.) Bedford died at Rouen. His death left Burgundy free to make terms with Charles VII., and shortly afterwards he formally renounced the English alliance.
Meanwhile hostilities had been continued in France pending the negotiations. In June the Mayor and Aldermen of Calais had addressed a letter to their confrères of the City of London - as their predecessors had done before - praying them to use their services with the King and his Council to induce them to send relief to their town, which was being threatened by an Armagnac force. That party was already in possession of Rue, a small town on the banks of the Somme. They had raided the neighbourhood of Samer au Bois, had burnt Etaples, and were threatening to overrun Guisnes. The writers beg the City of London as "the principalle of all the citees of the roiaulme of England" to render them assistance such as it had done on former occasions. (fn. 71) The appeal was in vain, and Calais had to get out of her difficulties as best she could, without any immediate relief from England.
A year later (June, 1436) the town was again hard pressed, being closely besieged by a joint Flemish and Burgundian force under the leadership of the Duke himself. Great indignation had been shown in London against this "fals forsworn" Duke, and the houses of Flemish merchants had been attacked and pillaged. Henry, on his part, pursued a policy of conciliation towards the Flemings, and had issued injunctions against the molestation of any natives of Flanders residing in England who remained loyal to him, and had not been led astray "by the wiles of the so-called Duke of Burgundy and Count of Flanders." (fn. 72) The breach was now complete, and England was at war not only with France, but with Burgundy. In December (1435) Parliament had granted a whole subsidy (fn. 73) subject to a reduction of £4,000 as before, (fn. 74) and this had been supplemented by a graduated income tax (at that time an innovation, but soon to become only too familiar) on freehold lands and offices. In the following January eleven Commissioners were appointed by the King to levy the tax in the City. These comprised the Mayor, the Sheriffs, William Cheyne, John Fray, and Alexander Anne (men who had served high office in the City, either as Recorder or Common Serjeant), and others. (fn. 75) Jurors were sworn to make a return of the names of those liable to the tax in each Ward, and had to appear before the Commissioners to be examined. It was a veritable "inquisition" that the citizens had to submit to. (fn. 76)
Preparations were hurried forward to dispatch a force to France under the Duke of York and the Earls of Salisbury and Suffolk. This contingent was to be ready early in May (1436), (fn. 77) but many weeks elapsed before it could set sail. The City took its share in the furnishing of soldiers for Calais, as is recorded by William Gregory, recently elected an Alderman of the City, in his Chronicle. (fn. 78) Other reinforcements were to be sent out under the Duke of Gloucester and the Earl of Huntingdon for the relief of the town. (fn. 79) In order to superintend affairs, the King himself took up his residence at Canterbury. Notwithstanding all efforts, the force under the Earl of Salisbury was not able to set sail before the 27th July; but by that time Calais was out of danger, owing chiefly to the defection of Duke Philip's Flemish allies.
A curious incident is recorded in connexion with this siege. It appears that the Flemings engaged in the siege were in such a hurry to get home that they left behind them a "great quantyte of bere." (fn. 80) This love of the Fleming for his beer is illustrated by an entry in the Letter-Book. Being no doubt aware of this proclivity of his Flemish subjects in England, and wishing to keep on good terms with them, Henry issued a writ in June, 1436, for the purpose of protecting them in their brewing industry. A temperance party had sprung up in the country who objected to the brewing of beer as being an unwholesome drink and an intoxicant, (fn. 81) and in consequence of their action many brewers in England, including Hollanders and Zealanders, had to cease brewing, and many lost their only means of gaining a livelihood. Fearing that greater mischief might ensue from the misguided zeal of this intemperate party, if allowed to go on unchecked, the King ordered the Sheriffs of London publicly to proclaim that all brewers of beer within their bailiwick were to continue to brew in spite of all opposition; for beer, said he, so far from being a poisonous drink, as was alleged by its detractors, was a wholesome one, especially at that season of the year. (fn. 82)
Notwithstanding his failure before Calais, Burgundy could well console himself with having succeeded in driving the English out of Paris, which had been subject to English rule for sixteen years. This had taken place on the 13th April (1436), and for the space of nearly four centuries from that day no English force ever set foot in the French capital as conquerors. (fn. 83)
The war continued to drag slowly on, whilst at the same time negotiations continued for peace; but the Letter-Book records but little touching the relations existing between England and France in the years that remain of the reign of Henry VI.
In 1444 a truce was agreed upon to last for two years, and a marriage was arranged between Henry and Margaret of Anjou. The Princess came over to England early in the following year, and the marriage took place in April. It was, doubtless, in anticipation of the coronation of his Queen (fn. 84) in May, 1445, that Henry had dispatched a letter to the Mayor (Thomas Catworth) on the day of the election of a new Mayor (13 October, 1444), informing him that he had written to William Estfeld to ask him to undertake again the duties of the Mayoralty (although he was in no wise bound to do so, having already twice filled the office), and urging the Mayor to take steps to ensure his election. It will be remembered that Estfeld had been Mayor at the time of the King's own coronation, and he had then found such favour that Henry desired his assistance in the coming year.
After the celebration of Mass-a service which had always preceded the election of a Mayor since 1406 (fn. 85) -the King's letter was duly considered by the Mayor and Aldermen in connexion with the City's laws and usage. Ordinances being discovered forbidding any one to be elected Mayor who had twice filled the office, or been Mayor within the last seven years, they made a report to the Common Council to that effect. The result was that the Council decided to uphold the laws which they themselves had enacted rather than curry favour with the King; and although Estfeld was acknowledged to be a most suitable person to be in office at the Queen's arrival in England in the following year, Henry Frowyk was elected Mayor. (fn. 86)
In 1447 the King of France addressed a letter to his "dear and great friends" (presumably the citizens of London), notifying them that he was about to send ambassadors to his nephew (Henry VI.), among them being the Count de Dunois, the Sire de Precigny (Bertrand de Beauveau), Jean Havart, his serjeantcarver, and others, for the purpose of negotiating (if possible) a permanent settlement between the two countries, such as the writer himself greatly desired. He prayed his "dear friends" to assist in accomplishing an end so beneficial, not only to the two countries, but to Christianity at large. (fn. 87) This was not to be. The most that was accomplished was a further prolongation of the truce.
The year 1453 was an eventful one for England, for in that year Bordeaux and Bayonne - cette fière et guerrière sæur de Londres, as Delpit styles the latter city (fn. 88) -were recovered by the French, and the English possessions on the Continent reduced to the town of Calais and its vicinity. The "Hundred Years' War" was practically over. In that year, too, Queen Margaret at last bore the King a son; (fn. 89) but Henry by that time had become imbecile, and the birth of Prince Edward served only to hasten the conflict between the houses of Lancaster and York.
In 1457, there being no formal peace concluded between England and France, a French fleet suddenly appeared off the south coast and the town of Sandwich was pillaged. The citizens of London made a handsome offer to fit out and man the ships lying in the Thames and sent a letter to that effect to the King, who was then at Northampton, by the hand of Alderman Cook. The offer was graciously received, the City's letter and the King's reply being recorded in the Letter-Book; (fn. 90) but before the fleet was ready the Frenchmen had drawn off.
Almost the last entry in the Letter-Book is a letter addressed in 1460 to the Mayor, &c., of the City by the King at Northampton, who had recently issued commissions of array (the legality of which was questioned) assuring them that the City's liberties should not be prejudiced. (fn. 91) The King, however, was already losing the confidence and support of the citizens.
Turning to other matters, we find in this as well as the preceding Letter-Book occasional references to one or other of the General Councils-those gatherings of bishops and divines summoned from time to time by Emperor or Pope for the consideration of matters affecting the Church at large. After the death of Pope Gregory XI., in 1378, a double election to the Papal chair had taken place, one party choosing Urban VI. and another Clement VII., (fn. 92) and so the Church became divided into two rival parties known as Urbanists and Clementists. It was in order, if possible, to settle the disputes between the Popes that a series of Councils were held in the first half of the fifteenth century.
The first to be held was at Pisa in 1402, when the two Popes were known as Benedict XIII. and Gregory XII. This Council formally deposed both Popes, and by way of a compromise elected Peter de Candia in their stead, under the title of Alexander V., (fn. 93) but as the deposed Popes refused to accept their dismissal, confusion was only made worse confounded by there being three Popes in place of two.
At length, in 1414 (by which time Alexander V. had been succeeded by John XXIII.), another Council was held at Constance. This Council deposed all three Popes and elected Cardinal Otho Colonna, who, from his election having taken place on the Feast of St. Martin [11 Nov.], 1417, assumed the title of Pope Martin V., (fn. 94) and he came to be universally acknowledged as the true Pope. The credit of having thus put an end to the Great Schism is due chiefly to the influence of the Emperor Sigismund, but not a little to Henry V. of England; and it is remarkable that it was Richard Clifford, Bishop of London, who nominated the Cardinal for the Papal chair. (fn. 95) On the 8th December the Bishop wrote from Constance to the Mayor, Sheriffs, and Aldermen of the City giving them an account of the election, and also of the appointment of Walter Medford, Dean of Wells, to be Papal Collector in England, an appointment which had already been certified to the citizens by a letter from Pope Martin himself. (fn. 96) The Bishop's letter was acknowledged by the citizens on the 18th Jan., 1418, (fn. 97) and is recorded as having been received by him on the evening of the 18th February. This reply drew forth another letter (fn. 98) from the Bishop, in which he again dilates upon the blessings that would result from the Council of Constance, and eulogises the conduct of the Emperor Sigismund and the unselfishness displayed by Beaufort in going off on a pilgrimage. (fn. 99)
Other proceedings of the Council were less to its credit, and notably its action towards the Bohemian and English reformers, Huss and Wycliffe, and their so-called heresies. Huss had attended the Council under a safe-conduct from the Emperor Sigismund. Nevertheless he and a fellow-countryman were condemned to be burnt by order of the Council, and burnt they were, with the result that a civil war followed.
In 1431 another Council was opened at Basle, having been transferred in succession from Pavia and Sienna to that town. (fn. 100) By that time Martin V. had been followed in the Papal chair by Eugenius IV., who in course of time became discredited by the Council and was professedly deposed. An invitation was sent for delegates from Bohemia to attend the Synod under a safeconduct eundo, manendo et redeundo. A party of Hussites accordingly presented themselves before the Council, and having stoutly defended their religious opinions were allowed to depart, thanks to their safe-conduct, otherwise, in the words of the chronicler, "they hadde gon to the fyre as most men supposyd." (fn. 101)
In addition to the scanty references to the Council recorded in the Letter-Book, there is a full record of the proceedings at Basle in an ancient MS. preserved in the Guildhall Library. (fn. 102)
In 1438, whilst the Council of Basle was still existing, Eugenius summoned a Council of his own to sit in Italy, where he was still acknowledged as Pope. A Council accordingly met at Ferrara, but was soon compelled by pestilence to adjourn to Florence. It was attended by John Palæologus, "Emperor of the Romans," as well as by the Patriarch of Constantinople and other church dignitaries, and once more a strenuous effort was made to effect a reconciliation between the Eastern and Western churches. Eugenius himself was so satisfied with the result of the conference that he wrote a long letter to Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury, giving him an account of the proceedings. This letter is set out in the Letter-Book before us. (fn. 103)
A reconciliation (more nominal than real) was at length effected, for, as the City Alderman and chronicler puts it, "the Emperoure of Costantyne the Nobylle" (i.e., the Emperor of Constantinople), "and hys sone, whythe all the clergy of Gryke [Greece], obeyd him unto the Chyrche of Rome of certayne artyculys of the faithe." (fn. 104) The fact of this submission having been made was publicly proclaimed at Paul's Cross on the 28th August. This was a great diplomatic triumph for Eugenius, and a corresponding blow to the rival Council of Basle.
It was from Florence that Eugenius in 1442 issued an indulgence to the Mayor and Aldermen of the City for the time being and their wives to use a portable altar (altare portatile), (fn. 105) for secret celebration of Mass and other services, without bellringing and with bated breath, in places under interdict (unless they themselves happened to be under special interdict), and before daylight if need be. This indulgence is recorded as having been granted gratis by the Pope's order.
The Letter-Book supplies us (among other interesting matters) with a schedule of parish churches in the City, the Wards in which each was situated, and the yearly estimated value of each benefice. The schedule was drawn up by the King's orders in 1428 for the purpose of levying a tax upon householders in every parish containing at least ten inhabitant householders. The churches number 105, the parish of St. Augustine Papey being omitted as not having the necessary number of householders. The richest benefice was that of St. Sepulchre, returned as being of the yearly value of £65, the next being those of St. Laurence Jewry, St. Michael Cornhill, St. Vedast, and St. Magnus, each being of the value of £40. The rest vary in valuation from 55 marks (£36 13s. 4d.) down to 5 marks (£3 6s. 8d.). (fn. 106)
Another matter of interest in connexion with a City church recorded in the Letter-Book is the manner in which the election was to be made of a Bachelor or Doctor of Divinity for presentation to the Bishop as parson of the church of St. Peter, Cornhill-a church of which the advowson had been vested in the City by Richard Whityngton in 1411, (fn. 107) the living being valued in 1428 at £20 a year. The fact that residence in the church (sic) was insisted upon for the new rector seems to show that nonresidence was more or less prevalent even in those days. (fn. 108)
In 1452 the civic authorities had occasion (as frequently happened) to find fault with the curates of the City for demanding excessive fees or "oblations" for their services. (fn. 109) In the thirteenth century the amount of oblations to be paid by the citizens of London to their parish priests for their various duties had been determined by what was known as the "constitution" of Roger Niger, Bishop of London (A.D. 1229-1241). This "constitution" had been confirmed by Archbishop Arundel in 1397, and again by Pope Innocent VII. in 1404. Still the curates (we are told) were dissatisfied, as is their wont (quatenus in eis est), and an attempt was made to effect a compromise during the Mayoralty of John Norman (1453-4). This, however, proved abortive. The curates had already submitted their case to the Court of Rome, and the civic authorities had dispatched Roger Tonge, their Town Clerk, and Master John Aleyn as Counsel on behalf of the oppressed citizens. The instructions given to Counsel were for some reason not recorded in the Letter-Book, the space where they were to have been entered being left blank. (fn. 110)
The curates succeeded in obtaining from the Pope (Nicholas V., who had succeeded Eugenius in the Papal chair) an apostolic letter or Bull (fn. 111) in their favour, to the prejudice of the citizens at large. This coming to the ears of the civic authorities, a Common Council was called for the 12th March, 1454, when it was agreed that a visit should be paid to the Bishop of London to consult him on the matter. The meeting took place at St. Paul's the following day, when Thomas Billyng, the Recorder, acting as spokesman on behalf of the Mayor and Aldermen, laid the whole matter before the Bishop and asked to be furnished with a copy of the alleged apostolic letter. The Bishop apparently assented; but no such letter was forthcoming, in spite of every effort on the part of the City to get it. The story, as recorded in the Letter-Book, goes on to relate how a second meeting took place between the Bishop and the Mayor alone, when the former confessed that he had been asked many times for a copy of the Papal Bull, but he knew not (et non cognosco)... What it was he did not know we are not told, the record ending abruptly and the rest of the page (as in the case of instructions to Counsel just mentioned) being left blank. (fn. 112)
The last we hear of the matter in the Letter-Book is in a letter from the King (already referred to) addressed to the Mayor and Commonalty from Northampton in 1460, when some kind of settlement appears to have been arrived at. (fn. 113)
In 1430 the civic authorities had occasion to challenge the right of sanctuary claimed by the Dean and Canons of the church and precinct of St. Martin le Grand from time immemorial. In the month of September the Mayor received a writ to arrest certain Canons who had fled from the Augustinian monastery of Waltham and were wandering about to the discredit of their Order. They were found to have taken refuge within the precinct of St. Martin le Grand, under the impression that there they would be free from arrest. In this they were mistaken.
The question of privilege was referred to the decision of special Commissioners, to whom both parties submitted a long series of charters and records in support of their respective claims. (fn. 114) Judgment was given in favour of the City and against the claim of privilege, with the result (according to the City's record) that the fugitive Canons were surrendered by the civic authorities to their Abbot pursuant to the writ. (fn. 115)
Ten years later (almost to a day) this question of privilege again arose. Philip Malpas, one of the Sheriffs, had occasion, on the 1st September, 1440, to send his officer to fetch a soldier out of Newgate who was defendant in a case pending in the Sheriffs' Court. Having duly received his prisoner, the officer was conducting him through the streets when he was set upon by five men, (fn. 116) of notoriously bad character, who sallied forth from the precinct of St. Martin le Grand, rescued his prisoner, and carried him into sanctuary. (fn. 117) Both he and his fellows, however, were again taken into custody; and for this breach of privilege the Sheriffs were menaced by the Dean with penalties temporal and spiritual. They laid the matter, therefore, before the Common Council on the following day, and prayed the Court that if, after consultation with John Carpenter, the late Town Clerk, (fn. 118) it was found that they had done their duty in maintaining the liberties of the City, any costs that might in consequence arise should be defrayed by the City, for the "cause," they said, was "every Fremannys cause, and defendyng of the liberties of this famous Cite is the welfare of every man that is inhabitant theryn." It is scarcely necessary to add that their prayer was granted. (fn. 119)
Whilst these proceedings were taking place at the Guildhall, the Canons of St. Martin le Grand were preparing a letter to be sent to Richard Cawdray, their Dean, (fn. 120) giving their version of what had occurred. In its main facts it tallied with the account laid before the Common Council by the Sheriffs, but it dwelt upon the indignity that had been wantonly offered to the men and of their ill-usage, which, they had been informed, was likely to cause them "to be ded in all hast"! The letter is recorded in a MS. preserved in the Guildhall Library (No. 85), and known as 'Liber Fleetwood,' (fn. 121) from a City Recorder of that name, who presented it to the Corporation in 1576. (fn. 122)
The letter found the Dean at Cambridge, and immediately on its receipt he hurried to London. He first applied to the Sheriffs for restitution of the prisoners to sanctuary. Failing to get any satisfaction from them, he next applied to the Mayor and Aldermen, but they put off hearing him for five days. The delay was not to his liking, but he thought to make good use of the time by going to see the King at Windsor, in the hope that he might bring back "some letter or token by which he might have sped in his matter the better." (fn. 123)
That the Dean made the most of the case against the City in his interview with the King, and that the youthful Henry, with his morbidly sensitive and pious disposition, lent a willing ear to the story as related to him, is shown in the Letter-Book. On the 10th September a writ was issued from Windsor to the Mayor and Sheriffs peremptorily ordering them to restore the five prisoners to sanctuary. This was followed the next day by a long and severe letter (satis exasperatas), addressed to the Mayor, Aldermen, and Sheriffs, in which the King called attention to the complaints that had recently been made of numerous usurpations against privileged places of royal foundation, and told them that he was in duty bound by his coronation oath to suppress these attacks against God and his Church. The letter went on to say that it had lately come to his knowledge that the Sheriffs of London ten days before had taken five men from the church and sanctuary of St. Martin le Grand, where they had sought refuge, and had carried them fettered through the public streets to one of the Compters, whence they had been removed to Newgate, chained by the neck in pairs, and naked except for their linen coverings. He marvelled at such conduct on the part of the Sheriffs, who ought to have known better than to take the law into their own hands, and gave orders for the immediate restoration of the prisoners to sanctuary. (fn. 124)
This letter with the writ, we are told, was delivered to the Mayor, Sheriffs, and Aldermen by Lord Huntingdon in the Tower of London, the bearer being specially commissioned to let the King know how it was received. (fn. 125) The civic authorities declined to open the missives whilst in the Tower, it being at privileged place, but retired to Barking Church as being within their own jurisdiction. (fn. 126)
The rest of the story, as recorded in the Letter-Book, (fn. 127) is to the effect that, after perusing the letter and writ and appreciating the seriousness of the matter, they decided that the Mayor and eight of the Aldermen should proceed with all speed to Waltham in order to give a personal explanation to the King, and that on their arrival they were informed by the Bishop of Salisbury and others, on the King's behalf, that the matter would be tried at Common Law; that the prisoners remained where they were until brought before the Chancellor by virtue of a writ of corpus cum causa; and that, as no prosecutors appeared, the men were remitted to sanctuary, and so the matter ended.
A very different account is given in the Cartulary. From that we learn that a deputation proceeded to "Copped Halle," near Waltham, (fn. 128) in order to explain their conduct to the King, but "the King was so displeased that he wolde not suffer the said Maire Shirifs and Aldermen ne none of their Counsail to come in his presence." They were afforded an opportunity, however, of laying their case before the Bishop of Salisbury and others appointed to hear them, and having done so they ended by assuring the Bishop that they would gladly deliver up the prisoners if the King should so order. (fn. 129) Their statements having been reported to the King they received a reply to the effect that, as they had not thought proper to obey his letter and writ in the first instance, he should refer the matter to the "Lordes of his blode and greate counsaile" at their next meeting, and "as þei had done so should þei have." With this answer the citizens, we are told, departed "right hevyly." (fn. 130)
In due course the matter was heard before the Chancellor, the Treasurer, Sir Ralph Botiller, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was added "for þe ryght of þe chirch," (fn. 131) both parties supporting their claim by evidence in writing. (fn. 132) All the evidence having been put in, it was submitted to Sir John Hody, Chief Justice of the King's Bench, and Sir Richard Newton, Chief Justice of Common Pleas, sitting in the "sterred chamber," to consider and report thereon. (fn. 133) These Justices having declared their opinion in favour of the Dean of St. Martin's, the King directed his Chancellor and Treasurer to decree the restoration of the prisoners to sanctuary, and to see that the Sheriffs were duly punished for their disobedience. (fn. 134)
It is difficult to reconcile these two accounts of the issue of the matter. It is certain, however, that the civic authorities came off second best in their encounter with the ecclesiastical, backed up by the Crown, for from a record of the proceedings on the Patent Roll (fn. 135) we learn that the prisoners were surrendered, in the presence of the Sheriffs, the Recorder, and the City's Council, to the King's Serjeant-at-arms, who delivered them to the Dean on the eve of All Saints (A.D. 1440).
In 1455, when the country was disturbed by the conflict between the houses of Lancaster and York, trouble again arose between the civic authorities and the Dean and Chapter of St. Martin le Grand. Once more it became necessary to arrest certain rioters within the precincts of the sanctuary. The Dean, as usual, preferred his complaint of breach of privilege to the King, and the City was again put on its defence. The King, having heard that the rioters were to be executed, hastily sent a letter to the Mayor, Aldermen, and Sheriffs, ordering them to restore the prisoners to sanctuary; but after hearing the City Recorder on the matter he changed his mind, and on the 27th September dispatched a second letter, under his "signet of the Egle" from Hertford (where he was living on account of his health), informing them that, as the matter was to be fully considered by his Council, the delinquents should be kept in custody to await the result. At the same time he promised that due regard would be paid to the City's rights and privileges. (fn. 136) As to the final outcome, we are left in the dark. What we do know, however, is that the frequent abuse of the sanctuary afforded by the precinct of St. Martin le Grand and the consequent disquietude thereby occasioned in the City led to articles being drawn up by the King's Council in 1457 for its better government. These articles are recorded in the Letter-Book. (fn. 137) Thenceforth a register was to be kept of the names of those seeking sanctuary and of the reasons for their so doing; no weapons were to be carried except a pointless knife for use at meals; notorious criminals were to find surety for their good behaviour whilst in sanctuary and for a quarter of a year after leaving; goods brought into the sanctuary and proved to be stolen were to be restored to their rightful owners; "sotile pikers of lokkes," forgers, makers of counterfeit jewellery, and immoral characters were not to be allowed within the gates; and games of chance, the "quek," (fn. 138) "kayelles," (fn. 139) and "cloissh," (fn. 140) and other unlawful and "reprovable games," were not to be "used, supported, nor cherisshed" within the sanctuary.
The Letter-Book adds to our previous knowledge as to the various methods of obtaining the City franchise. We have seen how, customarily, there were three ways of acquiring the freedom of the City, viz.: (1) by birth or "patrimony"; (2) by apprenticeship or "servitude"; and (3) by purchase or "redemption." (fn. 141) There was yet another way, however, of obtaining the franchise, and that was by direct petition to the Mayor himself, who during his year of office was at one period allowed to make six men free of the City. This last method is described in the Letter-Book before us as being par prier or je vous pries, (fn. 142) and does not appear to have been habitually practised. Indeed, some Mayors appear to have disapproved of it. William Staundone, for instance, declined in 1408 to exercise his prerogative, and thereupon it was ordained that both he and any succeeding Mayor who followed his example should receive from the Chamberlain two casks of wine for surrender of their privilege. (fn. 143) In 1434 this prerogative was abolished by order of the Common Council, and four casks of wine were granted to successive Mayors in lieu thereof. (fn. 144)
Two years after Staundone's act of renunciation, when the Parliament of 1410 was sitting, Thomas Chaucer, son of the poet, being at the time the King's Butler and taker of his wines (captor vinorum), had occasion to complain of the loss sustained by the King on his "prisage" of wines by foreigners outside the City evading payment by becoming freemen, either through the Mayor or by redemption on payment of a nominal sum. (fn. 145) The result of Chaucer's proceedings in Parliament was an ordinance that all persons enfranchised par prier or by redemption should thenceforth pay the "prises" and customs due to the King for their wines as though they had not been enfranchised. (fn. 146)
Not only the King but the citizens themselves suffered from "foreigners as well strangers as denizens," gaining easy admission to the freedom of the City, either by petition to the Mayor for the time being, or by redemption through one of the Guilds with the particular craft of which they were as often as not wholly unconnected. At a time when the Guilds controlled the trade or craft they nominally represented such a procedure was contrary to the custom of the City, and on that account certain foreigners who had thus become freemen had been disfranchised in 1385. (fn. 147) Nevertheless, the practice continued in spite of all prohibition until the citizens, finding themselves in 1433 overburdened with taxation, at last prayed the Mayor and Aldermen for relief, for (said they) it was "better to amend late than never." (fn. 148)
It was thereupon decreed that those who had thus fraudulently obtained the freedom should be disfranchised, and that thenceforth no one should be admitted to the freedom by redemption in any Fellowship, without a guarantee that such admission was not prejudicial to another Fellowship. (fn. 149) To this must be ascribed, in some measure at least, the large number of "translations" from one Guild to another (or "changing of copie," as Stow calls it (fn. 150) ) recorded in the Letter-Book. On the other hand, the great incongruity that oftentimes existed between the mistery or craft governed by the Fraternity which a citizen was leaving and that to which he was being translated may probably be explained by his having become a member of his original Fraternity by patrimony, his father having exercised its particular craft, whereas the son, having to strike out a new line for his livelihood, followed another craft. (fn. 151) In such a case there would have been no idea of fraud.
In course of time freedom by redemption came into such disrepute that, in 1430, we find the Mayor directing the Aldermen to see that those elected in their Wardmotes to the Common Council were freemen by birth or apprenticeship, and not by redemption; and similar precepts were issued in 1434, (fn. 152) but these appear to be exceptional cases.
Even the system of admission to the franchise by apprenticeship had its weak points. So many youths abandoned the country in order to bind themselves apprentice in the City of London and other towns that agricultural labour could with difficulty be obtained, and the countryside or "upland" became impoverished. By way of a remedy a statute was passed in 1407 (Stat. 9 Hen. IV., cap. xvii.) forbidding any one to put his son or daughter as an apprentice unless he himself was possessed of at least 20s. a year in land or rent. The statute proved a failure, and in 1429 it was repealed (Stat. 8 Henry VI., cap. xi.) on petition of the citizens of London, who did not like their ancient customs interfered with. (fn. 153)
On the other hand, apprenticeship without restriction had its drawback. Thus, in 1435, we find a petition to the Mayor and Aldermen from certain girdlers praying that an ordinance restricting the number of apprentices to be taken by members of the craft which had been formerly made (but not enrolled), and to which no penalty had been attached for non-observance, might be enrolled and enforced by a penalty. They desired this for the reason that the number of apprentices had become so excessive that they took the bread out of the mouths of freemen of the craft, so that the latter had to return to agricultural pursuits for lack of work. (fn. 154)
Again, in 1456, the Wardens of the Mistery of Founders had occasion to complain to the Mayor and Aldermen that members of the Fraternity were in the habit of taking three or four apprentices when they were unable either to teach or support so many. Thereupon an ordinance was passed forbidding the employment of more than two apprentices at a time, the same being first approved as to their physique (fn. 155) by the Wardens, but allowing another one to be taken two years before the expiration of the term of either of the two standing apprentices, in order that he might have time to be taught his business. (fn. 156)
Aliens, moreover, were in the habit of acquiring the franchise by apprenticeship in the Fraternities no less than by redemption, to the prejudice of the native apprentices, who found themselves ousted by the foreigner from their occupation, and driven to get a livelihood as best they could. (fn. 157) Restrictions were accordingly placed on this practice, and it became dangerous to take foreigners as apprentices even under a misapprehension that they were natives. (fn. 158)
The large number of aliens that was always to be found, not only in the City of London, but throughout the country, was eventually seized upon by Parliament as an opportunity for raising money, and a tax was, for the first time, imposed upon them in 1439. (fn. 159) This tax proved such a success that it was renewed, and in 1453 was made permanent for the King's lifetime. (fn. 160) Every year a return had to be made of the names of all foreigners resident in the City, both householders and nonhouseholders, for the purpose of levying sixteenpence a head on the former and sixpence a head on the latter. (fn. 161)
The presence of aliens in the City had always been a source of danger. This was so well understood that whoever harboured them was bound to bring them before the Mayor within twenty-four hours of their arrival in order that they might give account of themselves. (fn. 162) In 1456 and again in 1457 there was a "hurling" against foreigners in the City, and more especially against Lombards, who were characterized as extortionate in their dealings and addicted to gross immorality. (fn. 163)
The rising of 1456 is only incidentally mentioned in the Letter-Book, (fn. 164) although it was serious enough (according to one chronicler) to cause the King and Queen to leave London for the country (fn. 165); but the Letter-Book affords us an excellent insight into the workings of the conspiracy of 1457 in the evidence that was taken before the Mayor and Aldermen when investigating the matter. This evidence is recorded at considerable length, and is of so interesting a character that it has been fully set out in the Calendar. (fn. 166) From this it appears that the head-quarters of the conspirators lay in the Tower Royal, where lessons were given in sword-play, but for greater security they had other quarters in the northern suburb of Hoxton. By the time that the civic authorities began to investigate the matter, the chief conspirators had made good their escape; of the rest a comparatively few were committed to prison.
It is scarcely necessary to remind the reader that there was one way by which a serf or bondman (nativus) could obtain free condition, if not, indeed, civic rights. (fn. 167) This was by escaping from his master into the City of London or other walled town, and there residing for a year and a day without being reclaimed. (fn. 168) In June, 1428, the Sheriffs of London received a writ to arrest two men, if found in their bailiwick, on the ground that they were villeins and fugitives claimed by their masters. The return made to the writ was to the effect that the men who were to be arrested had been living undisturbed in the City for forty years, and had always been reputed of honest conversation and of free condition; the Sheriffs were unable, therefore, to execute the writ without prejudice to the City's rights and customs. (fn. 169) The matter was not allowed to drop, for in the following January the Mayor and Aldermen received a writ of certiorari touching the custom, the return to which is set out at considerable length in the Letter-Book. (fn. 170)
There was one (apparent) drawback to the full enjoyment of the City franchise, namely, that one citizen could not bring an action against another citizen at common law, outside the City, in a matter which could be decided in the City's Courts, without special permission from the Mayor. This restriction dates as far back as the time of Henry III., (fn. 171) and every one on his admission to the franchise was bound by oath to respect it. (fn. 172) Licences to prosecute at common law outside the City, generally for some special reason, are frequently to be found recorded in the Letter-Books, but the number of cases in which such action was taken, without permission first obtained, increased to such a degree that in 1454 the Common Council decreed that any prosecutor who refused to withdraw his suit at the bidding of the Mayor should not only lose his franchise but pay the defendant his costs and damages as well as incur a fine to the Chamber for his contempt. (fn. 173)
The reign of Henry VI. was more remarkable for the advancement of the trade and craft Guilds or Fraternities than even that of Edward III. Those of them that were not already in enjoyment of charters of incorporation, like the Grocers, (fn. 174) the Fishmongers, (fn. 175) the Drapers, (fn. 176) and the Haberdashers, (fn. 177) obtained charters for the first time, whilst others like the Mercers (fn. 178) and the Tailors (fn. 179) had their existing charters of incorporation confirmed and amplified. (fn. 180)
To such an extent, moreover, had the power of the Masters and Wardens over the various trades increased, not only in the City of London, but throughout the country, that the matter came before Parliament in 1437, the "commons" of Guilds corporate complaining to the King of unreasonable ordinances being made by the Masters and Wardens for private gain and not for the public weal. It was thereupon enacted that the Masters and Wardens of all such corporate bodies should bring in their charters and letters patent by a certain day and cause them to be recorded before the Justices of the Peace or Governors of the cities, boroughs, or towns in which such Guilds existed, and that all ordinances should be approved and enrolled before such Justices before being put into force. (fn. 181) The statute did not affect the London Guilds so much as those in the provinces, for ordinances made by the Masters and Wardens of the former had from the earliest times to be submitted for approval to the civic authorities before being enforced. (fn. 182)
There were occasions, indeed, when the Masters and Wardens of a Guild were only too ready to invoke the assistance of the Court of Aldermen, and notably when the yeomen, or servants, of a Guild got out of hand and sought to establish a Guild of their own. Such a case (we have seen) arose in 1415 when the "yomen taillours" became insubordinate to the Masters of the Guild, as recorded in the previous Letter-Book; (fn. 183) and a similar case is recorded at considerable length in the Letter-Book before us, under date 1441, in connexion with the Bakers of the City. (fn. 184) Not only did the Wardens of the craft complain of their servants having a brotherhood, a revelling hall, and "clothyng" or livery, but also of their demand for higher wages and less hours of work, as well as of their combination to thwart their masters on every possible occasion.
The servants replied in detail to the charges brought against them, more especially as to the charge of seeking higher wages. These they declared to be the same as of old as regarded the "Fourner," who had the care of the oven; the "Whitehew," who cut up the white dough; and the "Sowreour," who added the sour yeast or leaven. As to their hours of work, they were specially aggrieved by an ordinance made by their masters to the effect that if any servant went home any night to his wife he should pay his master the next day the sum of ten pence "with oute eny redempcion."
After hearing and considering the statements put forth by both parties the Mayor and Aldermen gave judgment in much the same terms as they had done in 1415. They pronounced against the formation of private and unlawful fraternities under colour of piety or other fiction, and decreed that servant bakers should be subject to their masters and to the Wardens of the Mistery, and should have no clothing or livery.
Again, in 1444, journeymen weavers claimed the right of electing the Wardens of the Mistery, and sought to have their claim upheld by the Mayor and Aldermen against masters of the craft, being householders, who for the last six years had, as they alleged, overridden their claim. It is scarcely a matter for surprise that judgment went against them. (fn. 185)
These and similar attempts made from time to time by the servants or journeymen of a trade or craft to break away from authority, and to combine together for their own ends, regardless of the welfare of the community at large, find a parallel in the action of trade unions at the present day.
In 1435 a curious conflict arose between the City and the Crown on the appointment of a sub-coroner. Throughout the Letter-Books we frequently meet with writs to the Mayor and Sheriffs to admit deputies to execute the duties of Coroner in the City on behalf of the King's Butler who was ex officio Coroner, but unable to carry out the duties of his office owing to pressure of other business. The civic authorities do not appear on such occasions to have ever hesitated to admit into office such nominees of the Coroner for the time being until 1435. In that year, however, they refused to admit John Forthey as deputy to Ralph Botiller, the City's Coroner, and the reasons they gave for such refusal are somewhat remarkable. (fn. 186)
In the first place, they say that before the year 1275, when the statute (3 Edw. I. cap. x.) specifying the class of men to be elected Coroners in the shires was enacted, the citizens of London had elected their own Coroner by authority of King and Parliament, and that the duties of the Coroner had always been executed in the name of the Chamberlain of London. The latter part of this statement is distinctly false, for (as already pointed out) it was not the Chamberlain "of London" or "of the Guildhall" who executed the office of Coroner in the City, but the King's Chamberlain. (fn. 187)
Secondly, they say that by virtue of the statute of 1275 the election of a Coroner is lawfully made in the City or County of London, and appertains to the Mayor and citizens of the same. If this were true, it is strange that hitherto not a single election of a Coroner is recorded in the Letter-Books; stranger still, that the citizens should have been content in 1478 to release King Edward IV. from a debt of £7,000 (a large sum in those days) for the privilege of electing their own Coroner, so soon as that office, then vested in Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, the Queen's brother (and the King's Chief Butler), should become vacant. (fn. 188)
Why the Mayor and Sheriffs should have gone out of their way to oppose Henry VI. on this occasion it is difficult to say. Possibly the attitude taken up by the Barons of the Exchequer towards Robert Otteley, the Mayor, when he went before them to be sworn into office in the previous month of October, may have had something to do with it. A statute had recently been enacted to the effect that in every City and borough there should be kept a common sealed bushel according with the standard in the Exchequer, and also a common balance; and further, that the Mayor of London for the time being, at his first coming to the Exchequer to be sworn into office, should be charged in his oath, like other Mayors and Bailiffs, to execute the said statute. On the 22nd October the King had issued his writ to the Barons of the Exchequer, bidding them see that the provisions of the statute were duly carried out. When therefore the new Mayor presented himself before them, a week later, to be sworn into office, he was required to take a special oath that he would observe the statute, besides the customary oath dating back to the time of Edward III. Thereupon John Symond, the Recorder, explained on the Mayor's behalf why he hesitated to take the additional oath. He had already taken an oath in the City that he would preserve the City's liberties and customs, and among these there was one which vested in the Mayor and Aldermen the supervision of all victuals coming into the City. (fn. 189) This had received confirmation from the present King, who had also guaranteed the City's ancient liberties, and on that account the Mayor did not think he ought to be compelled to take the additional oath, but he was prepared to do as the Court might direct. Thereupon the Court ordered him to take both oaths, or show cause in writing why he should not do so. Otteley took the usual oath, and a day was named for him to show cause why he should not take the special oath. When that day arrived he pleaded that by the oath he had already taken he was bound to observe the statute in question as well as all other statutes passed by Parliament, but as regards the keeping of a common bushel in the City sealed and corresponding to the standard bushel in the Exchequer, he submitted that such a course was not necessary, inasmuch as standard weights and measures, duly sealed and marked, had been preserved in the City from time immemorial. (fn. 190)
These pleadings were rebutted at considerable length by John Vampage, on the King's behalf; and a sur-rebutter put in by the Mayor; but the ultimate issue in this, as in many other cases, is not recorded in the Letter-Book. We find recorded, however, a little further on, a memorandum of various statutes from the time of King John down to the reign of Edward III., purporting to show that the standard weights and measures of London took precedence of the standard weights and measures of the Exchequer. (fn. 191) This memorandum may have been drawn up and placed on record with a view to any renewal of the question of taking the additional oath arising when Otteley's successors in the Mayoralty chair should come before the Barons of the Exchequer to be sworn, as, indeed, it did arise in the following October (1435), when Henry Frowyk came to be sworn, (fn. 192) but as to the ultimate issue the Letter-Book is again silent.
The Letter-Book contains interesting matter in relation to various tolls claimed by the City. We have already seen how the right of the Sheriffs to demand payment of the custom of scavage from Italian merchants had been questioned in 1396; how for twelve years these merchants had succeeded in evading payment, and how on the strength of this certain Genoese merchants petitioned the Mayor and Aldermen that thenceforth Italian merchants might be discharged from such payment as a matter of justice. (fn. 193) After due consideration, and consultation of the City's records, the Mayor and Aldermen on that occasion gave judgment against the petitioners.
In or about the year 1433 (the precise date is uncertain) the City's right to scavage was again questioned, and the matter was referred for consideration to Justices Cheyne, Babyngton, and Juyn, who were to report their finding to the Lords of the Council. The City's case is set out in the Letter-Book, (fn. 194) and it embraces an indenture recently executed whereby certain Genoese merchants undertook to pay scavage in future on their merchandise brought to the City. We are left in the dark as to the nature of the report made on this occasion to the Lords of the Council. It is clear, however, that difficulties continued to arise between the City and Genoa, for in 1440 the matter was referred to the Chief Justices of both Benches and the chief Baron of the Exchequer, (fn. 195) but again the result is not recorded.
At length, in October, 1454, a compromise was effected by an agreement that merchants of Genoa should thenceforth pay a fixed yearly sum of £28 in discharge of scavage dues on merchandise coming to the City from the port of Southampton, and in the following February the Mayor and Sheriffs are recorded as giving an acquittance for a moiety of that sum on that account. (fn. 196)
There was another toll which freemen bakers of the City frequently tried to evade. As far back as the year 1281 the King had ordered that corn sent to millers to be ground and the flour produced therefrom should correspond in weight. (fn. 197) It was necessary, therefore, that the civic authorities should provide weights and balances as well as places where corn and flour could be weighed. In order to defray the cost of supplying these wants, it was decreed that bakers should pay to the Mayor for the time being one halfpenny for weighing a quarter of corn and one farthing for a half-quarter, the custom or duty so paid for weighing being known as "pesage."
Henry Waleys was Mayor at the time of the issue of the King's writ in 1281, and he is recorded as being the first Mayor who "had the grain weighed when going to the mill, and after that the flour," and as having introduced the hurdle as a punishment "for drawing the bakers thereon." (fn. 198) Whether the hurdle was intended for those bakers who objected to pay "pesage" or those who were guilty of fraudulence in their trade we are not told. We know, however, that the exaction of the toll pressed so heavily upon the bakers that they took the opportunity of the Justices holding their historical Iter at the Tower in 1321 to present a petition to the King for relief. Thereupon the Justices were commanded to investigate the alleged grievance and to do what was right in the matter. Their proceedings, which are set out at some length in the City's 'Liber Custumarum' (i. 326-33, 379-81), proved indecisive, and the matter was adjourned for consideration by the King and his Council. That the result was not in favour of the bakers may be gathered from the fact that the ordinance of 1281 was confirmed by letters patent of Edward III. in 1327. The toll continued to cause considerable friction between the bakers of the City and the civic authorities, insomuch that an attempt appears to have been made in the fifteenth century to compound it for an annual payment to the Mayor of 50 marks, but this proved a failure. (fn. 199) In 1453 matters were brought to a climax by proceedings at law being taken by Geoffrey Feldyng, the Mayor, against eleven recalcitrant bakers, when the civic authorities again won the day. (fn. 200)
The same year, 1453, witnessed a fresh arrangement between the Corporation and the Prior and Convent of St. Bartholomew in West Smithfield touching tolls levied at St. Bartholomew Fair. In 1377 the Prior of St. Bartholomew's had been summoned to the Guildhall to show by what authority he took toll on the City's soil at Smithfield during the three days in the month of August (fn. 201) on which was held St. Bartholomew Fair. He had then produced as his authority for so doing a charter of Henry I., but as this charter made no mention of the toll then in dispute, viz., pickage, (fn. 202) the Common Serjeant was instructed to levy the toll and account for the same to the Chamber. As to other customs levied on merchants trading at the Fair, it had then been agreed between the Corporation and the Prior that they should be jointly collected by the Common Serjeant and the Prior's Bailiff, and a return made of the amount received. (fn. 203)
This arrangement appears to have worked satisfactorily until 1453, when a fresh agreement was entered into between the Corporation and the Prior. (fn. 204) This was to the effect that both "pickage" and "stallage" (a toll paid for erecting booths) levied outside the precincts of the Priory should belong to the City, whilst the same tolls levied within the precincts should belong to the Prior and Convent. The oversight of weights and measures both within and without the precinct was to be exercised by the Mayor and Commonalty; but the Prior was to be allowed to join the Mayor in his yearly visit for the purpose within the precinct. The Prior was to hold his Court of piepowder (fn. 205) by his Steward or other person learned in law in conjunction with the City's Common Serjeant, one of the under Sheriffs, or some other person learned in law, appointed by the Mayor and Aldermen, and all fines and amercements issuing from the Court were to be for the use of the Prior for the time being and his successors.
The reign of Henry VI. is remarkable for many benefactions bestowed on the citizens of London by wealthy and munificent Aldermen, as testified by the Letter-Book. Among these Richard Whityngton stands preeminent. Not only the edifice of the Guildhall itself, but also the Library attached to it, were largely helped by contributions from his estate at the hands of his executors, who doubtless had been made aware of the testator's wishes, although not committed to writing, so far as can be ascertained. One of his executors was John Carpenter, the City's Town Clerk, and so great was the confidence placed in him and his co-executors that the whole charge of the Guildhall Library was committed to them. (fn. 206) The Letter-Book records a petition to the Mayor and Aldermen in 1444 by John Clipstone, the Keeper of the Library, praying for some assurance of the continuation of his "lyflode," which assurance was readily granted. (fn. 207)
Actuated by the same motives, the executors of Whityngton devoted part of his estate to the rebuilding of Newgate, (fn. 208) and we have the ordinances made in 1431 for regulating the new prison. (fn. 209) The condition of those confined in the gaols and Sheriffs' Compters in those days was indeed pitiable. A recognized system of publicly soliciting alms on their behalf had grown up, and gave rise to much abuse. It became necessary to limit the number of those who solicited to two couples, each couple being assigned a certain portion of the City wherein to beg, and each having a box and saucer marked in such a way as to identify the prison on behalf of which they were engaged.
The accommodation provided for prisoners in Newgate varied according as they happened to be enfranchised or strangers to the civic freedom. Thus freemen and "other honest persons" lived in rooms provided with chimneys (fn. 210) and privies on the north side of the prison, whilst free and honest women enjoyed similar accommodation on the south side; strangers, i.e., persons not free of the City, occupied less convenient chambers, whilst felons and other criminals of the worst kind were relegated to cells in the basement, where they were closely guarded and allowed no intercourse with other prisoners.
As the new prison was a sufficient stronghold of itself, the use of irons for prisoners was to be restricted to those confined for grave offences; but even in these cases the keeper of the prison might remove them, he receiving for so doing a reasonable fee known as suette de prisone.
Another great benefaction to the City was the conveyance of water from Paddington at the expense of William Estfeld, another wealthy and patriotic Alderman. He like Whityngton was also a member of the Mercers' Guild. Early in 1440 the Abbot of Westminster had granted to the citizens the right to erect a fountain head and appurtenances in a certain close called "Oxlese" in the Abbey's manor of Paddington, and thence to conduct water through pipes to the City under any ground belonging to the Abbey except within the manor of Hide. (fn. 211) The civic authorities appear to have contented themselves with conveying water, by virtue of this grant, from Paddington down to Tyburn and no further; and it was not until 1453 that the executors of William Estfeld (he having died in 1446 or early in 1447) undertook, with the proceeds of his estate, to continue the conduit so as to join a pipe already in process of being laid at the great conduit head at Marylebone, (fn. 212) whereby water was carried thence as far as Charing Cross. In order to continue the conduit from Charing Cross into the City, as the executors proposed to do, they had first to ask permission of the civic authorities. This was readily granted by an indenture dated 27 Oct., 1453, and recorded in the Letter-Book. (fn. 213) This document was doubtless seen by Stow, who gives an abstract of it in his 'Survey,' and adds that the water "was by them [i.e., Estfeld's executors] brought thus into Fleetstreet to a standard, which they had made and finished, 1471." (fn. 214)
Yet another benefaction was the erection at Leadenhall of a granary for the storage of corn against times of scarcity, which so frequently occurred in the City, especially during the war with France. This, too, was the work of an Alderman, namely, Simon Eyre. The Letter-Book records a grant made in 1444 by the widow of John Carpenter (fn. 215) of a right of way through her hostel and garden (fn. 216) to the granary, a concession for public benefit which was acknowledged by the civic authorities granting her a lease of another garden in the immediate neighbourhood. (fn. 217) It also records a grant made in March, 1445 by the Rector and churchwardens of St. Dunstan in the East to the City of their tenement called the "Horsemill" in Gracechurch Street, with a view to enlarging the granary about to be erected, if not already in course of erection, by that noble and powerful (nobilis et potens) Alderman, Simon Eyre, (fn. 218) who was soon to be elected to the Mayoralty chair. In December, 1442, two of the City's masons and "viewers" had found it necessary to ask the Court of Aldermen to discharge them from serving on juries and inquests owing to the great work they were about to undertake at the Leadenhall for the public welfare. (fn. 219)