Calendar of the Plea and Memoranda Rolls of the City of London: Volume 1, 1323-1364. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1926.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
The nature and purpose of the Rolls
The series of documents preserved among the archives of the City of London at the Guildhall under the name Pleas and Memoranda comprises 102 rolls, roughly covering the period between 1323 and 1485. That the occasional gaps of a year or more were due not to interruption of recording, but to subsequent loss, is evidenced by references to rolls of which no trace can now be found. They appear to have been initiated as a register of official inward and outward correspondence, but already by 1326 they began to be used for the enrolment of other matters. It is probable that a separate series of rolls was laid down about this time dealing exclusively with correspondence, two examples of which, for the years 1350-70, were published by the Corporation in 1885 (fn. 1). Certainly from 1334 onwards few letters were recorded among the Pleas and Memoranda.
To a certain extent the early rolls contain material similar to that noted in the older series of Letter Books—writs and returns, political occurrences, proceedings of assemblies, ordinances of crafts, assessments and appointments of civic officers—and there is some overlapping. But for the most part, the compilers set down memoranda which find no place in the Letter Books, or relate events in such a way as to supplement the books. As time goes on, a clearer demarcation is visible. The Letter Books confine themselves mainly to the executive and administrative activities of the City authorities, while the Rolls become almost entirely legal in character.
It has already been pointed out that in the early years of the 14th century, the outlines of the several City courts were becoming more distinct (fn. 2). The ancient Court of Husting, meeting on Monday and Tuesday, entertained actions by writ relating to land and services. The Sheriffs' Court dealt with personal actions, debt, trespass, covenant and the like, according to common law, law-merchant and City custom. The Mayor's Court, known also as the Court of Mayor and Aldermen, had a similar but wider jurisdiction than the Sheriffs' Court, and owing to the elasticity of its procedure and other advantages was destined to outstrip its older competitor. As all three were courts of record, whose proceedings were preserved in continuous rolls, the necessity of a further series of plea rolls needs some explanation.
There is reason to believe that the original rolls, both of the Mayor's and Sheriffs' Courts, were regarded as the private property of these officers, valuable as evidence in case their impartiality was afterwards called in question. They were responsible for producing the rolls when a session of the Itinerant Justices was held at the Tower, and in case of death, this duty devolved upon their heirs and executors, or the tenants of their lands (fn. 3). Though a record of actions was preserved in the Guildhall in the form of files of original bills of complaint, the latter documents contained no pleadings, but only brief notes of judgments. In order that the lawofficers of the Corporation might have precedents to guide them, the compilers of the Pleas and Memoranda appear to have taken excerpts of pleadings, before the original rolls passed out of their custody.
Another class of entries owes its existence to a certain opportunism in the conduct of business. The Mayor and Aldermen had many functions. They were judges of the Husting and the Mayor's Court, administrators—and to some extent legislators in their own Court of Aldermen, and they formed an integral part of every assembly of the Commonalty. Though these courts were distinct, the Mayor and Aldermen seem to have held themselves competent to deal at any time with matters as they arose. In the Husting Court they will, on occasion, associate with themselves members of the public there present, who were in some cases sent by the Wards as suitors, and will then, as Mayor, Aldermen and Commonalty, produce ordinances designed to satisfy litigants and to prevent future disputes (fn. 4). In the Mayor's Court they settle an action, as a general rule, by judgment, but frequently also by an equitable award or an ordinance. At other times when the Mayor, Aldermen and Commonalty are assembled for matters affecting the City as a whole, they proceed unexpectedly to legal business, commit incorrigibles to Newgate, take mainprise for good behaviour, condemn illegal nets, and order the arrest of certain men of bad character, addicted to playing knuckle-bones at night and responsible for leading apprentices astray (fn. 5). Probably on all such occasions, when legal business was taken in an administrative assembly, the actual judgments were given only by the Mayor and Aldermen, with or without the Sheriffs. If these events occurred on a Monday or Tuesday, they would be regarded as having acted in their capacity as judges of the Husting—if on any other day, as judges of the Mayor's Court.
This alternation between legal and other activities was especially frequent in the meetings of the Court of Aldermen; so frequent indeed, that it is sometimes difficult to draw the line between this court and the Mayor's Court. It was customary in the 16th century to speak of the former as the Court of Mayor and Aldermen in the inner Chamber of the Guildhall, and of the latter as the Court of Mayor and Aldermen in the "utter" or outer Chamber. But in the 14th century, though there is mention both of the outer and inner chambers, no distinction is yet drawn (fn. 6). An attempt to discriminate between the legal and administrative functions can perhaps be seen in the enrolments, one set of entries being described as "Pleas held before the Mayor and Aldermen," another under the heading "A Congregation of the Mayor and Aldermen (fn. 7)." Nevertheless, the Mayor and Aldermen would, as often as not, hear pleas in their congregations. At some twenty meetings so described before 1364 they occupied themselves only with administrative matters; on five occasions they took pleas as well; on twentytwo the proceedings were entirely legal. We may imagine that the enrolment of such divers matters proved difficult to the clerks, and that the Plea and Memoranda Rolls would be considered a proper repository for actions pleaded, as it were, out of season.
The strongest justification, however, for the existence of our rolls is suggested by an examination of the pleas themselves. Apart from precedents and certain personal actions, which in ordinary circumstances would be entered on the Mayor's Court Rolls, the great majority of the pleas arose from public prosecutions, or entailed a fine to the King in addition to damages to the plaintiffs. They concern offences against the community, and, though this is not at first apparent, the offences are statutory. At first sight, it is merely a matter of disobedience to ancient City ordinances, which were framed out of the experience of Mayors and Aldermen charged with the government and good order of a highly developed City. But though these ordinances were of native growth, there were few offences in the City against public order or commercial morality which were not forbidden, sooner or later, in the abundant legislation of the first three Edwards. Forestalling, avowry, enhancing of prices, the use of counterfeit metals, false measures, "decepcio," confederacies, disorderly houses, harbouring men of ill-fame, threats, assaults, maintenance and many other interferences with the rights and safety of others, which were already punishable by common and municipal law, were successively advanced, either directly or by construction, to the dignity of statutory offences (fn. 8). The City officers prosecute on behalf of the King and the Commonalty (fn. 9). Fines are paid to the Sheriffs as the King's officers. The Mayor and Aldermen regard themselves as his justices. It was natural that these activities, differing from the ordinary work of determining personal actions, should be recorded in a special series of rolls.
This is equally true of the many entries of pleas held before the Mayor, Sheriffs and Aldermen, or before the Mayor and Sheriffs. If this is a separate court, it is one on which the City custumals are silent. Since the pleas are heard on any day of the week, it is obviously not the Court of Husting, and the presence of the Sheriffs would distinguish it from the Mayor's Court. We may possibly regard these "Pleas" as extraordinary sessions of the latter court, to which the Sheriffs were co-opted to deal with matters contained in writs addressed to the Mayor and themselves. But in view of the fact that the larger number of the pleas arise from public prosecutions and concern the keeping of the peace and the enforcement of statutes, the truer explanation seems to be that we have here, and in the pleas before the Mayor and Aldermen mentioned above, the beginnings of a new court—sittings which were later to be known as the Quarter Sessions of the Peace. A brief examination of the measures taken for preserving the King's peace in London will show that the gradual entrusting of judicial powers to the Conservators of the Peace, which took place in the country at large between 1332 and 1363, had been carried out in London half a century earlier. It is not unlikely that an experiment attended with some measure of success so near the Palace of Westminster may have had its influence in the development of the Justices of the Peace.
Preservation of the Peace in London
Dr Holdsworth has pointed out that the Commission of the Peace, following on the establishment of the courts of common law and the courts held by the Itinerant Justices, marked the final victory of royal justice over the old local courts, communal, feudal or franchise, by absorbing almost entirely the last remnants of their jurisdiction over small offences (fn. 10). So far as procedure goes, this is true of London. Indictments and trial by jury for violent trespass, in place of appeals and compurgation, became the rule early in the reign of Edward I (fn. 11). But the Crown won its victory in London, not by superseding the local officials, but by giving to them greater powers than they already possessed. At no time was London subjected to the authority of the keepers of the peace for Middlesex. It was treated both as a franchise city and as a county in itself, and its leading men were employed as justices not only for their own city but on many occasions for the neighbouring counties also.
Origin of the Commission of the Peace
The origin of the Commission of the Peace is usually traced back to the proclamation made in 1195 by Hubert Walter the Justiciar (fn. 12). Knights nominated for the purpose were to take from all aged fifteen years and upwards an oath that they would aid in the preservation of the peace. They swore neither to engage in evil-doing, nor to be receivers of evil-doers, but to assist to the utmost of their power in the arrest of outlaws and robbers, who were to be handed over to the Sheriffs until they were delivered by the King or his chief justice. This order definitely reserved serious offences as pleas of the Crown; it was not construed in the City as applying to common assaults or vulgar brawls, where little hurt was inflicted. A collection of London laws compiled about 1216 contains the following: "If a man makes complaint to the Sheriff of battery or affray, if there is blood or a wound, then the Sheriff ought to come and put the malefactor in pledge for the blood, and the Alderman shall say whether the King ought to have the plea or the Sheriff (fn. 13)." The Alderman seems to correspond here to the knights of the ordinance of 1195. A further distinction is evidenced at the session of the Itinerant Justices in 1244, when only cases of manslaughter and maiming were heard (fn. 14). Less serious crimes, which ranked as pleas of the Crown, were left to the Justices of Gaol Delivery, as is proved by a complaint brought by a certain Richard de Totenesse to the effect that the Sheriff had caused him to be arrested and imprisoned in Newgate, until the King's justices sent to deliver that gaol liberated him as a clerk of the Archdeacon of London. The Sheriff pleaded that the complainant and his wife were harbourers of thieves, and had forcibly resisted entry into their house (fn. 15).
In the three grades of offences above-mentioned, dealt with respectively by the Itinerant Justices, the Justices of Gaol Delivery, and the Sheriffs, it will be noticed that the Sheriffs were charged with the duty of arrest, while in two at least of the categories, a preliminary hearing seems to have been held by the Aldermen. The association of men of position with the Sheriffs to preserve the peace was developed during the ascendancy of Simon de Montfort in the appointment of custodes pacis. On 4 June 1264 writs were issued, mentioning that the dissensions in the realm were now composed and appointing a single custos in each county, responsible for the apprehension of malefactors and disturbers of the peace (fn. 16). We must probably ascribe to this year a writ of 21 July directed to the Mayor and Citizens of London, commanding that the King's peace be strictly observed as well within the City as without, and that persons contravening the Provisions of Oxford should be arrested by the bailiffs and kept in safe custody till further orders—though the compiler of the Liber de Antiquis Legibus places the writ among the entries of the previous year (fn. 17). The date is not of great importance, for already in November 1262, when the London mob broke into the Jews' quarter and looted their houses, the Mayor and Aldermen are found holding sworn inquests in the customary manner of the later custodes pacis (fn. 18). Juries of twelve men were empanelled from each Ward at the Guildhall, followed by inquests by the Aldermen in their Wards. Those indicted or accused were apprehended by the Sheriffs and imprisoned in Newgate and Cripplegate, mainprise being allowed in the case of citizens. Nor is there anything in the account to show that the procedure was a novelty.
Conservation of the Peace, 1265-1270
The first sign that the City authorities were ready to act not only as guardians but as justices of the peace is seen in 1265, "about the time of the dissension" between Simon de Montfort and the Earl of Gloucester. It was enacted among the Londoners, we are told, and confirmed by the oath of every person of twelve years and upwards, that the King's peace should be strictly observed within the City and without, and that if any person should contravene the same and be convicted thereof, he should immediately undergo capital punishment, notwithstanding any franchise which he might possess. The order was proclaimed within a radius of twenty-five miles, and about 25 June the same year a number of persons, who had followed the army of the younger Simon de Montfort to London, and who had been convicted of robberies at Stepney and Hackney, were hanged (fn. 19). This severity was clearly exceptional, and the death penalty for breaches of the peace was not imposed again by the Mayor and Aldermen until 1340.
In the Letter Books and the Plea and Memoranda Rolls are to be found many proclamations for the preservation of the peace, frequently re-issued, and approved from time to time by the King's council. Their antiquity is vouched by a passage in the Liber de Antiquis Legibus relating to civic disturbances in 1267 (fn. 20). In past times, it is said, precept had often been given in the Guildhall, on behalf of the King, under pain of life and limb, and proclamation had been made throughout the City against conventicles and covins, whereby the peace of the King and the City might be disturbed. No persons, it was also enjoined, should take revenge for battery or other injury inflicted upon them, but should make complaint to the bailiffs (fn. 21), who were to do such persons full justice. The doing of "full justice" may be supposed to signify a properly-conducted trial of an action for damages. The reference to "life and limb," on the other hand, implies more serious proceedings before other judges than the bailiffs. The same year an affray broke out between the goldsmiths and the tailors, in which the parmenters and tawyers joined. "The bailiffs and discreet men," after some hesitation, arrested more than thirty of the rioters and committed them to Newgate to take their trial before the Justice of Gaol Delivery, who condemned to death thirteen of them—a sentence which the citizens considered neither legal nor just (fn. 22).
In the above illustrations, it will be noticed that the Mayor, Aldermen and discreet men (discreti viri) co-operated with the Sheriffs or bailiffs in coping with disorder. As a rule, the Mayor alone, together with the Sheriffs, is mentioned in writs for the preservation of the peace. He is, as it were, the permanent custos pacis. To the Mayor and Sheriffs was addressed a writ of 1 Nov. 1270 (fn. 23) ordering watch and ward and the view of arms in the City, that no suspicious person likely to engage in conspiracies should be allowed to enter, and that all those persons, who had been banished from the City, Southwark, Westminster and Middlesex on suspicion, should be arrested and imprisoned until further orders. With this may be compared a writ of 12 July 1277, to the Sheriffs of several counties, containing a similar order as to arms and the arrest of evil-doers, for which purpose a custos pacis was to be elected in full county court (fn. 24). In the case of Essex, the writ was followed by presentments of housebreakers and other offenders by juries of the several hundreds (fn. 25), even as in London some fifteen years previously inquests and presentments had been made by the Wards.
Early sessions of the Peace
The earliest continuous proceedings by the City authorities recorded in this connection begin Saturday, 6 Sept. 1281 (fn. 26), and reveal the unexpected fact that they not only held inquests as to disturbers of the peace and arrested them, but also tried and apparently punished them. On that day and on 21 Sept. and 18 Nov. some seventy persons, who had been arrested for divers trespasses committed against the peace and statutes of the City, as for robberies, homicides, assaults, beatings, and for being vagrants by night with swords and bucklers, were arraigned before the Mayor, Sheriffs, Aldermen and other lieges of the King. They put themselves on the verdict of four jurors from each Ward. Some were found not guilty and discharged. Others were found guilty of such offences as being quarrelsome (luctatores), nightwalkers, bullies (bellatores) for hire, frequenting taverns after curfew, keeping disorderly houses, assaults, asportation of goods and theft. The less serious offenders were mainprised and the rest committed to prison "until &c." That the juries men tioned were not juries of presentment, but petty juries, is implied in the heading of the last session on 5 Dec., which is described as a "delivery" of prisoners taken for divers trespasses against the peace. Possibly those who could not find mainprise would have their cases again considered by the Justices of Gaol Delivery at Newgate. Those who were mainprised appear rather to have been bound over for their good behaviour than to stand another trial (fn. 27).
Writs and Commissions
Meanwhile, in the midst of these proceedings, on 28 Nov., a writ was received directly entrusting to the Mayor and Sheriffs a punitive power (fn. 28). This document is notable not only as a commission of the peace, conferring far wider powers than those issued in the counties, but also because of its curious collocation of offenders. The King, it runs, understands that bakers, brewers and millers are lax in their trades and that malefactors with swords, bucklers and other arms, either at the instigation of others or of their own malice, run about the City by night beating and ill-treating citizens and committing other manifold wickednesses and enormities, to the great loss and hardship of his lieges. Wishing to provide a suitable remedy and to inculcate in these and others a fear of so offending, the King in his council has provided that the Mayor and Sheriffs shall punish such bakers, brewers and malefactors by corporal punishments and other penalties according to their discretion (fn. 29)... and all the above orders and others relating to the peace, the Mayor and Sheriffs shall cause to be inviolably observed. This writ was reissued in 1298, with the addition in the last paragraph of the words "and all other things which pertain to the office of the mayoralty of the same City," and again in 1320 (fn. 30). In 1324, the Mayor, Aldermen and Commonalty petitioned the King for confirmation of the writ (fn. 31), and three years later Edward III not only reissued it, but also confirmed the ordinances drawn up by Henry le Galeys in 1281 (fn. 32). It was reissued in 1328 (fn. 33), and for the last recorded time in 1330 (fn. 34). It appears to have been valued by the City authorities on the ground that it sanctioned the punishment of fraudulent bakers by the hurdle and the incarceration of nightwalkers and dissolute characters in the City prison on Cornhill, known as the Tun (fn. 35).
The noticeable feature of the period succeeding 1281 is the great diversity of the writs for the conservation of the peace issued to the City. Side by side with this standard writ with its wide powers, and a number of new writs even more comprehensive, are to be found the ordinary commissions as issued to the counties, requiring only that inquests should be held and that offenders should be apprehended for trial by others, and other writs demanding the arrest and imprisonment of persons guilty of various offences until further orders. Thus in 1289, 1307, 1308, 1313, 1314, 1320, 1321 and 1332 (fn. 36) the Mayor and Sheriffs were either included in the commissions of the peace for the counties or received writs in similar terms with slight alterations to suit the peculiar conditions of London. Meanwhile, in 1299, they are ordered to arrest, try and punish persons congregating by day and night and speaking ill of the King and his subjects (fn. 37); in 1302 they are commanded to hold inquests as to malefactors and disturbers of the peace, guilty of divers and enormous trespasses, and to punish those found guilty according to the measure of their crimes, a writ in similar terms being issued in 1310 (fn. 38). A separate writ of the same year points out that the disorderly houses of the City are the chosen resorts of murderers, robbers, and other transgressors, and demands a speedy remedy and correction (fn. 39). In 1315, a fine for a riot is remitted on the express condition that the City will punish such persons in future (fn. 40). In 1321 they are required to punish suspects entering the City under false pretences on the occasion of the provincial council of the province of Canterbury, and to imprison and otherwise castigate any persons disobeying the Mayor in matters touching the keeping of the City (fn. 41). In 1326 they are again urged to punish and chastise offenders in maintenance of the peace, with the promise that the King will maintain them in their actions (fn. 42). In 1327 the King notices the number of homicides, robberies and thefts in the City, the holding of men to ransom by malefactors, and violent interference with the justices and servants of the King's Bench and barons and clerks of the Exchequer. Although he has frequently ordered the Mayor and Sheriffs to provide a remedy and to make due punishment of malefactors, as pertains to them, they have not as yet done anything (fn. 43). In the same year and on many subsequent occasions writs of the same character were received, demanding in the most explicit terms that the Mayor and Sheriffs shall exercise the punitive powers entrusted to them and carry out that conservation of the peace which is incumbent upon them by virtue of their office and the King's special command (fn. 44).
Nevertheless, interspersed among these direct authorisations of judicial status, are an equal number of writs merely requiring that inquests shall be held, and that transgressors shall be committed to prison until the King shall otherwise order. They are to be found carefully transcribed into the City records or enrolled in the Patent and Close Rolls, under the years 1292, 1299, 1304, 1306, 1314, 1316, 1320, 1321, 1327, 1328, 1336, 1340 and other occasions. Sometimes within the space of a few days a batch of contradictory writs would be received conveying ordinary commissions of the peace, or demanding exemplary punishment by the City authorities, or merely the arrest of the culprits for subsequent trial, yet with no discoverable difference between the offences against the peace, with which the writs were concerned (fn. 45).
It might be possible to explain this apparent confusion by taking the writs in chronological order, and weaving into their diversity a story of royal hopes and disappointments, of confidence misplaced, followed by a temporary withdrawal of powers which were subsequently restored. Some support would be lent to this view by the fact that Edward I definitely overrode the local authorities by introducing his Justices of Trailbaston into the City in 1305 and 1306 (fn. 46). But probably the explanation is far simpler and lies in that lack of coordination between government departments which still hampers their usefulness. An official of the Chancery, on the ground that the City possessed Sheriffs, forwarded to them commissions of the peace, unaware that others were drawing up writs acknowledging far greater powers. It was necessary for the City clerks and officers on more than one occasion to point out, in their returns to writs, that those writs completely ignored some City charter sent out from Chancery but a short time before, or contravened some City privilege repeatedly confirmed by the King and his predecessors. On occasion a law-officer of the City would visit the Chancellor to secure the withdrawal of a writ (fn. 47); more often a brief reply was sent that as the writ was contrary to City custom no return could be made (fn. 48).
The natural consequence of these diverse instructions was that measures for the preservation of the peace were prosecuted with more or less vigour according to the character of the temporary occupant of the mayoral chair. Henry le Galeys, a notable Mayor, who was more than once employed by the King as a justice (fn. 49), received a commission on 25 March 1283, when Edward I was engaged in the Welsh war, to inquire touching persons guilty of homicides and felonies in the county of Surrey and in the City and suburbs of London and those who harboured them, and to cause the Sheriffs to arrest them (fn. 50). He evidently preferred to act on the wider commission of 1281, gaining the King's approval by so doing, for on 13 Oct. a mandate was sent to the justices about to go on eyre at the Tower of London, and to all bailiffs, not to molest him for having, during the King's absence in Wales, introduced certain new punishments and new methods of trial (judicia) for the preservation of the peace and the castigation of malefactors roaming about the City by night and day, and for having caused persons to be punished by imprisonment and otherwise for the quiet of the said City (fn. 51). Other Mayors of the same type were Richer de Refham and Hamo de Chigwell. But even the boldest of them seem to have thought it necessary to secure writs indemnifying them against reprisals, and putting it on record that they had done only the duty that was incumbent upon them.
The year 1285 witnessed two important measures for the preservation of the peace in the City and the kingdom. On 29 June, the City was taken into the King's hand owing to a maladroit attempt of Gregory de Rokesle, then Mayor, to safeguard a minor City privilege (fn. 52). A warden was appointed immediately in the person of Ralph de Sandwich, Constable of the Tower, an old and experienced servant of the King (fn. 53), and for his guidance were issued "certain statutes ordained by the King and his council (fn. 54)." Meanwhile, either at the end of Sept. or the beginning of Oct. was enacted the great Statute of Winchester (fn. 55). A comparison of the two documents shows that the regulations as to watch and ward, hue and cry, hostelers and arrests are common to both, though the City rules are more detailed and precise in their terms. As regards jurisdiction of the peace it is laid down in the latter that every Alderman shall hold inquests in his Ward as to malefactors, and if any such be found by indictment or presentment as under suspicion, the Alderman, in the absence of the Sheriffs or their serjeants, should arrest them, and such arrested persons, who could not clear themselves before the Warden or Mayor, should be punished by imprisonment or other punishment at their discretion. As regards mainprise, since misdoers taken and arrested for battery, bloodshed and other offences against the peace had often been released too lightly, it was now provided that none but the Warden or Mayor and Aldermen should release such offenders, and then only on sufficient mainprise to appear before the Warden or Mayor to receive judgment. Further, it is enjoined that, where mayhem or murder were not alleged, breaches of the peace should be punished by fine and especially by imprisonment. The present rules were not regarded as abolishing previous usages and enactments in the City for keeping the peace, since those usages were reasonable and allowable according to law and reason and not in contravention of the present enactments.
About nine years later (fn. 56) the articles are recorded as being confirmed by the King under the great seal, with the addition of a paragraph which shows that the City authorities had not felt entirely sure of their ground: "The King, who desires that the peace of his City be well kept among all folk, has heard that the above articles are not observed nor can be observed by reason of his ministers incurring displeasure and punishment for having imprisoned and otherwise punished misdoers and suspected persons, whereby the ministers aforesaid hesitate to punish evildoers, who become the more emboldened in their evil ways; he therefore wills and commands that his ministers be not in future impleaded for punishing offenders, unless it can be shown that they have acted through malice." The appointment of justices in 1290 and 1293 to hear complaints against the City authorities gives point to this provision (fn. 57).
Specific cases illustrating the working of the articles be tween 1285 and 1298, when the franchise was restored, are few, and concern only such offences as assaulting the Sheriff and imprisoning his men (which on examination proved to be nothing worse than shutting a door in his face) and resisting a serjeant in contempt of the King. Imprisonment was awarded in both cases (fn. 58). More information is to be gained from the Mayor's Court Rolls, which cover the period 1298-1307. It must be admitted that the Mayor and Aldermen used their powers of punishment very sparingly. They prosecuted the coopers of the City for making confederacies and fined them various amounts from 6d to 5s for their trespass against the King. They committed to prison persons guilty of assault, rescuing prisoners, receiving thieves and prostitutes, and creating disturbances. A collector, who was charged with threatening a fellow-collector and using disloyal and contemptuous words of the King, was sent to a jury. Certain persons, found guilty of assaulting the watch, were fined 8d each for damages and committed to prison for breaking the peace at night-time to the terror of the neighbours and the scandal of the City. All these were public prosecutions, in which the defendants were required to answer a City official and the King on the charges against them (fn. 59). That the Mayor and Aldermen regarded themselves as justices is evidenced by a curious case in 1298, when an Alderman found a certain Geoffrey de Staunton fighting with a drawn sword. As an official of the peace (tamquam minister pacis) he commanded him to surrender, whereupon the said Geoffrey took him by the throat. The defendant was put to public penance for his offence against the Alderman as a justice and keeper of the vill (tamquam justiciario & custodi ville), and was fined for his contempt against the King (fn. 60).
Nevertheless, there is no mention of punishment when faction fights took place between the citizens and the Lombard merchants, the retinues of the Earl of Lincoln, the Bishop of Durham and John of Brittany, and between the cordwainers and tailors. The authorities were content to make sworn inquiries, ex officio and without writ, and as no jury or judgment is mentioned, it is probable that the rioters, if apprehended, were sent to take their trial before the Justices of Gaol Delivery at Newgate (fn. 61). It was not for want of admonition that they showed such discretion. Both in 1299 and 1302 they were sternly ordered to castigate and punish (fn. 62). This timidity on their part may well have been the reason which induced the King, when the Commissions of Trailbaston were issued in 1305, to pass over the Mayor and Aldermen and to send down to the Guildhall two experienced royal justices, Roger le Brabazon and Gilbert de Robery. The proceedings of the latter were brief and vigorous. In the course of three sessions in June and July they sent ten men to the gallows, a proceeding which was approved by the chronicler as having a salutary effect on public order (fn. 63).
The next writs demanding punishment, dated 6 and 30 Dec. 1310 (fn. 64), found in office Richer de Refham, a Mayor of a different stamp. He is described as "austere and swift to justice, sparing none." One of his first acts was to cope with the bands of dissolute and riotous persons, known as "riffleres" and "roreres," who made the streets at night unsafe for peaceable citizens and were guilty of assaults and robberies (fn. 65). His proceedings are recorded as "inquests and deliveries of malefactors, transgressors and nightwalkers against the King's peace." The court consisted of the Mayor, Sheriffs and Aldermen, and the two writs above-mentioned are quoted as warrant. The offenders in almost all cases had been indicted by Ward juries as disturbers of the peace, guilty of assaults and batteries, frequenters of taverns, associates of thieves and prostitutes, bullies and bruisers, tricksters and gamblers, well-dressed though having no visible means of support. They received a regular trial by petty juries and were punished by imprisonment, one or two being liberated on mainprise for their good behaviour (fn. 66). The proceedings may be compared with those of the commissioners of the peace for Essex in 1307. The latter received indictments of very similar offences, but had no power to try them (fn. 67).
Although the jurisdiction thus enjoyed by the City recalls the independence of a free-town or fief abroad, or of a palatinate in England, the citizens themselves rarely used the argument of prescription, and claimed no rights, which had not been granted and confirmed by the King and his council. In so far as they theorised at all, they looked upon the City as a county fulfilling its functions according to the ancient English system and later statute law. In 1312, when a discussion was on foot as to holding the City for the King, a commotion arose at the Guildhall owing to a false alarm, in the midst of which a foray was made from the Tower upon the neighbouring Ward. The inhabitants seized the intruders and carried them to Newgate. As the King's council blamed the citizens for the affray, the Mayor took advice from the Commonalty of the City. They, doubtless by a spokesman, reminded him that the twenty-five Wards corresponded to the hundreds of a shire, and the Aldermen to barons, and advised that inquests should be held to discover in which Ward the disturbance arose—an answer which recalls the Assizes of Clarendon and Northampton and the Statute of Winchester, and at the same time emphasises the status of London as a county. In the upshot the Alderman of Tower Ward reported a presentment against certain malefactors of the Tower, and the verdict of his Ward was confirmed by a jury of fifty drawn from the whole City. For what it was worth, the "county" indicted (fn. 68).
It is a curious fact that though in 1320 the old writ for dealing with disturbers of the peace had been reissued, no question of the conservation of the peace was raised before the Itinerant Justices at the Tower in 1321, when the whole course of City administration was reviewed (fn. 69). To judge from the Assize Roll, the Mayor and Aldermen had been content to leave matters largely in the hands of the Justices of Gaol Delivery (fn. 70). Hamo de Chigwell, popular with the citizens and an adherent of the King, was restored to the mayoralty on the abandonment of the Iter, and entrusted with the task of reformation. In July 1321, a detailed scheme was presented to the King's council and approved (fn. 71), and in Oct. and Nov. five writs were issued to strengthen his hands (fn. 72). His second mayoralty in 1325-6 coincided with the development of Mortimer's movement, which was destined to drive Edward II from the throne. Another scheme was demanded about 20 June 1326, and after amendment by the King's council was returned to him. It deals at length with the conditions which resulted in murders, homicides, robberies and violent assaults. The connivance of craftsmen, the bearing of arms, private revenge, the assembling of strangers on love-days of pleas, the immunity of malefactors who fled to Southwark are all mentioned as causes—and we may see in the final paragraph a confession by the City authorities that the entrusting to them of powers without parallel elsewhere was not the least of their difficulties. "And whereas the ministers of the City have been frequently impleaded and impoverished heretofore at the suit of men, whom they had punished and chastised to keep the peace, pretending that they had done so by their own authority and without cause, the King wills that his ministers shall be maintained in what they do strictly and duly by reason of their office in maintenance of the peace and by no other colour (fn. 73)."
In spite of the scheme, the City authorities could do little to preserve order during the popular uprising in the City which followed the landing of Queen Isabella and Mortimer on 24 Sept. 1326. The mob intimidated the Mayor and Aldermen, beheaded the Bishop of Exeter and other adherents of the King, gained possession of the Tower, and forced the Mayor and Aldermen to declare for the Queen (fn. 74). A proclamation issued immediately after these events threatened penalties of life and limb to breakers of the peace, and called upon the citizens to co-operate with the authorities in saving the reputation of "so good a City, which is a mirror to all England (fn. 75)." Three further proclamations were made when Chigwell was followed by Richard de Betoyne, a partisan of Isabella and Mortimer, who succeeded to some extent in grappling with the situation (fn. 76). The City was rewarded for its adherence to the new regime by a charter which granted that the Mayor ex officio should be a Justice of Gaol Delivery at Newgate, and that the Mayor and Aldermen should exercise the right known as infangenthef and outfangenthef, of hanging thieves with the mainour of stolen goods found upon them (fn. 77). The one privilege merely confirmed a state of affairs already existing, for the Mayors had frequently been employed as Justices of Gaol Delivery; the other was of no assistance to the Mayor and Aldermen as conservators of the peace. The hanging of a friendless cutpurse was a far less serious matter than the imprisonment of a turbulent member of one of the powerful City trades or a follower of a visiting nobleman. The Mayor and Aldermen still required frequent reminders to do their duty by the latter. However, in 1329 a definite schedule of penalties was promulgated, ranging from imprisonment without replevin for a year and a day and loss of the franchise, if the breaker of the peace were a citizen, to fines for taverners keeping open their doors after curfew (fn. 78). This table of offences and penalties was much amplified in subsequent proclamations.
Commission of the Peace in the counties
Meanwhile, no great advance had been made in vesting the conservators of the peace in the counties with similar powers. They still held inquests and apprehended indicted persons for trial by others. The need of some extension of their powers was urged by the Commons in the first Parliament of Edward III—"The Commons pray above all that good and loyal men be assigned in each county to keep the peace... and that they have the power to punish according to law and reason (fn. 79)." But the Statutes of the following years dealt only with the defaults of local officials and the abuse of mainprise (fn. 80). An actual promise of judicial powers was at last given in 1332 in what appears to be a regular statute, though it is preserved, not on the Statute Roll, but on the Rolls of Parliament (fn. 81). It enacts that in each county of England "be the most important men assigned as guardians of the county by the King's commission, and let them have power to hear and determine as well felonies done by those whom they arrest and take as by those who are indicted before them." The promise was fulfilled by occasional inclusions of a clause "to hear and determine" in commissions of the peace, but many commissions are recorded in the Patent Rolls conferring no further powers than arrest. Even the Statute of 1344 left to the King a discretion (fn. 82) as to whether the commissioners should also try felonies and trespasses against the peace and inflict punishment. It was not till 1361 that the jurisdiction of the conservators of the peace was put on a firm and permanent basis (fn. 83).
Beyond the fact that the Mayor and Aldermen enforced statute law as it was enacted, all these developments of the national system were extraneous to them. They worked according to their ordinances, which, with the amplifications and definitions of 1334, 1343, 1363,1367 and 1370 (fn. 84), assumed the character of a code of civic law. For their protection they continued to receive writs indemnifying them against any legal penalties for carrying out the duties of their office. It was felt, however, during the stress of the French war, when the King was necessarily absent from the kingdom, that extraordinary powers were necessary. On 20 April 1338, the King summoned Henry Darcy, the Mayor, and the Aldermen before his council. They were asked whether they were willing at their peril to guard the City for the benefit of the King and his heirs and as the inheritance of the Mayor and citizens. On their agreeing so to do, they were ordered to present a scheme four days later.
This scheme, which is recorded in our Rolls, is based on the usual City ordinances for keeping the peace, with the exception of a paragraph which lays down that any person making noise or cry near the windows or doors of shops so as to create a riot in the City should forthwith have judgment of life and limb. For the first time the King was asked to commit to the Mayor and Aldermen, as keepers of his peace in the City, authority to inflict the death penalty. The scheme was accepted and a memorandum to that effect was attested by the King at the Tower on 12 May (fn. 85). Later in the year came an admonitory writ complaining of negligence, and demanding that persons who impeded them in their measures should be punished with imprisonment and forfeiture of goods (fn. 86).
The affray between the fishmongers and skinners
On 2 Aug. 1340 a very serious affray broke out between the fishmongers and skinners, beginning at Walbrook and extending from Old Dean's Lane, now Warwick Lane, as far as London Bridge, where the Mayor and his serjeant were grievously assaulted. Many were wounded and at least one of the rioters was killed. Inquests were immediately held before the Sheriffs and Coroner, and a report was made next day to a Congregation of Mayor, Aldermen and an immense Commonalty (fn. 87). The two guilds involved were powerful and wealthy, and some time passed in anxious deliberation. But meanwhile notice had been taken by Edward, Duke of Cornwall, regent in the King's absence, and the council, which issued on 20 Aug. an inspeximus of the proceedings in April 1338. The Mayor and Aldermen were reminded that they had been straightly charged to punish disturbers of the peace by death, corporal punishment or imprisonment at their discretion, under penalty of themselves being punished as violators of the peace if they failed in their duty. The duke, understanding that the ordinance had not yet been enforced against certain malefactors, who had been apprehended, demands that they inflict the death penalty and other punishments, and that they preserve the peace, so that the King may not have occasion to lay his hand upon the City or its liberties on account of their neglect (fn. 88).
Armed with this command, and after consultation with the Commonalty, the Mayor and Aldermen at last, on 29 Aug., delivered sentence that two of the offenders should be beheaded by the Stone Cross in Cheap, which was carried out by the Sheriffs the same day. The journeyman-skinner, whose blow was the occasion of the riot, was committed to prison for a year and a day. A wise caution prompted the outgoing Mayor to obtain from the King a letter of indemnity, dated at Ghent, 6 Oct. 1340 (fn. 89). Edward III had no doubt as to the propriety of his action, and declared that, if the City authorities had acted otherwise, he would have taken it so grievously against them and the franchise of the City that his displeasure would have been a warning to them and their successors. Next year this letter was reissued in the form of Letters Patent (fn. 90). But enmities in the City died slowly, and as late as 1346 the King sends his writ to the Mayor and Sheriffs requiring the arrest and the names of persons, who were slandering and threatening the late Mayor and Sheriffs, and spreading it abroad that the judgments of 1340 were erroneous and false (fn. 91).
While the King thus protected Andrew Aubrey, the Mayor in question, it is clear that Aubrey's successors were expected to act with equal vigour. In 1341 the King speaks of felonies left unpunished, though he had assigned the City authorities for the conservation of the peace. He insisted that guilty persons were to be arrested, taken, incarcerated and punished, and mentioned that a copy of the passages in the Statutes relating to the peace had been sent to the Sheriffs for their guidance (fn. 92).
The Ordinance and Statute of Labourers
It will be noticed that many entries in the following pages are concerned with the enforcement of the Ordinance and Statute of Labourers, which were designed to remedy the great increase of wages and prices, following as a natural consequence on the mortality caused by the Black Death. The Ordinance, which emanated from the King's council and was dated 18 June 1349 (fn. 93), attempted to keep both wages and prices at the level obtaining before the pestilence, and enjoined upon all Mayors and bailiffs to hold inquiries and levy penalties from those enhancing the price of victuals. The Statute, which was enacted in 1351 (fn. 94), made provision for four sessions each year to be held by justices commissioned to inquire as to labourers, and was to hold good in the City of London as in other cities and boroughs and elsewhere, within and without franchises.
In the country at large, as Miss Putnam has shown (fn. 95), the enforcement of these measures was entrusted at different times to different sets of officials—the ordinary commissioners of the peace, the collectors of the second year of the triennial grant of 22 Edward III (fn. 96), special justices of labourers, and again the commissioners of the peace. In the City of London, where the introduction of other justices was debarred by charter, the Mayor, Aldermen and Sheriffs, who were already acting as justices of the peace, immediately assumed the position of justices of labourers without commission, presumably on the ground that they were bound ex officio to see that all ordinances and statutes were carried out within their jurisdiction.
A month after the issue of the Ordinance, the City authorities were busy dealing with bakers' journeymen who had formed a conspiracy to demand higher wages, turning their attention later to the winedrawers, cordwainers and others (fn. 97). Somewhat unjustly on 6 Dec. 1349 the Mayor and Sheriffs were reproved for laxity in exacting the penalties mentioned in the Ordinance, and ordered to inflict due punishment under pain of the King's displeasure (fn. 98). In one matter at least they earned approval. They had taken steps to cope with the influx of beggars and persons of bad character, who had flocked into the City and had there banded themselves together, robbing and sometimes murdering peaceful citizens. The writ of 29 Dec. which indemnified them, defined their authority to preserve the peace as resting upon their office, the several statutes for the preservation of the peace, the ordinances to the same purpose approved for the City by the King and his council, and the King's many injunctions to that effect in past time (fn. 99).
For some not easily ascertainable reason the Mayor andSheriffs on 1 Aug. 1357 received a regular commission as Justices of Labourers in the same form as that issued in the counties in February of the same year (fn. 100). Part of their duties as formal justices was to make inquiry as to any misconduct of their own in the administration of the statute. The same writ empowered them to act as justices for enforcing legislation concerning measures. Two years later, on 4 Nov. 1359, they received the general writs ordering them to suspend operations and to forward the records of their sessions to Chancery. The return, a copy of which is preserved in Letter Book G, fos. 81b-82b, shows that some seventy-five persons had been fined sums between 12d and 40d during the two years—a fair testimony to the diligence of the City authorities. In the counties, this jurisdiction was now transferred to the commissioners of the peace. Though no writ is preserved in the City records, the Mayor, Sheriffs and Aldermen continued to deal with wages and prices as before. In 1350 (fn. 101) they had regulated wages by ordinance on a slightly higher scale than that of the Statute of 1351. During the Mayoralty of Stephen Cavendish (1362-3) they reissued this ordinance with some amendments and additions, but without reducing the scale of wages (fn. 102).
For some eighty years onwards there is little that is new to record as regards the administration of the peace in the City. It developed pari passu with that of the counties and the records show that, in connection with the general policy of extending the duties of justices, the Mayor and Aldermen were called upon to shoulder the fresh responsibilities imposed.
Finally in 1443 a move was made to regularise these prescriptive rights of the City. Possibly the disadvantages of a system which, as it were, kept London in isolation were beginning to be felt. As in the case of other jealously-guarded privileges, the City rulers themselves came at last to desire their abolition. For some reason the movement was unpopular. A certain William Goldyngton was arraigned for saying that he had hurdles enough to draw all the procurers of the new commission of the peace (who are traitors to the King) from the Tower to Tyburn, because they did so to bring the citizens of London into slavery. Pains were taken to impress upon the wardens of the guilds that the proposals were not contrary to the liberties of the City, and they were ordered to take steps against false cries and scandals moved against the Mayor and Aldermen (fn. 103). Next year the draft of a new charter was read and approved (fn. 104)—and there the matter rested till 1462.
In that year the second charter of Edward IV, dated 9 Nov., definitely and finally blended the City's jurisdiction of the peace with the national system. The preamble summarises the existing state of affairs very clearly: "Although, as we understand, such things altogether as ought to be holden and determined by justices of the peace and justices assigned for hearing and determining divers felonies, trespasses and misdemeanours in all the counties of our realm of England by the King's authority, by virtue of the ordinances and statutes of our realm aforesaid, made for the good of the peace and rule of our people, have always time out of mind been used and well affirmed and yet be in our City of London—nevertheless, to the end that one good, certain and undoubted manner may be continually had in our said City for the conservation of our peace and governing of our people of the same...."
The charter goes on to grant that the Mayor, Recorder, and those Aldermen who had served the mayoralty, should be perpetual conservators of the peace, and that they or any four of them should be Justices of Oyer and Terminer of all felonies, trespasses and the like matters falling within the cognizance of justices of the peace (fn. 105).
The Parliament of January 1327
While the editor has judged it necessary to devote the greater part of his introduction to an explanation of those new legal assemblies, which differed in personnel from the known City courts, this topic does not exhaust the interest of the rolls. In addition to much which is of local importance— passages illustrating the commerce and trades, the social conditions and daily life, the administration and the municipal law and customs of London—there are memoranda which throw light on national history. Roll A 1 b (pp. 11-19) reveals that the political movement which led to the deposition of Edward II owed some of its strength to a popular uprising in London. Though the City authorities, naturally cautious and conservative, had little liking for violent change, the craftsmen, with less to lose, took matters into their own hands. They prevailed upon a number of those attending Parliament at Westminster to make the journey to the Guildhall to enter into a kind of sworn confederacy to uphold the revolution settlement. The names of those who did not participate, if we can trust the parliamentary writs, are almost as interesting as of those who came. As regards the latter, the Guildhall clerk attempts to divide them into the several elements of a parliamentary assembly, and in so doing presents us with several problems. He includes as barons certain persons who had indeed been barons of previous Parliaments, but had received no writ on this occasion, though undoubtedly they were present at Westminster. Among the "Knights and Serjeants of the Court" are two, Robert de Watevill and Adam de Swylington, who were summoned as barons, together with a number of knights who are known to have been returned from the counties. As regards burgesses, the names of thirty Barons of the Cinque Ports, five burgesses of Bury St Edmunds and thirteen of St Albans are included, but none from other towns. The list as it stands suggests doubts as to how far the parliamentary returns and writs of expenses can be taken as evidence that the persons named actually attended. It suggests further that Mortimer was supported by an organised movement from London and the above group of towns.
The struggle with Mortimer
The City of London again took a leading part in the opposition which gathered round Henry, Earl of Lancaster, against the arbitrary rule of Mortimer (fn. 106). Both Lancaster and Mortimer made a strong bid for the favour of the City. The former was aided by the City with a large contingent of men-at-arms, about which the City authorities professed to have no knowledge. A long letter of self-justification under the name of the young King is recorded by the compiler of our roll, and doubtless represents Mortimer's case. As it appears never to have been printed, a full abstract is given. Mortimer was able for the time being to avert his fall and to humble the Londoners.
Discussions on the Staple
A series of letters concerns the discussion which took place in the council of merchants and the Parliament of York in Jan. and Feb. 1328, with regard to the advantages of a home or foreign Staple for the wool, woolfells, hides and tin, which were then the main exports of the kingdom (fn. 107). Recently, on 1 May 1326, the system whereby the export of wool was freely allowed from all ports in England to one fixed distributing centre abroad had been abandoned, and the Staple had been restricted to eight English, three Irish and three Welsh towns, and that of tin to one Devonshire and two Cornish towns. Dr R. R. Sharpe tells us that Richard de Betoyne, the London merchant, who had formerly enjoyed the office of Mayor of the Staple beyond the seas, favoured a return to the old system of a foreign Staple, whilst his colleagues were opposed to any such proceedings (fn. 108). Our letters show that there was a very strong party present at York, which thought that the establishment of a foreign Staple would benefit the commonalty of the realm to the extent of 20s. a sack, though the merchants of London, York, Lincoln, Winchester and Bristol did not agree. It is quite possible that Betoyne was privately in favour of the foreign Staple. One result of the fall of Edward II appears to have been the supersession of John de Charleton, Mayor of the Staple, who had introduced a system whereby merchants, wishing to export wool from the ports, must first obtain from him a certificate that the goods had been duly bought in a Staple town (fn. 109). Betoyne, who had succeeded him as Mayor of the Staple, is mentioned in March 1327 as having petitioned for the abolition of these certificates. His request was granted with the proviso that nothing was to be done against the ordinance of the Staple (fn. 110). In July of the same year the King practically suspended the Staple till Christmas, allowing merchants to buy their wool in Staple towns or elsewhere (fn. 111).
Whether Betoyne was the moving spirit in this suspension or not, the letters here given show that his conduct at York was entirely loyal to the City and that he suppressed any predilection he may have felt for a foreign Staple. He was sent to York, not as a member of the council of merchants, but as the City's representative in Parliament (fn. 112). His quarrel with Charleton was apparently purely political. Charleton, in spite of the fact that his opinions on the Staple coincided with those of London, was regarded as an enemy of the City (fn. 113). He had been an adherent of Edward II, and his house had been looted by the London mob (fn. 114). Betoyne, on the other hand, was a partisan of Mortimer and Isabella and had suffered great persecution from Edward II and the younger Hugh Despenser (fn. 115). He seems to have regarded the suspension of the Staple as terminating his Mayoralty of the Staple merchants. When he was pressed at York to take the lead of the foreign Staple party, he disclaimed all interest in the matter, and the correctness of his conduct and of his attitude towards Charleton was approved by the City authorities.
Among other matters worthy of note are the memoranda relating to the struggle between the townsmen and monks of Bury St Edmunds, in which the sympathy of London was extended to the townsmen (fn. 116). It is interesting as showing that in the general movement for municipal freedom, London was regarded as a leader. The several letters from Oxford (fn. 117), "as from a daughter to a mother," asking the advice of London in matters of borough custom, and the deferential tone in which they are couched, are evidence in the same direction. Another matter on which the rolls give information is the burden on the country imposed by the foreign policy and wars of Edward III. Wealthy as London was in the fourteenth century, the constant supplies of money, men and ships demanded by the King was a serious drain upon her strength, compensated by no clear advantages in commerce. In conclusion, attention may be drawn to two passages, which illustrate the difficulties of municipal guardians of the peace, and indeed of all such guardians, when confronted with offences committed by or against the retinues of powerful noblemen. Andrew Aubrey, the Mayor, proceeded with great shrewdness, but also with great caution, in dealing with an impostor who claimed to come from the Earl of Salisbury (fn. 118). He caused the man to be apprehended and delivered to the Earl, but also obtained from the culprit a quitclaim of any actions at law arising out of his apprehension. The other incident concerned the Earl of Derby, a son of that Henry, Earl of Lancaster, whose cause the City had espoused in bygone years. An ill-tempered citizen had assaulted a servant of the Earl, who at that time was on his way to Brittany with a force of 1500 men (fn. 119). The Earl in his anger swore to halt in the neighbourhood until satisfaction was given; but when a deputation from the City made a tactful apology, and with a cheerful demeanour (vultu hillari) proffered a gift of a thousand casks of wine, his wrath melted away. He jovially (letus et jucundus) insisted on their remaining to dinner. Not to be outdone in generosity, he remitted the present of wine, and the incident terminated with a triumphal march through the City to London Bridge. The Londoners, more suo, accompanied the men-at-arms and archers through the streets in a cheering mob.