Later medieval Chester 1230-1550: City government and politics, 1350-1550

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 government and politics, 1350-1550', in A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 1, the City of Chester: General History and Topography, (London, 2003) pp. 58-64. British History Online [accessed 22 May 2024].

. "Later medieval Chester 1230-1550: City government and politics, 1350-1550", in A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 1, the City of Chester: General History and Topography, (London, 2003) 58-64. British History Online, accessed May 22, 2024,

. "Later medieval Chester 1230-1550: City government and politics, 1350-1550", A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 1, the City of Chester: General History and Topography, (London, 2003). 58-64. British History Online. Web. 22 May 2024,

In this section


The decay of the guild merchant

By the mid 14th century the roles of the main civic officers had been largely defined. The dominance of the mayor, already well established, was enhanced by the grant of the escheatorship in 1354, and by his increasing control over market offences, presented at inquests held in the courts over which he presided. (fn. 1) The activities of the sheriffs, by then elected annually, were gradually restricted to the collection of local dues, policing, and the administration of summary justice for minor offences. (fn. 2) The principal institutions remained those of a century before, the portmote and the unitary guild merchant. There was as yet no trace of a body of aldermen and common councilmen, although by 1356 the city authorities (called the mayor and commonalty) collectively owned property in Bridge Street near the Cross. (fn. 3)

Although in 1358, in accordance with the charter of 1300, the county sheriff confirmed at the Pentice that Chester was a 'free city', (fn. 4) definition of the citizens' liberties continued to trouble relations with the palatinate, especially during the 1350s, (fn. 5) and was never fully resolved in Chester's favour. Throughout the later 14th and the 15th century the county court heard cases of theft and assault committed within Chester's liberties, usually it seems because the offenders or their victims were of relatively high status. (fn. 6) Occasionally, too, city officers were brought before the shire court for offences committed within the liberties, including illegal trading and extortion, and when there were serious disturbances in the city. (fn. 7)

The palatine administration apparently had difficulty in dealing with such matters, especially over its handling in 1349-50 of the murder of the mayor, Bartholomew of Northenden. The culprits were never fully brought to justice: pardons were issued in the early 1350s and 1360 to two of them, and others seem to have gone to Gascony with the Black Prince. (fn. 8) Chester, indeed, was apparently notorious for its lawbreakers: in 1354 the prince asserted that there were more evil-doers within the city than in the entire shire outside it, and there were further complaints in 1357. (fn. 9)

One source of strife lay in the gradual disintegration of the unitary guild merchant. Signs of conflict were apparent by 1351, when the Black Prince responded to claims by the citizens that 'substantial men of the commonalty' were combining related crafts such as tailoring and drapery, or shoemaking and tanning. (fn. 10) In 1361 the city's tanners paid the Black Prince to establish a monopoly in the production of leather, but despite attempts to prevent the shoemakers from encroaching on their craft, by 1370 the ruling had been reversed. (fn. 11) Evidently such disputes could no longer be regulated within the unitary guild, and several occupational groupings were near to constituting themselves into separate corporations. Relations within and between the crafts could still affect the general peace, as in the great affray which took place in front of St. Peter's church in 1399, when a group of master craftsmen involved in clothmaking attacked their own journeymen. Such tensions perhaps diminished as the craft guilds consolidated their position in the early 15th century. (fn. 12)

The emergence of the assembly

The gradual dissolution of the earlier medieval framework of government was accompanied by the emergence of new civic structures, a process which seems to have crystallized in the 1390s, when the city was the object of Richard II's especial favour. Of the new institutions, the most significant was the aldermanate or Twenty-Four, in place by the early 1390s. (fn. 13) Its early members, who despite their precise collective designation varied in number from 26 to over 30, (fn. 14) were mostly former mayors and sheriffs and were associated with the current office-holders in making ordinances for the city; they met with the mayor to deliberate on the common good, and accompanied him on civic business, duties enforceable by fines exacted by the sheriffs. (fn. 15)

By the 1390s Chester had also acquired a treasurer to account for the city rents (fn. 16) and a 'common clerk of the city', evidently the successor of the custodian of the seal of Statute Merchant, charged with legal business and soon known as the clerk to the Pentice. (fn. 17) Except for the clerk, civic officers were evidently elected, although the nature of the franchise is not clear. (fn. 18) By the 1390s, then, the city had a nascent corporation; indeed, in 1391 its governing body expressly referred to itself in such terms when it sought to lease the Dee Mills from the Crown. (fn. 19)

The period also saw the creation of the Mayor's Book, containing a mixture of administrative and judicial business. (fn. 20) In 1407 the earliest surviving orders attributed to the Assembly were recorded, prohibiting the use of royal writs to the prejudice of the city courts. (fn. 21) Other early orders, not so attributed and issued from the 1390s, inter alia regulated the duties of freemen and the trading activities of the city's butchers, fishmongers, bakers, brewers, and cooks, prohibited the throwing of rubbish into the streets, and set a fine for bringing a cart with iron-bound wheels across the renovated bridge. (fn. 22)

By the 1430s accounts were presented to the Assembly annually by two treasurers. (fn. 23) The corporation then owned shops throughout the city, including seven beneath the Pentice and others at the Cross, in Ironmongers' Row, next to the Eastgate, and in Watergate Street. It also owned property in Commonhall and Cow Lanes, by the quarry outside the Northgate, near Capelgate and the mills, and in the Crofts. By 1442 the rents amounted to over £12 a year. Other more variable sources of income derived from fees payable for entry into the freedom and for writs of error, (fn. 24) and from local customs collected by the sheriffs on merchandise entering and leaving the city. (fn. 25) By 1440 the civic officials also included two murengers, responsible for maintaining the defences and using income derived from customs levied at the gates and other duties. (fn. 26)

The emergent corporation was closely connected with the old guild merchant, admissions to which were recorded from the 1390s in the Mayor's Book and equated with the freedom of the city. (fn. 27) Obtainable by inheritance or payment of a large entry fine, and perhaps dependent upon a residential qualification, the freedom brought with it the duty to contribute to the city's administrative burdens and expenses. (fn. 28) It probably also helped to secure membership of the guild of St. Anne, revived in 1393 as a chantry foundation for the civic élite. (fn. 29)

Beneath the Assembly, a further tier of administration developed from the ancient serjeanties. Granted before the charter of 1300, those offices were essentially benefices held of the earl and sat uncomfortably with newer civic institutions, which derived their authority from the citizens themselves. (fn. 30) Gradually they lost their early policing functions, although the administrative subdivisions of the city remained based on the four principal gates and streets. By the late 14th century, a group of 16 leading property holders or 'custumaries' (custumarii) supervised policing activities within those subdivisions, including guarding condemned felons and keeping the Christmas watch; other duties were performed by bailiffs, answerable to the sheriffs, whose main responsibility was the collection of sums of money, known as estreats (extracta), four times a year. The nature of the estreats is not clear but the sums involved were quite large, ranging from c. £3 to over £16 for a single street in a single term. (fn. 31)

The civic éllite

Throughout the later 14th and earlier 15th century the main civic offices were dominated by a relatively small group of families, mostly merchants, such as the Blunds, Bellyetters, Hopes, Hattons, Ewloes, and Whitmores. Mayors generally held office repeatedly. John Blund, for example, was mayor for eight terms in the 1350s and John Armourer for seven between 1385 and 1395. (fn. 32) Such men were often rich: Armourer, for instance, left 60 pounds of silver in 1396 to establish a chantry in Holy Trinity church, (fn. 33) and John Ewloe (mayor 1405-10, d. 1418) owned property in Bridge Street, Watergate Street, Cuppin Lane, and Cow Lane, land in the fields of Handbridge and Claverton, and fishing stalls in the Dee, as well as extensive holdings in right of his first wife in and near the city. (fn. 34) A similar linkage of city tenements and local rural manors is evident in the estate of John Whitmore (mayor 1412- 15), who at his death in 1438 held 15 messuages, 15 gardens, and an undercroft in Chester together with considerable property in the environs, including the manor of Thurstaston, and land and fisheries in Caldy and Guilden Sutton. (fn. 35)

Such men played a dominant role in city life, not always on the side of law and order. John Walsh, member of a mayoral family if not himself mayor, and in the early 1390s farmer of the Dee Mills, was in 1393 indicted for a killing and briefly imprisoned. (fn. 36) John Armourer was a leading figure in the dispute with Richard II's courtiers in 1394. (fn. 37) Though they were not in office at the time, both John Ewloe and John Whitmore were involved in disorder in 1416, while the then mayor William Hawarden was actually imprisoned. (fn. 38)

A notable element within the city élite was a powerful group of Welsh descent. Their presence caused especial difficulty during Owain Glyn Dwr's revolt in the early 15th century, when under pressure from Prince Henry and the palatine administration, the city promulgated harsh decrees against Welsh residents and visitors. (fn. 39) Such tensions culminated in 1408 in a serious dispute between the civic authorities, then led by the Welshman John Ewloe, and William Venables, constable of the castle. Venables and over fifty members of his retinue were bound to keep peace with the mayor and sheriffs, and in 1409 both Venables and Ewloe were suspended from office. To replace the mayor, the Crown appointed Sir William Brereton, sheriff of Cheshire, as 'keeper and governor' of the city, and his deputy presided over the portmote and crownmote until Ewloe was re-elected later in 1409. The case provoked such discord within the city that the following election, in 1410, was disrupted by the armed intervention of Robert Chamberlain, a former sheriff and apparently a member of Venables's affinity. He was evidently unsuccessful, since the new mayor, Roger Potter, was one of the leading litigants against the former constable. In 1411 a 'day of reconciliation' (dies amoris) was celebrated between Venables and the leading townsmen, and in 1412, under the terms awarded by the arbitrators, Venables and his affinity agreed to pay reparations to various citizens. (fn. 40) Nevertheless, the city apparently remained riven by feud. A further attempt at armed interference in the elections of 1412 caused the Crown to commission the current mayor and other nominees to choose the next mayor, (fn. 41) while in 1416 Ewloe, his son Edmund, and their Welsh retainers attacked another citizen in Eastgate Street. Shortly afterwards Edmund and his fellow Welshmen broke into the house of John Hope, lately sheriff and soon to be mayor. (fn. 42) Further disturbances in the same year included an attack on two citizens with the connivance of the mayor, William Hawarden, who was briefly imprisoned in Chester castle but after the lapse of a year regained the mayoralty. (fn. 43) The fact that other leading citizens, including William Venables and two former mayors, were required to give guarantees to keep the peace suggests considerable discord among the civic élite at that time. (fn. 44)

City government, 1430-1506

From the 1430s the long mayoral tenures characteristic of the 13th and 14th centuries ceased, and except for a few two- or three-year terms in the 1440s, 1450s, and 1470s the office changed hands every year. (fn. 45) Although the openings for a powerful individual to exercise a prolonged ascendancy were thereby diminished, the power of the mayor continued to increase. By the early 15th century he had control of the markets, dealing with the more serious trading offences, suppressing illegal markets, and issuing regulations relating to prices, hours of sale, disposal of waste, and the killing of beasts. (fn. 46) By the late 1440s although his court met less often, its sessions lasted longer, and its competence had been extended with the holding of indictments relating to every type of offence. (fn. 47)

In 1450 it was alleged that the citizens had 'from ancient time' assembled in the common hall to choose the mayor, sheriffs, and other officials of the corporation, evidence that by then freemen were participating in civic elections. (fn. 48) Shortly afterwards, a formal body of common councilmen, the Forty-Eight, was added to the Assembly. As with the aldermen, numbers fluctuated, on occasion rising to over sixty; in 1453 the names were arranged by the four quarters of the city, which perhaps played a part in the selection procedures. Two complete sections of the list each comprised 22 names, of which 10-12 were marked as 'sworn'. (fn. 49) The councilmen's duties are uncertain, but as representatives of the citizens their main role was probably, as later, to watch over civic finances; in the 1450s, for example, a committee of four aldermen and eight councilmen audited the treasurers' accounts. (fn. 50) The councilmen presumably also played a part in the election of the city sheriff, who seems to have been chosen by the Assembly as a whole. (fn. 51)

Almost certainly the emergence of the common councilmen was linked with changes in the admission to the freedom, from 1452 made in full portmote and limited to resident citizens. (fn. 52) That restriction, evidently an innovation, marked the emergence of a division between the franchise and the guild merchant, which thereafter seems to have been primarily concerned with non-residents involved in the city's trade under the supervision of officials known as leavelookers, apparently first recorded in 1454-5. By the 1470s the leavelookers, already perhaps regarded as the leaders of the common councilmen, were responsible for receiving entry subscriptions from non-freemen and for levying a modest tax on their merchandise to pay for the entertainment of distinguished visitors to Chester. By then, too, such foreign members of the guild paid the local customs on goods entering and leaving the city. (fn. 53) Henceforth, it seems, the crucial qualification for participation in civic government was the freedom, which was linked with membership of an appropriate craft guild. (fn. 54)

By the later 15th century the city's government was thus in the hands of an Assembly which comprised the mayor and sheriffs, the aldermen or Twenty-Four, and the councilmen or Forty-Eight. It was served by three groups of annually elected officials: two treasurers, chosen from the aldermen; two leavelookers, chosen from the common councilmen; and two murengers, also chosen from the councilmen but by the aldermen alone. Former sheriffs automatically became aldermen. (fn. 55) Other salaried officials included the recorder, swordbearer, and serjeants-at-mace who attended the mayor and sheriffs. (fn. 56) Throughout the late 15th century the Assembly's finances continued to depend upon rents from its property, fairly stable at £12-£16 a year, and more variable income from fees and tolls. (fn. 57) It sufficed for the fixed annual expenditure on the officers' fees, but exceptional costs, such as the rebuilding of the Pentice in the 1460s, had to be financed by a special levy on the citizens. (fn. 58)

A further institution linked with the Assembly was the fraternity of St. George, like that of St. Anne primarily a religious guild, which was housed in St. Peter's church, probably in the south aisle. First mentioned in 1462, when it was governed by four masters or wardens, (fn. 59) it received bequests from leading mayoral and aldermanic families in the late 15th and early 16th century and by then was so much part of civic government that its stewards or seneschals were listed in the Mayor's Books with the civic dignitaries. (fn. 60)

Somewhat less closely associated with the Assembly were the craft guilds, which by 1450 numbered over twenty. Governed by stewards and aldermen, they derived their generally modest income from fees payable on admission and annually thereafter. (fn. 61) Although they had considerable independence in the conduct of their affairs, they were ultimately subordinate to the Assembly, which settled disputes within the membership of a particular guild or between guilds, and on occasion decided the level of entry fees; they played a large part in civic life, most notably in the mystery plays and in regulating economic activity, especially through the definition of trading standards, the purchase of raw materials, and the determination of the terms of apprenticeship and journeymen's employment. Nevertheless, there was not, as elsewhere, a close linkage of guild and civic office, although company stewards on occasion became constables or common councilmen. (fn. 62)

The administrative subdivisions of the city remained focused upon the four main streets, from the 1460s together with occasional additional units based on Foregate Street, Handbridge, and Upper Northgate Street. By then, although they had ceased to be the vehicle for the collection of estreats, they provided the framework for imposing assessments and amercements and accounting for civic property. (fn. 63) From c. 1450 they were associated with constables, who could number as many as five or even nine in a large division such as Eastgate Street or Bridge Street. Like the common councilmen, constables were often listed in the Mayor's Book grouped by administrative division, with a note about whether they had been sworn in. (fn. 64) Their main duties appear to have been carrying out the Assembly's orders. In 1487, for example, when the administrative areas for which they were responsible were known as wards, they were ordered to summon the city's brewers to have their measures stamped. (fn. 65)

Power lay above all with the mayor and aldermen, the latter generally former mayors and sheriffs holding office for life. Such men continued to be drawn mainly from the leading merchant families, often interrelated and including mercers, drapers, goldsmiths, glovers, ironmongers, and dyers. (fn. 66) Mayors might also include members of the local gentry, such as the Masseys, Savages, and Southworths. (fn. 67) Sheriffs were largely drawn from the major civic families. (fn. 68) By the late 15th century, although they included junior members of aldermanic families, the common councilmen were more likely to be drawn from the city's prosperous artisans. (fn. 69)

The charter of 1506

In 1506 the city was given county status and its constitution was formalized by royal charter. (fn. 70) The arrangements appear generally to have been those in operation in the later 15th century, with a few minor amendments. The number of aldermen was fixed at 24 but the councilmen were reduced to 40. The freemen were deemed part of the corporation and given the right to elect the aldermen and councilmen. The charter also prescribed the procedures for electing the principal civic officers: the mayor was to be chosen by the aldermen and sheriffs from two aldermen named by the freemen; one of the two sheriffs, the king's was to be nominated by the aldermen, while the other, the city's, was elected by the whole Assembly. In confirmation of his long-exercised responsibilities, the mayor was made clerk of the market.

The charter also amended the structure of the city's courts. While confirming that the portmote, Pentice, and crownmote were to be held as formerly, it added two others, the county court of the city and quarter sessions. The county court of the city, a necessary aspect of its new status, had very little business. Quarter sessions, on the other hand, was responsible for trying all misdemeanours and most felonies on the city's behalf; in practice it took some business from the portmote but most from the crownmote, for which only the most serious felonies were reserved. Its justices were the mayor, recorder, and former mayors, who constituted the senior aldermen. (fn. 71)

Another administrative change probably introduced in the early 16th century was a rearrangement of the wards and their association with aldermen. Although in 1507-8 the councilmen and constables continued to appear in the civic record in unequal groups drawn from the four main streets, by then the constables were further subdivided according to the wards of named aldermen, numbering nine altogether. (fn. 72) By the 1530s there were 15 wards, to each of which was attached an aldermen and one or two constables, and each equipped with a pair of stocks. The 12 wards within the walls were named after the eight intramural parish churches, together with Eastgate, Northgate, Cornmarket (southern Northgate Street), and Beastmarket (Lower Bridge Street) wards; the three outside were St. Giles's and St. John's to the east and St. Thomas's to the north. (fn. 73) Arrangements appear still to have been relatively fluid. In 1538-9 twenty-three constables were listed in ten groups, each a ward associated with an alderman, while in 1548-9 the constables were arranged by the four main streets. (fn. 74)

City and shire in the early 16th century

Although the terms of the charter were adhered to for about a decade after 1506, thereafter its provision for annual elections of aldermen and councilmen was progressively undermined. In 1518 a bylaw provided that aldermen who died during their term could be replaced without election, and shortly afterwards it became customary for the Assembly to make such appointments for life. By 1533 the annual election of councilmen had also been subverted, some even being appointed purely on the nomination of the mayor. Such infringements of the charter were further compounded from the 1520s by the emergence in the Assembly of a group known as the sheriff-peers, consisting of former sheriffs and holding office for life. (fn. 75)

The main civic offices were dominated by drapers, merchants, and mercers, with terms served by a variety of other craftsmen. (fn. 76) Whatever their occupational identity, many office-holders were engaged in Continental trade, including in the period 1500-60 over half the mayors and just under half the sheriffs. A wider range of twenty or so occupations was represented among the common councillors. (fn. 77) Repeated service as mayor was quite common: 10 men served twice, 4 three times, and Thomas Smith eight or nine times. (fn. 78) Such a limited circulation of office does not suggest an oligarchy of new men pushing hard for access to political power commensurate with their wealth, but rather a group with established associations linked to the county and continually strengthening its connexions and drawing in new blood by marriage and business contacts.

Civic office was held by members of established county families such as the Alderseys, Balls, Davenports, Duttons, Smiths, and Staffordshire Sneyds. The close weave of county and city relationships is illustrated by the Aldersey family, seated at Aldersey and Spurstow in east Cheshire, which provided five officeholders. Men such as Ralph Aldersey, sheriff in 1541, maintained contact with their gentry relatives, with grandees such as William Brereton, and with leading merchants from the city itself. (fn. 79) Similarly, Fulk Dutton (d. 1558), a draper and three times mayor, had links with such county families as the Leghs, Savages, and Egertons, and with leading urban officials including the recorders of Chester and Liverpool. (fn. 80)

County influence was especially visible in Chester during the mayoralties of Sir Piers Dutton, elected three times in succession from 1512; resentment in some quarters is evident from the fact that on the third occasion the election was declared unlawful and Dutton was replaced as mayor. (fn. 81) Accusations of county interference in civic elections also surfaced under the reforming mayor Henry Gee. (fn. 82)

Other reasons for suspicion of the county emanated from the civic courts. In 1506 Chester's independence from the shire was reaffirmed when it was declared a county of itself. Nevertheless, by then the city courts had already been affected by the development of business at the palatinate exchequer court, which offered a pragmatic approach and balanced and workable solutions. Even in the late 15th century men arrested by the city sheriffs for debt had successfully appealed to the exchequer on the grounds that they were avowry men under the special protection of the palatinate. The sheriffs were summoned by writ to appear in the exchequer to explain their actions, and the justice and chamberlain eventually decreed that they should desist from imprisoning privileged tenants of the earl, conceding, however, the right to exact reasonable fines if the avowry men in question had merchandise or exercised a craft within the city. (fn. 83) The growth of such jurisdiction during the early 16th century, and the regular evocation of cases to the exchequer by writs of certiorari, caused tension between the city courts and those at the castle. (fn. 84) Although such actions were often taken simply to ensure relatively speedy and balanced results, they might also be used more controversially, against the city's courts and officials; there were cases, for example, in which the city sheriffs were accused of wrongful imprisonment or neglecting their duties towards the plaintiffs. (fn. 85) By 1540, when the Assembly ruled that no suits could be taken out of the city except by licence from the mayor, signs of friction between the two jurisdictions were becoming evident. (fn. 86)

Henry gee and the reform of civic government (fn. 87)

By the 1530s the city was developing a strong sense of its identity, fostered by emphasis upon its ceremonial and by the first stirrings of an interest in and embellishment of a partly mythic civic past. (fn. 88) Such developments were especially evident during the two mayoralties of Henry Gee (1533-4, 1539-40). In his first term Gee, who was determined to invest the city's government with a proper sense of dignity and order, began the Assembly Book, a record of the Assembly's orders, the first entries of which included a list of previous office-holders, a description of the city's boundaries, and a list of local customs duties and officials' fees. Especially concerned about the quality of government, Gee sought to prevent mayoral nomination of aldermen, and decreed that henceforth all elections to the Forty should be by the Assembly meeting in the Pentice. (fn. 89) During his second mayoralty he addressed another abuse, that of non-freemen holding civic office, blaming favouritism on the part of mayors, and the general decay of the body of freemen. To prevent 'gentlemen's servants of the county being preferred to the offices and rooms [of the city]', it was agreed that only properly admitted freemen were to hold office, and that the mayor and sheriffs could remove anyone who was not so qualified, or otherwise incompetent, and replace him on the advice of the aldermen. (fn. 90)

Although there is no evidence that the city's finances were particularly weak, Gee complained in 1539-40 about mayoral irresponsibility and ordered that the whole council be consulted about expenditure, and that only honest men be allowed in the city's exchequer and then only when accompanied by a sheriff. Other orders made during his second mayoralty included a ban on the sale of common lands to protect the city's rent income, and the regulation of the appointment of the city recorder and lesser officials. (fn. 91)

Both puritan and reforming, Gee had a wide range of concerns. He acted against unlawful gaming, drink, and excessive celebrations on Christmas Day. He introduced regulations concerning women's proper dress and parties accompanying childbirth and churching. He proposed to list legitimate beggars by ward, and required the able-bodied to present themselves for work each day and all children aged six to attend school. He even forbade women aged between 14 and 40 to serve ale, invoking the need to preserve the city's good reputation in order to attract visitors. (fn. 92)

Although Gee's attempts to end the nomination of councilmen by mayors met with little success, (fn. 93) periodic efforts were made to maintain a high standard of civic service for the common good. In 1549-50, for example, candidates for the shrievalty were required first to have served as leavelookers, those evading office were fined, and members of the common council were required to wear their tippets. In 1554 the election of new councillors was placed under the control of the existing council as well as the mayor, and attempts were made to ensure better attendance at the city quarter sessions. The worship of the aldermen, in their capacity as justices of the peace, was emphasized by ordering them to wear their scarlet robes on eight popular holy days. (fn. 94) Aldermen in particular had a penchant for enhancing the aura of civic office, and several left silver or gilt goblets or other treasures for the use of the mayor, at home or in the Pentice. (fn. 95)

The cost of running the city government continued to be met, in part, by rent from the corporate estate, which from the 1530s had a book value of c. £25 and a collected rent income of just under £20; as earlier, the remainder of the city's income of c. £50 was derived from tolls and fees. Expenditure hovered around £45 in 1547-8 and 1558-9, some £22 accounted for in salaries. Civic officers and servants were also paid a fixed percentage of local tolls and customs, and some, such as the serjeants-at-mace and the yeoman of the Pentice, received some victuals in addition to their livery. The city accounts apparently maintained a healthy surplus each year, but following complaints that city money was spent unwisely, from 1540 expenditure had to be sanctioned by the whole council. (fn. 96)

Clearing ditches and watercourses, supplying water, paving the main streets, and repairing the walls were constant concerns of the Assembly. (fn. 97) Public works, both inside and beyond the city walls, benefited from charitable bequests. Prominent citizens left cash towards the repair of the bridges at Bridge Trafford and Tilston, the roads between Chester and Hawarden (Flints.), the new quay in Wirral, and the lanes in the city. (fn. 98) As part of its interest in maintaining law and order, the Assembly ordered in 1503 that a curfew be observed after eight o'clock, and that former mayors, sheriffs, and innkeepers should hang a lighted lantern outside their houses during winter months. (fn. 99) A similar concern that the city should not become a haven for felons led the mayor to act promptly to prevent parliament from transferring the right of sanctuary to Chester from Manchester in 1542. (fn. 100)


  • 1. C.C.A.L.S., ZCH 18; ZQCR 2, 4-5, 10-11; Sel. R. Chester City Cts. p. xviii.
  • 2. C.C.A.L.S., ZCHB 2, ff. 66v.-67.
  • 3. Ibid. ZCHD 2/1.
  • 4. Ibid. ZCHB 2, ff. 66v.-67.
  • 5. e.g. Blk. Prince's Reg. iii. 291.
  • 6. P.R.O., CHES 25/10, m. 12; CHES 25/14, m. 24d.; CHES 25/16, m. 15. Thanks are due to Dr. Jane Laughton for these and the following references.
  • 7. P.R.O., CHES 25/8, mm. 1-4, 14, 16; CHES 25/10, mm. 33d., 36d.; CHES 25/12, mm. 6-7; CHES 29/129, m. 1; CHES 29/110, mm. 4d., 7d.
  • 8. Blk. Prince's Reg. iii. 10, 15, 29; 36 D.K.R. App. II, pp. 146, 166, 192; Morris, Chester, 24.
  • 9. Blk. Prince's Reg. iii. 161, 271; cf. Cal. Pat. 1348-50, 411.
  • 10. Blk. Prince's Reg. iii. 50.
  • 11. Ibid. 472.
  • 12. C.C.A.L.S., ZMB 1, ff. 55v.-56; REED: Chester, 5-6; 36 D.K.R. App. II, p. 99.
  • 13. C.C.A.L.S., ZQCR 10-11; ZMB 1, ff. 16v., 62v.
  • 14. e.g. ibid. ZMB 1, f. 62v.; ZMB 4, f. 50.
  • 15. e.g. ibid. ZAF 1, f. 1; ZMB 1, ff. 16v., 61v.; ZQCR 10-11.
  • 16. e.g. ibid. ZMB 1, f. 41v.
  • 17. Ibid. ZMB 2, f. 54; 36 D.K.R. App. II, p. 97; Morris, Chester, 204; Archives and Recs. of Chester, ed. A. M. Kennett, 35.
  • 18. C.C.A.L.S., ZAF 1, f. 1.
  • 19. 36 D.K.R. App. II, p. 96.
  • 20. C.C.A.L.S., ZMB 1, passim.
  • 21. Ibid. ZAF 1, f. 2.
  • 22. Ibid. ff. 3-4v.; ZMB 1, ff. 16 and v., 19-20; Morris, Chester, 383.
  • 23. B.L. Harl. MS. 2158, ff. 31-66.
  • 24. Ibid. ff. 31v.-34v.
  • 25. Chester Customs Accts. 8-11.
  • 26. Ibid. 15-16; C.C.A.L.S., ZMUB 1; ZMUR 1.
  • 27. C.C.A.L.S., ZMB 1, ff. 9, 42; ZMB 2, ff. 14v.-15; ZMB 3, ff. 15v.-16, 25, 56-7, 105, 106v.; ZMB 4, ff. 45-6; Morris, Chester, 383.
  • 28. Morris, Chester, 383.
  • 29. Below, this chapter: Religion (Guilds, Confraternities, and Chantries).
  • 30. Thanks are due to Mr. P. H. W. Booth for discussion of the serjeanties.
  • 31. Morris, Chester, 553-4; C.C.A.L.S., ZMB 1, ff. 3, 44v.-46, 65, 67; ZMB 2, ff. 12-13, 32v., 47v.-49, 61-3, 98, 109; ZMB 3, ff. 19-20; ZMB 4, f. 36.
  • 32. V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Lists of Mayors and Sheriffs.
  • 33. P.R.O., WALE 29/291.
  • 34. Ibid. CHES 3/30, no. 10; 25 D.K.R. 42.
  • 35. 37 D.K.R. App. II, p. 790.
  • 36. 36 D.K.R. App. II, pp. 96, 504; P.R.O., SC 6/790/3, m. 3.
  • 37. Above, this chapter: City and Crown, 1350-1550.
  • 38. Ibid.; 37 D.K.R. App. II, p. 789.
  • 39. Above, this chapter: City and Crown, 1350-1550.
  • 40. 36 D.K.R. App. II, pp. 90, 104, 387, 493; C.C.A.L.S., ZAF 1, f. 1; ZCHB 2, ff. 67v.-68.
  • 41. 36 D.K.R. App. II, pp. 104, 504.
  • 42. Morris, Chester, 48-9; 37 D.K.R. App. II, pp. 96, 267; V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Lists of Mayors and Sheriffs.
  • 43. Morris, Chester, 49; 37 D.K.R. App. II, pp. 354, 459, 759- 60; V.C.H. Ches. v (2), List of Mayors and Sheriffs.
  • 44. 37 D.K.R. App. II, pp. 96, 167, 354, 459, 737.
  • 45. V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Lists of Mayors and Sheriffs.
  • 46. C.C.A.L.S., ZAF 1, ff. 3-4; ZMB 1, ff. 2, 5, 6v.-7, 16v., 36, 37v., 52v., 69; ZMB 4, ff. 34, 53; ZSB 5, f. 35 and v.; Morris, Chester, 400-1.
  • 47. C.C.A.L.S., ZMB 4.
  • 48. Johnson, 'Aspects', 42, citing C.C.A.L.S., ZSB 15.
  • 49. C.C.A.L.S., ZMB 4, f. 55v.
  • 50. B.L. Harl. MS. 2158, f. 44; cf. C.C.A.L.S., ZMB 5, f. 46v.
  • 51. Johnson, 'Aspects', 46, 50.
  • 52. C.C.A.L.S., ZAF 1, f. 15v.
  • 53. Ibid. ZMB 5, f. 180; ZMB 6, f. 1; B.L. Harl. MS. 2158, f. 44; Chester Customs Accts. 16; Archives of Chester, 14, 25-6; cf. Morris, Chester, 381.
  • 54. Johnson, 'Aspects', 251-2.
  • 55. Ibid. 56-7; C.C.A.L.S., ZMB 5, ff. 46v., 69v.-70, 180-181v.; J. Laughton, 'Prolegomena to Societal Hist. of Late Medieval Chester' (Leicester Univ. M.A. thesis, 1987), 8, 13.
  • 56. B.L. Harl. MS. 2158, f. 44; cf. ibid. ff. 48, 63; Morris, Chester, 527-8, 534, 536.
  • 57. B.L. Harl. MS. 2158, ff. 44-66; C.C.A.L.S., ZTAR 1/2-4.
  • 58. B.L. Harl. MS. 2158, ff. 45-7, 49-50.
  • 59. Ibid. Harl. MS. 2063, f. 113.
  • 60. e.g. C.C.A.L.S., ZMB 12, f. 4; ZMB 13, f. 2.
  • 61. Rest of para. based on Johnson, 'Aspects', 247-9; V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Craft Guilds: Origins, Organization before 1750.
  • 62. e.g. C.C.A.L.S., ZMB 6, ff. 3v., 30, 166v.-170.
  • 63. B.L. Harl. MS. 2158, ff. 45-7, 51v.-52v.; C.C.A.L.S., ZMB 6, f. 83v.; ZMB 7, ff. 2v., 120; ZMB 9; ZSB 1, f. 136.
  • 64. C.C.A.L.S., ZMB 4, f. 21; ZMB 5, ff. 41, 69v., 180-1; ZMB 6, ff. 3v., 33v.
  • 65. Ibid. ZMB 6, ff. 166v.-170.
  • 66. e.g. Laughton, 'Prolegomena', 20-1, 24.
  • 67. Ibid. 14; Clayton, Administration, 179-81; Jones, Ch. in Chester, 97, 155; V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Lists of Mayors and Sheriffs.
  • 68. Laughton, 'Prolegomena', 14-15.
  • 69. Ibid. 13-16.
  • 70. Acct. of charter based, except where stated otherwise, on Morris, Chester, 524-40; Johnson, 'Aspects', 37, 42-3, 46, 52; C.C.A.L.S., ZCH 32.
  • 71. Johnson, 'Aspects', 180-1.
  • 72. C.C.A.L.S., ZMB 9, unfol. (1507-8).
  • 73. Ibid. ZAB 1, ff. 36-37v.
  • 74. Ibid. ZMB 13, f. 2; ZMB 15.
  • 75. Ibid. ZAB 1, ff. 74, 85; Johnson, 'Aspects', 37-9.
  • 76. Following three paras. are by Dr. J. I. Kermode.
  • 77. K. P. Wilson, 'Port of Chester in Later Middle Ages' (Liverpool Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1966), i. 162; C.C.A.L.S., ZMB 8, ff. 10- 11; ZMB 12, ff. 73v., 76; ZMB 13, ff. 221-4; ZMB 14, f. 3.
  • 78. V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Lists of Mayors and Sheriffs.
  • 79. Ormerod, Hist. Ches. iii. 739-40; Wilson, 'Port of Chester', i. 163-4; 39 D.K.R. 3.
  • 80. C.C.A.L.S., WS 8/1; Ormerod, Hist. Ches. iii. 374; Lancs. and Ches. Wills and Inventories, ii (Chetham Soc. [o.s.], li), 93, 214.
  • 81. C.C.A.L.S., ZCX 3, f. 51.
  • 82. Ibid. ZAB 1, ff. 58-9.
  • 83. T. J. Thornton, 'Political Society in Early Tudor Ches. 1480-1560' (Oxf. Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1993), 114-15, 117-18, 121; R. Stewart-Brown, 'Avowries of Ches.' E.H.R. xxix. 41-55; V.C.H. Ches. ii. 4.
  • 84. Thornton, 'Political Society', 113-28, 137.
  • 85. Ibid. 124-5.
  • 86. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, f. 72; cf. ibid. f. 118.
  • 87. This acct. was written by Dr. J. I. Kermode; cf. J. Kermode, 'New Brooms in Early Tudor Chester', Government, Religion, and Society in Northern Eng. 1000-1700, ed. J. C. Appleby and P. Dalton, 144-58.
  • 88. V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Plays, Sports, and Customs before 1700.
  • 89. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, f. 74.
  • 90. Ibid. ff. 58-9.
  • 91. Ibid. ff. 69-70v., 74v.
  • 92. Ibid. ff. 60, 62, 70, 72.
  • 93. Cf. ibid. f. 85.
  • 94. Ibid. ff. 74v., 79v.-80, 83, 85-6, 92.
  • 95. Ibid. f. 81; ibid. WS 5/1, 6/7, 8/1, 3; EDA 2/1, ff. 163-4; 3 Sheaf, xviii, pp. 88-9, 99.
  • 96. C.C.A.L.S., ZTAR 1/7, 10; ZAB 1, ff. 41-9, 53-8, 74v.
  • 97. Ibid. ZAB 1, f. 78v.; ZMUB 1-4, passim; Morris, Chester, 265-6, 275, 281-3.
  • 98. 3 Sheaf, xvii, p. 69; xviii, pp. 88, 92, 99; xxiii, p. 37; Lancs. and Ches. Wills and Inventories, ii (Chetham Soc. [o.s.], li), 8; C.C.A.L.S., EDA 2/1, ff. 163-4; WS 6/7, 8/3.
  • 99. Morris, Chester, 274-5; C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, f. 66v.
  • 100. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, f. 75.