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The Three Earliest Subsidies For the County of Sussex 1296, 1327, 1332. Originally published by Sussex Record Society, London, 1910.

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The three Rolls which are here published are not only of value for their early information as to the inhabitants of the County, but also because they are exhaustive as to the subject to which they relate, at least in regard to its personal aspect. They record the names of contributors to the Tax on Moveables, which was the earliest form of general taxation, and two years after the latest of them (in 1334) a fixed sum was assigned to each township, on which account the names of the contributors are no longer recorded. Later taxes, for which the names of contributors are recorded, are based on different principles to these.

The returns for the three years here represented are stated (fn. 1) to have been better preserved for the whole country than any others, and Sussex is fortunate in having all three of them in excellent order, with only a very few damaged portions. They are for the 24th Edward I. (1296), 1 Edward III. (1327), and 6th Edward III. (1332).

The value of these returns may be called threefold. First, there is the personal interest, the feature which is most generally appreciated by students as a source of information for family history. To have lists of all the tax-payers of the county (or rather the great majority of them) on three different occasions will doubtless be a welcome boon to students of family descent. There are, it is true, certain regrettable omissions. The most unfortunate is the exemption of the Cinque Ports from this tax. In return for their services to the King they either did not pay or made their own terms. Hence we have no account of the Lowey of Pevensey, Hastings, Rye, or Winchelsea. Again, the clergy made their own arrangement with the King, and it seems to be stated in some cases that their tenants are omitted. (fn. 2) Lastly, in 1296 the boroughs and places on the King's demesne paid a seventh, while the rest of the county paid an eleventh. The payers of the seventh are apparently not in our return. In the parallel case of 1332 the payers of a tenth (as distinguished from those who paid a fifteenth) are separately entered. With these limitations the returns are complete, so far as they go, a point on which something must be said in speaking of the method of assessment and collection.

Secondly, there is the economic aspect of the information here obtained. We have a purview at three periods of the inhabitants of the county in their various settlements, the leading contributors in each place, the occupations of many persons as gathered from their names, and (what is a somewhat neglected view of the subject) the comparative prosperity of one part of the county as compared with another.

Thirdly, there is the light which these records throw on the specially interesting subject to Sussex students (as also to those of Kent and some other southern counties) of local administration through "borowes" or tithings.

On the first of these aspects (the personal) the Editor need say little. One integral portion of the 1296 return, that for the Rape of Lewes, was published in S.A.C., ii., 288, etc., by one of our ablest Sussex archæologists, Mr. Blaauw, and other writers have published the returns for individual places. As regards family names and history the great value of the present publication would seem to be the opportunity of comparing the three returns with each other, and still more, a complete index of all the names as the basis of such comparison.

On the second point, the social and economic, a little more remark may be useful. Mr. Blaauw and other writers have attempted to extract from the names a great deal of information, not a little of which, where it is not doubtful, is too obvious to be of much value, and where it is doubtful is often misleading. Very much has been learned since Mr. Blaauw's time in respect of local knowledge, comprehension of mediæval conditions of life, and scientific philology. But the subject deserves more than a few isolated notes. It wants a qualified student to survey the whole field in a systematic manner. Such a point, for instance, as one noticed by several writers, the French influence in Sussex, is amply evidenced on the surface of our documents, and deserves careful investigation.

The comparative prosperity and progress of definite areas distinguished by special characteristics, such as the Downs, the Sea Coast, the Weald, and Forest lands, may fairly be traced out.

Here it may be convenient to point out a warning against too hasty generalization. The method of assessment was nominally this. (fn. 3) Two chief Commissioners or Taxors were appointed for a county, who were to summon before them from each city, borough, or vill four or six or more persons to be sworn to truly assess their neighbours. These assessors were themselves to be assessed by the Commissioners, and the Commissioners by the Treasurer and Barons of the Exchequer. In practice we seldom find in our Sussex Rolls "taxors" for vills. They nearly always assess a hundred. They are themselves separately assessed, but it is not said by whom. There seems little doubt that the separate hundreds were to a great extent left to themselves. When we find the Hundreds of Pageham and Westbourne (pp. 86–88) taxing almost every person to one halfpenny or farthing, while the Hundred of Avisford (pp. 78–80) has a great preference for round shillings, and scarcely ever descends to these small coins, we cannot suppose the collectors in these two cases are acting on the same principles. Nor have we any evidence to shew how far down in the social scale the collectors are going. When people pay 1¼d. (p. 284) towards a fifteenth, representing goods valued at 1s. 6¾d. on the whole, one would suppose that everyone was included. But then such small sums ought to be found everywhere, which is not the case. In 1332 there is a constant occurrence of the sum of 8d. This for a fifteenth means goods estimated at a round 10s. Constantly we find some particular amount charged to a not inconsiderable proportion of a township. There was probably a growing tendency (even in the thirteenth century) to work on a fairly fixed valuation for the permanent occupiers of holdings, whether larger or smaller. Of course the death or departure of a prominent lord would make a difference. But on the whole, when the tax to be charged on each township was fixed permanently in 1334, it is found not to differ so very much from what was paid in 1332, according to supposed inventories of goods then taken. A comparison of a township's taxation at the three periods would be of some help, remembering that the valuations were for an eleventh, a twentieth, and a fifteenth.

On the third aspect of these Rolls, the administrative districts, of which hitherto little explanation has been offered, the Editor desires to enter rather more fully.

The hundreds are divided for fiscal purposes into a variety of units. Some of these bear the names of the towns and villages which have existed from before the Norman Conquest to the present time, and some are known to have been portions of such village districts. But there are others which have archaic names of places now unknown, or only to be discovered on the Ordnance Map as the site of an isolated farm. They are not exactly the same in all three rolls, and, on the whole, are more numerous in the earliest. Even at that early date there is plain evidence that they had originated in an earlier period still. They are so unequal in size and some of them so small that nothing but their previous existence would have led to their continued employment as fiscal units. It will further be observed that some of them actually usurp the place of the existing village districts in which they were situated, as though when the system commenced they represented an authority superior to that of the village communities.

Nor is this all that we have to consider. From other records we learn that the fiscal rolls do not include all the small units which existed. The early Assize Rolls make mention of these and others as being used for police purposes in the thirteenth century. Muster Rolls and Manorial Court Rolls of the times of Henry VIII. or Elizabeth shew us that they were still being used to summon the militia, or the suitors to a View of Frankpledge, and the Parliamentary Surveys into the property of "Charles Stuart, late King of England," (fn. 4) employ them as local designations of the sites of the property.

From what has been said we may easily see the historical importance of this information. Here we have (within 200 years of the Domesday Survey) a picture of the organization of the county of Sussex for local administration in fiscal matters, and, with very slight changes (chiefly additional units), for the cognate objects of national police and militia; the three departments which really covered the whole field of local administration in those days. We suspect, too, that this organization had sprung up under earlier conditions than those of our documents, and we see that it was so firmly rooted that it lasted down to almost modern times.

If it can be shewn with reasonable probability that it owed its origin chiefly to the legislation of King Henry II. towards the latter part of the twelfth century, we may take it as throwing a valuable (if only dim and imperfect) light on the condition of the county when the great Domesday fiefs were breaking up into more or less independent units.

Our first question is: What are these units? In our documents they are (with one exception) called "Villatæ," Townships. The one exception is in the case of the Archbishop's Hundred of Lokkesfield in 1296 (p. 37), where four of the units in the old Hundred of Malling or Ringmer are called by their proper name of "Decennæ" or Tithings. This latter is the name which in its English form of "Borowe" (fn. 5) came to be applied to them all. They were Tithings or "Borowes" of their respective hundreds. In later times they might be called tithings of a manor or of a parish. But this was an incorrect usage. A tithing was originally a portion of or rather a subordinate unit in a hundred.

We have to consider then how these tithings originated, and how they may have come to occupy the important position in which we here find them. The writer has already briefly expressed his view on this matter in "Sussex Archæological Collections," vol. 1., pp. 155—157. He was there dealing with the Roll for 1334, which contains the names of the districts, but not of the contributors. It was his desire for fuller information that led him to undertake this present publication, and he may be permitted to give his conclusions with more fulness of detail.

As to the origin of tithings, all our authorities agree in tracing it to the old English institution of Frankpledge, by which every free adult of twelve years old or upwards was bound to enrol himself in association with ten or twelve of his neighbours, each member of the association or tithing being a pledge for the good conduct of the rest, the whole tithing being responsible to the King for the production of any offender required for punishment. This was the first form of a police system for the maintenance of order. From this early stage our authorities at once take us to a much later period, when they find, as in our Subsidy Rolls, a tithing representing a small local district. They take it as an original feature of the institution. It was the custom to ascribe to King Alfred the parcelling out of the kingdom into counties, the counties into hundreds, and the hundreds into tithings. Even in these more critical days the writer knows of no systematic attempt to account for the development of personal into territorial tithings. This may be due to the fact that in a great part of the kingdom the development never took place. It is a feature of Kent, Sussex, and other southern counties, and our Sussex evidence, especially that of our present records, seems to afford a reasonable explanation.

We begin with personal tithings. In early Norman times this system was prevalent throughout a large part of the kingdom, and that it was in operation in Sussex we have undoubted evidence. For our present purpose it is pertinent to observe that in practice there must always have been three main classes of tithings. First, there were those in towns containing two or three streets, and in the larger villages, which were often separated into parts by a stream or bourne. In these there might be several tithings, and they were generally called by the name of their heads, as the "Tithing of Ralph the tanner of Burne," (fn. 6) the "Tithing of William de la Bernette in Horsted Keynes," (fn. 6) the tithing of "William de Panghurst in Warblington," "John Querle in Tycehurst," "William Hunderlyth in Nytimbre." (fn. 7) With these personal tithings we have nothing to do.

Secondly, there were the tithings of the great mass of smaller villages, which, containing only a few families in a small compass, needed but one tithing, which went by the name of the village. They appeared before the King's Judges as the "Tithing of Blachington, Preston, Sutton," etc. These are the tithings which retained their villagenames when they became units of local administration, as the "Townships of Goring, Ferring, Rustington," etc.

Thirdly, there were the tithings with which we are most concerned, the outlying tithings, altogether separated from the village proper. They were very generally settled in a little homestead which belonged to a lord other than that of the principal manor. Each such little group must, of course, have had its own tithing, for they could not answer for people removed from their observation. It is these outlying tithings which, as I hope to shew, were the original "borowes."

As we have seen, the principle of the tithing system was personal responsibility for the maintenance of order and the pursuit of criminals. In the course of the fourteenth century, however, this form of maintenance of local order was superseded by the appointment of permanent local magistrates known as Justices of the Peace. The personal responsibility of the tithings died out. They ceased, in most counties, to be connected with townships, and survived only in connection with manors. The office of head tithingman (or headborough), who had made reports for his tithing, became merged in that of the petty constable of the township or (finally) parish, who exercised his function under the control of the local justices.

But while this process of decay set in elsewhere it did not affect some southern counties, where the tithings maintained their existence, because, owing to local conditions, they had assumed other functions besides that of personal police responsibility. The outlying tithings had been forced into a new position. For purposes of local administration they were (most of them at times and some of them permanently) treated as though in modern language they were so many separate villages. The conditions which led to this state of things I take to have been two: the smallness of the hundreds in these counties, and the requirements demanded of the hundreds and of their included townships by the legislation of King Henry II. and its subsequent development.

One of the earliest burdens of a hundred in Norman times was the "murder-fine," which was exacted in the case of the discovery of a dead body which could not be proved to be that of an Englishman. The hundred might, perhaps, at first have acted in such a case without calling upon its townships or tithings. But in 1166, by the Assize of Clarendon, a very stringent enquiry was ordered to be made in every county with a view to the discovery and punishment of murderers, thieves, and other offenders. The enquiry was to be made by twelve lawful men of the hundred and four lawful men of every township (villata) in it. Reports were to be made to the King's Judges and the Sheriffs.

It seems to have been assumed that every hundred would have several townships included in it, and the two sets of jurors had somewhat different functions. Now in Kent and Sussex several of the hundreds had but one township, and others only two or three. We can imagine that such small hundreds would, even then, find some difficulty in meeting the King's requirements as to the two juries. At all events, before another generation had passed the difficulty must have become acute. About 1189, as is supposed, arose a practice of appointing in counties and boroughs a royal officer called a Coroner. His business was to watch and guard the King's rights, amongst other things to claim any forfeits or penalties accruing to the King after a violent or unexplained death. For this purpose he summoned men from four neighbouring townships. As we have seen, the penalty in case of default fell upon the hundred. How did the small hundreds meet this difficulty? We know from the Assize Rolls how they were doing it from the middle of the thirteenth century onwards. They had, so to speak, divided themselves up into groups of included townships (villatæ), all subordinate to the parent vill (villa), (fn. 8) but each having its separate responsibility. It is possible that in this they were following the example of the larger towns. Most of these counted as a single hundred and a single vill. In the thirteenth century records we find them using parishes as townships. "Four neighbouring parishes" are called to answer to the coroner. A "parish" at that time was merely a church-district, and they were utilized simply as convenient subdivisions ready to hand.

The small country hundreds of Kent and Sussex had equally convenient units of subdivision, the outlying tithings each with its already developed sense of corporate responsibility in the maintenance of common order. Henceforward a large number of these outlying tithings were treated for police purposes as separate townships. There were many more than our Subsidy Rolls shew, as we see from notices in the early Assize Rolls and elsewhere.

Here we must make a conjecture as to a further development, which must have been concurrent with that which we have suggested. If, as we have thought, the smaller hundreds adapted themselves to a necessary pressure, the larger hundreds must have voluntarily followed their lead. There were many with double the number of needful townships to face the coroner. Yet we find them also using their outlying tithings in the same way. The course recommended itself for some reason. Probably the reason was that, as the Subsidy Rolls testify, the subdivisions were largely manorial units, and evidently separate manorial action was still a prominent feature of the local administration of the county. (fn. 9)

These numerous tithing-townships, having been thus coopted into the family of the more normal vills, continued to be amongst the recognized units of local administration for some centuries. All the units, old and new, are henceforth called in common, either in Latin "villatæ," or in English "borowes" or "tithings" of their respective hundreds. In our Subsidy Rolls the former word is almost exclusively used. In the Assize Rolls the clerks will occasionally take the English word "borgh," used by the local jurors, and put it in the form of "borgha."

Besides being the permanent fiscal units, perhaps their most important functions were in later times in the execution of the Militia Musters and the election of Constables for the Assizes or Quarter Sessions. A few extracts will illustrate their operation and their titles.

Thus, in the Rape of Hastings (fn. 10) in 30 Henry VIII., the Hundred of Hawkysburgh is represented by the "Boroughs" of Burghers (Burwash), Warbleton, and Bevylham. The Hundred of Henhurst appears as the "Borows" of Erege (Iridge), Fontrig, and Salehurst. The Half Hundred of Bexle (Bexhill) stands as East Borowe, Midyll Borowe, and West Borowe. In the same year, in the Rape of Arundel, (fn. 11) the clerk calls all the districts "Tythyngs." The Hundred of Rotherbridge is divided into the "Tythyngs" of Petworth and Northchapel, Burton and Donketon, Berlavington, Stopham and Bognor, Tullington, Reve. The Hundred of West Grenestede into the "Tythings" of Grenestede, Ashehurst, Sent Jones, Withyham, Apsley, Wycham. These divisions, though differing slightly by omission and addition, are manifestly the old divisions which had originated before the Subsidy Rolls and are there employed.

Among the Rowe MSS. at Lewes (fn. 12) is an interesting statement of all the borowes in the ten hundreds of the Rape of Lewes, with their grouping for the appointment of constables (of the hundred). (fn. 13) The hundreds are unequally divided into borowes. Whalesbone, Younsmere, and Fishergate have only two each, while Buttinghill has nine and Street twelve. Street, however, only appoints two constables, whereas Buttinghill has four. The two for Street Hundred are: one for the south, including the borowes of Street, Wivelsfield, Chailey, Lofield and Plumpton, Westmeston, Ditchling; one for the north, including West Hothley, Lindfield Bardolf, Balcombe, Ardingly, Lindfield Arch. The four constables for Buttinghill Hundred are one for the south, including Keymer, Herst, Clayton; one for the north, including Cuckfield and Slaugham; one for the Half Hundred of Windham, containing Bolney and Twineham; one for Worth and Crawley. Windham counts for one borowe. The ninth borowe, Burley Arch, is omitted.

Still another interesting series of evidences of the continued existence of the old tithing-townships in the form of territorial borowes is to be found in the Parliamentary Surveys given in S.A.C., vols. xxiii. and xxiv. The entries relate to the "common fines" which had been payable to the late King in certain hundreds, and the divisions in which they are payable are mostly called "towneshipp or tything," or sometimes "townshipp or borough," or "burrough" alone.

The Fiscal Districts in the Subsidy Rolls.—In considering these we may observe that these Rolls contain a complete record of the subdivision of the county for purposes of taxation at a very early period. It would add very much to the value of the record if we could assign an approximate date to the origin of the organization. The first general tax on people's moveable goods is said to have been the "Saladin Tithe" in 1188. But this seems to have had a somewhat spiritual character. Every one was to give a tenth towards a crusade. It was to be collected in every parish in the presence of the parish priest and other ecclesiastical persons. Our districts in 1296 were certainly not parishes to a large extent, nor were church parishes in those days utilized (as such) for civil purposes. In 1207 a thirteenth was demanded for the recovery of Normandy, and again "parishes" are spoken of as the units of a hundred. This may have been merely taken from the earlier ordinance, the authorities supposing a parish and a vill to be generally synonymous. In 1225, however, when King Henry III. came of age and a fifteenth was granted to him, there came the important order that the money was to be collected "in every township by the reeve and four freemen," to be by them delivered to four knights, etc. It seems to me that on this occasion, if not before, recourse would be had to the tithing-townships already, as we have thought, in use for police purposes throughout the county of Sussex. They apparently did not use them all, and probably each hundred exercised its own discretion. This would account for some hundreds being much more subdivided than others. The Rape of Hastings in 1296 was evidently in favour of four districts to each hundred. In that return also we notice a very distinct indication of a certain equality of contribution amongst the units of a hundred. There is certainly evidence of deliberate organization in the whole fiscal system of the county. Nor do I see any reason why it should not be referred back to the early part of the thirteenth century and possibly to this year 1225.

We may be sure that the organization would be guided by two influences. One would be the distribution of population or convenience of locality. Another and stronger would be the distribution of lordship at the time. It is impossible to suppose that the reeve of a township, who (especially in the tithing-townships we are dealing with) was nearly always a manorial officer, or the four freemen, who must often have been manorial tenants, would act independently of their lord. In 1237 (fn. 14) it is stated that the freeholders who assented to the tax in the King's Council did so for their "villani" as well as for themselves. We may take for granted that whenever the fiscal organization was first made, the subordinate townships, which were hundredal units of taxation, were the sites of lordships of men who were at all events prominent in their own neighbourhood.

To sum up, if we take the last decade of the twelfth century as the period when the outlying tithings began to be utilized as townships, and 1225 as a probable date when their organization for fiscal purposes may have assumed the form it bears in our Subsidy Rolls, we may to some extent draw up a manorial map of the county at an interesting time, when new conditions were taking the place of old. Unfortunately the names of these sites in our Rolls do not tell us the names of their owners at the time of the origin of the system. Still, if the suggestion here advanced is of any value, it may assist in the interpretation of the language of charters of the later twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, which are constantly coming to light.

These Rolls should be compared with the "Sussex Feet of Fines," edited by Mr. Salzmann for our Society (Vols. II. and VII.), and with the Sussex Volume of "Feudal Aids," which includes the "Nomina Villarum" (Palgrave's Parliamentary Writs, Vol. II., Div. III., p. 333 et seq.). This latter return treats the Sussex "borowes" as integral "vills."

The Editor's best thanks are due to several friends who have kindly answered enquiries, and especially to Mr. L. F. Salzmann, who collated his copy with the original, and has given him the benefit of superior knowledge of Sussex family names and places. Many mistakes will, no doubt, be found, especially in the rendering of the letters "n" and "u," or "c" and "t." The compilation of the Index has solved some doubts. But he hopes that the publication will be taken as a basis for study, not a decision on any doubtful points.


  • 1. Scargill-Bird, "Guide to the Public Records," p. 348.
  • 2. See pp. 286, 289, 332, 333. The meaning of "excedunt taxationem" is not clear, unless it means "are outside of the taxation."
  • 3. Dowell, "History of Taxation in England," i., p. 260.
  • 4. "Sussex Archæological Collections," xxiii. and xxiv.
  • 5. It seems very desirable to avoid here the use of the form "Borough" (Latin, Burgus), rightly applied to important towns. The original word is "Borgh" (pp. 182, 189), the pronunciation of which is fairly expressed by the form "Borowe," used by Lambarde and other early writers. This form is here adopted.
  • 6. Assize Roll, 935.
  • 7. All in Assize Roll, 926.
  • 8. "Villa" was the civil district, generally answering to an ecclesiastical parish. "Villata" was the community dwelling in a vill. A vill naturally contained one "villata," but under the "borowe" system a Sussex vill might contain several. "Township" is used for "villata" for want of a better word.
  • 9. It is not intended to suggest that all isolated tithings in the county were thus utilized. There are manorial units traceable by name from Domesday Book downwards which are never met with as acting like independent townships.
  • 10. P. R. O. Muster Book, 163.
  • 11. Muster Book, 158.
  • 12. Woollgar's copy, presented to the S.A.S. Library by Mr. H. Wagner, i., 50, et seq.
  • 13. Mr. Rowe died in 1630.
  • 14. Stubbs, "Select Charters," p. 366.