A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8, the City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1969.
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POLITICAL AND ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY TO 1545
WARWICK was already a borough by the time of the Domesday survey, but scarcely anything is known of its customs or of the privileges then enjoyed by the burgesses. Soon after 1086 the Crown granted the borough to the earls of Warwick, and it became one of the few medietized boroughs in England. It is noteworthy, moreover, for the high degree of its dependence on the earls and for its almost complete failure to develop corporate organs of government. It may be contrasted even with Leicester, another borough notable for 'the completeness of its medietization from royal control into the hands of magnates'; for Leicester gradually acquired borough institutions and a corporate existence. (fn. 1) The economic backwardness of Warwick may go far to explain its failure to win, or perhaps even to seek, a greater measure of self-government. It is impossible to judge to what extent the town may have suffered from its dependence on the castle. The earls were certainly not oblivious to the condition of the town and they secured a number of benefits for it, but these seem to have been at least partly designed to enhance the earls' own wealth and dignity. (fn. 2)
The Domesday survey (fn. 3) throws little light on administrative arrangements in pre-Conquest Warwick, or indeed on those of 1086. Most of the burgesses, occupying the king's 113 houses and the 112 of his barons, paid geld to the king, but there is evidence for the existence of a small privileged group of burgesses who may have been geld-free. Nineteen burgesses held their houses 'with sac and soc and all customary rights'; they thus presumably enjoyed the king's share of issues arising from their houses, but there is no means of knowing whether they were entitled to hold their own courts.
The existence of a body of substantial burgesses is possibly reflected in the custom of Warwick regarding military service. Ten burgesses were required to accompany the king on expeditions by land, and any who failed to go when summoned used to pay £5; when he went by sea the king was to have four boatswains or £4. It may be that the nineteen burgesses were of thegnly rank and were responsible for performing the first of these obligations. Stephen Stirman, listed among the barons holding houses in Warwick, may have been one of the boatswains, or steersmen. (fn. 4)
The farm of the borough is not separately given in the Survey, but is combined with that of the county. Before the Conquest the king had received £65 and 36 sestars of honey (or £24 8s. instead of the honey) from the shrievalty and from the borough and the royal manors in Warwickshire. In 1086 the pleas of the shire, the borough, and the manors together contributed £145 of weighed silver, £23 for dogs, £1 for a sumpter horse, £10 for a hawk, and £5 as a gift to the queen. In addition the king had 24 sestars of honey, with another 6 sestars from the borough, each worth 1s. 3d.; of this the Count of Meulan took 6 sestars and 5s., that is one-third. Besides these sources of revenue the king received in 1086 the former perquisites of Earl Edwin; these, the third penny of the pleas of the shire and of the profits of the borough, had already before the Conquest been attached to the earl's nearby manor of Cotes. (fn. 5)
This is the only evidence which the demands of the royal Exchequer provide about the administration of Warwick, for the town was granted to the earls soon after 1086, perhaps in 1088 when the earldom was created. The earldom was then assigned the lands which in 1086 had been held by Turchil, and the first earl, Henry de Beaumont, also acquired the estates held in 1086 by his brother Robert, Count of Meulan. (fn. 6) Thus it was that most of the rural estates in Warwick came into the earls' hands. Of those in Myton in 1086, one was held from the king by the Count of Meulan, another from Turchil by the same count, and the third from Turchil by St. Mary's College. (fn. 7) The remaining rural estate, Cotes, was held by the king in 1086 and was presumably included in his gift of the town to the earls.
The administration of affairs in the town was largely in the hands of three of the earls' officials : (fn. 8) a steward, who was responsible for holding courts; a bailiff, who accounted for the profits of courts and stallage (and occasionally certain other revenues besides); and a rent-collector - also occasionally styled bailiff. (fn. 9) It was these last two who were sometimes addressed as 'the bailiffs of Warwick', (fn. 10) and for whom Henry de Beauchamp (d. 1446) proposed to provide new maces. (fn. 11)
This administrative structure was retained when the Warwick lands passed into the hands of the Crown. Although a few officials remained, they were generally replaced, at first by experienced Exchequer officials (fn. 12) and later by men from court. (fn. 13) The office of bailiff was therefore frequently carried out by deputy. John Bache was described as 'underbailiff' in 1503, (fn. 14) and during Edward Ferrer's term in the same office (1509-35) his duties were carried out successively by three resident officials: John Northcote (1510-16), Richard Horlebatte (1516-17), and Richard Fisher (1517-35). (fn. 15) The first two were also rent-collectors in the town. John Ray, deputy to Thomas Wriothesley (later Earl of Southampton) from 1535, (fn. 16) was described as 'baly' of the town in 1551-2; (fn. 17) Thomas Martyn was under-steward in 1547-8 and still in 1551. (fn. 18) Thus by the middle of the 16th century local men had experience, if only as deputies, of local government.
From at least the later 13th century the earls apparently held separate courts for the town and the suburbs. In 1264 the value of the town court was combined with that of the tolls, but a second court at the castle was worth £3 a year. (fn. 19) In 1279 the courts were held on Mondays and were worth £6 13s. 4d. a year. Trial by battle could be waged there in cases of felony, a fact which reflects the unprivileged status of the town. The earls also, in 1279, had gallows and a tumbrel, and they enjoyed the assize of bread and ale; (fn. 20) in 1284-5 the earls were said to have had the assize from time immemorial. (fn. 21) In 1315-16 the courts 'within and without the town' were again valued at £6 13s. 4d., (fn. 22) and in 1324 the profits amounted to £6 19s. 2d. ; (fn. 23) by 1369, however, they were valued at £5 (fn. 24) and in 1401 at only £3 a year. (fn. 25) One other court, a court of piepowder, had been held since 1261 when the earl granted a fair to the burgesses. (fn. 26)
Much more is known about the conduct of the courts in the 15th and 16th centuries. (fn. 27) Courts were held for the town within the walls and for the suburbs outside, the latter taking place at the castle - in fact at the castle gates, as is sometimes stated. (fn. 28) For each of these areas there were two views of frankpledge a year and a variable number of 'small courts'; the town courts were held on Mondays, the castle courts on Wednesdays, and the views were always held just after Hocktide and Michaelmas. The views dealt with a wide variety of commonplace offences, such as the breaking of the assizes of bread and ale, nuisances in the streets, the neglect of ditches, and surcharging the common pastures. A 'small court' was sometimes combined with a view of frankpledge, but altogether there might be as many as 58 'small courts' a year, or as few as seven; (fn. 29) they always seem to have been more numerous for the town than for the suburbs. The 'small courts' dealt mostly with pleas of debt and trespass. The profits from the courts were highly variable. From views and 'small courts' together, they were as large as £8 16s. 10d. in 1422-3 and £4 12s. 6½d. in 1451-2; in 1479-80 they were £1 13s., in 1500-01 £1 0s. 8d., in 1522-3 £2 7s. 8d., and in 1545-6 £2 3s. 11d. (fn. 30)
In the town itself the chief officers appointed by the courts were four constables, one each for High Pavement, Castle Street, Jury Street, and Market Place wards. In addition, two aletasters and four pinders are mentioned in 1541. The castle court also appointed four constables, one each for the suburbs of Smith Street, Bridge End, Saltisford, and West Street. Each of those suburbs, as well as Myton, also had two tithingmen, and Coten End had one. In 1424 there had been an additional tithingman for Coten End and also one for Woodcote, (fn. 31) but there was no longer one for Woodloes as, it was said, there had been earlier. The tithingmen in 1424 also served as aletasters, officers who are not mentioned in the suburbs in the early 16th century though they must have existed, to judge from the numerous presentments of faulty brewers and tipplers.
Though doubtless the greater part of the town and its suburbs lay within the jurisdiction of the earls' courts, there were nevertheless some significant ecclesiastical franchises. The men of the Templars, within and without the town, had made a payment to the Exchequer in 1196, (fn. 32) and in 1256-7, when payments were made for amercements by the keeper of the king's markets, separate sums were handed over for the men of St. Sepulchre's, the men of St. Mary's, the men of the Templars, and the men of the hospitals in Warwick. (fn. 33) In 1279 all of these houses had the assize of bread and ale among their tenants, (fn. 34) and they held their own courts.
A glimpse of the courts of St. Sepulchre's Priory is afforded in 1499-1500. It then held separate courts for Warwick within the walls and for the suburbs, the latter also having authority over the priory's tenants in Warwickshire. (fn. 35) They were held, apparently only once in the year, before a steward, and the priory had a single officer described as tithingman and taster of bread and ale for the town within the walls. In the suburbs there were four similar officers, for Mill Street, Cross Street, Coten End, and Queenwell Street. The court was a view of frankpledge with 'small court', and most of its business concerned offences against the assize. In 1534-5 and 1547 there were no profits from the courts. (fn. 36)
St. Mary's College held a view of frankpledge with 'small court' once or twice a year in the early 16th century. (fn. 37) Suit was owed by St. Mary's tenants in the county as well as in Warwick itself. A bailiff was responsible for Smith Street and Church Street, but a tithingman answered for each of Longbridge, Coten End, St. Nicholas's Street, and West Street. Among a great variety of offences presented were some against the assize of bread and ale, and the court was frequently concerned with the fields and commons in the suburbs. In 1493-4 the profits of two courts - one held on Hockday and one at Michaelmas - were £5 11s. 11d. (fn. 38) In 1547 the two courts produced profits of 14s. 10d. (fn. 39)
Little is known of the Templars' courts, but in the early 14th century, after the order's suppression, views of frankpledge were held after Easter and around Michaelmas. (fn. 40) The profits were valued at only £1. (fn. 41) A court was held at Warwick in 1367 for the town and six other Warwickshire properties of the Hospitallers; there were several offences against the assize. (fn. 42) Unspecified profits from the court were included in a valuation of the estate made in 1540, after the Dissolution. (fn. 43) Nothing is known of the origins of other courts, though the right of St. Michael's to hold one is said to have been granted by Margery, sister of Thomas, Earl of Warwick (d. 1242). (fn. 44)
Although the townspeople were responsible to various courts and lordships, they undoubtedly had a common interest in the fortunes of the town, especially with regard to trade. The government of Warwick remained firmly in the hands of the earls, but in the late 12th and increasingly in the 13th centuries there are indications of the growth of corporate feelings and of some independence of action by the burgesses. Thus in 1170-1 Warwick paid £3 6s. 8d. to the sheriff for concealing a plea, (fn. 45) and in 1202 £2 13s. 4d. for the right to sell dyed cloths as had been done in Henry II's reign. (fn. 46) And in 1221, before the justices at Coventry, 'the men of the town' of Warwick paid £2 so that they might not be involved in trouble. (fn. 47) It has been suggested (fn. 48) that two forged charters, ostensibly of the 12th century, may also indicate a growing corporate spirit. They purport to be grants by the earls of the office of master cook at the castle, together with certain land and rights; they give the grantees the right to hold courts for their men and to take tolls for goods which those tenants bought and sold in the borough. Both charters contain clauses drawn in a form typical of the 13th century, and it may be that a descendant of the grantees found his rights challenged by the burgesses and forged the charters to support his claims. (fn. 49)
In the 13th century the suburbs were coming to be regarded as an integral part of the town. In 1221, in a case of mort d'ancestor, a defendant successfully pleaded that Warwick was a free borough and had 'such liberty that no such assize lies within the enclosure of the town'. (fn. 50) The suburbs were nevertheless considered liable to share the burdens of the burgesses. The latter in 1256 upheld a claim that the suburbs should help to pay a fine incurred for a trespass; the sheriff was ordered to distrain all those tenants in the suburbs - both within and without the liberty of the town - who traded in the borough to contribute to the amercement. (fn. 51) Such community of interest was shared, it seems, by people living within the various franchises. In 1256-7, following amercement by the keeper of the king's markets, the men of the Earl of Warwick paid £2 and those of the several religious franchises £1 each. (fn. 52) The share of the suburbs in the privileges as well as the burdens of the town is shown in 1261 when the earl granted a fair to the burgesses: strangers were required to pay stallage but 'all within the town and outside the borough who belong to the town' were exempted. (fn. 53)
Soon after this, in 1273, a royal writ was directed to the mayor of Warwick, (fn. 54) and in 1279 the 'mayor' was Thomas Payn. (fn. 55) The existence of such an official would seem to imply a greater development of corporate government than is known to have been the case. The only other references to the mayor, however, are in writs for the payment of the expenses of the town's members of Parliament. These were in 1300 (fn. 56) and 1361, (fn. 57) and perhaps more frequently, (fn. 58) directed to the mayor and bailiffs; on other occasions they were directed to the bailiffs alone. (fn. 59) It may be that the use of common form in the direction of writs explains these inconsistencies, and that in the late 13th century the term 'mayor' was loosely applied to the senior bailiff of the town.
At about the same time there are indications of the emergence of a group of influential burgesses who shared some of the bailiffs' responsibilities. The earl's grant of a fair to the burgesses in 1261, for example, laid down that order was to be enforced there by view of the bailiff and twelve good and lawful burgesses. (fn. 60) And in 1315 (during the earl's minority) a grant of pavage was made to the bailiffs and good men. (fn. 61) One further example of common action by the inhabitants comes from this century: in 1346 'the men of Warwick' paid £10 for the expenses of three armed men required by the king. (fn. 62)
Warwick is first known to have returned members to Parliament in 1275, and it probably did so again in 1295; it was certainly represented at each of Edward I's Parliaments from 1298 onwards, (fn. 63) and thenceforth it regularly returned two members. (fn. 64) It is difficult to say how many of the 13th- and 14thcentury members were actually Warwick men. Philip de Warwick (1301) and Nicholas Avery de Warwick (1305, 1307) presumably were, and others can be traced as Warwick taxpayers: Thomas de Henley (1332, 1334, 1335-6), Roger le Mercer (1338), and William Thurkyl (1344), for example, all paid tax in 1327 and 1332. (fn. 65) In the late 14th century several of the brethren of the Guild of the Holy Trinity and St. Mary served as M.P.s. It is similarly hard to establish the occupations of the early members, but there are traces of the activities of William Thurkyl (1344) as a wool merchant (fn. 66) and of John Brown (1397, 1403) as a cloth seller. (fn. 67) Although individual members were frequently returned to more than one Parliament, few sat as frequently as John Sotemay (1325, 1326, 1327, 1328, 1330, 1337, and 1338).
In the 15th century many members were not Warwick men; though several were from the county, others came from much further afield. Among those who did sit for their own town were two Roger Wottons, probably father and son (1410, 1411, 1413, 1414 - twice, 1419, 1422, 1425, 1442, ?1445-6, 1447, 1449, 1449-50, 1459); the younger was coroner of Warwick in 1456. Of the outsiders, Edmund Bowden (1472-5) was a London goldsmith, and five were lawyers - John Butler of Solihull (1491-2), Edward Durant of Bredon Cross (1467-8), John Brown of Baddesley Clinton (probably 1460-1), Richard Hotoft of Leicestershire (1453-4, 1455-6), and Thomas Portalyn of Isleworth (Mdx.) (1455-6). Another lawyer, whose place of origin is unknown, was Thomas Rastell (1472-5). Five members are known to have been royal servants: Brown, George Ashby (1459), Thomas Colt of Roydon (Essex) (1453-4), John Glover (1449), and Degory Heynes of Coventry (1478). Ashby, a 'poetical writer', also became the earl's steward at Warwick in 1446; others who served the earls of Warwick were Bowden and Portalyn, and Nicholas Rody (1413, 1414, 1419, 1421 - twice, 1422, 1423, 1425, and 1437) was the earl's steward and executor and feoffee to Richard Beauchamp. (fn. 68) Heynes was appointed bailiff by the Crown in 1478.
The election of members of Parliament took place in the county court held at Warwick on the occasion of the election of the knights of the shire. A number of burgesses - in 1467 there were twelve - attended to make formal election of their own representatives. (fn. 69) It is not known who the electing burgesses were; neither is it certain how the members' expenses were paid. Writs for these payments were presumably received by the bailiffs but no such payments appear in their accounts.
The recognition of a body of 'good men', the use, if only briefly, of the term 'mayor', and the election of members of Parliament by a small group of burgesses all point to the rise of an oligarchy of townsmen who, while subject to the ultimate control of the earls' courts, were assuming some responsibility for the well-being of the town. In the late 14th century there is for the first time an indication of the identity of these leading burgesses. In 1374 and 1377 the same group of five men obtained grants of pontage for the repair of the 'great bridge' over the Avon, and in 1380 a third grant was made to four of those men, together with a new fifth. (fn. 70) Five of the six had by 1380 represented Warwick in Parliament. On each occasion the group was headed by William Hobkyns.
Five of those same men were among the thirteen (it may be significant that there were one and twelve others) (fn. 71) who three years later were licensed to found a guild in honour of the Holy Trinity and St. Mary in St. Mary's Church. (fn. 72) Among them were nine past and future members of Parliament for Warwick, and again they were headed by William Hobkyns. The earl and his brother had sought the licence on their behalf and it cost the new master and brethren £26 13s. 4d. The guild was empowered to acquire property to the value of £20 a year in order to support three chaplains in the church, but it seems most likely that the founders had wider purposes in mind; it was perhaps in recognition of this that the licence was granted on condition that the guild should make no ordinances to the prejudice of the Church or the Crown.
In the same year, 1383, a second guild was founded by three men of whom nothing else is known; it was to consist of themselves and the burgesses of Warwick and was in honour of St. George the Martyr. The licence cost them £53 6s. 8d.; it authorised property worth £10 a year to be acquired to support two chaplains in St. James's Chapel, and it empowered the earl to grant the advowson of the chapel to the guild. (fn. 73) It seems likely that this was the less important of the two guilds, and between 1392 (fn. 74) and 1415 (fn. 75) they were amalgamated as the Guild of Holy Trinity and St. George, often known simply as the Guild of Warwick.
It may well be that the Guild of the Holy Trinity and St. Mary was from the first intended to take responsibility for the maintenance of the bridge, which some of its founder-members had already assumed. Certainly when the Guild of Warwick was surveyed prior to its dissolution part of its income was being used for the upkeep of the bridge and of the highways 'thereabout'. (fn. 76) The position of the guild in town affairs is reflected in the pre-eminence accorded to the master in 15th-century deeds, where his name precedes those of the bailiffs in witness lists. (fn. 77) The guild ended its life with a rare flourish which is further evidence of its interest in the affairs of the town. In 1545 it sold part of its property and used the money to promote the establishment of St. Mary's on a new footing, closely associated with the new grammar school, and later gave money and its hall to the newly incorporated burgesses, presumably its own members in another guise. (fn. 78) With the charter of 1545 and, more especially, that of 1554 Warwick took its first decisive steps towards corporate selfgovernment.