Chamber Accounts of the Sixteenth Century. Originally published by London Record Society for the Corporation of London, London, 1984.
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The Chamber in the sixteenth century
The chamberlain was elected or re-elected annually by the commonalty on the day of election of the sheriffs but from 1491 the commonalty's choice was limited to one of two persons nominated by the mayor and aldermen. (fn. 77) In the hierarchy of city office he ranked second only to the recorder and of the fourteen chamberlains in office between 1484 and 1603 all but one was a member of one of the twelve great livery companies. (fn. 78) His responsibilities were more wide ranging than those of any other officer. As well as his functions concerning the enrolment of apprentices and the admission of freemen and his jurisdiction in respect of apprentices, he was charged by the terms of his recognizance with the oversight of the lands and tenements belonging to the commonalty and responsibility for their maintenance, with the rendering of a true account before the auditors of all the revenues which he received and the payment of all arrears found due upon his account, and with the safe keeping and return of the goods and monies of orphans and others which were entrusted to the city. (fn. 79) In consequence of the first of these charges the chamberlain was not only closely concerned with leases and rents (fn. 80) but was ultimately accountable for the work of the city artificers and workmen and for the city's store of materials. (fn. 81) In the discharge of this latter responsibility he was greatly aided by the comptroller of the chamber (fn. 82) who acted in some measure both as a deputy to and a check upon the chamberlain and who was sometimes styled the underchamber lain. The breadth of the chamberlain's concerns made him to all intents and purposes the chief executive officer of the city and the repertories of the court of aldermen are studded with executive as well as purely financial orders directed to him.
On 17 March 1490 William Purchas, mercer, who had been chamberlain since 1484, and three fellow mercers as sureties were bound in one recognizance in the very considerable sum of £1,000. (fn. 83) In the hundred years which followed, some periodic disquiet about the workings of the chamber is evident, and there are sporadic, if not always specific, hints of irregularities. At the turn of the century, during the chamberlainship of William Milbourne, painter, an investigation into 'Considerations of the decay of the Bridge and Chamber of London and of the yearly profits that of the same should come' resulted in January 1501 in detailed recommendations, the majority of which were intended to remove delay in reparations and to effect more stringent control over artificers, workmen and materials, but which also provided that the mayor and aldermen should assign yearly 'an auditor such as is expert and learned in the feat of audit after the form of the exchequer' to attend upon the elected auditors, that the chamberlain and bridgemasters should present their sureties before the mayor and aldermen within fourteen days of the annual election day, and that each year they should bring their books of account allowed before the auditors and all monies remaining in their hands to the first court of aldermen to be held after Christmas. (fn. 84) The appointment during the next two decades of committees to oversee abuses in the office of chamberlain or to see the books of the chamber, and an order for the holding of a weekly meeting of certain aldermen and the town clerk with the chamberlain on matters concerning the chamber, suggest that these recommendations, if implemented, did not succeed in making all well. (fn. 85) Complaints were brought against John Barnard, mercer, chamberlain 1517–25, (fn. 86) in the course of several disputes concerning money or leases, (fn. 87) although the commonalty nevertheless saw fit to elect him as one of the sheriffs in 1525. (fn. 88)
Matters seem to have improved for a time thereafter. In 1534 Barnard's successor, John Husee, vintner, chamberlain 1525–32, was remitted £50 of the £400 which he owed to the city following the final examination of his accounts. (fn. 89) Although the chamberlain's accounts were audited annually, the balance due from or to him was carried forward to his next account, and it was only on going out of office that there was a final reckoning. In 1547 George Medley, mercer, chamberlain 1532–33, 1534–48, (fn. 90) was exempted from serving the office of sheriff for seven years in recompense of the exceptional burden of his financial responsibilities during the past few years in connection with the new conduits, the provision of corn for the city, the setting forth of soldiers and other extraordinary business. (fn. 91)
When Thomas Hayes, goldsmith, who had been underchamberlain to Medley, was elected to succeed him in 1548 (fn. 92) he became bound in the sum of £300 and his five sureties, all goldsmiths, in £50 each, (fn. 93) a considerably smaller security than had been required in 1491. The financial responsibility of the sureties was a real one. Hayes died in office and a year later, in November 1551, his sureties were given the option of paying £40 each at once or the full sum of their bond by instalments, but it was subsequently agreed that if each contributed £30 immediately towards the payment of the arrears of Hayes' account their recognizances should be discharged. (fn. 94) Hayes' successor, John Sturgeon, haberdasher, chamberlain 1550–1563, (fn. 95) and his four sureties were bound in similar sums to Hayes and his sureties but it was ordered that future chamberlains should be bound in the sum of £200 and find six sureties to be bound in £100 each. (fn. 96)
It was during Sturgeon's tenure of office, on 2 May 1559, that the court of aldermen took back into its own hands the control of the leasing of the city lands which had for a long time been exercised by the chamberlain. (fn. 97) Sturgeon resigned in 1563 and in the following year the court of aldermen agreed in view of his long and diligent service to remit the whole of the £291.14s.7d. due upon his last account except for the sum of one hundred marks which was promptly paid. (fn. 98) The position was very different when George Heton, merchant taylor, chamberlain 1563–77, went out of office. Heton was first elected on 1 August 1563 and despite the requirement laid down in 1551 order was now given that the chamberlain and his sureties should henceforth be bound in the sum of £1,000, (fn. 99) the same sum as in 1491. On 18 January 1565 Heton was required to surrender the office of profit which he enjoyed as one of the alnagers or searchers of woollen cloths but for this reason, and because the chamberlainship was not as profitable as formerly, he was awarded certain fees to his own use. (fn. 100) On 13 December 1577 he was dismissed from office by the common council pro diversis magnis rebus dictam Civitatem et negotia eiusdem tangentibus. (fn. 101) He was heavily in debt to the city and it seems to others also; within a few days of his dismissal he asked that his other creditors might be summoned to the lord mayor's house and persuaded not to press for repayment until he should have settled his account as chamberlain. (fn. 102) If they agreed they were destined for a long wait. On 19 October 1580 common council ordered that Heton's sureties should be pressed to pay the £900 for which they were bound and that Heton's own bond should be taken for repayment of the remainder of the debt, 'and he to pay the same as god shall send him able'. (fn. 103) It has already been observed that the sum of £1,463 still due from Heton was the largest item in the list of outstanding debts owed to the city in 1585. (fn. 104) Committee after committee was appointed to audit Heton's accounts, many of them at his request, but for some unexplained reason no settlement was arrived at and the last reference to the matter is the appointment on 26 April 1598 of yet another committee to examine and close his accounts. (fn. 105)
A congregation held on the day of Heton's dismissal, 13 December 1577, elected in his place John Mabbe, goldsmith, who had been an active common councilman since 1573, (fn. 106) and in the following July Mabbe delivered ten bonds of himself and his sureties, each in £100, into the custody of the town clerk. (fn. 107) He died in office and on 4 June 1583 it was ordered that his account should be audited at a time convenient to his widow and executors. (fn. 108)
Robert Brandon, goldsmith, whose two accounts for 1584–85 and 1585–86, are calendared in this volume, was elected in Mabbe's place on 8 January 1583. (fn. 109) Brandon became free of the Goldsmiths' Company by redemption on 3 February 1548 and was admitted to the livery on 5 May 1561. (fn. 110) From c.1558 to 1580 he was one of the queen's two royal goldsmiths, (fn. 111) and in 1582–83 he served as prime warden of his company. The most famous of his many apprentices was Nicholas Hilliard, the miniature painter, who married Alice, one of Brandon's daughters by his first marriage, at St. Vedast, Foster Lane, on 15 July 1576. (fn. 112)
Concern with the workings of the chamber was particularly evident during Brandon's chamberlainship. In part this related to the administration of the city lands where there was undoubtedly lack of adequate control and supervision and possibly malfeasance. On 29 May 1584 a special court of aldermen was ordered to be held to investigate abuses of the workmen and labourers belonging to the chamber. (fn. 113) On 15 January 1589 provision was made that the commoners among the auditors of the chamberlain's account, attended by certain officers including the city carpenter, should meet at least four times a year to view the tenements belonging to the chamber and certify the necessary repairs 'to the end the tenants may be charged for the repairing and amending of the same or other order therein taken', and also to oversee the use of the stores of timber and other materials. (fn. 114) On 2 July 1590 the court of aldermen instructed the city's counsel to devise 'some good course' for the leasing of the city's and bridge house lands. (fn. 115) This disquiet was undoubtedly a major contributory cause in the establishment of the city lands committee in 1592. (fn. 116)
Towards the end of Brandon's chamberlainship there was anxiety about many aspects of the chamberlain's accounts and the city finances. In 1590 an ineffectual attempt was made to advance the date of audit from May or June to two weeks before Christmas. (fn. 117) At the audit of the account for 1588–89 held on 3 June 1590 the auditors noted several special matters deserving of consideration. (fn. 118) These included a special examination of the allowance of liveries to officers and the increase in fees; the abolition of certain specified payments; (fn. 119) a demand that the auditors and two other common councilmen, Thomas Wilford and Humphrey Huntley, (fn. 120) should 'look more pertinently' not only at the account for 1588–89 which was under audit but also at both the account for the previous year, 1587–88, which had not yet been signed by the auditors, and Brandon's current account up to the last day of May 1590; and a further demand that the same men should specially consider the state of the orphan fund and 'how the chamber might best be brought out of debt'. At the court of aldermen held on 18 June 1590 to which this report of the auditors was submitted, a further provision was made that every Saturday a waste book showing how much orphanage money had been received and paid out should be shown to the lord mayor. (fn. 121)
Further than this the city records maintain a discreet silence. No specific charges against Brandon were formulated but rumours must have been widespread. In his will of 8 May 1591, drawn up only three weeks before his death, he protested his rectitude:
'I certify and make known to my said executors and overseer, and to all others to whom the same may appertain, and desire them to take knowledge for a certain truth, whatsoever rumours may be blazed abroad to the contrary that touching my state accounts and reckonings appertaining to mine office of chamberlainship of the city of London I stand clear without any just cause of accusation and so I am well assured I shall do unto the end'.
Brandon named two of his Guildhall colleagues in his will. Robert Smith, at this date deputy comptroller and city solicitor, was appointed executor along with Brandon's youngest daughter, Lucy, who was still a minor at the time of her father's death, and John Benson, goldsmith, presumably the same John Benson who is described in the accounts as clerk to the chamberlain and who kept the orphanage accounts, was left a bequest of £10. Among the trusts imposed by his will upon the Goldsmiths' Company was the provision of an annual service at St Vedast, Foster Lane, Brandon's parish church, which was to be attended by the chamberlain and comptroller for the time being who would receive 6s.8d. and 3s.4d. respectively in consideration of their attendance. (fn. 122)
Brandon died on 30 May 1591. (fn. 123) Despite his assertion of financial probity, the court of aldermen saw fit on 1 June 1591 to order his successor, elected that day, to bring in within fourteen days ten bonds totalling £2,000, (fn. 124) double the amount in which Brandon and his sureties had been bound, and on 8 June to order certain aldermen together with Robert Smith to take an inventory of the writings, plate, money and other contents of the chamber at Brandon's death and to deliver them to his successor. (fn. 125) The inventory was in the form of a tripartite indenture, one part remaining with the new chamberlain, one with Brandon's executors and the third among the city records. A copy was entered in the repertory. (fn. 126) Days were appointed for the audit of Brandon's accounts in September 1591 and again in May 1593. (fn. 127)
Brandon's successor was Thomas Wilford, merchant taylor, chamberlain 1591–1603, who seems not to have been the common councilman of the same name mentioned above although both were merchant taylors. (fn. 128) Anxiety about finances, particularly the state of the city's debt, was unabated during his tenure of office. In 1595 he was requested to inform the court of aldermen each month in writing of his receipts and payments. (fn. 129) A committee was appointed on 13 December 1597 to view the accounts and state of both the chamber and the bridge house. (fn. 130) On 29 September 1598 it was ordered that the auditors should close the chamberlain's account for 1596–97, that the chamberlain's clerk should prepare as quickly as possible an abstract of the account for the year just ended for perusal by the auditors, and that any transactions not relating to this last account should be recorded separately 'so as they may be the more easily seen and understood'. (fn. 131) The auditors were also instructed to consider how the income of the chamber could be increased and its expenditure diminished but no outcome of their deliberations is recorded. Additional auditors were appointed in October 1598 and in July 1599 Wilford was instructed to find seven new sureties, each to be bound in £100, in place of seven of his existing sureties. (fn. 132) On 29 September 1599 auditors were named to examine the accounts and the state of the chamber for 1597–99 and 'to understand what and how much is owing by this city, what in right is due to be paid to the same, what sums remain where and in whose hands the same is'. (fn. 133) The financial troubles of the city in the sixteenth century, compounded of inadequate control in the administration of the city lands, accounting procedures which were intended to elicit the personal responsibility of the accountant rather than the true financial state of the corporate body, the failure to distinguish between revenue and capital accounts, the failure to relate costs of maintenance or costs of collecting income to any particular revenue item, dependence upon the unsatisfactory expedient of raising money for extraordinary expenditure for special purposes upon ad hoc assessments upon the livery companies or the wards, and above all the growing debt to the city orphans, all of which can be discerned in the sixteenth-century accounts, laid the foundations of the more serious problems which it was to experience in the seventeenth century.