A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1958.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
POLITICAL AND ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY 1509–1660
Relations with the Central Government, p. 55. Taxation, p. 59. Parliamentary Representation, p. 60.
Relations with the Duchy of Lancaster, p. 61. Relations with the Clergy, Nobility, and Gentry, p. 65.
Relations with the County Authorities, p. 66. The Borough Administration, p. 68.
Relations with the Central Government
The town chamberlains' accounts record that Mary Tudor was duly proclaimed in Leicester, (fn. 1) and it seems likely that the alleged treasonable assemblage of 400 persons in the town, on 29 January 1554, in support of the Duke of Suffolk, owed more to local respect for the Greys of Bradgate than to any other sentiment. Although it was considered necessary for certain offenders to be indicted before justices of oyer and terminer, (fn. 2) it is evident from Holinshed (fn. 3) that the Mayor of Leicester did not wish to be implicated in the affair. It is not clear what part was played by a certain Kettell of Leicester, who was tried and executed in Leicester in 1554, but the names of other Leicester citizens involved appear on the Pardon Roll for that year. (fn. 4) Seditious words against the Crown at other times are occasionally reported in the town records. In particular, the town council examined certain persons in 1586 in connexion with the Babington Plot, (fn. 5) shortly after Mary, Queen of Scots, had passed through the town on her way to Fotheringhay castle. Similarly, prompt measures were taken to inquire into possible seditious outbreaks in connexion with the Gunpowder Plot, (fn. 6) which originated in the neighbouring county of Northampton.
The town records regularly mention that the beginning of a new reign was marked by an official proclamation, playing by the town waits, the ringing of bells, and other public celebrations. (fn. 7) The town showed particular alacrity in recognizing the succession of James I. After examining premature rumours of the death of the queen on 21 March 1601, the corporation proclaimed James I as king on 26 March, (fn. 8) only two days after the actual date of her death and before instructions to that effect had been received from the Privy Council. Events of personal importance to the sovereign, such as the birth of Prince Edward in 1537, or of national importance, such as the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, were also duly celebrated. (fn. 9) Special care was taken over the entertainment of the king and members of the royal house on the occasion of their visits to Leicester. Queen Elizabeth's unfulfilled intention of visiting Leicester involved the town in much unnecessary expense and trouble. (fn. 10) On several occasions the town entertained James I and his family, for it lay on their route between London and Scotland. James also visited it in the course of his royal progresses. Distinguished visitors were frequently entertained at the Angel Inn in Leicester, or at Lord's Place, a mansion at one time belonging to the Earl of Huntingdon, but later purchased by the corporation. Leicester castle, formerly occupied by the earls and dukes of Lancaster, no longer fulfilled any social function, though it continued in use for administrative purposes connected with the county and the honor of Leicester. (fn. 11)
The Civil War made an issue of the question of allegiance and left a legacy of conflicting opinions in Leicester which remained long after the Restoration. The events of the summer of 1642 and the siege and capture of Leicester by the royalists under the king in person and of the subsequent recapture of the town are described below. (fn. 12) While many of the inhabitants appear to have favoured the Parliament, it seems that the king also had a body of supporters in the town, including some who held office in the corporation. It was noticed that, in June 1642, when leaders of both parties were attempting to levy soldiers the mayor, Thomas Rudiard, 'in the whole progresse of this businesse, seemed backward to doe any thing for the Parliament'. (fn. 13) He was, in fact, subjected to a term of imprisonment by the parliamentary authorities, though thanked by the king. (fn. 14) Edward Palmer, the town clerk, and Thomas Weldon, a macebearer, were deprived of their offices in 1645 for royalist activities. (fn. 15)
The corporation, having expelled the royalist element, accepted the Protectorate and persisted in its allegiance until the last. But it may be noted that Sir Arthur Hazlerigg, whose extreme republican views led him to oppose its establishment, was M.P. for Leicester in 1654, 1656, and 1659. The town presented an address (fn. 16) to Richard Cromwell on the death of his father, and the Earl of Stamford, who declared for the king at the time of Sir George Booth's rising in 1659, was taken into custody at Leicester. (fn. 17) The corporation refused to join in the county's declaration of support for General Monck, at the same time unavailingly protesting (fn. 18) that it was unable to accommodate any of his soldiers in the town. It is therefore not surprising that, when the Restoration took place, the mayor sought to impress the town's M.P. with the reality of the demonstrations of joy at the king's return 'for the provencion of any Calumnyes that may be cast on this Burrough'. (fn. 19) The town also decided to present the king with a purse of £300 and to surrender a fee-farm rent of £17. (fn. 20) The mayor wrote to Henry Hastings, Lord Loughborough, begging him to be present at the making of the gift and to continue the favour shown to the town by his ancestors. (fn. 21)
Leicester sought confirmation of its economic and administrative organization from each succeeding ruler, finally achieving a charter of incorporation in Elizabeth's reign. In 1540 the town obtained a grant of two fairs to be held for five days each in June and December, (fn. 22) in addition to the medieval fairs in May and September. (fn. 23) Confirmations by inspeximus of the town's charters since the reign of John were obtained from Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth I, (fn. 24) soon after her accession. But, later in the reign of Elizabeth, the want of a full charter of incorporation became evident. This was particularly felt in connexion with the town's desire to participate in the secularization of church lands. Having passively accepted the dissolution of its various religious houses and endowments, Leicester embarked in 1585 upon a series of complicated transactions with a view to the purchase of the Newarke Grange estate, (fn. 25) part of the possessions of the dissolved Newarke College. The fear that such transactions might be invalidated without a formal charter of incorporation, which would define the right of the municipal body to possess land, led directly to negotiations for a new charter, which was granted on 17 February 1589. (fn. 26) The charter provided that the corporation of Leicester was to consist of a mayor, 24 aldermen, 48 burgesses. Provision was made for the election of the mayor and for the keeping of the court of portmoot or portmanmoot. As Mary Bateson has said, 'Leicester, which failed throughout the medieval period to obtain the firma burgi, succeeded in getting something like it in 1589'. (fn. 27)
Later developments encouraged dissatisfaction with this charter, which was replaced by another in 1599, containing a more ample statement of town government. In 1597 Sir Edward Hastings had given up his office of Steward of Leicester, (fn. 28) and it therefore became desirable that the position of the steward, and of his executive officer, the bailiff, should be defined in the charter. The town was now incorporated under the name of 'the Mayor, Bailiffs, and Burgesses of Leicester'. (fn. 29) The 24 aldermen were given the right to elect a recorder, a steward, two bailiffs, a town or mayor's clerk, and five sergeants-at-mace. The members of the corporation and the first holders of these offices were named in the charter. It was also provided that the Bishop's Fee, the Newarke, and the parts of St. Mary's and St. Leonard's parishes outside the borough (fn. 30) were to be under the jurisdiction of the mayor and corporation, saving the rights of the queen and others interested. The town thus failed to obtain the definite exclusion of the county justices from these liberties and failed also in its further ambition to secure county jurisdiction within its boundaries. The charter also contained provisions of economic importance concerning the building of malt kilns and the establishment of a wool market.
It seems that even before the end of Elizabeth's reign it was found difficult to work the new charter. (fn. 31) In 1604 the corporation, therefore, resolved that the charter should be renewed and amended. But their proposal to seek full jurisdiction in the liberties (fn. 32) and their claim to nominate the steward met with powerful opposition. The first was opposed by Sir Henry Harrington, the owner of the manor of the Bishop's Fee, with the claim that it would result in interference with his court baron. The Earl of Huntingdon objected to the second point on the ground that it would diminish the liberties of the honor of Leicester. The corporation was also opposed by Christopher Tamworth, who had obtained a patent of the office of steward of the town from the king, and attempted to enforce his title by legal sanction. (fn. 33) A charter was obtained on 13 April 1605 by which the corporation appeared to have obtained its object, but a second charter of 17 April 1609 restored the situation of 1599. Thus the question of the liberties was shelved, and the corporation and the Earl of Huntingdon came to a separate agreement over the stewardship. (fn. 34) James I also granted a charter in 1619, establishing a staple of wool at Leicester, the mayor being given the power to take and receive recognizances according to the Statute of Merchants and the Statute of Acton Burnell. (fn. 35)
On the accession of Charles I the borough authorities again attempted to improve their position, protesting that their powers were inadequate to prevent abuses in the Bishop's Fee and the Newarke, which it was alleged harboured unlicensed alehouses and nonconformists who 'account themselves in noe parish nor would be under anie government'. (fn. 36) After receiving a report from the Attorney General upon the privileges desired, the king instructed him in 1629 to prepare a new charter. (fn. 37) The provision that the corporation was to have the same authority in the Bishop's Fee, the Newarke, and the parishes of St. Mary and St. Leonard as in the borough was not among those questioned by the Attorney General. But the opposition which again came from the owner of the manor of the Bishop's Fee, the Countess of Devon, prevailed at the last moment. (fn. 38) The borough's ambitions were finally quashed by a resolution of the Privy Council on 4 May 1632. (fn. 39) In 1635 the corporation seems to have had some idea of taking the matter before the common law courts. A second petition was presented to the Privy Council in 1641 after the Countess of Devon had withdrawn her opposition, whereupon the Council revoked its earlier order. (fn. 40) Nothing further was attempted in the reign of Charles I, but Richard Cromwell's favourable reception of the town's congratulations encouraged the recorder to suggest taking the matter up again in 1658. The corporation accordingly resolved to seek to procure a new charter, but its plans again came to nothing owing to the fall of the government. A confirmation of existing privileges only was obtained from the new régime in 1665. (fn. 41)
The Crown's regulation of trade, public order and defence, and ecclesiastical affairs through the issue of proclamations and by the action of the Council can be illustrated in the history of Leicester. (fn. 42) The mayor had a commission to receive royal proclamations and their receipt is regularly mentioned in the Leicester borough records, from which it appears that the messenger who brought them was usually paid a fee of a few shillings. (fn. 43) Instructions were also transmitted to the town through the Privy Council, which exercised considerable power to ensure the enforcement of statute law and royal orders. Thus a number of letters from the Council on subjects of general interest (fn. 44) or particular concern to Leicester also survive among the records. They are addressed at times to the sheriff of the county, at times to the mayor and corporation. A copy of the town's letter in reply detailing the action taken may sometimes be found. (fn. 45) In 1627 the Council ordered that watches should be kept for soldiers who had deserted from the force sent to the Isle of Rhé. (fn. 46) In 1605 one James Johnson was arrested in Leicester on instructions from the Council despite the fact that the mayors of Leicester and Coventry could find nothing to say against him. (fn. 47) It was also recognized that the Council possessed special equitable jurisdiction and the question of the borough of Leicester's authority in the liberties, as has been said, was referred to it in 1632. But cases—usually those involving an element of disorder—were sometimes sent to the more public and formal Court of Star Chamber. Thus the Council disregarded the petition from Leicester and other places against the disafforestation of Leicester Forest in 1627, and decided that the persons who had destroyed the new inclosures should be prosecuted in Star Chamber. (fn. 48) According to the Earl of Huntingdon, the efforts of the corporation of Leicester in the reign of James I to maintain the exclusive right of freemen to trade in the borough also led to 'tumult' and to suits in the Star Chamber. (fn. 49)
The restoration of Catholicism and the revival of the heresy laws by Mary led to the burning of one person, perhaps two, for heresy in Leicester. (fn. 50) In Elizabeth's reign local authorities were given new responsibilities in maintaining the Church of England as established by law, and legislation was reinforced by numerous royal proclamations, and by the issue of commissions for ecclesiastical causes, which became the Court of High Commission. Local authorities were expected to assist the messengers of the court in making arrests. Thus, a constable was sent, under a warrant from the Court of High Commission, to aid in the arrest of James Herrick of Thornton in 1634, for holding a conventicle. (fn. 51)
During the Interregnum the town was similarly in touch with the new central and local authorities, though the insecurity of the times sometimes occasioned administrative difficulties. (fn. 52) Committees set up for particular purposes, such as defence or ecclesiastical affairs, are mentioned in the borough records. (fn. 53) The government's decision occasionally evoked protests, as in the case of Price and Angel, ministers who refused to take the Engagement and were therefore ordered to leave the town, despite a petition on their behalf. (fn. 54) More serious was the riot at Leicester in 1649 which caused the Council of State to instruct the mayor and justices of the peace to make an inquiry and to report their findings at the assizes. (fn. 55)
Leicester had secured the separate assessment and collection of subsidies by the charter of 1464 and was anxious to obtain from the Lord Chancellor the nomination of sympathetic subsidy commissioners. Thus, the corporation protested in 1599 at the nomination of Sir John Grey, with whom it had quarrelled. (fn. 56) Efforts were also made to have the town described to include the liberties named in the charter of 1599, and an order was obtained in 1611 for the Newarke to be assessed for the subsidy with the town. (fn. 57) The subsidy was collected according to an agreed rate from persons whose names appeared in the subsidy books, (fn. 58) but complaints were received that the returns were unsatisfactory. (fn. 59) The subsidy appears to have been becoming an increasingly rigid form of levy, like the tenths and fifteenths. These had become recognized as set sums and were granted several at a time. They were collected by persons named by the members of Parliament or elected in the town. (fn. 60)
In 1630 compositions were called for from those in Leicestershire who had failed to take up the honour of knighthood, nine citizens of Leicester being among them. (fn. 61) In 1631 payment of a composition for failing to attend the king's coronation was refused in Leicester. (fn. 62) No serious opposition to ship money was made at first in Leicester, perhaps because one of the aldermen made up the required sum out of his own pocket, and in 1636 Sir Henry Skipwith, Sheriff of Leicestershire, was hoping to be the first sheriff to pay in his full contribution. (fn. 63) Active opposition developed and the second levy of ship money had to be taken by distress in some cases in 1638. (fn. 64)
During the Interregnum new taxes were invented. From 1643 the mayor and one or two others were nominated to serve on county committees appointed by Parliament for the levy of monthly or weekly sums assessed on the county of Leicester. (fn. 65) The money was not, however, always forthcoming without reminders from the authorities in London. The tax on commodities begun in 1643 and known as excise was collected by local commissioners who were given special powers of jurisdiction. (fn. 66) It was unpopular in Leicester, and when it was put out to farm in 1651 it aroused strong opposition. (fn. 67)
The influence of the Crown upon the choice of members for the borough of Leicester was frequently exercised through the person of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, though sometimes the wishes of the government were directly stated by the Privy Council. The chancellor was important enough for it to be said in 1614 that it was 'the prescription of the chancellor to have the nomination of one of the burgesses in every of the duchy boroughs'. (fn. 68) In Leicester, however, he had to share his authority with the earls of Huntingdon, who at various times held office not only in the county but also in the honor of Leicester and in the central government. The corporation of Leicester was not incapable of independence, but found it not only politic but profitable to attempt to meet the wishes of the great lords, its patrons. One of the town's chief anxieties was to obtain members who would pay their own expenses, (fn. 69) and the borough members, if not chosen from among the local gentry, were often prosperous merchants. The members for Leicester during the Interregnum include the famous names of Peter Temple, Sir Arthur Hazlerigg, and Thomas, Lord Grey. Temple was chosen in place of Thomas Coke, son of Sir John Coke, Charles I's secretary, who joined the king at Oxford and was expelled from the House of Commons in 1645. (fn. 70)
The claims of conflicting interests in appointing members were often amicably settled, as in 1624, when Sir Humphrey May, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, obtained the Earl of Huntingdon's support for his candidature. (fn. 71) Occasionally, however, the town refused to agree to the proposals of the local magnates. It refused to give the nomination of both its members to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1593 and would not elect the Earl of Huntingdon's candidate in 1597. (fn. 72) The election of George Belgrave as one of the burgesses in 1601 demonstrates not only the importance of influence on the borough elections but also the fact that the offence of a powerful patron might be attended with serious consequences. The earl accepted an apologetic statement that the town had been tricked into the election because Belgrave had appeared before the common council in the earl's livery, (fn. 73) but took vengeance on Belgrave himself by bringing an action against him in Star Chamber. (fn. 74) By doing so during the sitting of Parliament he raised a question of privilege, but the Commons resolved that Belgrave was free from offering the House any abuse. (fn. 75) The corporation agreed in 1602 to send a report on the election to the Privy Council, (fn. 76) but nothing further is heard of the affair. It is noticeable that the other candidate at the election had personally sought the earl's approval, which the mayor wished to be confirmed by a letter of recommendation, and that Belgrave was asked whether he had any such letter.
Relations with the Duchy of Lancaster
The influence of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, of which mention has been made, in fact affected not only the political but also the social and economic life of Leicester. Inhabitants of the Duchy of Lancaster were able to obtain relief in equity in their own court, (fn. 77) known as the Court of Chancery of the duchy or the Court of Duchy Chamber. The court was presided over by the chancellor and came to deal with many different subjects. It was extensively used, both by private citizens of Leicester and by the corporation. The court had the power of making orders and those affecting the town of Leicester were frequently engrossed, confirmed by the duchy seal, and preserved with the town's charters and other privileges. (fn. 78)
A matter frequently brought before the court, as it concerned the relations between Leicester and other towns, was the claim to exemption from toll outside the Duchy of Lancaster. In 1574 Leicester claimed that its exemption had been established by Act of Parliament and by several letters patent, (fn. 79) but after private negotiation between the mayors of Leicester and Nottingham and a lawsuit in the Duchy Chamber, the town of Nottingham continued to levy toll on cattle passing through it on the way to Leicester. (fn. 80) A similar suit, concerning the levy of toll in the town of Derby, was heard in the Duchy Chamber in 1575. This privilege continued to be contested during the reign of James I, and the town also attempted to maintain the related claim to exemption from toll within the Duchy of Lancaster. (fn. 81) In 1598 the corporation was involved in a suit in the Duchy Chamber with William Okes and Thomas Rogers, who claimed to have been assigned a lease of the tolls made by the queen to Randall Manning. After much expense, an order of the court was eventually obtained declaring all inhabitants of the borough, freemen as well as foreigners, exempt from all tolls and through tolls. (fn. 82) Nevertheless, the corporation was soon after made a party to a new suit by John Okes and in this the decision went in favour of Okes. (fn. 83)
It was thought necessary to reaffirm the rights of the Duchy of Lancaster in the 1609 charter, which contained the provision that the mayor should take his oath at Leicester castle before the steward of the honor of Leicester. (fn. 84) The position of the steward in relation to the town had been for some years before this the subject of dispute, the corporation of Leicester being anxious to secure independence of the lord's officers. The aspirations of the corporation had been encouraged by the sale to them by Sir Edward Hastings in 1594 of the profits of the borough courts for a yearly rent of £10, and the surrender of his patent of the stewardship of the town in 1597. (fn. 85) In 1605 the Earl of Huntingdon sought to prove that the town steward or town clerk was an officer dependent on the steward of the honor, while the corporation maintained that the town stewardship was a separate and independent office. (fn. 86) The town stewardship had been acquired by Thomas Clarke when Mayor of Leicester in 1598, (fn. 87) but the town failed to maintain control over the office, which was granted to a certain Christopher Tamworth in July 1603. (fn. 88) The town vigorously opposed his claims, but in November he obtained a Duchy of Lancaster privy seal letter instructing the corporation to permit him to exercise the office on penalty of £100. (fn. 89) Tamworth brought an action in the Court of Duchy Chamber against the corporation and, although a series of orders were made in his favour, the action appears to have been still in progress in 1606. (fn. 90) By this time Henry, fifth Earl of Huntingdon (d. 1643), had received a grant of the offices of steward and receiver of the honor of Leicester (fn. 91) and the dispute was overshadowed by the negotiations for a new charter. The corporation finally came to an agreement with the earl that they should nominate the holder of the office alternately, and Tamworth's grant was revoked by the king. (fn. 92)
At the same time agreement was also reached concerning the appointment of the lord's other executive officer, the bailiff. During the second half of the 16th century, the bailiwick, by royal grant, was in the possession of the Danet family and the town purchased leases of the office from them, nominating two bailiffs annually. (fn. 93) But, as early as 1552, a project had been formed for obtaining the bailiwick in fee farm, and the matter was raised again when the 1589 charter was obtained. (fn. 94) The charter of 1599 gave the town the right to nominate two bailiffs, but in 1600 it was found necessary to recognize John Wilne as bailiff for life. He had been holding the office since 1594, and nothing further is heard of the two bailiffs named by the town. In 1609 the Earl of Huntingdon tried to obtain control over the bailiwick as well as over the stewardship, and it was finally decided to accept the principle of alternate nomination by the earl and the corporation in this case as well. (fn. 95) Wilne, who had been confirmed in his position by the charter of 1609, was admitted to the office of bailiff by the mayor and burgesses in 1611. (fn. 96) Robert Wright was nominated by the Earl of Huntingdon in 1622, presumably on Wilne's death. The office included the keepership of the town gaol. The bailiff who held office for life was known as the king's bailiff. In addition, a second bailiff was appointed annually. (fn. 97)
Several franchisal courts were held in Leicester and appear under varying names in the court rolls. (fn. 98) One was the court leet with view of frankpledge, kept twice a year at Easter and Michaelmas. (fn. 99) It dealt mostly with petty nuisances and assaults but its jurisdiction was giving way before that of the justices of the peace in quarter sessions. Infringements of the assizes of bread and beer and brewers' dues, known as 'cannemol', (fn. 100) were dealt with at the same time but a separate record of them was kept. The court leet was held for each of the four quarters of the town and proceedings in each quarter were recorded separately. Courts were also held before the mayor in connexion with the four annual fairs. (fn. 101) The jurisdiction of the borough court of portmanmoot, which met every Monday, was defined and confirmed in successive charters. (fn. 102) According to the charter of 1599, it was to be held by the mayor, recorder, bailiffs, steward, or one of them, and might entertain pleas of trespass, actions on the case, actions of debt, account, covenant, fraud, detinue, and contract arising within the borough. As a court of record, fines recording transfers of property were also made in it. (fn. 103) Christopher Tamworth, as steward of the town, had attempted to maintain the steward's right that the court should be held in his presence and its proceedings be attested by him. According to the charter of 1609, the court was to be held before the mayor, recorder, and aldermen, or any three of them, the mayor being one. The public importance of the court is shown by the act of submission before it of William Proudlove in 1517 for abusing the authority of the mayor. (fn. 104)
At the opening of this period the town had not succeeded in freeing itself from the lord's milling and oven rights. Inhabitants of Leicester were frequently taken to law over the right of suit to the mills held from the Crown, which at various times they tried to evade by using mills outside the town. (fn. 105) The lawsuit with Dr. John Chippingdale at the end of the 16th century is a particularly important example. The town, however, eventually succeeded in purchasing the North Mill, the windmill in the South Field, the Newarke mill, and finally the castle mills by 1638. (fn. 106) The town was also involved in frequent disputes concerning the lord's right to have bread which was for sale baked in the lord's ovens. In 1533 there were said to be five ovens belonging to the king in Leicester, and a few years before it had been ordered that new ovens should be pulled down. (fn. 107) The baking and sale of bread was the subject of frequent orders by the Duchy Court. (fn. 108)
The Duchy of Lancaster had its own financial machinery for the collection of dues and rents. A duchy auditor and receiver made an annual visit to the town in October to receive and audit the duchy revenues, including the quit rent of a broad arrow for the Butt Close. The audit was usually held at Leicester castle, though sometimes at the 'Angel' or other inn in Leicester, and was attended by the borough chamberlains. The chamberlains presented their account, each item being entered in detail, and paid over their rents. (fn. 109) They received a receipt and quittance, (fn. 110) and afterwards might entertain the auditor and receiver to dinner or regale them with wine and sugar. (fn. 111)
In the 16th century the Crown was drawing rents from many houses and lands in and around Leicester which were duchy property. All colleges and chantries within the duchy belonged to it rather than to the Crown and were administered by the Duchy Court according to a statute of 1547. Separate officers were appointed in 1549 to receive the revenues of the Newarke and duchy chantries. About 1587 the town decided to attempt to secure not only the reconstitution of the borough but to acquire the property paying fee-farm rents to the duchy. A commission of 1587 to examine the state of duchy property reported that there were 235 houses in the town in decay, the cost of repairing which would amount to £5,123 6s. 8d. (fn. 112) This assessment presumably helped to induce the queen to include a grant of property in Leicester in her charter of 1589, for the annual payment to the queen, in right of the Duchy of Lancaster, of £137 13s. 7¾d., which was the total of the fee-farm rents. The town thus gained control over the Shambles, the Drapery, and the Sheep pens, though the market stalls were omitted. (fn. 113) Lands of the Hospitals of St. John and St. Leonard, of the guilds of St. Margaret and Corpus Christi, and of the colleges of St. Mary de Castro and St. Mary in the Newarke were enumerated. The town also secured a lease in reversion (fn. 114) of the Newarke Grange lands (fn. 115) for the annual rent of £32 1s. 4d., having previously purchased the leases held by Francis Hastings for £713 6s. 8d. by borrowing money on the security of the town estate. Leases of their new property were granted by the corporation as soon as possible, with the result that the town rental was considerably increased. Some difficulty was experienced at first over the collection of the rents and a court order had to be obtained that the tenants should pay the mayor and corporation, who would then pay the total in one lump sum to the queen's receiver. (fn. 116) The Privy Council also found it necessary to instruct the mayor that the rents had been granted for the benefit of the town and were not to be put to private use. (fn. 117)
It was not until James I's reign that the corporation was able to purchase the fee farm of the Newarke Grange estate. A petition to the king indicating the corporation's desire to purchase was drawn up in 1604, (fn. 118) but the existing sub-tenant of one half of the Grange, Dr. Chippingdale, opposed the proposal and enlisted powerful support, so that the corporation's intentions were frustrated for the time being. (fn. 119) The matter was raised again in 1613 when both the Earl of Huntingdon and Sir William Heyrick gave the town their encouragement. Although quibbling at first over the price, the corporation eventually agreed to purchase the Grange, the Newarke Mill, and other lands for £1,000. Some town property had to be sold to raise the money and the transaction does not seem to have been completed until 1623. (fn. 120) About the same time, the mayor was also encouraged to attempt to define and establish the position of the old hospital in the Newarke and the corporation eventually obtained a grant of incorporation for the hospital in 1615. The Crown continued to make grants for the maintenance of the poor from the revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster. (fn. 121)
A matter also affecting duchy rights was the disafforestation of Leicester Forest in the reign of Charles I. By commissions of 1627, Sir Miles Fleetwood was authorized to survey the forest and to make allotments of land to those claiming rights in it. (fn. 122) His task proved most unpopular. It was claimed that the allotments were unfair and that the inclosures would hinder trade by stopping up the highways. The hedges of the inclosures were thrown down by a band of rioters and some of the king's deer were killed. (fn. 123) Meanwhile a complaint against the disafforestation was sent from Leicester and other places in the area to the king and the Duke of Buckingham. Their petition was referred to a committee of the Privy Council and the rioters were prosecuted in the Star Chamber. (fn. 124) The inhabitants of Leicester presented a petition to the House of Lords, which upheld the allotments made by Fleetwood, though recommending that the Attorney General should approach the king for permission to stop the action in the Star Chamber. (fn. 125) As compensation for the loss of its ancient right to take wood from the forest, Charles I gave the town of Leicester 40 acres of land in the forest, which were leased for £16 per annum, to provide 60 poor householders with loads of wood at midsummer. (fn. 126) Twenty acres were also allotted in lieu of the rights of common belonging to the Grange lands. However, opposition to the inclosures remained very strong in Leicester. In 1641 the town hoped there would be a chance of reopening the forest, and a petition was sent to the House of Lords for a new commission to examine the proceedings of 1627. (fn. 127)
The organization of the Duchy of Lancaster was disrupted by the Civil War with serious consequences to the town. In 1643, Parliament ordered the king's revenue in the duchy to be siezed (fn. 128) and, in 1649, the first Act for the sale of the royal estates was passed. (fn. 129) In 1650 it was ordered that the fee-farm rents not granted away before 1641 should be sold. (fn. 130) This seriously affected the position of the corporation of Leicester and especially endangered the maintenance of the Trinity Hospital. It was hoped that the mayor and corporation would be allowed, as immediate tenants, to arrange a purchase. However, their claim was not admitted and 'the whole Honor of Leicester . . . pitcht upon by a Regiment'. (fn. 131) The honor of Leicester with the castle was, in fact, purchased by John Sanderson of Hedleyhope (co. Dur.) in 1650. The perquisites of the borough courts were held by the town from him, but difficulties arose over the payment of rent to his successor. (fn. 132) At the Restoration, the town reverted to a lease of the courts made by Charles I. (fn. 133)
Relations with the Clergy, Nobility, and Gentry
The personal influence of ecclesiastics in the town at this period was slight. High ecclesiastics (fn. 134) rarely came to Leicester and the resident ecclesiastical bodies established there in the Middle Ages were destroyed at the Reformation. The authority of the Bishop of Lincoln over his court officials might occasionally conflict with their duty to the corporation, as in the case of Henry Palmer, clerk to the bishop's registrar, who was also a member of the town's common council. (fn. 135) The fact that Bishop Williams of Lincoln for a time held the office of Lord Keeper of the Great Seal meant that the town had correspondence (fn. 136) with him that was no part of its normal relationship with its bishop. His commendation of the founding of the town library was made, however, as bishop, for the new arrangement involved the removal of books from the chancel of St. Martin's church. (fn. 137) But the most well-known instance of the town's connexion with an ecclesiastical politician resulted from the fact that Cardinal Wolsey, on his journey to London in disgrace, took shelter in Leicester Abbey and died there. The mayor and principal citizens of Leicester were said to have been among those called to view the body before its burial in the abbey church. (fn. 138)
The town of Leicester was prepared to offer deference to local lay patrons, who would assist it in its relations with the central government and take an interest in the material and spiritual well being of its inhabitants. Most influence in the affairs of the town was therefore accorded to those who combined political power with an interest in the locality derived from the possession of estates and the holding of official dignities in the county. But the town had political, and frequently social, relations with the members of several noble families living at various distances from Leicester, such as the Greys at Bradgate, the Cavendishes at Leicester Abbey, the Heyricks at Beaumanor, and the Hastingses at Donington Park, Ashby de la Zouch, and elsewhere. The lord lieutenants, the sheriffs, the county justices of the peace, and the officials of the duchy were all of consequence in the town by virtue of their office. Other factors were also taken into account, especially during and after the Civil War. For instance, Sir Arthur Hazlerigg owed his influence largely to his political success, (fn. 139) while Lord Grey of Groby gained additional reputation from a military command. (fn. 140) It may be noted that Hastings and Grey were names which had long been associated with the county, but the Heyricks of Beaumanor owed their rise to the wealth of Sir William Heyrick, jeweller to James I and Charles I. (fn. 141) Towards the end of the period, the Manners family, who were later to play so large a part in the affairs of the county, began to assume a growing importance. This was due to the prudence and good fortune of John Manners, eighth Earl of Rutland (d. 1679), who contrived to remain in favour with the government both during and after the Interregnum. (fn. 142)
By far the most important influence on the town at this time was that of successive earls of Huntingdon. It reached its height under Henry Hastings, the third earl, whose power has been described as both 'amicable, eleemosynary, and authoritative'. (fn. 143) He held several great offices of state and was lord lieutenant of a group of counties. He was Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire from 1559 to 1595 and steward of the honor of Leicester. (fn. 144) His advice was constantly sought and his aid invoked in matters involving relations between the borough and the central government, such as the occasion in 1597 when the mayor was accused of falsifying the coin of the realm. (fn. 145) He also played a leading part in various domestic concerns of the town. In addition to giving financial assistance, the Earl of Huntingdon drew up regulations for the government of the free school (fn. 146) and Wyggeston's Hospital. (fn. 147) The earl was also concerned with the provision and endowment of a town preacher. (fn. 148) The earl's pronounced Puritan sympathies endeared him to the people of Leicester, and the same deference was not accorded to his descendant, the royalist, Henry, Lord Loughborough, at the outbreak of the Civil War. The traditional influence of the Hastings family was, however, recovered at the Restoration.
Relations with the County Authorities
The town was brought into close relations with the county authorities over various questions affecting both town and county. One of them, taxation, has been dealt with above. Another, defence, was the responsibility of the sheriff and the justices, and later of the lord lieutenant, a new official who during this period was taking an important place in county administration. In the business of mustering and training men, the rights and responsibilities of towns were stated in Acts of Parliament passed under Mary. When instructions were issued for general musters the town obtained special directions for musters in Leicester and the nomination of the mayor as a commissioner. (fn. 149) The town was also anxious to maintain a right to be consulted about demands for men and equipment and to attempt to reduce the borough's commitments on all occasions. (fn. 150) Instructions were not only given for men to be mustered and trained at home, but on a number of occasions demands were made for men and equipment for foreign service. A contingent was sent to Tilbury from Leicester at the time of the Armada. (fn. 151) The town also kept a stock of armour, ammunition, and weapons for the different types of service. Armour was acquired by gift and by purchase, (fn. 152) and in 1607 a town armourer was employed to keep the stock clean and in good order. (fn. 153) Expenses incurred in training and equipping soldiers were met by a levy from the corporation and the inhabitants at large in proportion, and the sums spent were recorded in the Chamberlains' Accounts. (fn. 154)
In the case of an emergency special instructions were issued. Shortly before the rebellion in the north in 1569, the corporation ordered a levy to be raised for the purchase of ten large pikes and ten new corslets 'to serve the Quenes majestie . . . if occasion shall happen'. (fn. 155) The corporation was put to further expense and trouble by the precautions of the government. Mary, Queen of Scots, was moved from Ashby castle to Leicester and thence to Coventry in November 1569. She was escorted by a considerable body of soldiers who were kept in the town a day and a night. (fn. 156) The army under the Earl of Warwick must have passed through Leicester a short time afterwards. (fn. 157) A considerable amount of warlike stores was sent to him at Leicester and certain troops were ordered to assemble there. (fn. 158) It was decided in 1570 to raise a special levy from the corporation and the inhabitants to defray the expenses incurred. (fn. 159)
The office of lord lieutenant was increasingly used after the rebellion. Besides the authority to hold musters in towns under the terms of his commission, he acquired a more general influence in other than strictly military matters. Especially was he prepared to take action in times of disorder, such as the anti-inclosure riots in which Leicester townsmen were involved in 1607. (fn. 160) On this occasion he extorted the most humble submission from the Mayor of Leicester. He was also prepared to take the lead in the apprehension of seminary priests and expected to be consulted 'consideringe that in such cases, I houlde my aucthoritye somwhat more than any common justice amongste you'. The more ancient office of sheriff retained various duties, one of which was the execution of writs for the election of members of Parliament. As it affected Leicester, the process may be illustrated by the election of 1584. The sheriff sent a precept dated 6 November to the mayor for the election of burgesses for the Parliament to meet on 23 November. The election took place on 12 November and by 15 November the return had been sent to London. (fn. 161)
In the summer of 1642 a struggle took place in Leicestershire between the supporters of King and Parliament for the control of men and supplies. The great county families took opposing sides, Henry Hastings supporting the king, Lord Grey of Groby and Sir Arthur Hazlerigg the Parliament. Each side sought to gain possession of the county magazine at the Newarke. The corporation met a temporary ascendancy of the royalists with caution and showed no enthusiasm when the king visited the town in July. (fn. 162) In August a royal letter directed the mayor to send arms and ammunition to Warwickshire, but the corporation protested that their store was too small to be worth transporting. (fn. 163) In September Prince Rupert's demand of £2,000 under threat of besieging the town was met by the payment of £500, but the king disavowed his nephew's letter and the corporation was profuse in its thanks. (fn. 164) Notwithstanding protestations to the contrary, Leicester seems to have admitted a parliamentary garrison some time in 1643. (fn. 165) The committee appointed in 1644 to defend the county included three townsmen. (fn. 166) A certain amount was done to fortify the town and more vigorous preparations were undertaken when it became clear, early in 1645, that Leicester was likely to be besieged. (fn. 167) The town was ill provided with the means of making a prolonged defence and suffered much destruction. The town authorities were themselves plundered of the corporation insignia, as is recorded in the Town Hall Book, (fn. 168) and had at once to face the problem of assisting those rendered homeless. More defensive work was undertaken after the recapture of the town from the royalists by Sir Thomas Fairfax, but in 1646 the garrison was disbanded and the defences gradually taken down. (fn. 169) Colonel Edward Whalley, the major-general acting in Leicestershire, negotiated in 1656 between the town and county authorities over the licensing of a victualler in the Bishop's Fee. (fn. 170)
The administration of justice similarly brought the town and county authorities together. By the charters of Edward IV and Henry VII, the town had obtained the exemption of its inhabitants from appearance before the county justices and the right to appoint a recorder and its own justices of the peace and coroners. Separate sessions were thus held for the town and care was taken that the sheriff should not empanel any inhabitant to serve on his juries. Serious cases were referred by the justices of the peace to the assizes, which were held in Leicester, usually in the Newarke, but on occasion in the Town Hall. (fn. 171) It is clear that the assizes were a source of profit to the townsmen, so that there was considerable disappointment when it was decided to hold them in Hinckley in 1611 because of the plague. (fn. 172) This outbreak was so severe that the county justices undertook to levy rates in the county to assist the corporation of Leicester. (fn. 173) The relations between the town and the county justices in the early 17th century had not been very happy owing to differences over the 1599 charter. The town wished to secure exclusive jurisdiction in the liberties, but several county justices living in the Newarke sent a protest on the subject to Sir Robert Cecil in 1600. (fn. 174) About the same time the Mayor of Leicester complained (fn. 175) to the judges that the county justices were taking advantage of the statutes (fn. 176) for the relief of poor prisoners and maimed soldiers and sailors to place unfair rating burdens on the town. As has been said, the corporation failed to obtain an extension of its jurisdiction and the problem of the liberties was left unsettled.
The Borough Administration
Although legal form was not given to the incorporation of Leicester until 1589, the governing body of the town made use of the term 'corporation' before that date. Thus in 1573 it was agreed 'by the Mayor and Comburgesses in the name of the holl Corporacion' that a new lease should be made of certain town land. (fn. 177) The charter of 1599 altered the style of the corporation from that of 'the Mayor and Burgesses of Leicester' to that of 'the Mayor, Bailiffs, and Burgesses' of Leicester. The corporation was declared to be a perpetual community, able to hold, receive, and grant and assign lands. It might plead and be impleaded in all courts and use a common seal. (fn. 178) The government of the town was to be conducted by 24 aldermen and 48 councillors. Until 1599 the chief officers of the ten wards had been known as aldermen, and the Twenty-four were referred to variously as the mayor's brethren, the masters of the bench, or the 'worshipful company of the Four-and-twenty'. (fn. 179) The councillors were known as the company of the Forty-eight, the commonalty, or the comburgesses. (fn. 180) A variety of styles continued in use during the period.
The aldermen were elected from the 48 common council members and the councillors from the freemen of the town. The freedom might be acquired by birth, service as apprentice, or by gift of the corporation on payment of a money fine or a bottle of wine. (fn. 181) During this period the freedom ceased to have practical meaning as admission to the Guild Merchant or Chapman Guild, and these terms and the description Brethren of the Guild gradually went out of use. (fn. 182) The freemen and all corporation members and officers were required to take appropriate oaths. (fn. 183) Fines were paid for refusal to serve either as alderman or councillor, resignation was allowed, and cases of dismissal are recorded for poverty and neglect of duty. (fn. 184) Aldermen and councillors were subject, in some cases, to heavier penalties than the ordinary inhabitants for the infringement of the borough regulations but did not have to undergo the severer forms of imprisonment. (fn. 185)
It is not clear on what occasions both aldermen and councillors were summoned to the meetings of the governing body of the town known as 'common halls'. There seems to have been no by-law on the subject. Fines were payable for neglect of a summons to appear at a hall or to attend the mayor, (fn. 186) and it was recorded, on occasion, that not enough persons were present for the proceedings of the hall to continue. (fn. 187) From the later 16th century it became usual to keep a note of the names of those present at the common halls from which it can be seen that decisions were regularly taken by a small number of persons. The aldermen are sometimes found acting by themselves (fn. 188) and, towards the end of the period, there are references to 'courts' of aldermen. (fn. 189) In 1609, the mayor, aldermen, and twenty-four seniors of the Forty-eight were authorized to make bargains with regard to the town lands. (fn. 190) This recognized an earlier practice, but though commissioners for the town lands continued to be appointed, they did not become part of the regular machinery of town government. However, the 'ancients' of the two companies were often mentioned in general as persons of superior importance, as if their seniority enhanced the value of their votes. (fn. 191)
There seems to be no clear record of voting at meetings of the companies until 1591. In 1591 it was stated that a vote was taken on the proposed union of the parishes of St. Peter and All Saints by the dissentients leaving the council chamber. The majority of those present, including the mayor, remained behind. (fn. 192) The importance of the mayor's vote on this occasion was made clear and it was sometimes mentioned that an issue was decided by the mayor's casting vote. (fn. 193) In the 17th century a favourite method of voting seems to have been by marking a document on which various proposed courses of action were set out. (fn. 194) In 1659 it was recorded that the mayor was elected 'by tickets' which suggests some kind of ballot. (fn. 195) Some lists have been preserved recording the voting in parliamentary elections. (fn. 196)
During the later 16th century regulations were made concerning the dress of the two companies. Both aldermen and councillors came to be required to wear caps and gowns at common halls, and at assizes, sessions, and fairs. (fn. 197) During the same period better provision was made for the meetings of the two companies. The town authorities had used the hall of the Corpus Christi Guild both before and after its suppression by Edward VI. (fn. 198) Their right to the building was eventually secured when Robert Braham, the recorder, negotiated a purchase of the hall on behalf of the town in 1563. (fn. 199) The town had already spent money on the upkeep of the hall and many charges for alterations and additions to the building may be found entered thereafter in the chamberlains' accounts. (fn. 200) The hall passed into regular use as the Town Hall, while the old Town Hall seems to have been used as a store. (fn. 201) Nichols suggested that the latter was the building in Blue Boar Lane known as the Old Shop, (fn. 202) which was destroyed in 1645.
The position of the chief officer of the corporation, the mayor, increased in dignity, importance, and responsibility at this time. The 1589 charter provided for his election by the two companies on St. Matthew's day. (fn. 203) Two or more persons were nominated but there seems to have been no recognized system of rotation among the aldermen who were candidates for the office. According to James I's charter, the mayor had to take his oath at Leicester castle before the steward of the honor on the Monday following Martinmas. (fn. 204) The reason for this provision was the Earl of Huntingdon's allegation that the mayor had grown slack in the performance of this obligation and that the oath had been taken in the Town Hall. (fn. 205) The mayor, however, went in procession to the castle in 1609 to do as was required. (fn. 206) It was possible to avoid acting as mayor by payment of a fine until 1644 when it was decided that no fine would be accepted. (fn. 207) In 1572 the mayor's fee of £10 per annum was raised to £13 6s. 8d. 'towardes the better mayntenaunce of his howsse kepinge'. (fn. 208) A deputy mayor was appointed when occasion required. (fn. 209)
The mayor was expected to maintain a certain ceremonial dignity. In 1555 the Lord Chancellor and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster instructed him and his brethren to maintain ancient custom in dress, and in that year an 'Acte for the wearing of skarlet' was passed. (fn. 210) The mayor was expected to wear scarlet at Christmas, New Year, Twelfth Day, Easter, Whitsun, and fair days, and to meet the judges at the assizes. Special regulations for the dress of the whole corporation were made on the occasion of royal visits to the town. (fn. 211) When Samuel Wanley died in his year of office as mayor, his funeral was arranged with suitable pomp. (fn. 212) It was incumbent upon the mayor to feast the corporation and to take a leading part in entertaining important visitors. (fn. 213) He attended church in state in the parish in which he resided. (fn. 214)
Two chamberlains were chosen annually, one from the Twenty-four, the other, who had precedence and was known as the town chamberlain, from the Forty-eight. They were paid £1 each, and were responsible for the whole finance of the town, including both permanent and ad hoc expenditure. (fn. 215) The responsibility of the chamberlains for collecting rents was much increased during this period by the growth of the town rental produced by the acquisition of property and the falling in of expired leases. (fn. 216) The chamberlainship was not a popular office, and in 1521 it was decided that no one should be able to redeem it for less than £5. (fn. 217) But fines appear to have been varied by the corporation, presumably according to individual capacity to pay. (fn. 218) The chamberlains were responsible for the production of an account of the borough finances, which was subject to audit and to production before a common hall on the first Friday in Lent. (fn. 219) In 1581 it was agreed that the chamberlains should hold an annual dinner. The chamberlains carried staves. (fn. 220)
The official originally known as the mayor's clerk also increased rapidly in importance during this period. His position was recognized by the charter of 1599 which laid down that there should be a common clerk. (fn. 221) His name was included thereafter in the annual list of corporation officers given in the Hall Book. He was also clerk of the peace and after 1572 received an annual fee of 26s. 8d. as mayor's clerk and 6s. 8s. as clerk of the peace. (fn. 222) He also received fees for recording admissions to the freedom, to the companies of Twenty-four and Forty-eight, and to the trade companies, and had the making of indentures of apprenticeship. The title of town clerk, originally given to the town steward, was transferred to the common clerk, who soon eclipsed him in importance, aided by the rise of quarter sessions and the decline of the leet. It can be seen that while the clerk carried out a great deal of secretarial work, such as writing out the chamberlains' accounts and the Hall Books, (fn. 223) he was also employed in matters involving greater responsibility. He assisted especially with the legal business of the town and was particularly useful to the recorder. (fn. 224) Matters involving the town records were referred to him. (fn. 225) By the time of James I the town clerk employed a servant, (fn. 226) and in 1634 it was decided that the town should provide the clerk with a gown but that this gift was to be no precedent. (fn. 227)
The position of the recorder was somewhat different from that of the other corporation officers. The corporation was primarily anxious to secure the services of a person whose legal qualifications and ability would be of value. The great patrons of the town frequently offered advice on the choice of a recorder. (fn. 228) It was accepted that the recorder had his own interests in London and elsewhere, and his presence was only expected in Leicester on important occasions such as the election of the mayor, and at sessions and assizes. (fn. 229) He was paid a fee which rose during the period from 26s. 8d. to £10 and frequently also his travelling expenses. (fn. 230) A bedroom was provided for him in the town hall and in 1579 it was decided that he should be given a scarlet gown. (fn. 231) The recorders of Leicester have included some judges, such as Sir Augustine Nicolls, recorder from 1603 to 1612, and John Beaumont, recorder in 1550, who became Master of the Rolls. It may also be noticed that the names of the recorders occur among the borough M.P.s during the 16th century. At the end of the period it appears that John Maior was employed as town solicitor from about 1655. He assisted in legal business such as the difficulty over the revenue of the Trinity Hospital (fn. 232) and the suit brought against the corporation by Edward Palmer for being dispossessed from the office of town clerk. (fn. 233)
The other corporation officers mentioned in the 1599 charter were the five sergeantsat-mace whose business was to make proclamations and arrests and to execute processes and keep the boundaries. (fn. 234) The sergeants assisted the bailiff in the court of record and in 1655 it was decided, on account of the bailiff's neglect of his office, that the processes of the court should be directed to the chief sergeant-at-mace. (fn. 235) The 1599 charter stated that the sergeants should be chosen by the mayor and aldermen though in 1595 it had been agreed that the mayor should nominate two sergeants and the bailiff two sergeants. (fn. 236) The sergeants were provided with gowns and had a fee for every prisoner committed. (fn. 237) They also received a fee from the members of the Forty-eight and from those entering the freedom and the trade companies. (fn. 238) Kelly has drawn attention to the fact that the position of mace-bearer was originally of some dignity, (fn. 239) but about 1634 a resolution of the common hall was passed to restrain the sergeants from begging. (fn. 240) The sergeants were required to attend the mayor and to carry silver-gilt maces. The town also possessed a great mace which was lost at the capture of the town by the king's army. (fn. 241) There is also mention of a night mace which may have been capable of use against the disorderly. (fn. 242)
The position of the bailiffs has already been mentioned. (fn. 243) Other annual officers not named in the charter were the coroners, stewards of the fair, auditors of accounts, and fish, meat, and leather testers. Two coroners, chosen from the aldermen who had not been mayors, held office each year, one retiring and one being appointed each year. Three stewards of the fair were usually appointed annually and three auditors of accounts for each of the four quarters of the town. Three persons were usually appointed annually as fish and meat testers and five as leather testers. The aldermen of the ten wards acted as ale testers unless they were themselves brewers. (fn. 244) Special officers were occasionally appointed as ale testers. A company of waits was also maintained by the town and provided with badges and liveries. (fn. 245) The waits were required to play in the town every morning and evening and to attend the mayor on special occasions. After 1581 they received a regular wage. (fn. 246) Other town officials were the librarian (after 1633) (fn. 247) and the beadle. (fn. 248)
According to the 1599 charter, the mayor, the recorder, and the four aldermen who had last been mayor were to act as justices of the peace for the borough. Their jurisdiction had been defined by the charters of Edward IV and Henry VII (fn. 249) but the scope of their activities was considerably widened during this period. Particular mention may be made of the poor law regulations and of the parliamentary ordinance establishing civil marriage in 1653. (fn. 250) A great deal of business was done by the mayor and one or more justices outside quarter sessions, which tended to become elaborate affairs. In 1599 it was agreed that the sessions should be held quarterly but that the mayor should give no dinner for the recorder. (fn. 251) But at a later period the idea of quarterly sessions was given up, for in 1648 it was decided that at least three sessions should be held, the mayor to have £1 6s. 8d. for each sessions dinner on this condition. (fn. 252) From the surviving 17th-century rolls (fn. 253) two sessions appear to have been held a year, in April and September.
The town was divided into ten wards each placed under the supervision of an alderman. (fn. 254) With the assistance of their respective constables and thirdboroughs, they were responsible for carrying out various statutory and borough regulations for such purposes as taxation, defence, the preservation of public order, and the management of trade and commerce. (fn. 255) Some matters depended on the co-operation of the parish officers. The constables and the overseers of the highways both had duties in connexion with the repair of the streets (fn. 256) and the constables and overseers of the poor joined in the administration of the poor law. (fn. 257) The corporation had a particularly close interest in the church and parish of St. Martin (fn. 258) and agreed to augment the stipend of the Vicar of St. Mary de Castro. (fn. 259)
The right of the corporation to make by-laws for the town was confirmed by the 1599 charter. An important and frequent subject of its concern was the 'policing' and maintenance of good order in the town. Regulations were made for the town to be watched at night from Ascension Day until Michaelmas, according to the Statute of Winchester, all freemen to contribute to the cost. (fn. 260) The mace-bearer usually summoned the constables and thirdboroughs to receive their charge about the watch from the mayor on Ascension Eve. (fn. 261) In 1636 it was ordered that one constable should perambulate the town at night to see that the watchmen were on duty. (fn. 262) Penalties for being out of doors after 9 p.m. were fixed by an 'Acte for Nyght Walkers' which was passed in 1553 and later renewed. (fn. 263) Care was also taken to look out for places likely to be disorderly and in 1593 it was ordered that two of the Twenty-four and two of the Forty-eight should keep a watch on alehouses by night and day. (fn. 264) Special regulations were made at times of particular disturbance or danger, as in July 1642. (fn. 265) A vigorous attempt was made to stem the spread of infection by preventing the movement of persons suffering from the plague. (fn. 266) A watch was kept in general on lodgers and on strangers taking up residence in the town. (fn. 267)
Other matters with which the corporation was concerned were the upkeep of the streets, sanitation, and the prevention of fire. Regulations were made to enforce the obligation of every householder to clean and maintain the street before his house. (fn. 268) Some work was done by hired labour, (fn. 269) however, and building at times by contract. (fn. 270) Special efforts were made on the occasion of a royal visit to the town. (fn. 271) The inhabitants were liable to be presented at the court leet for leaving wood in the streets or in any way impeding the passage through them. (fn. 272) In 1619 carts with iron-bound wheels were forbidden. (fn. 273) Regulations were made for the disposal of dung (fn. 274) and in 1588 it was decided to employ a scavenger. (fn. 275) In 1584 the common wells were ordered to be kept in repair by the inhabitants of the ward or quarter in which they were placed. The aldermen were required to appoint well reeves. (fn. 276) A conduit was erected in 1612, (fn. 277) and in 1655 the corporation was discussing the further improvement of the water-supply. (fn. 278) It was important to have a ready supply of water in case of outbreaks of fire. In 1601 it was ordered that the aldermen should keep two leather buckets in their houses and the members of the Forty-eight should keep one, while it was agreed that a leather bucket and a hook should be kept at each of the town gates. (fn. 279)
The corporation exercised a general superintendence in matters of trade and commerce. An attempt was not only made to regulate the quality and prices of the goods offered for sale, but also to secure a monopoly of trade for the freemen of the town. At the end of the 16th century the corporation thus came to be involved in a protracted dispute with the glovers and fellmongers of neighbouring towns. (fn. 280) Leicester was also to a great extent an agricultural community. The corporation therefore took up the defence of the freemen's right to pasture horses and cattle in the Frith, an arrangement which had been made with the Dean of the Newarke College and which had been disturbed by the inclosure of the Frith under Henry VIII. (fn. 281) Disputes continued into the reign of James I despite the corporation's purchase of leases of the grange. (fn. 282)
The government frequently took a hand in the regulation of economic affairs. (fn. 283) The question of the control of brewing and the licensing of alehouses was one of great concern to both town and state. The town sought to control wholesale brewing (fn. 284) but the licensing of alehouse-keepers was dealt with by the justices and quarter sessions. (fn. 285) The corporation and the government were both concerned with the number of alehouses in the town and the suppression of disorderly or unlicensed houses. (fn. 286) Among the grants of monopoly made in the reign of James I, a patent for taking recognizances from innkeepers was issued to Robert Dixon and William Almond. (fn. 287) This gave rise to peculation and discontent, moving the corporation of Leicester to protest against it to Sir Henry Hobart, Chief Justice of Common Pleas, in 1618. (fn. 288) The government also wished to enforce the eating of fish on fast days, and the Acts for this purpose affected the mayor's authority to license butchers to kill animals in Lent. (fn. 289) Another object of the government was the enforcement of a uniform standard of weights and measures. A set of weights and measures was kept in the Town Hall and viewed periodically by the justices as the law required. (fn. 290) In 1578 it was found that several were faulty. In 1588 new weights were received from the Exchequer but the town was said to be still using false ones in 1600. (fn. 291)
The corporation was also the guardian of the religion, education, and morals of the inhabitants. With the active and generous assistance of the Earl of Huntingdon, permanent provision was made for a town preacher, (fn. 292) and in 1597 it was ordered that at least one from every house should attend the weekday sermons on Wednesdays and Fridays. (fn. 293) The alehouses were ordered to be closed in service time and butchers were forbidden to sell meat after 7 a.m. on Sundays. (fn. 294) The building and endowment of the free school, to which the queen contributed, (fn. 295) were no doubt intended to contribute to the instruction of the inhabitants in knowledge and orthodoxy. The execution of the poor law and the restriction of vagrancy, ill living, and contention was primarily the responsibility of the justices of the peace, (fn. 296) while the town provided a cart, cuck-stool, and stocks for the punishment of those offending. (fn. 297) There was also a Bridewell or house of correction, established sometime after 1604, the inmates of which were employed in various tasks. (fn. 298) Breakers of Cromwellian Sunday observance regulations were fined for the benefit of the poor. (fn. 299)
At the same time, much was done to relieve the material wants of the unfortunate. Various public schemes were set on foot for the distribution of doles or the provision of work for the poor. (fn. 300) The corporation also became the agent for the philanthropic ambitions of many private individuals and was invested with land and money to lend or distribute in provisions. (fn. 301) A notable endowment was that of Sir Thomas White, first given to Coventry in 1542, in which Leicester came to participate. Loans from this benefaction were first distributed in Leicester in 1610. (fn. 302) Institutions such as the Trinity Hospital became a favourite object of the benevolence of Leicester citizens. The mayor also had authority to take bonds from executors for the payment of legacies to orphans. This power, at first confined to the children of freemen, was extended to include the unfranchised in 1572. (fn. 303) The Crown also stimulated generosity by the issue of briefs; one was issued in 1640 for the rebuilding of St. Leonard's Church, Leicester, (fn. 304) and the practice was continued by Parliament, which issued an ordinance for the relief of distress in Leicester after the siege. (fn. 305)
The corporation of Leicester was brought into commercial and other relations with various neighbouring townships in the county. In the village of Whetstone, to the south of Leicester, it had important rights through the ownership of property. Courts were held for the corporation's tenants in Whetstone, which the mayor was allowed in 1569 to hold at his discretion. He either attended himself or sent one of the chamberlains. (fn. 306) It was possible to call upon the Whetstone tenants for assistance in times of difficulty, (fn. 307) but they were also a source of trouble. The corporation might be called on to intervene in disputes between its tenants and the freeholders of Whetstone, (fn. 308) while in 1655 the town solicitor was instructed to begin legal proceedings in the name of the corporation against persons who had set up a market there. (fn. 309)
The period that witnessed the formal incorporation of the town of Leicester was one of great changes. The number of borough officers increased and national policy conferred many new duties upon them, while the duties of the justices of the peace and of quarter sessions grew at the expense of the other local courts. The town's estate increased by purchase and gift, and its control of charitable funds gave it influence in social activity, while at the same time increasing the complexities of government. In spite of the growth in the dignity and responsibilities of the corporation, the overlordship of the king as Duke of Lancaster remained a reality, and in political and other matters the town was, to a great extent, dependent on the good offices of local patrons who did not, on the whole, encourage the corporation's ambition to extend its authority.
A strong leaning towards Puritanism in the town was apparent from the reign of Elizabeth, the Puritan party finally gaining control after the Civil War and persisting in a firm attachment to the Protectorate. But a cleavage had been made in the ranks of the corporation, which found itself in an uneasy political position when Charles II was proclaimed in Leicester on 12 May 1660.