Canterbury: Civil jurisdiction

Pages 9-14

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 11. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1800.

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Civil jurisdiction

THIS CITY being thus part of the king's demesnes, was, from the earliest accounts, under the government and direction of an officer appointed by him, stiled at different periods the king's præfect, provost, and keeper of the city, and this both before the Norman conquest and some time afterwards, though at that time, as appears by the former extract from Domesday, the sheriff of the county had the custody of it; but this seems to have been only temporary; for in after times, the king appointed one or more bailiffs for the custody of it, who not only presided over the civil jurisdiction of it, but in the manner of stewards accounted yearly to the king, for the several profits and issues arising from it. (fn. 1)

Somner has shewn, that at least from the last year of king John, two bailiffs were yearly appointed by the king for the above purpose, (fn. 2) and continued so to be, till king Henry III. by his charter in his 18th year, granted the town to the citizens in see-farm as abovementioned, and infranchised them with licence and power yearly to chuse in it bailiffs for themselves; and in his 40th year he granted to them several other charters of divers liberties and franchises, (fn. 3) all which were allowed in the iters of J. de Berewyk and his sociates, justices itinerant, in the 21st year of king Edward I. and in that of H. de Stanton and his sociates, justices itinerant likewise at Canterbury, in the 6th year of king Edward II. all which was proved on a quo warranto, in the 19th year of king Richard II. who confirmed the same by his letters of inspeximus that year, and granted his exemplification of them accordingly.

By this exemplification it appears, that in the pleas of the crown, anno 21 Edward I. before J. de Berewyk and his sociates, justices itinerant at Canterbury, upon a quo warrantoissuing, in respect of these liberties, the citizens pleaded, that king Henry, the king's father, granted and confirmed to them by his charter, that they and their heirs should have and hold of him and his heirs for ever, the said city of Canterbury in serma, for sixty pounds sterling yearly to be paid; and as to the return of writs, assize of bread and ale, pillory, tumbrel, and gallows, they pleaded that the said king Henry granted to them, that they and their heirs for ever, should have return of the king's writs, touching the city and the liberties of the same, as well within the suburb, as within the city; and as to the liberties of holding pleas of the crown, and having market, fair, gallows, and weif, in the city, they pleaded that the said king Henry granted to them all liberties and free customs, which they had in the time of king Henry his grandfather before mentioned, in as ample a manner as they had at any time possessed the same; and they further pleaded, that they and the citizens their ancestors had fully used the aforesaid liberties, from the time of the aforsaid king Henry, the great-grandfather of the then king (Edward;) all which was found by the jury, and allowed by the justices in their said iter.

In which iter, on a question arising, whether the borough of St. Martin and of Fyspole, was within the liberties of the city, (fn. 4) the jury found, that the borough of St. Martin should in future be subject and answerable with the rest of the citizens, in all those matters which belong to the crown; and that the coroner of the city should execute his office of coroner within that borough; and they further found, that all resident and dwelling in that borough, ought to come four times in a year to the hundred of Burgate, at the summons of the bailiffs of the city, to present those things which belonged to the view of frank pledge. And in like manner that they ought to come to the portmote of the city, as often as the citizens should cause a common meeting, to be summoned by the blowing of the horn of the city; and they found that the performing the said suit had been withdrawn for some time to the king's damage; therefore it was adjudged, that the above borough should for the future perform the said suits, and should be distrained to the performance of them, and that the king should recover his arrearages of the same. And as to the tenants of Fyspole, that they should perform the suit which they had been accustomed to perform. (fn. 5)

After this, it appears, that the city continued to be governed by bailiffs with little alteration, though the citizens obtained some further addition to, and allowance of their liberties in the first year of Henry IV. in the 2d and 9th years of Henry V. and the 3d and 26th years of Henry VI. (fn. 6) in the 26th year of which reign, the king granted to them an ample charter of further liberties and privileges, among which were those of chusing a mayor instead of bailiffs, on Holy Cross day, yearly, and to be a corporation, by the name of mayor and commonalty; the mayor; to be sworn into his office on the Michaelmas day, to have his serjeants at mace, to have the return of all writs, foreign officers not to intermeddle; the city and court to be governed by the mayor, who with the commonalty, should be capable of purchasing and selling lands, (fn. 7) and to sue and be sued. The mayor and his successors to take knowledge of all pleas, to be justices of the peace, after the expiration of their mayoralty. And he granted, that no justice of peace of the county should enquire of things done in the city. Mondays and Thursdays to be the courts days; power granted to levy fines before the mayor, were licence of concord; none of the commonalty to be compelled to answer without the city; the mayor, in his absence, might make one of the aldermen his deputy. The mayor and aldermen only, to make and alter rules and constitutions, and to raise taxes on the citizens. The mayor might punish any of the citizens, who came not to his commandment; to have one coroner; no officer of the county to intermeddle within the city or liberty of it. And the same king, by another charter, also in the city chest, in the 31st year of his reign, granted, of his especial grace, to the mayor and commonalty, a full confirmation of all former charters of liberties granted to them, as well as of his own charter last-mentioned with a special clause, that the liberties granted in such charter should not be any ways subject to the act of resumption then lately passed; (fn. 8) and he further by it granted that the citizens should chuse a mayor, who should be a citizen, according to their old custom, or in the same manner as the citizens of London; that the mayor, with the advice of the aldermen, should chuse yearly a bailiff or sheriff, who should be bound to answer at his exchequer for the fee farm, and other issues, profits and revenues of the city, and should make an attorney; conuzance of pleas to be taken before the mayor in the Guildhall; all manner of pleas and actions within the precincts of the hamlet of Staplegate in this city, parcel of the ville of Westgate, without the city, and within the aforesaid liberty of the archbishop of Canterbury, always excepted.

And further, that the mayor, and one learned man, and four, three, or two, of the aldermen, being called to the mayor, jointly and severally should be justices of the peace, to hold the sessions within the city for the same and the liberties thereof; and therein to enquire of the clipping and forging of money, and of all statutes, &c. for the peace and good government of all people within the city; and of all selonies, forestallings, regratings, &c. therein to hear and determine of all matters, which justices of the peace should hear and determine; provided always, that the mayor and the said learned man should be of the quorum; that they should have the keeping of the gaol of Westgate for prisoners, and should be justices of the gaol delivery; the mayor and his successors to be justices for the making of musters, &c. that the said mayor and commonalty should have one fair, to be holden on August 4th, and the two days next following, with all liberties and free customs to them belonging, provided it should not be to the nuisance of the fairs nigh to the same, or to the juridictions and liberties of the archbishop of Canterbury, the priory of Christ-church, or the monastery of St Augustine, by any manner of means.


  • 1. Anno 780, in certain charters of Christ-church, in Canterbury, mention is made of one Aldhunc, the king's præfect of this city. In 956, in a subscription to a deed, among the witnesses, mention is made of one Hlothewig Portgerefa. In the Danish massacre here under king Ethelred, anno 1011, Alfwerd, or Alfred, stiled Præpositus Regis, was one of the personages of note then taken prisoner. Afterwards one Brumannus is mentioned in Domesday as præpositus of the city. In succeeding times, about king Henry I.'s reign, being in the time of archbishop Anselm, one Calveal is mentioned as a witness in a deed by the name and title of Portgreva or Portreve. Bat. Somn. p. 178.
  • 2. See Battely's Somner, p. 179, where there is a list of the names of several bailiffs, extracted from the charters in the archives of Christ-church, to which charters they were witnesses.
  • 3. These charters are all in the city chest, in the chamber of it. Anno 27 Ed. I. Adam de Vauxs, and Thomas de Beaveys, two citizens of Canterbury, came into the exchequer, and for themselves and the whole community of the city made fine to the king in 100l. to have a confirmation of these charters of liberties granted to them by king Henry III. and they bound themselves pro se et ceteris civibus to pay the same. Madox's Firma Burgi, p. 139. Madox's Exchequer, p. 290, 291. Rot. Cart. No. 5, de confirmatione libertatum. &c. In the city chest is a charter of the same, dated anno 26 Edward I. and two charters likewise, anno 22 Edward III. confirming former liberties, with the addition of some new ones; and a grant anno 10 Edward II. for the mayor to take recognizanecs of debt.
  • 4. In the year 1268, being the 42d year of king Henry III. there had been an agreement made between the citizens and the abbot of St. Augustine's, to put an end to the disputes which had arisen between them concerning the bounds of their respective liberties and franchises in respect to the borough of Longport, which will be mentioned at large under the description of that borough.
  • 5. See Battely's Somner, appendix, p. 3, No. vi. where these letters of inspeximus are recited, extracted from the bundle of records and king's writs in the tower of London, of the 19th year of king Richard II. and in the city chest is a copy of this exemplification under the great seal, and likewise a charter of liberties granted by king Richard II. in his 3d year.
  • 6. All these charters are in the city chest. That of 9th king Henry V. are letters patent of certain liberties to the marshal and steward and clerk of the market.
  • 7. The charters give no such power, but it is a right inherent in the corporation to sell.
  • 8. Act anno 28 Henry VI. Rot. No. 5. See Davenant's Treatise of Grants and Resumptions, p. 160.