A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1958.
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THE CITY OF LEICESTER POLITICAL AND ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY 1066–1509
Political History, p. 1. The development of Borough Status, p. 8. The Jurisdictions and Franchises, p. 9. Relations with the Central Government, p. 17. Progress towards Incorporation, p. 19. Growth of the Town Council and Borough Government, p. 23.
An account of the political history of Leicester and the development of its borough government in the four and a half centuries between the Norman Conquest and the reign of Henry VIII must have a dual aspect. On the one hand, the town with its castle was parcel of the honour of Leicester and later of the Duchy of Lancaster. It was unusual among boroughs of comparable importance for the completeness of its mediatization from royal control into the hands of magnates, who at various times were in their own persons vital factors in English politics, and, from the 13th century onwards, in close family connexion with the royal house; moreover, even after the amalgamation of the Duchy of Lancaster with the Crown after 1399, Leicester was primarily dealt with by the king in right of the duchy. On the other hand, there is through the period the development of borough institutions and the evolution of its corporate existence, which are organic growths of the town itself as a result of the activities of its burgesses. But this aspect cannot wholly be separated from the other, for the relationship of the earl and his steward with the burgesses was ever a considerable factor in borough government. Thus though the two aspects may be considered separately, such a division will always be an artificial one. However, a survey of the external history of Leicester may first be made, which is in effect an account of the earls of Leicester and Lancaster, and later the dukes of Lancaster, in relation to the town.
The effect of the Conquest on Leicester was immediate, for it was placed under a Norman lord. Hugh de Grentemesnil, one of the most trusted and powerful of William's followers, was rewarded for his part in the fighting by large grants of land in the Midlands. He was the greatest landholder in Leicestershire, with 37 manors in demesne, and was made sheriff of the county, with its third penny of all the profits of justice. He was also the most powerful though by no means the sole lord of the town, where he had by far the largest holding of houses. (fn. 1) In 1086 (fn. 2) the king possessed 39 houses in Leicester, and 24 more which he held in common with Hugh; Hugh held independently a large estate of over 200 houses (or their burgesses), which was considerably greater than that of the other two main holders of land, Countess Judith who had 28 houses and some land, and the Bishop of Lincoln who had 17 burgesses; the holdings of the Leicestershire tenants in chief were negligible by comparison. Hugh's unmistakable ascendancy is indicated by his possession of the third penny of the mint of the town. (fn. 3)
Leicester castle, which is not mentioned in Domesday or in contemporary chronicles, was probably constructed during the campaign of 1068, when William I began to build the castles at Warwick, Nottingham, and Lincoln. (fn. 4) Hugh seems to have been given the custody of the castle. At any rate Ordericus Vitalis calls him municipatus of Leicester, (fn. 5) a title which seems to mean castellan, for Hugh was not absolute lord of the town. It was, indeed, upon this office, which became hereditary in his family, that the real power of Hugh was based. (fn. 6) Hugh joined the baronial rebellion of Robert Courthose against William II in 1088, and, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, waged private warfare in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, during the suppression of which the town of Leicester suffered severely.
In spite of Hugh's misdemeanour, his son Ivo succeeded him in 1093 as keeper of Leicester castle and sheriff of the county. He shared the lordship of the town with the king, the Bishop of Lincoln, and Simon of St. Liz, (fn. 7) Earl of Huntingdon and Northampton, but Ivo's position as farmer of the king's revenues gave him paramount influence. (fn. 8) He, like his father, waged private war in Leicestershire on his own account, and had to be suppressed by the king. The town of Leicester suffered again from the ravages of the rising, (fn. 9) and Ivo fell under a heavy fine. It was because of this that the Beaumont family was able to establish its lordship over Leicester, for Ivo was hard pressed to pay, and in consequence put himself under the protection of Robert de Beaumont, to whom he pledged his lands for fifteen years, partly to pay it and partly to finance his departure on a Crusade. When Ivo died on this journey, Robert kept Ivo's share of Leicester in his own hand, and gained all the rest of it, except the Bishop of Lincoln's Fee in the suburbs, by royal gift and by the judicious marriage of his daughter to the son of Simon of St. Liz. Thus 'by royal favour and his own astuteness' Robert became sole lord of the borough. (fn. 10)
This Robert de Beaumont was one of the most powerful vassals of the Crown in England, and his acquisition of the lordship of Leicester increased his influence. From his accumulation of lands may be traced the development of the large congeries of fees known by the end of the 12th century as the honour of Leicester. There is little record of his relations with the town of Leicester, but he may fairly be credited with a policy of building up the castle and churches of the town.
It is not certain whether Robert was made Earl of Leicester in his lifetime, but it is very probable, as his son Robert used the title when he was only fifteen years old, less than a year after his father's death in 1118, and it is unlikely that such a dignity would have been conferred on a minor. (fn. 11) The younger Robert, called le Bossu or Hunchback, was, like his father, in a position of great power and influence in relation to the Crown. He was not very closely connected with Leicester except as the caput of his English lands, but he maintained sufficient interest in the town to found there the Augustinian monastery of St. Mary de Pratis, and several grants of privileges to his burgesses are recorded.
Robert Blanchesmains, his successor, was to involve the town much more closely in the affairs of the kingdom. He joined the rebellion of Henry, the king's son, in 1173, with disastrous results. The town of Leicester was dragged into the rebellion at his heels. It was taken and burnt by royal forces, the area of St. Michael's parish suffering most severely in this siege, though the castle held out for some weeks, which is some measure of the strength of its defences. (fn. 12) The burgesses had to sue for peace, which they purchased for 300 marks, and many of them withdrew entirely from the town, which was garrisoned by royal forces. Robert was captured, and his castles surrendered, thus ending the episode which was known as the 'Leicester War'. (fn. 13) Although he was soon released, the king was determined on the destruction of the defences of Leicester, and the pipe rolls bear witness to the thoroughness with which this was carried out, (fn. 14) the third destruction within a hundred years. Robert FitzParnell, the next earl, was invested with the earldom at Messina in 1191 while crusading, and was not much in England, dying without an heir in 1204.
The death of Robert FitzParnell resulted in a reorganization of the honour of Leicester which decreased its size and brought it into de Montfort hands. (fn. 15) The Beaumont inheritance was divided between his two sisters, Amice, Countess of Leicester, who was married to Simon de Montfort, and Margaret, the wife of Saer de Quency, whose moiety was absorbed into the honour of Winton. The partition was finally concluded in 1207, and by it Simon de Montfort (the son of Amice and the elder Simon) was to receive the third penny for the county, the chief messuage of Leicester, and the stewardship of the royal household. (fn. 16) But before he could take seisin, de Montfort's lands were seized for payment of a large debt which he owed to the Crown and Leicester was later delivered over to the keepership of Ranulf, Earl of Chester. (fn. 17) Until then, Leicester was relatively unaffected by the changes in the honour. The barons conspiring against King John had met there in 1201, (fn. 18) soon after the king's coronation, but no rising took place in the Midlands.
After the death of Simon de Montfort in 1218, his sons pressed their claims to the honour of Leicester, and after Amaury, the elder, had in 1229 quitclaimed his English patrimony to his brother Simon in return for their French inheritance, the claim to the honour devolved upon the younger Simon, who gained it in 1231, and by 1239 he was invested as Earl of Leicester, (fn. 19) by right of which he also claimed the Stewardship of England, which he apparently believed to give him power to supervise the government of the whole kingdom.
He was not much concerned with his town of Leicester, and was rarely in residence. However, in his relationship with the town can be seen the power of a magnate unfettered by royal control, for his acts towards the burgesses had almost the authority of royal power. The change of the custom of inheritance of the borough from ultimogeniture to primogeniture (fn. 20) is the outstanding example; (fn. 21) it is true that the act received royal confirmation from Henry III, but the act was the earl's, at the petition of his burgesses. Another action of a similar sort was the expulsion of the Jews from Leicester; in 1231, or a little earlier, de Montfort granted liberty to the burgesses to banish the Jews from the town on the grounds of their usurious oppression of the inhabitants, thus anticipating by about sixty years their expulsion from England by Edward I. (fn. 22) De Montfort's relations with the burgesses themselves are more difficult to discover, for evidence is scanty, though there is mention of a heavy fine of 500 marks which he laid upon Simon Curlevache, then the leading burgess of the town, a fine which Matthew Paris called 'extortionate' (fn. 23) and which called forth criticism from the Bishop of Lincoln. (fn. 24)
In all the turmoil of the Barons' War, the town of Leicester was not closely involved. Henry III is said to have been entertained in Leicester in 1264, after taking Northampton, (fn. 25) but Leicester was not involved in any fighting, either then or later, when the war was at its height. Simon de Montfort's defeat and death at the battle of Evesham in 1265 caused the town and honour to be forfeit into the king's hand.
The grant of the Earldom of Leicester, and with it the honour, town, and castle to Edmund Crouchback, the king's son, began a new phase in the history of the borough, for it was now brought into close relationship with the house of Lancaster and so with the Crown. By 1269 (fn. 26) Edmund had received the Stewardship of England, comital rank, and a grant of the privileges and liberties of the honours of Leicester, Derby, and Lancaster, so that his vast lands were composed of a considerable agglomeration of fees, and while Leicester was still the caput of one of his honours, the centre of the whole administration moved northwards and away from the Midlands. Leicester saw little of its earl, who, though occasionally resident in the castle, spent most of his time away from England.
The succession of Earl Edmund's son Thomas to the earldom and the rest of his father's lands and titles in 1296 brought Leicester once more into national affairs, for the town necessarily became involved in the political turmoil which he created. Thomas kept residence in Leicester in great state, and entertained lavishly, to such an extent that £7,000 was spent in one year on hospitality alone. (fn. 27) There are records that the castle was repaired and altered, King Edward I was entertained there in 1300, Queen Isabel in 1309, and Edward II in 1310 and 1311 on his way to and from Scotland. (fn. 28)
By 1309 Thomas was in violent opposition to the king and court, and though he was pardoned in 1313 for his activities as one of the Lords Ordainers against Gaveston, he soon after formed another opposition party with the Despensers. Thomas came to Leicester in 1318, where the Bishop of Ely followed him to negotiate a peace. A large gathering took place in Leicester, (fn. 29) at which cardinals sent by the Pope, and the king and queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and many magnates and bishops, were present, after which the king and the earl were reconciled at Zouch bridge, some way outside the town. There is also an account in Knighton's chronicle of a long series of articles of agreement made at Leicester at the same time between the king and the bishops. (fn. 30) But this peace was not to last long; Thomas was again roused to hostility by a royal coalition against the Despensers, and took up arms in the north, but, lacking support, was defeated at Boroughbridge in 1322, and executed soon after as a traitor at Pontefract.
Leicester suffered severely in the final stages of the earl's rebellion. Thomas raised a reluctant force from Leicester to aid him in the north, after his officers, having failed to raise a body of men from the town to go to Tutbury, had reported to the earl that 'the men of Leicester despised his commands'. (fn. 31) But in spite of the town's favour to the king's cause, the town and its immediate neighbourhood suffered at the hands of the royal forces in their pursuit of the rebels northwards. At this time the keeper of the castle found himself unable to give a financial return for the demesne lands of the castle 'because there was no one who wanted to, or even could, farm the said pastures on account of the destruction wrought . . . by the arrival of the king's army' nor would anyone undertake the reeveship 'because of the poverty of the tenants of the town and the devastation of the neighbourhood', for the same cause. (fn. 32)
Peace was not, however, yet restored. Queen Isabel returned to England from France with a rebel force led by Mortimer, and the new Earl of Lancaster, Thomas's brother Henry, joined her against the Despensers in 1326. In consequence, when the possessions of the elder Despenser were brought to Leicester Abbey, the followers of Earl Henry attacked the abbey and seized all the goods and treasure. (fn. 33) After the usurpation by Mortimer Leicester was once more involved in rebellion. Mortimer did a great deal of damage in Leicester and the surrounding country, (fn. 34) and Henry was forced to make his submission at Bedford. A council was held at Leicester, and a peace was patched up, but Henry was not restored to favour until after the fall of Mortimer in 1330 and the emergence of King Edward III from his mother's dominance.
Henry of Lancaster did not take any very active part in public life after his return to power, for his eyesight was failing, and he withdrew to Leicester, where he spent most of the rest of his life, standing high in royal favour until he died in 1345. The main project of these last years was the building and endowment of the Newarke Hospital, which was to be the most magnificent and enduring monument to the Lancastrians in Leicester, for it was also enriched and enlarged by his descendants. Though Henry perambulated his estates to some extent, the amount of time he spent in Leicester is illustrated by the many payments of gifts to him recorded in the borough accounts. (fn. 35) These entries also indicate a considerable number of royal visits. Edward III came first in 1327, the king's marshal and his household in 1333, and a year or two later the queen came on her way both to and from Scotland. On the visit of 1327, a meeting of Convocation was held in connexion with the parliament at York.
Henry, who was buried with great pomp in the chapel of the Newarke, (fn. 36) in the presence of the king and queen and a large gathering of bishops and magnates, was succeeded by his son Henry, Earl of Derby. This earl, dignus Henricus, nobilis dux, (fn. 37) created Duke of Lancaster in 1351, enlarged his father's Newarke foundation, and increased its importance by obtaining a papal bull defining its status, and a holy relic of high reputation for it. (fn. 38) The main local political event of this period was the holding of a session of parliament in the town in 1349. (fn. 39) The duke died in 1361, a victim of the Black Death, and was buried in Newarke College with a splendour equalling if not surpassing that of his father's funeral.
He left no male heir, and his inheritance passed to his daughters, one of whom died almost immediately, so that the whole estates passed to Blanche and her husband, John of Gaunt, Earl of Richmond. John of Gaunt became Earl of Lincoln, Derby, and Leicester, and soon after was created Duke of Lancaster. It was in his lifetime that Leicester reached the zenith of its magnificence as a ducal dwelling-place. He did not live continuously in Leicester, but it was one of his favourite residences, and both Edward III and Richard II were entertained there on various occasions. The royal visit of 1390 was marked by a particularly sumptuous entertainment, (fn. 40) and an elaborate hunting party at which most of the chief magnates of the realm were present. This kind of lavish spending fell somewhat hardly upon the people of Leicester, who were frequently called on to make large gifts to keep in the good graces of their lord or of those who influenced him. (fn. 41) There was another such magnificent occasion a few years later, when Constance, John of Gaunt's second wife, and his daughter-in-law Mary de Bohun, who had both died at the same time, were buried with great pomp in the collegiate church of the Newarke.
The duke was not unpopular with the people of Leicester, if their readiness to come to his support in 1381 is any indication of their loyalty to him. The mob which burned the Savoy were reputed to be on their way to attack Leicester, and, in fear of this, John of Gaunt's treasure was brought for safe keeping to Leicester Abbey, though the abbot refused to receive it; (fn. 42) the mayor, greatly alarmed, proclaimed a muster on Gallowtree Hill to meet the threatened assault. After the accession to the throne as Henry IV of John of Gaunt's son, Leicester's immediate lord was the king, for the first time since the early 12th century. Henry provided that the Duchy and Palatinate of Lancaster should remain in the hands of himself and his heirs for ever, separate from the general administration of the realm, in the hopes that his heirs might retain this inheritance even if they lost the Crown. Moreover, from this time the dangerous office of High Steward, which had been attached to the Earldom of Leicester and Lancaster, was never again granted to a subject except for judicial or ceremonial purposes. Thus an alternative relationship between the king and the town of Leicester was set up, for he might address his town as its royal sovereign or as its feudal lord, and the records of the royal dealings with Leicester throughout the 15th century frequently show him acting under the duchy seal. (fn. 43) This duality did not persist throughout the entire period, for there were breaks in its continuity. The town and honour were settled on Queen Catherine in her widowhood, after the death of Henry V, and later were included in the dowry of Margaret of Anjou. These ladies therefore were lords of the town in such matters as holding courts; (fn. 44) but apart from these episodes, the town was held by the sovereign in right of the duchy.
In consequence of this new relationship, more royal grants were made to the borough than hitherto, in contrast to the sole confirmation of privilege about holding courts made by Richard II in return for the fitting out of a war vessel by the town, (fn. 45) which was the only royal grant to the town through the whole of the 14th century. Moreover, political events sometimes brought the king to the town, which was an opportunity to obtain a royal charter. Leicester was not, however, a royal residence, and although alterations and some repairs were made to the castle in the early 15th century, it declined considerably in importance, like other royal castles in the later 15th century. (fn. 46)
Henry Bolingbroke had passed through Leicester at the head of a large army in his campaign to seize the throne, and after his success, he came again in 1403, (fn. 47) when he confirmed the freedom of the tenants of the honour of Leicester from toll, and among other visits may be mentioned one in 1406 when he pardoned the mayor and burgesses a debt of £15. (fn. 48) His son Henry V came less frequently, though he was present at the parliament held in Leicester in 1414; on this occasion the mayor and burgesses profited by his presence to gain a pardon of the borough's fines and debts, and in 1416 obtained a confirmation of their freedom from toll. (fn. 49) Henry came on few other occasions, but left a memorial to his own piety in Leicester, in the tomb which he erected for his mother, Mary de Bohun.
The holding of the Parliament of Bats in Leicester in 1426 was the occasion for the most solemn spectacle which the town was to see during the whole of the 15th century, for the young child Henry VI was at this time received into the order of knighthood while he was staying in Leicester castle for the parliament, and the imposing ceremony was performed in St. Mary's Church. (fn. 50) Another parliament was held in Leicester in 1450, (fn. 51) after an adjournment from Westminster, but was dissolved before the threat of Cade's rebellion.
In spite of its long-standing Lancastrian connexions, the town of Leicester was more in favour of the Yorkist cause during the civil wars. There were disturbances in the Midlands in 1450, and although there was a lull in 1452, after the reconciliation of the king with the Duke of York, at which time Leicester was included in a general pardon, hostilities soon broke out again. In 1455, Somerset summoned his supporters to Leicester, and the king failed to find much support in the Midlands in spite of a royal progress in 1456; the court stayed in this area for some time, and in 1459, the king kept Christmas at Leicester. (fn. 52) It appears that forces from Leicester supported Edward IV at Towton in 1461, (fn. 53) and certainly by 1462, when Edward was in Leicester, the town was in high favour with him, and he granted an annuity of twenty marks for twenty years 'in consideration of the good and faithful and unpaid service which the mayor and burgesses . . . have cheerfully rendered of late in our behalf against our enemies . . . as also of their no small losses incurred touching our business'. (fn. 54) Although he subsequently revoked many similar grants, a special exemption was made for Leicester in various acts of resumption, and further favour was shown to the town in the grant of a fair (fn. 55) and another annuity in 1473.
Richard III came to Leicester in 1483, the last time a king resided at the castle. He came again soon after, to raise a body of forces to subdue the Duke of Buckingham, but it was his third visit to the town which was to mark the end of his reign and the establishment of a new dynasty in England. In 1485 Richard and his supporters 'assembled to theyme atte Leicestre . . . a grete hoste, traiterously intendinge, imagininge and conspireinge . . . and with banners spred, mightyly armed and defenced with all manner Armes, as Gunnes, Bowes, Arrows, Axes and all manner Articles apt and needful to get and cause mightie Battaille', (fn. 56) stayed the night in Leicester and went on to Bosworth Field.
Henry VII viewed the part which Leicester had played in these events with a favourable eye. His grant of an annuity to the borough in 1488 was made 'in consideration of the true and faithful service that the Maire and burges of our towne . . . have done unto us and hereafter entend to doo and also the grete costes and charges that they have susteigned and borne by our commaundement in our journees, fieldes and batailles, and the costes that they dyde and made upon our servauntes wounded and maymed in our furst feld'. (fn. 57) It is notable that he found it necessary to make a renewed recital of the liberties of the Duchy of Lancaster to re-establish his title after the troubles of the preceding years. (fn. 58)
During the 15th century the relation of the borough with its lord ceased to be a personal one, now that its lord was the king. The lord was no longer in residence even for short periods, and contact with him in person was made only on the very short royal visits. As a result, another element in the political history of the borough began to emerge, a new concept of the idea of the 'lord' of the borough. The new personal influence was that of the steward of the town, who acted for the king, and began to take his place as the most influential personage in borough affairs. This stewardship became vested in one family, the Hastingses, (fn. 59) which meant that there was continuity of influence, and these hereditary stewards became as important to the life of the town as the earl himself had been in the early medieval period. The first lord Hastings, William, was a friend and supporter of Edward IV, and from him may be traced the participation of the Hastings family in Leicester's politics. His son Edward lent his aid against Richard at Bosworth, and his father's estates were delivered to him after the accession of Henry VII. William, lord Hastings had been appointed steward of the honour of Leicester and keeper of the castle in 1461, and this office was restored to his son. George, lord Hastings, who succeeded Edward in the title, was created Earl of Huntingdon in 1529, (fn. 60) and his family was to have paramount influence in Leicester for the next two centuries. The emphasis had changed, away from the influence of the earl or the king in person, towards that of a local family which was closely concerned with the affairs of the town, and it was with the Earls of Huntingdon that Leicester's political future was to lie.
The Development of Borough Status
The extent of the medieval borough, that is, of the area covered by the borough's jurisdiction, is not easily defined. Some of the suburbs were considered to be within the borough for some purposes but outside for others. (fn. 61) By 1484 at least the borough's jurisdiction extended beyond the walls to take in built-up areas to the north, south, and east, (fn. 62) but large parts of St. Margaret's and St. Mary's were outside the borough's jurisdiction. (fn. 63) The history of Leicester's evolution as a borough is more complex than that of many ancient towns. It appears, mainly from the evidence of the Domesday return, that Leicester immediately before the Norman Conquest had been a normal 'burh' of the Midlands type; it was one of the five burhs of the Danelaw, and as such was marked off from the rest of England by its peculiarly Danish organization, but, apart from this, it had the market, mint, court of justice, and its own special peace in a normal manner, and was maintained by the shire, while remaining apart from the shire organization, for it stood in no hundred. (fn. 64) There is no definite statement in Domesday of its geld assessment to indicate its status, but the obligations of the burgesses to King Edward had been fairly considerable, of 12 burgesses for the army, 4 horses for transport, 15 sestars of honey and £30. (fn. 65)
Domesday records a town of 322 houses and 56 burgesses, (fn. 66) and though from their context it appears that these two terms are not interchangeable descriptions of a tenement, they may be taken to indicate that there were at least 378 houses in all. Though there is little direct mention of burgage tenure in Leicester until Henry II's reign, the Domesday phraseology tends to indicate that this form of free tenure was established in some form, at least, in Leicester. However, it is evident that not all tenure was wholly free from labour services during the 12th century; it was not until about 1200 that the service of reaping the earl's cornlands ceased to be performed by the burgesses, (fn. 67) and even then he retained the suit of mill and oven, from which they were never wholly freed throughout the period under review. Though Robert de Beaumont had abolished relief early in the 12th century, there is a saving clause concerning wardship, relief, and escheats in many 13th-century Leicester charters, though sale was apparently free by the mid-13th century. (fn. 68) Indeed, an inquisition of 1253 concerning the origin of gavelpence relates that a service of threepence was attached by Robert de Beaumont to all the houses which had a gable in the high street, in return for a burghal franchise to exclude the procedure of trial by battle in the settlement of disputes in the town, which indicates a special service attached to burgages in particular. (fn. 69)
The fact that full burgage tenure was only gradually reached is to be explained by the agrarian and to a large extent manorial nature of the community in the 12th century, which accounts for the survival of such predial services as reaping. The walled enclosure of the town and the fields lying outside formed a single economic unit. The town itself was an enclosed rectangle, protected on one side by the River Soar, and intersected by two principal roads at the extremities of which were the four gates; within this enclosure, on a rising motte by the river to the south-west, was the castle. Beyond the walls was an extensive stretch of three town fields, and to the north-west a considerable forest, where the townspeople had the right to gather wood. The eastern field was largely, though not wholly, taken up in the Bishop of Lincoln's manor, known as the Bishop's Fee; in the west field of Bromkinsthorpe were two manors, that of Westcotes, given to Leicester Abbey soon after its foundation by the earl, and that of Danet's Hall, held of the honour of Leicester in the 13th century by the Danet family; (fn. 70) in the south field the earl made several attempts during the 12th century to take part of the fields into his own demesne, thereby encroaching on the burgesses' rights in the Cowhay which they had by then established. (fn. 71) It would thus be true to say that there was largely a farming community in Leicester in the 12th century, though it was not a servile one; whatever variations in status there may have been between the burgesses themselves—and lack of evidence makes the precise status of burgesses hard to determine—they were free men. (fn. 72) Nor were they subject to the unrestricted jurisdiction of any manor court; in 1277 it was acknowledged by the earl that neither the lord of the town nor any other had ever had right to make forcible entry on the fees of his tenants without the sanction of the court of the town. (fn. 73)
The Jurisdictions and Franchises
This limitation of the earl's manorial jurisdiction by the town court was one of the foundations of the development of the borough government, but it was not a simple limitation, for the earl's officers exercised a measure of supervision over this court. To understand the later development of the constitution of the borough it is necessary first to survey the nexus of jurisdictions, franchises, and rights in the borough in the 13th century, and those who administered them, for the rulers of the town were in the first place the officers of its courts. There was no simple conflict between the earl and the borough court, for other jurisdictions, those of the merchant guild, the Crown, and the liberties played their part; nor, indeed, was there always conflict, for relations between the earl and the town were usually amicable, and the frequent duality of function of individuals who served the earl in one office, and the town in another, together with the convergence of functions between the borough court and the court of the merchant guild, were also factors in the complexity of this relationship.
The most widespread and influential jurisdiction in Leicester was that of the earl. It was rare that ancient boroughs founded before the Conquest came under mesne lordship but Leicester is a notable exception. For the earl, the town was primarily of importance as the caput of his honour, which was administered entire as a private jurisdiction, so that Leicester was in this respect a unit in an extensive administrative and economic structure. It is incorrect to conceive of the earls as exercising a wholly independent and isolated authority, for in the last resort they enjoyed it of the Crown, and their liberties touched the royal interests and administration at all points, so that at times Crown grants of privilege, such as John's charter of 1199 concerning the borough court, (fn. 74) overrode the earl's power. None the less, in most eventualities the earl rather than the Crown must be regarded as the final authority in Leicester. All the men of the honour were quit of the shire and hundred courts, but the earl's private jurisdiction did the work of the shire and hundred, and the court of the castle, which met from three weeks to three weeks, represented the earl's justice in place of that of the sheriff, for by the end of the 13th century the private franchise was so complete that no officer of the Crown had any power to discharge any duty within the honour except by the earl's will and on receipt of a writ of non omittas from the king. (fn. 75) The earl had the right to execute royal writs and escheats throughout the honour, thus the normal work of the sheriff devolved on the earl's bailiffs. The earl's officers held the views of frankpledge and articles of the tourn several times a year. (fn. 76) This was in effect the exercise of the police jurisdiction of the hundred court, which entailed the presentment of offenders by the responsible heads of tithings. There are no frankpledge records extant for Leicester in the 13th century, but it appears from the coroners' rolls that the town was divided into four quarters for this police organization, each quarter being one tithing. (fn. 77)
The grant of the honour of Leicester to Earl Robert by King John summarizes the full extent of the franchises of the honour, and this substantially held good through the 13th and early 14th centuries. Besides being quit of suit of shires and hundreds, sheriff's aid, murder fine, and frankpledge money, he was granted the usual manorial franchises of toll, team, infangtheof, soc and sac, and the chief exemptions in his demesnes were from pontage, passage, toll, pedage, pavage, stallage, tallage, geld, and danegeld, and works of castles, walls, bridges, and other buildings, with some specified free chase for hunting. (fn. 78)
The earl's court of the castle was the capital court of the honour, and dealt with all manner of pleas touching infringements of these rights, and even claimed some pleas of the Crown, namely the pleas de namio vetito, that is, of hearing complaints against litigants who refused to deliver up a distress for security; (fn. 79) the castle gaol in Leicester and the earl's gallows served the whole honour. (fn. 80) The other courts in Leicester were chiefly a matter of financial interest to the earl's officers, for the profits of the borough court, the courts of the fair and market, and the views of frankpledge were paid over to the earl's receiver. Thus even though the burgesses or their officials might in some cases be responsible for the actual sessions, they were supervised, always in theory and usually in practice, by the earl's officers. The inquisition taken in 1327 (fn. 81) after the death of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, on his possessions gives the value of the borough court of Leicester as £2 (though this is presumably the net value, after all outgoings had been discharged, and so only a fraction of its whole value), and of the views of frankpledge, 'held yearly after Easter and Michaelmas', as £6 13s. 4d., but it does not mention the fair and market courts separately. These values were to increase considerably during the 14th century.
The chief officer of the earl, responsible for the pleas of the honour, was the steward, upon whom the administration of the whole honour depended. Although his was so important a position that much of his work was delegated, yet he played a chief part in the administration of the town, for it was only through him that the burgesses were able to reach the earl's ear; they made sustained efforts to keep in his favour, as the records of numerous presents and dinners given to him, and sometimes also to his wife, (fn. 82) from time to time bear witness. It was the porter (janitor) of Leicester Castle who was most closely connected with the day-to-day administration of the town; he kept the gate, and the prison, and performed the execution of sentences of the castle court within the town, and the making of attachments, including the custody of those prisoners taken for felony and trespass. (fn. 83) It is open to doubt whether there was a special officer called the earl's bailiff, for the references made to a bailiff usually mean either the steward or the town bailiff.
The earl's powers of taxation were an example of quasi-royal authority, which he was unable to exercise without specific permission from the Crown. The earl could tallage the borough when the king tallaged the royal demesne, but the town was also liable to contribute to subsidies paid by all boroughs. Thus Edmund Crouchback tallaged the town for 80 marks when his father was tallaging the ancient demesne, (fn. 84) but at the same time a twentieth on movable property, 'granted to the king throughout the realm', (fn. 85) not only from ancient demesne, was levied from the town by Henry III for a Crusade. On the other hand, it appears that no royal permission was required for the levying of prises or gifts for the earl, or, his most frequent tax, a 'caption' in kind, or exhennia, and there is frequent evidence of quite heavy levies for these purposes. (fn. 86)
The franchises exercised by the earl in the town were, however, by authority of the honorial privilege granted by King John, and these were of great importance to the town, for the chief one, of taking market tolls, was closely related to the trading economy of the townsfolk. The earl took the toll of Leicester fair, and a variety of market tolls; through-toll, on the transit of goods through the town, tronage on the weighing of goods, tolls on buying and selling, pickage on the setting up of stalls, and stallage on the stalls themselves. (fn. 87) These were in all a considerable burden, but they were prevented from becoming unlawfully heavy by royal authority, for King John had granted in 1199 to the burgesses the right to come and go freely to trade through the land with their merchandise, 'saving . . . the just and due customs'. (fn. 88) Moreover, members of the merchant guild were exempt from a large part of these tolls, which thus were not too great an imposition. The earl's tax 'cannemol' was assessed and collected by town officers. (fn. 89) With regard to murage and pavage, the townspeople apparently repaired their own walls and gates. (fn. 90) Pontage was also the town's concern, for the negotiation of 1253 to get rid of bridge silver, a toll by the earl on wood from Leicester forest to be used for bridge building, had resulted in the transference of this burden to the town. (fn. 91)
When the earl's jurisdictions and franchises were fairly administered, relations with the burgesses appear to have remained amicable. But there was scope for great oppression and extortion, as is shown by an inquisition taken in 1322 (fn. 92) after the town had been in the hands of dishonest farmers acting for Earl Thomas. The complaints about toll were numerous; great fines had been imposed for the sale of cloth; fullers were not allowed to enter the town; butchers were forced to pay a levy; heavy ransoms were imposed on goods liable to toll, in excess of their value; the porters of the castle forcibly made attachments, laying aside the intervention of the town bailiff; the burgesses were compelled to be impleaded in the castle court, in suits which they should have had in their own court; there was interference in the carriage of wool and wood; 'cannemol' imposed was extortionate; and fish sellers were forced to trade only with agents of the farmers. The evocation in this inquisition of the palmy days of Earl Edmund, or indeed of the iniquities of the farmers, may have been exaggerated, but the statement serves as an illustration of how the earl's control could be misused.
Besides the earl's court there was, however, a jurisdiction in the town which was distinct from his and also to some extent a check upon it, because it was in the hands of the burgesses themselves. It was exercised through the portmanmoot, which was an ancient institution, undoubtedly dating from pre-Conquest times, in which suitors did not appear in their capacity of tenants of the earl, but as members of the borough community. The origins of such courts are usually to be found partly in manorial courts, partly in the pre-Conquest hundred courts, and the convergence of three rural hundreds upon the boundaries of the borough indicates that that of Leicester was probably in the second category. The antiquity of the urban hundredal jurisdiction is not known, and its hundredal nature became modified by borough custom and the earl's rights over it. But it may be conjectured from Domesday evidence that in other towns where Danish influence had been strong there had existed a class of hereditary lawmen, (fn. 93) that the Leicester jurati of this court, first mentioned in a 13th-century reference to 12th-century conditions, may possibly have had a pre-Conquest origin.
The portmanmoot was not, indeed, exempt from the lord's control. Its profits were included in the perquisites of the honour, and the earl's steward could, and frequently did, attend its meetings. The court existed by the earl's express grant, but this grant itself reveals its customary nature and antiquity. In the early 12th century, Earl Robert granted (fn. 94) to the Leicester burgesses 'and those who desire to be of their community' that they should not have to go outside the town to answer pleas, or on account of any custom, except for one purpose, the nature of which is not clear. At the same time he freed them from suit of hundred and heriot. This raises the question of the definition of burgesses, which appears from this grant to be those who had a share in the franchise, who were 'in scot and lot', as the phrase went, to take their part of the responsibility of the borough, which might mean those who had a burgage tenement, though the qualifying phrase seems to indicate an element of choice in burgesshood.
The court had cognizance of various kinds of action. In the earliest portmanmoot roll in existence, dated c. 1260, (fn. 95) there are pleas of debt, trespass, unjust distraint, assault, and unjust possession. By King John's grant of 1199, (fn. 96) the portmanmoot was a court of record for conveyances, an important adjunct to its powers. In consequence, surviving charters (fn. 97) conveying property in Leicester are of particular interest concerning personnel of the courts, because the attesting clauses usually include the names of the chief officers present, which supplement the lists which can be compiled from the borough records; the frequency of the appearance of the names of the stewards may well indicate that they were often present in the court. The frequency of the meetings of the court in the 13th and 14th centuries is uncertain, because of the lack of records, but during the 15th century it met 36 times a year. (fn. 98) There was a town gaol for offenders, separate from the earl's gaol. (fn. 99)
Mention must be made of an abatement of the jurisdiction of the portmanmoot. If a tenant holding directly of the earl was impleaded in the portmanmoot either he or the earl could, to avoid judicial delays, have the suit transferred to the earl's court; there remained, however, an apparent right of appeal back to the portmanmoot. (fn. 100) Conversely, if any burgess was impleaded in the court of the castle it was customary for the mayor and bailiffs to claim the transfer of the suit to the portmanmoot and for the suit to be heard there. (fn. 101)
The chief officer of the portmanmoot, who presided over its sessions, was the mayor, who is first mentioned by this title in 1251; in 1257 the burgesses had some negotiation with the earl about the choice of a mayor, and in the following year Henry of Ruddington received the mayoralty from the earl, but apart from these instances there is no indication whether the office was elective or not in the 13th century, although the mayor was sworn in before the earl in the castle court. (fn. 102) There was also a body of jurati in the portmanmoot who gave judgements, for whose origin we must turn to the evidence in the inquisition about gavelpence in 1253, which states a tradition that in the 12th century the burgesses agreed to give the earl 3d. a year from certain tenements 'on condition that he would grant that all pleas touching them should henceforth be treated and determined by twenty-four jurats who were appointed in Leicester of old time'. (fn. 103) This is not wholly reliable evidence, but none the less suggests a strong tradition for the existence of such a body, even though it is highly unlikely that its members went by the title of 'jurats' in the 12th century. The executive officers of the court were the bailiffs, originally called prepositi, two of whom held office together, and first mentioned between 1234 and 1242. (fn. 104) They were responsible for the execution of the sentences of the court, made attachments with the porter of the castle, and collected borough loans and the earl's dues on behalf of the town, (fn. 105) but, like the mayor, they were to some extent also considered the earl's officers. (fn. 106) The only other officer of the court who is mentioned with any regularity was a clerk. (fn. 107)
The procedure of the portmanmoot court before the mid-13th century is obscure, but the remarkably full and explicit charter reforming its conduct in 1277 (fn. 108) gives an exceptionally clear picture of the court at this time, and is worthy of special consideration, as being Leicester's nearest approach to a written corpus of borough customs. It was granted by Edmund Crouchback 'by his council and by the assent of the mayor, jurats, and community', which shows the close relationship of the earl to this court, and states that it was occasioned by the delays and injuries arising out of the previous procedure, upon which it throws light retrospectively, and which is noticeably Danish in origin and character. This is most clearly illustrated by the pleading procedure; a reasonable excuse for the non-attendance at court by a defendant was known as 'forfal'; the defendant denied the charge as soon as made by crying 'thwerthutnay'; if he failed to do so, he was called 'swarless', that is a non-defendant. This procedure was made more equitable by reforming the system of oath-helpers, who now had to be lawful men chosen by the court, and not, as heretofore, chosen by the plaintiff. A hindering action called 'holsake' was reformed by the abolition of false counter-accusations. The main reforms included a better method of levying distress—the bailiff could now enter, by a view of neighbours, to distrain for non-appearance; attornies could be appointed by both parties to a suit, and those absent at fairs could appoint attornies to act for them. No one was to be distrained unless he was a pledge or a debtor, and the earl's bailiff could only make distress by the assent of the borough court. The conduct of the mayor and jurats was regulated, 'to be present at the pleas, to do right, and to give judgement', and amercements were to be assessed by the jurats, not the bailiff. A tally was to be kept of anything borrowed for the use of the town, and the debt was to be paid within 40 days, or else appeal could be made to the castle bailiff. Tallage collectors were to be appointed by the mayor. An annual account for tallages was to be rendered by the mayor 'and those whom he should command' to auditors selected by the community, not to the castle court, and the remainder was to be placed in a sealed common purse. Thus the conduct of the portmanmoot was carefully regulated, not only in its jurisdiction, but also to a considerable extent in its executive functions.
A jurisdiction in the borough to be distinguished from that of the burgesses in the portmanmoot, and even freer from the earl's control, was that of the merchant guild, whose strength lay in its election of its own officers, and in the fact that it was the only court in Leicester whose perquisites did not go to the earl. This guild was an important factor in Leicester's development, for it was in a relatively advanced stage of organization even in the 12th century, when the portmanmoot had yet only a weak and dependent status, and the merchant element in the life of the borough militated strongly against the manorial and agrarian tendencies of the time towards a more truly urban development.
The guild was confirmed (fn. 109) to the merchants of Leicester by Earl Robert of Leicester early in the 12th century. (fn. 110) Its meetings were called Morningspeeches and were held about four times a year. (fn. 111) These were presided over by the elected head of the guild, the alderman, and had a guild council to perform business and to pass judgement, sometimes sitting for several days at a time to complete the accumulated business. The meetings were primarily to admit members, and make trading regulations, but they also had judicial functions, for here suits were heard relating to the infringement of such trading regulations. In practice this jurisdiction spread over a wider cognisance of cases, and matters relating to minor charges of a more general character which involved the good of the whole town were dealt with, so that sometimes the meeting is found to have been speaking for the town as a whole. Moreover, the justice of the guild court was not severe, and fewer oath-helpers were needed than in the portmanmoot, so there was an inevitable tendency to take cases there if it were possible.
As the guild was in existence by virtue of the earl's permission, it was not, of course, free from his control. The earl's steward was often present in the Morningspeech, (fn. 112) the earl might make regulations for the guild, (fn. 113) and, in the 12th century at least, the guild was subject to payments to him as their lord. (fn. 114) However, its exemption from his financial control put it in a prominent position in relation to the administration of the town, for the exaction of entrance fees laid the foundation of a substantial revenue for communal objects; the guild had a common purse, from which it made loans 'for the convenience of the town', (fn. 115) and payments for amercements, gifts, and tallages are all found entered upon the guild rolls. The revenue of the guild was increased by the fact that the penalties imposed by its court were usually fines, and only rarely did the court go so far as to banish traders from the town—thus the money available in the purse mounted considerably.
The alderman of the guild (or aldermen, for there were sometimes two) was chosen by the whole guild as its chief. (fn. 116) The earliest mention of such an official is William son of Leveric in 1209, (fn. 117) which is nearly 50 years earlier than the first mention of a mayor of the town; it seems clear that before the office of mayor was created, the aldermen were the chief men of the town. It is likely that the change to mayor, in or a little before 1251, was one of name only, for except for the styling of Henry of Ruddington, who was mayor in 1258, as alderman of the guild at about the same time, (fn. 118) the title of alderman disappears after 1251, and it is to be presumed that the chief guild officer was thereafter, if not before, identical with the chief town officer.
The alderman summoned a council of the guild, to perform its business and to give advice, and these men, like those of the portmanmoot, were called jurati, and were often 24 in number, though sometimes as many as 35. (fn. 119) This council was elective, and if members did not attend when summoned they were fined 6d. Besides the chief officer and council, the guild had its own agent for performing its ordinances and putting its judgements into effect, its sergeant; (fn. 120) it also had chamberlains to attend to its finances as early as 1221. (fn. 121) Its development as an organization is indicated by the fact that it had a seal before 1258, (fn. 122) and a guildhall of its own for its meetings; first a house was hired for this purpose, then, about 1274, a special hall was built, at a cost of £6 9s. 3d., (fn. 123) which was also used by the portmanmoot for its sessions at regular intervals.
There were some areas both within the walls of the town and in the suburbs which were included within the borough area but for one reason or another were to a greater or lesser degree exempt from the normal borough jurisdictions. These liberties, which included the Bishop's Fee and Knighton, the castle area and Newarke College, St. Leonard's parish, and Bromkinsthorpe, provided a disruptive element in the town jurisdiction in the same way as the town was an interruption to the normal functioning of the shire jurisdiction, and were a fruitful source of dissension and litigation. The most prominent and ancient of these was the Bishop's Fee, which had existed at least since 1086. In Domesday, Remigius Bishop of Lincoln had 10 carucates in Leicester (an area to be identified with St. Margaret's field in the east suburb), two churches, one of which was probably St. Margaret's, the manor of Knighton, two-thirds of a hide in the southeast suburb, and 17 burgesses in the town. (fn. 124) The number of burgesses increased, for at some time before 1139, Earl Robert le Bossu gave the bishop 10 burgesses in satisfaction for damages; in 1139 he had 32 burgesses. (fn. 125) There followed then some rather complex arrangements between the earl and the bishop to give Knighton to Leicester Abbey, but this was greatly to the disadvantage of the church of Lincoln, and Knighton was restored to the bishop in or before 1218. (fn. 126) The bishop had a manorial court for his tenants, and his court and demesne grange were in the east suburb. (fn. 127)
The relations between the burgesses and the men of the Bishop's Fee were frequently in question, though the burgesses of the bishop within the town were not involved, for although they owed manorial suit of court to the bishop and not the earl, they attended the portmanmoot and their relation with the guild merchant was not in question. With the tenants in the east suburb, on the other hand, there were disputes both about the guild and about liability to taxation. In 1270 the men of the fee refused to allow their goods to be rated by collectors appointed by the mayor, (fn. 128) and the matter was frequently raised again in the next ten years. One aspect of it was a guild rule that a dweller in the fee might not enter the guild unless he was 'in scot and lot' with the burgesses. Richard of Bromley entered the guild in 1273 on condition that he should never dwell in the Bishop's Fee without losing the community of the guild. (fn. 129) But in 1281, a different agreement was made, occasioned by 'divers disputes' about tallage, which confirmed the previous ruling, that the bishop's tenants might enter the Guild Merchant to be in scot and lot in all things pertaining to the guild with the burgesses, and that they would pay their due proportion of tallages to the king of £20 or less, or to the earl of 20 marks or less, for the maintenance of the franchises of the guild, but not larger sums. (fn. 130) Thereafter we find separate lists of 'bishop's tenants' in the tallage rolls on various occasions. Even this arrangement did not obviate all difficulties, for in 1322 the men of Humberstone Gate (that is to say, in the Bishop's Fee) paid the royal subsidy with the hundred of Gartree, and not with the borough, and the men of Belgrave Gate were eager to do the same. (fn. 131) This was to cause trouble in later periods, as was also the general understanding that no dweller in the Bishop's Fee, not being a burgess, could hold borough office. (fn. 132)
Another liberty of similar manorial origin was that of Bromkinsthorpe, in the west fields. In the 11th century it was considered to be a hamlet lying with all its customs in Leicester, but it was later divided into the two manors of Westcotes and Danet's Hall, which their lords, the Abbot of Leicester and the Danet family, considered to be entirely within their manorial jurisdiction. (fn. 133) Its liberty was questioned; in 1314 there was a dispute whether it lay in the liberty of the guild, and it was judged to be so by the mayor and jurats, (fn. 134) but on the other hand a man had been murdered on his way home to Bromkinsthorpe in 1312, and the criminals had escaped because they were not in tithing, being outside the liberty of the town. (fn. 135) However, Bromkinsthorpe seems to have been included in the subsidy assessments of the borough in the 15th century, so that in some respects at least it was subject to the officers of the town.
An ecclesiastical liberty of somewhat later date was that of the Newarke. After the founding of Newarke College in 1330, the canons claimed freedom from the jurisdiction of the town. This was confirmed to them by the king in 1360, (fn. 136) in response to a petition from the dean and canons 'fearing that because the hospital at its foundation, the church at its erection, and the . . . lands acquired . . . are pretended to be in the town of Leicester whereas in truth they are in the suburb . . . grave prejudice may easily arise hereafter . . .', and there is no later record that this liberty was disputed.
Two other liberties must be mentioned. That later known as the Castle View, next to the Newarke, apparently resulted from the fact that it was the seat of the town's overlords. The borough officers were consequently excluded from its precincts, where the earl's jurisdiction was special and paramount. (fn. 137) The liberty of St. Leonard's parish is difficult to define; the parish lay outside the borough walls, and Leicester Abbey was patron of the church, so that as the land on either side of the parish, to the Soar on the south, to St. Mary's parish on the west, and to St. Margaret's on the east, also belonged to the abbey, (fn. 138) it is likely that the parish was claimed by the abbey as an exempt ecclesiastical jurisdiction, but there is no evidence of the basis of any such claim.
Relations with the Central Government
This account of the local jurisdictions in the borough in the 13th and early 14th centuries may tend to give the impression that the earl's was ubiquitous and overriding. But the earl's judicial authority within the borough was in competition with the king's and subordinate to it; in the latter part of the 12th century justices in eyre began to visit Leicester; in 1180 the burgesses are found paying them a beaupleader fine of 80 marks. (fn. 139) While business arising in the borough naturally continued to come before the justices throughout the next century, no special session for Leicester alone ever seems to have been held as was done in some other towns; (fn. 140) however, the justices were often entertained to dinner by the burgesses. (fn. 141) Amercements for breaking the assize of beer were sometimes taken by royal officials, (fn. 142) even though they were customarily the earl's concern, and special tallages had occasionally to be levied when justices came for a specific purpose. (fn. 143) Tallages were levied also for the greenwax. (fn. 144) In times of disorder, justices of Trailbaston were sent out to deal with rioters; they are known to have come to Leicester in 1306 and 1317. (fn. 145)
Royal authority was also imposed by the issue of proclamations to be published in the town, of which the frequent prohibitions of tournaments because of danger from armed affrays are an example. In spite of the borough's freedom from interference by the sheriff, he was occasionally ordered to make such proclamations. (fn. 146) There is an example of the sending of messengers by the king to explain what was required of the borough; in 1301 there was an order to the community to give credence to Peter of Leicester and Hugh of Nottingham 'to what they shall cause to be expounded to them on the king's behalf and to study to do it . . .'. (fn. 147) The sheriff again entered the liberty of the borough in 1322, this time to raise a military force to go north with the king. (fn. 148) The raising of armed forces was in general a Crown privilege, which overrode the earl's authority, though the earl upon occasion raised forces of his own at the town's expense. (fn. 149)
Royal justice was also represented within the borough itself by the pleas of the Crown held by the borough coroners, who were themselves burgesses but were appointed as Crown officials, taking their oath before the justices in eyre. (fn. 150) The borough coroners are mentioned in 1247. (fn. 151) Though two leading burgesses (one of whom was later mayor) are named as coroners in Leicester in 1297, (fn. 152) it is not known how they were chosen. The earliest royal order to elect a coroner for Leicester occurs in 1393, (fn. 153) but it may perhaps be presumed that they were normally elected by the burgesses, for the order to elect was made in a special circumstance of an absentee coroner in the office. The two surviving rolls among the Leicester records of pleas of the Crown (fn. 154) for the late 13th and early 14th centuries show the coroners dealing with a wide variety of criminal cases, the usual duties of the county coroner.
Another aspect of the relations of the borough with the central government is to be found in the attendance of its representatives at parliaments. Leicester sent no representatives to the Parliament of 1265, or to the assembly called in April 1268. The Parliament of 1275 included representatives of the towns, and this was the first to which Leicester sent burgesses. They were summoned by a writ of venire facias addressed to the sheriff, (fn. 155) and the same procedure was followed to call Leicester representatives to the Parliaments of 1295 and 1298.
The regular summons of burgesses to Parliament was by this time established, and the evidence available about the attendance of Leicester burgesses throughout the 14th and 15th centuries throws some light on the general problem of the personnel of Parliaments during this period. From 1300 to 1509, Leicester burgesses attended at least 120 gatherings, judging by the evidence of the sheriffs' writs de expensis for payment of their wages in conjunction with the evidence of payments of wages to Members of Parliament entered in the borough accounts. (fn. 156) The payments made to the parliamentary burgesses were not regularly the same amounts; they varied from 1s. 3d. to 4s. a day, and horse hire and a groom were provided in addition. In 1340 John de Stafford was allowed 40s. by the mayor and community for his stay of 40 days at Westminster, (fn. 157) which gives a clear indication of the rate of pay at that date, but the lack of borough accounts in the 15th century prevents a general estimate of the rate of pay to be made for the later period.
Little is known of the individual activity of these burgesses at Parliaments on the town's behalf, for few petitions have been preserved which concern Leicester at all, and only one which expresses any grievances of the borough. (fn. 158) It appears from a consideration of the names of the parliamentary burgesses that the same man was sometimes sent several times as representative. There are several examples of persons being re-elected, and William of Rodington was returned four times between 1316 and 1326. (fn. 159) Most of those who were returned were among the leading burgesses in public office, and sometimes the mayor himself was returned.
Progress towards Incorporation
A survey of the jurisdictions and franchises shows that various privileges had been accumulated and that the organization of the borough had begun to assume a coherent form by the early 14th century. The borough customs had been stated and confirmed, there was a chief officer in the mayor, the borough court had its sphere of jurisdiction and the town enjoyed privileged trade and a merchant guild; these are all attributes of autonomous burghal existence. It had, however, some way yet to go before its legal personality was fully developed. Since the town was a mesne borough a succession of important royal charters granting the privileges which in royal boroughs constituted, corporate independence were not to be expected. (fn. 160) It is true that there were important seigniorial grants (fn. 161) but they were connected rather with legal reforms than with burghal immunities.
The beginnings of the concept of separate legal personality must be traced from the use of the term communitas in relation to the members of the borough, not necessarily including all inhabitants, and in Leicester there was a dual use of the term, sometimes for burgesses, sometimes for guild members. It is first used in grants of property to the borough. The idea of a community is first used rather widely and loosely, in Earl Robert's grant of freedom of pleading to the burgesses 'and those who are held to be of their company'. (fn. 162) By 1256, the term was used specifically by Henry III, confirming the right of primogeniture to communitatem burgensium de Leicestria. (fn. 163) The earliest grant of property, (fn. 164) in 1251–5, was made to the mayor, burgesses, and commune Leycestrie. A slightly later grant of rent (fn. 165) was made to the mayor and burgesses de communitate Leycestrie, and this rent was secured maiori et burgensibus et eorum heredibus et successoribus de communitate Leycestrie, and payment of it was to be made de communitate. Thus the community is acting as an entity; a quitclaim by the mayor and burgesses in 1273 states that the action is taken communi assensu, (fn. 166) and it is worthy of note that Crouchback's reforming charter of 1277 was made 'with the assent of the mayor, jurats, and community'—another and more important instance of the same concept.
By the side of this use of the term, communitas was also frequently applied to the body of guildsmen in the Morningspeech. There is no mention of the community of burgesses, but it refers in most instances to the separate and distinct association of guild members. However, when the guild was dealing with matters relevant to the whole town, there was reference to the 'community of the town' or the 'community of Leicester', (fn. 167) and in 1272 the phrase seemed to be applied to the totality of the inhabitants except those of the Bishop's Fee, when the king's judges made a trading rule 'for any of the community and liberty of Leicester'. (fn. 168) Thus by the end of the 13th century, the idea was well established but not yet very well defined, and far from being equated with the idea of 'corporation'. (fn. 169)
Though the right of possessing property in common was thus being exercised by the mid-13th century, no large town estate was acquired. The messuage bought from William Ordriz in 1251–5 (fn. 170) and some other very small acquisitions remained the sole urban possessions of the borough for some time, and consequently its finances were of a very simple nature; for a long period the borough owned only its guildhall and the cowhay pasture, and its only rent was 4s. from the shops under the hall. Even by 1452, when several bequests had increased property in the borough, and a good deal of land at Whetstone, (fn. 171) where the mayor and burgesses held a manorial court, had been acquired, the total rental (fn. 172) came to little more than £16, in spite of a licence granted in 1412 (fn. 173) to acquire land in mortmain to the value of 40 marks a year. Thus the possessions of the borough were even in the 15th century smaller than those of the powerful social guild of Corpus Christi, which was founded in 1343 and soon acquired a formidable rent-roll in the town. This slowness in acquiring property is matched by a slowness in establishing a corporate claim to the town waste: it was by Earl Henry's grant that the mayor, burgesses, and commonalty obtained a piece of waste by the Soar for a privy in 1344. (fn. 174) Moreover, in spite of the burgesses' powers of acquiring and disposing of land, it must also be remarked that as late as 1343 (fn. 175) the lord's leave was first obtained before the burgesses leased a chamber over the East Gate. Seignorial surveillance was still a very real matter.
The use of the term communitas is also of significance with relation to the borough seal, though there is no proof that it was distinct from the seal of the merchant guild. The acquisition of a borough seal was an important step in the development of the burgess community, for although it is wrong to see it as embodying a very advanced idea of corporate entity, it brought boroughs into line with the recognized corporations of the period, the religious houses, and served in some measure as a symbol for the borough's unity—an action can be taken which, when authenticated by a seal, is more than a sum of the actions of the men involved, because it gives them responsibility as a body. The seal of Leicester had for its legend one of the rare uses of the phrase 'seal of the community' of the town; (fn. 176) and although the earliest extant impression is attached to a document dated 1343, (fn. 177) the spelling 'Leyrcestria' is an early 13th century one, which went early into disuse, so that it gives some indication of the date of the matrix. Moreover, the Crouchback charter of 1277 states that it was authenticated with the 'seel de la commune de la vile' which is close enough in phraseology to permit the supposition that this same seal was used on that occasion, and used as the seal of the burgess and not the guild community.
Some other of the liberties and privileges of the burgesses in the 13th century were pointing the way to the development of corporate action, but it had not yet quite been achieved. The burgesses had no real power of self taxation, but had on occasion acquired the necessary royal licence for short periods to levy murage and pavage for repairs to the town walls. (fn. 178) There is no record of the town's being involved in litigation, but as early as 1180 the burgesses banded together to quit themselves of the justices in eyre, (fn. 179) and it was only a few years later that they raised a sum of money to purchase the Cowhay pasture from the earl. (fn. 180) The community as a whole was held to be responsible for debts incurred in the matter of payment of tallages. A large number of by-laws had been made, but they were framed by the guild community for the regulation of trading practices, (fn. 181) and so cannot be viewed as the laws of the full burghal community, for they were enforceable in the court of the guild not that of the borough, and not until 1335 (fn. 182) is there an ordinance which can rightly be viewed as a borough law. Some progress towards united action had thus been made, but we must turn to the mid-14th century to see any action on a large scale by the community of burgesses.
The first of the negotiations in which vigorous concerted municipal activity can be perceived is the attempt to gain freedom from tolls of fair, market, and borough from the Duke of Lancaster between 1351 and 1361. The guild had bought some kind of tolls charter for £10 in 1313, (fn. 183) which has not survived, and in 1353 the payment of 'huckstermol' by retail traders was released by the duke, (fn. 184) though the payment of 'cannemol' was not. No records of the arrangements survive to show the extent to which the community was involved. However, the subsequent negotiations were by the burgess body. The first of them was successful, and in 1360 (fn. 185) the fair was shortened to a week, the duke gave up his tolls, and gave over the organization of the fair into the hands of the mayor and a small burgess committee to be chosen, deputed, and sworn each year by the burgesses themselves; in return for this privilege he continued to take the profits of the fair court.
The arrangements about the fair were a valuable addition to the independence of the borough community, but a more important effort was its attempt to obtain freedom from the various market tolls. (fn. 186) The negotiation was never finished, for the Duke of Lancaster died before the final indenture was sealed, but the arrangements were all but complete. Because the duke was only tenant-in-tail of the lordship of Leicester, with the king as reversioner, he could not grant the tolls so as to bind either his heirs or the king to uphold the agreement. Therefore he conveyed his manor of Wrangle (Lincs.) to the community, and the burgesses gave him a bond for 10,000 marks to fulfil their covenant, on condition that Wrangle be reconveyed to the duke, subject to a condition of re-entry in case the release of tolls was ever in dispute with his heirs or with the king. Then the duke died, and nothing further is heard of the arrangement. Though it failed by this mischance, the negotiation is significant for the part played by the borough community. The party to the arrangement was 'the mayor and community and their successors the burgesses of Leicester', and the bond they made is a responsibility of the borough as such—'we bind' they say 'ourselves and our successors to make that payment' of 10,000 marks, which is more than an agglomeration of personal responsibilities for they took seisin of Wrangle as security as a corporate body, their first large-scale action as a legal entity.
Soon after the failure of these negotiations, the community opened other negotiations of equal importance though of different form, to have the lease of the bailiwick from John of Gaunt, which they obtained in 1375. (fn. 187) This was a short-term lease of ten years, whereby the town paid a yearly rent of £80 instead of the total profits of the courts and probably also instead of the tolls of the borough, which hitherto had been collected through the duke's officers. The mayor and burgesses might elect two bailiffs, although they were to wear the duke's livery, and they had return of royal writs; but the duke did not include in the lease the rent of his mills and ovens, the rents levied by the porter of the castle, or the escheats of his free tenants.
The obtaining of this lease was a step forward in the constitutional development of the borough, for although it was for a very limited period it gave the burgesses a period of experience in the management of their own affairs. The lease was in some measure equivalent to the firma burgi, the right to farm the borough, which so many boroughs had already striven to obtain as a measure of independence from the Crown or their lords. Leicester was late in gaining even this partial grant of this privilege: both London and Lincoln had gained it by as early as 1130, and it was a common borough privilege in the 13th century. (fn. 188) The belatedness of the Leicester grant can in part be accounted for by the close relationship in which the town stood to its lord, with no middleman in the person of the sheriff. However, the borough had been let to farm on various occasions before, to agents of the earl. The earliest instance appears to have been in the late 12th century, of 'a certain clerk, Simon Maudit' who had the reeveship in farm. (fn. 189) Burgesses sometimes had the farm for the earl, but they were not always honest, for Henry of Ruddington, who had the farm while he was mayor, in 1269, was accused of taking gifts to conceal felonies. (fn. 190) Complaints were made in the early 14th century that Earl Henry's farmers were dishonest and extortionate; (fn. 191) and there was a period, in 1322, when no one could be found to take on the farm of the reeveship, because of the poverty and devastation of the town. (fn. 192) It has been suggested by Tait that the election of reeves by the burgesses in 1276 was because the burgesses had a temporary lease of the farm at the time, (fn. 193) but there is no other evidence to support the conjecture that the burgesses had had the lease for the community before 1375.
Though collective responsibility was a constitutional advance, and indeed a decision is recorded which regarded a fee-farm charter as proof of incorporation, (fn. 194) it was not viewed in this light by the burgesses at the time. The interests of the burgesses lay in finding the most economical and convenient way of dealing with their finances. If they were to be plundered by the farmers appointed by their lord, it was preferable to farm themselves, but if the rent asked by the lord was greater than the profits of the courts and other rights, then it was disadvantageous, and in any case the duke had the profits of fairs. They themselves had no great revenue to negotiate with, and, while it was preferable not to have the lord's bailiff present in the portmanmoot, their relations with that officer were generally good, so that little hardship was suffered by his presence.
These considerations, taken together with the fact that the lease of the bailiwick was a restricted one and far from being as lavish as the royal grants of firma burgi, go far to explain the subsequent history of the lease, which was not consistently, or even frequently, renewed. After the Duchy of Lancaster had come to Henry IV, he leased the bailiwick to the town for twenty years at a rent of £90; (fn. 195) then, when the town had been included in Queen Catherine's dower, it was renewed in 1423 for ten years at a rent of £80. (fn. 196) No other such leases survive, and there is definite evidence in the intervening and subsequent periods that the bailiwick was not at lease. Thus, even though new sources of profit came to the town, such as forfeitures incurred under the growing body of borough by-laws which the mayor was authorized to enforce during the 15th century, Leicester burgesses were never entirely successful in having the farm of the borough, and such as they did obtain was limited both in period and scope.
One effect, however, of the fee-farm grant was a reorganization of the town's financial system by the regular appointment of two borough chamberlains, to be responsible under the mayor for the accounting system. They included also in their duties the keeping in repair of the town's property and the bridges, walls, and ditches for which the town was responsible, though special expenses had to be authorized by the community, and, by the 15th century, auditors were appointed yearly. (fn. 197) The accounts were more complex than the old form of accounts rendered by the mayor, which they replaced from 1379 onwards, for not only were the financial activities of the borough extended by the fee-farm lease and the increased borough rental, but taxation during the French wars had become very heavy (fn. 198) and large sums of money were involved. The first mention of a borough, as apart from a guild, chamberlain was in 1344, (fn. 199) though, as no further mention of chamberlains is to be found until the series of annually elected officers begins in 1376, (fn. 200) he was presumably appointed only for a special term to help the mayor.
The office of bailiff was also affected by the grant of the fee-farm lease. While the town had this lease, pairs of bailiffs held office for one year only, elected officers of the borough, though in the duke's livery and so in some measure his servants. In the intervals of these leases, a man would hold office for long stretches of time as the earl's bailiff, or sometimes two would share the office, and, after the end of the term of Queen Catherine's lease, these bailiffs reverted to being the servants of the duke, or of the Crown in right of the duchy. These bailiffs were sometimes elected to the mayoralty, or acted in the borough court on the town's behalf as jurats; relations between the town and its lord were in this respect excellent, except for the single instance of the conflict with the bailiff Hotoft, (fn. 201) for in most cases the bailiff represented the interest, in one or other of his capacities, of both town and lord.
Growth of the Town Council and Borough Government
An important corporate activity of the burgesses, that of making and issuing their own borough regulations, is bound up with the growth of a truly governmental body, a town council; the exercise of legislative functions in an organized manner by a special group of the burgesses is found as an established procedure in the early 14th century. The earliest ordinances were in 1335, (fn. 202) when the 'meyr, bayllyffes et les bons gens de Leicestre', besides making trading regulations, forbade men to go armed, an echo of a royal statute framed to check the disturbances of the time, which empowered mayors of boroughs to deal with offenders. The next ordinances, issued in 1352, (fn. 203) were made 'par le conseil du seygnour d'un part et le meir et le bone genz de la ville de l'autre part', concerning malefactors, tallages, trade regulations, distraints, and attendance at the portmanmoot, all matters of borough concern. In 1379, (fn. 204) ordinances 'for the government of the town', which were chiefly devoted to the regulation of the salaries of borough officials and the duties of the chamberlains, were made by 'the mayor and jurats, with the unanimous consent and assent of all the community of the town', a fully corporate action.
The problem of the origin of the town council turns on the question of the origin of the jurats mentioned here, and their earlier function in the borough. In their function in 1379, they approximate to the small council of prudhommes, (fn. 205) usually 12 or 24 in number, which grew up in many boroughs in England, sworn to fulfil the duties assigned to them to aid their mayor, and to uphold the liberties and customs of their towns. But the development of this body in Leicester was not a simple evolution, for there is a dual origin to be considered, as both the merchant guild and the borough court had a small group of judges or counsellors which can be equated to some extent with the jurati.
The jurats of the portmanmoot were reputed to have been in the 12th century a body of 24 'appointed in olden time', exercising the function of hearing pleas in the court, and this tradition is confirmed by Crouchback's charter of 1277, in which they were ordered to be present with the mayor in the portmanmoot, 'to do right and to give judgement', (fn. 206) a judicial function. There is no hint of their exercise of a consultative function in the borough court; the first mention of a consultative body is of the summons of a guild council of 24 in 1225 (fn. 207) 'to come at every summons of the alderman of the guild to give counsel to the town and assist the alderman in the business of the town'. At this date the merchant guild was a more highly developed association than the burgess body as such, and there was no chief officer in the town besides the guild alderman, so that it is likely that it was the guild council which exercised governmental functions at this period, especially as it also controlled the town finances. This council was summoned regularly, but not until 1264 (fn. 208) are the jurats mentioned by that name, as giving judgement in the guild court about a guild matter. Jurats were considered necessary to the proper conduct of these Morningspeeches, as a session was pronounced invalid at which they did not attend. (fn. 209) On the other hand, a regulation of 1274 (fn. 210) laid down that no jurat might dwell in the Bishop's Fee, so that although the guild's franchise was a wider one, it was considered that the jurats must be burgesses. By this time the office of alderman of the guild had been merged and converted into the wider and more properly burghal office of mayor, who was head in one capacity of the borough portmanmoot, and in another of the guild Morningspeech. It is not therefore unlikely that a similar process had merged the functions of the portmanmoot justices and the Morningspeech council, and had transformed them into a new sworn council of the town. A sworn council undoubtedly did develop in the 13th century, for there exists a jurat's oath of the early 14th century, whereas there is no evidence that either of the two previous bodies was sworn before the first mention of the term 'jurat' in 1253. The existence of two lists dated 1273, (fn. 211) each of approximately 24 names, which are not identical, one said to have been chosen for the performance of guild business, the other 'by the community of Leicester', has been adduced as evidence of two separate bodies functioning side by side to perform different functions; but 'by the community' might well mean the community of the guild, and all the names are of guild members, so there is no sound evidence of a differing electoral body or of differing functions. This is the last mention to be found of the guild council, which possibly means that the mergence took place at about this time, though the absence of portmanmoot evidence makes conclusions only conjectural. It may also be remarked that there is no later mention of any election, so whatever the body of jurats might be, it was very probably by the 14th century a closed body, co-opting new members when necessary, and consisting chiefly of ex-mayors.
The earliest recorded oath of the jurats, of about 1335, (fn. 212) stresses the borough court element of origin of the office: '. . . I will render loyal judgements and loyally affeer both the poor and the rich. . . . I will continually come to the court of portmoot and to the summons of my mayor . . . and I will loyally maintain the assize of bread, wine, and beer with my mayor, and I will maintain and keep the franchises and good customs of the town. . .'; but it is significant that the oath was taken before the brethren of the guild and the mayor in the Morningspeech. During the 14th century, the duties and activities of the jurats grew in scope. They accompanied the mayor on town business; (fn. 213) they received the accounts from the tallage collectors; (fn. 214) court decisions are stated to be made with their consent; (fn. 215) they dined with the mayor (fn. 216) when he was presented in the lord's court to take up his office; their consent was necessary to payments made by the mayor; (fn. 217) throughout the 14th century, examples multiply. Their numbers seem to have varied from time to time; though usually 24, there are instances in which 15 are named.
The Morningspeech had become the organ of the governmental activities of the community in the 14th century, the guild meeting had altered its nature and developed into a gathering for performing town business. It was in the Morningspeech that the borough ordinances were promulgated, and a great variety of pleas was heard, which to a great extent had the result that it superseded the portmanmoot by providing a mayor's sessions, a term which was first applied to it in 1335. (fn. 218) The portmanmoot became limited to minor judicial business and the registering of conveyances, although it still performed a few other functions; for instance, regulations about market stalls were made there, (fn. 219) and the chaplain of St. John's Hospital was ordered to be presented to the mayor and community and take his oath in the full court of the portmanmoot. (fn. 220) Even though this change meant that more profits of justice came to the borough instead of to the lord of the town, the mayor and guild were still jealous to preserve the portmanmoot's jurisdiction, as in the case of a guildsman who attempted to take a suit which was of the portmanmoot's cognizance to the ecclesiastical court of the bishop. (fn. 221) This tendency was maintained in the 15th century; the taking of suits before the county justices of the peace was forbidden; (fn. 222) and in 1467 (fn. 223) it was ordered under pain of imprisonment that where the mayor's court could provide actions must be heard in it, and that a stranger could not sue in any town court except the portmanmoot.
The rise of the mayor's sessions is chiefly to be attributed to the necessity of enforcing the ever increasing number of royal statutes. The system of upholding the authority of the Crown in the country at large by means of the circuits of justices in eyre was declining in the early 14th century, and in its place there was a great increase of statute law to be enforced in the localities by local royal officers, the justices of the peace. During the 14th century, there was no borough justice of the peace in Leicester to fulfil this function, and though the exercise of the duties proper to him was often delegated on particular occasions by the Crown to mayors of boroughs (who on other occasions carried out such duties without any legal sanction), the system was a makeshift one, and interference by the county justices of the peace was sometimes unavoidable; there is mention, for instance, of a dinner provided in 1332 for these officers who were present in the town to array men for the war in Scotland. (fn. 224)
All this Crown intervention meant a loss to the lord of the town of the business and therefore of the profits of the castle court as well as of the profits of the portmanmoot. After 1399, however, when Leicester went to the Crown as part of the Duchy of Lancaster, what the king lost as Duke of Lancaster he gained for the Crown, so the process was accelerated. By the mid-15th century, the mayor's sessions had become entirely unequal to the effective enforcement of the laws, and in 1464 (fn. 225) the situation was remedied by Edward IV's appointment of the mayor, four burgesses, and a recorder 'learned in the law' to be justices of the peace with full powers within the limits of the borough of Leicester, to the exclusion of the county justices. The burgesses were to be elected yearly by and from the council of 24, as were two coroners for the borough. In addition, the mayor and burgesses were freed from any obligation to be empanelled on any assize or inquisition outside the borough.
Thus the sessions became the chief court of the borough, and from this time onwards they were a royal court, so that any powers remaining to any other court in Leicester were overridden. It became the custom for each mayor with the four burgesses who had preceded him in the mayoralty to fill the offices, the last burgess on the list retiring every year. The office of recorder was new; it was an office almost universally introduced in boroughs in the 15th century, to provide another foothold of the Crown among the ranks of municipal officials, for it was not filled by a burgess but by a professional lawyer. (fn. 226)
A new sanction to borough legislation was provided by the appointment of the justices, for by-laws from this time on had royal authority behind them. This is reflected in the new tone of borough ordinances. The ordinances of 1467, (fn. 227) besides setting out more detailed legislation for the trades and for the general administration and policing of the town than ever before, impose detailed limitations on the carrying of arms to 'keep the king's peese', order all men to come to affrays of arms when summoned 'in supportacion of the kynges pees', prohibit unlawful assemblies and livery and maintenance in terms resembling those of the statutes of the realm, and lay fines on all those who might fail to obey a summons to the council meeting to attend on the mayor 'or eny other thing that shalbe to the plesure of the Maire', a reflection of the increase of his authority.
The appointment of the mayor as justice of the peace was the culmination of the growth of the importance of that office which had been developing during the 14th and 15th centuries. From the end of the 13th century, the mayor's predominance in borough affairs had become more noticeable, as is illustrated by the terms by which reference is made to him in the guild records. It was the mayor's mercy into which offenders fell; he, in the name of the community, regulated craft practices, and the phraseology of the suits suggests that it was the mayor's law which was broken. (fn. 228) The rise of the sessions increased his judicial powers, and after 1464, when he was a justice of the peace, his discretionary powers were very extensive; he had powers of imprisonment without bail, and might in some cases inflict the death penalty; in more minor offences, his powers of summary jurisdiction were very wide indeed. The increase in the dignity of the mayor is seen in the use of a special seal of the mayoralty, which is first mentioned in 1434. (fn. 229) He was paid a salary of £10, (fn. 230) of which £2 was to be spent at his dinner of taking up office, and some of the rest on the salaries of his clerk and sergeant. In spite of the dignity of the office, it was sometimes necessary to use coercion to ensure that it was filled, and in 1490 (fn. 231) the penalty for refusing it was £20. In 1505, (fn. 232) Henry VII's confirmation of the charter of 1464 increased still further the powers of the borough justices of the peace, who thereby had fuller powers concerning felonies, murder, and counterfeit coinage. Moreover, the borough gained at the same time the important privilege of being taxed separately from the county, with the mayor and four burgesses as assessors, who also appointed the collectors, a further increase in the mayor's control of affairs.
The mayors themselves were, as the 15th century progressed, increasingly persons of substance, and of some national importance. An outstanding example is Peter Curtis. (fn. 233) In Leicester he pursued a relatively untroubled career as bailiff, member of Parliament, and mayor. Besides this, however, he was a prominent Yorkist. He was at one time member of Parliament for Appleby (Westmld.), a member of the royal household of Edward IV, and clerk of the Great Wardrobe. He went to France with the king in 1475, was deprived by Richard III, was made a gentleman usher and life bailiff of Leicester by Henry VII, and ended his days with a royal corrody at Bury St. Edmunds. No other Mayor of Leicester of the time had had such a chequered career, but among prominent burgesses the Wigston family may be mentioned, for the filling of the mayoralty of Leicester became among them something of a family tradition. William, his sons Roger and John, and another William, son of John, were all mayors in their turn, and all were prominent in the wool trade and staplers of Calais. The Wigstons were the richest family in Leicester. (fn. 234)
At the same time a higher degree of organization of borough government can be seen in the multiplication of borough offices as the needs of the administration increased. The origin of the chamberlains has been mentioned; this was by no means a popular office, and the records are full of 'redemptions of service' by fines; £5 was the usual fine by 1490. (fn. 235) The chamberlains were chosen by the council of 24; it was stated in 1477 (fn. 236) that one was elected for the community and one for the mayor. They took an oath to the mayor which reflects the last remnants of a distinction between town and guild: 'we shall charge ourself of all such mony as shall growe due unto this town . . . of eny lands, tenements, Chapman gild or otherwise', (fn. 237) a reminder that the chamberlainship was originally a guild office.
In the 15th century can also be found the origin of the office of town clerk, which emerged from that of the mayor's clerk who wrote his accounts. In 1462 Richard Reynold is described in a conveyance as 'toune clerk', (fn. 238) and at about the same time there is record of a royal patent of appointment to the office. (fn. 239)
The borough oaths of about 1489 (fn. 240) show that a large number of sworn officers assisted in the administration of the town. Constables and frankpledges were sworn, and fish-, flesh-, and leather-sayers and aletasters all made oaths to perform their duties of testing and inspecting goods in the market. These, with the auditors of accounts, were chosen by the council of 24. The three stewards of the fair were usually chosen annually, 'on for the newe maire and the secunde . . . be the old maire and the thurde for the commons'. (fn. 241) Regular lists of these offices are only to be found after 1476.
The better organization of the town is shown by the appointment of twelve aldermen, and the division of the town into twelve wards for police purposes under them, which took place in 1484, (fn. 242) superseding the old division into four quarters for this purpose. One constable in each ward was the alderman's executive officer. The aldermen had summary powers of punishment over breakers of the peace and over householders who neglected the repair of pavements, and they could present persistent offenders to the mayor, without recourse to the old method of jury presentment by frankpledges. These aldermen were chosen from the council of 24, and not from outside their number, so that the title of 'alderman' was restricted to half the members of that body.
There was a form of ladder of advancement through the lesser offices to the highest power in the borough. Many are the sayers and auditors who rose to important offices, and it is particularly noticeable that the position of steward of the fair was closely connected with the mayoralty. Moreover, burgesses for Parliament almost invariably held at some time in their careers the office of mayor of the borough, which is not surprising when the method of choosing these parliamentary representatives is considered, for it was not a power for very long exercised by the community. Leicester is included in the large group of boroughs which were not shires but which elected their representatives at the shire court held in the town. (fn. 243) For instance, the sheriff's indenture returning names in 1478 (fn. 244) indicates that the election took place in the full county court of Leicester by the electors who chose both the knights of the shire and the burgesses. But other evidence shows that this was only a formal presentation of the borough's burgesses, for the borough Hall Book of that date shows that Peter Curtis was chosen at a Common Hall, and at the same time the mayor and his council chose John Wigston. (fn. 245) These elections were apparently popular at first; in 1338–9 Richard Leverich and Richard of Walcote are said to be 'chosen by consent of the community'. (fn. 246) But by the 15th century, it became the custom for one at least of the burgesses to have been chosen by the town council, and often both of them, as the example already mentioned shows; for although Peter Curtis was said to be the choice of the commons, in this case they gave an assent to the choice already made by the council. The same thing seems to have happened in 1483, (fn. 247) when John Roberdes, the mayor, was chosen by the council, and Curtis by the commons. But even if the choice was restricted, it may be said with truth that those who did fill the borough and parliamentary offices had extensive experience in the work of government in one capacity or another.
The appointment of borough officers as justices of the peace is an example of the reorganization of the borough government, not through direct royal interference but by the Crown's use of existing machinery to convert it into an instrument of royal authority. A radical change was also made in the borough constitution in 1489, but this time by direct intervention in borough affairs, although events inside the borough in the few years prior to this date led up to and provided the occasion for such intervention.
There is a gap in the borough records from about 1400 to 1470, but the machinery of government had developed steadily in the interim, and when the series of records begins again, a body much more clearly defined than that of the 24 jurats emerges as a town council, consisting of the mayor and his 'twenty-four brethren of the bench'. The mayor on his own authority co-opted new members to this body, until 1477, when the brethren themselves took over this responsibility. (fn. 248) From 1477 dates the first of the minute books of these meetings, called the 'Book of the Maioraltie', (fn. 249) and their business was soon entered up regularly. The guildhall where they met had come to be called the Common Hall, and the meetings themselves came to be called by that name.
At about this time, a significant change was made in the attendance at Common Hall meetings. In 1466, (fn. 250) 'only those and such as be franchised, that is to say, men entred into the Merchant Gild' (otherwise called the Chapman Guild) were to attend. In the next year, the order was amplified and made more explicit; (fn. 251) because of 'ungodly rules and demeanings' of the commons, the same 'unenfranchised' were prohibited from attending, and from acclaiming anyone as mayor before he had been duly nominated by the bench. This indicates that the borough community at large had been in the habit of attending the meetings, but now the 'community', a term used loosely and without definition in the 14th century, had been limited to guild members, and the last distinction between the guild community and the governing commons removed.
These orders did, however, leave a considerable burgess body with the right of attending the meetings of the Common Hall, and it could still be said, as for example in the ordinances of 1467, that orders were passed 'with the consent and by the assent of the commons'. But they paved the way for more restrictive changes, and these were soon to follow. In 1489, (fn. 252) an Act of Parliament stated that, because great discords had arisen in the towns of Leicester and Northampton 'and other corporate boroughs' among the inhabitants at the election of mayors and officers, 'by reason of the multitude of the inhabitants being of little substance and of no discretion, who exceed in the assemblies the other approved, discreet, and well disposed persons, and by their confederacies, exclamations and headiness have caused great troubles in the elections and in the assessing of lawful charges', elections were in future to be made differently. The mayor and the brethren of the bench should choose 48 of the 'wiser and sadder' inhabitants of the borough, and have discretion to change the whole 48 or any of them as seemed necessary. With this body, the mayor and the bench of 24 should elect the mayor every year. The justices of the peace and the burgesses for Parliament, and all other officers in the town were to be elected by the 24 only. The mayor was to have a casting vote if the voting was equally divided. No other method of voting was to be legal, and the fine for infringement of the Act was £10, half to the king, half to the mayor for the charges of the town, the mayor having power to commit to prison without bail those who would not pay the fine.
Thus the whole governing power of the town was to be vested in a total of 72 burgesses and the mayor, consisting of the 24 of the bench, who were the controlling factor, and the 48 new 'comburgesses'. No check at all was left on the activities of the 24; however, it had been necessary previously, in 1477, (fn. 253) to make some provision for the likelihood of disagreement between these 24 brethren, and there is no indication that this arrangement did not still stand, as it was purely an unofficial scheme to meet the exigencies of a situation which might arise. In this case, the mayor and two wardens of the religious and social guild of Corpus Christi were to arbitrate between them, with power by this arbitrating body to impose a fine on the offending member, if he resisted, to be im- prisoned, or to be deposed from the bench. The Corpus Christi Guild, the most important of the social and craft guilds in Leicester, had nothing whatsoever to do with the borough government, but it included among its members all the influential burgesses of the town, so therefore, as Mary Bateson expresses it, (fn. 254) 'disagreements were to be submitted to the two officers of a club . . . to which the mayor and brethren all belonged as a matter of course, for it was the most fashionable club in Leicester'. It certainly provided no very sound check on the powers of the 24 brethren, for the two guild officers were usually brethren themselves.
The constitutional change did not take place without opposition. At the next election of the mayor, the commons elected independently one of the 24 in opposition to the candidate elected by the 24 and 48. (fn. 255) The strength of the position of the brethren of the bench is demonstrated by their retaliation, for they removed the offending member from their number, withdrew their own candidate, and re-elected the mayor then in office. This was the last attempt at resistance, for in the next year the candidate originally put forward by the bench and the 48 comburgesses was elected without opposition.
This stringent curtailment of the franchise in the borough, eliminating completely the constitutional influence of the commons, may be viewed as the termination and culmination of the history of its development in the medieval period. This was no revolution, certainly; the development of the borough's own institutions and corporate identity and its emergence from the control of its overlord had been, as in other comparable boroughs, a movement towards control by the Crown and by an oligarchical council, for the oligarchical tendency had been apparent from the 13th century onwards, and popular elections were less and less the means of choosing the body of counsellors, the borough officers, or the burgesses for Parliament, during the intervening period. However, it was a royal action from outside the borough itself which finally transformed the governing body, so the change cannot wholly be viewed as organic. The borough's development under this new ruling body belongs to a new period, leading up to the final official charter of incorporation of 1589, which named the mayor, 24, and 48 as 'the mayor and burgesses of the town of Leicester', reducing the rest of the population to the status of 'inhabitants'.