A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.
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The same physical features that make the site of Cambridge a natural centre for trade give it strategic significance, and the camp on Castle Hill, guarding the river crossing of the road from the Roman base at Colchester to Godmanchester on Ermine Street, may well have been erected in the early days of the Claudian conquest. (fn. 1) If a RomanoBritish settlement existed on the site, (fn. 2) it was insignificant in the 7th century when Bede tells of the 'little ruined city called Grantchester' where the monks of Ely found a stone coffin to enshrine the bones of Etheldreda. (fn. 3) Archaeological discoveries, however, indicate the existence of pagan Saxon settlements on both sides of the river, (fn. 4) and evidence as to ancient defensive ditches serving as bridge-heads (fn. 5) is held to point to a time when Cambridge was on the frontier between East Anglian and Middle Anglian territory. (fn. 6) It has been suggested that the replacing of a ford by a bridge (fn. 7) may correspond to a revival of traffic and peace under Mercian ascendancy. (fn. 8) It is noteworthy that only the hundreds west of the Granta—those in Mercian territory—were later responsible, by paying pontage, for the upkeep of the bridge. (fn. 9)
When Cambridge is next mentioned, it is again as a strategically significant centre. The transition from Danish raids to Danish colonization is marked by the establishment of Cambridge as a military and administrative centre. The occupation by three Danish kings in 875 was temporary, (fn. 10) but the 'army that belonged to Cambridge' and chose Edward as their lord in 921 (fn. 11) must have been settled in the surrounding countryside, and it is probable that the organization of the shire after the English reconquest endorsed the arrangements of the Danish occupation. (fn. 12) Thus Cambridge became the county town that it has been ever since, the centre both of local trade and of local government, surrounded by the fourteen rural hundreds south of the Isle of Ely, and itself the fifteenth. (fn. 13) Traces of the Danish phase of its history may be seen in terminations such as 'wong' and 'holm', (fn. 14) in the existence in the 12th century of names like Ketel and Turketel among the townsmen; (fn. 15) possibly in the dedication of St. Clement's church; in the institution of the 24 lawmen and the classification with Norwich, Thetford, and Ipswich mentioned by the Liber Eliensis, (fn. 16) and most significantly, in the story of the merchants from Ireland who brought cloaks for sale to Cambridge, and were probably Danes from Wexford and Dublin. (fn. 17) The Ely chronicler describes a number of courts held at Cambridge in the century before the Norman Conquest, (fn. 18) some undoubtedly shire moots, held near the 'Maiden Borough', (fn. 19) others 'pleas of the townsmen'. He also mentions country dwellers who held land in the town, (fn. 20) a feature of Cambridge life which persisted throughout the Middle Ages and indeed to modern times, (fn. 21) and is further illustrated by the Guild of Cambridge thanes; a sort of country club whose rules (c. 1050) provide for the religious, the convivial and the criminal liabilities of the Cambridgeshire aristocracy who made up its membership. (fn. 22) Further evidence of the economic standing of Cambridge is afforded by the existence of a mint there from 975 onwards. Coins of five pre-Conquest kings are extant. (fn. 23) The later Saxon tower of St. Bene't's church indicates that in addition to the dwellings west of the river served by the 10th-century church on Castle Hill, (fn. 24) there was a prosperous settlement to the east, (fn. 25) which may, if we can argue from archaeological evidence, have extended to the line of the town ditch. (fn. 26) It seems highly probable that this ancient monument was originally designed rather as a customs barrier than as a defensive work and that the Barnwell gate and Trumpington gate of the 13th century were first and foremost toll gates. (fn. 27)
The Domesday account of the Borough (fn. 28) is brief and very possibly incomplete, but has significant features. Like Chester, York, Stamford, and Lincoln, Cambridge has lawmen; like Norwich, Thetford, Colchester, and Oxford and some others, it is assessed as a hundred; (fn. 29) and it is one of the very few whose internal divisions are mentioned. (fn. 30) Under the last Saxon sheriff its lawmen had paid a heriot, which the Norman sheriff Picot had increased eightfold, further adding a horse and armour. Taken in conjunction with the guild of thegns this suggests a thegnly status comparable with that of the burgesses of Hereford and Chester and the burh witan of Devonshire and recalling the traditional acquisition of thegn right by North Sea trade. (fn. 31) Hugh Domesman, Prior of Barnwell 1155–75, who gave to the priory the extensive property that he inherited from his father, (fn. 32) may have been the descendant of a Cambridge lawman.
Ten wards are assigned to Cambridge in Domesday Book, but only nine are described. (fn. 33) Of the various theories produced to account for this Mr. Salzman's suggestion (fn. 34) that the omission is accidental seems the most plausible. The total of 373 burgages (masurae) in 1066 (fn. 35) would thus be incomplete, and the fact that 27 houses (domus) had been destroyed and that 49 house plots were vacant (waste) makes it impossible to estimate the number of burgesses in 1086 with any assurance. Mr. Stephenson classes it with Colchester, Stamford, and Leicester, giving it the thirteenth place among English boroughs in 1066 and the fourteenth in 1086. (fn. 36) As regards its value to the Crown, if the Domesday account is complete, Cambridge would rank still lower, coming after Northampton, Shrewsbury, and Huntingdon. (fn. 37) It has been suggested, however, that some items have dropped out. (fn. 38) Huntingdon's total is made up of landgavel (£10), farm of the borough (£30), mint dues (£2), and mill dues (£3), the earl taking his third penny of all of them. (fn. 39) The Cambridge payments are £7 3s. 6d. in landgavel; £7 in 'customs' (consuetudines) with £9 from the mills. In the 12th century the third penny of the Borough, payable in Cambridge as in Huntingdon to the earls of Huntingdon, was £10 in Cambridge as it was in Huntingdon. (fn. 40) It seems probable, then, that something has dropped out of the Domesday account of the town revenues of Cambridge. In the 12th century its 'ancient farm' was £40, and by 1189 an increment of £20 was added. (fn. 41) Its ranking for the payment of dona or aids in 1130 and 1156 is also thirteenth, though it pays £12 where Huntingdon pays £8. (fn. 42) But to describe Cambridge in 1086 as 'little more than an overgrown village' (fn. 43) hardly does justice to the facts. It may have been 'cast in an agrarian mould'; but, as Maitland also says, 'it paid ten times what the ordinary Cambridgeshire village would pay.' (fn. 44)
The tenants in chief holding burgages in 1086 were Count Alan, the first landholder in the county, lord of what was to be called the Honor of Richmond; (fn. 45) the Count of Mortain, whose Cambridge holdings seem to have come into the hands of the earls of Leicester; (fn. 46) and the Abbot of Ely. At last we have proof positive of an omission in the survey; the Inquisitio Eliensis records the abbot's holdings as ten messuages, two houses, a mill, a church, three gardens, and a croft, but Domesday mentions nothing but the mill, in connexion with Picot's new rival mills. (fn. 47) Besides the magnates, three small county tenants had burgages; Ralph de Bans, a tenant of Picot's and Count Alan's in Pampisford, Barrington, Kingston, and Rampton, and one of the jurors of Wetherly hundred, (fn. 48) Erchengar of Toft and Comberton, the King's serjeant baker, (fn. 49) and Roger of Childerley, a man of the Bishop of Lincoln and a juror of Chesterton hundred. (fn. 50) None of the burgages with external lords named by Domesday paid anything, and the fiscal privileges of Ely leave no doubt that the abbot's burgages were equally exempt. (fn. 51)
The liveliest impression made by the Domesday account of the town is of the burgesses' resentment of their treatment by Picot, sheriff of Cambridgeshire 1070–92, the villain of the Ely and Rochester chroniclers and the 'deservedly honoured' hero of the Barnwell book. (fn. 52) His exaction of ploughing and carting services from the townsmen reflects the wide extent of his holdings in the shire no less than the 'agrarian frame' of the Borough. (fn. 53) The three new mills that he erected encroached on their building space and pasture as well as on the custom of the lords of other mills and one had been destroyed before 1086 in obedience to royal orders. (fn. 54)
The importance of Cambridge in political history is regional rather than national. Twice in the Middle Ages and once in modern times it served as a military base; in the 11th and 13th centuries for operations against the island stronghold of Ely, the last home of defeated causes, in the 17th century as guarding the line of communications between East Anglia and the north and as constituting the centre of organization for that prosperous and parliamentarian countryside. But no pitched battle took place there, no councils of importance were held there, and only one Parliament met there. The very fact that Cambridge was off the route of marching armies made it a natural centre in economic and cultural affairs; Sturbridge Fair and the University testify to its twofold advantage of accessibility and security.
In 1068 William I, returning from York, diverged from the Ermine Street to visit Cambridge and, as he had done at Lincoln and Huntingdon, ordered a castle to be erected there, (fn. 55) on the strategic site selected earlier for the Roman camp. By 1170 it could be used as a base for the campaign against Hereward, (fn. 56) and in the various rebellions and civil wars of the 12th and 13th centuries it was occasionally mentioned. Ralph of Norfolk encamped there in the rising of 1074–5, but preferred to make his stand at Norwich. (fn. 57) Geoffrey de Mandeville sacked the town with great savagery in 1142, but did not apparently occupy it. (fn. 58) In 1173 and 1174 the castle was put in repair and garrisoned with knights, (fn. 59) at the time of the great rising of 1174 in which the Earl of Huntingdon, master of Huntingdon castle, was implicated. In August 1215 John sent directions for its safe custody, putting it under the command of Fawkes de Bréauté, (fn. 60) and in November the bailiffs were credited with expenditure in 'enclosing' the town south of the river and providing arms for its defence. (fn. 61) In spite of this the town was raided in the following June by the adherents of Louis of France and 20 serjeants in the castle taken prisoner. (fn. 62) John himself came through Cambridge twice in the ding-dong fighting of his last year, (fn. 63) and Louis held a council there in January 1217 while the young Henry's supporters were meeting at Oxford. (fn. 64) In the fighting after Evesham Cambridge once again became the centre of military activities. (fn. 65) The Disinherited from their camp at Ely used Cambridge as a supply base, buying up the corn which had been brought into the town from the neighbouring villages, (fn. 66) selling their loot in Cambridge, (fn. 67) quartering themselves on Barnwell Priory, (fn. 68) blackmailing the town to the tune of 300 marks, (fn. 69) holding individuals up to ransom, (fn. 70) pillaging the Jewry, slaughtering the Jews, (fn. 71) and carrying the chest of chirographs off to Ely. (fn. 72) In February 1267 King Henry himself came from Bury St. Edmunds, and spent the whole of Lent at Cambridge, (fn. 73) conducting a somewhat half-hearted campaign against the islanders and reorganizing the defences of the town. 'He caused gates to be made and ditches to be dug round the town with great diligence, not allowing the workmen to rest on holy days.' (fn. 74) The existing town ditch was deepened and its line may have been altered, for houses were pulled down to make room for it and for an eight-foot wide walk running alongside. (fn. 75) Nevertheless when Henry left Cambridge in April there were more raids, with destruction both of houses and of the new defences, and it was not until July that the islanders finally surrendered to the Lord Edward who had come from the north with fresh forces. (fn. 76) The long-drawn judicial inquiries arising out of the award of Kenilworth were conducted by Walter of St. Omer in 1269–70, who made himself almost as unpopular with the Barnwell canons as the islanders by quartering himself and his family on the priory for a whole year. (fn. 77)
It is significant that the centre of interest in 1266–7 is the market town on the level, not the castle on the hill. As early as 1232 the Barnwell chronicler thinks of it primarily as the place where the sheriff keeps his records—'If we have our own list of royal dues at the priory, we shall not need to go up to the castle to consult the sheriff's roll.' (fn. 78) Whatever may have been the case in the 12th century, by the 13th the castle was more important as a gaol and an administrative centre than as a fortress. (It was, indeed, in the shire and not in the Borough.) This development corresponds to the growing independence of the Borough, which in its turn is the measure of its growing wealth. There are many indications that it was the corn trade that came first, for instance, Picot's mills and the fines, running up to 10 marks in some instances, imposed on over 60 townsmen in 1177 for the unlicensed transport of grain. (fn. 79) Other indications of the importance of Cambridge in local trade are the grant of the monopoly of waterborne trade in the shire in 1131, (fn. 80) and the right to take toll at Whittlesford Bridge to the south, (fn. 81) where the Icknield Way crossed the Granta—'by reason of the market of Cambridge'; a right that involved responsibility for the upkeep of the bridge. Similarly the burgesses secured the right to hold an annual fair at Reach, (fn. 82) to the north, near Swaffham, where boats coming up Reach Lode from the Cam made the hamlet a centre of inland commerce. (fn. 83) The Jews of Cambridge were making a solid contribution to the Exchequer by 1159, (fn. 84) and the list of contributors to royal tallages in 1211 and 1219 (fn. 85) provides evidence of a number of rich burgesses. There was wealth available for the purchase of royal charters. Further indications of the economic resources of the town are supplied by the religious foundations. Barnwell Priory (fn. 86) (1092–1112) and St. Radegund's (fn. 87) (c. 1133–8) may have been given their sites by great men like Pain Peverel or Malcolm of Scotland but their endowments came from the many small gifts of individual burgesses like Hugh Domesman, Hervey fitz Eustace, William le Moyne, or Hugh fitz Absolon. (fn. 88) Whichever story of the origin of St. John's Hospital (fn. 89) (c. 1200) is correct, it was founded by a Cambridge burgess or burgesses, and maintained by similar benefactions. Town advowsons also were bestowed on religious foundations, for most of the medieval Cambridge churches seem to have been founded in the 12th century or earlier by burgesses, 'sometimes clubbing together in a guild'. (fn. 90) The deeds of gift indicate the close connexion of town and county at this date; many of the donors bear the names of neighbouring villages, though resident in the Borough. (fn. 91) A royal form of endowment was another source of wealth. The little leper hospital of St. Mary Magdalene, set up at Sturbridge by the townsmen in the first half of the 12th century, was granted a fair by John about 1211; (fn. 92) it was to grow into one of the greatest in England. A fair was granted to the nuns of St. Radegund by Stephen, (fn. 93) and Henry III confirmed John's grant of Midsummer Fair to Barnwell. (fn. 94) And last, but by no means least, the coming of the clerks, first specifically mentioned in 1209, (fn. 95) reinforced by the establishment of the six orders of friars between 1224 and 1290, (fn. 96) brought custom and profit to the town, (fn. 97) though it also produced friction, disorder and feuds.
The history of the long-drawn-out rivalry of the communities of clerks and laymen, as a succession of royal charters to Borough and University defined their rights and duties, is told elsewhere. (fn. 98) In the early days of the Cambridge schools we hear principally of the outbreaks of individual clerks, who took full advantage of the political uncertainties of the period 1258–70, and were constantly giving trouble by their private vendettas among themselves as well as with the townsmen. The commissions, like those of 1249 and 1260, (fn. 99) for inquiry into brawls in Cambridge, and the records on the plea rolls of the doings of the clerks, are the best evidence of the trouble caused by this unstable element, liable to be suddenly reinforced by external circumstances. Thus in 1261, although a special commission had been appointed to deal with the clerks, there are presentments before the justices in eyre of seven clerks for violence and bloodshed, committed in some instances against their fellows (socios). (fn. 100) As clerks they are not in frank-pledge; as clerks if they appear before the justices they are claimed by the church. Again, the rolls of the eyre of 1272 record a story going back to 1261–4 of a group of clerks plotting to burgle the house of a Cambridge vintner (fn. 101) at Hauxton, and being betrayed by four of their fellows to the sheriff who, with the steward of the Bishop of Ely, catches them in the act and carries the decapitated heads of the criminals to Cambridge Castle. (fn. 102) 'Malefactors from the University of Cambridge' are declared by another sheriff in 1270 to have caused damage and expense amounting to £40 during the islanders' war. (fn. 103) The joint arrangements for keeping the peace negotiated by the Lord Edward in 1270 (fn. 104) were long overdue.
If the picture of Cambridge supplied by Domesday Book is tantalizingly sketchy and the historical evidence for the next two centuries fragmentary, the Hundred Rolls of 1279 present an almost embarrassingly detailed picture of the town. In March of that year Edward I ordered a comprehensive inquest into all fiefs, holdings and franchises throughout England, whether held by subjects or by the Crown. Returns survive from parts of six counties; Cambridge is the only town for which they are complete. They show that the 373 house plots of 1086 had increased to 535; they detail the trading and governmental rights of the burgesses and their grievances against the University, and they throw invaluable light on the status and history of the burgess families from whom the town officials were recruited. (fn. 105)
One recent event to which the Hundred Rolls (fn. 106) allude is the expulsion of the Jews. On 12 January 1275 Eleanor, the widow of Henry III, had obtained from her son the concession that no Jew should dwell in any town that she held in dower; (fn. 107) Cambridge being one of them, the Jews of Cambridge had been deported en masse to Huntingdon, (fn. 108) and it would seem that the Cambridge houses had escheated to Eleanor. Apart from this, the reigns of the three Edwards were comparatively uneventful. The justices in eyre visited the town in 1286 and 1299, (fn. 109) as did Edward himself in 1293 (fn. 110) and Isabel, his son's wife, in 1326, on her way from Harwich to Bristol, to dethrone her husband. (fn. 111) The castle was rebuilt 1285–99, (fn. 112) and the clergy of Ely diocese met in the town in 1337. (fn. 113) The Black Death of 1349 carried off the Prior of Barnwell, three masters of St. John's Hospital, as well as almost half the scholars of King's Hall, and emptied the parish of All Saints by the Castle. (fn. 114) The Borough was called on to supply contingents for the Scottish and French wars nine times between 1318 and 1350, evoking protests from the burgesses. (fn. 115) In 1338 they complained to the Council that the king's purveyor had taken their beasts for the victualling of the Christopher for foreign parts. (fn. 116) As far back as 1291 there had been 'contentions and discords between the poor and the rich' in the town as to the inequitable incidence of tallage, (fn. 117) but the chronic source of discord was the presence of the clerks, with whom serious clashes occurred in 1304, 1322, and 1371. (fn. 118) The trouble went beyond sporadic outbursts. The lawlessness and the economic needs of the clerks had brought about the creation of an economic, judicial, and police authority rivalling that of the Borough, while, as time went on, the new collegiate foundations diverted the generosity of kings, magnates, and even burgesses from older town beneficiaries. Thus when the Peasants' Revolt reached Cambridge, its peculiar local form was determined by the fact that University and colleges as well as landlords and government officials (fn. 119) had run up a score of ill will, so deep as to explain why Cambridge was one of the six towns exempted by name from the general pardon of November 1381. (fn. 120)
There is evidence of considerable unrest in the town before the outbreak of June 1381. In December 1380 special instructions were sent to the Mayor and bailiffs to proclaim and enforce the peace statutes, since 'roberdesmen' and 'wastours' were causing disorder and making confederacies and unlawful conventicles in the town. On 5 February 1381 five Cambridge men were bound over in £100 to keep the peace and make no conventicles or congregations. The following day sixteen prominent burgesses were required to enter into recognizances in £100 each before Sir Roger Scales that they would be obedient to the king's justices and commissioners in the town and not obstruct the holding of their sessions by unlawful conventicles. (fn. 121) Two of them, John Cotton, and the Mayor, Edmund Lister or Redmeadow, had been members of Parliament for the Borough in 1380. Lister had also served as county coroner and was on the Borough commission of the peace. If the two deeds surrendered by Lister in the December Parliament and enrolled on the Parliament roll (fn. 122) are correctly dated (29 April and 1 May 1381) it would seem, as Powell infers, that Lister had led a successful attack on the University six weeks before the outbreak in June. The narrative of events in the charge against him in Parliament, however, appears to assign the extortion of the deeds to Sunday, 16 June, and it is difficult to believe that the University would have kept quiet so long about its wrongs. (fn. 123)
Though there was abundance of inflammable material within the Borough, the explosion seems to have been touched off from outside, where local agitators like Greystone and Staunford were in touch with London. (fn. 124) But Borough and shire were interlocked. Roger of Harleston, (fn. 125) one of the main local objects of hatred, was a burgess as well as county member. Men from the county joined in sacking his town house, and the attack on his house at Cottenham on 9 June, the first overt act of the rising in Cambridgeshire, was led by a Cambridge man, Richard Martyn. It was alleged in Parliament that the townsmen went out into the county on 16 June to fetch the enemies and traitors to the king into the town to give aid in their misdoings. (fn. 126) John Hanchach of Shudy Camps, the ringleader in the southern part of the county, had friends in the Borough; John Giboun the younger (fn. 127) with Richard Asshewell led a body of 160 horsemen from the town on Saturday, 15 June to join in the attacks on Shingay hospital and Thomas Hasilden's manors at Steeple and Gilden Morden. (fn. 128) Robert Beylham, one of those who had been bound over on 6 February, is described by the jurors in July as having induced the Mayor to lead the attack on Barnwell, whilst Robert Brigham, an ex-Mayor, and Hugh Candelsby, one of the bailiffs, are also named as ringleaders. (fn. 129) But the mayor's own account implies that the pressure upon him was exerted by smaller men with less well-known names, and other witnesses bore this out. (fn. 130) The crowd of 1,000 who compelled the Mayor, as he alleged, to lead them to Barnwell probably included many from the shire. (fn. 131)
When in December the ex-Mayor had to answer for his actions in Parliament, it was asserted that the expedition to the Mordens was by the common consent of the Mayor, bailiffs, and community. This was stoutly denied by the Mayor and bailiffs, (fn. 132) but there was more colour for asserting communal responsibility for the next proceedings. When the raiders returned to Cambridge a meeting was summoned by proclamation to the Tolbooth at 10 p.m. (fn. 133) James of Granchester, elected captain there, was certainly no willing ally; he was later put on the commission of 10 August to inquire into the plundering of University property. (fn. 134) He and his brother were made freemen of the Borough—perhaps the earliest instance of honorary freedom. After counsel, it was agreed that the house of William Wigmore, esquire bedell of the University, should be destroyed and that he should be slain, if found, (fn. 135) and that same night Corpus Christi College was raided and its muniments burnt; (fn. 136) according to Fuller because the town resented the large number of 'candle-rents' payable to it. (fn. 137) Besides University and college property, the houses of various burgesses were looted on Saturday. Roger Blankgren of Bridge Street took sanctuary in St. Giles Church, and his wife paid a fine to save the house—a pernicious example to others, according to the jurors. (fn. 138) The two houses of John Blankpayn, three times Mayor and four times Member of Parliament for the Borough and poll-tax collector, were sacked—one in the market and one in Petty Cury. (fn. 139) The close of Isabel St. Ives and the house of Roger Harleston were also attacked and Harleston's dovehouse burnt to the suffocation of the doves. (fn. 140) A Roger of Harleston, either this man or his father, had been Mayor of Cambridge (1356–8) and official to the Archdeacon of Ely, and had also done legal work for Warin of Bassingbourn and Hugh le Zouch. He had served as Member of Parliament for the shire in all the Parliaments from 1376 onwards, justice of the peace for both shire and Borough, commissioner for enforcing the Statute of Labourers and poll-tax commissioner. (fn. 141) His house in Cambridge near the king's ditch was still standing in 1592–4. (fn. 142) Besides the house at Cottenham, attacked on 9 June, he had houses at Haslingfield, Milton, Stapleford, and Denny which were ravaged on 16 June, (fn. 143) and also lands at Coveney, where the men of Ely were seeking him. (fn. 144) He seems a clear case of a nouveau riche, who had acquired standing first in the Borough, where the 14th-century terrier records him as a new-comer in the town fields, (fn. 145) and later in the county, where his speculation in land is recorded by the close rolls. (fn. 146) He was put on the commission which administered summary justice on the ring-leaders at Cambridge on 8 July and 24 August. (fn. 147) He is one more instance of the type of Cambridge burgess who recurs from the days of Hervey fitz Eustace to John Mortlock, who doubles the role of squire and burgess and has all the gifts of the successful capitalist. The attacks on him in 1381 illustrate admirably the relation between the revolt and the social, economic, and administrative sequelae of the Black Death.
Roger Harleston was a dangerous enemy, but it was the attack on the University which brought the heaviest penalties on the town. The attack on the bedell's house was merely a beginning. On Sunday morning, while the countrymen were streaming in for their share of the plunder, mass at St. Mary's was disturbed by the irruption of a crowd led by John Giboun, who broke open the University chest kept in the church and burnt and destroyed the muniments in it. Jewels and vessels were also seized and sold to John Giboun the elder for 10s. (fn. 148) The mob went on to the Carmelites' house, on the site of the later Queens' College, and broke open a second University chest containing books and other property valued at £20 by the jurors. (fn. 149) Then, according to the relation on the Parliament roll, the Mayor and bailiffs compelled the masters and scholars of the University to make out two deeds, the first renouncing all privileges granted to the University 'since the beginning of the world to this day' by the kings of England and promising to conform to the law and custom of the Borough of Cambridge and giving security in £3,000 to pay all costs connected with the litigation then proceeding between the University and the town; the second promising to abandon completely all actions real and personal against the burgesses. The deeds were sealed with the common seal of the University and with the seals of all the colleges. In accordance with this release the University and colleges had to surrender their charters of privilege and other deeds which, with seals broken and cut to pieces, were burned in the market place. (fn. 150) One chronicler tells of an old woman who tossed the ashes of the parchments to the winds, chanting 'Away with the learning of the clerks, away with it.' (fn. 151) This ritual bonfire, which accounts for the gap in the early archives of the University, corresponds to the destruction elsewhere of manorial rolls; the burgesses saw themselves as breaking the fetters of years.
On 17 June a crowd assembled on the Greencroft (now Midsummer Common). Led by the Mayor, they marched on Barnwell, where they broke down the walls and palings of the prior's close, and the watergate, cut down and carried off trees, sedge, and turf and did other damage. (fn. 152) According to the account given by the Mayor to the justices in July, (fn. 153) he was acting under constraint and in doubt as to the attitude of the king. The community of Cambridge, he pleaded, knew that the commons of Kent, Essex, Hertfordshire, and London had risen, with no treasonable purpose but with the consent and knowledge of the king. A crowd of 1,000 from the Borough, the county, and from other counties had assembled and declared to him, 'You are the Mayor of this town and the governor of our community; if you will not carry out our will and command in all things enjoined on behalf of the king and his faithful commons, (fn. 154) you shall be straightway beheaded!' They brandished axes and swords and compelled him to fulfil their will, namely to assert their ancient rights of driftway and pasture in the meadows which the prior had fenced and planted with trees, and thus, coerced by threat of decollation and possibly genuinely credulous of the tale that King Richard was on the side of the insurgents, he made a proclamation to that effect. As Maitland points out, the claim to the driftway from Midsummer Green to Sturbridge Green was not new; it had been raised at the time of the great inquest of 1274–5. (fn. 155) The prior alleged later that he had been compelled to enter into a bond for £2,000 under the common seal of the priory. (fn. 156)
This was the last large-scale riot. The looting of houses in the Borough, as in the county, was not all over. The house of the Friars Minor was attacked, and as late as 22 June a ship coming from Reach to Midsummer Fair was plundered, (fn. 157) but the arrival of the Bishop of Norwich with a band of armed men set a term to the revolt. (fn. 158) On 23 June a commission was issued to Hugh le Zouch and eight others to proclaim the king's peace and the official denial of the rumour that the rebels had his authorization, to forbid unlawful assemblies and arrest insurgents. (fn. 159) A succession of commissions followed for inquiring into the wrongs of the Prior of Barnwell, the University, Thomas Hasilden and others whose property had suffered and for dealing with the trespasses, felonies, and treasons committed by the rebels. (fn. 160) On 8 July the justices began their sessions at Cambridge. Few of those charged with specific offences bear names familiar in the Borough records. Richard Martyn, Robert Brigham, and John Refham who were pardoned belonged to burgess families; John Giboun who was hanged on the testimony of John Giboun the Elder (fn. 161) was a man of some substance with friends in York, and had been involved in a lawsuit with Roger of Harleston. Giboun was in fact the only burgess executed; John Shirle, summarily tried and hanged in Cambridge on 16 July for his bold protest in a Bridge Street tavern that day against the execution of John Ball, came from Nottingham. (fn. 162) No officials except Hugh Candelsby, one of the bailiffs, and the Mayor himself are charged, unless R. Asshewell 'serjaunt' was one of the serjeants at mace. As the justices recognized the undesirability of depriving the community of its legal head, the Mayor was bailed and the collective responsibility of the burgesses was reserved for judgement in Parliament. (fn. 163) But the eye of authority was on the town, and when in September John Marshall, one of those bound over in February for obstructing the justices, was elected to succeed Edmund Lister as Mayor, he was removed by royal writ, and Richard Maisterman, one of the sufferers from the revolt, was chosen to replace him. (fn. 164) On 2 November the Parliament opened, and on 11 December Edmund Lister with the four bailiffs of 1380–1 together with Maisterman (also serving as Member of Parliament for Cambridge) and his four bailiffs appeared before it, together with three other burgesses representing the community, to answer for the doings of June. However much they might try to disclaim responsibility they could not get away from the fact that the two fatal deeds, sealed by the University, were in their possession. The deeds were surrendered in Parliament and formally quashed and cancelled. (fn. 165) Nor could the late Mayor and bailiffs deny their presence during the attacks on the University and on Barnwell. After a futile attempt to dispute the jurisdiction of the court they submitted to the king's pleasure and the liberties of the town were taken into the king's hands. Maisterman was appointed custos for the king until Parliament should reassemble in the new year. (fn. 166) On 17 February the king, with the assent of Parliament, gave to the University the jurisdiction hitherto exercised by the town over the purchase and sale of food and drink, (fn. 167) and on 1 May 1382 he restored to the Mayor and bailiff all the other former liberties of the Borough, increasing its farm from 101 marks to 105. (fn. 168) As the University paid a fee-farm rent of £10 for its new privilege, the Crown made £11 13s. 4d. a year out of the transaction. Maisterman served as Mayor until Michaelmas 1387, though a royal writ of 28 November 1382 requiring the bailiffs and burgesses to be obedient to him suggests a restive community. (fn. 169) In 1387 Robert Brigham, one of the pardoned rebels of 1381, was elected Mayor, as was John Marshall in 1392. In 1394 the Prior of Barnwell complained of lawless conventicles at Midsummer Fair, but apparently nothing serious occurred. (fn. 170) The memories of the revolt were being allowed to fade out; but the relations of the University and the town had been lastingly embittered by the injuries both had suffered.
The following century was for Cambridge, as for most English towns, a period of retrogression and decay. Two bad fires, as the burgesses alleged in 1385, led to the departure of many residents. (fn. 171) In September 1388 a Parliament was held at Cambridge; the king lodged at Barnwell Priory, various nobles stayed in the Carmelites' house, and the Convocation of Canterbury met in St. Mary's. (fn. 172) As in 1267, a protracted royal visit led to orders for the cleansing of the town, and it may have contributed to the passing of a sanitary statute. (fn. 173) The outbreak of plague in the following year (fn. 174) may have resulted from the overcrowding of the town, but as the 15th century advanced such visitations are noted more and more frequently. Henry VI, probably in September 1444, sent the Marquess of Suffolk to Cambridge instead of coming himself to lay the foundation stone of the first chapel of King's College 'for the aier and the Pestilence that hath long regned in our said Universite'. (fn. 175) In 1446 the burgesses, in a petition to have their subsidy assessment reduced, had represented that a number of houses were standing empty, and that many of the craftsmen in the Borough were departing because sites acquired for King's College and for students' lodgings were exempted from taxation and the rest of the town was unduly burdened. (fn. 176) The assessment was accordingly reduced from £46 12s. 2½d. to £20, (fn. 177) a concession confirmed in 1465. (fn. 178) Another sign of impoverishment was the reduction, by common agreement, of the payment to the Borough Members of Parliament to one shilling instead of the statutory two, an arrangement lasting from 1427 to 1563. (fn. 179)
Cambridge was not the scene of fighting during the Wars of the Roses; (fn. 180) the chief sign of the times is the courting of various magnates by gifts. Among the names that recur in the town treasurers' accounts are those of Sir John Tiptoft (1425–36), (fn. 181) the Duke of York (from 1426 Earl of Cambridge) (fn. 182) and the Duke of Norfolk. (fn. 183) Rewards to the minstrels of various noble lords, from 1423 to 1485, (fn. 184) do not necessarily imply the presence of their masters. The practice of looking for influential patrons, which was soon to transform the office of Recorder and create the office of High Steward, was well advanced, and the frequent references under Henry VII to John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford and commissioner of array for the eastern counties, (fn. 185) anticipate pretty closely those to Sir John Hynde and Lord North in the days of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. (fn. 186) Under the Yorkists, royal visits became more frequent. Edward IV marched through Cambridge ten days after his accession on his way to Pontefract, (fn. 187) and visited the town again in March 1462 and February 1464, when he granted a pardon to the ringleaders of a demonstration against the justices of the peace in the preceding January. (fn. 188) Richard III was there in 1483 and 1484. (fn. 189) The visits of Henry VII, 'honorably received' by town and University in 1486, (fn. 190) as of his wife and mother, (fn. 191) were very probably connected with their academic foundations and benefactions.
This hospitality, not to say lavishness, of the town fathers is one of many signs of reviving prosperity. The enhanced importance of Sturbridge Fair is even more significant. In 1376 the feast of the dedication of Holy Trinity Church had been put back to 9 October, because the business of the parishioners in fair time prevented due celebrations; (fn. 192) in 1507 the date of the election of town officers was advanced to August for similar reasons. (fn. 193) In 1516 the fair, which had originally been for two days only, was said to last from 24 August to 29 September. (fn. 194) In 1542 Cambridge was one of several towns whose Mayor and aldermen were empowered by act of Parliament to build upon town sites occupied by decayed houses, if within 6½ years their tenants or landlords had failed to do so. (fn. 195) The Cambridge Paving Act of 1544 describes Cambridge as 'wele inhabyted and replenysshed withe people', (fn. 196) but by 1584 the Privy Council was exhorting the Vice-Chancellor and Mayor to check the private enterprise of the builders and of the landlords 'who divide one house into many small tenements' (fn. 197) and the complaints of overcrowding recur constantly from this time onwards. (fn. 198) Thus in 1616 the University protested that the town had abused its powers of building by 'pestering every Lane and Corner with unholsome Cottages'; (fn. 199) their statistics for 1632 give facts about the subdivision of old tenements and estimate the additional population so accommodated at 1,728 persons in the six parishes of St. Andrew, Trinity, St. Giles, St. Clement, Little St. Mary, and St. Bene't. In Green Street, St. Michael's parish, 32 families of 151 souls were living in 26 houses. (fn. 200) The population of Cambridge, it is clear, had in the 16th century more than recovered from the setbacks of the 14th and 15th, even though the majority of the newcomers may, as Maitland thinks, (fn. 201) have been employed in agriculture.
For all the ceremonial burning of Luther's books in 1520, Cambridge was a nursery of the Reformation. The story has been told elsewhere. (fn. 202) Launched by Prior Barnes of the Austin Friars in a sermon addressed 'to a town audience in a parish church' (fn. 203) at Christmas 1525, tossed back and forth by Friar Coverdale and his friends in the White Horse tavern, pushed on by later sermons of Latimer and Ridley, with Cranmer at Jesus College to forge the dangerous link between learning and politics, broadcast by the books sold in Sygar Nicholson's shop, (fn. 204) the new doctrines took hold of the town as well as of the University. The Dissolution of the religious houses involved a further transference of property into academic hands. (fn. 205) Only the oldest and wealthiest of the religious houses, Barnwell Priory, lay too far out to be adaptable for academic purposes in 1538. It had made over Midsummer Fair to the town in 1505. Its buildings and property were sold to a layman, and the ancient stones were carried off to build new houses. (fn. 206)
Of the political revolutions that accompanied the religious revolution Cambridge had a brief taste in 1553, when Northumberland, having secured the proclamation of his daughter-in-law, Jane Grey, as queen, came to Cambridge with an army to anticipate Mary's move on London. He arrived on 15 July, but Mary had eluded him and he found small support in any quarter. Late on the 20th news came that the Council had accepted Mary. In a last attempt to save his skin he went to the market-place and, standing by the market cross, himself proclaimed Mary as queen, throwing up his cap and leading the cheers hysterically. But within the hour instructions arrived from London to arrest him, and the order was executed, first by Roger Slegge, later a somewhat notorious Mayor of the town, and then by the Earl of Arundel, and the duke, his sons and adherents were next day carried off prisoners to London. (fn. 207)
The Cambridge crowd that witnessed these proceedings had little cause to love
Northumberland, for it was he who four years before had been sent to put down the
second peasants' rising, known as Ket's Rebellion. Though less violent in Cambridge
than in Norfolk, the character of the disturbances here is of great interest. The bitter
and protracted quarrels of town and University and the quarrels of Protestants and
Catholics were to the rioters of 1549 far less important than the quarrel between
inclosers and commoners. On 10 July 1549 (fn. 208) a body of some hundred malcontents
assembled by beat of drum and set to work to pull up the stakes which fenced in the
new inclosures on the green commons round the town and threw them into the river to
go 'jumbling and tumbling' down to Chesterton and the castle. (fn. 209) Once again a crowd
marched to Barnwell, but the prior was no longer there; it was an ex-bailiff whose
hedges the rioters were tearing down, and the Mayor, far from leading them, was
temporarily allied with his traditional enemy, the Vice-Chancellor. Besides reflecting
the general social and economic issues of the time, the rising throws into strong relief
the divergence of interests between 'the incorporation of the town' and 'the whole
inhabitants of the town'. Those charged with unlawful inclosure included leading
burgesses, Mr. Recorder Hynde, ex-Mayors, and common council men, (fn. 210) and a ballad
attacked 'the false flattering freemen of Cambridge, the open and secret enemies of the
poor'. (fn. 211) The inhabitants of the crowded tenements had no share in the government of
the town; as the University feared, (fn. 212) they might well become a charge on their neighbours. (fn. 213) The rebels had their songs—not as terse as the watchwords of 1381, but giving
the gist of their grievances. 'Jack of the North' states his aim:
Common to the commons again I restore Wherever it hath been yet common before. (fn. 214) The rebels went to the tolbooth and some of them to the gallows; the Earl of Warwick (not yet Duke of Northumberland) had a gift from the Mayor and aldermen; the town watch received a bonus for their services. (fn. 215) But it would seem that subsequently the principle was accepted that inhabitants as well as freemen, even though they had no ploughland, had a right to use the commons, and a town ordinance of 1583 provided for the equitable rationing of the grazing lands among the resident householders and ratepayers of the town. (fn. 216)