Calendar of Early Mayor's Court Rolls: 1298-1307. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1924.

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'Introduction', Calendar of Early Mayor's Court Rolls: 1298-1307, (London, 1924), pp. vii-xxvii. British History Online [accessed 17 June 2024].

. "Introduction", in Calendar of Early Mayor's Court Rolls: 1298-1307, (London, 1924) vii-xxvii. British History Online, accessed June 17, 2024,

. "Introduction", Calendar of Early Mayor's Court Rolls: 1298-1307, (London, 1924). vii-xxvii. British History Online. Web. 17 June 2024,

In this section


THE NINE MAYOR'S COURT ROLLS, which are here set out in abstract, cover the period from 22 May 1298 to 2 August 1307, and are the only survivals, with the exception of a few fragmentary membranes belonging to 1377, of the original rolls of this Court. To some extent the loss is mitigated by the existence of other documents. Occasional proceedings of the Court are preserved in the series of Letter Books calendared by Dr R. R. Sharpe and published by the Corporation. A series of unpublished Plea and Memoranda Rolls, extending with a few gaps from 1327 to 1484, contain records of such actions in the Mayor's Court as seemed to the clerks worthy of remembrance either as legal precedents or as illustrations of the rights, privileges and pre-eminence of the City. In addition, from the reign of Edward III onwards, files of actions were kept, giving the declarations of plaintiffs, with short notes of the proceedings, judgments and executions. The latter records, especially numerous for the 16th and 17th centuries, are of interest owing to the full inventories of goods and chattels on which executions were made. But valuable as are these supplementary sources, the original rolls merit attention, because they were written at an early and important period of the City's development, and throw considerable light on ancient municipal law and legal custom.

It has been suggested that the system by which the records were created in mediaeval London was not conducive to their preservation. The enrolment of business done in the several administrative and judicial Courts of the Guildhall was in the hands of the four attorneys of the Mayor's Court, who frequently kept their documents in their own houses. Steps were taken by the authorities on more than one occasion to ensure that all records should be kept either in the Chamber or the City Treasury (fn. 1), but apparently with only partial success. Undoubtedly there was also serious loss during the Great Fire. Though no inventory of documents had recently been made, the Court of Aldermen was informed and believed that many records had perished (fn. 2). Nevertheless the survival in long unbroken series of the Charters, Custumals, Proceedings of the Courts of Aldermen and Common Council and the Rolls of the Court of Husting, which constitute probably the most complete collection of municipal archives now remaining, leads one to find other reasons for the absence of the Mayor's Court Rolls. It was the custom for the Sheriffs on completion of their years of office to retain in their own custody the rolls of their Courts, in case their administration of justice was called in question either by plaints of error, or by the King's Itinerant Justices (fn. 3) in their sessions at the Tower. In the latter case, any default would be visited primarily upon themselves-a cogent reason for regarding their rolls as private property (fn. 4). The solitary roll of the early Sheriff's Court which has come down to us belongs to the year 1321, when the memorable Iter of the Justices took place at the Tower after an interval of forty-five years, and its preservation in the Guildhall was probably due in some way to that event. This custom would perhaps not apply at first to the Mayor's Court, which in its origin appears to have been an overflow court from the Husting of Common Pleas; hence the survival of the short run of original rolls. But there is reason to believe that as the court grew into distinctness, and the limits of its jurisdiction were more closely defined, the personal responsibility of the Mayor, as apart from that of the City, was accentuated. In the Plea and Memoranda Rolls there is mention of a "Mayor's Bag" for the year, in which his correspondence and legal documents were kept; and it is not unlikely that this bag, together with the roll, accompanied him on his retirement from office, after the permanent clerks had made such copies into the Letter Books and Plea and Memoranda Rolls as they deemed necessary for preservation.


In later centuries, with the growth of London in wealth and population, the Mayor's Court far outshadowed the other City courts. Where citizens were concerned, no monetary limit excluded actions from its jurisdiction. Thus it remained an important court for personal actions long after the County Courts were confined to the recovery of small debts. In the 18th century a City writer, detailing the several actions which could be tried in the court, says proudly (fn. 5) : "In short, this is the most extensive court of the Kingdom, for all that is cognizable in the several courts of England, is the same in this"; and he is careful to explain one reason of its popularity: "Besides, a suit may be begun and ended here, within the space of fourteen days, for so small a charge as thirty shillings."Doubtless this was true of other ancient local courts. The mediaeval towns, jealous of the Common Law, and tenaciously clinging to borough customs, which had their origin in centuries before the emergence of the courts at Westminster, had this to justify them-that they were able to supply legal remedies as satisfactory as, and far cheaper and more speedy than, those of the royal courts.


In tracing the origin of the Mayor's Court, something should be said of the general administration of justice in the City. London shared the general desire of mediaeval towns to develop apart from the main current of national life, and to exclude both the law of the realm and the officers of royal justice. A special body of London law was already in existence before the Norman Conquest (fn. 6) : the citizens' anxiety for its preservation is shown in the charter obtained from William the Conqueror (fn. 7), which promises to the Bishop and Portreeve the law of King Edward's day. But they desire further that it shall be administered by their own officers, and that these officers shall hold and determine those pleas which the King regards as distinctively his own. Their wishes were temporarily fulfilled by the Charter of Henry I (fn. 8). Among other concessions it was granted that no citizen henceforward was to plead outside the walls of the City in any plea; they might appoint from among themselves a Sheriff to keep, and a Justiciar to plead the Pleas of the Crown, and any man impleaded in a Plea of the Crown should defend himself by the oath adjudged to him in the City; there was to be no miskenning in the Husting, the Folkmoot and other pleas of the City; the Husting should sit weekly on Mondays; the citizens were to have their pledges, bonds and debts within and outside the City; the King will do them right by the law of the City concerning lands of which they make complaint to him. Except as regards the Folkmoot, about which, as a court of law, there is little evidence, the main features of civic jurisdiction are outlined in the above charter.


Already in the reign of Henry I that development, by which all serious crimes were regarded as offences primarily against the Crown, was well advanced. It was no small concession to the City that the King's administrative, financial and judicial servants should be appointed by the citizens, and that the process and proof in such pleas should follow the ancient law of London. Dr Round has traced the history of the several Justiciars who held office in the City during the twenty years which followed the Charter (fn. 9), and Mr W. Page has brought together much supplementary detail (fn. 10). With the disappearance of this officer during the early years of Henry II (fn. 11), it would appear that the citizens lost all control of serious criminal jurisdiction, except in so far as aggrieved persons were content to sue for damages instead of proceeding by an appeal of felony. The Justiciar's duties were possibly undertaken by the Itinerant Justices or Justices in Eyre, whose activity becomes more pronounced shortly after this time (fn. 12).


It has frequently been remarked that one object of the Crown in centralizing criminal jurisdiction was to enjoy the profits arising from it. This motive did not apply in the case of common thieves, whose lack of property was generally the origin of their crimes, and the right of hanging such thieves, known as Infangenthef and Outfangenthef, was granted by the Crown to many boroughs and lords of lands. Strangely enough, there is very little evidence that the City enjoyed, until comparatively late, this general right of executing summary jurisdiction over thieves caught with the mainour of stolen goods upon them. Dr R. R. Sharpe was inclined to think that the City possessed it (fn. 13), on the ground that Henry III, when he granted this and other rights to Oxford in 1225 (fn. 14), declared that the citizens of Oxford are of one and the same custom, law and liberty with the citizens of London. The only contemporary testimony which would lend any support to this view is found in the claim made by Robert Fitz Walter (fn. 15) in 1303 to the right of drowning persons of his soke found guilty of treason before the Mayor at the Guildhall, and of hanging thieves similarly convicted. But the rights of the Fitz Walters as Bannerets and guardians of London can be traced far back (fn. 16) -even before 1136 (fn. 17), and the claim made in 1303 has all the appearance of a traditional formula, repeated from a time when as yet no Mayor sat in Guildhall. A solitary instance of justice upon thieves in the 13th century is seen in 1264, when certain persons who had followed the army of Simon de Montfort to London, and had been convicted of robberies at Stepney and Hackney, were hanged. We are told, however, that the Commons of the City took such measures because of the disturbed state of London (fn. 18). In the latter part of this century, it was undoubtedly the custom to send such thieves to Newgate (fn. 19), there to await the Justices of Gaol Delivery (fn. 20), who were already visiting the prison before 1216 (fn. 21). It should be noted also that the King regarded Newgate as his own prison, the repair of which was a charge upon his Exchequer (fn. 22); and the same was true of the City gallows (fn. 23). Moreover, the many rolls and books of the several London courts are silent as to any such jurisdiction, until on 6 March 1327 the Charter of Edward III (fn. 24) appointed every Mayor for the time being a Justice of Gaol Delivery, and specifically granted Infangenthef and Outfangenthef. Concerning this grant, the French Chronicle (fn. 25) says that Edward III gave to the citizens franchises which no King had ever before granted to them, to the effect that the Mayor should be Justice at the Guildhall, and that before him should be condemned those who had been taken for felony or larceny within the Liberties.

Three weeks later the first judgments on thieves are recorded in the City's books and rolls (fn. 26).


The Court of Husting was the ancient and general court for the City, in which both legal and administrative business was transacted. It was already in existence in the 10th century (fn. 27), when Ethelgiva, wife of Earl Ethelwine of East Anglia, gave to Ramsey Abbey two silver cups of twelve marks of the standard of the London Husting. By the Charter of Henry I it was enjoined that the Court should meet every Monday, an extension till the next day for uncompleted pleas being allowed by Henry III (fn. 28). All kinds of pleas except those of the Crown were pleaded. There is mention of deeds being enrolled as early as 1193-4 (fn. 29). Assizes of Novel Disseisin could be demanded (fn. 30) there, and in fact, all personal pleas (fn. 31), actions relating to land (fn. 32), and offences against the City ordinances (fn. 33), were within its competence in the early part of the 13th century. Signs of a division between its functions appear in 1244, when the Itinerant Justices directed that pleas of land should be held fortnightly (fn. 34), thus leaving alternate Mondays for common pleas. Such pleas of land were begun by a writ of Right and followed the old procedure, whereby the court determined the difficult question of intrinsic right, as contrasted with those actions instituted by Henry II, which merely protected possession. There were subsidiary actions relating to dower, and the payment of rents and services for tenements, which the Husting of Pleas of Land continued to entertain until 1260, when it was provided in full Husting that all pleas moved by writs of Dower and all pleas of Customs and Services should be heard on the same day on which the Common Pleas were held (fn. 35). There were so many actions, says the annalist, moved by many kind of writs of the King, that they could not all be brought to a conclusion in one day between morning and vespers, or even compline. The effect of the order was to throw a great increase of work on the Common Plea division of the court, which already, we may imagine, was sufficiently burdened by a variety of actions there pleadable without royal writ. Relief was sought by the delegation of business to other courts.


The Sheriff's Court, as a separate entity, was probably of ancient origin, and its existence may be implied in the wording of the Charter of Henry I (fn. 36), which speaks of the Folkmoot, the Husting and other pleas of the City. Its jurisdiction seems to have been of a minor character, for there is no evidence that the Sheriffs of London in the 12th century ever held and determined the Pleas of the Crown, as their fellows did in the shires. The general policy of Henry II and his successors was to reduce the power of the Sheriffs. In less important pleas, however, one would expect the City Sheriffs to exercise over the Wardmotes that kind of jurisdiction, which characterised the Sheriff's Tourn elsewhere, though the exact relations of the Sheriff to the Wardmotes is still a matter of conjecture. They appear quite early to have heard actions for which no remedy was given in the courts of soke-owners, i.e. landlords possessing private jurisdiction in the City, for in a body of rules known as the Libertas Londoniensis, which Dr Liebermann ascribes to the first half of the 12th century (fn. 37), the Sheriffs are forbidden to bring an inhabitant of a soke to the King's Pleas, or to give judgment upon him, until the owner of the soke has failed to give redress (fn. 38). There is proof again that before 1216 the Sheriffs were dealing with those offences of individuals against each other, for which the term transgressio or trespass became general in the 13th century. A collection of London laws of that date contains the following (fn. 39) : "If a man makes claim to the Sheriff of battery or affray, if there is blood or a wound, then the Sheriff ought to come and put the malefactor in pledge for the blood, and the aldermen shall say whether the king ought to have the plea or the sheriffs"-in other words, whether the offender should await the Itinerant Justices at the Tower, or be summarily dealt with by the Sheriff himself. Quite clearly, the Sheriff must not meddle with the recognised Pleas of the Crown. In 1244 the citizens told the Itinerant Justices that the Sheriffs held no pleas of the Crown, but afterwards confessed that they had dealt with such royal matters as weights and measures, whereupon the Sheriffs were amerced, and the Mayor and citizens were put to judgment for having concealed their actions (fn. 40). But ordinary assaults and violence and minor wrong-doing were within their province. When in 1258 the King's Justices, Hugh Bigot and Roger de Turkelby, came to the Guildhall and there held pleas from day to day as to all those who wished to make plaint, the citizens persistently challenged them, on the ground that no one except the Sheriffs of London ought to hold pleadings in the City on trespasses there committed (fn. 41). The Sheriffs held their courts in their houses during the greater part of the century (fn. 42), and it was not till its close that their sessions took place regularly in the Guildhall. The profits of jurisdiction, it must be remembered, were especially desirable to them, for only by such sources of revenue could they recoup themselves for the outlay of £300, paid to the Exchequer for their joint shrievalties of London and Middlesex.


While the Sheriffs' Courts were thus available for any surplus business from the Husting Court, a natural arrangement for the latter, which met by charter only on Monday and Tuesday, would be to postpone less important actions for the deliberation of the Mayor and Aldermen on other days of the week. But a meeting on Wednesday, though it might be held in full Husting, could not be described as a Court of Husting without offence to the charters. We have here, in short, the origin of a new Court. This development took place early in the 13th century in connection with the disputes of foreign merchants. Among the questions addressed by the Itinerant Justices to the City authorities in 1221 was the following (fn. 43) :

"Question: Whether the bailiffs of the City can terminate the pleas of persons called 'pepoudrous' passing through the City, who cannot make a stay there, concerning debts or injuries due to them, or ought they to await the Husting?"

"Answer: It was answered that these pleas are not wont to be held outside the Husting. But it was provided and granted that henceforth the Mayor and Sheriffs, associating with them two or three Aldermen, may hear such plaints immediately from day to day, if the Court (of Husting) shall not be sitting the same day; and justice shall be done without delay."

Henceforward the Husting ceased to settle the disputes of foreign merchants. No cases are recorded in the rolls of that Court, which survive from 1272 onwards, and the present Calendar shews that these actions were pleaded by the Law Merchant, both in the Mayor's Court and the Sheriffs' Court (fn. 44), either among the other actions or in sessions of the courts specially set apart for them (fn. 45). Though in some mediaeval towns Piepowder Courts were held only in time of markets or fairs, the larger cities, through which foreign merchants were passing daily, included their actions among those of the citizens and entered both on the same plea rolls (fn. 46).

It would seem that the Sheriffs extended this permission to decide cases by the Law Merchant into a jurisdiction over similar cases of debt and covenant among citizens. In certain ancient ordinances in the City's Liber Ordinacionum, which appear to have been promulgated about 1230 (fn. 47), mention is made that persistent complaints had arisen of delay in obtaining judgment for debts, which gave debtors the opportunity of escaping their obligations. Accordingly it was enacted that any debtor who was unwilling to plead before the Sheriffs on the ground that he was a freeman, should appear before the Mayor or his deputies, the amercement being paid to the Sheriffs. One is inclined to suspect some competition in this matter between the officials of the two Courts. Some thirty years later, in 1259, the Sheriffs received a distinct pronouncement in their favour, when a provision (fn. 48) was made that all pleas of debt as to the citizens of London should be held before the Sheriffs only, but at the end of the century, as will be seen in the following pages, pleas of debt were among the most common of the actions in the Mayor's Court. There are signs indeed that the Sheriff's Court was ready on occasion to challenge such actions (fn. 49), and that the jealousy of the Sheriffs' officials was shared by some of the citizens. In certain articles (fn. 50) conceded by Edward II in 1319 for the better government of the City, the Mayor was forbidden to draw to himself or to hear in the Chamber any plea belonging to the Sheriffs or any other pleas save those which by ancient custom of the City he ought, as Mayor, to hold.

Meanwhile, however, in the middle of the 13th century the Mayor and Aldermen are meeting in a Mayor's Court on other days than Monday to hear actions between foreign merchants, and to some extent, between citizens. About the same time, the Court of Husting delegated to the new Court the conduct of actions arising out of disobedience to City ordinances. We are told that in 1263 (fn. 51), when the City was in a disturbed condition, no Husting was held, and that only pleas of Intrusion were pleaded, and also pleas of plaint made which pertain to the Assizes. By pleas of Intrusion are meant the Assizes of Novel Disseisin and Mort d' Ancestor, which were taken before the Sheriffs and Coroner; the other socalled Assizes here mentioned were the City ordinances relating to victuals-bread, wine and beer, public order, and the regulation of trade. In later days a public prosecution will sometimes be made in the Husting, but the great majority of such actions are heard in the Mayor's and Sheriffs' Courts.


The reference to plaints bears witness to a change in the method of beginning actions which greatly affected the City courts, and was largely responsible for the development of the Mayor's Court. An aggrieved citizen in the 11th and 12th centuries would rarely think it necessary to invoke the aid of the King; he was content to carry his complaint either by word of mouth or in writing to the City authorities, and if he were granted access to the Husting, he explained his grievance in his declaration. Royal writs were few in the 12th century and covered but a small number of actions, and for some of these the City already had a sufficient remedy (fn. 52). In the latter part of that century and the first half of the next the development of the King's Chancery and the Courts of Common Law resulted in an immense increase of Royal writs designed to cover every dispute. The principle became established that no man need answer for his freehold without a writ (fn. 53). Even in such exclusive communities as boroughs and manors, where the ancient customary law held sway, litigants were occasionally glad to purchase writs commanding the holders of the courts to afford a speedy remedy, and this not only in direct claims to the ownership of land but also in mixed actions relating to land, such as claims for dower, the enforcement of covenants for rents, and for the execution of wills, in accordance with the City custom that a freeman could devise his lands. These writs did not necessitate new actions-they became wedded to the old forms of actions, and in many cases they merely commanded the Mayor and Sheriffs to do justice according to the law and custom of the City. We have already seen how the Husting of Pleas of Land found it necessary to transfer actions by writs of Dower and of Rents and Services to the Common Plea side of the court. The latter division, which decided cases begun both by writ and plaint, in its turn was overwhelmed with business. The plaints of private persons might admit of delay, but this was not the case with an action by writ, which was speedily followed by other writs more peremptory in tone. In consequence, actions by plaint were crowded out of the Husting Court. By 1272-the date from which a continuous series of Common Plea Rolls has been preserved, practically the whole available time of the Court is occupied by writ-actions. The Court still preserves the theory that it entertains plaints (fn. 54), and very occasionally it does so (fn. 55), but only rarely are such plaints heard to a conclusion. A careful examination of the thirty-two rolls from 1272 to 1307 reveals that behind almost every completed action was a royal writ. Moreover, except as regards the action of account, the great majority of pleas concern lands and rents. Other personal actions must now be sought in the records of the Mayor's and Sheriffs' Courts.


The Mayor's Court Rolls here calendared begin only in 1298, though proceedings are mentioned in other City documents before this date. In a list of rules for counters and attorneys promulgated in 1280, these officials are forbidden to gainsay judgments, but if it seems to them that error has been made they must make plaint, according to the law and usage of the City, to the Mayor, who will redress such error (fn. 56). We have here an action of error by plaint before the Mayor, in contrast to the similar actions by writ in the Husting. Next year (fn. 57) the Mayor's Court is busy with the punishment of tavern-brawlers, bullies, night-walkers, gamblers and other disorderly persons, who had offended against the ordinances of the City. Fraudulent bakers appeared before the Court in 1282 and were condemned to be drawn on hurdles through the streets (fn. 58). There is record of actions for trespass and debt about the same time (fn. 59). In 1285, when the King took the City into his hands, he strengthened the remedies for foreigners, by ordaining that either the Warden or Sheriffs should hear their plaints daily, and if on any day they were unable to do so, a deputy should act in their places (fn. 60). An action against a monk of Westminster for impleading a citizen outside the City walls in a Church court was heard in 1292 (fn. 61), and next year the keeper of the Winchester Seld was fined for enhancing the price of goods and using an unlawful trone (fn. 62). All these actions can be paralleled by others recorded in the rolls.


As will be gathered from the foregoing remarks, the Husting of Common Pleas and the Mayor's Court were closely connected, though there were certain elemental differences. The former court sits only on Monday or by adjournment on Tuesdays, and the judges consist of the Mayor, Sheriffs and Aldermen. The latter sits on any day, and the Sheriffs are only present as servants of the court. The limits of their jurisdiction are beginning to be clearly marked. The Husting will only deal in the main with pleas by writ relating to lands and rents, and has devolved personal actions begun by plaint to the Mayor's Court. To some extent their jurisdictions overlap, and a confusion of phraseology is apt to mislead the reader. A brief comparison of the actions contained in the two series of Rolls may therefore not be out of place.

(a) Actions common to both Courts. The Court of Husting continued to entertain prosecutions for offences against the City ordinances. An action against the Keeper of the Winchester Seld was heard, but a day was afterwards given for the pleadings in the Mayor's Court (fn. 63). Conversely, certain cases of the same nature begun and pleaded in the latter Court were remitted to the Husting for judgment (fn. 64). Both Courts will hear actions against City officials or lax Sheriffs who have allowed debtor prisoners to escape, and will punish citizens who have resisted these officials or have used contumelious words against an alderman (fn. 65). We find further that persons who had been sued to render account by a Writ of Monstravit, which provided for the summary arrest of a fugitive debtor, will turn upon the plaintiff in either Court, and claim damages on the ground that they possessed sufficient property in the City, by which they could have been brought to answer without personal arrest (fn. 66). Both Courts again will summon guardians of orphans to render account of their wardship (fn. 67). But whereas these actions are of constant occurrence in the Mayor's Court, on only four or five occasions can the Husting find time to deal with them within a space of thirty years.

(b) Dissimilar actions bearing the same names. In other actions apparently common to both Courts, there is a clear line of distinction. Actions of account by writ go to the Husting, by plaint to the Mayor's Court (fn. 68). Debt in the former court relates to rents, in the latter to commercial transactions (fn. 69). Detinue of deeds in the former is raised by the writ de detencione cartarum, in the latter it is raised by plaint and concerns pledges, recognisances and bonds (fn. 70); detinue of chattels in the Husting touches distresses unjustly taken for rent, in the Mayor's Court the chattels detained were goods supplied in the way of trade (fn. 71). Similarly actions of covenant begun by writ in the one Court denoted leases or sales of land unfulfilled, in the other breaches of commercial contract (fn. 72). There is still loose mention of trespasses in the Husting. On examination they prove to relate to ordinary Husting actions, pledges unjustly taken, the diversion of rights appurtenant to a tenement, default of duty by City officials, waste and wardship of lands (fn. 73). Even at the end of the 13th century trespass was not very clearly defined, and on one occasion there was a debate in the Husting as to whether a Sheriff who had allowed a debtor to escape should be sued for trespass or debt (fn. 74). On the other hand, the trespasses recorded in the Mayor's Court were true personal trespasses unrelated to land, and consisted of assaults, defamation, fraud and unjust interference with other people's rights, comfort or convenience. With the exception of a few writs ordering inquiry into affrays, reprisals for seizure of goods abroad, or the giving of more speedy justice (fn. 75), all actions in the Mayor's Court were begun by bill of complaint, and have so continued till the present day.


Although in many particulars, these Courts were exercising a concurrent jurisdiction at the close of the 13th century, there are already signs of the coming predominance of the former, especially in its control over City officers and in the matter of error. The Sheriffs were charged with the duty of making executions in private suits, and apparently they received the amercements of Court, both matters which would ensure their constant attendance. In addition they appeared frequently either as plaintiffs or defendants. The Sheriff's duties as collector of customs, murage, and other charges brought him into dispute with a population which resented all taxation, direct or indirect, and was obstinately convinced that the burden of taxation was unjustly distributed between rich and poor (fn. 76). While the Sheriff had some power of hearing public prosecutions in his own Court, his position there as judge prevented him from being sued as a defendant. Thus he is frequently summoned to the Mayor's Court to answer charges of having made unjust sequestrations and distraints (fn. 77) in private suits and in the collection of customs. Occasionally the verdict of a jury is against him and he is amerced (fn. 78). Citizens complained that he took unfair customs on salt and had wrongfully forfeited poultry and fish (fn. 79). Creditors sued him for returning attachments before they had recovered their debts (fn. 80), and for allowing debtors to escape. He has to answer for unjust discrimination against wharf owners (fn. 81). On one occasion the Court greatly increased the damages against him which had been taxed by a jury (fn. 82). The Sheriffs in their turn had frequent recourse to the Mayor's Court. They sued recalcitrant citizens who had resisted distraints or assaulted them, or had removed sequestration seals placed by the Sheriffs on their doors (fn. 83). A frequent cause of offence was the smuggling of goods by water to Westminster, whereby the Sheriff lost his customs (fn. 84), the opening of bales of foreign goods and their sale before toll had been paid (fn. 85), and avowry by citizens of foreigners' goods in order to escape the duties (fn. 86).

The numerous pleas of error also tended to exalt the Mayor's Court. If a litigant before the Sheriff was aggrieved at the judgment recorded, the orthodox procedure was to present a Writ of Error in the Husting of Common Pleas, to the effect that there was manifest error in the record and process, or the giving of judgment. But in the early rolls of that Court, though several actions were entered, few appear to have reached the stage of pleading. We may imagine that the writ was allowed to lapse, and that plaintiffs were advised to seek their remedy in the Mayor's Court, in accordance with the ordinance of 1280 already mentioned (fn. 87). Probably the action was regarded as equivalent to the ordinary actions against officials for default of duty, since the Sheriff appears as joint defendant with the other party. Meanwhile, however, the principle was gaining ground that error was a royal matter, and in course of time the old writ-action was revived in the Husting. All that remained to the Mayor's Court was the right of removing actions from the Sheriffs' Court before they had been submitted to a jury (fn. 88), records of which survive under the titles, "markments" and "querelae levatae."

Important as were the duties mentioned above, it should be noted that the Mayor's Court at this period appears to have been less frequented than the Sheriffs' Court. A comparison of our rolls with such proceedings as were forwarded from the latter, shows that actions were entered in the Sheriffs' Court in far greater detail, and that the clerks of the Court were more careful and experienced lawyers. There is little mention of the Mayor's Court in the City Custumals which were compiled between 1310 and 1330. Probably the desire to extend jurisdiction would arise, not from the Mayor and Aldermen themselves, but from the Recorder, the Common Serjeant and the clerks and attorneys, who gained a living from the fees. At the great session of the Itinerant Justices at the Tower in 1321, when very full information was given about the other courts, there is no mention of the Mayor's Court as such, beyond a quotation of the Articles of 1319. Nevertheless the existence of the Court was known to the royal officers of justice, as is evidenced by the fact that in 1305 and 1309, special commissions of Justices were sent to St Martin's le Grand to review the judgments given in two at least of the actions decided in the Court (fn. 89).


The earliest general description of the Court is to be found in a document copied into one of the Custumals of Bristol, which was compiled by Robert Ricart (fn. 90), appointed Town Clerk of that City in 1479. Ricart tells us that the account of the ancient usages of London was "wretin oute of a boke that was maistir Henry Daarcy sometyme recorder of London in King Edward the thirdes daies" (fn. 91). Henry Darcy was Mayor, not Recorder, of London in 1337 and 1338. Miss Toulmin Smith, who edited Ricart's Kalendar for the Camden Society, suggests that Darcy's book may have been one of those formerly belonging to the City and now lost-possibly the Magnus Liber de Chartis et Libertatibus Civitatis, which was existing in 1327 (fn. 92). This may well be so, for the passages quoted by Ricart have every appearance of belonging to the early part of the 14th century. With the exception of the section relating to the Mayor's Court, the material was also copied by John Carpenter into the City's Liber Albus in 1419 (fn. 93). Darcy's book probably survived into the 16th century, since no fewer than four manuscripts of that period are still surviving (fn. 94), which contain the section omitted by the Liber Albus. An excellent translation appeared in 1647 under the title of The City Law (fn. 95), the relevant portions of which are as follows:

Curia Majoris of the said City of London, is holden by the custome of the same City before the Mayor and Aldermen for the time being in the Chamber of the Guild-Hall or in Husting and that from day to day, and there are treated, determined and discussed the Pleas, and matters touching Orphans, Apprentices, and other businesses of the same City. And there are redressed and corrected the faults and contempts of those which do against the custome and ordinance of the City, as well at the suit of the parties, as by Enquest of Office, and in other sort by suggestion according as the causes require; and there they use to justifie Bakers, Victuallers, and Trades-men, and to treat and ordain for the Government of the City, and for keeping the Kings peace and other necessary points of the City, and according as the time requireth.

Item, the Officers and Ministers of the said City being found faulty are to be cleared before the Mayor and Aldermen as well at the Suit of the parties by Process made, as otherwise, according to the discretion of the said Mayor and Aldermen.

Item, the said Mayor and Aldermen use there to hold, and determine Pleas of Debt and other Actions personal whatsoever, by Bill as well among Merchants, and Merchants for Merchandize, as also between others that will plead by Process made against the parties.

Item, the Mayor and Aldermen, or the Mayor and Chamberlain of the said City take before them in the said Chamber Recognizances of Debt of those that will, of what summes soever. And if the day of payment be missed, then he to whom the Recognizance is made out of this Record, shall have execution of all the Debtors Goods, and of the moyety of his Lands within the said City, and it is taken as at the Common Lawes.

Item, Pleas of Debt according to the Ordinance called the Suit of Smithfield, are determinable only before the Mayor and Aldermen according as is more plainly set down in the Ordinance thereupon made.

Item, the Assizes of Nusance are determinable by plaint before the Mayor and Aldermen, and that plaint shall be served by the Sheriff the Wednesday against the Friday; and then the Mayor and Aldermen ought to proceed in Plea according to that which is set down in the Act of Assize and Nusance in the said City.

Item, the Mayor and Aldermen have alwayes used to set down penal Acts upon Victuals, and for other governance of the City and of the peace, according to their discretion and advice, and proclaim the same Ordinance within the said City openly to be kept in the Kings name, and of the City upon that penalty set down, and shall levie all those penalties of those which do contrary to the Ordinance aforesaid.

Item, the Mayor and Aldermen have always used, and may by custome of the same City cause to come before them the offenders which are taken within the said City for Lies and false Nuses noised abroad in disturbance of the Peace Makers, and Counterfeiters of false Seales, and false Evidences, and for other notorious deceits known to them, which they shall find faulty of such malefactours by confession of the parties or by enquest, and then take them and punish them by the Pillory or other chastisement by imprisonment, according to their discretion.

Item, the Mayor and Aldermen have alwayes accustomed, and may by custome of the said City, change Process, abbridge delayes in actions personal as well before themselves, as in the Sheriffs Courts, and to make new Ordinances touching personal Pleas which Ordinances they understand to be reasonable and profitable for the people.

The cases set out in the following Calendar fall within the above description, shewing that the main outlines of the Mayor's Court were already established at the close of the 13th century. Later developments may be found in the City books, and several learned treatises of the 17th and 18th centuries illustrate the closer definition necessitated by decisions in particular cases (fn. 96).


  • 1. Cal. of Letter Book L, p. 17 (A.D. 1462); Letter Book X, fo. 156 b.
  • 2. Repertories of the Court of Aldermen, 75, fo. 331 b, 79, fo. 399.
  • 3. Liber Custumarum (Munimenta Gildhallae Londoniensis, Rolls Series), 1, pp. 296-7.
  • 4. They were required, however, to hand over their Rolls of Novel Disseisin and Mort d' Ancestor on the expiration of their Shrievalties, since these actions did not fall within their private jurisdiction. Liber Albus (Rolls Series), 1, p. 404.
  • 5. Laws and Customs, Rights, Liberties and Privileges of the City of London, A.D. 1765, p. 162.
  • 6. Judicia Civitatis Lundonie, circa A.D. 930-40, in Liebermann's Gesetze der Angelsachsen, 1, pp. 173-83.
  • 7. The Historical Charters and Constitutional Documents of the City of London (W. de G. Birch), A.D. 1884, p. 1.
  • 8. The text of this Charter as given in Liber Custumarum, fo. 187 is the original source of the Inspeximus Charter of Henry IV, 25 May 1400. Mr W. Page has printed an accurate transcript of the latter in London: its Origin and Early Development, Appendix I. Mr Farrer in the English Historical Review, xxxiv (1919), p. 566, ascribes the Charter to the first half of 1132.
  • 9. J. H. Round, Geoffrey de Mandevile, Commune of London.
  • 10. London: its Origin and Early Development, pp. 186-206.
  • 11. Ibid. p. 206.
  • 12. Petit-Dutaillis, "Studies supplementary to Stubbs' Constitutional History" (translated by W. E. Rhodes), p. 95.
  • 13. Cal. of Letter Book E, p. 275, n. 4.
  • 14. Lib. Cust. 11, pp. 671-3.
  • 15. Ibid. 1, p. 150; Introd. 1, pp. lxxvi-lxxxiv.
  • 16. Ibid. p. lxxviii.
  • 17. Mary Bateson, "A London Municipal Collection of the Reign of John," English Historical Review, xvii (1902), p. 485.
  • 18. Liber de Antiquis Legibus, Camden Society (1846), p. 74. Similar emergency measures were taken in 1303 and in 1326, see City's Plea and Memoranda Rolls, A 1, membr. 16 (19): ". . . . homines suspensi ad furcas domini Regis videlicet apud le Elmes prope Tybourne." Meanwhile in 1306, a woman was condemned at Guildhall by her enemies and hanged, but no offence is mentioned. Chronicles of Edward I and Edward II (Rolls Series), 1, p. 146. These instances hardly justify us in assuming a regular exercise of Infangenthef. In the composition made between the City and the Bishop of London in 1228, it was agreed that thieves in the St Paul's soke at Cornhill should be attached by the Bishop's bailiff. If they were attached by the City bailiffs, they should be delivered to the Bishop's Court for judgment, and one half of their chattels should go to the Bishop, and the other half to the bailiffs of the City. While the right of the City to felon's goods is thus recognised, the passage is not strong enough to support the theory that the City gave judgment on other thieves. Lib. de Ant. Leg. pp. 243-4.
  • 19. See below, p. 120.
  • 20. Brit. Mus. Add. Chart. 5153, membr. 14b. Placita de Quo Warranto (Record Commission), p. 451. P.R.O. Assize Roll 547.
  • 21. E.H.R. xvii, pp. 719-20.
  • 22. Great Roll of the Pipe, 1189-90 (Rec. Comm.), p. 223.
  • 23. Rot. Litt. Claus. 11, p. 9.
  • 24. Historical Charters, p. 53.
  • 25. Chronicles of Old London, H. T. Riley, p. 268; The French Chronicle of London, Camden Society (1844), p. 59.
  • 26. Cal. of Letter Book E, p. 276; Plea and Memoranda Rolls, A 1, membr. XVI (19). Infangenthef and Outfangenthef appear to have been claimed by several of the Sokes or private jurisdictions in London at the Quo Warranto inquiry in 1321. Most of the soke-owners, however, either disclaimed or resigned the right (Plac. de Quo Warr. pp. 460-1, 464, 470, 471, 473). The King's advocate, Geoffrey le Scrope, declared that in the Soke of St Martin's all felons taken had been delivered at Newgate by the Justices in the reigns of Edward I and Edward II (ibid. p. 451), and though St Paul's claimed the right of hanging thieves at Stepney and Finsbury, Scrope objected that this Church had no gallows of its own, and that in any case the right was long obsolete (ibid. p. 456).
  • 27. Chron. Abb. Ramesiensis (Rolls Series), p. 38.
  • 28. City Records Office, Box 3, 26 March 1268.
  • 29. Colchester Chart. (Roxburghe Club), 11, p. 297.
  • 30. Borough Customs (Selden Society), 1, p. 231; 11, p. cxx.
  • 31. E.H.R. XVII, p. 492 from Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 14,252.
  • 32. Rot. Litt. Claus. 11, p. 153; Cal. Close Rolls, 1237-42, p. 148.
  • 33. Lib. Cust. 1, p. 39.
  • 34. City's Liber Ordinacionum, fo. 222; Iter Roll AA, membr. 6.
  • 35. Lib. de Ant. Leg. p. 45.
  • 36. W. Page, London: its Origin, etc., Appendix I.
  • 37. Leges Angl. p. 72.
  • 38. City's Liber Horn. fo. 230.
  • 39. Add. MS. 14,252; E.H.R. xvii, p. 493.
  • 40. City's Iter Roll AA, membr. 5.
  • 41. Lib. de Ant. Leg. p. 40.
  • 42. Liber Ordinacionum, fo. 173 (circa 1230); Lib. Cust. 1, p. 280 (1285).
  • 43. Lib. Alb. 1, p. 67. Pepoudrous and piepowder mean "dusty-footed," a name given to travelling merchants.
  • 44. See below, pp. 69-70, 101, 183.
  • 45. p. 69.
  • 46. Select Cases on the Law Merchant (Selden Society), 1, p. xx.
  • 47. Lib. Ord. fo. 173. These ordinances were supposed by Miss Bateson to belong to the year 1300. The reasons for placing them some seventy years earlier are to be found in the facts that an annotator, writing about 1320, draws attention to the antiquity of the customs, and that the document concludes with an ordinance that moneys paid by the City to the Exchequer on behalf of Peter Newelyn, William Wite, and Roger le Burser should be collected from their rents. All three persons were Sheriffs before 1230. Roger le Burser is probably the same person as Roger le Duc, Sheriff 1225-7, Mayor 1227-30. See Rot. Litt. Claus. 1, pp. 517 a, 569; Norman Moore, Hist. of St Barthol. Hospital, 1, p. 358; Ancient Deeds, A. 1741; A. B. Beavan, Aldermen of the City of London, 1, p. 366, citing Great Rolls of the Exchequer, 12 and 14 Henry III.
  • 48. Lib. de Ant. Leg. p. 41.
  • 49. See below, pp. 29-30.
  • 50. Lib. Cust. 1, p. 268.
  • 51. Lib. de Ant. Leg. p. 70.
  • 52. Notably the action for freshforce or novel disseisin, which was in existence before 1166, and met with the approval of Henry II. E.H.R. xvii, p. 708; Add. MS. 14,252, fos. 113 a-116 b; Lib. Alb. 1, p. 114. It was begun by a plaint of Intrusion either in the Husting or in the Congregation of Mayor and Aldermen in the Chamber of the Guildhall. Ibid. pp. 195-8.
  • 53. Glanvill says (1, 1, 2) that no man need answer for his freehold without a royal writ. This probably had its origin in some ordinance of Henry II. In a writ of 1207, which John sent to the people of Ireland, he directed that no one should be impleaded for his free tenement without writ of the king or of his justiciar. Rot. Litt. Pat. (Rec. Comm.), p. 76. See Maitland, Select Pleas in Manorial Courts (Selden Society), Introd. pp. liv-lv.
  • 54. Husting Rolls of Common Pleas, 5, membr. 3 (A. D. 1277).
  • 55. Ibid. Roll 25, membr. 6. Precept to the Sheriff to give execution of a judgment in the Husting without writ "de quodam cypho capto et injuste detento," i.e. an action "de namiis injuste captis." Similar precept in an action of trespass not described.
  • 56. Lib. Cust. 1, p. 281. This was not a legal jurisdiction. The Provisions of Westminster, c. 16, say that no one but the King may hold pleas of false judgment, since a plea of this kind specially pertains to the King's dignity. The Statute of Marlborough, 1267, repeats the prohibition. At the Iter of 1321 no mention was made of the Mayor's Court practice in error, which was subsequently abandoned.
  • 57. Cal. of Letter Book B, pp. 1-12.
  • 58. Ibid. pp. 13-14; A, pp. 120-1.
  • 59. A, pp. 64, 213; Lib. Cust. 1, pp. 282-3; Lib. Ord. fo. 231 b.
  • 60. Lib. Alb. 1, pp. 295-6. For date, see ibid. p. 280.
  • 61. Cal. of Letter Book A, p. 144.
  • 62. Cal. of Letter Book C, pp. 13-14. Trone, sc. a beam for weighing.
  • 63. Lib. Cust. 1, pp. 115-6. See also the case of John de Ely, H.R.C.P. Roll 31, membr. 6, and p. 233 of the present Calendar.
  • 64. See below, pp. 30, 106, 137, 140, 254.
  • 65. H.R.C.P. Roll 24, membr. 14 b; 30, membr. 5; Cal. of Letter Book A, p. 192.
  • 66. H.R.C.P. Roll 29, membr. 15. This action was by writ. For actions by plaint in the Mayor's Court, see below, pp. 104-5, 193-4, 205, 207, 240. A considerable battle was waged in the City round the writs of account. Debtors preferred to be sued on writs of Justicies and Justicies inter Mercatores, both of which allowed the debtor to be distrained, and to clear himself according to the law and custom of the City, i.e., with a law, or oath-helpers. The writ of Monstravit, as was explained by the Sheriffs in 1302 (H.R.C.P. Roll 28, membr. 4 b), was a writ of the King's Council, which was terminated according to the Common Law by jury and was designed to meet cases where the debtor had no lands or tenements by which he could be distrained. See below, p. 105, note 1.
  • 67. H.R.C.P. 12, m. 8; 32, m. 14; and below, pp. 50, 232, 235-6.
  • 68. H.R.C.P. 17, m. 2; 18, m. 5 b, 11 b, etc.; and below, pp. 228, 239-40.
  • 69. H.R.C.P. 3, m. 4; and below, pp. 104, 105, etc.
  • 70. H.R.C.P. 2, m. 4; 3, m. 1; 4, m. 1; and below, pp. 128, 207.
  • 71. H.R.C.P. 24, m. 14; and below, pp. 113, 127.
  • 72. H.R.C.P. 10, m. 12; 11, m. 1; and below, pp. 55-6, 81, 93.
  • 73. H.R.C.P. 16, m. 10 b; 24, m. 7, 23 b; 25, m. 12 b; 34, m. 12.
  • 74. H.R.C.P. 24, m. B. dors.
  • 75. See below, pp. 21, 34, 42, 43, 113, 164, 178, 221.
  • 76. See complaints in Rot. Hund. (Rec. Comm.) London.
  • 77. See below, pp. 37, 172.
  • 78. pp. 184, 256-8.
  • 79. p. 241.
  • 80. pp. 201, 241.
  • 81. p. 184.
  • 82. p. 258.
  • 83. pp. 159, 166.
  • 84. pp. 7, 12, 41, 42.
  • 85. pp. 8, 85-6, 114.
  • 86. pp. 8, 32, 40, 71-2, 161.
  • 87. Lib. Cust. 1, p. 281.
  • 88. Lib. Alb. 1, p. 219.
  • 89. The actions between John de Melan and John de Thotenham and Simon Beauflur, see p. 202, and Cal. Pat. Rolls, 1301-7, p. 403, and between Roger de Brunne and Avice la Haubergere, see p. 190 and C.P.R. pp. 538, 546.
  • 90. Camden Society (1872).
  • 91. Ibid. p. xx.
  • 92. Ibid. p. xxi. Cf. Lib. Alb. introd., p. xvii. Cal. of Letter Book E, p. 215.
  • 93. Lib. Alb. pp. 181-90, 195-223, 260-80, 319-38, 364, 494.
  • 94. Borough Customs (Selden Society), 1, p. xxxviii.
  • 95. "The City Law or The Course & Practice in all manner of Juridicall proceedings in the Hustings in Guild Hall, London. Englished out of an ancient French Manuscript."
  • 96. Calthrop, Reports of Special Cases, 1670; Lex Londinensis, 1680; Strype's Stow, 1720; The Priviledges of the Lord Mayor and Aldermen, 1722; The Laws and Customs of the City of London, 1765; A Concise Treatise of the Courts of Law of the City of London, by Thomas Emerson, 1794.