Later medieval Chester 1230-1550: City and crown, 1237-1350

A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 1, the City of Chester: General History and Topography. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2003.

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'Later medieval Chester 1230-1550: City and crown, 1237-1350', A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 1, the City of Chester: General History and Topography, (London, 2003), pp. 34-38. British History Online [accessed 21 June 2024].

. "Later medieval Chester 1230-1550: City and crown, 1237-1350", in A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 1, the City of Chester: General History and Topography, (London, 2003) 34-38. British History Online, accessed June 21, 2024,

. "Later medieval Chester 1230-1550: City and crown, 1237-1350", A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 1, the City of Chester: General History and Topography, (London, 2003). 34-38. British History Online. Web. 21 June 2024,

In this section


City and crown, 1237-1350

Although the Crown's annexation of the Norman earldom of Chester in 1237 made no immediate impact upon the city's institutions, it brought it into direct contact with the king and royal officials for the first time since 1066. Henry III was anxious to be seen as the legitimate successor of the Norman earls, and especially of Ranulph III. As early as 1232 he granted £3 a year from the manor of Newcastle-under-Lyme (Staffs.) to support a chaplain at Chester abbey to pray for Earl Ranulph's soul, and in 1238 he ordered the arrears to be paid. (fn. 1) Royal confirmations of Ranulph's three charters to the citizens, guaranteeing their liberties, free customs, and guild merchant, were issued in 1237 and 1239. (fn. 2) Henry also took over the earls' charitable responsibilities within the city. In 1239, for example, he provided for three beds for the poor and infirm in St. John's hospital without the Northgate, as Ranulph III had done, (fn. 3) and in 1241 he ordered that William of the chamber was to have his wages for keeping the king's buildings and garden at Chester castle, in the same manner as his ancestors under the Norman earls. (fn. 4)

The farm of the city was fixed in 1237 at the very high sum of £200 a year, besides £100 for the Dee Mills; it was, however, reduced in the two succeeding years, so that in 1239-40 it stood at £130. (fn. 5) An allowance was also made to the city bailiffs or sheriffs for keeping town and bridge in 1240. (fn. 6) Such generosity was counterbalanced by a tallage of 50 marks assessed on the city in the same year, and by loans totalling 300 marks which the king extracted from the citizens in 1244 and 1246. (fn. 7)

In 1241 Henry first visited Chester, on his way to and from Rhuddlan (Flints.) to receive the submission of the Welsh prince Dafydd ap Llywelyn. (fn. 8) Those visits saw the inauguration of work on the castle and the dispatch of building implements and military equipment from Chester to Rhuddlan. (fn. 9) The king was also in Chester in 1245, at the head of a large army which relieved Dyserth castle (Flints.) and established a new fortress at Deganwy (Caern.). He again returned to England by way of the city. (fn. 10) During such expeditions men were mustered at Chester, and the city became a major source of provisions, equipment, and weapons. (fn. 11) The royal financial administration, the wardrobe, was temporarily established there, and received from Ireland and elsewhere large sums of money which were stored in the castle and the abbey. (fn. 12)

In 1257 in a rising against the officials of Henry III and his son the Lord Edward, the Welsh apparently penetrated as far as Chester. (fn. 13) In response Henry and Edward organized a further expedition into Wales, mustering men and equipment in the city. (fn. 14) Envoys from Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd visited the king there, (fn. 15) and the royal wardrobe and its staff were again brought thither. (fn. 16) After a fortnight's stay Henry and Edward set out on what was to be the king's last invasion of Wales. They returned to Chester less than a month later after a brief campaign. (fn. 17) Although plans for further expeditions were frustrated by Henry's difficulties in England, (fn. 18) in 1260 Edward raised substantial loans from the city. (fn. 19)

During the Barons' Wars Chester was held for the Lord Edward by the justice, William la Zouche, who in 1263 took violent possession of St. Werburgh's and in 1264, apparently at the suggestion of one of the city sheriffs, began a defensive ditch immediately north of the city walls, destroying property belonging to the abbey in the process. (fn. 20) Despite William's efforts, the city and county were given to Simon de Montfort in 1264, and in 1265 Simon's son Henry went there to receive homage from the citizens and the men of the shire. (fn. 21) After Edward's escape from baronial custody, however, the royalists besieged Luke de Taney, Montfort's justice of Chester, in Chester castle. Taney surrendered upon news of Montfort's defeat at Evesham, (fn. 22) and Edward himself occupied Chester, from where he sent out instructions described as his 'first recorded act of state' as a 'responsible adviser of the Crown'. (fn. 23) In 1270 he ordered that nothing except due prises (customs duties) were to be taken from the city's merchants. (fn. 24) In return he seems to have expected more loans; in the early 1270s, for example, he was repaying a debt of £400 owed to the mayor and citizens. (fn. 25)

After 1267 Llywelyn ap Gruffudd's annual payments in return for recognition as prince of Wales and other concessions made in the treaty of Montgomery were handed over to the king's envoys at St. Werburgh's abbey. (fn. 26) By 1274, however, the prince was falling into arrears, (fn. 27) and his failure to appear at Chester in 1275, after Edward I had journeyed there to receive his submission, (fn. 28) proved a turning point in his relations with the king. (fn. 29) By then preparations were in train to establish Chester as the base for a major expedition against him. Already in 1274 the king had ordered that the royal demesne in Chester be tilled and sown, and dilapidated houses within the castle replaced, (fn. 30) and in 1275 his grant of the Dee Mills to the royal master mason Richard the engineer was accompained by provision for grinding corn free of toll in time of war. (fn. 31)

With the outbreak of Edward's first Welsh war in 1277, Chester was made one of the three military commands from which Llywelyn's principality was attacked; royal forces operating from the city under the command of William de Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, quickly brought northern Powys to submission. (fn. 32) As in previous campaigns, workmen, soldiers, timber, ammunition, victuals, and boats were assembled in the city. (fn. 33) The royal wardrobe was also brought there in five carts. (fn. 34) With the city thus established as the chief base for operations in northeastern Wales, in July Edward himself arrived to lead a large force of infantry on the culminating campaign. (fn. 35) He returned to the city in September when it was clear that Llywelyn would be forced to surrender. (fn. 36)

Chester retained its pivotal role in the aftermath of that campaign. It was there that Llywelyn was required to pay annual instalments of the huge debt to the king which he had incurred as the price of his disobedience. It was there too, in St. John's church, that 10 hostages from the leading men of Gwynedd were released after swearing loyalty on the Holy Cross of Chester. (fn. 37) Chester's functions as an administrative and financial centre were enhanced by the activity generated by Edward's new castles in north-east Wales, placed under the supervision of an officer of the palatinate, the justice of Chester. (fn. 38) In 1276 the citizens were formally granted the farm of the city, together with the fishery at the Dee Bridge, for an annual payment of £150. (fn. 39) In 1280 the justice was ordered to establish an exchange in the city for trafficking in precious metals, and £1,000 was sent from London for the purpose. (fn. 40) Two local merchants were placed in charge, and in 1281 were ordered to deliver £1,250 to the keeper of the wardrobe for the expenses of the royal household. (fn. 41) In 1281 further payments were made into the wardrobe at Chester, and the city provided one of the locations for an inquiry into the laws and customs of the Welsh. (fn. 42)

The Welsh rebellion in 1282 greatly enhanced Chester's military and administrative importance. As in 1277, the city formed the base of one of three military commands, and was put in the charge of the trusted Reynold de Grey, aided by the sheriffs of Lancashire and Shropshire. (fn. 43) Reynold was quickly placed in control of a cavalry force, and provisions from all over the king's dominions, but especially Ireland, Ponthieu, and the bishopric of Winchester, flowed into Chester. (fn. 44) Weapons, in particular quarrels for crossbowmen, were sent to the city, (fn. 45) and workmen gathered there, including a muster of 1,010 diggers and 345 carpenters from all parts of England. (fn. 46) A special wardrobe account was kept for the campaign, and the royal wardrobe was once more moved to Chester. (fn. 47)

Chester, c. 1500

Edward himself arrived in the midst of that activity, and took command of the cavalry already mustered there. (fn. 48) With him came the royal court and chancery, and during 1282 and 1283 chancery enrolments were made at Chester. (fn. 49) Edward moved on into north Wales after staying in the city for over three weeks and leaving orders for 1,000 woodcutters to be assembled there and sent on to Rhuddlan to help clear pathways for his men. (fn. 50) The city remained a major centre for provisioning the army; late in 1282, for example, the justice of Chester and the sheriffs of some 15 counties were ordered to ensure that it was continuously supplied with victuals and other merchandise. (fn. 51)

Edward returned to Chester after his victory in summer 1283. (fn. 52) He was there again in 1284, en route to north Wales, (fn. 53) but made no further visits until after the launch of his third campaign against the Welsh in 1294. (fn. 54) In response to the rebellion of that year Edward established three commands, the northernmost at Chester under Reynold de Grey and John de Warenne, earl of Surrey. (fn. 55) By the end of the year, when the king himself arrived in Chester, 16,000 infantrymen had been mustered. (fn. 56) Edward proceeded swiftly to Conwy (Caern.), (fn. 57) arranging for supplies to be transmitted from Chester, in particular large quantities of wood to make crossbows and hurdles. (fn. 58) As before, the city formed an administrative base, and in 1295, while the king was at Conwy, the chancellor, John Langton, stayed there. (fn. 59) With the restoration of peace the city was the scene of the recruitment of 100 masons to work on Caernarfon castle. (fn. 60)

Edward's decisive victory over the rebels in 1294-5 ended resistance to his rule in Wales, and he seems to have paid only one further visit to Chester, in 1301. (fn. 61) The Welsh campaigns, however, left their impact on the city. By 1295, for example, the portmote had evolved the custom that in time of war it did not meet except to hear pleas of novel disseisin, darrein presentment, and dower. (fn. 62) The city, moreover, retained its role as a supply centre, albeit on a much reduced scale, when Edward turned his attentions to Scotland. In 1300, for example, Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln, sent envoys to Chester to obtain provisions for his mission to Scotland on the king's behalf, and in 1306 ten ships were gathered in the port to carry corn to the North. (fn. 63)

In 1300, perhaps in recognition of the city's special role in his Welsh campaigns, Edward granted Chester a new charter, for the most part a confirmation of developments which had occurred informally over the previous century. (fn. 64) By that means the king recognized the existence of the mayoralty (never the subject of a formal grant), officially recorded for the first time that the farm was in the hands of the citizens, and fixed that farm at £100, the figure customarily paid throughout his reign. (fn. 65) There was, however, one important innovation: the exceptional, indeed at that time unique grant to the mayor and sheriffs of the right to hold the pleas of the Crown. The implications of the concession were considerable, and the charter may justly be regarded as a landmark in the city's history. (fn. 66) Its issue was preceded by Chester's addition a few weeks earlier to the select group of towns with exchanges, that established in 1280 presumably having lapsed after the conquest of Wales. (fn. 67)

In 1301 Edward I's son, Edward of Caernarfon, was made prince of Wales and earl of Chester. He was not seen at Chester until 1309, when as Edward II he made his first and apparently only visit, in order to meet his favourite, Piers Gaveston, returning from Ireland. (fn. 68) During his reign Chester remained a base from which supplies could be obtained for royal enterprises in Scotland and elsewhere. In 1309, for example, William (III) of Doncaster, the most prominent of the Chester merchants, supplied the king with 5,000 horseshoes, 8,000 large nails, and 60,000 small nails. (fn. 69) In 1310 the justice of Chester was requested to find victuals for the king's intended war against Robert Bruce, and in 1311 the mayor and citizens were asked to supply two ships. (fn. 70) Further requests were made after the king's defeat at Bannockburn had opened the way for Scottish raiding throughout the North. Thus in 1316 payments were made for 1,000 footmen sent from Glamorgan to Chester and thence to Scotland, and safe-conducts were issued to merchants of Chester to buy corn in Ireland for the king's needs. (fn. 71)

Edward's political difficulties had their repercussions in the North-West, and in 1318 disorder broke out in Chester. A great multitude of armed men came there on a day when the county court was due to be held, besieged the city, wounded and killed some of its defenders, and burned suburban houses. Thereafter they maintained a guard on the river Dee to prevent merchants from entering or leaving, and attacked those who tried to do so. Sir Roger Mortimer, justice of Wales, John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, Sir John Grey, and the sheriffs of Lancashire, Shropshire, and Staffordshire were commissioned to repress the disorder. (fn. 72) Though its cause is not known, it was clearly related to Edward's quarrel with his cousin Thomas, earl of Lancaster. The attackers apparently included Thomas's men, and the earl intervened to ensure that those imprisoned in Chester castle were delivered to his own officials. (fn. 73)

Chester was evidently a centre of disaffection after Edward II's deposition in 1327. Among the very many included in the general pardon of that year were William of Basingwerk and Richard of the Peak, both local men. (fn. 74) Later, just as an invasion was planned by the Scots, the justice of Chester received an order to arrest a group of malefactors in the city and adjacent ports. (fn. 75) Within a month, the former mayor Richard le Bruyn had also been arrested and accused of adherence to Donald, earl of Mar (d. 1332), one of the Scottish leaders. (fn. 76) Thereafter, fines ranging from £30 to £200 were extracted from several leading citizens, including William of Doncaster the elder, presumably William (III), (fn. 77) and 18 of their sons were briefly imprisoned in Chester castle as sureties. (fn. 78)

By the end of 1327 relations between city and Crown had improved, and four Chester merchants were given letters of protection and safe conduct for a year. (fn. 79) In 1329 the mayor and citizens were granted a murage (a tax for repairing the walls) for four years. (fn. 80) Despite the appointment of a commission in 1330 to inquire into their alleged misappropriation of large sums collected under an earlier grant of murage, (fn. 81) relations thereafter with the new regime seem to have been unexceptionable. In 1333 Edward III's young son, Edward of Woodstock, later known as the Black Prince, was created earl of Chester; he did not, however, visit the city until 1353. (fn. 82)


  • 1. Cal. Chart. R. 1226-57, 169; Cal. Lib. 1226-40, 350, 495-6; Close R. 1237-42, 226.
  • 2. C.C.A.L.S., ZCH 9-11; Morris, Chester, 488-90.
  • 3. Cal. Lib. 1226-40, 405; cf. ibid. 451.
  • 4. Ibid. 1240-5, 53.
  • 5. Ibid. 1226-40, 423; 1240-5, 21; Ches. in Pipe R. 34.
  • 6. Cal. Lib. 1240-5, 59.
  • 7. Ches. in Pipe R. 58; Cal. Pat. 1232-47, 431-2, 435, 492; Cal. Lib. 1245-51, 47; Close R. 1242-7, 383; cf. Cal. Pat. 1232-47, 467; Cal. Lib. 1245-51, 258.
  • 8. Ann. Cest. 62; Close R. 1237-42, 325-8, 341, 362; Cal. Pat. 1232-47, 257-8; Cal. Lib. 1240-5, 68-71, 75; J. E. Lloyd, Hist. of Wales, ii. 698; R. R. Davies, Conquest, Coexistence, and Change: Wales 1063-1415, 301.
  • 9. Cal. Lib. 1240-5, 69-70; Ches. in Pipe R. 38, 45, 52, 54, 59, 71.
  • 10. Ann. Cest. 64; Close R. 1242-7, 334-6, 363, 367-8, 471; Cal. Lib. 1240-5, 319-21; 1245-51, 1-2; Cal. Chart. R. 1226-57, 287-8; Cal. Pat. 1232-47, 459, 465; Lloyd, Hist. Wales, ii. 703-5; Davies, Wales 1063-1415, 302.
  • 11. Cal. Pat. 1232-47, 456.
  • 12. Ibid. 256-7, 466; Cal. Lib. 1240-5, 69, 320-1; 1245-51, 1, 3; Close R. 1242-7, 332, 336.
  • 13. Matthew Paris, Chronica Majora (Rolls Ser.), v. 594.
  • 14. Cal. Pat. 1247-58, 564, 573; Close R. 1256-9, 79, 139, 220-1.
  • 15. Cal. Lib. 1251-60, 388, 390, 407, 523.
  • 16. Ibid. 426; Cal. Pat. 1247-58, 576, 620.
  • 17. Ann. Cest. 74; Close R. 1256-9, 85-9, 91-3, 145-50; Cal. Pat. 1247-58, 573-5, 577-9, 596-8, 600-1, 606; Cal. Chart. R. 1226-57, 472-5; 1257-1300, 5; Cal. Lib. 1251-60, 392, 403; Lloyd, Hist. Wales, ii. 721-2; Davies, Wales 1063-1415, 310.
  • 18. Close R. 1256-9, 294-7, 299, 480-1; 1259-61, 191-4, 200-1; Cal. Pat. 1247-58, 627-8.
  • 19. Cal. Doc. Irel. 1252-84, no. 682.
  • 20. Ann. Cest. 86, 88.
  • 21. Ibid. 90; Cal. Pat. 1258-66, 487.
  • 22. Ann. Cest. 94, 96; Cal. Pat. 1258-66, 487.
  • 23. F. M. Powicke, King Hen. III and Lord Edw. ii. 504.
  • 24. C.C.A.L.S., ZCH 12; Morris, Chester, 499-500.
  • 25. Cal. Doc. Irel. 1252-84, no. 891.
  • 26. Cal. Pat. 1266-72, 123, 175, 299-300, 306, 370, 391.
  • 27. Davies, Wales 1063-1415, 322-3, 326-7.
  • 28. Ibid. 327-8; Cal. Close, 1272-9, 241; Ann. Cest. 102; Chrons. of Reigns of Edw. I and Edw. II (Rolls Ser.), i. 85.
  • 29. Davies, Wales 1063-1415, 328; Cal. Close, 1272-9, 325, 359-60.
  • 30. Cal. Close, 1272-9, 141.
  • 31. Cal. Fine R. 1272-1307, 52.
  • 32. Davies, Wales 1063-1415, 333-4; Lloyd, Hist. Wales, ii. 758-9; J. E. Morris, Welsh Wars of Edw. I, 115, 140.
  • 33. Cal. Close, 1272-9, 372; Cal. Pat. 1272-81, 227-8; Davies, Wales 1063-1415, 334; Morris, Welsh Wars, 118-20, 127-8, 130.
  • 34. Cal. Pat. 1272-81, 209; T. F. Tout, Chapters in Administrative Hist. of Medieval Eng. ii. 44-5.
  • 35. Cal. Fine R. 1272-1307, 81, 86; Cal. Chart. R. 1257-1300, 204.
  • 36. Cal. Fine R. 1272-1307, 82; Cal. Chart. R. 1257-1300, 278.
  • 37. Cal. Chanc. R. Var. 169.
  • 38. Morris, Welsh Wars, 143-5.
  • 39. Cal. Fine R. 1272-1307, 92; Ches. in Pipe R. 112, 117, 132.
  • 40. Cal. Pat. 1272-81, 415.
  • 41. Ibid. 450.
  • 42. Cal. Close, 1279-88, 104; Cal. Chanc. R. Var. 191-4.
  • 43. Davies, Wales 1063-1415, 349; Morris, Welsh Wars, 152-5.
  • 44. Cal. Close, 1279-88, 150; Cal. Chanc. R. Var. 214, 226, 246, 250, 257-8.
  • 45. Morris, Welsh Wars, 91.
  • 46. Davies, Wales 1063-1415, 350; Cal. Chanc. R. Var. 247-8, 251.
  • 47. Cal. Chanc. R. Var. 219, 238; Cal. Pat. 1281-92, 33, 60-1, 67, 71, 110.
  • 48. Cal. Chanc. R. Var. 223-31, 253; Cal. Chart. R. 1257-1300, 262-3; Cal. Close, 1279-88, 191; Cal. Fine R. 1272-1307, 163-5; Morris, Welsh Wars, 158-9.
  • 49. Cal. Close, 1279-88, 190-3, 195, 230-1, 235, 237; Cal. Chanc. R. Var. 242; Cal. Pat. 1281-92, 27, 60.
  • 50. Cal. Chanc. R. Var. 232.
  • 51. Ibid. 257-8; cf. ibid. 246, 270.
  • 52. Cal. Fine R. 1272-1307, 189; Cal. Chart. R. 1257-1300, 268.
  • 53. Cal. Fine R. 1272-1307, 206; Cal. Chart. R. 1257-1300, 278; Davies, Wales 1063-1415, 357-8.
  • 54. Cal. Fine R. 1272-1307, 349; Cal. Pat. 1292-1301, 125, 127, 158; Cal. Close, 1288-96, 406-7.
  • 55. Morris, Welsh Wars, 244-7, 253-4; Cal. Chanc. R. Var. 359-60.
  • 56. Cal. Chanc. R. Var. 355, 359; Davies, Wales 1063-1415, 383.
  • 57. Davies, Wales 1063-1415, 383-4.
  • 58. Cal. Inq. Misc. i, p. 475.
  • 59. Cal. Close, 1288-96, 443, 445.
  • 60. Ibid. 413.
  • 61. Cal. Chart. R. 1300-26, 9.
  • 62. C.C.A.L.S., ZMR 1, rot. 1d.; Sel. R. Chester City Cts. 10.
  • 63. Cal. Pat. 1292-1301, 505; Cal. Close, 1302-7, 385.
  • 64. C.C.A.L.S., ZCH 13; Morris, Chester, 490-3; Cal. Chart. R. 1257-1300, 480-6.
  • 65. Cf. Ches. in Pipe R. 112, 117, 122; Cal. Fine R. 1272-1307, 92.
  • 66. Below, this chapter: City Government, 1230-1350 (Charter of 1300).
  • 67. Red Bk. Exch. (Rolls Ser.), iii. 990.
  • 68. V.C.H. Ches. ii. 9; Cal. Fine R. 1307-19, 27, 43-4; Cal. Pat. 1307-13, 163; Cal. Close, 1307-13, 161; Chrons. of Edw. I and II, ii. 161.
  • 69. 36 D.K.R. App. II, p. 150.
  • 70. Cal. Close, 1307-13, 213, 353.
  • 71. Ibid. 1313-18, 299, 364-5; Cal. Pat. 1313-17, 470, 568.
  • 72. Cal. Pat. 1317-21, 200; Cal. Close, 1318-23, 12.
  • 73. Cal. Close, 1318-23, 23-4.
  • 74. Cal. Pat. 1327-30, 48.
  • 75. Ibid. 153.
  • 76. Ibid. 183; Cal. Close, 1327-30, 142; N. Fryde, Tyranny and Fall of Edw. II, 201, 209, 212.
  • 77. Cal. Close, 1327-30, 169, 273, 278, 448.
  • 78. Ibid. 169, 187-8.
  • 79. Cal. Pat. 1327-30, 183, 196-7.
  • 80. Ibid. 455.
  • 81. Ibid. 559; 1330-4, 62.
  • 82. Cal. Chart. R. 1327-41, 300.